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12 posts categorized "Zoe Goodman"

11/24/2011

The Last Sunset - goodbye Hyderabad, Happy Thanksgiving in Chicago!

Note: As a final goodbye present to me from India, I spent the last three hours writing this blog post, only to have it all deleted when I went to publish it when the internet went out. Seriously?

 

I just saw the sunset over my last full day in India. The sky was starting to turn dark blue, but just above the horizon, there was an orange, purple, and pink layer. The sunset looks like that in Colorado over the mountains, but in Illinois? Not so much. I've never seen sunsets like the ones in India before.

My flight leaves Hyderabad in 24 hours and 15 minutes, and I'm hitching a ride to the airport with Jess, Emma, and Elizabeth because they are leaving for Delhi, or maybe Kerala, tomorrow around the same time. I'm really glad I will have other people with me. I've always liked being around other people, and I'm especially glad Jess will be there. We can eat my last meal in India together. Today, we went to the Ista Hotel to get massages, and they were amazing. That was an amazing way to end my 5 months here. After the massage, we went to Prasads to see the new Hindi movie Rockstar, but it was sold out by the time we went there. We ate our traditional McDonald's movie lunch anyway, and then came back, tried to go to the Safrani School (the weavers) but they were closed. So I came to Tagore, and was exhausted. I took a nap for an hour, and now it's almost dinner time.

At least, on our failed afternoon excursions, I got to see many of the places I'd spent my time in Hyderabad from the open sides of the rickshaw, or through the window of the shared autos we took. I looked out at the Muslim women covered in black from head to toe, the men with the little caps (what are those called?) and white kurtas. The Hindu (or at least not traditional Muslim) women in saris. The women in nicer saris were getting out of cabs, or their personal cars. The women in cotton, functional saris were sitting on my lap in the shared auto. The families on the motorcycles, babies sleeping on their moms, even as they dangle precariously close to the pavement. I saw the dirt along the sides of the road, the trash burning, the goats, cows, and stray dogs. The men pulled over, peeing on the wall around someone's property, probably right below the painted notice not to urinate there. I saw the brightly painted, ornately carved temples scattered randomly through the city, as though everything else had been built around them. I saw the fruit vendors with flies buzzing around, the (probably) lower-caste women sweeping the streets (there was a study a while ago that found that even though Untouchability has been abolished, in many areas in India, street sweeping crews are made up entirely of the members of castes who were former Untouchables). I saw the fancy car dealers and international department stores with the huge nets over the windows to keep protesters with rocks away.

What happened to my days here? What have I done in India? I'm mostly confused that it's ending. I've been leading an entirely different life here. I don't have the extracurriculars, the meetings, the amount of reading for class, the sports (except cricket) or my friends from home. In being here, I learned a lot about India, myself, and the people around me. So I think the easiest way to order my thoughts is to make a list of the things I’ve learned, and some things I’ve done in India.

1.     I learned yoga. This has helped to give me some flexibility (finally), and also to calm me down. I know this is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I am so happy to have learned the basics in India, the home of it. Anyone who has learned yoga in the US thinks of yoga as increasing flexibility, maybe finding a calm center. But in learning it here, I got to learn some of the theory. The idea that the asanas are simply preparation for the pranayama (breathing/meditation) is something I will definitely keep with me. Additionally, learning about the founders of yoga and its many forms has been a really interesting addition to the actual practice of it.

2.     I learned patience and flexibility not of the physical variety. India is so full of small challenges. Everything from not being able to speak to the people around you, to being pushed around in line at the ATM, to 100 Air India pilots going on sick leave without prior notice the week before I left India on an Air India flight, to spending hours at the FRRO to obtain a tiny stamp on the back of a piece of paper that will allow me to leave the country, to going to the tailor and discovering that your clothes which have been there for 17 days have not been touched. Being able to understand when people are late, classes are canceled with no prior notice, exams and class rescheduled for the weekends we had planned travel – all of these things are frustrating, but once I figured out that none of them are the end of the world, my life got a lot better in India. It helps that I have few obligations outside of class – if someone was late, it’s not like that made me late for the six things I had later that day. But still, I am proud of myself, and all of us, for adjusting to the much more laid back, much less timely lifestyle that people generally lead in India.

3.     I learned about the kindness of strangers. The man who explained to Jess and I how to take the MMTS commuter train to Necklace Road from Lingampally, the woman who walked my parents across the street in Medhipatnam and helped us negotiate a rickshaw, all because she saw me turn down a picture, and was proud of me. The man with his daughter in a tie-dye shirt who gave me his business card at Domino’s in case I needed any help with anything in Hyderabad. The Australian man who paid for part of Jess and my Subway purchase at the airport in Gujarat that doesn’t have an ATM and doesn’t take credit cards. All of these people, and many more, have been integral parts of the Indian experience. Often, they appear out of nowhere in moments of great need, and then seem to disappear just as quickly. I hope they know how much I appreciate their help. These are the people I will remember when I look back and think of how there are so many good people still in the world. And though we might not even be able to speak to each other, they were willing to drop everything to help.

4.     Getting mail is the best thing ever. This has always been the case (I LOVE MAIL), so thank you so much to Mom, Kristen, Morgan, Perin, and the SESP Student Affairs Office for sending me packages and letters in India.

5.     I went parasailing in Goa.

6.     I learned how important food is. This has a couple of different angles. The first is that roughly 50% of Indians live at or below the poverty line. The one established many, many years ago (I think it was the 60s or 70s) had the line at 50 paise per day in rural areas, and 75 in urban areas. One paise is 1/100 of a Rupee. It takes 53 Rupees to make a dollar. The line hasn’t moved much, to my knowledge. This means that people are living off pennies a day. And India is the most populous country in the world. That makes a lot of people. It’s interesting, though, how invisible poverty can be, even when it’s right in front of our faces. It becomes a part of the fabric of life here, and it’s unheard of to go somewhere without encountering several people asking for money. So what do you do? Do you give the person a couple Rupees? Then when 14 people see you do that, do you give each of them a couple? Where does it end? It’s difficult to make a good decision here, because a couple Rupees to someone living with none is a good thing, but giving one person some money also doesn’t solve the problem. Tell that to someone grabbing your elbow, your bag, or whatever else they can reach, looking at you with sad eyes. The other side of the food thing is what my friend Ronil would call “first world problems.” Namely, I don’t particularly like Indian food. This isn’t in all-inclusive statement. But for the most part, eating in India is not an enjoyable activity for me. It is the act of putting nutrients (just enough to function) into my body. I cannot express how excited I am for a very long list of American foods, including, but certainly not limited to Kraft macaroni and cheese, anything my mother or grandmother cooks/bakes, steak, and salad. I haven’t eaten a salad, I don’t think, in 5 months. And I miss it so much. Perin has been sending me recipes of things we could make when I visit, and even the ones that have sweet potatoes (yuck) in them are starting to look really good.

