Friday, June 29, 2012

Back in India and Back to Blogging!

Hello followers! Guess what, I'm back in India! This time it'll be for a year. There are more photos and more blog posts to come. Check out my new blog for this new adventure at: Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Next Morning

So let’s state the facts: it has been over 3 months since I last posted; it’s been about a month and a half since I left India; I had the best four months of my life.

I understand that my posting has not been up to par. My journaling fell behind as well. But, in my defense, it was a very busy and sometimes rough last few months in India.

When we last left off I was preparing for Goa, the beach state in India. We went to the southern part of the state to find as little tourists as possible (even though they were still in abundance). We took an overnight bus Friday night and then one back Sunday evening/Monday morning, which made for a very short and sweet trip. After navigating the local bus system to Palolem Beach where the opening scene of one of the Bourne Trilogy movies was shot. Aka, it was stunningly gorgeous. The beach is lined with bars/restaurants and little huts that you can stay in. We waded across a river (never finding a supposed bridge our friends informed us of) then scrambled up some rocks to find our hotel. There we met TJ, who we later had to hide from because he told us we could kill him with a spoon. That event sent us straight to a bar on the other side of the beach. Saturday night I led us back to our hotel with my phone in mouth acting as a flashlight, my broken sandals in one hand, and my incoherent friends in the other. We had a great relaxing weekend and I came back with just enough sun that my host mom wasn’t mad at me for ruining my fair skin.

After Goa, my next big trip was going to Rajasthan. I don’t even think I can begin to give you a detailed recap of that week. I would need at least 3 blog posts to describe how utterly amazing every aspect of that trip was. One of the big reasons for that was that through some family connections of one of the girls on my trip, we ended up with free rooms, tours of each city, and 3 rajasthani meals courtesy of Taj hotels – basically the Hilton of India. Here is a list of some of the amazing things that happened that week:
1.      Our first room was the presidential suite at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. Yes, it is a palace on a lake. And yes, we were greeted by rose petals. Our butler’s name was Shree. We cried in front of him when he showed us our room.
2.      We watched a rajasthani dance performance with Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire and then had a private rajasthani thali on the roof of Taj Lake Palace.
3.      In one day I saw camels, elephants, peacocks, and horses.
4.      Our second hotel was the Umaid Bhagwan Palace in Jodhpur. That’s right, another palace. And this one was on a hilltop and so big we thought we were the only guests.
5.      We explored the beautifully painted and ornate City Palace in Udaipur and two fascinating forts in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.
6.      We rode camels through the Thar desert at sundown. I ate sand when I fell on my face after running down a sand dune. An Indian man told me I was a brave woman.
7.      I saw turbans, mustaches, and colors like I’ve never seen them before.

When I got back from Rajasthan (which is now my number one place in India), it was Diwali – the festival of lights. I celebrated with my host family by trying to eat everything they put in front of me and the preceding to get sick. But it was totally worth it and delicious. I also hiked Sinhgad fort and then had my first hitchhiking experience. My host mom taught me rangoli, which is making designs with sand on the ground and a lot more difficult than it looks. I didn’t master it, but just one more thing that made me more Indian. I also listened to people set off firecrackers, which sounded more like bombs, for 2 days straight no matter where the sun was in the sky.

For the last month that I was in Pune I tried to spend as much time as possible with my friends, host family, and being a part of the culture and place that I had come to love and call home. Unfortunately, some circumstances at home with the health of a loved one distracted me from my time living in the present while I was in India and reflecting on that time while I was there. I realized just how hard it is to try to be in two places at once and how easily my emotions could become frustrating and overbearing. Looking back now I’m sad that I may have missed out on seeing something more while I was there, but life doesn’t stop for anything or anyone. You’ve just got to roll with it, no matter where you are in the world.

For the remaining last few weeks in Pune I was wrapping up classes and my internship at the Epiphany School. There I was able to meet staff, faculty, students, and parents in interview settings to look at factors affecting teacher motivation in a school catering to students from slum areas, such as this one. I also finally took a tour of my city, seeing a lot of things that I never even knew where there and at the same time being proud that for most places I knew where we were. The bus tour was done in Marathi and by a driver who really liked to blow his whistle at all of the sights, but we enjoyed it none the less. I also went with my program to see a kabaddi tournament, which is a unique game in India, Britain, Australia, and some other countries and has rules that I don’t fully understand but compare to tag. I spent Thanksgiving with the staff and students on my program and was thankful for all of them being with me and the turkey that I think we got through the black market.

