Saturday, September 15, 2012

How am I perceived?

It was 10:30 am and I was returning home after dropping my baby at the childcare. Two meters away from the centre, I met an old man…a westerner by his looks, but not an Australian by the way he spoke English. He smiled at me and said something like, ‘your baby was crying…but now he…(stammers, then hmmms and says) she is ok now.’ Then he asked, ‘daughter or son?’ I am taken aback for a second. I was like, ‘what is he saying?’ So I then asked him, ‘You mean you heard my daughter cry?’ He said, he stays next to the childcare centre where my daughter goes. He must have seen us many times, walking past his house to the childcare centre.

He asked me if it is just me and my daughter or if I have any other family members with us. I told him that I have my husband and three cousins. And his next question threw me away in confusion. The full effect and understanding of his proposal of whether I was in need of a company didn’t register until I walked away from him. I said, ‘no’ and he walked away saying, ‘that is all right. See you.’ I appreciated his outright straightforwardness and how he could immediately understand what a ‘no’ meant. But of course he didn’t grow old not knowing what it all means to linger too long after someone whose answer was a ‘no’.

I walked away, laughing. I honestly couldn’t control myself. I was crossing the roads and I was smiling…so broadly. Now, this didn’t mean I was making fun of him. It was kind of unbelievable to me. I have never known people to speak something like this so openly and in the clearest words, without any umm and ahh and in the longest winding about way. That probably is how Bhutanese make a proposal. And then I wondered what part of the sentence where I mentioned my husband he did not understand. And it prompted me even further to ask how I appeared to people and how they perceived me. I wondered if I looked pathetic and in need-of help. I don’t mean all single mothers are in need of help, but I wondered if I seemed like a single mother, so pathetically going through suffering. I was not even dressed provocatively; it is winter in Melbourne, so bone-chilling cold and I was wearing a thick feather jacket and ‘double’ pants. But of course, when you need something, you must dare to ask, for, you never know wherein a positive answer lies for you.

Difference I see - I

It was in June last year, at the peak of winter that my family and I landed in Melbourne. The Intensive Academic Program that the AusAID scholars undergo for a month is honestly intensive. As is the purpose, it makes us understand what we will be expected to do as a master’s student and how we must perform the assignments. Having to attend the classes the next day I have been flown here, I felt totally disarrayed – more because I suddenly had to leave my 5 month old daughter at home for the whole day. It was a big change. A big change indeed.

As part of this introduction course called the IAP, we had to conduct a short survey. This was a group assignment. We were going to pick our respondents randomly – from the park, in the train, at the restaurants, at the hospital etc. I didn’t realize that it is really, really hard to get people to agree to be a respondent. When number of people who said ‘no’ outnumbered the ones who said ‘yes’, I felt totally dejected. I even cried, every time they said no. It was a very new experience for me. In Bhutan, we have people agreeing to your request all the time (almost). And it did not occur to me that people could refuse your request without any tinge of emotion.

After a while, I just feared to approach anyone. I think I made do with just 8 respondents. Later during the presentation, I found that in fact our group had the maximum respondents and ours was the longest survey. We surely must have pressured ourselves beyond the scope of the assignment – or we wanted to be the best. But anyway, the point is that, here, in Australia (must be like this in other countries too) you have to pay people if you want them to take part in your survey. There has to be some incentive or they won’t take part. The way people calculate each second of their time in terms of money is crazy. I mean, I still can’t come to terms with this idea. How can everything be calculated in terms of monetary value? Aren’t there things that are equally important or rather, more important than money? Out here, I am starting to see that a human’s life is valued based on the list of skills they have and the amount of money they make. Exactly! Today, in one of the classes a lecturer told us that if you are more expensive (your hourly rate, if you are to be hired as a contract employee), then people tend to believe what you say more easily. In many ways, the course is teaching me that all the principles I held all this time has to fall away, because everything is a process of politics (it should take a different topic on its own. I will write on it soon).

But my point for today is that, as a Bhutanese, we are taking so many things for granted. For example, even when we conduct surveys, we tend to think that people are actually obligated to be our respondents. These days, everywhere I read, I see more people complaining about what we don’t have than being grateful about what we have. I think, while it is good to be critical, it is worthwhile to appreciate what we have. 

This is Bhutan

I moved to Adelaide, South Australia 10 months ago. This decision was driven by my belief that family has to be together and pursuing your c...