My mom would tell me to never sit on the ground if I had another choice. The ground was dirty, dirty, dirty. My mom, by American standards, is a germaphobe. When I’d come home from school or from walking around the city, she would always tell me to switch into my “at-home” clothes. When I first came to the U.S., my mom advised me to always wash my hands before eating lunch. And when I ate pizza with the only public school utensil ever given to us, the spork, I was laughed at. I didn’t put my bookbag on the floor until a few months in, when I noticed that all the other kids did it, and they seemed to have survived the dirty floors and grounds. I experienced a culture shock of sorts too when I came to college and noticed that friends sat on each other’s beds when they dropped by for a visit in dorm rooms. The first time a friend sat on my bed, I cringed a little, but said nothing.
Over time, I adjusted to these practices that mom would never have approved of (and still, to a certain extent, doesn’t) and assimilated. But even if my mom were not a germaphobe, I still feel like the dominant cultures by which I am surrounded and immersed in do not look upon dirt in an entirely positive way. I rarely notice the grounds and soils I stand and walk upon unless I were about to fall, or if, after a heavy rain, I had to avoid puddles and extremely muddy spots. And, with all our technological advances, we have very little dirt roads left–it’s all cement, asphalt, paved more or less evenly–dead-looking.
I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated soil before I experienced farm life this summer. I didn’t quite enjoy the sporadic film of dirt on my skin after some hours in the field, but I didn’t mind it either. There was something authentic about getting my hands (and knees and shirts and hair and face) dirty while working. I would even pick a a fallen grape tomato off the ground and slightly brush it against my shirt, then eat it. I didn’t think of it as “dirty” the way cities are “dirty”–it was simply natural and organic, the way food should be. After two days of work, the grooved prints in my fingertips trapped the dirt permanently that Melody called it “permadirt.” No matter how many washings I subjected my hands to, the dirt stayed put. And it was fine. I came to like the way my fingers looked–cracked, dry and dirty fingertips were proof that I had really worked.
But even so, I still had the urge to wipe away traces of dirt on myself, unconsciously begin to clean my fingernails of the soil trapped underneath.