My last trip that I took in India was to Hampi, in Karnataka. It’s a city of old ruins from an ancient Hindu empire. We did the overnight bus again and got our physical activity on by biking around the city on Saturday and then riding in a wicker boat, crossing fields, and climbing up a hill on Sunday. It was a great last trip with some very awesome people and beautiful sights.

During my last week in India I bought a saree and discovered how difficult Indian tailors can be to work with. But for our end of the semester program, I looked my most Indian best and received lots of compliments on my poise and grace (or the fact that I was afraid it would fall off).


Thank you for bearing with me on that rather long recount of notable moments during my semester in India. And thank you to all of my friends who I made there, Americans and Indians alike, who brought out the best and most positive version of me. Most especially my parents – those in the US who I will be thanking for the rest of my life for making it possible for me to go to India and supporting me the whole way, and to my new parents in Pune who taught me more than any classroom ever could about where they come from and their culture.

Coming back to the US was a whirlwind as the situation there finally came to a climax with the passing of my grandmother, the day after I returned. I didn’t spend much time transitioning back to my past routines. Yet, being in India, even if it had been a matter of days, seemed a lifetime behind me. I found it hard to relate the true depth of my experiences, and am still processing how my time there has truly affected me.

Now I’ve already begun a new adventure. For the past two weeks I’ve been in Florence, Italy, where I will be studying at an art school for this semester. Being in a western country has proved harder than I thought and I feel like a fish out of water taking my drawing, illustration, photography, and book arts classes. I can’t wait to see what the next few months hold and where this year will take me. If you want to check out what exactly I’m doing there you can do so at my new blog: Fingers crossed that this one goes a bit better. J

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Preface: I would like to apologize to all of my fabulous and exclusive readers (aka all 7 of you) whom I have left high and dry about my experiences in the last month. Obviously, I’m not a seasoned or extremely dedicated blogger, but hopefully this post will be a peace offering and a revival of this blog before it flat lines. To say the least, I’ve been a bit busy. And after you put off reflecting on one experience, the experiences just continue to pile on and you don’t even know where to begin. But I’m going to try. If you’re curious what I’ve been up to the past month, I’ve listed some highlights at the end of this post and most of the pictures are on Facebook.

I’ve surpassed a lot of the culture shock and frustrations that come with being in India. That doesn’t mean that I’m not frustrated now and then, but I’m taking a positive approach to everything. I’ve realized that negativity is the bane of my existence. Sometimes when my entire program (all 30 of us) are in the same small building or classroom it feels as though a dark cloud is looming over my head when there are really only a fraction of the group who have completely given up on even trying to enjoy India. I won’t go too much further into that, but a good piece of advice that I’ve learned is don’t let other people come between you and your experience. No one is going to have the exact same experience in such a foreign place as India, and it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. But for me it is, so I’m continuing to love India.

That being said, I do have one big fear – going home. I’m excited to be back in my comfort zone just to feel a bit more relaxed and to be with people who feel so far away right now. But I’m worried about my sight. In India, I see everything. I see every color, every person, every nook and cranny. I feel like my peripheral vision wraps around my head and I’m completely absorbed in my environment. It’s the best way to experience something. Even though I’m sure I miss things from time to time, I feel like I’m getting the most I can out of every aspect of my travels, and even my day to day life.

When I go home I want to see things in the same way I do now. I want to experience everything about my “normal” life in this new heightened way. I don’t want to continue missing everything that seems to be blurred out of my vision when I’m in the U.S. I also don’t want to see home as boring in comparison to India (even though that’s an easily reached conclusion). I want to see America as a whole new territory for exploration. I want to find the nooks and crannies in my own street or neighborhood that I’ve failed to miss a thousand times before.

