Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the uploading begins!

As a holiday gift for y'all, I have finally started battling the internet to get a selection of my photos online. I have just put an album entitled "Arriving" up on facebook for your perusal.

Following soon: an entry on re-entry to the United States... (I'm still enjoying/struggling w/ reverse culture shock)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Blog Post Written In Indiaaa!

I am writing this from the computer in the flat an Indian painter who knows one of my friend's mothers rents out. It is beautiful! We could have found a cheaper place probably, but it's nice to be with someone who treats us like family on our last day. Shuchiji has been wonderful. Today we went to see the Baha'i temple that is shaped like an unfurling lotus; it was amazing. Entering the space there was like a tangible feeling in the air, I can't even explain it...I teared up immediately. Then we went to Sarojini Nagar, a bazaar that has export overstock clothing, among other things (like delicious momos, I discovered). Now I am all packed and killing time till we go to the airport; our taxis are coming in a lil under 3 hours, at 8pm. Takeoff is at 12:55am...!

But don't worry, the stories 'n' anecdotes don't end here, I've decided to keep this up till I'm all written out. There are plenty of things I meant to share that I just didn't get the chance to given internet access, stress, etc. Anyway. There shall continue to be updates here till the end of J-term probably =).

See some of you soonnnn!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Before I forget

I've had a couple quotes to share for a while now. You may have noticed that that feature has been missing from my blog lately...basically because we talk to people so little nowadays! =( anyway.

Dark, Rich Cocoa with Hot/Cold Milk is a Guaranteed 'Feel Good', The Perfect Substitute for a light hug"
-menu in a cafe in Sardar Bazaar. I wish I could've afforded it so I could judge whether that claim holds true, haha. But it was the cost of a meal in an Indian restaurant, so I passed.

"When you want to understand India, think Medieval Europe." -Rimaji (?!?!?!??!?!?!)

"You don't get this high with tissue airplanes every day." -adorable British boy to his mother at a rooftop restaurant in Udaipur

I don't remember his exact wording, but when Meenakshiji's brother picked me and Basanti up today to drop us off to see his wife and parents, he basically called Jodhpur a glorified village.

Also I don't remember her exact wording, but Nidhiji (Meenakshiji's sister in law) told us that "the sun always shines on Jodhpur. You know, it starts in Calcutta and ends in Jodhpur, the last rays of sun, till the very last minute that the sun is hitting India, it is in Jodhpur." That's why it's called the Sun City! Aw. What a lovely image.

(I'll write more about today at a later date. Basically we had the perfect last outing in Jodhpur. =)

On This Day 21 Years Ago, 2 of My Favorite People Were Born

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!!!!!!!
Happy Birthday, Roman!!!!!!!!

ps. Blogger has been actin' crazy lately when I've been trying to paste in entries, changing the formatting, saying I'm trying to do html things that are illegal (when I never edit the html at all) and basically being impossible. So that's why there has been irregular font size & inconsistency in font usage...I'm sorry. It's hurting me, but I've tried all I can think of to fix it to little improvement.
pps. today Jaswant called me Jenny... :P

Deliciousness & "Zena" in India

So I like to come up with themes for my blog entries when possible, just to mix things up and keep you interested. One night when I was feeling really down I decided to try and find something positive to write about, and I came up with--Delicious Foods I Have Discovered I Love:

Coriander paratha - when I stayed with my host family on my last trip to Jaipur, my host mom let me try making parathas. The dough used is the same as for chappatis/rotis; you just roll them out in stages and put oil in folds of them. Mine never turned out quite right; they were squares instead of triangles. But it was good because normally my host brother refuses to eat bajra (pearl millet) chappatis or parathas (they kind of taste more whole grain and are coarser), but he wanted to eat the ones I made, so all the funny-shaped ones (even ones I didn't make) were given to him and consumed without complaint, haha. Anyway, one night during the mid-internship seminar I helped de-stem a bunch of coriander, and it ended up going into parathas. They were green speckled and super delicious.

Kaju ki katli - diamond-shaped sweets made from cashews and topped with silver foil. Actual silver foil. When Rachel and I first had it at our host family's, one of us asked if it was good for one to eat silver like that, and our host father raised his eyebrows and went "Yeeees!" in his emphatic way, as though it were so obvious. Anyway. It is super delicious. There is another version made from almonds, so it's essentially silver-topped marzipan. Vogue India cites the fact that these have been topped with silver for centuries as an example of how "India practically invented luxe" =P.

Laddoo - spherical sweet made from gram flour, the first food my host mom showed me how to make. (Except not really, because she called me into the kitchen after all the ingredients had been put in the pan so I don't know what-all goes into hers.) It's funny because I'd really built these up before trying them, as they are Ganesha's favorite food, but when I first had one I thought "Huh. Tasty I guess, but not something I'd ever crave or miss." They can be kind of dry and grainy. But then of course once I was in Jodhpur I started to crave them! There are always pyramids of laddoos in like 60% of the shop fronts around my host family's apartment since we live right by a temple to Ganeshji, and people buy them to offer to him. I've never bought any since our host mom would make them once in a while and I was always wary about how long the ones sold on the street had been sitting outside, but I'm getting to the point where I would want to have some no matter where they came from.

Makhania lassi - saffron flavored lassi, a Jodhpur specialty. Basanti and I always get it from Shri Mishrilal Hotel (not really a hotel as far as I can tell) in Sardar Bazaar. It's right on the corner and has the most creamy, delicately flavored, wonderful lassi evar. It isn't really what I'm used to thinking of lassi as; it always comes with a spoon to eat it with as it is more custard-like in consistency. The first couple times we just got it to go, as the dining area was really crowded and strange (all booth-style seating along the walls, so that everyone is just facing one another), but the third time we wanted to sit down and waited until some space opened up. If you stay in the dining area you get a lot more, it turns out; their takeaway cups are quite small. There's always this awesome glob of I-don't-know-what garnishing the top of the lassi; kind of like whipped sweet cream cheese or something.

Pakora - Like laddoos, one of those foods I've always heard about but not had a clear idea of what they actually are like. These are to Indian cuisine what tempura is to Japanese cuisine. Any kind of chopped veggie deep fried in a particular type of dough. Where tempura tends to be a pale cream color, pakoras are a deep brown, tend to use different vegetables obviously (typically onion, potato, cauliflower, chili) and the sauce they are served with varies. I've had them with tamarind chutney and ketchup. Also I guess the dough is a much more prominent component of the dish, adding a good deal of weight and flavor to each piece of vegetable (so the spices used really play a role in how good they are), whereas good tempura dough tends to almost melt away in your mouth, just adding some texture to the vegetables. The best pakoras I've had were a) at the Sufi artist's home I visited b) at some classmates' host family's home. We dropped by for about 5 minutes on Diwali and in that time were offered pakoras about 3 times, it was great. They were spicy and wonderful.

Pink chutney - I have no better name for this, and not for lack of asking. It looks like strawberry applesauce, but is actually is a puree made of tomato, garlic, onion, and chili. A very intense flavor, needless to say, but really good with parathas. My host dad explained it as "prevention cure" for swine flu.

Puri - Fried puff ball of AMAZINGNESS. That is all.

Well okay, I'll give you a little more than that. They are used like chappatis or parathas, to dip/scoop into other foods. They are translucent and beautiful. My host mom gave me the impression that they are served on festive occasions when a lot of people need to be fed because they are small and quick to make. They come full of air and when you bite/puncture them they whoosh out all this super hot air on your face or hand if you're not careful. I miss them! We don't have much deep-fried stuff here, I think because our supervisor has serious high blood pressure.

A conversation about me:

Swati [handing Basanti a postcard]: This is for Julian.

Praveen: Julian?

Basanti: Julian? [takes postcard, reads address] Oh, Zena.

