Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands…
-- Richard F. Burton

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30 August 2010

Sorry for the delay..

Ugh I apologize. I had no idea the first week of classes would be so demanding. There is plenty to come, but I'll post some things I had written last week and some more tomorrow. 
My first dosa, a delicious south Indian dish, in India

26 August 2010

On Indian beds:
When I first came to India, it was after a few days at home snuggly on my Temper-Pedic mattress that sinks me in to a very cozy place that is tough to leave in the morning. At Durshet, we slept on the thinnest mattress I thought I’d ever felt. The experience is kinda like sleeping on the floor. Once I came to the hostel, my first night felt like sleeping on a metal prison bed. I might have bruises from shifting around! This kind of hard bed and thin-thin mattress IS supposed to be better for back and spine health, so I’ve giving it a try. Indians don’t lots of plush fabrics and layers like Americans typically advertise: you know, the down comforters, 500 thread count Egyptian cotton, extra fleece blanket. A typical bed has a fitted sheet and a folded thick blanket at the end of the bed. The pillow is 1/3 the thickness of any other pillow I’ve seen and feels like it’s filled with hardened polenta. I might try and pick up another one for this stiff neck!
After a week though, I kind of enjoy the hard mattress. I sleep like a baby anyway since I’m tired and my back feels great, so I can’t knock it!
On Rakhi:
a card for Rakhi
celebrating Rakhi, a Hindu holiday on August 24th 
Rakhi is a special occasion to celebrate the chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister. According to Wikipedia, the festival is "marked by the tying of a rakhi, or holy thread, by the sister on the wrist of her brother. The brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her as she presents sweets to her brother". I celebrated with Swapna's son, Satim, the skinniest 10-year old I have EVER seen. He is a gymnast and has a giant stuffed Bengal tiger. Anyway as noted above, Rakhi involves purchasing some beautiful string bracelets for your brother and presenting him with them in exchange for his vow to protect you eternally. In our case, Satim also gave us some pretty bindis and earrings. In the left photo, I am blessing Satim with some colored powder and giving him some Indian sweets. It was a lovely experience. People take Rakhi very seriously--just check out these cards!

24 August 2010

First Day of School!!

Monday August 23, 2010
inside a rickshaw--picture a 3 wheeled, open-air taxi
Today is the first day of classes and I figured I’d blog about my weekend before the academics take over. I began Hindi class at 8:45 this morning. The script and sounds escape me; I will tackle this challenge on top of 4 other classes (plus Marathi language as an elective!) and an internship, so I should seize my last bit of free time to update you.
First a bit of commentary on Pune Orientation. We were assigned “buddies” from Fergusson College to show us around campus and the city in general. Through rickshaw tours, we went to many places of interest and emergency procedure meeting places. Ever since the German bakery bombing last February. Alliance has taken more precautions and the local Police insist on registering visitors. We stopped by University of Pune, known as the ‘Oxford of the East’ and FABINDIA, the largest private platform for products (read: CLOTHES!) that are made from traditional techniques, skills, and hand-based processes. We didn’t have time to buy anything, but it was great to drool a bit over the exotic colors and fabrics. We stopped at the Dagdushet Halwai Ganapati Mandir, a 1893 temple for the Hindu God Ganesh. Ganesh (the elephant one) is one of my favorite Gods and very much loved in Pune. THEN we went to Mandai, an incredible market with over 520 stalls of fruits and vegetables. Always a foodie, I was pretty much in ecstasy and purchased some incredible custard apples, guava, a coconut for drinking, and some ridiculously good pistachio mastani (basically ice cream with flavored milk over it served with a straw AND a spoon).
In front of Pune's fire station for Dad and Danny
My buddy is wonderful. Her name is Aditi and she is an almost 20 year-old Pune native. She is a psychology major, very studious, sweet, and bubby. I really enjoyed her company and look forward to getting to know her better. We’ve made plans for an American spaghetti cooking session and some scarf-buying. She also took us to Marz-O-Rin, a fast food establishment with great mango juice and balcony seating. Then we visited the Siki temple, Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar. It was stunning and I enjoyed following tradition by washing the feet and hands, covering my head, and accepting the offering of Indian confectionaries after praying.
The Market!!
Another foodie note: I had my first REAL(non-US) dosa and it was marvelous. I love dosas; this one was a thin, crisp pancake filled with delicious potato and served with a chutney and sweet sauce. The size of it was ridiculous! We had vanilla ice cream with mango syrup and mango for dessert. I could get used to this.
A lazy Sunday morning breakfast at the mess hall and chai with Swapna preluded a long day of shopping on Laxmi road, famous for saris and linens. I bought quite a few things, enjoying the care and active pursuit of Indian salesman for the deal. They also tailored the salwar kameez I purchased to my arm circumference and hip/chest measurements. What service! I was proud to wear some Indian clothes to the first day of class with my Indian professors.

