Sunday, December 14, 2008
Let’s start with the good stuff: parties. Or here, perhaps “celebration” is a better word. India seems to celebrate at least one holiday a week (though Deshpande limits it to 12 a year, so there are many days shops and the university are closed while we plug away in the office). Festivities are characterized by food and more food, nice dress, lots of people, more food, pujas, firecrackers and a lack of alcohol. And there is never, never enough decoration.
Check out Shozen’s two-year birthday party, which kicked off with a Christian ceremony, of which I hardly understood a word (besides “happiness” over…and over…and over), and was followed by a huge buffet. We were worried that our gift was wrapped in pink paper, but we shouldn't have been. India loves pink, embraces pink. After taking in all the pink decorations at this little boy's party, I began to recall the pink I'd seen everywhere - entire motorbikes, backpacks, sweatpants, you name it. No gender/color bias here.
For Diwali, a holiday comparable in importance, so I’ve been told, to Christmas, Lesley and I trekked to a smaller village called Ramdurg, the “native place” of Jabshetti, one of her colleagues. We respectfully observed the family toss rice on a shrine, attempted to slurp a concoction of mashed bananas and coconut milk from our hand gracefully and stuffed our faces with homemade under the watchful eye of the mother, the cook . We were definitely the talk of the town, with neighbors and little kids strolling by and popping in, not necessarily invited. Then again, you don't really need an invitation here to join the party.
Post-Diwali deserves a festival of its own, so we celebrated that one from our front door. Our landlords, who are always forcing snacks and sweets down our throats whenever we go upstairs to see them about something, had family in and were celebrating just outside our window. Curious as I was to watch the men light the noisy crackers, I kept my distance; still, it’s the closest I’ve come to losing an eye, as a piece of firework debris made a beeline for my face. I’m amazed I haven’t heard more stories about little kids losing limbs or trees being set on fire. No one seems to take any precautions at all, yet miraculously, everyone is still in one piece, none the worse for wear.
For Halloween, the goal was to impart on our Indian friends a bit of American culture, so we threw a costume party in our apartment, and entirely new concept for them. Lesley invited her coworkers and I had nearly my entire DFP crew here, as well as a few members of the DF staff. My costume was entirely uncreative (since I’d been banking on a package from home that arrived, ironically, the next day, after being sent a month in advance) and was shown up completely by the Fellows. Kudos. We were also sure to provide two solid drink options: alcoholic punch and nonalcoholic punch (topped with ice cream!) The alcoholic punch needed to replaced much earlier in the evening – big surprise.
Last but not least? My birthday. Nothing at all like one I’ve ever had in the States, and certainly not one to be soon forgotten. My Sandbox Fellow buddies couldn’t have made me feel more loved, showering me with saris, sweets, flowers, a scarf and even a luxurious facial, and my DFP Fellows presented me with a beautiful necklace and earrings; later a couple of them special-delivered a handmade handbag produced by a local self-help group (SHG). Furthermore, in Hubli, you had better like cake and icing and like it a whole, whole lot, because you are going to get it stuffed into your face no matter how hard you dodge the eager hands. I had no less than four cakes on my birthday, and each one was cut served up by a score of friends eager to get their chance at creaming me with goo.
Thanksgiving was relatively low-key; no one was feeling up to the search it would require to find any ingredients necessary for producing anything slightly resembling a traditional meal, so we ordered pizza from the only joint in town, which we felt was decidedly American. Thank you, Smokin’ Joes. :)
And I think I’ve exhausted the party scene for now … check the album soon for more pictures!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The trip was not entirely uneventful. After our first morning in the cabins, I awoke a bit earlier than Noelle, and the room was still relatively dark. When I went to rummage through my bag for my suit, my fingers curled around a plastic tube that ended abruptly in jagged edges. Upon closer inspection, I noticed small pieces of plastic atop my clothing and realized that the now-dry tube had once been filled with lip gloss. It wasn’t mine, and it looked old and dirty, so at first I thought it was leftover from the last person and that the pressure from the fan had knocked it from a narrow shelf above and into my bag.
But, oh no! Not the case. In fact, it was Noelle’s brand-new chapstick from the US, and it wasn’t cheap either. Apparently, the rats in Gokarna have expensive taste. It had also managed to chew a hole in her brand-new Northface handbag.
We were pretty grossed out and the next night were moved to a new cabin (that had actually been arranged prior to the rat discovery), one without holes in the wall. But that rat, oh, he’s crafty. He followed us there, and this time chewed a hole in her OTHER bag, the sports bag carrying her clothes. We later discovered it had chewed through her iPod head phones. What Noelle had ever done to this rat we’ll never know, but the rat sure had it out for her.
(Rebecca laughing at me after I freaked out about her brushing sand on my arm right after I'd toweled off. I admit - a tad ridiculous.)
Noelle wasn’t the only one with bad luck; Kate had been sick for the last few days and was hoping the sun would cure her woes. However, when Kate developed an extremely uncomfortable-looking red rash all over her body on our second day there, we were prudent enough to journey into town to see a doctor. Kate had barely walked through the hospital door when the doctor said, “You had weak limbs two days ago.” “Yes?” “And a fever before that?” “Uh huh.” “And a sore throat and nausea before that, right?” “Yeah … okay. So, what is it?” “Hand, foot and mouth disease, of course.”
Not being fully familiar with the disease, a few of us immediately associated it with hoof and mouth (or foot and mouth), a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease that has had a devastating impact in some parts of the world … on cows. It’s rarely found in humans, so Kate was given some medication and sent back to the beach with a smile.
Of course, it would not really be a post on my blog if I didn’t tell you about the food, which was pretty delicious, particularly the part where I ate fresh seafood at both lunch and dinner every day we were there (thanks to the guys and their nets on the beach). You don’t get much seafood in Hubli, and the seafood you do get is totally eat-at-your-own-risk.