Swati: Yes, Jena.

Praveen: We are calling her everything. Julian, Jena, Jesus...


LOL. It's funny though, I guess I haven't mentioned this before but no one in this household can say or remember my name. Generally they just say "Basanti" when they are trying to talk to both of us, lol. It's kind of like I don't exist, but that's okay. Apparently Basanti's host family would only ever call her roommate, so it's her turn to be the one who is spoken to. When people feel like putting in the effort to address me directly they just call me vague sounds that begin with the "J" sound. At one point Jaswant definitely called me Genie.

Speaking of namessss, I have spotted my name in Vogue India, so I know it exists in this country. (There was a photoshoot of a pair of twins, Zoya and Zina Singh, modeling day and night looks. Zina was night, of course.) I can't tell whether substituting J's for Z's is a regional thing or not. Once when I was making hotel reservations in Varanasi and the manager couldn't tell what I was saying (Tina, Dina, etc), I tried going, "Zena as in zindagi (life)" and he proceeded to go, "Ohhh! Jena as in jindagi! Very good name." Sigh. I guess it could have to do with the fact that the way Z is written is exactly like J but with a dot next to it, and often the dot is left unprinted as though it made little difference. My host family, interestingly, always called me [zeh-nah] as opposed to [zee-nah], making the e sound short, when I would have expected their issue to be the Z, since they tend to use only j sounds; e.g. bajaar for bazaar. Anyway. Yes. So my name is supposed to exist, but most people seem to react to it as though it were completely foreign to them and unpronounceable. Two people have informed me "That is a Muslim name." Strangely that happened twice in one day, and never since. (And no, neither of the people telling me that were Muslim.)

Actually I've gotten a couple theories on my name's meaning here; one woman told me it means "beautiful," Rekhaji and my host mom said it means "staircase" (sounds funny, but when Rachel and I laughed my host mom went and made it profound by saying it was a very good name, and implied "always going up...high thoughts, high spirits..." aww.), and Shravanji from the museum said it means "alive." I'm thinking he meant in the local language, or maybe he just misheard me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oodles of Udaipur phots: Volume I

Some of our classmates befriended locals, one of whom owned a shop, so we often met up there. Many many wedding processions went by the street it was on. This one was kind of sad; the horse had to pull this thing downhill and its hooves were slipping like crazy; the man in front and ones along the side and in back had to help support the weight of the carriage so it wouldn't go zooming down and hurt the horse.

This is the view from the restaurant I ordered my lunch from the day we left Udaipur. The food was very blah, but the decor and view were gorgeous. There were all these mirrored insets in the ceiling, we sat on what looked like silver chairs with different animal heads molded in them (rams, elephants, horses)... Come to think of it I think I ate every meal except one at an elevated restaurant over the 2 night stay, without even trying to. They're pretty much the norm. They day after I got back my legs were sore from all the stairs we walked up and down. Indian stairs tend to be sooooo steep! Sometimes it would almost feel like I was about to pull a muscle, my legs had to flex so hard.

Shops tend to stay open till 9 or 10 pm and Udaipur felt quite safe, so we did some night shopping. I came across a couple cows curled up like puppies; they were so cute. I tried taking a picture of another one after this, but she lifted her head just as I was doing so. Mooo.

We stayed at the Udai Niwas Hotel, which was pretty centrally located. We were just a hop skip 'n' a jump away from a lakefront, and were surrounded by places to eat, shop and catch rickshaws. The place was gorgeously decorated; I think I'm going to have to use this wall painting technique on my own living space one day! The base was a rich teal with a pale gold sponged over it. There were elephants painted on the ceiling in each corner. Downsides: very poorly lit, no soap, no toilet paper, the television received about 6 channels, all in Hindi, none of them music video channels (which at least could be appreciated without being understood). I feel like the latter two issues are particularly odd considering their clientele seemed to be about 96% foreign. Oh! And another weird downside: the hotel gave us a curfew! We had to be back in by 11pm. One of our classmates' local friends knew the owner, so she was able to get in later without a problem, but for the rest of us it was annoying. Anyway, some other positives: our room had a view of 2 temples, and the restaurant on the top floor was a lovely place to have breakfast.
Note: yes, I did a lot of eating out on this trip. However, I kept all of my meals at or under $1.50. =) Most of the food was pretty blah, but oh well. It was sustenance; I survived.

When Rachel, whose NGO is in a town right outside of Udaipur, told me about the shopping in Udaipur, she said there was a lot of jewelry and clothing made from fine local materials that are more oriented toward Western tastes. The most outrageous item I found: a silver mesh bra. I commented on one I saw hanging outside a shop as Basanti and I passed by, and the shopkeepers heard me! So after that anytime I walked by they would call out "You want bra? All sizes possible!" lololol. We saw it again inside another shop, and asked about the price--2000-something rupees (between $40 and $50). Technically a good price for the amount of silver you get, I guess...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Numbers

2- number of people for whom thanks are overdue! Thank you Monna & Reed for the delicious loose-leaf teas you sent! (Didn't mean to overlook y'all, it was only recently brought to my attention that they were from you.) The strawberry hibiscus one is particularly awesome; after brewing I eat the strawberry pieces and even the flower petals when I'm particularly desperate for a snack, haha. Also the tea turns out in the most beautiful deep fuchsia color. It's funny bc when I first saw the bags I thought of tea garden and by extension you two, and now I am 99.8% sure that is where they came from.
3- number of days our supervisors have been missing. We got home from Udaipur Monday night; there was a padlock on the door to their bedroom and they were nowhere to be found. All of Tuesday they did not appear. All of today they did not appear. We do not know where they are. They called Basanti once while we were on the bus to Jodhpur, but she just barely missed the call, and they never called back. (We each only have a few rupees left on our phones so we are saving those for emergencies, and anyway Anitaji usually calls multiple times until she gets us. I guess us knowing where she has gotten to is low on her priority list.)
6 - number of band-aids on my left leg. My legs are covered for the majority of my waking hours (and now that it's getting so cold at night, I tend to wear leggings or my full length skirt to bed too), as showing ankle is considered scandalous hereabouts, so today when I looked down and saw how spotty my legs were it was pretty surprising/alarming. I don't want to come home looking like a recovering chicken pox patient, so I'm keeping triple antibiotic and band-aids on each spider bite relic to prevent scarring. I don't even really have enough band-aids to cover them all
10 - number of band-aids on my right leg. I also have one on my right shoulder, and I should put a couple more on my arm. It's so easy to scratch at those without thinking; I can already see scars forming =(.
10 - days till I am back in the United States of Americaaaaaa!
<24 - number of hours it took to have a silk cocktail dress and a top custom made in Udaipur. The dress I designed myself and they just brought to life--a few things were wrong with it, like they randomly added really long slits in the sides and had made it too loose despite having taken my measurements, but within 30 minutes of the dress being whisked out of the shop, it came back with those elements repaired! The top was based off of an existing design, but I had specifications about how I wanted the brocade pattern to be placed in relation to my body. It turned out nearly perfect; I noticed only after getting back to Jodhpur that the straps are a little too long, but I can easily remedy that. All this for far, far less than a single off the rack article of silk clothing would cost back home. It's crazy how quickly they can get things done; it felt like a 1-hr photo service. (The minimum time for most things was 2 hours if you needed them that quickly.) I bought the two items from different places, but the same tailor showed up to measure me at both. He was great; very professional and would share his opinion when he thought a different approach than what I had in mind would look better.

Photos from the Udaipur trip are forthcoming =)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Politics & Palate-pleasers

This was taken from the balcony in my host family's house. Their neighbor was a candidate in the municipal court elections, so there were a lot of his supporters gathered downstairs. "Our neighbor is running," Meenakshiji said, "but we don't vote him. [laughs, lowers voice] Because he is uneducated." Also he is for the BJP, which I have gathered through leading questions (I had to know!) my host family does not support.

