Published August 27, 2008

 

THE ODD-MAN DILEMMA

 

 23RD OF JULY AT ELEVEN IN THE MORNING: wearing my favorite, green, ribbon shirt and blue, flexible caprice, my family and I departed from John F. Kennedy airport to Abu Dhabi. Upon our arrival, we immediately had to rush to our next plane to Lahore. In the plane, though, before I got comfortable in my seat, I made a trip to the lavatory to change into my “appropriate” clothing.  Now one may wonder why I would change from a long, green shirt, barely showing any other body part, and caprice not even reaching knee-length, into an even longer, checkered shirt up to my waist, with tan pants and a duppata around my neck. My previous clothing did not seem inappropriate to my family or my fellow plane passengers.

            At about tea time (in Pakistan, that is about five in the afternoon), our flight landed safely in Lahore. We disembarked; we ladies put on our scarves around our necks, and walked to the customs and baggage claim area. But as I was going through the halls of the airport, something strange was crawling up, some kind of confusion. Brown and bareheaded, as I walked, men stared at my curly perms contently and women and children squinted in disgust at my “naked” head and my exposed arms. The observations of unease and awe left me questioning my appearance. Was it the way I dressed?

 

I mean seriously, a long shirt covered even my thighs, along with long pants. Or was it my hair? Once that thought flew in my head, the answer bit me in the nose. No women were bareheaded; all were wearing heavy, black hijabs and abias to cover up their appearance, while I was the light bulb of the dark, wearing bright clothing with no veil. Yes, I was the odd-[wo]man, and as they always say, “odd-man out.” Like the popular game commonly played in elementary schools, in countries, besides Pakistan, a theory I like to call “odd-man out”, lingers over all kinds of society. Think of society as a black and white image, jointly and simple. Everyone has the same “colours”, as in; everyone has the same clothing, language, religion, values…many aspects to list. If you fit these “colours”, you are the “good-man in” for the sea of people, the moderate, plain-looking flounder. However, if your colours differ from the others, conspicuous and bright, you are considered the “odd-man out”, the lonely and rejected fish, unable to swim with the rest of the school.

Culture defines many things such as your habits, values and behavior. All of these points shape an image of a country. Each country has its own picture with its own colours. Usually the case is: if one individual flocks from his home “picture” to another, his colours may not match with the picture of the new country.

            Here’s a descent example:

                        It happened at my Khala’s house somewhere in early August when I was visiting my uncle and his new wife. Now, my uncle’s new wife was, hands down, a very nice lady, always considerate in her doings and understanding to anyone’s needs. So, nicely, I talked to her about America, but I spoke in English. Her reaction to my conversation was quite bland and seemingly, uninterested (yet, she still listened with a faint smile on her face). A minute after our short conversation comes my younger sister. Outgoing and confident, she asked my uncle’s new wife about her arrival in America. She listened with such apt attention and happiness. Why? Because my sister spoke fluent Urdu! Then my mother spoke to her, after that my uncle, and then my brother, then my Khala, then my cousin…talk after talk, they lasted for more than two minutes because they all spoke Urdu and/or Punjabi, while I was the only one who spoke English. ODD MAN OUT, GOOD MAN IN! Shortly after my uncle’s new wife left, my inner confusion turned into anger and tears; I was crying for hours because of this language gap. Three hours after my mom relaxed me, I knew from that point on the vicious cycle.

            Being the odd-man hurts because different characteristics maybe not fit with the culture and society, making one’s distance between fellow citizens or family members widen. For years in Pakistan, I always emerged as the odd-man, the flashy-colored fish in the sea that felt separation from others in society and within my own family. After numerous visits, I familiarized with this pattern very well, for I found out that this cycle is completely normal for anyone.

            No matter where one goes in this hectic world, he or she may encounter a situation where they become the odd-man out. Of course, cultural diffusion is natural and apparent in almost every country, but in human nature, we tend to get a sense of fear of the unknown. It is as if Hindu parents feel uncomfortable for their daughter with a white-skinned man. A similar matter occurs in countries; rejection often happens not because of hatred of the individual, but fear of new, unknown characteristics that may impact culture, positively or negatively.

            Unfortunately, the “Odd-Man” theory is inevitable and unpleasant that often occurs. Henceforth, a person should recognize foreign culture and ways of any province to at least get along in the society. That is the painful truth I learned to survive getting along in Pakistan.

            They say earth is a scary place because of the unknown that lies beyond the boarders. The unknown, however, does not necessarily have to mean a dangerous trap, but maybe a wondrous discovery. A favorite poet of mine, Robert Frost, once said,

 “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

 

One can adapt to new culture, but also hold on to his or her own home culture for a sense of identity and origin. A person can take that extra step, that different path, to meet new people, to see new “colours” or to learn new culture. Who knows, if every individual of a country has their own colours, it would not be a burden to mix their own colours with others to make a beautiful, new picture. Maybe the “oddness” of every person could turn out to be the new “in”.

Text Box: A visual example of the “Odd-Man Out” theory.