We ate most meals at our hotel (since there was only one other option) and spent every night there, too. (See Noelle about to dig into her seafood steamer.) The same server made it his business to serve us every meal, no matter where we sat on the patio on the beach, so by the end we were old friends. The hotel staff was kind enough to play our iPods, so we had dance parties on a nightly basis. We’re headed back next weekend for the official Deshpande Sandbox trip, and I’m expecting the same!
Friday, October 3, 2008
Yes, mmm, leeches. Last week the twenty-three Deshpande Fellows and I traveled to Honnemardu, where we spent the week with Adventurers, an ecotourism NGO working toward increased awareness about the need for conservation practices. This was my first – and I hope my last – experience with leeches.
Kindly refer to Exhibit A, my feet following partial removal of tennis shoes, after approximately 5km of trekking through an overgrown path, moist from the tail-end of monsoon season and saturated with leeches. The trail we were following was to the villager’s home where we would be spending the night. The idea of living this far into the forest was simply unfathomable for me; we still had another kilometer or two to go, and our starting point was the nearest bus stop.
The feet in Exhibit B belong to Pramodkumar (PK), who bore his pain with a smile. Exhibit C is my hero, Shrikanta (on the right), who was the fortunate soul who got to walk behind me and dutifully pick the leeches from my shoes as we traversed the trail. Really, though, after about an hour I had graduated from being terrified (inwardly) and hopelessly attacking the buggers with a stick (or letting Shrikanta get the ones I couldn’t) to yanking them out of my shoes, with my fingernails if necessary; dealing with them when they were stuck to my fingers was much easier. My running shoes had a mesh portion that the leeches had no problem penetrating. Obviously. When I was getting into my pajamas later that night I was disturbed to discover blood on my clothing, which led me to the markings of a leech, right in the middle of my chest. How it got there, I’ll never know.
The trip wasn’t all bad, however; in fact, it was mostly good. The highlight for me was the swimming. Not because the scenery was beautiful (and it was) or because the water was warm (another bonus) or because swimming in a lake was new for me, but because this was allll new for the Fellows. Really new. So new that when they waded into the lake with life jackets on I had people older than me shrieking about being immobile and squealing my name – both the men and the women. If only I’d been on dry land with a camera instead of giving swimming lessons. Half of them were up to their ears in red jacket and couldn’t even turn themselves 90 degrees. But were they ever having fun.
The next morning I, fortunately, was permitted to take a swimming test, which only took me swimming free style for about 20 seconds for the guide to be convinced, and ditched the jacket. Happily, this removed some of the drag I was experiencing on Day One, but not all: females wear a “bathing costume,” not a bathing suit. In most cases, this doesn’t much matter, as women barely wade into the water and wear the salwar or sari they have on. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering I just told you none of them could swim. But even when the intention is to actually swim, they remain fully dressed. When I put on my Speedo, I don’t think any of the girls wanted to be the first to tell me it was inappropriate.
The Fellows: Blank stares. Very little eye contact.
Me: “So what if I pull on my running shorts?”
Them: Still no response, some uneasy shifting.
Them: “Ahhh! Yes. That works.”
Me: Pull on pants. “Right. So then I can go out like this?”
Clearly this wasn’t working. I ended up in pants and a t-shirt. I was then more than a little dismayed to find the boys in their tighty-whities. (We won't include a visual.)
We swam, we paddled (in circular boats I’d never used before), we pitched tents and built a campfire on a little island. We used no soap to wash our dishes (for the most part… there was a little soap zone where I couldn’t help but rinse the grease off my Tupperware), and I didn’t wash my hair until Friday (ew). I wish I had a picture of the rainwater well from which we drank, which had a slightly green glow and was home to a few frogs but tasted fresh and clean nonetheless. The rest of the time we filled our bottles from streams. I had never been on such a bumpy road in my life (this includes Costa Rica, and that’s saying something), never been so close to a cobra (ahhh!) and never slept so tightly between two people that I couldn’t put my arms at my sides.
And I had an amazing time. The Fellows were all wonderful, watching one another’s feet intently for leeches, dressing wounds, salting shoes, sharing snacks and washing one another’s dishes. For a group of young adults, all the same age, to live together in such close quarters in less than ideal conditions so peacefully – I was impressed. I’ll be bummed when these guys head out in December and will definitely look back on this week fondly.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Hampi has actually been the shiznit much longer than most of the cities in India. Between the 14th and 17th century, it was the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, which encompassed about the entire bottom third of the country. According to trusty Fodor, the capital city was a bustling hub of activity, teeming with traders and temple chariot processions along the busy Hampi Bazaar and home to palaces, temples and elephant stalls. It took five neighboring Muslim nations to take the ruling party down; the invaders left the city in ruins, the state in which it remains today.
We arrived in the early afternoon on a Saturday, and after checking into our little hotel, headed into the heat to survey the grounds. We only ventured out on foot, which apparently restricted our sight-seeing greatly, so next time (because there will be a next time) I definitely intend to hire a guide or rent a scooter. The scenery we experienced was gorgeous nonetheless, and my camera really doesn’t do it justice. We explored ancient stone temples and strolled through vast marketplaces, calling on images of markets today to picture the baskets of bananas, coconuts and jasmine strands and piles of gold and bronze jewelry strewn across blankets on the ground. I wondered if the merchants then really looked any different than they do now.
In the evening we climbed a rocky hill to take in the darkening colors of the sky as the sun set behind Virupaksha Temple.
On Sunday morning, the ruins and huge natural boulders provided a beautiful backdrop for my morning run. They say Hampi is an awesome place to go bouldering. I passed by many residents on their way to temple, with flowers and fruits for offerings, and a number of fields, filled with banana trees, rice paddies and other crops.
Since we only had a half-day, most of us decided to take it easy and stay close to home, so we spent our time in the bazaar, perusing the little shops for the best deals on jewelry, clothes and other trinkets. Because we’re totally recognizable as tourists (really?!), we’re always quoted ridiculously high prices, so we have to work at getting them down, with some of us much more successful than others. We used the fact that we were there in the off-season as leverage. This process of bargaining is always a grey area for me, as I worry about walking a fine line between paying a fair price and taking advantage of the situation. So many people live in poverty here, and the rupees are more valuable to them than to me, so I don’t worry too much when I know I’ve paid more than market price.