The sandwich was an amazing, amazing brie & tomato & basil on baguette sandwich from Anokhi Cafe. I discovered these one day when I was really hungry as I was having trouble eating my host fam's food, and it was just what I needed. I don't usually love tomatoes but they were so sweet and flavorful and awesome; the brie was perfect and even the tossed greens and vinaigrette were amazing. Basically if you haven't been on this program with me eating what I've been eating you can't imagine how glorious it was. Cheese is so rare here to begin with, much less cheese of a specific type, which actually tastes the way it is supposed to. And even just good bread is hard to find. And vegetables are usually so overcooked and smothered in was great to have a simply assembled sandwich with the natural flavors of everything coming together beautifully. Ahh. I took this photo after the 3 hour ordeal of getting my package in Jaipur. Anokhi is a fancy boutique here (selling clothing produced under "unusually ethical conditions" as the Lonely Planet says) that basically sells upscale/glorified versions of things normal people wear; block printed kurtas, dupattas, quilted jackets, etc. The cafe is very well priced for what you get though; this sandwich & salad was under $2. And it's a really lovely atmosphere. Rekhaji's son designed/decorated it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Happy Birthday, Linda!!!

hope you had a great day & that this is your best year yet.

Also, hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving tomorrow! (today for me here now). B & I are going to McDonald's to have chicken sandwiches tonight...sigh. And then tomorrow we're making mashed potatoes for the Kotharis, since they've been wanting us to make them something for a while now. I'm also trying to look up a simple dessert recipe with ingredients I can get here, but it's hard!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mehrangarh Fort

All of the photos in this post were taken by my dear roommate Basanti Miller at Mehrangarh Fort. I was using my film camera to document the visit.

This is in memory of all of Man Singh's ranis, who left red hand prints on the gate before going to commit sati (immolate themselves on the maharaja's fuenral pyre). There were more prints on the other side of the gate too.

This is a view of the Blue City!!! That color is called 'Brahmin Blue', as only brahmins were allowed to use it for a while. The color keeps heat and mosquitoes away. The curved awnings are reminiscent of the roofs used in some villages; the intricate cut-out windows enabled women in purdah to look down into the courtyards & see what was going on without being seen themselves.Moti Mahal/Pearl Palace, a hall of private audience. Gorgeous! The walls were coated with this special stuff (err, forgot exactly what) so that they glimmer

Winter is Wedding Season

Apparently after Diwali, wedding season kicks into high gear. There are weddings nearby almost every night; our guest house was right by a big garden venue place so there was always music blasting and fireworks booming.

We came across this one evening as we were walking home. Yes, there are people paid just to hold up electric lights so the wedding party can dance smack dab in the middle of the street.

Cows in the 'Milkman Colony' of Jodhpur, right by the headquarters of one of the NGOs other MSID students are at I took this in the early days of this internship, when I was going stir crazy down in the library... I could fit three or four of me in this drum. The hide still has some hairs on it, which I'd never seen before.

l o l.

So after another night of crazy I can't quite describe, I am back in the Kothari's home. This is the only photo I've been able to upload, after several tries...sorry it ended up being the most random one!

Iced rasgullahs with almond and cashew features & coconut hair--I bought these intending to bring them to my host family not knowing what they were, & as they turned out to be rasgullahs I had to eat them the night I bought them (they are a dairy product). Sooo delicioussss


Time for another round of big heartfelt digital hugs and thank yous:

Thank you so much to everyone who sent me things in that big box I picked up in Jaipur!!! Getting them may have been a hassle but it was so worth it; all your sweet cards and letters made me the kind of happy best expressed by this emoticon :')
Angela and Linda, I haven't had a chance to try out those teas but they look and smell beautiful! I'm excited to taste them. I'm also saving the chocolate for the right moment, but I love the name, haha..."New Moon" came out this past weekend, didn't it? Also Linda, those otters are the cutest! I'm afraid I couldn't eat any mangoes for you; I've been trying to every since I got here, but they're not in season :/. Can't even get mango ice cream!
Kyera, of course I <3 the <3 :P.
Manasi, thank you for the aromatherapy bath packet! I haven't set eyes on a bathtub since entering this country, but I look forward to using it once I get home, to help me deal with the shock of the climate change :P.
Sonam, the orange dark chocolate is delish (of course) and I love, love, love, Zen tea! It's what I usually order when I'm out 'n' about in downtown Chicago. Anyway I had my host family try some of it, since we'd once discussed how I don't normally drink black tea with milk and sugar and they were wondering what I do drink. My host parents enjoyed it; my host brother whined to try some and then seemed to have a hard time getting his down and demanded sugar, lol...and my little host cousin (the cutie in that one Diwali picture) said she liked it and finished it with gusto, aww.
Stephen, thank you for the marina, the tea, the Blue Mountain, the Jarritos (I can't believe you sent that...and that it made it here the customs people were eyeing it suspiciously and I had to be like "Cold drink! Cold drink!" [that's what people call soda here] while they were like "that is not wine? it is cold drink?" oh man), the 'chicken nuggets' (they turned out to be superdelicious! actually spicy, and a great texture--today I tried putting pieces of it in my instant hot and sour soup, it was awesome), the magazines (I don't think anyone can fully comprehend how happy magazines make me, on top of which these both had all kinds of great coincidences in them like a girl from my HS being featured in Vanity Fair, and Cosmo announcing that the dresses I've been planning to unveil this upcoming season are right on trend), the candy, the camera, the batteries and for being wonderful.

- magazines here don't come with perfume sample inserts. One had an entire booklet devoted to Bvlgari BLV II in it, but nary a scented slip of paper in sight.
- however, they do come with freebies like a 3-movie DVD or cough syrup (!!??!!)
- our supervisor is way, way sick. A) we haven't seen him in weeks B) his mother has been around more lately, and whenever she's about to go into his room she covers her nose and mouth with a handkerchief

Circumstance changes:
We are living in the Rupayan building/our supervisors' home for the next few days, as some couples had reservations in the guest house from long ago. We've packed up our stuff but are still waiting to move some of it over. :/ bleh.

I was going to post a lot of photos today but the internet connection is being particularly finicky so I'll try again tomorrow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"The whole life starts with broom actually"

-Kuldeepji. I don't know what he meant by that.

So I have a lot of things to update you about, especially how crazy the post office experience was yesterday, but I have this rambly disorganized thing written up that I guess I may as well post now..

Written 2 nights ago:

First of all, a big digital bear hug to Auntie Violy and Auntie Pat, for sending me such an amazing package!!! I can't believe how much ma pa and ma hu you sent. I am definitely not going to lack for protein for the rest of my time here! ^_^ It's great to have green tea again too, it came just in time--I was on my last bag of genmai cha that my parents sent me. And the Tim Tams!!! Ahhhh! Pure deliciousness. Thank youuu! Oh and also the cheese you sent is pretty cool, I've never had anything like it before, and it's a great supplement to my otherwise calcium-lacking diet.

& thanks to my parents for the two kinds of tea you sent (the ginger was especially nice when my throat was freaking out in the transition to dusty Jodhpur). The spearmint gum was exactly what I needed, and the rice candy and my favorite fruity Japanese gum were wonderful surprises. That was an extremely well-packed box! Oh, and all my classmates were very happy to receive the SPF social security chapstick, Thanks also for the birthday card.

& thank you to my confirmation sponsor Mrs. Shraiberg for the beautiful card you sent me, and the article about Frankfurt! =) they were delightful.

