I did something today that I would never do in the United States. In fact, I would probably get arrested for it if the wrong person saw me and accused me of inappropriate behavior.
When dance class was over today, three of my eighth-grade girls who live on my end of the village waited for Elene and me so we could all walk home together. As we left the ramshackle pavilion and walked through the rusty gate to the broken-up road, one of the girls, Tamuna, skipped up beside me and took my hand in hers. The other two girls, Mari and Angela, walked on either side of us as Elene trailed along behind, her short legs not used to walking at the pace our longer legs keep. Tamuna played with my fingers and my ring as she clung to my hand, swinging it in time to the music that Angela and Mari took turns playing on their phones -- some Michael Jackson, some Shakira, some Usher. We chatted and sang and danced all the way home. Tamuna didn't let go of my hand until we were in front of Tea's house and I wished the girls a good weekend.
No proper teacher would hold hands with an eighth-grade girl while walking down the road -- none in the U.S., anyway. But here in Georgia, it is not at all uncommon. People are people -- few positions of employment divide anyone by class or age or station. A teacher is a normal person like a neighbor or a cousin, and those relationships allow for less distancing between each other. Every person here in the village has to do the same work to survive from day to day -- no one is elevated over anyone else -- all are equal.
Everyone is much more physical here, and I'm not sure if the physicality is affectionate or just normal. It seems normal to me. All girls and women walk down the road with arms linked or holding hands or with their arms around each other's waists. The boys and men do it, too -- there is no "weird" or "creepy" stigma attached to touch. It just is.
I've wondered if the difficulty of village-life contributes to the constant hanging onto each other. Like they don't want to let go for fear that the strength of the community will quickly seep away if they are not directly connected to someone else. Touching allows them to share energy, derive support, gain comfort, and give sustenance in both emotional and physical ways. I find it a much more healthy environment than the virtual bubbles we each carry around ourselves in the U.S. "No one can enter my bubble without my permission." We live around each other instead of with each other. That we are afraid to touch another human being is a sad commentary on our society. No wonder so many feel so lonely and isolated.
When I am back in the U.S., I won't walk down the street holding any of my student's hands, granted. But I will not be afraid to touch those that I love and trust -- to gain strength when I need it -- to share my energy with them -- to gain comfort when I am upset -- to give sustenance to a soul in need. We do need each other, after all.