The train ride home was another adventure, as train rides always seem to be here in Hindustan. A bench for four turned into a bench for seven, and we got real cozy with our travel companions in a sticky, cramped and smelly car. You can see that the little girl next to me (who smelled like she’d been doused in curry and had just popped out of the oven) was thrilled. I did say I loved the scents of India best...
Friday, August 29, 2008
On our way home from Bangalore, Rebecca asked us all what we are going to miss when we leave. In some ways it’s a little bit early to explore that train of thought, but on another level, thinking about what we’re going to miss has opened my eyes to the here and now. Might as well live in the moment.
The first thing that came to my mind was the smells, oddly. India isn’t exactly known for its lovely aromas … probably better known for body odor, traffic pollution, trash and sewage. Yes, that’s all there; I get big whiffs every day on my morning run. But what’s also there is the smell of the wet dirt after a rain; thick, rich wafts of incense; the tantalizing smells of roti (bread) in the ovens and fried foods on the street; the jasmine in the women's hair and the fire and smoke from the burning trash that smells just like campfire (no good, I know!) These smells are part of my everyday routine. (Picture... my house! Lesley and I live on the ground floor with Preeti and Kanchana, and our landlord lives above us with her family - husband, son and a "servant.")
The day truly begins with the Muslim call to prayer. Not that I intentionally awaken for this, mind you. And while most of the Sandbox Fellows find it soothing and beautiful, I am not a fan. Perhaps it’s because on my first morning sleeping in my new abode, I am abruptly stirred from my sleep by what I can only assume is a man chanting and singing loudly directly outside my window in nasally tones. Turns out he’s several streets down in a mosque, broadcasting his call on some megaphone. This may not be accurate, but it’s what I visualize. I wish I could appreciate it more, but given my initial introduction to the call-to-prayer man, I find the sound more eerie than peaceful, especially since it comes at 5:15am when it’s still pitch black outside, and I’m drowsy and disoriented. When it comes at 7:15pm? Okay.
I go back to sleep until 6. After Lesley (roomie) and I go for our run, we indulge in what we now consider a scrumptious breakfast of bananas, curd (not-so-sweet yogurt-like product) and muesli or some other type of wheat flakes. If we cannot get curd/bananas from our street-vendor friends, we have cereal and soy milk, which pretty much costs us an arm and a leg (soy milk is just as expensive here as in the states, even though the incomes don’t compare, and cereal can be anywhere from about $3.50 for a small box of muesli to $9-10 for the stuff like shredded wheat, raisin bran, etc. (Pictures with "chalk art" is of a family on what we like to call "character street;" the women sketch the rangoli every morning, but this particular day's were all a little more elaborate for a holiday.)
After breakfast we walk to campus for Kannada lessons (6 days a week, just like work...the picture is of Lesley following instructions in Kannada from Eknath, while Kate and Adeel listen with great interest!), and then I head next door to the office since I work directly for the Foundation, and it is housed on the BVB campus. I haven’t worked much on what I came most specifically to do (the social entrepreneurship curriculum for the Deshpande Fellows) but instead have taught some of the modules and designed my own lessons, woo hoo – I taught one computer course on Microsoft Works and have just started a weekly Advanced English course. I do a lot of marketing-type stuff, and I manage two interns. I also wrote the content for and designed a big chunk of a new Website, which was supposed to launch, um, last week, but who knows when it will actually be up.
Even though we eat breakfast between 7:30-8, the Indians drink tea at that time (chai, baby!) and don’t actually have breakfast until 9-11am … which pushes lunch back to 1:30-3:30pm and dinner to 8:30-10:30pm. The American staff member tummies are growling by around 11:30am, so we’re usually headed to the canteen by somewhere between 12:30-1:30pm. You also see the cultural difference in the desire for tea about a bazillion times a day, which include at least five tea/coffee breaks at the office. I try to steer clear nowadays as, while it’s scrumptious, both the tea and coffee have gallons of milk and sugar and cannot be good for my health. Tea breaks also mean work breaks in Indian culture (at least in our office), so the Indian staff members typically stop what they’re doing (unless they’re in meetings) and congregate for a chat. (Picture...the flowers that grow everywhere!)
I technically get off work at 5:30pm (9:30-5:30 on weekdays, 2:30pm on Saturdays), but I never leave on time. Rarely, anyways. I frequently get pulled into meetings or have a conference call or am handling some aspect of the Deshpande Fellowship program. I get away as soon as I can, though, maybe run a couple of errands, then start thinking about dinner (of course!) For the most part we go out to dinner since we only just got gas hooked up in our kitchen. We’ve cooked twice, which has consisted of sautéed veggies and chipati, and I must say, we have done an excellent job. The downside is the time it takes to purchase the groceries, prepare the food and clean up – but that’s no different from home! If we go out as a group it takes eons anyhow.
Then it’s to bed for another day. So far, so good.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Last Friday was a holiday – Independence Day, which wasn’t nearly as evident in the streets as are the religious holidays – so a group of us decided to take the weekend to explore Bangalore.
From the moment we arrived, we were in shock (or heaven, maybe both). Those who knew Mumbai were surprised at Bangalore’s cleanliness, and the rest of us were just giddy about being in a real city. It was (relatively) clean, modern and packed with things we can’t get here in Hubli (for one, see Exhibit A: Rebecca and Noelle shopping at FabIndia for oh-so-soft blankets. The only reason I didn't buy one, I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear, is the possibility that it may grow mold between now and October, as have some of my other personal items. Golly, I love monsoon season).
Our hotel was on MG Road, the main drag, but toward one end. We had bucket showers but hot water, so I was more than content. Security at the hotel was typical, but everywhere else (by that I mean the mall, the movie theater, boutiques off the street) we walked through metal detectors, had our bags searched and had our bodies wanded. In fact, I was at least twenty minutes late for Batman (yes, Batman!!! In English!!!) because they refused to let me take in my digital camera, even if I gave them my batteries, forcing me to place it in a locker. This required me to wait for a manager, go down four floors, ask every person I saw about the locker room, leave the building, round the corner, search for at least 5 minutes and finally buy a cubby. Hmph.