Physical changes -
* nails - they've been polish-less this entire trip, which has been an adjustment. For the past year for whatever reason it was my weekly ritual to repaint my nails; it was something calming I would do to force myself to concentrate on my studies as both reading and typing can be performed without affecting one's nails, but pretty much any other activity will result in one accidentally damaging one's work. I keep my nails pretty short here too, as despite perhaps being stronger for not having been painted for a while, they get a lot more beat up here in my day to day life.
* hair - longer obviously, and sun-bleached (even where my hair has grown out and there should be no highlights I have noticeable natural ones now). Also I have a deeper appreciation for the hair genes my parents have given me--Thanks Mom & Dad!--unlike most of the girls on the trip I don't have to deal with mad frizziness. Whenever I take a rickshaw I do have to put my hair up though, or else it'll get really wind-whipped and tangled.
* skin - Jodhpur was a big adjustment; it is even drier and dustier here than in Jaipur, with random humid days, so my skin was very very angry. But with a lot of cleansing and moisturizing it's about back to normal finally. Thank you Caudalie and Queen Helene. I've definitely never lost my tan from the summer, it just keeps going and going... A week ago I got attacked by spiders in the night, so my limbs are dotted with little scabs right now :( At least the itching has mostly subsided.
* ankles - I've been wearing a pair of anklets constantly since my host family gave me them over breakfast one day, so a little tinkling sound accompanies my every leg movement. Sometimes I have to adjust the way I sit because of the anklets; the beads can really hurt if I don't pay attention
* ears - I have become much more conscientious about wearing earrings, whereas back home more than half the time I go out without any, whether by choice or through forgetfulness. Here if a girl isn't wearing earrings people will notice right away and demand to know why, so wearing them all the time saves time and awkwardness

Circumstance changes in Jodhpur:

We are being oppressed by spoiled little boys. They get into our yard (even though it's clearly private property; there's a big metal gate with two types of bars to keep it shut) and run around being as loud as possible, hitting things around with their cricket bat (when they are using a ball this makes an intense booming sound against whatever part of our building they're hitting it to), and sometimes even taking a wall hanging on our porch off its hook and carrying it around, or tearing apart plants in our garden. The walls are so thin/the window closest to my bed has a hole in it, so it sounds like they are right in the room with us. And our room is on a corner, so when they run around it's like they're all around us. It's so claustrophobic/alarming. The first time this happened, it was around noon on Sunday. (We had been sleeping in and were awoken by them.) We called Anitaji, who told us not to go outside, and that she would call neighbors to make them leave. Soon the children were yelled at and they left. However the second time it happened was early in the morning during the week, when children would usualllllly be at school. We called Anitaji, she said "oh, they're just playing" but still said she would tell the neighbors to get them away. It took much, much longer for that process to take place this time. Then another morning they were in our yard, and since Anitaji had been so dismissive last time we decided not to bother her with it. Having never contronted the children before and hoping that us coming out would scare them away, we left the house while we still heard them out there. We did some glaring and made as much noise as possible locking up the house but they didn't make a move to leave. I was the first out the gate and I just held it wide open, indicating that they ought to leave, but they didn't, and Basanti ended up closing the gate with them inside. (One of the bars is on top of the gate so it can be easily undone from either side; she didn't do the one that would have been harder for them to get undone.) It was especially bad because there was clearly an adult right across the street (these are narrow streets, so no more than 10 feet away) watching the kids and not caring that they were invading our space. This morning the children were out there again. We are pretty sure we heard them talking about us. They started doing stupid things like shouting nursery rhymes at the top of their lungs, clearly hoping to get a reaction out of us/see us again. We heard someone tell them to leave, and they did for a while, but then they came back. This happened twice. It was so infuriating. It's hard knowing they have no fear of authority. Once we heard a female neighbor talking to them and they just shouted back at her and didn't leave. And the thing is other people live in the back of this guesthouse, so we can't set up booby traps or do things to make it more difficult to get in and out through the gate. It's so frustrating that the one place where we're supposed to feel safe and able to breathe in this city is being infringed upon, and there's nothing we can do about it.

A couple days ago we were walking home from our internship and these two little boys (they didn't look like they were from the neighborhood, their clothes were dirty) ran up to us and asked us to give them five. I thought they seemed harmless enough and I was in a decent mood so I replied "nahi..." instead of just walking past silently. But the fact that I responded to them at all seemed to set off a trigger or something and they just started really getting all up in my business, tugging at my bag and (as I told them to leave, and B & I started walking faster) hitting me in a particularly inappropriate place. >: Basanti raised her voice a lot more and they finally scampered off. RRR.

Speaking of which, one of the most unexpected forms of harrassment I've experienced:
whenever other students and I try to get rickshaws near all the temples by where my host family lives, we get asked for money a lot, and as we are stuck in traffic or before our rickshaw pulls away they will sometimes touch your feet (a sign of respect, so they're trying to be humble to guilt you into giving them sth) or nudge you in the arm repeatedly. That is fairly standard and makes sense on some level. But this one girl literally touched me in the most awkward, inappropriate part of my torso. Not once, but twice!! so that was clearly what she was aiming for. Shudder. I was so taken aback. That's the closest I've gotten to physically retaliating; after the second time it happened I raised my hand abruptly in anger/warning and finally the rickshaw pulled away.

Also the thing about children here is it seems like they tend to find really unfortunate things hilarious. Once when we were at the juice stand we saw a man who looked truly insane; he was standing in the street and was shaking his head around and around in this really intense way as he stumbled back and forth. A group of children kept running up to throw rocks at him, and laughing as he chased them away in fury. Then he would go back to his head spinning, and they would come back and throw more rocks...
There's a couple other things I have to say on this topic but I think I may have posted about them before, will check and get back to you if I haven't.

It was funny, the other day when we went to the train ticket booking office, Basanti and I both noticed an Indian man wearing a hiking backpack, something we'd never seen before. Then he spoke to us when we were in line and it turned out he was visiting from Britain; he'd worked in Jodhpur 29 years before and was coming back to see how it was doing. Anyway it was refreshing because we'd thought he was about to creep on us/try and cut us in line, but really he was just as confused as we were about what window was for what, and asked us for help. Not to say we weren't creeped on; this man came up behind me and reached his arm around to try and like, get the attention of the lady behind the window (even though I was clearly right up at the window)/physically intimidate me into stepping back, but instead I just did this little casual body adjustment as if I hadn't seen him, effectively hitting him lightly in the chest with my bag 0:). He backed off and went to a different line.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Wrinkles is beauty"

- my host father on the skirt my host family gave me for my birthday, telling me how I shouldn't iron it because its beauty is in the fact that it's wrinkled

I'm getting away this weekend, back to Jaipur because a package a certain gentleman sent me is being held by customs so they can open it in front of me and inspect it and make me pay them a mystery fee. Hopefully none of it will be confiscated. My host family is being awesome and letting me stay with them (they've repeatedly said in the past how whenever I come back to Jaipur, I shouldn't stay in a hotel because I am family). I'm excited to a) be away from here b) see my host fam again c) be able to go to good restaurants again d) be able to get more materials to keep me busy. Although I have finally made work for myself at the internship, putting the dusty library in order. And soon I'll have to work on my final paper for MSID, 10 pages about the internship..XP Have to meet with Rimaji while we're in Jaipur to talk about the internship, bleh.

And then next weekend I'm going to Udaipur!!! ^_^

Monday, November 16, 2009

Photos from Happier Days in & around Jodhpur

Arna Jharna: the Desert Museum of Rajasthan's man-made pond--during the monsoon season the water cascades down the sandstone terraces in waterfalls to collect there Flowerz
Basanti, umbrella to keep cool, and a big cactus

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Bad experiences:

rickshaw driver overcharging ridiculously, trying to take us to the police station and almost getting physical
villagers purposely running into me and trying to grab me (men, at a night festival)
men cutting me in line at the post office as if I don't exist; the man who works there allowing them to
men crowding into atm booths behind me, or cutting me in line if I don't go into the room when the person in front of me is in there alone
a rock being thrown at my roommate anonymously while we were just minding our business, walking to our internship

I want to get out of here.

