Saturday, September 21, 2013

Being "the Other"

It is hard to believe I have been here for one month!  Part of me feels like I just got here yesterday, but the other part feels like we have done so much these past few weeks that surely we have been here for longer than that!  Either way, the further I move into my year of service and as I settle into my home community, the more I realize my own visions of how I expected this year would go.  I pictured myself in my different roles, at Mrs. Soong's, the kindergarten, and at Cheshire Home.  Most of these images I had were of me thriving in the new environment, which for me meant blending in and being a part of the community as if I had been here my whole life.  I'm not too sure why I thought I would be such a natural at such a cross-cultural experience, but nevertheless it was an expectation I did not realize I had until recently.  Being not super comfortable with Malay yet, having not a single clue to a lick of Chinese, fumbling through my wallet when paying because I still don't know which color is which denomination, and only managing to get 4 grains of rice in my mouth with chopsticks are just a few of the initial cultural differences I'm dealing with now.  Not to mention how often I'm told that I am so tall. :) During orientation, I had to take a little journey to the local eye hospital because I thought I was going blind.  No worries, guys.  I can still see just fine.  But as I filled out paperwork, when asked my race, I had to check the "other" box, which made me uncomfortable.  To know that people "like me" were so few and far between in this country that my race wasn't included in the groups to check was a completely new experience.  To be frank, being "the other" is really uncomfortable a lot of the time, it doesn't always give the joyful feeling I had expected to be filled with by the newness.
But, the bright side to this uncomfortable post is the wonderful people I have met who have made this transition smoother.  The language barrier is made easier when people take the time to slow down what they say, or even when we play a small game of charades when talking.  Never be above a game of charades, that's just a good life rule.  People taking the time to talk to me to figure out what foods I like, then bringing them to me to make this new place more like home. (Shout out to Teacher Rita who brought me a ham and cheese sandwich to school the other morning after I told her I liked sandwiches!)  I know I look and speak much different than the people I am around.  But it means so much to me when I get glimmers of those differences being bridged, when my differences aren't the topic of conversation or of looks wherever I am.  I am so thankful for the people I have met who have helped me figure out how things work in Malaysia, to help me become more and more like a local.

So, who are the others in your life?  The ones you see at the store struggling to communicate with the cashier?  The ones who are trying to get from point A to point B but do not know the area to get on the right transportation?  How can you help them as they try to acclimate with the new community and culture?  Believe me, they will appreciate the help more than you know :)

In the mean time, I'll keep trying to fit in over here by being a head taller than those I walk to work alongside, carrying this massive book with me.  Casual. 

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