7.     Speaking of Perin… I could not have asked for a better boyfriend. He stayed up late when I was homesick, didn’t eat my favorite foods in front of me on Skype, paid attention to me even when he had his first set of med school exams and I was sick, and most of all, he stuck with me even though I spent almost 5 of the 6 months of our relationship in India, ten and a half hours ahead. Also, he may or may not have sent me flowers to welcome me home (although I can’t confirm that until I arrive in Evanston).

8.     I have stayed in the nicest hotel I have probably ever been in (Delhi and Hyderabad with Mom and Dad) and also the grossest hotel I have ever been in (Gujarat with Jess). I think it’s safe to say that the college student travel budget does not equal the working adult travel budget in India.

9.     Geckos and jumping spiders love to live in shower stalls.

10.   Roommates are really important to, well, a happy life. This is something I definitely took for granted freshman and sophomore year, and not getting along with a roommate was new to me, and it was really hard at first. I'm glad we managed to work everything out by the end.

11.   I have seen the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

12.   I have learned to appreciate the fun little surprises that sometimes happen. Alikiah brought me balloons at my goodbye dinner. I got my exit permit without having to promise my firstborn child to the Indian government. I was better prepared for my final exam in Dalit Politics than I thought. Mom brought me a whole bag of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. All of these little things add up, and make every single day special, contrary to what the narrator says in the beginning of 500 Days of Summer.

13.   I have learned how to be alone. And how to be lonely. See the roommate entry for the reasoning behind this feeling of loneliness, but I missed my friends, family, and Perin too. For the first time, I didn’t fit in right away, and it was very hard for me to find a group who liked me after a month of social isolation when I first got to India. Val, Karen, and especially Jess are some of the best friends I have anywhere in the world now, and I am so happy to have found them. My life took a much more positive turn when I started spending time with people who wanted me around.

14.   I have learned that getting into cars with almost complete strangers is sometimes a really good idea. Ishan, Kishan, and Raj in Gujarat were far and away the coolest strangers we met in India. They took us all around Ahmedabad, and we rode our first and only roller coaster in India with them. They also took us to the airport, which was so nice because it was really out of their way. And they looked at us like people, like friends. Not like foreigners.

15.   I have had candid conversations with Indian women my age who are in the process of being set up into an arranged marriage. Some of them are happy, some don’t mind, but some (like my peer tutor) are heartbreakingly resistant to the idea. Some people have certainly had love marriages that I’ve talked to, but many, many of them are still arranged. And sometimes I wonder if that is doing more harm than good, especially to the people who don’t want that, or for the people (mostly women) who have to give up their dreams, careers, and education when they marry.

16.   I have jumped on and off of both a moving bus and a moving train. This is a lot less exciting and a lot more scary than it sounds, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing it.

17.   I have yelled at Indian men for taking my picture without permission, and I have said no to those at least polite enough to ask. It’s a small thing, but this made me angrier than anything else. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t belong, it’s intrusive, and it’s especially inappropriate in Indian culture. Men taking pictures of women they don’t know is rude and I hate it. Especially in an around Hyderabad. It made it very difficult to feel at home, even when I was comfortable getting around and doing everything myself in Hyderabad, someone taking my picture was a subtle message that I would never fit in.

18.   I have ridden on the back of my Arabic speaking Libyan friend’s motorcycle.

19.   I have eaten more Domino’s Pizza in 5 months than most people eat in their whole lives.

20.   I have learned to communicate with people when no one speaks the same language. There are 30 languages in India spoken by more than 1 million people each. Gestures, and “Hinglish” go a really long way here, and I have probably had whole conversations with autorickshaw drivers using only the movement of my head, and hand gestures. I’ve learned pretty much no Telugu (I can say “thank you”), but I’ve been able to pick up a LOT of Hindi in my time here. I can understand a lot, and put together relatively acceptable sentences in a conversation, and the Bollywood movies have helped a lot.

21.   Speaking of Bollywood movies, I have purchased upwards of 30 in India. It’s going to be really fun to explain that to Customs in the US in a few hours.

22.   I have learned a ton about Indian politics and government. The classes I’ve taken, one in particular, has been amazing. My professor was very much about class discussion and debates, and the conversations we had about some of the most controversial issues in India have been an invaluable part of my experience here. Reservations, sex-selection (many more female fetuses are aborted here, and it’s now illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of the baby to the parents before it’s born), language, and Center-State relations, in addition to a great deal of background history has all been a part of my experience here. I feel well-informed, and I am so happy that I was able to learn as much as I did in the classroom here about India. Thank you to Professor Devare for being absolutely incredible.

23.   I have learned that the Indian police are the scariest police force on the planet. They carry the largest guns I hope I ever have to see in person. And they leer at you out of the windows of their big, unmarked vehicles. When I needed the phone number for the Gujarat police department for my travel form, Bapuji misunderstood and became really agitated when he thought I was in Indian police custody.

24.   I have listened to Northwestern beat Nebraska in football on the radio. In fact, I listened to all the games on the radio whenever I wasn’t traveling. I actually really liked listening – kudos to the WGN guys. They are really entertaining.

25.   I have learned that inefficiency and fragmentation short of total self-destruction are pretty much hallmarks of any sort of organization in India.

26.   The Norwegian girls in Tagore are the most beautiful people I have ever met, and are also the friendliest. I will miss Harriet, Anne Marte, Marlene, Marielle, Lena, and Miriam so much. Harriet and Anne Marte both cried today when I left for the airport, and they were some of the last to see me off. They’ve all assured me that I have a standing invitation to come visit them in Norway.

27.   I hate the Delhi airport. They confiscated my cute little Swiss army knife that I had forgotten to put in my checked bags, but they let me through with not one, not two, not three, but FOUR bottles of various liquids, all over the “ounce limit.” All the signs that say this is the “Number One Airport in the World” are false. And the more I have to stare at them, the angrier I get.

28.   I just met two really nice people on my flight from Hyderabad. We chatted the whole two hour flight.

29.   I have learned that banging drums loudly in academic building are a really effective way to halt classes. Jai Telangana.

30.   Now that I look back on it, pretty much most of the questionable decisions I made were with Jess. Go figure.

31.   I saw India play England in Cricket. (Also, what the heck is Kabaddi? And why are all the players on Team India Sikh and Punjabi?)

