Monthly Archives: November 2017

Having my Period, and how it’s like to be a Woman in India

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About a week ago, I had my period. 

I knew it was coming soon, so a few days ago, I told my host mother, ate Diana, that I needed period things.

We happened to be out in the busy business district of Jaigaon, in one particular street with all kinds of shops and restaurants. We had just finished shoe shopping when I told her of my need, and so we set out looking for a pharmacy. Because, as I have come to learn, the only shops that carried period things were pharmacies. And also some big grocery stores or supermarkets.

23484560_10214841651214512_1595942762_oPeriod Products from the local pharmacy

As I’ve said before, these South Asian countries are the strangest I’ve ever been in, so far. The food, the clothing, the language, the culture… I have never been exposed to such South Asianness before. But this lack of availability of feminine products was baffling.

In the Philippines, even the smallest sari-sari store would almost always have feminine products. Here, they do have sari-sari stores, but period products would only ever be found in pharmacies and supermarkets. In these West Bengal parts of India however, there are no supermarkets.

[UPDATE: I am told that this is not the case in other parts of India.]

I wonder why they didn’t make it more common for more stores to sell period products. Periods are already not fun. A woman on her period is already on tiger mode stress level – why stress the tiger out even more? (Or maybe I’m just talking about myself haha.)

On the other hand, now I always remember to buy painkillers whenever I buy period products… and medicine here is insanely, amazingly cheap! Win!

This very minor inconvenience , however, is only one of the things I had to adjust to. I already had an idea of the status of women in South Asia, but experiencing it first hand and hearing about it from actual Indians and Nepalis was an altogether interesting experience.

The caste system still has very deep roots in many communities, sometimes even in Christian communities. In India, pregnant women are forbidden from taking ultrasounds, in an effort to reduce abortions of baby girls. Girls are generally seen as burdens at best, while boys are a blessing. Parents who have girls are deemed unfortunate, because the dowry system requires parents to shell out huge amounts of money to ensure the girls’ marriages.

Girls are also less likely to be educated, because “they will get married anyway,” so investing in her education is seen as a waste. It is therefore not uncommon for women to be employed in low-paying manual labor jobs, while men take blue-collared jobs. One of the shocks I had was seeing women doing heavy manual labor (mixing cement and carrying gravel at construction sites, for example).

It’s easy for a 21st century, western-influenced, egalitarian-leaning young woman like me to think all this to be “oppressive” at worst, or “restrictive” at best, but if there is anything I’ve learned from studying cultures, it is that culture is not easily changed, especially in a place such as India, where certain societal systems are deeply entrenched in the culture, and there are certain people in power who are actively working to keep the status quo.

It is a complicated problem, one that needs to be addressed at the worldview level. And the fact that people do not find it to be a problem is, I think, an indication of how big the problem. It is especially a sad and sobering realization for me that even some Christians do not think it to be a problem.

It was especially interesting for me to discover how Christian women are in South Asia. But that’s another blog post for another day.

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Baba’s Death

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At the India-Bhutan border.

In the last several weeks, I have attended a funeral, preached in a local church, and done several interviews for my research. 

As I write this, I am in Dalsingpara, a rural part of India near the India-Bhutan border, and I am… idle. I am, to be very honest, a bit bored. I know, I know. Just a month ago I was gushing over how everything here was multi-sensory stimulation.

Due to our new circumstances, however, our plans have changed, and I have no choice but to stay put here, and generally reflect on how God allows things to happen for a purpose.

My host family and I had only stayed several days in Butwal, Nepal, on our way to Pokhara and Kathmandu, where I was scheduled to meet and interview several pastors and evangelists, when the news about kuya John’s father’s death reached us. That same afternoon, we packed, rented a vehicle, and set out for India.

It took us 12 hours to reach Dalsingpara, India, and preparations for the burial quickly occupied my host family. The custom here is to have the burial within a day or two of the person’s death, and have a 7-day wake.

I have heard so many things about kuya John’s Baba (father) – orphaned at an early age, getting into the military, being shunned and prevented from being promoted because of his struggles, leaving the military, and finally becoming a Christian and prolific evangelist and church planter (and being persecuted for it).

I even heard bits of his love story, and how he ended up with Ama (mother).

Now, more than a week after we buried him, the house is filled with Baba’s photos, blown up and framed for the funeral earlier. From what I was told, he was a strong, boisterous, effusive character who loved talking and telling stories.

Now, I see his photos everyday, and I wonder: Baba, sayang! Why didn’t I get to meet you?

And my deep consciousness, there is the quesiton: God, why did you take him now? Even selfishly: God, why couldn’t I have met him?

But such is life – the unexpected happens, and we do not really know, or have control over, the future.

This, I believe, is one of the important things God is teaching me at this period. Nothing is ultimately within my control, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I calm down and lose my anxiety.