("here" being Jodhpur.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009


My laptop can no longer read flash drives so I can no longer prepare epic-lenth'd blog entries for you on an even semi-regular basis. =(
Sunday morn we're being picked up for a mid-internship seminar in Jaipur, returning here Tuesday mornin'. I'll try to spend a couple hours in a decent internet cafe at some point during that weekend...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I have a lot on my mind

On Friday Kuldeepji did not turn up all day. We hung out in the library for a while, then read in the garden for a while. They have one of those swing benches, which is always fun until the GIANTEST BUMBLEBEE IN THE WORLD who seems to nest nearby comes and chases me away. I'm more than halfway through Siddhartha now; I'm happy at how easy it's been to read and really get into. We had a few conversations with Swati, a recent college graduate who works in the Rupayan office. She helped get us directions to the post office and an internet cafe. The internet cafe connection was so slow, and the guys working there were pretty rude and sketchy. They were always looking at "sexy photos" of women. Also there is this weird system where you can't plug your flash drive into your own computer, you have to plug it into the master one, so the people working there can theoretically see what's on it, or even put things on it.
Anyway we got home, ate pizza we'd picked up at a little bakery, and then decided to take an auto rickshaw into the Old City. We got dropped off near the clock tower and walked around the markets.
Here are some of the encounters we had:
[continued Tues. 10/27]
In "MM Spices" (trying to ride on MV Spices' reputation--a legit place that's in the Lonely Planet)
I went in initially looking for jasmine oil for a dear friend [:)], and they began putting all these oils on my hands and arms. I thought the price was too high even for the pure jasmine oil the salesman claimed it was, but then when I picked up the box when he was distracted I saw that synthetic ingredients were listed. When I confronted him about that, he said "Well, they have to put that on the box." ?!?!?! He also tried charging 6x the going rate for saffron, and an obviously ridiculous price for plain black tea that Basanti was going to get for her mom. I told her we should wait, as there were shops everywhere and she'd want the tea to be fresh anyway, and that I was sure we could find it cheaper. We were about to hightail it out of there when I noticed there were a few scarves in the shop and inquired about them, at which point the shopkeeper handed us over to his "younger brother," a man who led us to...
"Student Scarf Shop":
The salesman there made a big deal of how he wasn't going to overcharge us like other tourist-oriented places, and how if we went out and found cheaper prices we were welcome to come slap him. He really belabored this point, going "Slap me! I'm serious, come slap me!" It was a little strange. Also annoying because right off the bat we knew we'd found cheaper scarves elsewhere. He had some designs I hadn't seen before, but they obviously didn't cost any more to make. "Same quality not possible," he insisted. He "swore in front of this Indian girl" (Basanti!!!) that he was giving us the best price. It was so uncomfortable. After inquiring about my ethnic background, he randomly said "the more I look at you, the more Indian you are looking." As if him lying to me would make me want to buy more. He also told me "If you were not with her [Basanti], no one can talk to her." And he offered us these stiff "silk" scarves that we could tell from our tutorial at Baba Black Sheep in Varanasi were polyester. He claimed they were from Varanasi, and that softer ones came from Kashmir and were more expensive. There was a "silk" dress I liked that I noticed had a blotch of misprinted ink on it, which they tried to say would wash out. They kept being all up in my business, trying to put scarves on me (which really crosses the line of social acceptability here, not to mention my own personal sense of a space-bubble) and show me more and more, while Basanti could hardly get their attention when she wanted it. It was interesting that even though Basanti had clearly established that she is American, and even though the shopkeepers had made a distinction between how they would treat her if she were alone and how they could now, they were still not really treating her equally. >:(

Things said to me as I passed by:
Elderly woman: [taking the end of my kurta in her hand/touching my leg] Acchi lagi! ("Nice/I like this")
Middle aged vegetable-selling man: "A-mer-i-ca? Cal-i-for-ni-a?"

We found this one juice shop recommended by Lonely Planet that was a-maaazingggg...I tried to order pomegranate juice, but they didn't have any. Instead I had a papaya shake for $0.40 that was cool lightly sweet heavenly deliciousness yum. lol. It was being run by a boy of no more than 14 (probably more like 12). But then when it came time to pay a man with the sort of beard I associate with Orthodox Jews (this first beard of this magnitude I have seen in this country) appeared to take the money. He smiled and said, "If you like juice, you are welcome to come again." Aww.
So we did, on Sunday, and I tried ordering anaar (pomegranate) juice, but ended up with this odd vague-tasting room temperature bright orange juice. I'll stick to papaya shakes from now on.
It has taken me a while to get to this because it was kind of a traumatic experience. I'm glad we went and there were some great things about it, but there has been like an emotional/mental block in me writing it all down. So I am going to deal with it in little installments.
The ride there took nearly twice as long as it should have (about 21 hours); the train made lots of unexplained stops, including one that was at least an hour long in the middle of the night right when I was trying to get to sleep. That wouldn't be so bad except that it was in-cred-ib-ly hot, and humid, so without the wind that pours in the windows from the train's movement we were just dripping sweat. [On our trip to Agra we were in 3AC class, so we had individual seats that could recline a little, and were in an air conditioned space that is locked and where seat numbers are really checked so no one bothers you. However, in sleeper class, where we were on the way to Varanasi, as it was a holiday weekend--Dashera--and we hadn't booked far in advance enough, there is little regulation. So 5 foreign-looking young women attracted a small crowd of men. There were ones hanging down from upper bunks staring at us, there were like six practically sitting on each others laps to fit on what should have been a 2 person seat to stare, discuss and laugh, people would walk by to look at us, or even just stand around, all up in our personal space. It was miserable.]
There were these round black bugs that infested the car for a while, getting blown into our hair and crawling all over the floor. As night fell and after we passed a few major stops most of the staring people left or retreated to their real seats to sleep, so we were able to relax somewhat. I stayed up talking with Hannah and Stephanie for as long as I could. I didn't want to sleep on a top bunk because of the heat and distance from the window, but eventually I went up there because I was too scared that a middle berth would be insecure and collapse onto me if I were on the bottom berth, or drop me if I were on the middle one. Eventually I was lulled to sleep by the soothing combination of Priscilla Ahn ("Rain" was particularly restorative to my sense of well-being) and Ne-yo songs on mypod. I awoke around 5am and climbed down to watch the sunrise, since I knew the heat wouldn't allow me to sleep any more. I talked to Syndey for a while and took some beautiful photos. Uttar Pradesh is really lush compared to Rajasthan, and the morning was all misty and pink.
When we finally reached Varanasi and got into autorickshaws, they ended up stopping in seemingly the middle of nowhere. The drivers announced, "No more than ten minutes' walk." We didn't even understand why there was a walk at all. But our drivers led us down all these twisty narrow roads--we all had big duffel bags, so this was very difficult, especially with the added obstacles of big splotches of cow dung or neon puddles of vomit--until we finally reached Shanti Guest House. Once there, we literally had to walk up 6 flights of stairs. Big, steep, spiraling stairs too. Then when we were up there they didn't have the rooms we had reserved. We were fed up; we were unsure if we'd ever be able to find the guest house again after leaving it, and we'd have to walk really far to get a rickshaw anywhere since they couldn't go in the narrow roads; also these roads were all flanked by really tall buildings, making them kind of claustrophobic alleyways, so we felt like we couldn't go out at night. I got on the phone to make reservations elsewhere, but none of the places that seemed good for us had two rooms available for that night. I made reservations at a nicer place for the next night.
There was a blood stain on one of the sheets in our rooms, bleghh. And a toilet didn't work in one of the rooms. But we passed out for a while in the air conditioning, glad to be in a cool, quiet place.
Random guy as we were walking the next day: "This is nice way to travel, respectful way to travel. Looking good in Punjabi dress.You are nice girls, from good families."
You can expect 2-4 more Varanasi installments.

