I haven’t written a post in a while. I’ve been busy doing nothing. My how it feels wonderful. I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog that I started this as part of an assignment. I had to make my reflexive documentary of my experiences in India public. When I received the course outline in July, I thought long and hard about this assignment and the whole public thing freaked me out. I’m shy. I also think that I’ve lost my creative writing ‘touch’. I used to write poetry for fun. Go to poetry slams and send my work off begging for it to be published. After a while, even though I have been published, writing lost its flavour and I did not spend much time pursuing it.
Enter in MAPC-IIC.
I love a great challenge. I had not written academically in ten years but I thought why not? I can do. Many people thought that I was a bit crazy. You see, I am mother. My daughter will be three in a month. ‘These’ people thought that I would have a hard time balancing school, life and mommyhood. If I said that I didn’t have to adjust then I would be lying. My life took a backseat but I expected that. I was also used to being selfless. After all, it has been almost four years since I had to start to put others’ needs and wants before mine.
I LOVE TO TRAVEL. I love to go onto airplanes. All modes of transportation excite me especially when I end up in a completely different space and place than home. For our final assignment for PCOM 641 I wrote about my experiences of travelling to India as a rite of passage for me. I’m posting it here to share with you a bit of my personal journey post-India.
Travel has oft been associated with leisure and cyclical passage of time. My family has an annual women’s only weekend. This is a time when we go to Salt Spring Island or another neighbouring city to relieve the ordinary and mundane stresses of our everyday lives (Graburn, 2010). Similar to life, travel is a progressive cycle of repetitive events that has a series of changes. For example, as a student with little or limited financial resources, I might travel as a backpacker to a) travel cheaply, and b) stay longer. As a mid-career professional, I might have more money to spend and therefore stay at a four- or five-star resort but only manage to have one or two weeks to travel. Regardless of the length of time, the “tourists’s [sic] gender, class, occupation, and life stage are all significant in determining where tourists choose to go and what they think of the experience when they have been there” (p. 26). While there are several reasons, values, lifestyles and class, that may motivate travel, one inherent commonality is the opposition to life at home—ordinary—and away from home—extraordinary.
This inversion of the day-to-day routine is succeeded by a traveller’s rite of passage, or life-stage event. Turner (2007) describes rites of passage as liminal, in–between positions “assigned…by law, custom, convention and ceremonial” (p. 89). This transitional phase occupied during a rite of passage is a space for “new situations, identities, and social realities” (Schechner, 2006, p. 66). Rites of passage move through three phases of liminality: preliminal; liminal; and postliminal. My trip to India was a rite of passage for me. My preliminal phase encompassed my roles as mother and student. I transitioned, in India, to a student and traveller leaving behind one of my primary roles. Because the space that I occupied was so different from my environment at home, the situations and experiences that I had while in India can be described as liminal—the in–between stage of my identity construction. This position, of uniformity and no status, is regarded by Hubert and Mauss (as cited in Graburn, 2010) as a “sequential process of leaving the ordinary…the sacralization that elevates the…[traveller] to the nonordinary [or liminal] state where marvelous things happen” (p. 28). My journey to and through India sparked a rebirthing of a past-life Anika. A person that is comfortable in a fluid and transcendent role that the liminal state of travel provides (Graburn, 2010; Turner, 1982).
I experienced an extreme case of reverse culture shock upon returning home. In fact, as Feyerbend (as cited in Graburn, 2010) suggests, the unhappiness that a traveller endures when s/he arrives at home is often half the length of the time of travel (p. 30). I have however, not left this extraordinary experience behind, even after being home for one month. This suggests, that my state of liminality, or period of transition is not over yet. I argue further that the struggles that I have encountered while writing this paper are a result of my strong sense of communitas (community), with my cohort and India, thereby I am resisting the transition from liminal back to the mundane everyday and ordinary life at home. To interpret my coinvolvement in the construction of my performance-in-progress I take you on a journey of self-discovery, awareness of my biases and lessons learned in India.
My performance of identity
Similar to witnessing trauma, travel makes us think and feel new things. Through these new experiences, our identity is always transforming as we respond to the context and situations around us. These changes are performances-in-progress; performances that develop through identity construction. Further, these constructions evolve, are fluid and fluctuate rather than fit into any one fixed site. In relation to travel, identity transformation is a rite of passage, or a movement of one stage of life to another with three main stages to pass through: a) separation— “detachment…from an earlier fixed point in the social structure, from a set of cultural conditions,… or from both” (Turner, 2007, p. 89); b) liminality—the in–between stage; and, c) reincorporation—the stable state in which structure is defined and the traveller has a new status within the communitas (p. 89). When I think of my Indian journey according to Turner’s three stages, I am supposed to be on the third stage. However, I am still lingering behind in the liminal phase of travel, unable to let go of the extraordinary feeling that I experienced in India. This performance of culture that I experienced in India is a socially constructed ritual (Conquergood, 1991; Turner, 2007). Turner (2007) suggests that rituals and the social drama process focus on observation; namely, what people do or how they perform culture. The concept of ritual, borrowed from a host of anthropologists (see Bell, 1992, 1997; Geertz, 1973; Rapport, 1999; Turner, 1969, 1982) is a series of actions that reinvents traditions and restores cultural tensions “into dramatic clarity and alignment” (Conquergood, 2006, p. 467). I, however, have not moved through to this phase of clarity. My ritualized site of knowing or coperformance between the ordinary (at home) and extraordinary (India) is lost in the liminal phase of travel, thereby leaving my identity teetering on the threshold.
