One week ago, I returned to Jaipur, India. With this return, I recalled three exchanges in my final week here last year.
“Two-hundred rupees?” he inquires after my negotiated price with eyebrows raised, “That is not a lot of money for you. For me? That is my profit.”
“Stacey, do not say ‘thank you, thank you’ like it is some big favor.” She wags her head at me lovingly. “You are my sister; it makes me happy to show you these things.”
“Today is a good day! Come, come. We are not selling anything, just talking.”
“Maybe, say, celebrating.”
“Why?” their friend replies to my query,“Didn’t you hear? Today we made sure to keep homosexuality illegal here in India.”
“We preserve culture!” They cheer.
These three— varied in message, intent, and elicited feelings— represent the complexity of my experience of India. They epitomize the whiplash I feel daily: wondering at my role and (de)humanizing interactions; humbled by relationships and gifts graciously, undeservedly extended; infuriated, frightened, and conflicted with how to respond to a culture so vastly different than my own.
No place makes me feel more like a farce of an anthropologist.
Yet I return to her with an open, hesitant heart. I remind myself that most of my resistance my prior visit was not to India, but to my internal response to all that she offered.
I’m going to try to do better this time. To listen to the words, and see the human faces forming their mouths around each sound.