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3 posts from August 2011

08/28/2011

All I Need is a Backpack and a Camera

Maybe all I needed was to get out of Hyderabad for a couple days with just a backpack and four friends. I am starting to think I am really going to miss India when I leave, and there is so much left to see in the short time I am here. I am planning a trip to Agra, Dehli, and Jaipur in October, will be in Gujarat two weeks from now, and Mumbai and Punjab are on the agenda. I have a Hindi test to study for, a Dalit Politis test to study for, volunteering at a local school tomorrow, a couple books to read, homework, and 5 Hindi movies waiting on my desk. Finally getting busier, and it feels much better.

My trip to Bidar with Erica, Lorelei, Gabby, and Emily was an adventure from the beginning. All we had were backpacks with two days worth of clothing, some potato chips, cameras, and our Hindi homework, which we dutifully neglected in theory, but in practice, spoke a lot of Hindi in Bidar.

We left from our cooking class for Hindi on Friday and went straight to the bus stop outside campus in the pouring rain. We boarded the 216 for the hour-long ride to MGBS (the bus station where we’d get on the bus to Bidar). When we arrived, we asked what platform. The man said it would be between platforms 45 and 48. The sign we found said differently. In the end, the sign was right. We got on the bus, and the fare collector came to our row and asked for 97 Rs. This is roughly $2. Gabby had been told, however, that the ride was 20 Rs. (or about 50 cents). Overall, $2 for the bus trip is still cheaper than taking the 201 from NU to Old Orchard Mall at home.

The other thing Gabby had been told was that the trip was about 3 hours (it’s about 140 km). This was patently false, as we found when we disembarked roughly 6 hours later. Until India, I never really considered never having to pee as a blessing. But I can tell you, rest stops in India are almost as nice as rest stops in the US. And not the awesome ones in Ohio. I’m talking about the ones in the middle of Missouri. This time, however, my luck ran out. And when we finally got to our one rest stop, 5 hours into the ride, I really had to go. My first time using a bathroom not in my dorm or in a hotel. According to Gabby and Lorelei (Indian bathroom pros, by now), this one was really clean. And it was. Besides being totally dark, having unidentifiable brown smudges on the walls, and lizards crawling around, it was just like any other hole in the ground that I’d use for a toilet.

Anyways, I actually like car and bus rides. It’s nice to have time to just sit and listen to music and chat. So that’s what we did. I had packed a peanut butter sandwich and some Lay’s, so I was a happy camper. We realized about an hour into the ride that when the bus pulled in to stop to drop people off or pick them up, it was often unlabeled and unannounced. When to get off? Fortunately, we make friends everywhere we go. This time, it was a young guy sitting a couple rows behind us, who heard us practicing our Hindi. He told us he was also getting off at Bidar, so just to get off when he did. Mission accomplished.

When we arrived, it was dark, and we had been the only women on the bus, except a mother who broke the Ramadan fast with her husband and sons a row behind us, and one other woman near the front. We were also the only women on the street when we got off, and our friend pointed us in the direction of the hotel and told us it was only about 50 meters walk. When we arrived, the man at the front asked for Passports. None of us had them. So I reluctantly handed over my driver’s license so he could copy it and keep it on file. Lorelei, Emily, and I took one room, and Erica and Gabby the other. Ours had a working shower, but an Indian toilet. Theirs had no shower, and a Western toilet, but it wouldn’t flush. Emily and I are pretty sure the bed was a piece of plywood covered in a set of sheets, but good enough for two nights :)

The next morning, we got up, and with no itinerary whatsoever, quickly debated options. We started with breakfast. The first place we went, the hotel gave us a whole menu, but when we ordered, we discovered that we could only get rice and daal. They said toast wasn’t available until after 11:30am. I’m not kidding. And I definitely wasn’t eating rice and daal for breakfast.

So we tried four other restaurants until we found one. My personal favorite was the restaurant having it’s grand opening, but all they offered to serve us for breakfast was beer. We ended up at a place where we got dosas (I discovered that I like dosas about as much as I like rice and daal for breakfast) and I found a fruit stand outside, and got an orange, cookies, and more potato chips :) Breakfast of champions.

We headed to Bidar fort, which is beautiful. I put in some pictures below. While we were there, we climbed up to the top of a tower, and when we got there, we found a group of Indian men who were in Bidar for basic training for the Indian Air Force. They were really friendly, and when we asked them what we should see in Bidar, they shrugged and said, “If you find something, maybe you could tell us.” They had the day off, and were just goofing around in Bidar, too, apparently. After the customary phone pictures, we parted ways.

