Squatty potties. I cautiously stand in the entrance of the outhouse like structure, looking down at a small porcelain hole in the ground that reveals nothing more than an overwhelming sense of confusion. I futilely wish for picture instructions or even access to a YouTube video in order explain the impossible task of successfully using the simple contraption. Yet I find only that small porcelain hole and a bucket of water. No how-to guide exists to teach the science of eating every meal with my hands, or to facilitate the inane struggle of communicating the basic details of my life when there is no common language. Instead, there remains an aggressive Indian family repeatedly scooping rice onto the tips of their fingers, demonstrating the correct thumb-shoveling-food-into-mouth technique, and incomprehensibly chucking rocks onto the bed of a large truck, obtusely explaining my host brother’s occupation. As I stand in the doorway of that outhouse like structure, unwilling to enter, I am reminded of just how far away from my comfort zone I really am.
Squatty potties aren’t the only trigger for discomfort. As I trudge through the muddy roads of the small village in Southern India, carefully avoiding embedding my shoeless feet into piles of manure, I am weighed down by a backpack that carries a key relic of my own culture and past: a small, fluffy stuffed dog, worn and stained from years of sulking beneath textbooks and homework. Placed in my backpack in third grade as an insurance policy against regular panic attacks, the dog, now out of commission several years, remains as a vestige of lost time. As a child, at the slightest prick of discomfort, anxiety ascended from deep in my abdomen, and I would stealthily pet the lint-laden fur to quiet the inexplicable fear. This anxiety effaced any ability to participate in activities outside my narrow comfort zone, and in effect, I lost much of the curiosity and exploration of childhood. Yet as I trek through those sub-continental muddy pathways, surrounded by emaciated goats, women draped in saris crouching in the dirt to wash dishes and clothing, and the angry shouts of men in a disorienting language, I can’t avoid that same prick deep in my abdomen.
When not the result of the spicy curry I must eat out of politeness, that prick usually has me cowering in solitude. However, in the second most populous country in the world, solitude doesn’t exist within the brightly painted walls of my host family’s small home. Instead, I am surrounded by truly compassionate people, who, at the sight of my baffling tears, cry themselves. Who, when seeing me in the throes of food poisoning, perform Hindu rituals on my retching body. Unlike the chucking of rocks into a truck, these gestures I am able to grasp. They remind me that despite perplexing cultural differences, kind people are kind people. The differences are not scary, but exciting- an opportunity to regain the lost curiosity of my childhood. As I stand in the doorway of the outhouse like structure, I am no longer scared of the unfamiliar, but now excited at the prospect of something new. I don’t need YouTube; I don’t need my old dog. I step inside and take care of business—in a hole new way.