21 August 2010

It’s not habitual for you…

Friday August 20th

Sarah with some delicious food
There are some things that are just going to take getting used to. Eating with my hands, for one thing. The left hand is considered impure as it generally used for toilet-related functions, and using it offer money, food or water is usually considered poor manners, if not downright offensive. The right hand should always be used when one eats with one’s hands (though the left can be used with utensils). At Durshet, the rural retreat village, we used forks and knives, but at the hostel tonight, we used our hands! It’s actually really fun and reminds me of being a play-dough obsessed kid.
with our Fergusson College buddy, Aditi
“Habitual” came from a conversation with our host’s friend Thursday evening when he was referencing how turning off the fan and light whenever we left the room was not “habitual” in America. I’ve also heard it used in reference to dressing modestly (here, I cannot where anything above the knee and must always have my shoulders covered. It’s no wonder people have certain connotations about Americans being messy or a little revealing, especially with the examples of ex-Pats in Goa sunning scantily or the popular media about American life informing their consciousness. Lots of other things are not yet habitual for me, which I’ll write about in posts throughout the semester. I’ll give a teaser for now: not smiling at passerby in the street, wearing scarves for conservatism and for pollution protection, having a super strict 9:30pm curfew, having rice at every meal, avoiding PDA, carrying TP and hand sanitizer with me all the time, and overall patience.
I’m so glad I’m stretching myself this semester. Once classes start Monday and I get rolling with Hindi, I think I’ll be more in a routine and hopefully communicate and navigate with greater ease.

Welcome to Pune

Thursday August 19th 2010

Graciously receiving the blessing
Orientation united the 30 of us in our academic and cultural challenge ahead. The bus ride for Pune on Thursday morning, August 19th was lively and talkative; all of us were happy to leave the village, meet our hosts, and see the city we will call home for the next 4 months. We reached the Alliance Program Center bungalow at Fergusson College around 12:45 pm. We were welcomed by staff at the Ladies Hostel gate (there are several gates around the enclosed campus with security that keep out non-students) and slipped off our shoes outside the building. We were led inside the cozy bungalow while Uttarra performed the welcome greeting to guests called Aukshan.  This ritual involves waving a lit lamp, using tumeric powder on the forehead, and sprinkling unbroken rice grains (akshata) in the hair to both welcome the divine frequencies brought on the earth and simultaneously surrender to these frequencies. It is supposed to create armor around the body of the soul. The prayer made for one’s spiritual progress with a complete attitude of surrender helps the jiv(the soul} in gaining maximum blessings from God. Uttarrah also performed a ritual for the removal of the evil eye with red chilies, rock salt, and mustard seed. I could feel warmth and complete comfort at that moment, but the experience is hard to describe.
We were received by the wonderful in-country staff with a delicious meal with dal and rice, spicy peanut chutney, refreshing yogurt, spiced potatoes, the most succulent bananas ever, and a sweet delicious ladoo, a traditional Indian dessert made with condensed milk and peanuts in a cookie form.
I went to watch some participants get their passport photos taken (since their ears weren’t showing in the photographs, they were not accepted for police registration). The power went out right as the photographer was snapping the photo! Also notable was the translation that one girl, Carolyn, needed to open her eyes less. Haha!
my room in the hostel
I eventually moved into the Ladies Hostel that evening after touring Fergusson College campus. We had tea around 6 pm with our host Swapna, a single mother and professional violinist who inherited running a hostel for girls that her parents started. It’s a bit further away from the college than the other Alliance students’ homestays—about a 45 minute walk or 15 minute rickshaw ride. The ride only costs about 50 rupees( $1.08). The hostel has 17 girls from Maharashtra and other states in India. We (the four Alliance girls) joined them for dinner at 8:45pm. I was starving! Many of the girls didn’t arrive until 9:30 since they either work or study late. For example, Sudha on our floor works in IT from 11am-9pm since they follow UK business hours. The food was wonderful and I watched the cook make chapattis, a delicious tortilla-like wheat unleavened bread. Our host Swapna said we can learn how if we like. One girl, Shevani is really cool; a 20 years old musician from UP in the North. It’s nice that like us, she has no idea what anyone else is saying in Pune (because they speak Marathi here-a language specific to Maharashtra state). India has over 300 languages and the most people know 2 to 3 languages in addition to English. Shevani said she’ll take us to the disque-the disquoteche. But we still have a 9:30 curfew, so I don’t know how well that will work out.
I have so much more to say and will have to continue to update, but I already feel very far behind!

