Everyone on the bus is staring at me. I always managed to be the local attraction, despite the sari.
In preparation for my semester abroad in Madurai, India, I was given a crash course on customs and cultural differences; I learned to conduct myself as a respectable Indian girl. Upon arrival, my host family dressed me for the part—they wrapped me in vibrant saris with perfect pleats, sparkly stickers called bindis were placed on my forehead, and paisley swirls of henna decorated my body. My wanderings throughout the cavernous carved stone stalls of the Meenakshi Temple taught me how to barter and order sweet milky tea. I mastered the customary southern Indian head wobble, the respectful bow over hands pressed in prayer and only passed items with my right hand.
I stood out like a drag queen in church, and yet I felt my attempts to blend in with the locals were fairly successful—until I ate. With the first bite of my host mom’s cooking I was gripped by an intense panic that the inferno blazing inside my mouth was going to cause my head to spontaneously combust. My taste buds were under attack, my eyes burst from their sockets, a deluge of sweat washed over me. The ability to pass chilies, so intense, from lips to stomach, would require months of pre-game training.
Riding a fresh wave of sweat, the bindi slid down my nose.
Stopping in mid-bite, jaws gaping; four dark brown faces stared at me with expressions of confusion and deep concern. Apparently, "turning pink and crying" while I ate was blowing my cover.
This post was entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAwayUK Travel Writing Competition for November on the topic, "Living Like Locals". We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.