Remember my description of the 10th grade class trip? Party bus? Booming music? People dancing in the aisle? Flashing colored lights? Well, I had a repeat of that experience last Friday. Except this time it wasn’t 10th graders dancing in the aisle—it was teachers.
That’s right, it was the Buchanan staff tour! School was cancelled that day due to a Hindu holiday, so the teachers and I hopped on a party bus and headed for a day of sightseeing that included a palace, a fish harbor, a Hindu guru’s shrine, and Varkala beach.
Perhaps you recall that my most recent beach trip was to Goa, where Jim, Maggie and I were able to blend in with the myriad foreigners and frolic about as we pleased. Sun dresses—bathing suits—it was all fair game! We had to deal with a sizeable amount of staring from the Indians at the beach, but did our fair share of staring at them, too—the idea of coming to the beach FULLY CLOTHED and just kind of milling about the shoreline is hard for we Americanos to understand. Of course, the idea of us coming to the beach NOT fully clothed and braving the unknown of the sea is equally difficult for them to understand. So basically we were two groups of people who each thought that the other was completely ridiculous.
Fast forward to Varkala. The teachers and I arrived to the beach, and within seconds I had taken off my shoes and rolled up my jeans. Almost immediately, I (and everyone else) spotted the few foreigners laying out on beach chairs. I simultaneously pitied and envied them. It was SO FUNNY that just a couple of weeks before, I had been in their shoes—trying to enjoy the beach, work on my tan, and wishing that the staring factor could be taken down a notch. And suddenly, there I was, on the OTHER side of the equation—fully clothed at the beach and part of the group that was doing the staring. In a way it was kind of relieving, in regards to my previous beach experience and knowing what it’s like to be stared at, because I know for a fact that none of the Buchanan teachers meant any ill-will by observing—they were just genuinely curious/tickled to see (what to them is) such a spectacle.
As an outsider but not an outsider—a foreigner yet familiar—the teachers had no qualms about asking me about all of the odd behavior they were witnessing. Which resulted in a few conversations like this:
Regil Sar: What are they doing just laying there?
Me: Well…I know that you want to be lighter skinned…but most white people want to be more brown. So we lay in the sun near bodies of water, like the ocean or a pool.
Regil Sar: Oh…Well why are they always reading when they do that?
Me: (inwardly cracking up to be seeing this through their eyes) Well, it can be kind of boring just laying there. So many people enjoy reading while they lay in the sun.
Regil Sar: Oh. (Very obviously thinking, ‘white people are crazy!’)
The best moment was when it looked like a few of the teachers were about to start walking down the beach. I remember thinking “oh, maybe this is something that BOTH cultures enjoy!” But I quickly found out that they had ulterior motives. Wanting to join, I ran after them and asked what they were doing. With a conspiratorial smile and the excitement of a kid in a candy shop, Sherly Teacher offered all the explanation that was needed: “We’re going to see the foreigners!”
"Nothing is inherently and invincibly young except spirit." -George Santayana