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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Silk Is Unauspicious This Season"

or, "Zena is unfashionable." =P
Just purchased my first sari, in a pretty deep blue crepe silk with some delicate sequin embroidery. They kept showing me chiffon and georgette saris until I emphasized for the upteenth time that I was interested in silk. Then they spelled out just how uncool silk is this season, but whatever. I think it's gorgeous, it feels amazing, and I don't feel comfortable starting out in a sheer sari.

I have been feeling pretty down the past few days; it feels like so many things are conspiring to make me stressed and unhappy. So many frustrating experiences with men, program facilitators, children, cell phone providers, shopkeepers, food, other students, host family members, travel agencies...RRRRGH. I don't have the energy to relive it all and write it all out. There isn't enough time in the day for me to process everything, do my work, run my errands, and get enough sleep.

This weekend I am traveling to Agra with seven other girls. I turned in my first paper today, a book report on Tagore's Gitanjali. I bought a book today called Entry From Backside Only: hazaar fundas of indian-english which I hope my International Development professor will let me use for my book report for her class. It's about the development and usage of Indian English =)

Today I had a field trip to a national award winning contemporary artist's home to see some of his work. This was my first time in an Indian Muslim home, and some of his pieces were influenced by the Koran and Sufi imagery. They were really beautiful. We got to see a book that had photos of all the works he'd sold, and it was neat to see how his style has evolved over the decades. Tomorrow the other girl on the arts & culture track and I will go see Rekha-ji's (our homestay coordinator's) studio after class.

"Don't think of it as a metaphor, think of it maybe as a similar sort of a situation. Even though it isn't really. And if that sounds confusing it is because it is." -Rima-ji

"If not you might as well shoot yourself right now. Like with a bow and arrow or something." -Rima-ji on whether life has meaning

"He could preach it. And he preached it." -Rima-ji on Buddha

"Americans are satisfied with their system; they are rich enough, so be it." -Kanta-ji on privatized American health care

"You can't have an Iron Curtain or a Bamboo Curtain or any other kind of curtain." -Kanta-ji on life after the dot come revolution

"Professor Jain is actually wearing a disguise, because at heart he is probably one of the youngest that can be." -Rima-ji on our 70+ guest lecturer, Prof. Ajit Kumar Jain

"I am RFG--Ready For Grave." -Ajit-ji on how he feels satisfied in his life, career, scholarship and family

"Zena is eating Rachel!" -Vinita-ji, host aunt and nickname giver, as I was eating a rasgullah

"I'll be a cobra, and you are a little snake." -Vinita-ji, during our dance party

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday morning

A dove in the garden at my host mother's parents' house. When they fly you can see this pretty dusky blue and white under their wings.

Me one morning outside the MSID building displaying the mehndi my host mother did for me. She is so much quicker than I am! And she holds the cone differently; I tried it and it seems like one's hands get less sore using that method.

Today I went to St Xavier's, a Catholic church, with three other MSID girls. It was wonderful. The mass was in honor of "Girl child day", which was September 8th. There was a computer printout on the alter: "Thank God for the girls." And on a blackboard: "When you educate a boy, you educate an individual. When you educate a girl, you educate a generation." Girls came up and talked about why they were proud to be girls (one said "because we get more attention from the parents, lol..and another began by saying "There are many evils in society..." and then just smiled a lot, too nervous to continue, until the priest spoke to her kindly and she left the microphone), and we had lots of prayers for girls and statistics about the gender imbalance due largely to gender selective abortion followed by talks on why women are so important and ought to be loved and appreciated. There was this beautiful part when in addition to the usual gifts of bread and wine there were candles "to light the darkness around girls and empower them" and flowers "that they may bloom in the garden of your love" etc. There was a mix of Hindi and English Christian songs; the mass was largely in English, but they have Hindi ones as well. I think next weekend I am going to travel with several other students, but for the weekends that I am home I think I would like to go back. There were a couple differences; no one drank the wine, it was held on a tray for one to dip the wafer into, and people made the sign of the cross and kneeled much less, but still most of the prayers were exactly the same. It was so nice to be in a space where I understand what is expected and what is happening, where I know I am safe and accepted.