32.   I have learned that power and internet are not necessary for happiness, contrary to popular belief. Although they do make some things a heck of a lot easier.

33.   I have been in several Indian states, and seen some of the greatest monuments in India. Goa, Karnataka, Agra, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Mahableshwar, Gujarat… I want to come back for Kerala and Amritsar and Kashmir.

I am about to get on the flight from Delhi to Chicago in 2 hours, and I am so excited. I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but for now, I am sleepy, and I am hungry. So I’m going to get some food, and then watch The West Wing.

 

 

11/12/2011

Charminar

For what is probably the last time when I am in India, I went to Charminar yesterday with my three favorite people.Karen, Val, Jess, and I took a variety of modes of transportation - buses, shared autos, and private rickshaws, it took about an hour to get there, but we did it pretty inexpensively.

Charminar is one of the monuments protected by the Indian Archeological Survey, and so we had to pay to get in, but we showed our HCU Student IDs and they let us in for the Indian price of 5 Rs. The guy checking tickets didn't believe us when we showed him the tickets, so we all had to get our IDs out again. We went up to the top, and the stairs were strangely reminiscent of the Duomo in Italy. Winding, narrow, and steep, I was really happy to get to the open air at the top.

We took some pictures at the top of Old City below, and also each other :)

I also just noticed we match each other. Good work, team.

There is a cool building on the left that I always confuse with Chowmahalla Palace, and on the right is the second largest Masjid in India. We saw the outside of the biggest one in Delhi when we were there.

Jess and Zoe at the top!

When we got down again, we bought a ton of bangles, some henna, and a henna design book. It was a good adventure. I am really comfortable bargaining at Charminar, especially for bangles, and I feel good about all the ones I bought. I helped Karen out when she tried to buy bangles for a bajillion Rupees. Jess, when she shops, makes friends with everyone she meets, so it takes a long time, but we always have a really good time. Karen wanted a sari, so near the end of our several-hour, exhausting bargaining excursion, she and Val went to a store where we finally found some that she liked. Zoe was getting hungry at this point, and not the good kind of hunger. So Jess and I went to the Cafe Coffee Day and I bought a choco-doughnut. They handed it to me with a fork and knife, which was good, because after a day of shopping, my hands were probably swimming in gross.

The way back was insane. We hopped in a rickshaw to Medhipatnam, and from there, waited for the 216 at the bus stop. Buses here don't really stop, though, they roll slowly through the station, so getting on is every man for himself. We pushed through the crowd of people, and tried to avoid the people jumping off as we leaped on. The bus ride was SO long. There was a ton of traffic, and we were all pretty tired from our afternoon of shopping. It was 9 Rs. back to Triple IT where there was a restaurant called Chappatos (Indian Chipotle) that everyone else wanted, and a Dominoes, which I had been craving. Jess asked me to get her some breadsticks, so I went to Dominoes and ordered my pizza to go. It took a while, about 20 minutes, and they asked me to sit and wait, so I sat at the only sort of open table, which was already occupied by a man and his young daughter, wearing a tie-dye shirt. He apparently moves between Hyderabad and Oregon, because his wife works for Nike, and they are planning to move out there permanently in the next few months when he starts grad school. We chatted for a while, and when his pizzas were ready, he handed me his business card and told me to call if I ever needed anything.

I left when my pizza was ready and took it next door to where we all ate together. Gwen came to join us, which was nice, because I rarely see her. We had a really, really good day, and I'm going to miss this a lot, I think. I'm definitely going to miss Jess, Val, and Karen. They're good people, and I will definitely stay in touch with them when I get back.

I am also going to miss a lot of things about India. I will miss the cheap public transportation. I will miss walking down a crowded street, hearing women covered in all black from head to toe, yelling "Are you crazy?" in Hindi at bangles vendors. I will miss the smog and the traffic. And I will miss people handing me, a stranger, and a foreigner, their business cards because they are genuinely friendly people. America is a land of foreigners. Everyone's ancestors came from somewhere else (except the Native Americans, obviously), and we could learn a thing or two about welcoming people into our country from places like India. Everyone from the man at the cricket match who yelled at the security guards to let us in, to the woman who halted traffic in Medhipatnam to help us find a rickshaw, to the people who come to ask if you need help when we look lost. All these people have made India the positive and growing place that it is today. I know I'll be back to India, probably in the next few years, and I will definitely have to come to Hyderabad every time I'm back. I'll miss this city.

11/02/2011

Agra, Delhi, Mumbai!

Sorry I haven't been up in a while! I have been running around India like crazy, and now I am back in Hyderabad for 19 more days before I head home to the US. Sounds crazy, and it's starting to get really, well, real, that this is ending. I'm going to write this post about my trip to Agra and Delhi with my parents. They came to visit, and we had so much fun. Here goes...

I met my parents in Delhi late Thursday night after a full day of class. I got some McDonald’s, called a cab, and got to the airport a full three hours early (oooops). So I ate my spicy chicken sandwich really slowly to compensate. And then watched cricket. After a while, it started to fill up, and this man sat down next to me. After probably 20 minutes of watching cricket silently together, he leaned his torso away from me. And farted. Really loud. Right onto me. Bahahaha. I sort of just pretended it didn’t happen. I figured that was the best approach.

Anyway, Mom and Dad were arriving in Delhi an hour before me (their plane was delayed, but still earlier), and I was anxiously waiting to get on the plane. Our boarding time came and went, and then our departure time. We boarded about 45 minutes after we were scheduled for take-off. As per usual in India, no explanation was offered, and Mom and Dad didn’t have phones, so I just hoped they heard on the other end the plane would be late. They didn’t, but I did manage to find Mom right away after collecting my bag, so that was good. Dad had sent some people in after me, and I didn’t see them, but supposedly, I was being paged over the PA system in the airport. I’ve sort of always wanted that to happen, so that was neat. Even though I didn’t hear it.

We went to the pre-paid taxi stand (an invention that Mom and Dad introduced me to – AWESOME) and got a taxi to the hotel we were staying at right near Connaught Place in New Delhi called Le Meridien. It was AWESOME. This is a picture I took from our floor (the 15th) down to the interior lobby.

The hotel, as you can see, was quite striking, and the bed was so comfy! The first morning we were there, it was super hazy outside, (lots of pollution in Delhi) but we headed out on the metro (Delhi has a great subway system!). We bought our tokens and then had a little trouble getting through the gate, and had to ask for directions a few times, but everyone was really friendly. We ended up at the Lotus Temple, which is the Bahai’i temple in Asia. Sad that I went inside this one before I went inside the one in Evanston. All of the petals of the lotus are supposed to represent something, but I can’t remember what. It was gorgeous, though, and very peaceful inside. Sort of like being in a hollowed-out, high ceilinged object. That was a terrible description, but you get what I mean. There were a couple school groups there, and we had to take off our shoes to go in. When we got inside, we sat in the pew for a few minutes, and then left. This is what the temple looked like from the outside (up close and from far away).

