Diary of a Kenyan girl in India

Otherness

India makes you lose your innocence. Doesn’t matter where you come from. You will find yourself becoming aware of things that you simply never saw before. Things that existed before your very own eyes but you never gave much thought to, or even thought important. Situations are no longer just situations. You begin to question what you know. Who you are.

I once wrote a piece on how India has changed me. Well, in retrospect, that list was very shallow, an outlook from very fresh eyes. The inner transformation is the main business that happens in India.

I was recently sharing with a friend of mine- also a foreigner- just how in India one gets to experience every single emotion known to man in very many doses, consistently. If you do immerse yourself with the people, the culture, you often get overwhelming emotions of anger, elation, despair, hope, shame, freedom, pain, joy, pride, desperation, LOVE. An awakening.

My friend who has now moved back home gushed that she could live in India forever. Forever- a term you can only make when you have had some life altering experience(s). India makes one say stuff like that. It challenges your assumptions, it solidifies your personality and values, the things you believe in.  You become open. You think a lot, then some. Some overthinking.

Just when you think you have the people, place figured out, you discover that you really do not know what rhythm, what beat you are supposed to follow.

India is where I officially grew up. Where there’s a clear distinction between who I was and who I am becoming. I often wonder what I can share here on my blog with my wonderful readers and followers while maintaining balance and at the same time revealing my own truths.

I have stayed away from writing about the sexual repression I have seen in this society. The desperation of Indian girls to have their own identity, the constant reminders every day that there are the haves and the have nots. The morbid obsession with looks, skin complexion. The lack of community and heartfelt warmth of people as is in Kenya. Where we really enjoy spending time with each other, doing nothing but talk. Laughing like fools, not caring about what grade who got, or what promotion one is about to get at work. Or what your background is. No thoughts or talk about the ladders to climb and achievements to prove.

My sister on a trip to Cairo, Egypt happened to chat with a university professor. And she asked the professor what in her view is the distinction between the people, what defines the people and separates them from each other. The professor told my sister without batting an eyelid- the rich and the poor. At the University where she teaches, the students are the rich, and they know that the others, away from campus- are the poor.

I got an education on class in India. That there are different classes of people and each group is somewhat aware that it BELONGS THERE. You see the rich Indian kids and upper middle class folks and the way they talk to the waiters, the drivers, the security guards. In a tone that sounds like barking orders or scolding a little child. In the offices you see how the cleaning lady and the guys who serve lunch keep going `Yes Sir’ `No Sir’ `Yes, Madam’. You see your colleagues doing this with the boss. You see this at the cinema when they keep saying yes sir to your husband. You try your best to understand. To learn about what the caste system did to the psyche of a people. How even today saying your surname demands a certain type of treatment. Maybe a respect. Maybe a disrespect.

This is going to sound very naïve, I know, I apologise. I come from a country where there exists the rich and the poor but the lines are a little blurred. You do not have your entire family being the haves or have nots. There will be the very rich uncle or auntie and there will also be that relative who is a driver, who is a shop keeper. Things are changing quite fast actually and we are heading the India way but rich kids and middle class kids have been friends for as long as I can recall. Going to the same schools, dating and marrying across those lines.

I have been dismissed in India by people who THINK they know me because of where I come from. It used to be unsettling till you realise that in India, where you come from is everything. The Jains, the Sikhs, the Tatas, the Ambanis, and the list goes on…What is your background?

How I lost my innocence? Well, because I cannot unsee what I got exposed to. Because I am now part of that system that does it too. I can differentiate between who is travelled and open minded enough to engage in a meaningful conversation with me. And I now know who expects me to be a stereotype, a caricature of being black. Who wants me to just talk about our runners, our wildlife, our apparently terrible economies. Those who think I must come from the set of Gods must be Crazy. I can now tell which saree is more exquisite and more expensive than the next. I can tell what is gold and gold coated. I know how to laugh appropriately for which audience.

I now see how some people try to compose themselves when they learn am married to one of their own. Like, how on earth could that have possibly happened?

I try not to judge. But am an empath. I get very involved with those I surround myself with. Whether they know it or not, whether I like it or not. I am a little weary of engaging people too openly about my beleifs, my opinions because there are so many angles to my statements that I will never truly understand how they are heard.

