Thursday, April 9, 2009

Of Illiteracy, Innocence, and Ignorance

I am discovering lately that illiteracy is not only a general absence of knowledge because of the lack of reading skills, but a complete lack of what and how things are beyond your immediate sphere of living! We, who are able to read, and do read, accumulate a very broad spectrum of information - some useful and some useless, but nevertheless, information and knowledge that we take for granted. For instance, I recently met a middle-aged woman Reka (not her real name) that knew to read Tamil (the local language), but refuses to read anything other than religious books.

She and I were just flicking through the TV channels one evening, and paused a moment on an English movie that was just concluding..... in the final scene, this cute girl throws her arms around this handsome hero and kisses him (just a tad longer than a friendly kiss actually).... Reka turns to me and asks with all sincerity "Why do they kiss on the lips?" Hmmmm...... this is from a woman who has been married for over two decades! Of course, first I wanted to scream "WHAT? After 20 years, you have never kissed, or been kissed like THAT???" You poor thing! And then I realized that her question was indeed genuine, and seeing her eyes looking at mine expectantly, I could not laugh this off either!

Now, since I've never dealt with this question from my kids, I didn't have a prepared, scripted answer in my memory bank.... So I thought I should offer her a more benign explanation and say something like, "Oh, it's just like kissing on the cheek.... some prefer the lips...." or, "Oh, because she's too short to reach his cheeks or forehead.... this was just more conveniently located close to hers ...." and shrug ..... But then wonder if she really believed me ....... or worse, does not buy my explanation and conclude that I didn't respect her enough to tell her the truth! So, I just said nonchalantly "People who love each other kiss on the lips ...." (and realizing that this would automatically presume that she and her husband did not love each other), I added " in some countries...." She nodded understandingly, and I silently prayed...... please God.... no follow-up questions ..... Is this really innocence???

Then there is this incidence yesterday that can only be categorized as ignorance for lack of knowledge.... I opened the fridge and saw my most precious possession inside that entire refrigerator..... the quart of Cream and Fruits ice cream, on the bottom shelf! Crazy scenarios ran through my mind, like someone finishing it and leaving it here to taunt me.... Deeply disturbed, I picked it up and shook it and of course it was all liquid inside..... I hastily opened the freezer to refreeze and rescue what was left of it and there was no room! (Since everything is bought fresh from the local market almost daily, the freezer had been empty except for my most precious possession). The freezer shelves were neatly lined with the unopened plastic milk packages that we receive every morning, and with a small container of home-made yogurt ..... and they were all now rock hard!

I took a deep breath, counted 1-10 slowly and enquired, "Esther, why are the milk packages here? And, why is the ice cream in the fridge?" "Oh, there was no room in the fridge, and I wanted to move all of the milk and the yogurt out together to one place.... so I moved them up, and brought the ice cream down" and beamed at me from the kitchen, quite pleased with her innovative thinking..... It was time to take that slow breath again and count to 10..... "Esther, please come here and see what has happened to the milk and the yogurt....." She felt the packages, but still no shocked reaction as I had wanted!!! So one more slow breath later I ventured, "Esther, this package is going to burst because it is just thin plastic .... and should NEVER be put in the freezer.... and the ice cream, (shaking the quart for some drama) has melted now, and should NEVER be put in the fridge......EVER!!" She muttered something walking back into the kitchen, as I hastily switched the articles around..... and lo and behold, this morning the fridge shelves are dripping with milk from the torn packages, and Esther..... well, she's on vacation from Good Friday early morning to Easter and will return home next week!!

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