On our way to the Temple, we caught a rickshaw for a few Rupees for the last kilometer, and that was the first time I’d encountered an auto driver who wanted to essentially rent himself out to us for the day. However, he also mandated that we see his store. We objected and exited the rickshaw, unaware that this is apparently the custom in Delhi.

We took the next rickshaw we saw to the Raj Ghat, or the place where Gandhiji was assassinated. We checked our shoes in so they wouldn’t get stolen while we walked around. The monument reminded me a lot of the FDR memorial in DC. There was a small sort of shrine to Gandhi in the middle, and the walls around were inscribed with Gandhi quotes in different languages, most of them Indian, and even one in Spanish, but strangely none in English. The language on the right in the one below is Hindi, one of the major languages of India. Gandhi has done some things I don’t know that I necessarily agree with, but the man definitely had a way with words. All of the quotes I could understand were really beautiful.

Into another rickshaw, we headed to the India Gate, a symbol of national unity, and a war memorial built before India was even independent from the British, which didn’t happen until 1947. There wasn’t a lot to see there apart from the Gate itself, unless you count the cute, tiny little school kids with their huge backpacks obviously on a field trip, or the vultures in the tree to the right of the Gate, which was a little creepy.

I was really happy to see Mom and Dad, and I think they were happy to see me too. Dad’s happiness manifested in being in 98% of the pictures of me that I have from this weekend, so you will notice a recurring theme :)

After the India Gate, we toured Embassy Row, which was super anticlimactic. It was just a wide road with all the Embassies on it, which was cool, but they are all hidden behind big walls, obviously, so we mostly looked at the signs. We saw Russia, Poland, Norway, Japan, the US, and strangely, Sudan. What?!? Is there a large Sudanese population in India that I don’t know about? I did snag a picture of me in front of the gate in front of the Prime Minister’s house. AWESOME.

Also, a lot of the cars in Delhi, including the taxis, were really old fashioned. This is one of the cooler ones I saw, but the cabs were all green and black and yellow, and the same make.

Lunch was at this really, really, really nice place in Lodi Park. It was outside, and I had the best salmon I have had in a long time. Also, I discovered that if goat cheese, radish, lettuce, and dressing are all in the same bite, it tastes good. This is the restaurant we ate at (Lodi Park Restaurant).

After lunch, we went to the Supreme Court building because I wanted to see the Museum there. This turned out to be a futile exercise, but it was REALLY cool to see the Supreme Court of India! There was a bomb ordeal there a couple weeks ago, and I sort of wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but everything looked all normal again. We also tried visiting the Indira Gandhi museum for Zoe, but the line was obscenely long. So we gave up on that. But I took a picture in front anyway to prove I was there. Note the staring child :)

The next day, we got up nice and early to hit the Red Fort and the Chandi Chowk market before hopping on the train to Agra. The Fort was HUGE (the outer walls looked really imposing) and it housed troops until not too long ago when it was turned over to the IAS for opening up to the public. In a proud moment, I got the Indian citizen ticket because I am a student at HCU. That was really cool. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make me feel like not such an outsider everywhere I go here.

We went to the market afterward. It was huge, and the paths were really narrow and I am really glad Mom and Dad got to experience the full Indian market experience while they were here. I got a couple suits for when I celebrate Diwali with Anshu’s family (I leave for Mumbai tomorrow night). They are gorgeous, and I am really excited to wear them! Mom has pictures, but I don’t have them yet. We also met a man with one leg who was really helpful at first, but then he kept following us around, and I didn’t really like that. These are pictures of two of the first streets we saw in the market.

I stopped being able to take pictures – the streets got too narrow, and the vendors progressively more aggressive. The men we bought my suits from were funny, and I think Mom and Dad really liked being able to sit down in a shop and see some of the clothes, and the process we go through to buy things here. I admit, I do sort of miss having fixed prices. I know I overpay for almost everything, but I never know by how much.

We didn’t go to the Masjid, the largest in India, because we went to the one in Hyderabad, and we hadn’t heard super positive things from the people I talked to about their experiences visiting.

We got on the train to Agra that night after dinner at the hotel (when I asked for the best way to get to the train station, the man at the front desk said “Find a rickshaw and get in it.” Duh. Thank you Mr. Front Desk).

I really dislike train stations in India, especially when I am the most knowledgeable person in the group. People harass you constantly for buying things, or porters, or just because they want to know where you are going, and there isn’t a way to escape them. I really don’t like that and I sort of lost my temper after having to stand in a tight line at the ticket counter with a bunch of pushing and staring Indian men (sorry, Dad. I sort of took it out on him before I regained my cool). The 1AC train car wasn’t as nice as we were hoping, and the ride was about three hours long. There was a guy about my age in our compartment, but when the officer came to check tickets, he kicked him out in a whirlwind of Hindi. I took Dramamine before the train, so I slept pretty much the whole way there.

Another pre-paid taxi when we got there, and we got to our hotel, supposedly 800 meters from the Taj Mahal. This was a slight exaggeration as we discovered later, but the walk was nice. Even though we got in very late, we woke up at 5:30am to get to the Taj for sunrise. It was hazy, so not as beautiful as it would have been on a clear day, but it wasn’t too hot, and not very crowded. We waited in line outside for a little while, and to our surprise, the women’s line moved faster than the men’s and we got in before Dad. We were standing behind some nice Spanish ladies, and we exchanged a few words when a monkey appeared on the roof above us in the security line. I think pictures will do a better job than words, so maybe just take a look at those :) The last thing I will say is that in true Adam form, we checked out audio guides, so that’s what the headphones are in some pictures.

We were going to go see the Agra Fort, but decided instead to read by the pool. So that was a good decision. We made it back to the hotel before breakfast ended, ate, and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon. In hindsight, this was a great plan, because if we’d walked around anymore, the events of that evening might have been much worse.

Basically, long story short, we hop on a train back to Delhi, and the majority of the staff/police officers working at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (voted the 4th best in the world – by who, I wonder) are totally unhelpful, and served to make it nearly impossible to check into the airport hotel Dad had booked for us. 90 minutes later, Mom was switching her things from one bag to another in the middle of the terminal because we were told we had to check in to get to the hotel, even though our flights were not until the next morning. There was a line of French soldiers coming home from somewhere next to us, and when the men from the hotel finally came down to inform us that contrary to their previous written statement, they could not take me to the hotel because I was a domestic and not an international flight, Dad lost it. There were some angry words spoken, the conclusion of which was the men assuring we would get a refund, and telling us that there wasn’t really anything else they could do for us. This left us to sleep on the benches in the airport, because Mom and Dad didn’t want to leave me by myself to go to the room on their last night with me.