Would I go back to not seeing the things I now see? I don’t think so. I got schooled. And you do not choose your teachers. They come for a reason and when you are ready.

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Comments on: "Otherness" (20)

  1. Interesting,, that is indeed Indian life!! I love their food,, I adore the beautifull south indian women but the baggage of hypocracy is unbearable!! Rather stay friends with benefits😅😅😅!!

  2. Vinay Shankar said:

    Well written. Nice to understand my India from different perspective…

  3. This is so beautiful…glad you like your life there. Inequality around the world is pretty heartbreaking. That Indians actively practice caste system is mind blowing. It puzzles me that poor people just accept it. It is bad enough to be poor but to have people rubbing it in is truly horrible 😦

    • It’s actually more complex than than that. The Caste system is outlawed and is illegal. So what we see are remnants of it and what it created in the society. If your family had been privileged for hundreds of years, then it makes sense that even today, you will be privileged – better educated, family wealth passed down through generations etc Same goes for poverty cycles and poverty mentalities unfortunately 😦

      • Are you living in 2016 ?
        Open your eyes please. Yes somewhere the caste and such thing is there. Because you have tribes and such things. Culture has its own value. Like even in Kenyan woman has moral value of her own but now it’s just gone almost. I visited and I love Kenyan woman and will marry her. I know it’s hard for me being a jain. Even colour does affect in our society when u live in small city. Every community has its own laws. Rich and poor issues is everywhere . Now in fact due to caste reservation there are so many isssues which is also worst but thanks to politicians that worst thing is there. I believe and what I saw even in kenya 75 % business runs by Indian origin. I saw how worst security is there in kenya . I don’t like Indians who lives in kenya as they are just money freak mostly . Few said they become like this as they had worst experiences . Stories will be vary person to person as all have different views and angles and experiences. But india is great country as we have many gods who are protecting as well as …….!
        Lots of more things to share but some other day.

      • Thank you for your response. I appreciate all feedback. Please note this blog is not a critism if India nor is it a comparison between Kenya and India. I write about my personal experiences and my take on various aspects and issues that I have come across in India. I wish you all the best as you marry the Kenyan lady and I agree about India being safer than Nairobi. I also agree that the Indian Kenyan community have projected an image that makes them somewhat seem like money minded individuals who do not care about anything else! If you read more of my blog you will see that I love India, even when sometimes it drives me nuts.

  4. Hi Angie, stumbled across this blog whilst researching attitudes for a film I’m writing and I love your candidness, perspective, and ability to reflect on your own preconceptions that you’ve displayed throughout all your writings! I’ll be dipping back. Best. dko

    • Thank you for reading the blog! And for your gracious comments! 🙂

      • Fantastic piece of article Angela. I have been reading your blogs quite regularly. Been staying in nairobi for 14 years now . Truly to adjust in India indeed takes time but once you do so you start loving it

      • Thank you for reading the blog 🙂 Hope Nairobi is treating you well.

      • Oh yes Angela. I would say without doubt worldwide people are good. What matters how we present ourself . The key word is dignity and respect to each other.
        Like you I too have a keen interest in knowing the various tribes in kenya. Have learnt a bit on the kyuks from Muranga, Nyeri, kiambu and how they differ from each other . Why you should be careful in marrying one from kiambu and all that !!! Keep writing Angela. I hope you have travelled upwards north in India

  5. Yes you are right! If you live long enough in India, you can lose your innocence and see things that you cannot un-see. Looks like you are also learning good sari’s from bad ones 🙂
    -Indian born in Kenya now living in the States.

  6. Angela – give us your views on jallikattu and the “amma” episode which is rocking . It would be nice to know from your perspective . Tamil Nadu and Tamilians is as alien to you as me !!

  7. Currently in Chennai and am loving this place.The food.The beach

  8. Thank you for sharing your travel diary .It found it amazing to glance through all the posts and explore a different perspective of a kenyan girl. The photographs are beautiful .I am happy you found a soulmate in india and enjoying your time .
    Do visit north eastern part of india as well( if you have not visited it yet). Owing to the diversity and developing economy ,india and indian society is interesting and weird at the same time. Best advice would be to ignore the bad part.

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