I never fit in in India. Obviously. Even when I grew my hair out, wore kurtas, learned to speak Hindi, and eat with my right hand, I never fit in. I didn’t like it, but I knew it was to be expected. I would always and forever be a videshi there, a foreigner.
Today I attended a meeting for homeschool moms. I’ve been homeschooling since our oldest son was four. That was nearly seven years ago and I’m comfortable enough with our educational choice that I no longer defend it–even to people who sneakily try to quiz my kids on their times tables. So it wasn’t homeschooling that left me so quiet today.
First, let me just say that I had not eaten lunch and this meeting was at 1:00 p.m. The hostess had set out an array of yummy foods that we don’t buy or make at our house, but no one was touching them. They were chatting and looking summery. So of course I sat down, tried not to smell the foods, and trained polite eyes on one of the ladies who was discussing science experiments.
Since I’m new to the group the others were asking me things like, Now how long have you been homeschooling, Are you new here, Where do you live? etc. Under the best possible circumstances I don’t answer those questions well these days. I tend to make sentences with words like female infanticide, poverty, Hinduism, spiritual darkness, and water shortage. But it would seem that people want me to answer them with words like, happy, good, convenience, peace, relief, curricula. So these conversations rarely work out like I had planned them in my head.
But imagine what I felt when I tried to start down the conversation road in good faith and my hands which, so help me, I must use in conversation, began fluttering like little moths because my hunger level had reached critical mass. And then when I looked down at those vibrating traitors, and lost the tether of my conversation partner’s eyes, I momentarily blew out to sea in my mind, and then couldn’t seem normal.
So I did something that I hated to do but was compelled: I got up, stopped making small talk, and walked resolutely to the buffet. I piled a decorative paper plate with chicken-salad-with-grapes and corn salsa. The plate sagged with weighted resentment, but instead of heeding its warning I stopped on my way back from the buffet, faked right, and turned back to fill it more. The whole time I was thinking, This makes you look like a poor missionary who comes to peoples’ houses and fills up on their fancy food because you stay a little hungry all the time. Which isn’t strictly true.
The meeting was fine in the end. The women were nice. They were the kind that wear sunscreen and lip gloss and go on Pinterest for enrichment craft ideas. Once I probably wanted to be them. But now I’m just me and I can’t even muster the energy or will to try to fit in. That was the impression I was left with today when my blood sugar had returned to normal.
And this is what makes me feel small and alone these days, even among my own tribe.