In ironic protest, I took a picture of myself and Dad next to this false sign in the airport.

In three weeks, I will be back at the Delhi airport, waiting for a flight back home to Chicago. Feels pretty surreal!

10/20/2011

"No way to avoid being one with India"

This was on a billboard today that we drove past in a rickshaw in Secunderabad, and it could not have come at a better time. India played England today in cricket at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal, and I had secured tickets for myself and ten friends. The tickets had been purchased online for 15oo Rs. and the printout said “tickets to be picked up at venue ticket counter.” Any normal person would assume that means the ticket counter is actually at the venue. False. In India, the venue ticket counter can be as many as 20 km away from the actual venue. We discovered this when our attempts to enter the stadium were thwarted by angry policemen, despite the valiant efforts of a new friend and his wife to get us into the stadium. We then bought NEW 500 Rs. tickets because we assumed the old ones had simply been resold (this IS India, after all), but a mob sort of formed at our gate for those seats around the time that Miriam got a call saying the tickets were at the counter in Secunderabad, and would we come pick them up?

So after an hour long taxi ride to get to the stadium, Dane, Miriam, and I took another 30 minute rickshaw ride to get the tickets. We returned to the stadium, tickets in hand, slightly concerned about being a little over an hour late. We needn’t have worried. There were like a bajillion overs, and the India team was batting on the field from 2:30pm until nearly 7pm. Dhoni himself took up quite a substantial portion of that time. He is #7, and the one kneeling in the picture below.

Cameras were prohibited in the stadium, but phones are not. So everyone who had phones that were made post 1999 (aka not us) was just using those. I managed to successfully sneak it in by hiding the battery on a different part of my body, and then claiming I didn’t have it. This was actually a huge accomplishment – we went through probably 4 security checks including pat-downs to get into the stadium, and they confiscated my water and my Lay’s potato chips, but let me keep my orange. So all the pictures I took are slightly covert (hence the sort of poor shots). In any case, here are some pictures of the game:

These guys were HILARIOUS – they danced every time something happened, and often with the moves from the new movie Bodyguard. They are quite a bit smaller than Salman Khan, though :)

The game was incredible, though. We had so much fun, and I am so supremely happy that I got to see a cricket match while I was here, and especially an international one! Thanks friends from home for making me watch the World Cup last year – I sort of knew what was going on, and I was familiar with some of the players’ names, which was cool :) The game, once we got there, was great. And I am glad it went so long :) I feel like I got the full experience that way – cricket isn’t cricket unless you’re there for 6 hours. Also, they played “Lollipop” at one point. I love India. And we won :)

ALSO parents arrive in an hour and a half!!!!! I am so excited! Little do they know, I am going to the airport to surprise them, so hopefully they’re happy to see me! SO HAPPY!!!!!

10/12/2011

The Goa Experience!

Hey Team! I’m back! Goa was amazing, and this should hopefully be a fun post because Goa was so crazy! I am going to start with a couple pictures…

The Portuguese colonized Goa, and left very late, so the influence is still very obvious, especially architecturally. There are many villas with Portuguese names, and churches EVERYWHERE! It’s beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Miami – being by the beach, with gorgeous Western architecture.

The bus ride to Goa was an overnight trip, about 13 hours. We left Hyderabad about 30 minutes behind schedule, and we made some friends here and on the bus who helped us figure out how to do everything. The guy I sat next to on the way there talked to me for a long time about politics in India before I fell asleep, and helped us negotiate cab fare once we got to Goa so that we’d pay more of the Indian price.

We took a cab straight to the beach because our hotel wasn’t open for check-in yet. We stood on the beach for a couple minutes, and then went to lunch. This is what we saw on the beach. The fact that I captured a picture without ANYONE in their tightey-whities is a miracle. In India, women swim in their sarees and other clothes, and men swim in their tiny underwear. Swimsuits are unheard of, even though they are for sale all along the beach. I’m guessing tourists buy them. Goa has like a zillion tourists, but we went in the off season, so it was a little quieter.

We went for lunch, to the hotel, and then back to the beach. The hike to the hotel, though, was a HIKE. We had all our stuff, and it turned out the cab driver had dropped us at the other end of the beach, so we walked a couple of kilometers with our bags, sweat dripping off of us, and we got lost in the back roads leading to our hotel. About 45 minutes later, we arrived at the hotel. Val, Jess, and Karen checked in while I hid out back – we hadn’t told them I’d be there. This is the road behind our hotel, with the girls walking:

Finally, they came to rescue me, and we went up to the room. It was BEAUTIFUL and clean and huge, and had 4 beds. We put our stuff down and headed out again. Before the beach though, we went to grab a late lunch. This place, Eclipse Bar and Grill, was our lunch spot of choice all 5 days we were there.

Onion rings, chicken sandwiches, and fruity drinks – DELICIOUS! The moped in the back belongs to some of our other friends in Goa who rented it while they were there to get around. I wouldn’t have dared to do it – driving in India is NOT something we mess with :)

The beach that we found, and subsequently returned to every day, was mostly empty, and we only had to deal with the occasional passing stare. We took some pictures that night of the beach (and us).

I may or may not be the one in the tie dye. This picture also brings me to my next point. Men in Goa are the most aggressive that I have encountered. Constant catcalling on the street, and countless covert and not so covert photos taken of us. I’ve already made it clear in previous posts that I am tired of feeling like an animal in a zoo, and tired of feeling like a stranger here (especially in Hyderabad – although a girl in class from India yesterday said that everyone in India feels like a stranger because there is so much diversity everywhere. I thought that was interesting).

Anyway, a staring Indian man (or pack of them) was a constant fixture this weekend. Sometimes people asked to take our pictures – sometimes they didn’t. When they did ask, I said no. When they didn’t ask, and I noticed them do it, all hell broke loose. One man kept returning to take pictures on his phone after I had asked him to go away, and finally, I stood up and yelled at him on the beach in front of everyone. All the people around, Indian and tourist, came up to say they thought that I should keep doing that, and they told Jess, Val, and Karen that they were lucky to have such a fierce bodyguard :) But seriously – what is so different about us? We wore swimsuits, but usually had either shorts or a t-shirt on as well. We stayed pretty conservatively dressed, so it was frustrating that there isn’t anything we can do to blend in a little more.

