So today, I went downtown and settled down under the umbrellas outside a coffee house with a chemistry text book, a sheaf of papers and a load of homework. Getting through work over a caramel frappe or an apple cinnamon muffin has become something I love doing nowadays. Being in a small college town, one gets to meet a lot of very nice people, just hanging out someplace. A girl sitting at the next table struck up a conversation with me today. I found out that she was also a KU student, taking summer classes. She said she was brought up in Lawrence, and hadn't ever been outside the state - she seemed quite fascinated that I had lived in a range of places before i had hit the States. Having lived here for a year and a half now, I've realised that the best thing my parents have given me has been the chance to live in the most diverse cultures - as we relocated from one country to the next every two or three years. Being used to change made it much easier for me to adapt to this environment. The "desi-ness" that my parents have so firmly embedded in me, alongside the global perspective that they helped me inculcate over the years, is proving to be my strength in a place where any form of local culture draws a blank. I have so much to say about the local culture (or the lack of it rather), that I can keep raving.
Anyway, getting back to the coffee house... the girl was enrolled in an Eastern Civilization class and was trying to pen a ten page paper about social and economic development in Asian countries. She went ahead to tell me, "I don' even know why I'm writin' this, ya know... its not like I care about how some third world country is doin' economically." As I was fighting my impulse to lash out about calling my country third world, she capped her opinion with, "I donno how long you've been around here to know, but we in America are good on our own, ya know? Who really thinks we need China to help us get by?" By this point, "Do you SERIOUSLY mean that!?!?!?" and "Do you even know what you're saying?!?!?!?" were bursting around in my head and I must say, I've not been that dumbfounded in a long long long time.... Even though the words never made it out of my mouth, I hope my expression told her enough. She looked me over and threw, "Are you Indian?" at me. When I confirmed that, she outdid herself by asking me if we rode elephants through our cities and married our girls off when they turned thirteen. I remember thinking for a vague moment if she was honestly this ignorant or if she was scorning my culture and heritage. After 15 minutes of more of her stupid questions and my monosyllablic gritted teeth responses, I concluded that she really was unaware of anything that happened across the Atlantic and the Pacific alike - and what's more, she was in bliss in her 'America is all there is' world. Any of my attempts to give her some reality were met with contemptuous looks that plainly said, Yea, right! When a friend fianlly came by to pick me up, I was glad. Some may say (and I agree) that I should have taken it upon myself to clear her misconceptions and educate her a little bit about my culture and the real world over the US borders. It turns out to be quite a difficult task, with a community that belives so firmly in its ideas and that we internationals exaggerate the good in our societies and cultures to "make it look like we're as good as America" - in our cafe girl's words. It frustrates me, that there really are some people, who are as uninformed as this and don't even care enough to try to educate themselves in an era of globalisation and booming international development. It struck me today that I really have become intolerant to ignorance... I think it's time I relaxed my indignation a little, and tried to share some knowledge out when the need arises... hmmmm....... :)