The Principal's Family


A couple nights ago, we were invited to share snacks and have a "discussion" at the principal's house, which by the way, is right behind the guest house where I live. By now, I should be getting used to words not being used in the same ways that they are in the states, because what they meant by "discussion" was not the serious kind of talk I was expecting. They meant it more like coming over for chit-chat. Another example is when people mean to ask "How can I help you?" or "Do you have a problem?" They, instead, say "What's wrong with you?" I was almost offended the first time I heard someone say that to me.

We sat down around the principal's kitchen table with a snack already prepared in front of us. "Snack" was also different from what I had expected. Their "snack" was closer to a second dinner. There were these thick, tennis ball-sized, rice balls meant to be dipped in a heavy masala sauce. I regretted just eating a big dinner. Sejalben, the principal's daughter, had made these snacks and was watching us all intently as we ate. As I struggled to get through even one rice ball, I felt obligated to keep eating, and eating, and eating.

We were all also given a shot glass-sized dish with something that looked like ice cream inside. When Sejalben was explaining what it was, I only caught the words "cream" and "coconut," so, being the cultural expert that I am, I picked up the glass and starting drinking it. Hmm.. not as sweet as I expected. In fact, it was quite bitter. And it had a strange, gritty texture to it. This isn't enjoyable at all! With a very confused looked on her face, Sejalben asked me what I what I was doing. "That is another sauce for dipping."

During our "discussion," we got to know the principal's family a little more. We learned that 12 people live in the same house: the principal and his wife, their parents, their children, and their children's children! In India, they explained to me, families are happy when they remain together. The principal's son told me that he looks forward to coming home to spend time with his family everyday when he's at work. I think most of us would agree that this is pretty rare mentality for people to have in the states. Most kids can't wait to go off to college, leave the house, and start their own lives. I guess some people would say that this happens because of urbanization, modernization, etc. But what I saw that night were people that are a whole lot more confident in their cultural values, people who hold onto these values and allow them to shape their lives.

One of the strongest values that defines American life is the drive to succeed and simply make it in the world. I'm not saying that people here don't want to be successful. But is there something we lose when the desire to become successful overshadows other values and colors the way we live, interact with others, and view our surroundings? I'm slowly digesting this food for thought.


Benjamin said...

Great last paragraph.

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