That night, as we were walking to dinner, a couple of guys walked up to us and introduced themselves, asking where we were from. We started talking to them, and finally we made a group decision to go to the nearby restaurant so we could eat and the guys would join us for a drink. We sat there for about two hours just talking and eating our seafood pasta. They were really cool and we talked about everything from the Beatles to politics. They asked where they could watch the rugby world cup, and we told them about our favorite lunch spot that had it on. Matt, Ben, and Joe (good English names) were great company, and we exchanged numbers to maybe meet up again.

The next day, Jess and I woke up and decided it would be a good idea to go parasailing. 800 Rupees and an argument later (after some vendors that Jess had befriended helped us find the best deal), we had a slip of paper in our hands, and were told to come back in one hour. We waited, and then walked back, turning down picture requests right and left. After elbowing our way into the line in true Indian form, we were ushered onto a boat and given a life jacket. We were on this first boat, just sitting in the Indian Ocean, unsure of the next step. After about 20 minutes, another boat came, and we switched places with the passengers on that boat. We sat for another half hour while the crew ate their lunch, and then we started getting ready to parasail! The woman next to me had been in Mauritius before and said it was a lot of fun, so Jess and I harnessed up. Here’s the result:

So this, friends, is parasailing! It was awesome. I am so happy I got to do it. Flying over the water in the Indian Ocean attached to a parachute is a pretty once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I took full advantage of my short air time. Looking out over the shore was really cool, and once I stopped screaming, I really got to look around. Basically, they put you in a harness, attach you to some ropes, and then a mechanical thing starts and slowly lets you out over the water. There were probably a dozen boats out, and it was definitely the best $16 I spent in Goa.

After the beach, we met up with the Englishmen again for a really late dinner (around 9:30pm) and then we ended up going to a sports bar and chatting until 4 in the morning. One of the reasons I love India, and particularly Goa, is that it is full of people from all over the world. Everyone has a different story, and these three guys all went to college together, had just graduated, and were touring India together for 6 weeks. Matt had been sick most of the trip so far, Pete met a German girl he liked the week before Goa (who Matt called the Happy Dinosaur because of her size), and Joe was subtly hilarious. It is so much fun to be able to meet new people everywhere we go, and these three have definitely made the list of favorites so far. Pete and Joe are going into the military in Britain, and Matt is going on to find a job as an engineer. We also met a Swedish girl who couldn’t stay because she was going to meet some Australians she had just met. In the market earlier that day, as Jess was making another impulse purchase, I heard someone behind me say “que piensas?” (“what do you think” in Spanish). I turned around and had a nice conversation in Spanish with two girls from Mexico City. In India. I love meeting people from all over, and I think that’s why I like languages so much. The more you know, the more you can talk to people. And how cool is it to come home with new friends not just in India, but all over the world?

Val and Karen left the next day, to the dismay of the many beach vendors we had met and bought things from. Ankle bracelets, toe rings, manicures with diamond studs (only in India do you get a great manicure, except they forget to cut your nails first), necklaces, earrings… Everything under the sun. Jess makes friends with vendors, but also gets the best prices, so she is really fun just to watch in action. On the last day, the boys who Jess had bought earrings and necklaces from and who had hooked us up with a discount on the parasailing, gave Jess a whole box of earrings because they liked her so much. What a party, yeah?

 

Our last morning, all we wanted to do was sit on the beach. So that’s what we did. Goa was BEAUTIFUL, and I highly recommend parasailing :)

09/28/2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Kerala! Yesterday, my friend Micaela and I went to the Onam celebrations on campus. The only information we had was that it started at 5pm in DST Auditorium, and that we should wear white saris, with a gold border. My sari IS white with a gold border, and some red and green thrown in there too, but I decided it would work. Micaela’s is bright pink and gold. Close enough. Our Hindi teacher, Bhavani, had us come to her room a little before the event, and she tied our saris for us. Mine took her about 5 minutes, but Micaela’s had a LOT of fabric, and took considerably longer.

At about 4pm, we headed out for the half hour walk to DST. Bikes in a sari are sort of out of the question, so walking it is! On our walk, everyone we passed gave us the “A-OK” sign, slowed down on their bikes, and told us “bahut sundar, girls” (very beautiful). This was when we decided that wearing saris once a week would be a good ego booster.

We arrived at the auditorium at 4:30, right on time, and picked seats inside. This was a good move. The program started at 5:30, but there were easily over a thousand people there, many of whom were relegated to sitting in the aisles, or standing, crammed together, in the doorway. At one point, I turned to Micaela, and said, "Isn't this a fire hazard?' She just looked at me, like "Zoe. We're in India. Seriously?"

The performance went about 2 hours, and was a combination of song, dance, and a skit or two. The emcees introduced all the acts in Malayalam and English, which was really cool. The whole thing started with a slideshow, and everyone cheered whenever food appeared as part of the show.

The two guys sitting behind us provided constant entertainment, singing Linkin Park songs in Indian accents, and telling us about how we could improve our sari-wearing experience for next time (24 or 36 gold bangles, and wear the watch on your other hand. Dye your hair, and wear it down…) So many suggestions!

In any case, the program was great. Traditional Christinan, Hindu, and Muslim dances, as well as dances the looked remarkably like the Kerala version of bhangra, and one dance that was modeled after the boat races that take place there every year.

After the program, we met up with friends from class, and were accosted for interviews by the campus news channel. My friend Roshan from Dalit politics unfortunately captured that on film, but I shall not post it here – I told him after that my face felt really red, and in true male form, he nodded, and said, “Yeah, your face was REALLY red.” Thanks.

The interviewers messed up the first time, so they chased us around until we agreed to do a second one. We took a million pictures, both with people we knew from class, and people we didn’t. On the walk back, a man stopped on his bicycle to take a picture of us, but at least he asked for permission first :-)

We were going to stay for the food, but we only had one ticket for the two of us, and the wait was close to 45 minutes. We walked back instead so we could take off our saris, and we got back too late for Tagore dinner, so pizza it was. They messed up, though, and brought us a tiny pizza. Oooops.

In any case, the pictures below is us and a couple of friends from class at the event :) We had so much fun! Happy New Year! Also, L'shanah tovah - it's the Jewish New Year as well this evening! Here's to new beginnings!

09/20/2011

I'm In India

So it occasionally hits me suddenly that I'm in India, and I am overwhelmed with either surprise, or giddiness, or a mix of both. This has happened several times this weekend. Dr. Ambedkar and others have commented that India is a place of contrasts and ironies. The longer I am here, the more I see this, but the more I become accustomed to it as well. I don't look with wonder at the differences in wealth between a mansion and a tent made out of a tarp - right next to each other - like I did when I first arrived. I don't think twice anymore about many of the small differences (and sometimes inconveniences). That's just the way it is here.

