By Nikki Blumenfeld
There was something about this week that felt different than the others here. It was during our field trip that I noticed it the most, as I was sitting in the grass while the hot sun beat down on me, wishing I had bought a scarf to cover my head.
We spent most of our day in Bikkapathymund, one of the Toda communities not too far of a drive from the Keystone campus. Fortunate enough to be invited to go on a hike to look at one of their most important temples, we started off earlier in the day, with plans to be done by lunch.
After many miles trekking through the forest, we entered a grassland and were told to take our shoes off. That meant we were close, only a short walk now to the temple. Right as I started to finally see it, a gorgeous, conical temple shaded by an alcove of trees with a buffalo pen next to it, our host turned around and told us that the men would be able to go further, but that the women would have to stay back.
Resignedly, I sat down. Of course, I thought to myself, I should’ve known this was going to happen. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced this type of restriction since I’ve been here. The girls in our batch had been warned beforehand too- we were going to be treated differently because of our gender, and though we might want to protest, we should remember that as visitors it is not our place to say what we feel is right or wrong and change what is not our community.
As I sat there on the grassy slope, watching the men walk closer to the temple, I did notice that this was starting to irritate me more than it had in the past. During the first few weeks here everything felt so new and unusual and exciting, but now I was getting used to this place, finding familiarity in my day to day life. Yet with this familiarity came the frustration that this kind of occurrence will be something I will encounter often here.
Walking back, we were told that the women of Bikkapathymund could not walk any further than where we had left our shoes, too far away to even see the temple from the distance I could. This complicated my feelings even more than they already were- just as I did not want to be seen as inferior to the men in our group, I did not want to be given special treatment over a huge portion of the people we were visiting. It made me wonder too, why could I be afforded the opportunity the Toda women would never have? What did our hosts view me as? Though it was made clear that we weren’t men, it also seemed as if we weren’t really women either- we were something in between, but what exactly that means, I am not quite sure.