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!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun in the Sun - with a real beach attached!

Perhaps it has a lot to do with the major disappointment that was Goa (yes, yes, Goa-lovers, I’m SURE it was the time of year, and I promise to give it a second chance!), but Gokarna has earned itself a spot in the “will be back … many, many times” category. The sky was clear, the water was bath-like and the beaches were long enough and sans rocks to the point that the ocean was inviting and beckoned to us for a swim many times a day.

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

the week of one shower

Today’s lesson learned: leech bites are most painful approximately six to eight days after they are incurred. I’m bonding with AfterBite as we speak.

Yes, mmm, leeches. Last week the twenty-three Deshpande Fellows and I traveled to Honnemardu, where w
e 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.
Me: “Capris?”
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.