Metered ricks are more common in Bangalore, so we rode around all weekend according to the little machine, which was much more pleasant and probably cheaper than negotiation. After settling into our humble abode we spent Friday afternoon at the mall (might as well been straight out of Cincinnati), where I made my big purchase of the day: Levis. We hung around until the movie and had dinner in the food court (which we were more than happy to do).
Saturday and Sunday mornings I ran around Bangalore and was once again thrilled that I could run in shorts without gawkers. There were pretty much no street signs, which made navigation a little tricky, so I stuck to running out and back on the same route – no attempts at loops for me. Saturday was spent doing more shopping and wandering, and a few of us (Kate, Zach and I) headed to the botanical gardens for their Independence Day flower show. Of course, exotic flowers for them are front-yard flowers for me, but they were beautiful all the same: roses, snap dragons, daisies. I took a ridiculous amount of pictures, actually.
Saturday night we went to a restaurant called Sunny’s that was super-yum and fit our needs perfectly. I am well aware that I talk about food consistently, that my meals make an appearance in about every post – but I can tell you that I was not the only one ecstatic about the deliciousness that we experienced (see the picture of Noelle, Kate and Taryn gawking at the menu - we did not pose for this picture, and in fact, I have several more in the series that will not be posted here). Fortunately, I have some fellow food-lovers. We were spoiled by rolls with garlic butter, baked brie with almonds, steamed shrimp wontons and salads with VINAIGRETTE and BLEU CHEESE. That does not happen in India. For dinner I had grilled mahi mahi with horseradish sauce and wasabi, and Kate and I split one piece of blueberry pie and one piece of chocolate torte. We were all in heaven. I’m psyched to take my parents … and yeah, that’s not until March.
After dinner we attempted to hit up the dance scene, but no such doing. Because of the incidents in preceding weeks, there was a dance ban (how that relates, I’m not entirely sure). The bars generally close at 11:30pm anyway except for a few with special permissions, but because of the ban, they were closing at 10:30. We managed to get a drink or two in, however, and I have some stellar pictures of us at the bar, which was called NASA and decked out with space paraphernalia (Noelle and Aparna showcase the menu).
Good shopping, great food and excellent company = one fine trip. Bangalore, we WILL be back. Next up? Hampi.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Gee, that reminds me of Goa! A couple weekends back a group of us headed to the coast for some beach time, fully aware that it was “off-season” but never really putting two and two together. Goa, my friends, gives a new meaning to the concept of “off-season.” The eight of us agreed that we had never wanted to see tourists so badly in our lives, and I don’t think we ran into a single one. Nearly all the restaurants were shut down for the season, the hotels were closed for renovation and the only non-Indians we saw were the hippy townies frolicking on the beach outside a very damp hippy bar.
Though it rained quite a bit (this was before the rain hit Hubli, but I guess that happens on the coast, huh), I think we managed to glean some major gems from the weekend. The hotel we stayed in offered stellar rates, and we had a room situated right above the beach (see the view?! Yes, it’s cloudy…), I had the first (two!) hot shower I’d had since June, I got to go running in shorts (shorts!) and we even squeezed in some time at the pool (see Rene, Noelle, Kate). I definitely ventured into the ocean, but only barely – I’m scared of the ocean as it is (it’s big, it’s dark, it’s ominous – and there’s undertow), plus the beach was rocky and the water rough. We all partook in some scrumptious food, including a particularly delicious omelette with cheese followed by a scoop of Baskin Robbins (yes, this was for breakfast – but when it comes to the real stuff, I take it whenever I can get it!)
While some of the gang plans to go back monthly, I think my next trip will wait until at least October, when the monsoons have about wrapped up and the place begins to stir. I hear it’s a wild place for Christmas and New Year’s, and seeing as it’s only a short train ride away (assuming you don’t get on the wrong train, as I apparently have a knack for doing), it may be my holiday getaway!
Next weekend? Bangalore! Friday is Independence Day, so we get the day off, and I'm taking Saturday off. I don't think words can express how psyched I am to hit up a real city.
Monday, July 28, 2008
First, allow me to provide some background. Since our arrival, all of us ladies have been dealing with some serious staring. I've discovered that my clothing is, for the most part, inconsequential. I can be completely covered from head to toe and down to the tips of my fingers, and I will still be hooted at or stared down, even if they are passing me on their scooter from behind. Clearly, us foreign folk are not common in these here parts.
Initially, I ignored the comments because I was so engrossed in everything else, from finding my way around, to watching my step (still do this - stepping in cow doo or on a ginormous dead rat is never pleasant), to keeping my eyes peeled for where to buy curd or notebooks or what have you. Now, however, I make a conscious effort to avoid eye contact and put a perpetual scowl on my face so that I didn't give anyone the wrong idea...
Just as I was about to lose faith in the male Indian (insert disclaimer here: I work with some great Indian men and had already run into several somewhat helpful servers or shopkeepers, so I am embellishing for the sake of the story), Goa happened. The trip to Goa (beach) itself was in many ways uneventful (yes, we went to a beach during monsoon season). There were highs and lows, which I'll get to another day, but the trip home takes the cake.
Eight of us made the trip. At the commencement of our afternoon eight-hour train ride home, we learned that we would be stopping in one station for about 30 minutes. When we finally made it to that station at 5:30, the projected wait duration turned into one hour, then one and half, then two, then one again - no one seemed entirely sure. The conductor finally told us 1.5, that we were waiting for another train to come in, we'd pick up some cars, we'd go one direction and half of our train would go another.
Everyone in the group decided they needed a stretch, so we agreed to go in shifts to walk around. When it was my turn about 10 minutes later, Noelle and I hopped off quickly for a stroll, leaving our things on the train. All things. Things includes cell phone, money, credit card, ID, jacket, glasses, water, snacks ... you see where I'm going with this now, don't you?