Yesterday we went out to dinner at a place called Little Italy (my home!! aww) with several other students after the long day of sightseeing; I had the "Exotic Pizza" (pineapple, onion and mushroom). It was good, though it could have used more sauce and cheese. I had just been there the day before with my friend Hannah where we had garlic bread and amazingly cold beverages. It was so great. The space is so tranquil and the food so delicious (the day before yesterday I had accidentally spilled my tiffin so I didn't have lunch other than fruit, so I was very hungry). We made a long trek by foot to this bookstore Crossword, where I picked up Indian Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Filmfare, and the Hindi edition of Femina. And the fifth Harry Potter movie in Hindi. (99 rupees! Sadly it has no subtitles though...) Anyway that will be a fun activity with my host siblings. It felt sooo good to be in a real bookstore again. A few days ago I went to one that had only English books, in stacks all over the place, completely disorganized. Crossword was a lot like Borders, with a decent selection of Hindi and English books and publications. It felt so good to walk to a place on our own, getting a better sense of distance and location of things and not having to argue with a rickshaw driver. I like taking them home because everyone knows where Birla Mandir is; there's no good way to describe Crossword/Little Italy's location to people.

Sorry this has been a disorganized batch of entries...I am so busy lately and this is a very uncomfortable internet cafe. =(

peacocks! The silhouettes of some on Moti Doongri, and then one with four little chicks in the paper factory's yard.
Monkeys -- unlike the ones near our house, which are gray with red behinds, the ones we saw at all the forts we went to yesterday (so close! it was alarming at times) had black faces and hands.

"ART IS LIFE. LIFE IS ART." - paper hanging up slightly behind a shelf at the blue pottery factory
"GOD IS GREET" - on a bus
"The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end."
-Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali XII

The sun setting behind the Arawelli mountains; view from hotel.

Host sister Kanchi, my roommate Rachel, somehow-related-to-our-family Keyushi, and host brother Vatsel. That's Moti Doongri and Birla Mandir in the background. We're on the roof of our apartment building here.

Moti Doongri at dusk.

Written last night and a few nights before

Written September 10th:

"My mother always wanted me to be a doctor, but I never wanted to...I am an artist, I like to see nice things. Not blood. But they say what you don't like comes to you. They say God wants to make you complete. But I say this is a bad way to make me complete." -Rekha-ji (Homestay coordinator) on having to take care of her mother for 9 months when she had a blood clot in the memory center of her brain
"When you are Indian woman you are not told your rights. You are told your duties. Even today." -Rekha-ji
"With 9/11 people were scared to come to Rajasthan because they say Pakistan is close by. But I say today, everything is close by." -Rekha-ji
"The decent boys are not on the street. Like my son will never roam." -Rekha-ji
"I can't understand your German American accent." -Meenakshi-ji, my host mother
"If you put one foot in boiling water and one on a block of ice, on average you are comfortable." -Kanta-ji, International Development professor
"New York has Diwali all the year round! There are lights everywhere! I mean what is this? And it is very pretty for visitors, but think about the resources." -Kanta-ji
"India produces an Australia every year." [the population of Australia is about equal to the birth rate of India] -Kanta-ji
"In London Indian food is so popular that it's not funny anymore." (said very seriously) -Kanta-ji
"The coming of the monsoon has an almost erotic charge." -BBC's Michael Wood being ridiculous in "The Story of India"
"You are very fair, which of your parents is fair?" -Archana-ji, my Hindi teacher, randomly.
A man on the street greeted me and called me Katrina Kaif as I passed by.
"Money money money!" a small boy outside our apartment building as Rachel and I passed. The first time this happened I thought I may have imagined it, since Rachel didn't notice, but then it happened again.

