This week’s guest post Wednesday is written by a friend of mine who works as an Education Consultant in India. A gifted teacher, she has a heart for working with children with special needs and who are underprivileged. (If you’re interested in reading more about her life in India, be sure to check out her blog.)
Community means different things to different people, but in the end it is about having people with whom you can share the joys and burdens of life. As someone who has left communities and had to discover and create a new community in an entirely different country, I have learned that expectations are key in developing community. We all have needs, but more importantly we have expectations of how we want those needs met. Other people have expectations of how they want their needs met. When the expectations are not met, then our needs feel unmet. This can leave one feeling lonely and isolated.
That’s where I found myself my first year living in India.
India is a wonderful vibrant place, but it can also be a tough place to live. In the States, I usually find it easy to make friends and build community. At the end of my first year in India, I was lost and alone in the midst of about 22 million people. It was not that I did not try, but my efforts were not successful because I did not understand the culture. People did not know how to meet my needs or be community for me because they did not know my expectations. The way community is done in India is vastly different than in Houston or Waco, Texas. I had to take a step back and observe to understand how community worked.
The first basic rule I learned, which I think is a global principle, is to find community you must be community. I had to take the initiative and visit people in their homes. Going to someone’s house bestows a blessing upon them and gives them honor. I spent my second Lent taking time to visit people, to drink chai, eat whatever they served me, and get to know them. It was like magic! Almost overnight I had community! People reciprocated and started calling to see how I was doing, offering to help, inviting me to celebrations, popping in to see me. It was incredible.
The second basic thing I learned, which also can be applied globally, is to change my expectations. I have had to learn to accept how Indians express community. I understand now that when someone comments on my weight or how I look or my marital status, then they care about me. People want to make sure you are taken care of. If you are plump, then you are being well fed and getting enough to eat (more than enough in most cases). Appearance is important and if someone cares, then they will want you to make a good impression, thus becoming your personal fashion consultant. In Indian society, women only have security if they are under the care of a man. People want to know who they have to answer to if they mess with me. All these questions and/or statements, which would not be appropriate in the US, take on a new meaning here. If someone feels they have the right to directly express what you should do about something, then they really care about you and you cannot get rid of them. It’s kind of like the love language thing. To feel a sense of belonging in a community, one needs to understand how belonging is communicated and be willing to receive it. People cannot express belonging to you if they do not know how you receive belonging. It takes time to learn these things. A bit of give and take will start to take place and before you know it you will feel right at home.
Community looks different from one place to another and even one group to another, but the premise of community is caring for one another. Learning to care for others is a life-long process. We are able to care for others better when we understand how to care for ourselves. Even with our flaws, healthy people caring for each other can create a wonderful community wherever you are.