We walk to the end of the platform then start to head back after about 10 minutes. Soon after we about-face, I hear a hissing sound that sounds suspiciously similar to breaks being released. I mention this to Noelle, who is not immediately worried. It happens again. A whistle sounds. We're a little worried now so we quicken our pace to a jog. The train next to us is DEFinitely moving.
We haven't made it back to our car yet, but we are NOT getting left in this station! Feeling rushed and with no time to find an English-speaking station employee, we hop on and decide just to cross through the cars to get to ours. We hustle in direction we assume is correct only to be met by a dead end after about three cars. Fantastic. Now we'll have to wait til the next stop to hop off and back onto our section of the train - we have none of our stuff and we'll probably miss dinner (you know how I feel about that).
Frustrated, we ask someone about 3A/C (our section), and he points us back the other way. That can't be right. I'm thinking, this is definitely not right. Something is wrong here.
"Noelle? Noelle!" My voice takes on more urgency as I begin to realize what just went down. We are on the WRONG train. We are moving the WRONG direction. I glance through the open door next to me, seriously contemplating jumping off (hey, they do it in the movies AND in the books - Water for Elephants, it's quality). Unfortunately, it is darn dark out there, so I couldn't be sure of what I was jumping into, plus the train was really picking up too much speed for me to see myself rolling safely into a pile of rocks. We were hurtling toward New Delhi, not Bangalore via Hubli, and there was not a thing I could do about it.
Are you familiar with the phrase "deer in headlights"? This is a perfect description, I would assume, of our faces. The first few minutes were spent repeating to one another that we were on the wrong train, yes, on the wrong train, and, indeed, missing any item that could possibly get us to where we needed to go.
Can you believe it? A few men standing nearby at the moment of our epiphany miraculously spoke English and, literally, saved the day. One offered to let us use his cell phone (he was there charging it). Thank our lucky stars I remembered people's numbers, so we started dialing - couldn't get it to work but the man worked on it for us and came through. We alerted everyone as to where we were and they immediately got on it, checking with the conductor and all others about what our options might be. Three other men talked us through our situation, and collectively we finally figured out that our best bet would be to get off at the next stop, Belgaum, catch a rick to the bus station, figure out which bus gets to Hubli and go straight there. They pooled some money and gave us each Rs 150 for the tickets, 30 for a rick and 8 to call our friends (how AMAZING are these guys).
We followed their advice with only a few hiccups along the way (yeah, I almost missed the bus, too - shoot me, it left 15 minutes early - and Noelle was hanging out the door screaming my name as I tried to get us some snacks for dinner, while the bus driver shouted things at her in Kannada, probably something about "crazy lady, get your danged body back in my bus or get the heck off!") We made it back to the guest house in Hubli only about 10 minutes after the others arrived. Sigh, sweet Hubli.
In conclusion, the evening contained both my stupidest moment (who gets off a train with none of their belongings?) and proudest in India so far (we kept our cool and are resourceful little buggers who made it home on the same night - even my coworkers who'd heard the story early last night were surprised to see me at work morning). I have also confirmed that the other Sandbox Fellows rock.
Ah, so yes, Goa was not nearly so exciting until we left ...
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
When we first arrived, we fully expected monsoon season to be in full swing – it IS supposed to be through June-September. But we haven’t had much rain since we got here, particularly in the last 10 days. This morning I heard rumors about only 25 more days of drinking water if it didn’t rain soon, and apparently all of Karnataka is without power every night (unless you’ve got a generator). But then, today came…
And it POURED. I was in the CLite building using their electricity and Internet (just another building on campus, but newer and has all the computers) sitting on the upper level, which is not completely enclosed. The wind was sweeping the rain into the hallway and the thunder sounded like it was right on top of us. Given my earlier comments about the electricity situation, it should be no surprise that everyone quickly began unplugging their computers. I then proceeded to walk to the office for a conference call and arrived as a drowned rat.
When I got home I took pictures of the trickle of a stream next to our house that has since become a very animated river. There were people on the little bridge watching the water move and cheering. I had trouble getting down our street because it was swamped, and I saw one woman with a shovel trying to create a barricade from the road to her house because of all the water running down a rivet into what looked like her living room.
The landlord and her son saw me with my camera and called me upstairs to show them the pictures. She then invited me in and I have learned definitely not to say no to this woman, so right before dinner I stuffed myself with chai tea and sweets. Who am I to say no? ;) Indian sweets are hit or miss with me because they’re so sweet, but Lesley and I discovered tonight that the “cakes made with milk” are right up our alley.
Monday, July 21, 2008
I have decided that should I determine that I absolutely must have a hairdryer here, I will just have to buy one. The other day when I tried using my converter with the thing the inside of the converter became very much illuminated, which made me wonder if I had created a mini-fire. Obviously, I immediately remedied the situation by pulling it out of the socket and there was no flame to be found, but there is no way in heck I’m trying that again. I also had a close call with my laptop when plugging it into a power strip at the office. Though it’s a plug from here and doesn’t need a converter, I still managed to produce a small batch of fireworks. That strip was behind Dulcie’s desk. When I was given one of my own to use, one day I plugged it in and seriously blew a small hole in the cord.
Then, there’s the water heater immersion device. Because our water refuses to come out of the shower head and we have no hot water to speak of, the Foundation provided us with a metal coil thingamajig that I literally place in a plastic bucket full of water (careful not to let it touch the sides, else they would melt), plug in, leave it for 10 minutes, unplug it, then pull it out with – voila – hot water. Seems that these contraptions are quite prevalent here, but clearly they’re dangerous and there is no way I trust myself with one of those babies.