Also, I still need to tell you about:
1) when Rachel and I went to see a movie at Raj Mandir, the "#1 Hindi Cinema"/"Showplace of the Nation"
2) when our host mom took us and our host siblings to Albert Hall, a museum
3) my experiences here as a person of East Asian descent [hint: it is mostly a stressor :(]
4) doctor visits/medicine in India

Yesterday night our friends working with Gravis visited. It was so jarring to get all the stares again now that we were in not only a big group, but one that was 80% White...I always intend to make a face or do something when people stare for extended periods of time but I usually am too slow to get worked up to actually do it, but yesterday I finally got so pissed off I did this random quick slapping my left hand really hard and then lifting my right hand in a "WUT!" kind of gesture to a guy on a motorbike that looked for a second (or ten) too long. Sadly I think he looked away just as I was doing it, so it wasn't very satisfying. Anyway we went to dinner for Stephanie's birthday; the food tasted decent but I think my stomach doesn't like Punjabi mutton masala very much, so I was miserable for most of the evening after that. We met Akshay, an Indian American guy who just graduated college and has been interning at Gravis for 6 weeks now. He was really nice and speaks Hindi pretty well, so hopefully we'll see more of him. Unlike our MSID friends he's interning at the main office in Jodhpur, so he'd definitely be easier to meet up with. The students working in the villages sound pretty disappointed with their internships as well; they have little to do and no one at their site really speaks English. Stephanie suspects one of the women is trying to find her a husband. (Most women our age in the village already have a couple children.) She dresses her up and has her serve meals. And points at men as they walk around saying "Husband? Husband?" ...
Actually come to think of it, Stephanie's host mom & sister were always worrying about her not having a boyfriend, as the other student staying with that family, Meaghan, has one. And they asked Basanti if she was planning on marrying an American or an Indian boy. She said she didn't know. They told her "Because if you want to marry an Indian boy, you let us know, and we will start looking for a suitable one."

Rachel and I were always wondering about whether our host parents had an arranged or a love match. Finally Rachel asked Meenakshiji how she met her husband, and (it's like she read our mind) she told us it was not a love marriage, and that her father arranged it. Apparently he approached Vinodji's mother, but since he did not have Meenakshiji's astrological information, she rejected the proposal. So he went away. But a year later, he came back, and Vinodji's mother accepted. Meenakshiji and Vinodji seem to be quite compatible though, in terms of their parenting styles and how they share responsibilities. During Diwali celebrations we played this one party game in Vinitaji's apartment, and it was really cute to see them interact on that level.

I'm sorry my blog has deteriorated into these random ramblings. I started out so organized... =/ It's just hard enough to summon the energy to put these things down, much less put very much planning into it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Diwali photos

Taken at our host mother's parents' house...I was so nervous the garden would start on fire
I did this! =)
"Bombay style," according to the lil booklet I tried copying the design from

Cutest photo evar? That's our host mother, Meenakshiji, and the little girl is Navya, a host cousin who turns 4 this Sunday.
I had the worst migraine I've had in years all evening...there were fireworks going on all over the city...but I stayed up on the roof and eventually enjoyed it through the pain.

"Jaipur is decorated like a bride"

-newspaper headline

These photoes were taken during the 10:30pm-midnight ride my host fam. took us on on Dhanteras

Written last night

I'm aliiiiiiiiiiiive!

It is 2:12am in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. I have just awoken from a series of odd dreams that I only vaguely remember.

Here is how things have gone in this city so far.

First we spotted a really fancy looking stone building--the Taj Hari Mahal hotel--which heralded our arrival in the Sun City. Basanti and I looked out the window excitedly, trying to spot potential hangout spots for our stay here. We thought we'd be the first to be dropped off at our site, since ours was supposed to be the only one in the city proper; four other students who would work for Gravis were supposed to be in a village 60 km or so outside the city, and two girls were going to work for an org based in a village whose name I don't remember and Jaisalmer. We dropped off the Gravis people first, in a neighborhood that the guy dropping us off said was a "milkman's colony." They went into the building and we moved our things to the other car so they could take one to go to a village.

Basanti and I were dropped off about 15 minutes later at Rupayan Sansthan, except there were no signs for it anywhere, and it was all pretty confusing. Kuldeepji and Anitaji, the couple in charge of the org (Kuldeepji's father Komal Kothari founded it) told us that we would have chai before discussing anything. So we sat down. They barely spoke to us, instead conversing in Hindi with an elderly man sitting there and then talking to the MSID guy dropping us off. They were clearly talking about us at one point and how things were different because we are two girls, which was uncomfortable. Anyway then the 2 girls going to Jaisalmer joined us for tea, and it was such an attitude shift. Kuldeepji turned his chair to physically face Hannnah and Whitney, asked them what they were studying, where they were from, etc, and telling them all about the programs Rupayan is working on. He gave them pamphlets about the org too. Until about noon today, Hannah and Whitney knew more about Rupayan than Basanti and I, and Kuldeepji knew more about Hannah and Whitney than either of us. He even told them they could come stay here at any time, there would be room. The only questions Basanti and I were asked were "How long did it take you to get here?" and "You are from China, I think?" (When I gave my answer in the negative in a very flat voice, he tried to say that someone had told him this, but his wife jumped in and said "No, this one [Basanti] was adopted from Bihar.") It was so odd! After we got to our rooms Basanti said she'd like to think there was so much more attention given to Hannah and Whitney because they weren't going to stay here, and he wanted to give them a good impression of Rupayan in the time that he had with them, but it was pretty clear to both of us that there was simply more interest in the two because they were White. It was a pretty hurtful (non-)welcome. We are interested enough in the group's mission to come and try to contribute to it, and they barely had a word to say to us. Then before saying goodnight we were introduced to two of the men who work here, and Kuldeepji introduced Basanti as "Varsha." We were informed that the men would "come in the night, around 9:30." It was not very clear what this meant, but the wording was kind of unintentionally sinister! lol.

Our rooms were an interesting experience. Basanti and I share a bedroom; we did some furniture rearranging to make it more spacious. The shelves for our things were coated with a thick layer of dust; it took 2 wet wipes per shelf to get some semblance of cleanliness. There were all these random things in the room; 3 somewhat full water bottles, 1 bottle of soda filled with water, 1 box of prescription eye drops, 1 used bar of soap, 1 random corded metal device...We kept finding more things behind curtains or under furniture and having to figure out what to do with them. There were lots of big ants, mostly in the sitting/dining room area, so I've put out an ant house and a couple cockroach houses that my parents sent me (thank youu!) 2 men came by to deliver our tiffins of dinner; apparently we will always eat dinner here alone. One of them we had been introduced to before, and he was very nice, but the other (wearing an undershirt that emphasized his copious amounts of chest hair) we didn't know, and he just stared at us as we ate. It was so uncomfortable. I didn't look at him, but Basanti said he had an almost angry expression on his face. Eee. We talked to Anitaji about that today so hopefully it won't happen again. He came in the morning with our breakfast too, more staring. Anyway the food itself was delicious, and came in this neat tower of tiffins. Basanti and I watched a film I've bought, "Kismet Konnnection," and then talked for an hour or so till we fell asleep. Basanti's last host family treated her and her last roommate (a pale girl from Northern Minnesota) really differently, and she is glad to be away from that.

