Monday, September 04, 2006

Looking my way

The other day, I e-mailed my sister-in-law Cathy and in that e-mail, I told her how strange it was to be stared at all the time, to have become a commodity. She wrote back and pointed out that she completely understood the dilemma, because of her daughter, Caylyn. Caylyn is the most precious little girl you'd ever dare meet, and she just happens to have Down's Syndrome. As with many Down's babies, Caylyn has a "recognizable facial appearance" , which makes her susceptible to stares. (As a side note, Caylyn is also battling Leukemia right now. Please visit her site and write lovely comments for her!)

This got me thinking about stares. I've had a few people ask me how people stare at me here. After Cathy's e-mail, I started paying attention to the different stares of which I was the object. There are the requisite, lustful stares that make my insides churn. Those were the ones I was expecting, but there are a plethora of reasons why people stare at me. First and foremost, I am a rarity. Bangalore is a city of 6 million, but there are only 15 thousand ex-pats here. Of those 15 thousand, many are of Indian descent. That means that less than .25% of the people here are white. Now I know that tourism may drive that number up, but I'm not going to the places tourists go. So I feel comfortable quoting that figure at you. I've put almost 300 km on my bike, and I've yet to see another white person driving, except when I'm with Brad. So it makes sense that people would take notice of me.

As I began taking notice of the messages that floated through the eyes of those who noticed me, I couldn't help but notice the people that I took notice of. There was the girl who had a full burka on but was with a man who was dressed like a Westerner. The contradiction of their clothes confused me. She was draped in black cloth, with only the tips of her fingers and toes and her lush brown eyes showing. Meanwhile, he had on a button down shirt that had the first few buttons open, baring his chest for all to see. I tried and tried to come up with a circumstance that would put these two together. Perhaps they were brother and sister? Or maybe they had met on the internet? It took a good five minutes for me to even consider that I was being a daft, ignorant American.

The other people that I stare at are white people. Now, I know this seems strange, but in a sea of brown, we are few and far between. If I'm with Brad, I'll tug on his arm and say "Honey, look! White people! Why do you think they're here?" I want to know the story of every white person I lay my eyes on. At the lab, there is an older gentleman who is British (I eavesdropped on him today) and I'm desperate to sit down and ask him what brought him to NCBS.

All of this reflection has changed my mind on being stared at. I was bothered at first. It seemed intrusive. But having turned my expanding lens toward my own behavior, I've tried to take the time to look at someone and infer why they're looking at me. If it's because I'm white, well, that's okay. I do my best to make eye contact, smile and then go my way. Don't get me wrong, there are the people who make me uncomfortable. There are the cars that do their best to drive just alongside me, honking in a weak attempt to get my attention. But for the most part, people are just as interested in me as I am in them. They want to know my story, what brought me to India. I'm entering into places where outsiders just don't go. And really, aren't I fortunate that I'm able to do that. I can't imagine a Bangalore where I would be prevented from going somewhere because of my skin or nationality.

And I have to challenge you to do the same. If you find yourself being gawped at, ask yourself why that person may be looking at you. And take note of the people you stare at. You may decide to be a whole more tolerant of the looks you get in life. Really, if you try really hard, you can look at it as a compliment. Someone is just interested in who you are and what you do. Personally, I can't ask for more than that.


TJ said...

I'm so glad you guys have set up this blog spot. I've enjoyed reading them, which you probably didn't realize since I didn't take the time to comment before. I do find this particular blog very reflective and thought provoking. I have never been comfortable with being gawked at and I've never even been comfortable with making eye contact with a stranger that is noticibly looking at me. I don't really know why, it just makes me embarrased or uncomfortable. There have been times in my life that this happened to me alot. However, since 3 children and mean old Mr. Gravity have taken hold in my life, I would gladly welcome even a wooo hooo from a gun-totin', rebel flag wearin' redneck with a mullet. I guess I should take up driving the Wrangler a little seems to help. Love you both...and keep smiling at all who pass by. TJ

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

I'm doing my best with continuing to smile. Today, it was very hard. The other stare, that I didn't mention, is the angry stare. That's hard to ignore and not be affected by.

Oh, and next time I see you, I'll give you a big WOO HOOOOOOO, regardless of what you're driving!

Mom (Bannon) said...

well. let's ponder this a moment...I have reached that stage in life when I should (on rare occasion) be the lucky recipient of appreciative 'notice' 'whistle'
'wave''eye-contact' 'wooo hooo' from....(what Tonja said :) my immediate response tends to come out "THANKS, buddy!!" When at one time a 'shy' drop of the eyes was the response...Gotta get that Miata out and put the top down...(top of the Miata, now girls!!) This is your MOM, be respectful..Elizabeth, you had no idea what a 'can of responses' your 'Looking My Way' would bring, did you!! m.o.m. (man O man) :)

Mom (Bannon) said...
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