I'm getting more and more sure that going home will be a large adjustment, probably bigger than the one I made in coming. And I know this is a common comment that I make, but I think it sort of stands for a lot of the changes we've made here, but I'm sure when I go home, the first couple times I go out to eat, I will ask for my drink with no ice (because we can't have ice here) and I'm sure I'll bring a waterbottle into the bathroom to brush my teeth, because that's what I'll have been doing every day for five months. I will expect the power to go out as many as fifteen times a day, sometimes in the middle of class, and I will expect the internet to only work sometimes. I will have to get used to having a phone again. And I will have to get used to being so busy I barely have time to think.

That might be the biggest thing. My entire lifestyle has changed here, and I will need to re-learn how to keep deadlines, how to be on time for things, and how to fit yoga into my day every day, which I do easily here.

In fact, today, I was doing my thirty or forty minutes of yoga outside right before sunset, and I had to get my camera to take a picture. I am going to miss the sky here a lot. It's like how Colorado sky still is on some places. Huge, and blue, and sort of endless. And actually this color:

Enough with the philosophy though. Let's get to the events of yesterday for a second.

Jess and I decided we'd go to the tailor together, and I called ahead of time, because we've had some trouble with this guy, and he said to come at 1pm. We were running on IST, which basically means we showed up around 2pm. And the shop was closed. So much for picking up my stuff! As per usual, Jess and I decided that an adventure would be a good way to solve our problems. So with my sari in my backpack, and Jess's bag full of clothes she needed fixed in some way, we decided to go to a movie. We love the movies, and decided we wanted to see one in English for a nice change (we've been crazily working our way through about two dozen Bollywood movies). We stopped at Jess's homestay so she could change, and this was the first time I'd visited. This is the view from Jess, Jordan, and Gwen's second story apartment.

It was beautiful and down the street, a car had the bumper sticker that said "Don't drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." For some reason, I thought that was pretty funny. Maybe because as dangerous as the driving is in India, it's not really the speed that makes it that way. No one really breaks 40mph. Especially in a downtown area. It's more that there is no concept of personal space on the roads. Or traffic laws.

In any case, we hopped in a shared auto, and then ended up taking the MMTS commuter train for the first time from Lingampally to Necklace Road. What is about 150 Rs. in an autorickshaw was 3 Rs. per person on the train. Jess and I made a friend who helped us figure out which train to take, and where to get off (all the signs and most of the announcements are in Telugu). And the train was fun. We got off, and made our way to the theater. Where we did our two favorite things that Jess and I do to treat ourselves - eat McDonald's, and see a movie. We saw Friends With Benefits. It's rated "A" (basically "R" at home) and there was, as usual, a couple of 3 or 4 year old kids in front of us. Which was pretty awkward during certain scenes. Those parents are going to have fun explaining to their kids later :) But it was really good. And it was the first movie I've seen in English since the new Harry Potter came out. So I understood all the jokes! How cool is that?

Getting a rickshaw back was hilarious. Drivers want your business, and so one who wouldn't go lower than 200 Rs ("It's a holiday madam! You have to understand that we have to drive all the way back with no customers!") ran after us to try and sell us on his offer. After he had disturbed our bargaining with three other drivers, Jess turned to him, and said "Sir. We gave you our price. No need to follow us around if you won't meet it." That sort of ended that, but I still think it's hilarious how drivers will follow you, telling you that you are asking too much, and they won't take you, but they just want you to know, with the possible result of you agreeing to their egregious prices.

On the ride back, it started monsooning outside, and my right side got soaked, and Jess's left, because the side of rickshaws are open. Some camels with people riding on them ambled casually across the road in the driving rain. And our rickshaw driver politely paused to let them pass. I love these parts of India. Something else I love is that at two different times yesterday when Jess and I were figuring out transportation, a man walked up to us, and told us the cheapest way to get where we were going, and then helped us get there. The friendliness of strangers still astounds me.

Also, this is my new favorite song. Underneath it is another of my favorites :)

 

and

 

Also, the main guy in the "I Hate Luv Storys" video above is also the main actor in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, which I saw last week. Go check it out!

09/14/2011

Ganesh and Gujarat

I got back from Gujarat late last night, and holy moly. Jess and I had quite the weekend. I was really excited to go to Gujarat (I felt like I was back in New Jersey, to be honest) and I was excited to go with Jess. She is really fun, and we don’t spend much time together because she is in a homestay and not in any of my classes.

Before I get to Gujarat, though, I want to take a second to talk about the Ganesh Festival that happens all over India around this time. It is an 11 day festival and essentially marks a new year in the Hindu calendar. Basically, this means that people erect small, or large, shrines to Ganesh everywhere, play loud religious music from speakers, and set up Christmas lights everywhere. Part of the ritual is that at the end of the 11 days, everyone ceremonially marches their Ganesh idol to a body of water, accompanied by drums and dancing, and puts the idol in the water, and leaves it there. Many of the idols now are made of clay so they are more eco friendly. We visited the largest moveable, eco-friendly Ganesha in India. Standing at 55 feet, and made of clay and other environmentally-friendly materials, it was submerged in the lake sometime Sunday.I put in a picture of me in front of it – we went to visit before leaving!

They lift it with a crane to put in the lake. It was next to the mall, which I thought was funny.

Anyways, Jess and I hopped in a cab to the airport straight from the idol. We flew into the Ahmedabad airport, landing around 11pm. From there, we took an insanely overpriced rickshaw (400 Rs.) to the hotel. On the way, the rickshaw drivers tried to persuade us that we should go to a different hotel. We didn’t listen, but perhaps should have. The man didn’t speak any English at the front desk, so it’s a good thing I have been paying attention in Hindi! I put in a picture of our bathroom to illustrate a bit of our room. I left out the one where Jess wrote our names on the wall through the thick layer of dirt.

What you cannot see in this picture is that we used a bucket to shower with, and it remains unclear as to whether this is the same bucket that many Indian people still use to clean themselves after using the toilet. Jess and I laughed it off for two nights, and then decided we could afford a move to a nicer hotel. One of the best decisions I have made in India, definitely :-)

The first morning, we woke up early, skipped breakfast, because as we found out later, there is an Old Ahmedabad, and a New Ahmedabad, and we were on the Old side, with not many food options that would leave us without severe stomach upset. Refer to toilet picture above for our reasoning behind being wary of our food consumption. We visited the Dada Hari Wav Step Well, built a really long time ago, and is essentially a well, about 100 yards by 100 yards, and ornately carved, roughly 5 stories below ground. The picture below is of Jess and I, two stories under ground in the well.

