I never stood out much in the States, at least not physically. I’m five two, with brown hair, and green eyes. Here, aside from my height, I couldn’t be more different from the people around me.
At least on the outside.
The stares and whispered words elicited purely by my pale skin scared me at first. I felt it so clearly when my wandering eyes met the ones of those staring: I was an outsider. Indians are not familiar with the slick, nonchalant glance granted to someone that stands out in the States. There’s no quick flick of the eyes, or attempt to sneak a peek out of one’s periphery. And when I looked to see the face holding the eyes I felt staring, I expected them to advert. But they never did. They held my gaze, unashamed with no attempt to hide their stare.
At first, I wanted to believe that in time, these stares would evolve into shared smiles. That the double takes wouldn’t exist. That I could blend in. Part of me always knew that this would never be the case. A pale, light eyed, foreigner would never not be stared at; I would always stand out. That first week, what I didn’t understand, was that standing out didn’t have to be a bad thing.
The turned heads provoked by my distinctive appearance, for the most part, did not come from a place of judgement, mocking, or demise. They originated from curiosity. The idea that the staring eyes may simply have never seen a white person didn’t occur to me at first. I didn’t consider the motives behind the wide-eyed looks, except that in some way they must be judging me. They are curious, sometimes eager, never hateful, scrutinizing looks, often with no intention other than observation.
People say “it’s what’s on the inside that matters”. Though this phrase is compelling, I cannot deny that how something or someone appears on the outside will always hold some significance. It’s a matter of seeking to understand beyond what I may want to believe about someone because of their appearance.
I understand now that part of my immersion will be not blending in. It just took a moment of asking from a place of understanding, rather than fear, why someone might stare. Ironically, being noticed is always something I have strived for. Even though it may not be in the way I hoped for, I stand out. And while there is a part of me that thinks I could immerse and connect better if my skin was brown and my hair was dark, there is another part of me that knows I can have a real impact on my community here because, not in spite, of my difference.
When I came to this epiphanous conclusion about the curious nature of stares, I was reminded of a fortune cookie I got a few weeks before leaving for India. “Nothing is to be feared; it is only to be understood”. It was another testament to my host Dad’s first piece of advice: No Fear. I carried the fortune in my phone case, not yet understanding what it could mean for me. However, I found new meaning in the wide-eyed stares that I get every day and in the smiles I share when I look back. And though the stares have not faded, I am seeking to understand the things that can so easily be feared.