Then again, it seems that I do not have to worry about this electricity problem all too often as our power (current, if you want anyone in India to understand you) is out ALL THE TIME. It goes out around 5:30 am in our apartment, just before I get up at 6. It might come on during the day at some points, though I’m not home to know. Today I stopped home at 2 to try to do some work (because it was out at the office and my laptop was dead) but the power was still out. It actually came back on in the office this afternoon which is highly, highly unusual, but when I got home at 6:30pm-ish it was still off here. It came on for a few hours and then went off at about 9pm. Eating refrigerated goods around here is a risky business, but a risk I’m willing to take (apparently… at least until I get sick again, I guess).
Monday, July 14, 2008
Okay, so working on your day off isn't really so bad after all once acclimated to the idea. We visited one of our agricultural NGO partners (BAIF, where Rebecca works). I walked with the fellows as they interviewed the farmers about their fields and got the translation whenever I could. Another group interviewed villagers. Afterward we all met up (all fellows plus at least 100 villagers) to talk, and I had to stand and say what I could in Kannada, which included: "Greetings from the heart, my name is Taryn, little Kannada, how are you?" I can also say "curd" and "let's finish up" but I didn't think either of those were appropriate during an introduction.
The farmland was gorgeous and the pictures don't do it justice. The people were sweet and more than willing to share their stories with the fellows. After wrapping up (around 10:30pm, I wasn't joking when I said they eat late!) we fed the village dinner and then also indulged.
Next was the bonfire and dance party - seriously. Such inhibition. Everyone danced, including all staff persons (which means my boss and his wife) and the typically reserved "resource person" who joined us. Oh, and me. I tried. I then got 4.5 hours of restless sleep before waking up at 5:30 to get everyone else up and be ready for a 6 am meditation session that wasn't long enough. :) Of course there was tea but no breakfast before hitting the taxis for home, but the girls and I grabbed some uppittu (cream of wheat-like, though not so creamy and with spicy puffed rice and noodles) before I headed to Kannada lessons. It's been a full one!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The last couple of days have been rough days at work, as I'm still working on identifying my particular job responsibilities and finding a balance between what they want me to do and what I want to be able to do, paying particular attention to how the position was detailed before I even left the States. We had a small issue the other day that changed my supervisor's outlook on some managerial details so that he would like any guest lecturers at our training to be accompanied at all times. Sometimes we have a guest speaker (or "resource person," as we call them) teaching entire modules, meaning they are with us for full days at a time. While I have a laptop and he suggested that I simply work through the trainings, I am not okay with being tied to one room - I have done that before (tied to an office, physically) and was not able to accomplish nearly what I would have liked to. You have no time to build relationships, whether we're talking in or out of the office. So we had a discussion yesterday. In general I have had some trouble communicating with people in the office, not because I cannot understand their English (though sometimes that happens, too) but because the words we choose to express our ideas and meanings differ. Frequently the directions given are also very vague, and sometimes I just cannot ask enough questions to get to the bottom of what is really desired from me, so I have to spend time sorting it out for myself. I'm hoping this gets better with time.
Furthermore, yesterday (Saturday) at about 2pm (when I was leaving work - we do half-days on Sats) I also was informed that I would be going with the DF fellows to their village visit the following day... on my day off. Needless to say I was less than thrilled initially. Again, I spoke with my supervisor about needing more advanced notice and a long discussion ensued. Ultimately, I am glad to have an opportunity to go on this excursion and am looking forward to spending some more time with the fellows and off-campus - even if it IS a training and my job will be to make sure nothing goes wrong and fix anything that does (hmm...should be interesting since I'm only on week 3 in a foreign country), I appreciate the opportunity to make a visit. It's an overnight, too. I do, however, plan to take another day off later this week or something, as I still need to figure out where the heck that "dobi walla" is so I can actually have some clean laundry.
Speaking of clean clothes... because I did not have any (and, frankly, was in a funk), a couple of the other girls (Kate and Rene) and I decided to hit up Koppikar Road (our shopping haven) for some new garb. I ended up buying four kurtas, one salwar and two sets of material that I'll need to have tailored. I wanted to wait to do some shopping in Bangalore, but Kate convinced that I'll still need more anyhow - I mean, I'm here for a year, right? We also purchased some elementary school Kannada books so that I can practice my script. I'm telling you, these letters are wild. I'm not as motivated to learn Kannada as I might be to learn Hindi (since that would be so much more useful in the future, at least potentially), but it is still fun to be able to communicate with the local shopkeepers and such. Just the other night Lesley and I spent at least 10 minutes trying to tell a man in Kannada that we each wanted one package of curd. Even when we know how to spell the word (in English) the pronunciation is so particular that they have no clue what we're saying more than 70% of the time. We did eventually get our curd, but only after Lesley phoned her boss and handed her cell over the shopkeeper. The difficulty here is that there are a million little shops around so you know what you need is likely right around the corner, but unfortunately, everything is behind a counter. It's not as if you can just walk up and grab what you want - you somehow have to communicate your need, and that can take awhile.
Ooo, tomorrow night I have my first dance lesson in classical Indian dance!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The Sandbox fellows were all invited to his son’s wedding this weekend, which was quite the party. The first night I wore my salwar kameez, the one I had tried to pick up on at least three separate occasions. Fortunately, on the night before the wedding, I went to the store with one of the Indian staff members, because when I tried picking it up the tailor wasn't there. Since I didn't have my receipt they didn't want to give it to me, but thankfully Golden talked them into it. On Friday evening we arrived around 6 for snacks, which might as well have been the meal. I tried all kinds of delicious snacks and sweets, but unfortunately could not figure out the names for half the stuff. No one ever seems to know. Whenever I ask they just say, “it’s a sweet,” or, “it’s a curry.” Makes it difficult to order the next time I’m out. The buffet was set up in a huge lawn area. As that wound down, the groom entered the scene amidst a gaggle of dancing men and a band of women throwing flower petals. The groom was sitting in a large vehicle with a woman who we first assumed to be his wife, but it was actually a female cousin, as well as with a couple of small children – we never did figure out who they were. The whole scene was vibrantly colorful and quite loud.