Our “tour guide” at the well was named Mukesh. He was old, and spoke like 10 words of English, so I got to practice my Hindi again. We have learned a lot in two months! Jess is taking Telugu, so she picked up really fast how to say some of the basic stuff in Hindi, but mostly, it was all me. After the well, we visited the Hatheesingh Jain Temple. On the way, we caught a rickshaw, and the driver said, “OK, 200 Rupees.” Now, Jess and I don’t know Ahmedabad, but we’ve been in India long enough to know when we are being ripped off. And it’s not so much about the money, as it is about the principle of it. So it was break time for a local school and about 50 kids around 9 years old streamed into the street. One, who seemed bigger, but not older than the others, elbowed his way to the front, and said proudly, “I speak English!” He then yelled at the rickshaw driver, and I understand enough Hindi to know sort of what he was saying. In the end, we had a mob of people around us, all yelling, a sheepish looking rickshaw driver, and a happy kid. He shook our hands, and we got into our rickshaw, now only 15 Rs.

On our way to the Market, we stopped at a Mosque. In the middle of all the chaos of the city, there was a quiet, peaceful, open square, with a pool in the middle, and it was beautiful. In all, we spent a lot of time at the Main Market in Ahmedabad, where we bought dandya (sticks used in raas, a dance traditional in Gujarat) and jewelry. We found a movie store and each bought 6 or 7 Bollywood movies – I got a lot of the classics that I haven’t seen yet, but have been meaning to watch. I am really excited to get started on those! We ended up going to see a Bollywood movie in the theater as well, called “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan” (My Brother’s Wife) and it was SO good. It was opening day, and movie theaters in India are crazy places anyway, so it was fun to be there!

We ended the day at the Law Garden Night Market, which is a huge market where they sell everything, but mostly traditional clothing this time of year because the Navratri (spelling uncertain) Festival is coming. I bought a half sari from the guys in the picture below – it is bright red, blue, and yellow, and has mirrors sewn onto it. I have no idea when I will ever wear it. But I love it.

They were really funny, and really nice, and fun to bargain with, so when we went back the next night we took this picture. We also met our friends Ishan and Raj there. They were asking people questions about how they could make Ahmedabad more tourist friendly, and they were local university students. They asked us some questions, and then left us to keep shopping. When we were trying to find a rickshaw back to the hotel, we had some trouble, and Ishan came over, and tried bargaining for us, and then said, “You know what, we’ll just take you.” They seemed nice, so Jess and I went with them. They WERE really nice – they took us back, and talked to us about Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and going to school there, and gave us their number in case we needed help. We thanked them and went back to our gross hotel room for the night :-)

The next morning, we went to see Gandhi’s ashram, which is where he lived with his closest followers and did a lot of his planning. I have mixed feelings about Gandhi, but it was cool to see the ashram! Pictures below:

There were trees with different names – this is me in front of the Peace tree. The Love tree looked a little neglected, so I don’t have a picture with it :-) After the ashram, we went to find lunch and a new hotel, and then went with Raj and Kishan (not to be confused with Ishan) to a park on the other side of town. There was a huge lake, and a walking path, and a train for kids, and a small amusement park. The guys took us around the whole park and I rode on my first carnival rides in India – super fun! The way it works here, and I guess at home too, is that guests don’t pay, so the guys paid for everything, which was so nice. They are planning on coming to grad school in the US, one to Purdue, so we promised to take them around when they come in a couple years. We had a really great time with them, and it was so good to see the city with people our age who live there. Picture of them with Jess at the park is below.

They dropped us off again at another temple we wanted to see, and then we headed to McDonald’s for dinner – YESSSSSSS.

Our hotel that night (the new one) was so nice. We felt like royalty there. And didn’t have to take a bucket shower. We had about a half day the next day, so we went back to the Main Market, and each walked away with a new sari. Mine is BEAUTIFUL light blue with silver sparkly detailing. IT is gorgeous. I think I am going to start wearing them at home because I like them so much :-)

We went to see another movie because we had to check out of the hotel at noon, and our flight wasn’t until 6pm, so we needed something where we could bring all our stuff. There is a lot of security at movie theaters anyway, but there was also a terrorist threat in Ahmedabad that weekend that came in about the same time we did, and we had all our bags, so we had to pretty much unpack them at the movies :-) The lady looked at us like we were crazy when we arrived carrying all our stuff. We were not in the mood though – another harrowing rickshaw ride had just come to pass. The movie, “Bodyguard” was TERRIBLE, but laughably so, so we enjoyed it.

After the movie, we saw the guys one more time, and they came with us to the airport to see us off. It was so cool to meet people who were so friendly, and so genuinely nice to us. They didn’t look at us like were anything strange or different. It was like hanging out with friends again, and I missed that. They said bye at the airport, and went back to school to do homework, and we went to check in.

The Ahmedabad airport is hilarious. It’s tiny, especially given that Ahmedabad is the capitol of Gujarat. We went to Subway, only to find they didn’t take credit cards, and only to find that we were 30 Rs. short. Dismayed, we asked if there was an ATM. They said no. What to do? Fortunately for us, the man behind us, Indian in appearance, Australian in accent, offered us 30 Rs. to complete the transaction. We thanked him profusely, and went to sit and wait for our flight. This is me happily eating my cookie in the airport. Thank you, mystery man with 30 Rs.

Overall, the theme of the weekend was the kindness of strangers. People in Ahmedabad were really friendly people, saying “hello” and “good afternoon” everywhere we went, and the usual “from which country, Madam?” We have started saying Hyderabad, because it really does feel like home. Traveling through India has shown me very clearly that people who take advantage of other people can ruin a moment, but the vast majority of people are friendly, honest, and genuine people, who might just be a little curious, and they can make a whole trip worth it. Jess and I would have had a totally different experience had we gone and not met Ishan, Kishan, and Raj. And I am so glad we did meet them. And I am glad I bought that half sari. Even if I have nothing to wear it to.

09/05/2011

A Picture is Worth Way More Than a Thousand Words

During my time so far in India, I have been diligently taking pictures. I love taking them, being in them, and looking through them after. I am traveling to Gujarat this weekend and should have some good ones of my trip, but until then, I thought I'd share a couple of my favorites from all over the Southern part of India. Some of them have me in them, some of them are of other CIEE and international students, and some are Indian friends from campus, some from people I meet on the street or at NGOs. And some are just beautiful, beautiful buildings that we see every day. Here are my favorites...

 

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!