Burners and Braids

Due to some technical difficulties, this post was delayed- sorry for the inconvenience! Let’s pretend it’s Monday, January 9, 2012.

Being abroad requires much use of the back burner. All of your preconceived notions, expectations and assumptions? Acknowledge their existence, of course, but shove those guys on to the back of the stove because they’re only going to stop you from seeing what’s right in front of your face. Our experiences abroad abroad have taught us a few lessons: observe quietly, respectfully. Never judge. Realize that to you, these people may not have much but to them, they might have everything. Smile. Learn names. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to make a new friend.

Today we participated in our first village visit. It’s intimidating to walk into a village with the only instructions being to “observe” because it’s uncertain how the people will react to your presence. Some of the villagers looked at us quizzically; I thought they were probably wondering why several white foreigners suddenly appeared out of the blue. I then asked myself the same question: what is my motivation for being in this village? I realized that I did not simply come to “observe” but rather to explore, to seek understanding and to learn as well.

It was with these thoughts that I approached the group of kids standing near us. After some charades and guess-work, we learned each others names. I noticed that the girl closest to me had not yet finished braiding her hair, so I motioned and asked her if she would mind me finishing it for her. So I did, and after that she smiled and laughed and motioned for us to follow her. She then took Amelia, Caroline and I into her home and introduced us to her grandmother. She facilitated a boy to climb the tree next to their home and pick fruit for us to share. Later we all piled back into the van and we dropped off the girls at school, waving and smiling to our new friends.

After arriving back at CRHP we had an impromptu class meeting due to a cancelation, which morphed into a dynamic conversation about the impact of our trip. Many sophisticated perceptions were raised and considered, and we will hopefully continue this dialogue. Then we met with Shila (apologies if spelled incorrectly!) to debrief about the village visit. It was really beneficial to reflect on the experience and make sense of what we had seen, as well as ask questions both about CRHP and the Indian culture. Later we had a class with Dr. Shobha about child disease and the ways in which it can be treated and prevented simply, rather than with western medicine.

I think it’s easy to slip into the “us” and “them” mindset, to take a picture of a person and then forget that the portrait is a living, breathing, thinking human. Yet if we use photography, and any other means, to form connections with the people we encounter, we move to a “we” mindset. This mindset demonstrates the inter-connectedness of the world in which we all live, and how, when we put our American lenses on the back burner with the other extra fluff, we can truly see how similar we all are.

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2 thoughts on “Burners and Braids

  1. I love your comments about the “us and them mindset” . When we are touched deeply and can see that WE — the everybody WE — are all the same, brothers and sisters, sharing the planet, it opens our hearts and we know that nobody is a “them”. Gosh, you said it alot better than I just did. But it’s wonderful to read this blog and hear about all that you Open Hearts are experiencing and sharing. Best wishes to all of you, Abby Reynolds, friend of Hillary Louise

  2. You are so wise! Your post reminded me of the ancient Hindu statement – “Tat tvam asi” which is sometimes translated as “thou art that.” In other words, whatever you’re looking at – is a part of you, and you are inseparable from what you are observing, as we’re all made of the same stuff. Enjoy your trip, can’t wait to hear more!

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