20 August 2010

The first 24 hours

Hotel Room in Mumbai!
I haven’t gotten to record my thoughts in forever! Since I landed in Mumbai, I have not had a minute to sit down and take it in. India is certainly stimulating. The journey itself was a grueling 28 hours that made me feel like an inefficient sloth rather than a productive and contributing member of society. The giant Air India jet is sort of a mini-India itself. The 9 seat rows seem to extend forever, complete with a luxurious but small business class with highly adjustable chairs and leg room I was envious of, MANY crying Indian babies, sparkling saris, ancient grandparents rubbing the backs of little ones, bollywood films, flavorful Indian airplane food including some awesome saag paneer and kheer (my favorite Indian dessert besides galub jamun) and a few out-of-place people like me. The curious passenger next to me on my first flight to Frankfurt asked why I was going to Pune. I looked at him confused for a moment as he explained he read my diary page as I was writing in it and practicing writing the Hindi script for Pune! I also peaked the curiosity of a fellow traveler while still in Newark. Kunal befriended me as I stared out the window after the hard goodbye to my parents. His enthusiasm for my travel adventure, connections to Washington, D.C., and kind words put me at ease. I haven’t answered his email yet, but he works in Pune, so perhaps we’ll meet up!

I am clearly still jet-lagged and sidetracked. On to India!

Hannah in our room
Once landing in Mumbai, I met two other cool students doing the Alliance program, both from Whittier College in CA. We waited for Erik’s luggage for two hours to no avail and then his lost luggage paperwork took another 30 minutes. On the bright side, we bonded and the police gave him 3000 (about 62 bucks) rupees. Getting my passport stamped with my Indian visa felt so symbolic. I know I was just another zillionth person for the customs guy to stamp, but I felt exhilarated by the thump of an official seal on my 6-month student visa. I greeted him with a “Namaste” as he nodded me through, reaching beyond for the next zillionth visitor. Erik, Hannah, and I stepped into the Mumbai humidity and I felt reinvigorated. Even though it was after midnight, the amount of crowds, honking rickshaws, cold drink vendors, and hotel-pushers aston
ished me. We were warmly received by Uttaraa, the sassy, vivacious, and comforting Program director. I think I was deliriously tired and couldn’t say anything else but how thrilled/excited I was. My mouth was running: how I made naan that summer, suggestions for how to fit the 30 pashminas I am buying for family and friends, if my hostel was near a yoga studio, the 3 Hindi phrases I learned on the plane—i.e. Hi, My name is, and Nice to meet you. Uttarra laughed and escorted us to the waiting van to bring us to the hotel.
The things I could write after a ten minute drive in India. There are absolutely no rules. All that you’ve ever read is true [about crazy accident rates]. If I write more than that, my mother will keel over from her chair. I can’t believe people ride bikes in these streets. Without helmets. And sometimes with earphones. Or on cellular phones. Crossing the street requires a bit of gutsy hope(and hand holding).

left over from the last guest...in the bathroom
We reached the hotel and chatted with the incoming arrivals until 2 am. After an incredibly refreshing shower in a smoky=scented bathroom , Hannah and I crashed on the super hard bed (with stained sheets gahhh). I woke up at 6:15 feeling restless and went through about 25 yoga poses in the dark. I couldn’t believe how tight I was after that plane ride! We went to our first breakfast in India. I am officially addicted to chai. It’s sickeningly sweet, milky, and zings on your tongue while simultaneously relaxing you. The kool-aid effect took over us and we all seemed to enter this buzzed-yet-chill, I-can’t-believe-we’re-in-India vibe.

Visiting the rural village school. Teacher Deven!
After a two-hour bus ride gawking out the window as we passed through slums on the outskirts of Mumbai, we reached Durshet, a rural village with a camp for wealthy city kids to come and adventure in the great outdoors. The orientation to India lasted three days scheduled from 7:30am-9pm. Housed in cabins with hammocks and bare boned amenities, we  ate incredible Indian food, bonded, watched some Bollywood, learned some Marathi, went over cultural norms and no-nos, and mostly got over our jet-leg. Waking up at 3 AM for two nights was not too fun, though my 6 cups of sugary chai a day kept me going. Uttarrah advised washing our faces whenever we were feeling sleepy. I did that with excessive sugar and somehow regulated my system. The best thing I learned how to say in Marathi, the local language of Maharastra state is : Maza pot burala (I’m full). It tends to be the only thing that works to get these women to stop refilling our plates.