We wandered around Bidar Fort for most of the morning, accidentally discovering a small village at the bottom of it, a hidden lake, and a lot of goats. It rained all morning, so we were wet, but happy to be walking around outside. The pictures, I should mention, are not enhanced in any way. Everything actually is that color. Karnataka (the state we were in) is very green, and agriculture is a large part of their economy.

Something that amazes me about Rome, and also India, is the durability of the architecture. Bidar Fort was built hundreds of years ago (around 500, if I am remembering correctly). They are sustainable, don’t harm the environment by their existence, and are still functional in many ways. I wonder if the Empire State Building will be standing in 500 years, still in relatively good condition. Somehow, I doubt it.

People in Bidar were really friendly – it isn’t really a tourist area, so we weren’t overcharged for everything (only some things), but the downside is that 5 American girls stick out. A lot. Stares followed us wherever we went. After two months here, you’d think I’d be used to it, but I’m not. I don’t think any of us are, really. We try to ignore the staring and be friendly all at the same time, and sometimes it’s hard not to get frustrated. But maybe because everyone was so nice, it didn’t matter as much.

After the Fort, we came upon downtown, sort of by accident. It was SO cool. Bidar, from what we could tell, has a mostly Muslim population, and Hindu women in colorful saris were far outnumbered by women covered in black from head to toe. I sometimes wonder what these women think of us, hair and faces uncovered.

The picture below is one of the main streets, and even in the rain, it was bustling with traffic – human, automotive, and animal.

We visited several bangles stores (see below) and I bought a couple dozen - they are so beautiful!

We ate lunch at a busy restaurant. Veg. Soft Noodles, according to the menu. I missed Anshu a lot at lunch – when I walked in, one of the songs she put on my playlist freshman year was playing. Full, we went back into the rain, and walked around a little more, buying guavas at 20 Rs. a kilo (super cheap!) and decided to visit the Gurudwara Temple. We have seen 349832057895723 temples in India, but this was the first Sikh temple. Everyone was wearing turbans and had long beards, and we were asked very nicely to cover our heads. We didn’t have scarves, so we put up the hood on our jackets, and removed our shoes as well before entering the temple. We had to walk through a pool of water to wash our feet before going inside, and when we got to the top, we looked inside, but didn’t enter. I never take pictures of the inside (it’s not allowed most places anyway), but below are some of the outside.

After the Temple, we made our way back to the hotel, hung out for a little while, read from Lorelei’s book of questions, practiced our henna on each other, and then went to dinner. When Emily was giving Lorelei henna on her hand, our room suddenly filled with smoke. Startled, Emily and I grabbed all our stuff, and ran to Gabby and Erica’s room to get them to come outside. Gabby and Erica just laughed at us. Apparently, burning incense releases a LARGE amount of smoke, but no raging fire. Who knew? Emily and I laughed and went to put our stuff back in the room, mildly embarrassed, but saying, “safety first” to make us feel better about our panic attack.

We slept as well as we could on our plywood mattress, and then got up early to go to the bus station.

To our delight, the bus ride back was far shorter, and the driver even said he’d drop us near the campus. He lied. He took us all the way back to the station, and after being aggressively harassed by seven or eight taxi drivers for twenty minutes, we finally escaped and paid 200 Rs. for an hour-long rickshaw ride back to campus.

Overall, a really good weekend. It was nice to be able to explore on our own time, and it was really nice being able to do it pretty inexpensively. The hotel dropped a surprise charge on us on the way out, and that was sort of a bummer. Sometimes, people mean well, but we know that sometimes, people use the language barrier to pretend that either they or we do not understand something, even though it’s been clarified. That’s frustrating, but a small, small price to pay for a really great weekend. I am so excited for my upcoming travel, and wish me luck on my Hindi test tomorrow!

08/21/2011

Shadi

This word means “marriage” in Hindi, and it is coming up everywhere. I should’ve known I’d run into it a lot when it was one of the first words we learned in Hindi class right after arriving in Hyderabad. There are ads for wedding saris and wedding jewelry everywhere, and we’ve seen several marriage processions since we've been here. I’ve talked about it with the guys in my Dalit Politics class, who have been trying to explain the delicate business of getting “shadi-shuda” (married) in India, especially among caste groups, and I’ve talked about it with CIEE staff and other foreign students.