From there we moved into a large room and waited for the groom to arrive, and when he did, he came in on the shoulders of his family and friends. From our seats it was difficult to really observe what was going on the ceremony, plus the religious leader was speaking Kannada, so we could only pick up the parts that were translated for us, which didn’t occur often. The people on stage included the family of the groom and the family of the bride (but no bride – she never did appear during the ceremony), and they were being “introduced” to one another. They partook in a variety of Indian foods and engaged in various religious rituals. While I'm certain they knew what they were doing, the ceremony appeared to be haphazard and chaotic, with at least 30 people milling about on stage, photographers and videographers blocking our view, and people running around plastic store bags, dropping things off here and there.
Afterward we headed back outside for a traditional South Indian meal – my first meal served on a banana leaf! At this point the bride finally showed up, although she didn’t come to eat. The groom and his family sat for the meal (with the groom still sitting by his cousin, which was really throwing us for a loop), and the bride simply came to greet them. After dinner there was a sanjeet that lasted until about 11, where a couple men sat on stage playing a sitar and singing.
The next morning the marriage ceremony was at 7:25am, but there was no way I was feeling up to that, as I knew I had a long day/night ahead. I made it there shortly before noon for the reception, where we again had lunch (they like to eat here possibly more than I do) and then went to yet another space where we stood in a long line to pay our respect s to the newly married couple. This day I wore my saree. Preeti (one of my apartment-mates) put it on for me in the morning while the housekeeper watched and made suggestions on the best way to tie it. Everyone at the wedding and at the dinner later that night kept telling all of us girls how great we looked in our sarees, that our sarees were beautiful, which was much appreciated since none of us really knew what we were doing or how to wear them. Someone told me I looked very comfortable in mine and asked if I'd worn one before; I think I was just too busy thinking about the rest of the day and the stuff I had to do that evening to dwell too much on what I was wearing. (My supervisor had called me that morning to tell me my co-worker was sick, so I was in charge of the event for the night - fantastic.)
I stayed until about 3 and then started running errands for the events in the evening. The night turned out fairly well. First we had presentations by a couple of the nonprofits who partner with the DF, followed by brief introductions of the fellowship programs by two of the DF fellows and two of the Sandbox fellows. We had a question and answer period where a lot of connections were made, which was a larger part of the point of the evening, with one of the nonprofits receiving a promise of assistance from NM Murthy. Afterward, as the buffet got set up, we invited the guests to view the posters created by the DF fellows about themselves and the work they had done in the past. Conversation was no problem, and we eventually had to actually kick everyone out of the place. One of the DF fellows told me that this was “one of the best nights of his life;” he felt that he had networked with some very successful and well-connected people who could help him to start his social enterprise.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Not too long after e-mail “ondu” (one in Kannada!) I fell prey to my first bout of – and we don’t dance around the issue here – traveler’s diarrhea. (Why not grab your attention in line one with some vivid imagery?) Fortunately for me, my malady was a minor one, where I generally experienced just some serious nausea, headaches and a fever, but these issues were solved with some ORS (yech!!! Powder that does NOT dissolve completely and tastes more like a salty bitter orange than the Gatorade we were hoping for) for electrolyte replacement, Pepto (glad I went the pill route) and Advil. My roommate, Noelle, was in much worse condition than I, but we skipped day two of orientation together, sleeping nearly all day and all night; even so, it was nice to have the company.
Since we’ve all been invited to the wedding of the son of the founder (us and 1,500 others, in fact), many of us are on a mission to purchase a saree (assuming we can figure out how to put them on). As you may recall, my first attempt was thwarted when I mistakenly bought the wrong material (I didn’t know that was possible). I had better luck next time, at least to some extent. The sarees initially catching my attention were about $35-40 USD, which is really a rather large amount considering cheap ones are available for $8-20. Of course, the one I fell in love with was upwards of US $100, but I think I wisely chose to not make that my very first purchase. I wound up with a bright electric blue one, $22 or so. The employees at the store were very patient and helpful – the tailor down the street and up the windy stone stairs in a hot, cramped room? Not so much. There were about five people working there at the time, and I think I made their evening. I hadn’t the first idea as to how deep the neck should be, or the back, or the shape, or the length, or the sleeves… the list goes on. And instead of making attempts to help me understand, they mostly just laughed. I had a strong desire to shoot them looks of annoyance, but realizing my saree material was in their care, I refrained. I pick it up July 4 – should be interesting.
While I have not really been laughed at since here, I most certainly have been stared at. Many of the residents have never seen Caucasians, or at least very few of them, and they make no attempts to hide their curiosity. We do our best to blend in by wearing Indian clothing or articles that at least are of similar style, but I think our white skin is rather blinding. For women, while it is crucial that you cover your legs (longer capris are acceptable) and your chest, you are free to bare your arms, though most still at least wear sleeves. Men have been seen in all kinds – in only what Mother Nature gave him to button-up, collared shirts and pants. Dress and what is considered acceptable certainly vary by location.
It didn’t take us long to locate the only “American” food in town. Every hotel (restaurant) here is out of at least something on the menu, and Pizza Hut was no exception, but we were happy to indulge in some sticky, gooey cheese that wasn’t paneer (as scrumptious as paneer is, really). The menu included a picture for every dish, so the salads had us salivating but of course, they were out of all five. We ended up with a cheese, a veggie (they had more combinations of veggie pizza on this menu than I have ever seen at a pizza joint) and a chicken that tasted way too Indian for the point of the evening. After bite one, we knew then and there we’d be back on a regular basis. We also found a restaurant called Olive Garden (no relation to the chain in the states) that we were told had really good American grilled cheese –and they were right. You can even get it with veggies, which I found to be a welcome twist.
