“When your first impression is just a little wrong” – and some other insights into my life in India

I am here in Calicut, Kerala for a few days now and I think I have to start off with taking back a statement I made in the last blog. Just after I arrived I said people here in Kerala are starring less, are paying less attention to a foreigner and are less pushy. Well no, they are not.  After these first few days, I changed my mind.  I am in this city for nearly half a month, roughly 430 000 people live here and I have seen westerners only ones. In a roof top restaurant, beachfront hotel. (Of course, where else would they be?) So considering this, you can imagine the looks you get as a white women roaming around the city, especially when I am alone… I don’t think I will ever get used to the starring, the constant attention and at least one part of me is looking forward to get back to Switzerland and be able to hide in the mass again.  I am not scared or anything, no one is doing any harm. (And also, no requests for selfies from strangers on the streets. So that’s one difference compared to Sri Lanka.) It is just tiring to be under constant observation and also being “reduced” to the skin color can have something quite depressing.  I think most people are just interested in talking, going out or whatever just because I am white. It has nothing to do with personality, with who you are, your values, your character. It is just simply because you look different. (I am lucky in the sense that being a westerner here attracts a kind of positive attention, maybe curiosity. In Europe however, many people belonging to different ethnicities, religions etc. face the same “being reduced to the looks” however in their case it is unfortunately mostly associated with negative feelings from the side of the locals. Now if I am getting annoyed by being reduced to my skin color, how do people in Europe feel who experience discrimination, hatred and inequality on a daily basis just because of how they look or what they believe? I can’t say I know exactly how they feel but I can imagine how difficult, depressing and discouraging this has to be. We are all humans with the same desire to be valued, loved and respected and this does not change no matter your skin color, your religious belief or your ethnic belonging. This is something everyone has to understand or else monsters like Trump will take over…)

Anyway, I have got to stop here, even though I could go on talking (well no, writing) for ages about such topics. But despite this “attention issue”, living here is easy and comfortable. There is everything you need, and more. Calicut is so much different than the narrative people might have in mind when thinking about India. It’s a relatively rich city, buzzing, shops everywhere, restaurants and bakeries en-mass. I guess poverty is here, as everywhere, but I have seen very few home-less people, beggars etc. compared to many big European cities. Food is plenty, education is good. (This is Kerala tough, the richest of the Indian regions, further north, the picture would definitely be a different one)

So Calicut offers everything you need for a decent life (maybe with the exception of goooood cheese) and so I settled into something like a daily routine. Early morning walk (6.15!) to the gym, work out, walk back, have breakfast and get ready for work which starts at 9.30.  I like these mornings. Observing how the city wakes up, get some exercise and buy fresh fruits and veggies on the way home is the perfect start into a day, at least for me.  A few hours of office work later, with two coffee breaks and a lunch break in-between (rice and curry, served on banana leafs, what else?), often the whole team moves over to our apartment where we cook together and have dinner. Sometimes we also go out to eat in a restaurant and have a drink or two. (The live here is, from a Swiss perspective, ridiculously cheap. I guess you know you are in India when a group of 10 people can have dinner in one of the most popular restaurants in the city and the whole thing costs something like 20 CHF… crazy no?)

Besides these “business as usual – days” we also get out of the office from time to time for either a weekend escape or some “field research” during the week. One day, we went to a lagoon just outside Calicut. Kabani (the company I work with) is planning to set up a new package there and so we made a trip to check out the area and meet the guy who initially had the idea to introduce tourism there. And what should I say. It was one of these perfect afternoons. Gliding through the lagoon, watching birds and learning about history, nature and people of the area was amazing. When we came across another boat, we were even given food. Curry, Oysters etc. Home-made, on the boat, among the mangroves. Perfect, I think this is the kind of “work” I could get used to! The past weekend, we went to Wayanad, the district on the northern border of Clicut. There, Kabani is running some of its community based tourism initiatives and so I was dropped in one of the home-stays that they had developed in a small village amongst forests and hills – stunning! I enjoyed the stay with the family in their beautiful home and great food. In the early morning on Sunday, we climbed a hill and got awarded with a nice view even though it was quite hazy. Later, on a stroll through the village, we were invited for tea at nearly every second house (intake around noon: 2 coffees, 3 teas = overdose haha ) and the host explained me everything about fruits, veggies and spiced which grow in the area. Later, I also got the chance to see pot making, live and in color, and was impressed by the speedy of Mr. Potter.

What else? Well there has been more in these first few days. Birthday celebrations, a temple festival, dinner on the roof-top, power cuts, clothes hand-washing sessions, countless interesting conversations about politics, ways of live, differences and similarities, a lot of rice and curry and chilli and onion, and also a lot of fajita-like breads which all have different names and looks but to me they are all somehow the same and I still don’t know which one is which. There have been challenges too. For example, often my colleagues are talking in Malayalam. So I never really know what’s going on, plans are made and changed and nothing is really fix ever. Also, I often do not understand their jokes and participating in discussions is difficult. So I am basically just tagging along, often not knowing where or what exactly we are going to do. So for someone like me who is used to take initiative, plan and organize things (yes I have been called to be something like a little control freak by some so) this is quite a challenge. But probably it is also a good training for me to learn handling such situations, be spontaneous and just take it easy, day by day (or hour by hour..)

So and now I think that’s enough for the moment right?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next blog!

DO’s

  • Bring a light scarf to cover yourself up a bit –I think it is just a sign of respect towards the locals not to walk around in a too revealing manner and it might help to reduce the attention at least a little
  • Try all the local restaurants –  I have never had any bad experience with food here. It’s always delicious and fresh!

DON’T’s

  • Plates grow in the garden here! What I mean is: Don’t be surprised when you are served food on a banana leaf. That’s just how it’s done here. They are fresh, clean and I think it’s pretty genius, too. No cleaning plates – just let them composting

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