Something else is also unnerving me right now. It’s not a fear but an acute awareness that right now I am going through one of the most important and possibly life-changing experiences of my life. Knowing that I’m going to come out a different person in December is a bit scary and exciting at the same time. I can’t wait to see how these four months affect my life back home and my perception of the world around me.

But I am also trying not to focus on December 12th and instead on today, each and every day. Sometimes I think I miss an opportunity during my daily school and homework-filled life. But even yesterday as I spent the whole day at home, reading my book, I spent time with my host family that is a one-time opportunity of its own. I threaded flowers together to make garlands to decorate the house for Navratri (festival celebrating the goddess Luxmi) and then sat on the floor with a bowl in between my feet and my toes gripping the handles to churn/whip the dessert, Shrikand.

I’ve been doing my fair share of traveling, with more to come. I went to the caves at Ajanta and Ellora, which are in Maharashtra and are world heritage sites. For lack of a better word, they were awesome. They are a mix of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves. The ones at Ajanta were built in B.C. – so now they are officially the oldest man-made thing I have seen. At Ellora, there is an ornate and intricate Hindu temple that was carved from one giant piece of rock. If you have had a chance to see my pictures – Google it.

Only two days after the spelunking exploration, I jetted off to Kerala which is a state in South India and is one of the top tourist spots. We started in Alleppey taking a gorgeous 3 hour private boat tour of the backwaters. It’s the Venice of the East. Then we took a boat to our hotel, because, of course, it was on an island. After that we drove to Thekkady where we checked all of the touristy activities off our list: elephant ride, ayurvedic massage, shopping for overpriced souvenirs, and watching a traditional dance – kathakali. Then we failed at seeing wildlife at a wildlife sanctuary in the area and continued on to Munnar. Now we’ve moved from winding canals of rivers to rolling hills of tea. So much tea. In Munnar we did some exploring, visiting the local temple, from which you can see a church straight across on another hill and a mosque to your right. Talk about coexisting. The next day we hit up all the scenic viewpoints and then took a relatively unsafe jeep ride up winding, rocky, narrow roads (oh, have I mentioned it was raining?) to the highest tea plantation in the world. It was pretty great. We tried the tea and then toured the factory. Kerala was the greenest green I have ever seen and is high up on my list of recommendations while in India.

About two weeks after Kerala, my program (so all 30 Americans) went to Mumbai. I took my first train ride where I leaned out between the cars to try and touch sign posts and had the greasiest egg sandwich ever – with fries. We sat through several lectures about Mumbai, especially its development process and the transition from mills to malls. We visited a Gandhi museum in a house where he lived for a period of time, St. Xavier’s college, and a couple other areas. Most notably we went to Dharvi, which is famous as the filming location and setting of “Slumdog Millionaire.” However, the picture we got of Dharvi was very different than the film presents. Dharvi is labeled as the largest slum in Asia, but can we really call it a slum when the people that live there have a thriving local economy, mostly based within their homes, and consider themselves, for the large part, developed. It did not look like any slum I had been to (namely Kibera in Nairobi and Collique outside Lima). And even though I’m sure everything isn’t all rosey in Dharvi, it seemed pretty legit to me.

Now I am starting an internship at a primary school in Pune that caters to a large slum population. I’m doing some research there (which is still being defined) but I’m really excited to work in such a different field as education. This weekend I will be in Goa relaxing on a beach, and the weekend and week after that I will be in Rajasthan exploring three cities in Northern India and riding a camel.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rise and Shine

Waking up in India is pretty rough. First off, the mattresses are extremely thin. I’m starting to believe that Indians have a completely different perception of comfort because the pillows are also basically flat rocks.

For the first couple of weeks I would wake up with pains in my shoulders and neck because I would roll over on my side in the night – which these beds are not designed for. But now I’m in my fourth week of being here and the pain seems to be less and less every day. I actually long for my bed after a long day because India wears me out.

A lack of comfort seems to be in every facet of Indian life, or at least my Indian life. There’s minimal privacy, lots of crowds, dust, and pesky bugs. Not to mention that whenever I go outside my house I’m stared at, profusely. Sometimes I feel like I have a spotlight on me and then I remember that my skin is blindingly white in comparison to everyone around me.