Anyway at 8:23 am I was awoken abruptly by intense pounding on my window. It was so scary! It was the guy bringing tea bags, milk and sugar, butter and toast, and his staring friend. It was so strange; we could obviously make toast ourselves, and they didn't brew the tea or anything. We told Anitaji we'd prefer to make our own breakfast in the mornings so that we don't have to deal with the stress of waking up earlier to get dressed properly just to unlock the door and wait until the toast is made and the guys leave us alone again. It's pretty unclear how this guest house works, really--there's this sitting room area that the main door opens into, with a couch, some arm chairs, and a table with four chairs, which connects to the kitchen, but we lock the doors to that every night. Apparently a woman will come sweep each morning.

Anyway we got to Rupayan a little after 10am since we got a little lost (the "2 minute walk" was more like an 8-10 minute one). Anitaji said Kuldeepji would be the one to talk to us about what we would do, but that he had to leave to do some work, so we should just wait in the library. Well, 50 minutes went by and he still hadn't shown. A random researcher had wandered down and told us about the instruments down there; apparently there are 4 kinds--membranophones (drums) idiophones (things like bells, cymbals, etc) stringed instruments and wind instruments--and Rajasthan has 130 different instruments. Then about another hour went by. By this point I gave up caring about appearances and was napping on the tiled floor of the computer room. (There were no chairs in this library.) No one had told us we could even read the books in the library, and there were computers but they weren't on. We were pretty frustrated. Obviously they must have known Kuldeepji was leaving for work before we got there; couldn't they have called and told us to come in later, or at least bring some work to do? I have lots of backentries to make for this blog, and I have emails to write, and books to read...It was really a colossal waste of our time. The researcher said he was going to the museum Rupayan has; we wished we could tag along. After it had been a total of about 2 hours, another guy wandered down and offered to show us footage of folk dance. That was really nice. We also saw some footage of acrobats--there was this one act with a woman on essentially 2 sticks tied so that she could wrap her legs around them and spin around really fast, at an elevation of about 20 feet. Meanwhile her husband played the drums on the ground. He said the woman was his third wife--his first two had died performing this act. !!! It looked pretty miserable too...she just looked like a frog spinning. During this 3 cups of chai appeared, so I guess we hadn't been totally forgotten? Anyway, then the guy told us we could read the library books, and said that he would help us figure out what was going on with Kuldeepji. It turned out he was at the museum. !?! He just randomly went to the museum instead of coming and talking to us at the time we had agreed upon. The weird thing is too that the night before he'd said we would see the museum today, but then changed his mind and was like "well actually we have 6 weeks for you to see the museum, no hurry". But if he was going there anyway, what would have been the harm in bringing us along?

Anywayyyy, eventually Kuldeepji did come back, we had a decent talk, and he finally asked us what our interests were and gave us some more background information on the org. We had lunch together and then someone came to see him; he told us he'd talk to us before he left. So we waited around, reading outside, until we saw him leave. Without having talked to us. So Basanti and I came home to our guesthouse. We took the hot water boiler from the kitchen; I had tea and she had instant coffee, and then she went to lie down and I did some reading. Then I went to lie down as well, setting my alarm for an hour later, because we had intended to go explore our close surroundings. However, I guess I just failed to wake up with the alarm. The last thing I remember is Basanti telling me that dinner was in our sitting room, and me just lying back down. Then I awoke at 2am, vaguely hungry and very awake.

Positives to take away:

Jodhpur seems to have better weather than Jaipur, actually! It's much cooler in the shade.

The food I get for free here pleases my palate much more than what I got before! Yayyy. I won't have to do as much supplemental food shopping.

Basanti and I get along well. Also we attract less staring on the street than most people on the program do; it's refreshing to be able to walk down the street without seeing every other person on a motorbike crane their necks to look back at us.

Things I Need to Remember to Deal With:

Tell someone about how the toilet leaks (this really is an issue bc the bathroom is so small it basically gets the whole bathroom floor wet)
Find a post office
Find an internet cafe (obvi by the time you're reading this I'll have found one, but at the time that I am writing this I have no idea where to go) (edit: find a DIFFERENT internet cafe...this one is dreadful)

I Am Addicted to Buying Printed Materials:

-Ma Durga children's storybook in Hindi; I bought this around Durga Puja time
-4 mythological comic books in English
-"Wedding Belles", a book that "guarantees happily ever after", ie helps upper class Indians plan their weddings; complete with planning timelines, price points, tips, anecdotes from real couples, cultural information on the traditions of various religions and sects, lots of great photos. Random fact: here, bachelorette parties are called "hen parties."
-the first Harry Potter book in Hindi
-a miniature book explaining several Hindu festivals, and containing lots of mantras
-Indian Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Filmfare, GQ, Femina (I bought this in Hindi to practice reading Hindi, and it was great until my absentee Hindi teacher took it and never came back :( )
-"Almost Single", a novel written by a woman who works in the hospitality industry in Delhi; wittily written and full of fun Indian English phrases and descriptions of contemporary cultural phenomena

Films I Have Purchased:
Bunty aur Babli
Chup Chup Ke
Kismet Konnection
Veer-Zaara (of course)
and the fifth Harry Potter movie in Hindi (why the fifth? was the only one on sale for some reason)

I hope to pick up Jodhaa Akbar and Dil Bole Hadippa before I leave here. The former is a period film, filmed on location in some of the palaces/forts in and around Jaipur, so I think that'll be neat to watch with people back home. It costs 5x as much as any other movie though, I don't know why...=/ Surprisingly most films here cost about $2 new and unpirated. I expected them to be so much more, espeically when that's pretty much how much pirated ones cost back home.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I am so busy I don't know what to do with myself! So much schoolwork, so little sleep.
I promise I will write about my trips eventually.
We have broken into our tracks at school, and I have a professor talking to me and another girl about Indian literature for the next three days. She's great.
I have found an internship site I think; an NGO in Jodhpur that tries to record/preserve culture.

"Writing is a very important vehicle in changing the minds of the people. Not by accusing, but by undermining the power [of those in power] through your own power." -Rajul-ji, lit prof.

"[Indian women's writing is] that one eighth of the iceberg that is visible. There are a lot of undercurrents beneath it." -ibid

"I'm not convinced, but I have been doing this tradition for the past forty years. I'm not convinced, and I keep telling my husband he should do something for me." -ibid on the effectiveness of Karwa Chauth, observed today, where women fast and pray for their husband's good health and longevity until the moon rises

Friday, October 2, 2009


(Written last night)

Taking a study break to type up some quotes, since it'll be a couple days yet before I'll be able to write up my thoughts on Shekhawati and Varanasi--

"Language is the vehicle of culture, and culture encompasses everything." -Rishi-ji (I had Hindi with him the first day of classes, before being moved to private lessons)
"Identify them, kill them and replace them" -ibid on the process of 'purifying' Hindi of Urdu words post-Independence
Prose entered Indian literature in the late 19th century.
Newspaper words are "completely divorced from the real people's language"--written language in India is distanced from what real people speak as it took 500 years to develop script
"The idea of nation--it's not an Indian idea."
"Before that [British rule] it was a very different place...multinational in character." -Rishi-ji

"You are real American." -taxi driver/tour guide in Agra, to my friend Stephanie (making a distinction between me and her) (More on this in a later entry.)

"What she do?
Full power, twenty-four hour
No shower"
-taxi driver/tour guide, randomly (no one knew how to react, so it went ignored. I wonder what he was thinking?!)

