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4 posts from September 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!


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 :)




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!


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.


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...