While visiting Vandita’s family farm this afternoon the boy showing us around climbs a tree to pick fresh guavas for us. It isn’t until we are a few minutes out of the grove that I realize how much I had wanted to pick my own guava. I can’t believe how quickly my own thoughts changed to reflect everyone’s expectations of my abilities and the role I should play.
In the past few days, “Be careful” and “You can’t do that” have already become a common refrain. The intent is to protect and take care of us, which I appreciate, but the reasons are because we are “VIP guests,” foreigners, and female. When I realized that I’d already been conditioned to fulfill my role as a female by not even consciously acknowledging my desire to climb the guava tree, I immediately vowed to break out of the box forming around me.
“Next time I’d like to pick my own guava.” Giri tells me I’d have to practice. At first I think he means the technique of knocking the guavas down, then I get his drift and retort, “I’ve climbed a tree before!” Giri doesn’t hide his surprise. Next we go to the rice paddies. As we watch the women labourers and snap photos, they call over to ask if we’re married. The women had noticed our lack of pudu (the red dot on a married woman’s forehead) and clearly thought we were a little too old (i.e. over 18) to still be single. Then they ask us to take a group photo of them. I say yes, but only if they’ll let me cut rice. On my new independent Wonder Woman kick I brush aside warnings that I can’t because I will get dirty or cut myself. I tie my chori, tuck in my kurta, hike up my pants, and climb barefoot down into the paddy. The mud oozes between my toes as a woman who, to much laughter, claims to be named “Baby,” lends me her knife and corrects my technique. Armed with my new “proper scything” knowledge and a little buzzed by the sense of rebellion, I am ready to clear the field! After a few minutes though, my still concerned audience urges me out and, figuring I’ve made my point for the moment, I concede. But now I’m not quite done yet…
To top off my independence day, I tie my chori, slip off my shoes, and scale the 8 foot metal gate when we realize we were locked out of our compound. The shocked look on Giri’s and Mahender’s faces when I open the gate from inside is all the satisfaction I need. Maybe next time they’ll let me climb the guava tree!