Butler’s (2007) contributions to queer theory and her theory of gender as performed influence my understanding of self. She presents identity as a socially constructed performance that varies from culture-to-culture and person-to-person. To be queer is to question the dominant notions of identity and gender as a learned act, socially compelled not ontological. In short, identity maintains a fluid ever changing form. Like Butler, Conquergood (1991) presents “identity and culture as constructed and relational, instead of ontologically given and essential” (p. 184). I embody this notion of identity as nonlinear and often find myself living life a little bit on the margins because of it. In my recent travels to India, I experienced marginality repeatedly. Admittedly, some of the marginality was self-imposed. I chose to observe many more experiences than I participated in. I was trying to experience my own reflexive journey uncompromised by the complexities of my travel companions. I learned that this desire to be separate from the group is actually integral to how my journey unfolded. Alternatively, I embraced similarities that I share with the group: we are all students, we are all doing our Master of Arts, and we could all afford to go to India. This cohort is my normative communitas: the structured and socially defined community within which I am a part. I am, however, still in a state of flux longing for the cohort’s communitas in India and struggling against the normative communitas at home. We do have one major difference amongst us though, the colour of our skin; mine is noticeably darker and resembles that of an Indian. Upon arrival home, I received a message from one Gujarat University student who mentioned how I looked Indian and must have felt comfortable while I was there. She was right. At times, I felt more comfortable walking the streets with complete strangers that looked like me than sitting in our makeshift classroom with students that I travelled across the world with. My perspective of this racialized identity seeks to understand my journey in India from a liminal space therefore I see my own cultural identity in complicated and often distorted ways (Ladson-Billings, 2000). My experience is a ritual inversion of tourism (Graburn, 2010). Trinh (1992) explains; “[m]arginalized or colonized individuals, …typically respond to others through a lens of difference” (p. 237). They move between outsider and insider positions, (Liamputtong, 2010) exploring the meaning of the self through the image one has of the other and vice versa. “Identity, then, becomes an open, fluctuating, ongoing process of constructions, ‘a multiplicity of I’s, none of which truly dominates” (Trinh, 1992, p. 237). The complexity of my identities complicates my understanding of travel.
I am home now. I have been home for one month and being home is different than it was before my Indian journey. I think that you would agree with me that it is supposed to be different. More implicitly, my rite of passage should be complete. I have returned to my ordinary state but it is not ordinary. I have struggled to do and sometimes to say everything that encompasses my everyday life pre-India and as I sit here now I finally realize why I have resisted this ordinary state. Firstly, it does not feel like home. My daughter is not here and this makes my surroundings empty, inculcating a sense of loss similar to the reverse cultural shock that I experienced when I arrived home. Secondly, I am not comfortable in Vancouver. I described, briefly, how comfortable I felt in India. This is because I did not feel like the other. Unlike in Vancouver, my racialized identity was dormant for most of my time in India. Differences that I encounter on a daily basis in Vancouver hid beneath the dust only to surface in our class when members of my cohort expressed their experiences of being the other for the first time in their life, or expressed their colonial guilt. I understand that many people travel with colonialism and history in mind: this way of understanding and knowing is deeply rooted in Canadian culture. This is what cements the difference between my cohort and me. I do not see colonialism as a horrible thing nor do I have colonial guilt.
In one workshop exercise, Phillip asked us to go out in Goa and observe colonialism and post-colonialism and come to the next class with an example of either of these (de)constructions. My reaction, though silent, was strong. I performed a stabbing motion at my heart. Why did I do this? Well, we had several discussions pre-India and while in India about these topics already. We were in India to study tourism and while I understand and acknowledge the effects of tourism on locals (see Abbink, 2010; Tucker, 2010) and that some view tourism through a colonial lens (see Bruner, 2010) it was not why I was in India. In addition, I felt that these discussions were furthering the hegemonic systems that they were attempting to displace. This projection of colonial guilt, for crimes against Indians (and others) that none of us participated in, was marginalizing those of us in the group that did not feel or experience this in our own Indian journey. Drawing on Trinh’s (1992) definition of marginalized identities, one with which I identify with, my lens would be different from the dominant culture of my cohort even if I share some similarities in our normative communitas. In addition, as I told Phillip in a personal discussion, if I was asked to share my example of (post)colonialism in class, then I would stand up and display myself. I see it as natural to view culture at the centre of my lived experience. It is the embodiment and the performance of the day-to-day experiences that is central to cultural revitalization.
Liminality, “betwixt and between” (Turner, 2007, p. 89), is a comfortable space for me. It is where I have lived most of my thirty-two years of life. Performance presents a way for me to chart my personal transgressions; to ritualize my lived experiences; and to do so while reinventing, rethinking, and recharting my life’s journey. Travelling to India is one of the major rites of passage in my life. I imagine that it will be a few years before I am able to relive the fluidity of my identities on Indian soil again. In the mean time, I have the tools, at home in my ordinary state, to rehydrate my lived experiences through the lessons that I learned in India. I am a performance-in-process. I have many things to learn. As I take my bow, I would like to thank my cohort, my instructors and India for the journey of a lifetime. I imagine that as I embark on my next chapter of life I will again, reinvent, rethink, reimagine and rechart my journey.
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