“Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local” – Taiye Selasi.
(According to Taiye Selasi, locality translates into: “your rituals, relationships, restrictions”. In other words, your daily routine, the people closest to you, and external or internal factors that contain you/hold you down can define your home. You can watch her TEDTalk here – thanks to CAPI pre-departure training)
Pre-departure to India was one of the more stressful and confusing times in my life. There was both strong support and objection from my friends and family, mixed with ambivalence from some others.
To make the farewells more difficult, I had just laid down roots in the Victoria community (e.g. new social network, new job as a Public Health Nurse, finally feeling settled, etc.) after 8 months from moving from Ontario.
It seemed too soon to leave everything behind and start another life in a different country.
And yet, this opportunity couldn’t have come soon enough.
It has been 4 weeks since my feet touched the dry, dusty, hot earth of New Delhi.
I am learning that my past rituals, relationships, and restrictions growing up in a tight-knit conservative Chinese Christian family in Southern Ontario, Canada, had contributed to my ignorance about India. As ludicrous as it sounds, there seemed to be no other place that would make my family more worried than India. Most of this fear is culturally conditioned. North Americans often have romanticized ideas about India. But a majority of my friends and family who are of Southeast Asian descent vehemently discouraged me from going to India or held unhealthy, fear-based ideas of the country and its culture.
However, I have always believed that the best way to overcome fear of another people, culture, place, is to respectfully and responsibly learn in an immersive, experiential, and participatory way. Believe it or not, my lifestyle in New Delhi is strikingly similar to my early years in the metropolis of Toronto (before I moved to more remote parts of Canada). More than I anticipated.
My first day at the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) felt surprisingly normal (although I was sweat-soaked from the 40 degree heat and severely jet lagged). The familiarity of the professional office setting reminded me of former 9-5 desk jobs. However, I needed to leave my preconceived judgements and ideas at the door (drawn from past experiences of working for NGO’s, non-profit organizations, and the office culture in general. Any “The Office” fans??).
My supervisors immediately presented me with a job to develop sexual health curriculum (sexual health education was a significant part of my former professional job) and to prepare for a Menstruation Education staff workshop. I got down to business right away! The organization’s advocacy projects and involvement of young professionals was impressive to me. It surprised me how progressive and forward-thinking this local NGO was.
One of the projects I am involved with seeks to create safer public spaces for women and girls with the aim to help end violence against women and girls (see Kadam Badhate Chalo- KBC).
Another project is to support youth-led participatory research in democracy to create spaces for leadership, advocacy, creativity, and diversity amongst college & university students (see Youth N’ Democracy).
Adequate sexual health education and awareness of sexuality & gender-based violences will hopefully help youth lead youth in democracy, find their autonomy and self-identity, and mitigate the current violations against women’s bodies in India.
The last 4 weeks I have felt that my job at PRIA has been uniquely edifying and affirming of my strengths and weaknesses: 1) My strengths as a health educator; and 2) my weaknesses as a North American who looks at health and sexuality through a completely different paradigm.
A poem about my world:
Cows, cars, commercialism, colonialism.
Bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles, but nobody recycles.
Markets, shopping malls, coffee shops (even microbreweries)!
Churches, temples, shrines. A spiritual Divine.
Coffee, craft beer, and Indian hipsters.
Office, desk, chair, laptop, 9am-6pm.
Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.
Young and the restless.
In my late teens and early adult years, I travelled to rural communities in Uganda, visited remote mountain villages in China, regularly saw family in Hong Kong, began my professional career in nursing and healthcare, and eventually moved to a First Nations reserve right in Ontario. Learning new languages, cultures, foods, traditions, and spiritualities in a cross-cultural setting has been sewn into the fabric of my past. And yet, there is so much unlearning I have to do. I have not always been conscious, critical, and socially-aware of my positionality and role within these places, even if done with the best of intentions.
So I realize that my rituals, relationships, and restrictions have also prepared me for this very experience.
Before I left Victoria, my mind was fed with exaggerated negative stereotypes of India.
The chaos, smells, sights, tastes, feels.
When I arrived, I only felt a sense of peace and normalcy. That this is my reality, and this is where I can begin a way of life (at least for the next 6 months).
It demands acceptance, humility, and boldness from me.
By no means do I have any of this figured out. But I believe this journey will take me deeper into what it means to be a global citizen, a healthcare provider, a researcher, a forever student, and a normal human being.
If I may, I would like to challenge you too, or anybody…
What are your daily rituals, relationships, and restrictions? And how do they define you and your sense of home/locality?
How does it translate into your relationships with yourself, others, and the land you are living on?
For myself, home is wherever I feel the most present and embodied.
But my mother would say, “Olvie, home is where your mother is”.