Political Correctness or The Lack Thereof:
Rekha-ji refers to Native Americans as "red Indians"
Kanta-ji on the Jews: "They had plenty of money [when they first came to America]. They still have."
Dominique-ji (beginner's Hindi teacher, a French woman) to a girl of Indian descent who was adopted by White parents: "But [Hindi] should be easy for you, because it's in your blood."
Dominique-ji to Caitlin, a girl of Taiwanese descent after she stood up to write on the board: "You are not so small as one would expect."
"You like noodles? Chow mein?" -my host parents (Usually they ask food questions to both me and Rachel, but this question was just for me).
"But in Chinese dress you cannot do this. Chinese dress is very tight." -Vinita-ji, host aunt, commenting on a move I did during our impromptu extended family dance party tonight. I guess she was thinking of a chi pao, but people don't do traditional Chinese dances in those... X-/ Also I don't do traditional Chinese dance...And we were dancing to Bollywood music...even if I did do Chinese dance I wouldn't have been doing it at that point in time...
My host father's reaction upon my query as to how long it takes to get to Bodhgaya: [frowns, puts his hands out and shakes them in a warning gesture] "But people are different there. Not like in Rajasthan."
Excuuse me? What is that supposed to mean? I want to go there because it is where the Buddha attained enlightenment, and because I think it will be nice to be among East Asians. Why is different bad?? Am I only supposed to associate with Rajasthanis now? Wut??? Bodhgaya is such a significant place, why would mere "different people" keep me away from it??? I was kind of offended.

Fun Facts:
Soma, the elixir drunk by the gods and many ancient poets, is thought to have been made of poppy, cannabis and ephedra!
Rachel and I are losing our English. I catch myself speaking Indian English (wrong tenses, simplified sentences), and Rachel is just saying odd things. Funny but not funny... I mean, it is kind of cool that my brain has sponged up the rhythm and cadence of the way many people speak English here, but it really is annoying not sounding quite like myself.
The Hindi name for jasmine is rath ki rani--Night's Queen.

Animal sighting;
Big black snake! It was really beautiful. Saw it on a walk at night with my host family. They call it "two mouths" because it has the illusion of a head on its tail. It was really awesome to see it moving along quickly. It was like oil. Apparently not poisonous, since a lot of people walked right up to it to watch it. Rachel asked if they were common around here and our host mother said "No, this is the first time I am seeing one!" She was unsettled.

I am having a lot of trouble eating the food our host family makes us. Too much ghee! It was delicious at first but now the smell is starting to make me feel nauseous. I just can't handle so much of it. It seems like no one else's family piles it on the way ours does, so I'm thinking I should ask if they can just put less on my rotis. It is always glistening on both sides; if I hold it up lots drips onto my plate. Arrrrgh. And somehow the vegetables we tend to get are always slathered in a very similar flavor that I can't handle every day. :(. I've taken to trading my food at lunchtime. Which is fun, but I wish it didn't have to happen. I have been buying snacks outside of the home to get by.

The dust here is dreadful. It is like very fine sand by the sides of the road, and some days I can almost feel it clogging my lungs. I am tempted to walk around holding my dupatta over my face, or wearing a mask. Especially on auto rickshaw rides! Had my first ones yesterday, going to Mr. Beans coffee shop. (Where I had real, black coffee! It was called "Caffe Americano," which I thought was funny. Apparently my taste is stereotypical.) Anyway. Our first attempt at getting a rickshaw failed because the driver a) wanted 80 rupees when we knew it should be more around 40 b) didn't know where we were trying to go c) only bargained down to 60. Then our second attempt was not working out so well because we still couldn't explain what Mr. Beans was near. And then we got surrounded by auto rickshaws. Happily, a young man and two young women (probably University students) came over and helped us. They told us not to take one for more than 30, knew where we were trying to go, yelled at a rickshaw driver until he charged us properly, and explained to him how to take us there. It was so refreshing to be HELPED instead of hassled. Then on the way home we successfully (with some Hindi on my part, yaay!) got a ride for the right price from the first driver that stopped.