If being pushed out of my comfort box was what I wanted coming here, that is precisely what I got. I think I’ve already been through the complete cycle of culture shock, maybe even multiple times. The first day I was in Pune I wondered why I decided to come to India in the first place. I even thought about how nice it would be to be back in the United States. But, I couldn’t just quit barely a week in. So I decided to give India a chance.

Being around the other students on the program and getting to know my host parents better made things a little easier. But as soon as I started to feel a little more at home, some new challenge would make me feel like I was a Martian.

It’s not only being in such a different place and immersed in a drastically different way of life that’s rough. It’s also being so different from everyone around me. Forming personal relationships with Indians seemed like an impossible task.

So why am I here?

I don’t know anyone in India. I don’t know anything really about India. I pretty much came here on a whim. I’ve made up several answers to this question before I came, but the honest truth is that I have no clue why I am here. I just am. Not that any of this brashness in my previous decisions has helped me with intense culture shock.

So basically, after the first week of being in the country I wanted to go home. Four months is the most daunting period of time I’ve ever faced in my life. I felt so weak, helpless, and dumb thinking that I wouldn’t be able to make it until December.

Don’t worry, this didn’t last long.

I don’t know what exactly changed my mind, but I’m going a completely different direction now. Even though I don’t want to jinx anything, I must say that I think I’m in the beginning stages of falling in love with India (thoo thoo – similar to knocking on wood). I’m in awe right now, at least. We’ve still got three months to see what happens.

This change probably started with Aunty (that’s what I call my host mom) truly becoming my Indian mother. Uncle (my host dad) also remind me so much of my dad that I can’t help but feel comfortable here. Not to mention my roommate, Akta, who is Indian but born and raised in America (and we go to the same school at home), has really helped me figure this place out. We both struggled a bit at first, finding our way around the city. She has even had issues with feeling out of place, despite her heritage. So now I have a place to call home.

I also started school. All of my classes are amazing! I’m taking: Issues in Political Economy and Development, Social Justice, Contemporary India, and a Field Study Seminar (later to become an internship). And this is why studying abroad is probably one of the best experiences of your life: Being in a 24/7 living classroom is incredible. Everything that we discuss in class is happening right outside the window. Also having a place to ask questions about what we see and experience helps with processing everything.

To be honest, this blog isn’t going to be extremely helpful to try to relate everything that I’m experiencing. I recommend that everyone comes to this country at least once, because you can only truly understand it when you are here. But I am going through a lot right now and learning so much that hopefully I can relay some of that to all of you.

The culture is so rich and Hinduism is so different from any other religion that the way of life is just so fascinating. Right now I’m hearing continuous drums beating and we have been watching processions down the street to celebrate Ganesh, the god of wisdom and other things with an elephant head. I also participated in my second puja this morning, which involves prayers and several rituals for a particular god.

Earlier this week my program took us to a village area about 6 hours from Pune called Jawhar. There we toured several villages with an NGO that is working to develop farming and production within the area. They were helping fulfill Gandhi’s dream of self-sustainable villages, for the most part. We took vans everywhere and probably one of the best parts of that trip was looking out the window from my bumpy backseat. The countryside is gorgeous – greener than you can imagine, rolling hills, with vibrant colors in the towns and villages. I’m now pretty determined to do some intense traveling around the country, and this trip will hopefully just be the first of many.

But the greatest thing that I’ve seen or experienced so far are the people. India would be nothing without the spirit of its vibrant people. With the exception of a few mean rickshawalas (rickshaw drivers, they sometimes like to cheat you) basically everyone I’ve met has been extremely warm and hospitable, even if we can’t speak each other’s language. Probably the thing I’m looking forward to the most for this semester is continuing to develop meaningful relationships with people here and trying to see India through their eyes.

My ramblings have gone on far enough, and my posts will hopefully be more frequent and detailed from now on. But if you want to know more specific things about what I’ve been doing this month in India, please take a look at the photos I’ve posted on Facebook and soon on here as well.

And let me know if you have any questions for me via email or comments. Thanks for sticking with me thus far. And continue to send good vibes from across continents because who knows what the next three months will bring.