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Posts Tagged ‘disequilibrium’

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At the train station; in addition to the packed lower class cars, young men climb up top.

Throughout my work in education and inter-religious dialogue, I refer to Piaget’s idea of “disequilbrium.” The uncertain, nerve-wracking, unpleasant feeling that happens when we encounter something new in the world.

I think my knowledge is intact, I encounter something previously unknown, and things shift for me…eventually, I am able to incorporate my new understanding, and then I have learned it. We cannot learn without disequilibrium.

India is a place par excellence for experiencing disequilibrium. And yet, I also experience so many moment so grace, or delight, or unexpected pleasure. Some examples:

Moments of disequilibrium:

  • Eating the same brown chipati and cooked vegetables at every meal
  • Wanting to stick to a time schedule, but things running too long, later, or not happening at all
  • Sitting on my bed and watching a woman clean my floor by hand, crouched constantly, wiping every bit of the surface
  • Being stared at, hearing “hello, hello,” by vendors and touts who want to get my attention, being photographed with or without my permission
  • Haggling: the weary, constant pressure of not knowing if I’m paying too much, compounded by the guilt that I could probably may more than they ask
  • Having access to places poor Indians or other women are not allowed, given my status as a white, Western woman
  • Not having any control over where or when or what I eat
  • Attending very long lectures with no discussion, not the educational style that is common for me
  • Communicating with the few Hindi words I’ve used, and few English words a driver or cook (for example) know, and feeling exhausted, unsure, and frustrated all at once
  • Riding in a bicycle rickshaw: feeling too heavy, guilty as we go up hills, a deep and panicked guilt that another human is sweating and straining to carry my weight—and yet, he eagerly sought out my business, and is happy to receive my fare
  • When I buy a votive from a little boy on the ghats, and a little girl of age seven, also selling votives, says to me accusingly (and correctly), “Oh buying from the boy but not the girl! That is not right!”
  • Hearing of progressive campaigns in the north that work to educate families that “Two girls equal one boy”
  • Feeling guilty when I throw trash on the street at the train station, but I don’t feel guilty when I throw larger amounts of garbage away in the US because I don’t see it
  • Begging: being told that we shouldn’t give money to child beggars, but they touch my hand and follow me when I avoid looking at them
  • Hearing that the woman who cleans my room has had to remove her daughter from school because she can no longer afford tuition; yearly tuition is $200 US
  • The washerman won’t wash my underwear; he will wash men’s underwear only
  • I am restricted from visiting temples if I’m on my period
  • Sour yogurt drink: I don’t like it, but people seem happy and eager to give it to me, so I drink it
  • The bird hospital: I don’t see the point of keeping dying and injured birds (mostly pigeons) alive and feeding them
  • Educational style: I feel torn between wanting to give advice on how things could be “corrected” (ie, made more Western) and learning to get along in a new style
  • I don’t like taking off my shoes to go into the dining room and eat. I hate the feeling of food and dirt on my feet as I stand in line to get food.
  • Non-Western toilets, especially on the train

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The Jaipur chef preparing golgappa for us. I was definitely unsure about eating these, especially after he dips them by hand into spicy water…but they are delicious and I can eat ten at a time.

Moments of delight:

  • Finding food I like, complimenting the cook, and he remembers that I like it and makes it again
  • Coming across a wedding procession
  • Talking to children about their school, showing them pictures of my family and home, sharing songs
  • Fresh mangoes that have been chilled all afternoon
  • Clean sheets on the train, falling asleep and sleeping soundly on an overnight train
  • Strangers anticipating my question or need for directions, and helping me
  • The reverence for books: the highly cared-for libraries, with old texts behind lock and key, the solemnity with which the librarians let me take out individual books
  • Being welcomed into worship at the temple every time I go, getting to anoint the statues, placing fruit, singing, clapping, and praying
  • Looking at children’s work and art in schools
  • Feeling grateful for my healthy body
  • Feeling grateful for my education and opportunities
  • Feeling inspired to teach and learn
  • Having a shop-keeper move heaven and earth to find me a container of peanut butter
  • Experiencing Bollywood movies
  • Following Gandhi’s footsteps at the place of his martyrdom
  • Meeting teachers in their 70s and 80s who still have a deep passion for teaching peace and justice
  • Singing old gospel songs along with table and saringi

When I look at this list, the moments of discomfort seem small, individually, but being so long in a strange place—they all add up. They all work together to remind me, constantly, that I am [not yet?] at home here. I can encounter something completely unexpected at any given moment, and so must maintain a posture of possibility.

And, it’s this openness to possibility, paradoxically, that leads to many of the things that delight me. A willingness to try to keep talking, or to sing, or to dance, or to sit down and talk to children. To try yet another new food. To get on the train, the boat, the rickshaw, without knowing where it goes next.

One of my professors wrote a book about social activism; she posits that those who spend a great deal of time outside of their own country become fundamentally changed. This change informs the way they work for justice. I pray that I will not lose my willingness to try new things; basically, I hope that each day, I am conscious enough of delight to live through the disequilibrium.

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Pilgrim feet?

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