Class is strange; in the mornings I have Hindi with my own private Hindi teacher since I'm the only one at the "advanced" level. It was surprising; I expected to be placed with the students who came here 4 weeks early to learn Hindi. Anyway, Archana-ji is very nice and motherly, probably one of my favorite people here. She infuses our lessons with cultural information, which is helpful both in making vocab more relevant, as well as in aiding me in making sense of day to day life. I do a lot of reading with her. She told me that if I want to go to Varanasi I can stay with her sister who lives there. The international development class started out slow but is getting more interesting. And so far country analysis has consisted only of watching films; first the first two parts of "The Story of India" and then "Chak De! India" today, which I had already seen and written about in my final paper for Popular Visual Cultures of India. Grr. Anyway I used much of that time to study Hindi. Actually I have a homework assignment due Wednesday; a 2 to 6 page book report. It was assigned on Tuesday. I will have to do some serious reading this weekend.

(It is late at night as I am writing this...this was a long day. I guess the tone of the entry overall may be kind of down, but I am having a good time; just am very busy and stressed. Overstimulation!)

The Unexpected:
Men holding hands in public. I asked Rittu, a program coordinator, about this, and she said only people from "the lower strata" or "the villages", "the uneducated" do this. I've seen it many times. Which leads me to: a boy named Tyler in our program who is kind of naive. He goes to Luther College, is very friendly and exchanges cell phone numbers with random men he meets. He gets text messages like "God loves you. I love you. Let's meet up." "Are you alone?" "Why are you not calling me? Are you not wanting to make friendly with me?" "I am outside your house. Come out." And the other day he let someone hold hands with him!! So far he is having a lot of interesting experiences, and certainly getting out more than us girls, but I do not feel like this is going in a good direction...

Oh, also this is random but when I first sat at the same table for a meal with Tyler he asked me where I was from, and when I said Chicago, he said "Which suburb?" I have never had anyone ask that before! Why would one assume someone was from a suburb when she said the name of a city? Do I have a suburban air about me...? Apparently he is from a Chicagoan suburb.

Mom: do NOT read the rest of this entry. Please. I'm serious. You will not enjoy it. (Nothing bad happened, don't worry.) Skip to after the line of ***'s

So we have one other boy, Will, on our program. He went to a bar with Tyler and some men he had met. This is a composite of the stories they told me.

Young Indian Men (YIM): "American girls, they like to fuck a lot?"
Will/Tyler (WT): "Um....not really..."
YIM: In America, there are lots of gays.
WT: Yeah, I guess so.
YIM: And gays are not good.
WT: No, gays are fine. Gays are good. I like them, they're good people.
YIM: No. AIDS comes from gays.
WT: What? No. Where'd you hear that? Aren't you medical students?
YIM: In our textbooks it says that.

YIM: I have fucked men a few times. But I am not gay.
WT: (Will spits beer everywhere)
YIM: He was gay. I am not gay.
WT: ...
YIM: It's good, you should try it sometime.

I asked Will what else they discussed, and he said "Well you know, a little about classes and stuff. But mostly they just wanted to talk about. . . fucking."
Tyler said he was in a mall with some guys and they wanted to teach him sexual words in Hindi, but were doing so extremely quietly because they would be mortified if anyone else heard.


Written September 12th:

