Welcome to my first attempt at a blog! I figured now is as good a time as any, having moved halfway around the world to Hubli. While I didn't know anyone on day one, I've since met many wonderful people, both those who have come from out of the country as I have as well as those who are native to India and have been teaching me a lot.

The plan is to update the blog somewhat regularly so that none of the posts get too lengthy (which is the case with the first several, as they were originally mass emails). We'll see how well I do at keeping up. Miss you guys!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day in the Life

Yes, it’s India, so I’m not living in the lap of luxury, but I am gaining a deep appreciation for all the little things.

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

Bangalore, baby!

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, moder
n 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 pers
on 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

our first visit to the beach

Not too long ago I was wondering where monsoon season was, but I don’t recall mentioning needing to actually experience it. Alas, it truly has arrived this time – at least says the girl who’s been in the country for barely more than seven weeks (that’s it?!) It’s been raining for at least 24 hours now and maybe, MAYBE stopped for about five minutes, though I think it was misting even then.

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.