the things we think are normal.

26 Sep

so, i am not sure i completely think that the concept of normal actually exists.

i mean, i know for a fact my ability to watch the first 2 seconds of any friends episode and then tell you what season it is from along with the general synopsis of the entire episode – including the quippiest of quotes – is not normal. actually, it’s a little messed up, let’s be real here.

and even the people who we yearn to be like, because they are so incredibly normal, are probably not even anywhere near the embodiment of this phenomenon.

so when everyone had told me that bihar, a state in northern india, is “not normal” – i was keffuffled. what exactly is normal, especially in the context of this country of dust slash mud and spice?

last week i headed to bihar via train to visit our regional operations. when i got to patna (the capital city) i looked around, saw the typical delights of rickshaw drivers, hustling autos, mud, a bajillion people and honking vehicles and thought “what’s the big deal, yo?”

even arriving to my hotel, i kept thinking that this was nowhere as ghetto-fab as everyone (including my american industry colleague who called bihar “gangster” – no joke) made it out to be.

but by day 2, something funny happened.

the more i actually looked around, experienced the people, met with our clients in their homes, enjoyed the regional office and moved from place to place i realized that yup, holy f&$kballs, this place is pretty freeking gangster. indeed.

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the streets were actually infinitely dirtier than those in calcutta – meaning there were piles of garbage on the “sidewalks” and gutters that didn’t get removed at the end of each day. it was a veritable archeological dig of 5 years of trash. moreover, the garbage dumps – which  can sometimes be found on the side of the road here – were literally everywhere in patna.  a true feast for the senses!

a good portion of the buildings were dilapidated, or barely hanging on. there were very few new buildings, and a myriad of shacks and thatched-roof edifices that frankly, i’m surprised survived any kind of rumble from the recent earthquake.

and speaking of rumbles, bihar’s famous ‘7 km long bridge’ (maybe you’ve heard of it? no?) over the ganges river actually shook violently as we waited in traffic about ½ way across. maybe it was the deteriorated cement, maybe it was the insane amount of vehicles – who knows.

as i told the perpetually-paranoid miss jp yesterday, i was 96% convinced that i was going to die on that bridge. she said: “well i didn’t want to say anything, but we aren’t even allowed to travel by train. i’m just glad that they didn’t blow up your train tracks.”

(um, so i still have no idea who “they” are, but i nodded my head enthusiastically in agreement, nonetheless.)

so as if the garbage and infrastructure wasn’t enough – many of the people were really vulgar. the status of women is not great in bihar as it stands, and because it’s generally not recommended for tourists, they don’t see many white women. to say i was obsessively open-mouth gawked at would be an understatement.

i actually stopped traffic, bitches!

the scratching, snorting, spitting, peeing, farting and general disgusting bodily functions made me feel physically nauseous – and i like to think i am able to handle a lot of crudity. (cruditay? cruite? sounds like a delicious french hors d’oeuvre.)

and of course, what goes hand-in-hand with this is the general lack of cleanliness and sanitary living conditions in bihar. almost everyone i met was wearing dirty clothes and many of them were living uncomfortably close to cow shit.

yup, i guess this is poverty.

but what gets me, is that our clients in calcutta, who are generally pretty poor themselves, have higher standards of ‘normal’ for cleanliness/manners/infrastructure etc than the ones in bihar. so that makes me wonder what exactly is normal?

our ceo said to me today as we were gabbing about these differences: “it’s about what people are used to.”

and that’s just it: what’s normal for me, isn’t normal for you because we have different life experiences and expectations.

and even if the biharis knew that they could improve their situation, maybe buying solar lights to deal with the rampant power cuts for example, well would they? my guess is no, because power cuts are just normal and dealing with them is just…well…normal. their lives have adjusted to everything that the place they call home as to offer – good and bad.

to wrap this up, i have been implored to tell you that on this trip i got fairly fantastically shit on by a cow.

the cow was stationed only about 3 feet behind me, so perhaps i should have seen it coming. i was simply trying not to look like the holier-than-thou white girl too good to sit on the ground.

and when the cow shit on me, after laughing awkwardly loud, i thought: “well f*&k it, i guess that right now this is my normal.”

end scene.


12 Responses to “the things we think are normal.”

  1. A.A.B. (auntie angie baby) September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    “We want to encourage greatness in men. We want to encourage ambition. We believe that nobody wants to be sort of gray-normal. Often, the definition of normal is ‘average.’ We live, it seems to us, in an age under the curse of normalcy, characterized by the elevation of the mediocre.” – Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette

    • al September 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      poignant. kinda makes me feel bad that i talked about ‘farting’ in this post.

  2. Brenna September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    True artistry… many cannot move a sentence seamlessly from farts to french hors d’oeuvre. I’m impressed.

    Sounds like a really valuable trip and chance to get to know more of such a diverse place. The cow shit’s a bit unfortunate though…. kinda wish I had been there to witness the awkward laugh!

    • al September 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      i am a literary genius, thanks for noticing. maybe ill recreate the laugh for you someday soon – but we won’t be able to recreate the looks the women gave me. or can we…

  3. Hannah September 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Human interactions are about sharing. You’re not right and nor are they. Accepting normalcy is failing to innovate. Challenge your normalcy daily and you might just inspire others to do the same.

    • al September 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

      i’m not really sure the question here was about being right or wrong. i’m ok with having a ‘daily normal’ in lots of cases – i think for me right now every moment is so far from what i would consider “normal al life” that i dont feel the need to challenge, in many respects. the challenges and opportunities for innovation find me pretty easily – and i’m ok with that.

  4. ica September 27, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    I am sitting in the chiropractors office.. Well of course you have to be very weirdly quiet while your waiting. I actually laughed out loud when you said you got shit on by a cow !! Well done sister.. Well done ! Best moment of the day. Thank you! Xoxo

    • al October 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

      hahaha, true story. glad that i could offer you some enjoyment at my expense. mission accomplished.

  5. barnet September 28, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Please learn to differentiate between cement and concrete.
    Also please

    • al October 1, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      oh this was good. this was very very good. makes me feel like drinking a beer very slowly overlooking a lake. know anywhere i could do that?

      and why would i learn the difference when you can simply inform me when necessary? ;)


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