Lesley and I moved into our apartment last Monday I think it was. We had been really looking forward to getting out of the dorm and settled into a place where we could cook and unpack. Unfortunately, however, we’re still lacking gas (so we can’t use the little stove top they bought for us), nor do we have any dressers yet to unpack our clothes into, so things haven’t changed much. In fact, in some ways I think we’ve downgraded, as we now take cold showers and fight ants and roaches on a regular basis (though less so than that first night!) We took one night to buy the essentials, which included tape and a marker to label light switches, as there are fifty gazillion and some seem to do nothing at all. It took me a few days but I am now adjusted to the idea of a squatter (though we fortunately located a Western toilet connected to the room being shared by the two Indian fellows). The apartment overall seems like it’s going to be a good one, and it’s located in a nicer neighborhood, so I feel safe. The four of us girls live on the first floor of a home, and the landlord’s family lives on the second and third floors. Our first meeting with the landlord was not ideal, as it occurred around 10:15 pm after we were locked out (they had not yet given us the key to the outside gate, which supposedly was getting locked at 11:30pm – not quite) and had to rouse them from their beds. Our rickshaw driver was really sweet and hung around when he saw we couldn’t get in, so he and a little boy nearby started shouting something in Kannada to no avail, so the kid climbed our 9 ft gate or whatever and ran upstairs to knock on the door. And so we met the landlord.
I’m also starting to settle in more at work (and think I’ll feel much more able to really dig in once I’m totally settled at home). On Friday I had an incredibly informative meeting with a girl who has been there for about five months now, though she had worked for the DF for about eight months before even coming over. She’s here “indefinitely” as a staff member and was really able to clue me in on the structure of the organization, the hierarchy, who does what, etc. I now have a much clearer picture of my responsibilities and who I can approach for assistance or collaboration in different areas. So far I have been assisting a fair amount with the Deshpande Fellows program (the Indian fellows), helping grade papers and providing feedback on their English grammar as well as formatting memos, letters, flyers, reports, etc. Next week I’ll be meeting with Naveen about a social entrepreneurship course the Foundation plans to offer to college students at the various schools in Hubli and Dharwad and drawing up a course plan and resources for that. I’m also currently working on the recruitment aspect of the program, as we’ll have a new batch of about 30 fellows coming in in January. There have been instances of Taryn-as-office-girl, like when my boss’ wife (who is there only for the summer because she’s getting her PhD in the US) asked me to scan a bunch of materials that took me forever to do because the machine is slow and hooked up to someone else’s computer. I did not feel in a position to say no at the time, but if it keeps happening (and it might – she asked the tech guy to hook the scanner into my laptop instead, but I haven’t let him do it yet), something will have to be said. The people here do truly work hard. They may have four tea breaks a day, but someone serves us the tea (chai with tons of milk), but the tea is served to us, so no one really stops working. The hours are long and there always seems to be something last minute added into the “weekend” or evenings. Dibya (the co-worker I’ll probably work most closely with) called me one evening at 7:30pm for help with something, telling me she was still at the office. And the other night when I tried leaving at 6:15 (we start at 9:30am, my Kannada lessons are 8:30-9:30) I got roped into a staff meeting.
I also do miscellaneous tasks, some of which are more interesting than others and ALWAYS last minute. This weekend we had speakers join us on Saturday morning (it’s a work day!) to talk with the DF fellows about their experiences as a social entrepreneur, so I just made sure that students had questions to ask, that the room was ready, prepare a few minutes speech on the Sandbox Fellow program (which I thankfully did not have to deliver), etc. One speaker was N. R. Narayana Murthy, this seriously wealthy Indian man who apparently was recently considered as a candidate for president of India. The other speaker was a man who in a previous life had been a banker with Citibank but realized that his dream went beyond what he could achieve in that profession. He returned to India and started an NGO focused on a new approach to education, where all the learning is hands on. Ironically, while the students were initially most excited and nervous about N.M., they were so excited about the second speaker that they literally followed him out of the room asking him more questions after the Q&A period wrapped up. This man was very engaging and inspiring (and, lucky for me, had impeccable English, having lived in London). One of our fellows is placed at this NGO. Then just the other night I helped set up an event we’re having Sunday evening (allllso last minute). Basically, with all the bigwigs in town for the wedding, Desh wanted to take the opportunity to show them what the DF is accomplishing, specifically through the DF fellow program. Since I’m unique in that I’m both a Sandbox fellow and “on staff,” I helped organize the event, which is being held at the nicest hotel/restaurant in town, Hotel Naveen. So on Friday afternoon three other staff members and I took a taxi to the hotel to arrange the logistics – nothing is easy around here. With all these VIPs attending, we needed everything to be top notch. First, they put us in the wrong room, a room too small to really allow us to do what we wanted (serve dinner as well as socialize), plus it was ugly, with views out one window showcasing the parking lot and views out the other side virtually nonexistent (unless you count the tin roof with rotting coconuts). We also requested round tables (remember, networking going on here) that could seat 6-8, but they only had small plastic patio tables that sat four – MAX. Even that was going to be tight with all the plates you need for an Indian meal. They wouldn’t allow us to hang our posters anywhere (which Desh insisted on hanging – I’m in charge of that, which goes down this afternoon, so keep your fingers crossed) and they didn’t have any centerpieces for the tables. They claimed that they would even have to rent more round tables to make it work, and apparently nowhere has any round tables big enough to seat more than four. Tonight should be interesting.
Thanks to all those who wrote me back ... I'm getting to those! And I'll get some pictures going on my blog as well.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
This first one is a book and a half, so you may need to go grab some refreshments prior to digging in...
Right now, I have very little substantive to say about my work, as we only just completed orientation yesterday, and I have not yet even moved into my apartment (for now I'm staying in the "girls dorm"), so instead you get the details of the trip here and just a few of my experiences so far.
When we got to Mumbai the DF had arranged for us to go to this very swank hotel to get showers and enjoy an all-you-can-eat breakfast. We were really in no mood to cart our luggage around the city and most just wanted to get to the final destination, and some people were a bit disgusted at the use of money, but in the end we all agreed that it sure felt nice to get a shower and stuff our faces, regardless of the fact that we weren't hungry to start with. Since then, I haven't seen many fresh vegetables (nor can I really indulge yet thanks to a lack of sanitation here), which has left me seriously craving a fresh, crisp spinach salad. This is bad news considering I'm only on day 5 or something.
Cheers from Hubli,