"Still in India there are many people who are totally honest." -guest lecturer Prof. Ramesh Arora
"Corruption is a British legacy." ibid.
Having asked our class how many of us were interested in civil service, Ramesh-ji said that 50% of Indian students would say they'd like to work in civil service; 20 years ago it would have been 100%.
"A civil servant should be really civil. He may not behave like a servant, but he should not behave like a master." -Ramesh-ji

Ramesh-ji's 10 Rules on Praise and Criticism

1. When in doubt, praise; when in doubt don't criticize.
2. Praise right away, but wait for the right time to criticize
3. Whether praising or criticizing, give a reason for what you are doing.
4. Praise as often as you can; criticize as infrequently as you can.
5. Praise from the heart; criticize diplomatically.
6. Praise with facts, criticize with tact.
7. Praise loudly, criticize softly.
8. Praise in the presence of others; criticize when someone is alone.
9. Praise purely; criticize in sandwich form. (E.g. "Your work was well researched. It could have been better organized, though. I know you will do better next time.")
10. Don't exaggerate. Don't praise for more than one minute, and criticize for less than half a minute.
11. Use the right word; the right word for the right person.
12. Finally, don't discriminate. Praise and criticize people for the same behavior.
Follow these and you will be "a great president, a great man, a great mom, a great dad, a great anything!"

(Yes, that was more than 10 rules...Ramesh-ji was just so exuberant and full o' wisdom to share =)

According to Ramesh-ji 20% of people are honest, 60% are sitting on the fence, and 20% are dishonest. As long as the 20% of honest people exist, the 60% on the fence will follow them.

"When you go to that area you will see that there is a lot of Muslim influence, and everyone is very happy, even today." -Ranbir Sinh, Rajasthani aristocrat and actor who traces his lineage back to Rama (!!!!!!!!). His name was originally spelled "Singh" but he changed it on an astrologer's advice to be more auspicious.

"One should be like a lotus. The lotus grows in mud. The mud is like this worldly world. We have to grow on a thin stem away from this to be a pure person." -Rekha-ji, giving background on the importance of lotuses upon pointing out lotus-inspired architectural features of the Shekhawati haveli we were looking at

"Don't get near the hind or biting ends of things." -Rima-ji, when we reached the livestock area of an organic farm in Shekhawati (there were cows, a really sweet calf, a camel, and some incredibly frightening German shepherds)

"Definatly Male" - decal on a motor scooter

"Here is twenty-four-hours dead-body-fire." -Ram-ji, our boatsman on the Ganga as we floated near Manikarnika Ghat

Food Expectations vs Reality:
Why can't I find "Rajasthani style chilli" flavored Kurkure here??? =( that was my favorite that I'm in Rajasthan I can't find it?! I haven't seen it in Uttar Pradesh either. Boooo. Just keep finding "Tamatar" and "Masala."
The chicken biryani I had in Agra was sadly very much inferior to any I've had in America. Hardly any flavor! But maybe that's what we get for going to a guidebook-recommended place..maybe it was selected for its blandness/suitability to the Australians who wrote the book's palates. I also had a lassi there, which was quite thin and disappointing...I suspect that of being what got me sick, it was kind of warm and had an odd consistency.
Speaking of lassi, some places have "special" lassi on the menu. One girl in our group had the banana flavored one at our hotel in Agra, and reviewed it positively. It was only 10 cents more than the regular banana lassi!
So far I think I've only had one cup of chai that had any spices in it. Mostly what we get is just very milky and very sweet.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The sun rising over the Yamuna river in Agra

The view from Hotel Kamal's rooftop restaurant my first evening in Agra

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Because Your Face Is Like Japan"

I am in Varanasi,
I am very sleepy,
but I have lllllllots to tell you about, which I shall get to soon.
Theoretically my train back to Jaipur is getting in Tuesday afternoon, but judging from our last train arriving 7 hours late, I am not expecting much. But if I do get in in the afternoon, I plan to write up some things about this and my school trip to Shekhawati, and post them during a chai break at school on Wednesday. So look for that! =)

also I'm sorry about the minimal photos; I also wanted to put one of the Yamuna and the Taj Mahal up, but the wireless signal we pick up in our host family's house stopped being fast enough to do so.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At the train station, circa 5:30am

In the "Baby Taj"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Indian Culture Is Very Good"

-a remark by a random shopkeeper as I passed

I am in Agra! I woke up at 4:30am this morning (you should be proud, parentals) and walked a kilometer to the ticket booth. My roommate called it "an enchanted walk"; it was dark but there were streetlamps and strings of Christmas lights decorating several hotels and restaurants. It turned out there was a gate closer to our hotel, but the people who went to that one didn't get free bottled water or little socks to put over their shoes like we did. (You have to take off your shoes or cover them with cloth when you go into the Taj Mahal.) Anyway the Taj Mahal was soooo beautifulllll. The most expensive entry ticket to anything by far, but so worth it. Despite all the people it was a very tranquil place (and we were some of the first in anyway). I took a roll of film; the light kept changing...the sky started out gray, then white, then pink broke over the white marble, and turned golden, and the sky became a clear blue...The Yamuna was all misty and gorgeous. The interior of the building had an intense echo, so the few people's comments echoed cacophanously which was sort of not fitting. But outside everyone was quiet, and we interacted with a lot of other nice tourists, taking photos for them or being photographed by them. This one Mauritian tour guide may or may not be creating a Youtube slideshow with our group in it...but anyway.

After a two hour nap, we went to Pizza Hut for lunch, which was glorious in a different way. Cheese is so scarce here usually, and they didn't hold back there. There was hip hop instead of cheesy '80s music playing. A strange observation was a young Indian couple slowdancing in the corner of the second floor (where the restrooms but no dining furniture is)...Then we went next door to Costa Coffee, which was expensive by local standards but so worth it. I got them to make me a black iced coffee, and we stayed for a couple hours talking and enjoying the air conditioning. You really do need to nap or take refuge in some way during the hottest part of the day here. I dont' know if we're having a hot spell or if Agra is just for some reason hotter than Jaipur.

Last night we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Kamal, which I booked for us as it supposedly has one of the best rooftop views. It was our first good look at the Taj Mahal, and we watched the sun set. The food was fairly tasty, but humorous: an eggroll was literally egg rolled up in dough, like a crepe with an omelet inside. A banana pancake (what I ordered) was a banana rolled up in dough. Hot and sour soup was not at all like hot an sour soup. (I didn't try it but it was very spinach-heavy.)

We also went to a bazaar yesterday which was kind of a bad experience; we picked it because the guidebook said it was "refreshingly hassle-free" as it is not geared toward tourists, but really it didn't have much to offer other than fruit and saris, neither of which we were looking for. And as we were the only tourists there, we got hassled quite aggressively. That was the first time I've been physically harrassed; these women kept nudging our arms. Today we went down more touristy streets near our hotel, and dealt with some really nice and funny shopkeepers. We browsed a lot before buying and always bargained down a hefty percentage from the lowest originally named price. (that was a complex phrase, but I think you can figure it out.)

Oh, also yesterday we went to the "Baby Taj." I don't know what it is actually called because the girl who suggested we go there always just calls it that. It was her Islamic Art professor's favorite architectural structure. It was much cheaper to get into than the actual Taj Mahal but was very beautiful and peaceful as well, and also on the Yamuna. It was a nice little oasis after the hustle of the bazaar.

We keep running into the same tourists today. I've gotten to use a couple of my foreign languages today, which was fun. I wish I had more time to talk, but since I'm in a big group I always have to keep moving on with them.

Agra seems to have a lot more...
1) odors
2) excrement on the road
3) animals
4) tourists
5) beggars
...than Jaipur. I imagine you can make some connections between these things.

Tomorrow we may be going to Fatehpur Sikri. I am kind of unenthused as I would like to save money and it will be an hour long unairconditioned crowded bus ride with my luggage each way, not to mention walking around for hours with my bags. We get back into Jaipur at night, and I have some studying to do. The air conditioned reclining chair car we were in on the way up was really great, I slept pretty much the whole time. The view out the window was not great; our window was steamed up and dirty. Hopefully at least one other person will opt to just go to a cafe with me or something.

Anyway, my hour here is about up. I promise to upload photos as soon as I can (probably Tuesday).

Miss you!!! <3