My companions in India have pointed out my tendency to use phrases they’ve never heard and don’t understand, such as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. I believe India has provided me with another phrase to add to my rotation, “guest is god”.
Yesterday, I was lucky to be invited, along with my SCU companions, into the houses of a few of the female workers at iMerit. As we entered the houses, about the size of two dormitory rooms pushed together, we were warmly welcomed and given the seat of honor, the bed. As the houses do not have space for a sitting room, the bed doubles as a sort of sitting room, again not unlike a college dorm room. With each visit, there was a small social struggle. We wanted the residents whom we were imposing upon and interviewing to sit upon the bed, while they persistently gestured us onto the bed. In the end, there ended up being a compromise of sorts. At first, we sat criss-cross applesauce on the bed during introductions and pleasantries, and when interviews started we swapped places.
During our second home visit, Mehuli and Sarala, the trainers who were translating for us, explained the idea of guest is god. If they, as locals, were in the unfortunate situation of needing to ask for a rupee, they would be refused. If we, as guests in India, asked for a rupee, we would be given ten. I never asked, but I believe that the same charity would be provided regardless of my skin color, gender, or nationality, though I am sure being a white American male helps here.
In our second interview, we had a chance to talk with the father of one of iMerit’s female workers. During our initial questions, he praised iMerit and claimed it was a good place for his daughter to work. Further probing revealed that though he supported his daughter working at iMerit, where she is a team leader, her family’s financial need was the only reason she was allowed to work anywhere. If the family did not need the income she provides, she would not work at iMerit, but stay at home. By the end of the interview, it was clear, despite the language barrier, that my viewpoint on women working differed from his. Yet at the end, my companions and I were offered wonderfully cold 7up in tall glasses. A man acting against his assertions on women due to financial restrictions provided a man encouraging female independence a luxury. Guest is god.
When I was young, I never understood why my mother got in a tizzy when guests were coming over. I had to clean my room, make my bed, sweep the patio, get food from the grocery store, vacuum the sitting room, set the table, put drinks in the refrigerator, take a shower ( that probably should have happened even without guests), put on nice clothes, turn on the light by the door, and wash Peewee, our dog. In hind sight, both Peewee and I smelled, and as Indian hospitality moves me to reflection, I only hope the hospitality my family provided lived up to Indian standards.