When I met with my Hindi peer tutor yesterday, the topic came up again. She asked me if I was getting married soon (that’s actually a pretty normal question here) and I must have looked scared because she laughed. She got serious when I returned the question. She’s from a different part of India, and from a pretty small village. Culture, caste, and status still play a large role in marriage, as does religion. Apparently, she had a boyfriend for a long time whom she loved, but he wasn’t in her caste, and her parents insisted that they break up.

She is getting married in about five months, and she still doesn’t know who the groom will be. Her parents are working on finding her a husband, and she wants to know as little as possible about the whole thing until she has to. She says she hopes that her husband will allow her to work outside the home, because she is well-educated, and hopes to use her life for “more than just housework.” She hopes that he will let her leave the house unaccompanied, spend time with friends, and go about her life as she has become accustomed over the last three years of school in Hyderabad.

She said, right before she changed the topic, “Life is a long time.” I knew in her head, she was finishing that sentence with “to be with someone I don’t love.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of an arranged marriage. A friend explained to me, “In the US, your friends introduce you to your potential husband. In India, your parents do.” The issue, regrettably is far more complex than that. When friends introduce you to someone, you are not obliged to marry them. Your friends do not limit potential spouses by what caste they belong to, and in many cases, even the sub-caste.

There are so many things to consider when thinking about arranged marriages. One is that many years ago, I could see them being more practical. Today, however, especially among the people I am meeting at school, the youth are used to a degree of liberalness, of freedom, if you will, and arranged marriages seem out of place for people who are so independent.

It’s not that everyone is getting an arranged marriage. It’s far more prevalent than I would have guessed, but it’s not the only way. Many people, especially in the generations that came before us, had arranged marriages, and they worked out great. But I’m starting to wonder about our generation. About how youth who are exposed to different ideas and people as they travel and learn will respond to that particular remnant of tradition.

Many of my friends whose parents moved to the United States from India had arranged marriages, and they are all happily married and in love still today. Working to understand arranged marriages has shown me that for all the stories like my peer tutor's, there are many stories with happy endings. But is it fair to leave that to chance?

I have posted a link to the wedding scene in one of my favorite Bollywood movies Hum Tum ("You and I"). This will give you a peek at a ceremony, and also the attire. The marriage between these two characters in the movie was, according to the woman, a mix between an arranged marriage and a  love match.

 

08/18/2011

Namaste!

Hey Team!

Welcome to Hyderabad! I have been living here for about a month and a half, and I love it! I'll give you a couple fun facts to get started, and then talk a little bit about living in one of the largest cities in India (the population of Hyderabad is roughly 9 million).

Fun Fact #1: Hyderabad is known as the city of pearls. An astonishing percentage of the world's pearls originate in, or travel through Hyderabad.

Fun Fact #2: It is Ramadan now (called Ramzan here) and Hyderabad is famous for a special food called "Haleem" which is only made during Ramzam, and only in Hyderabad. You can get meat or vegetarian Haleem, depending on your diet.

Fun Fact #3: Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh and is part of a region within the state called Telangana. The Telangana region is in the middle of a political battle with the rest of A.P., and it is fascinating to be here to witness it first hand.

Fun Fact #4: This region (and the city of Hyderabad) is home to "Tollywood," which is the South Indian equivalent of Bollywood, and makes a TON of movies that cater specifically to the South Indian culture and language background.

Now for a little bit about me, and my experience thus far...

My name is Zoe, and I am from Boulder, Colorado, originally, although my family relocated to Chicago in high school. I am currently attending The University of Hyderabad (known here as Hyderabad Central University, which means it is the equivalent of a state school back home, but at the graduate level), but when I am living in the States, I go to Northwestern University. Proud to represent the Midwest all the way in India!

I was really close to going to Madagascar to study abroad, but had a last-minute change of heart, and am incredibly lucky to have the most flexible Study Abroad Office on the planet as well as the amazing CIEE staff who helped me on my way to India. I could not be happier with my decision.

So far, I have seen a lot of Hyderabad, and in future posts, I will cover a lot of what I am discovering politically, socially, and culturally about living in India. There is a lot left to see, and time is going by so quickly!

I'll leave you with a picture of a couple other CIEE students and I at our visit to the Qutb Shahi Tombs, the earliest of which was built in 1543. (I am the first girl on the right, in the pink and white). We are wearing Indian clothing, called a "Salwar Suit," and we had just gotten it the day before, so we were so excited to wear it! The tombs are beautiful, and anyone visiting Hyderabad should make this a stop.

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