11 August 2010

Introductionary Notes

What I was doing last August...
Hello Cyberworld! After a year's hiatus since my last blog entry from teaching English in Thailand, I am back--this time to document my semester abroad in India. Leaving from Newark on Saturday, August 14th, I'll land in Mumbai on the 15th, Indian Independence Day! After a night in the airport hotel, I will join the 29 other students participating in the Alliance for Global Education's Contemporary India: Development, Environment, Public Health program.  The 16-17 week semester begins with a 3-day orientation at Durshet, a rural retreat location between Mumbai and Pune. Through introductory lectures on Indian culture, training on health and safety, and Marathi language classes, I'll "orient" myself. In Pune, my classes will focus on development econ, environmental issues, and public health along with Hindi language over 11 weeks of coursework.  The most unique aspect of the Pune program is the opportunity to have a directed internship experience. During the final month of the program, I will work for a development organization or business in Pune matched to my interests in either rural micro-financing or something related to educational access. Once I finish school and interning mid December, I plan to travel for 10 days to see the Taj Mahal, visit a favorite Georgetown professor’s (Shareen Joshi)'s family in Rajasthan, and hopefully make it to see the sights of Kerala or Goa in Southern India. I'll also take my first trip to the U.K. on the way back home to visit my college roommate, Clio, who is studying at Oxford for the academic year. 

Why India?
My interest in India stems from the intersection of academic, spiritual, and cultural categories. 
Faves: Faith and Fifty-Fifty (gender equity!!)
My work as a research assistant on religion and global development at the Berkley Center sparked my curiosity of India’s explosive growth and simultaneous inequity, while my interactions in Georgetown's the Hindu Students Association and South Asian Society enhanced my interest in Hinduism and Islam.  I learned about gender inequity in secondary education through an extensive(35 pages, baby!) policy proposal paper for a class on women’s international human rights, giving me the chance to interview government officials in the Indian Ministry of Education. I am intrigued at Indian  family structure, especially after taking my Gender and Poverty in South Asia class that explored caste, land, health care, and other facets of Indian society. This summer, I worked with Professor Shareen Joshi on revamping the syllabus for the class and got exposed to some great information on participation and democracy in South Asia. I also got to read Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods, which gave helpful background.
My Nerd Factor: Seeing where Sen came up with the capability approach and for people to "lead the kind of lives they value, and have reason to value"
As a government major, I am intrigued by India’s growing democracy and the division of power among local panchayats, especially when it comes to distribution of public goods. India fascinates me as an international development news enthusiast.  enjoy learning about Amartya Sen’s freedom approach to development and watching Yunus's success with Grameen Bank as much as I enjoy the Jeffery Sachs v. Bill Easterly foreign aid battles. Taking Intro to Economic and Political Development with Shareen and M.L. Wagner last semester got me interested in the world of international development. After interning at the Office of Technical Assistance at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, I have witnessed the top-down side of official government aid and the inter-agency funding maze of foreign aid. I look forward to seeing the other side:grassroots development and especially the micro-financing phenomenon occurring all over India. Additionally, I am thrilled to take Hindi, a world language not offered at Georgetown (but might be soon!!) that I intend to pursue after my study-abroad experience, perhaps with a State Department CLS scholarship.
Feet and Eats
I love garum masala and cardamom!
Besides an academic and spiritual interest in India, I also am fascinated by Indian culture. I participate in an annual South Asian dance show, Rangila (2009 Salsa Masala Performance) and have hence fallen in love with dancing bhangra and Bollywood music. South Asians can do ridiculous things with their feet. And fingers for that matter! I want to make my wrists turn that way. I am an active yogi and the chance to practice yoga in its birthplace also draws me towards the Pune program. This summer I practiced hot vinassa flow at DownDog Yoga in Georgetown about 5x a week and gained muscle, an appreciation for a satisfying cleanse, and a klutsy and prone-to-tipping-over headstand. The chance to perfect my own channa masala recipe from my Indian roommates intrigues me even further. I learned how to make naan this summer with a friend..and those who know me know I could live on eggplant and mango. I eat a high vegetarian diet except for the occasional fish, so I'm very excited to live in a mostly veggie zone. [But I'm still bringing peanut butter reserves with me. Can't live without my comfort food and protein power. ]
Nora and I decked out in our Salsa Masala outfits from last year's Rangila
The program in Pune is more than an opportunity to study abroad, but an opportunity to work, learn, and grow into a community oriented, well-researched, and effective development practitioner. I look forward to our intimate classes, on-the-ground experience and field visits, and the chance to engage with a changing society. 

What do I wish to gain from this five month immersion? 
Besides sharing amazing recipes, music, and trinkets with my friends, family, and colleagues, I hope to bring back a depth of India that will finally crush the orientalism I feel ingrained into me. I want to know India as Indians do—to see what development looks like on the ground. Even if I feel a drive towards human development work, I need to have conversations and relationships with the society I have studied intimately. I hope to gain a glimpse into development that comes with authentic interaction in India’s dynamic world. This blog will document cultural discoveries, religious services I attend, yoga practice, and of course, hundreds of pictures and descriptions of Indian cuisine. Besides that kind of sharing though, I intend to brainstorm a possible thesis examining a niche I might discover in India. I am interested in continuing to probe into international education issues, especially in a nation as large and diverse as India. 
Until Saturday, I am continuing to enjoy America, peach-picking, long runs, chocolate-covered dates, and procrastination--packing the night before is my usual style!