Today was a very full day. We did a tour of pretty much all the major forts and palaces around Jaipur. It started out strangely; the girls who had gotten to the meeting point for our tour earliest thought they had found our tour guide, and they started following him. He said our bus was coming at 10, when we had been told before that it was coming at 9. Will confirmed that Tyler had said when he did the tour, it had left later than the meeting time because Birla Mandir was included in the tour. (All the MSID students had seen the temple before, since we all live so close to it.) Anyway so the guide said he would take us to the "Birla Mandir art gallery." However when we got there, it was just a shop. At some point he also told us that our tour wasn't starting until 1. This was clearly a ridiculous time gap. Rachel and I didn't believe he was really a/our tour guide, so I called Mita-ji, a program coordinator who helped me find a bookstore yesterday. She said to go ask the man for his phone number so she could call him and clarify things. He gave me a number and went back to saying the bus would arrive at 10, but then after I'd walked back to my group and was about to call Mita-ji, he came up to me and said "this is wrong number" and handed me a business card. He said it was his older brother's card. It was very colorful, had a creepy face on it, and was all in Hindi. All I got out of it was that the largest print said only "RAVI" and that it was the card of a Jaipur guide. When I called Mita-ji she asked for the number on our tour receipt. She then called back and told me that our bus driver's name would be AP Sharma and that he should arrive at 9:30. A bus came up, we confirmed the driver's name, and all was well. It felt good to have successfully navigated out of a scam. I don't know why the other girls were so trusting.
The places we visited were so beautiful. I didn't realize that in addition to seeing the buildings we would get such an amazing view of the city and the Arawelli mountains. The sun was shining and the sky was perfect blue dotted with clouds. It was very hot out, I used my dupatta as a sun shield for my face and arms most of the time.
At the city palace I greeted the man at the "foreigner ticket window" with "Namaste, ji. Tin sau rupaya?" (Three hundred rupees?) just to be polite and say something. I knew that the price was 300 from reading the sign. However, he asked if I was studying Hindi, and seemed to want proof of this before allowing me to buy a ticket. So I showed him Rima-ji's business card. He looked at it for a long time and finally told me to "go inside" something...and then if I couldn't get in come back and he would give me a ticket for 200 rupees (this was all in Hindi, hence the lack of surety about what was going on..). So I went in, stood in someone's office awkwardly for a while, and then finally was not able to communicate with the people in the office. They asked if I needed an Indian ticket, and I said no, foreigner, so they just sent me back out to the ticket window, where I successfully got a 100 rupee discount. Yay! Then the rest of our group wanted to buy tickets, so I said we were all together, he asked how many total, I counted in Hindi, and then he gave everyone the same discount. He was very effusive about me speaking Hindi, it seemed like he was just giving us the discount because that made him happy, lol. It felt good.
Then tonight I had another moment of victory where the auto rickshaw I first got refused to give me the price I wanted. Last night I got home from the same place for 40 rupees, so I was definitely not going to go above that. But he refused and kept insisting "50, 50 is Indian price!" So I just walked on. He stayed there for a while though; maybe hoping I would reconsider since auto rickshaws are slightly less in abundance at night, but another pulled up, immediately gave me the price I wanted, and I rode off in victory. =). There was an indignant noise from the first auto rickshaw as I got into the second, but that will teach him to try and pull one over on me!
Tomorrow I am going to a church with some other girls from the program; one of their host dad's will take us. The service is at 8 am =(.
I have the BIGGEST MOSQUITO BITES EVAR right now...Last night they woke me up and I heard the sickening buzzing sound they make in my ear twice in the night. It was horrible. The repellant we usually have plugged into the wall was not on, I guess. I have probably about 8 bites on my arms, 2 on my toes (those are really painful, the skin on my toes feels so tight and walking irritates them), 2 on my neck, 3 on my fingers, about 10 on my legs...2 on my left is horrible. Rrrrrgh. Good thing I've kept up with my malaria medication...Oh, yes, and today, probably during our tour, 2 appeared ON MY FACE. One on my cheek and one on my temple. I am not amused. On Friday we had a school field trip to Saganer, where we visited factories for the 3 ancient arts of Saganer: block printing, handmade paper, and blue pottery. It was really neat to see. My favorite was the handmade paper factory. We saw them assembling bags for Anokhi, shoeboxes for Puma, making huge tall stacks of paper in all colors, and putting together Christmas gift bags for export. At the block printing factory was a man who has been doing it for 42 years; he was very proud of his craft and got us all involved, helping to hit a block to transfer the color to cloth. They said an average tricolor block printed bedspread/hanging takes 9 hours to make. Blue pottery takes 35 days, and is fired in an oven which I believe they said uses 2 tons of wood at a time?? Can that be right? The smoke was so intense, I can't imagine working there every day. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Dupattas are becoming my best friend; smoke and dust shield, sun screen, face hider...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

View of the Sikh temple near the Delhi YWCA from the staircase we took down to the dining hall.

A call center being built, with slums for the workers surrounding it. (Along the road between Delhi and Jaipur)

I promise there will be more words than pictures in my next entry

My first meal on the airplane. Looks too much like the Indian flag to be a coincidence, doesn't it? Adorable.

Drivin around in Delhi.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Can someone tell me how to upload photos to this site? I only get the internet for like 10 minutes at a time so I never have the time to investigate and do trial and error myself. The connection is very slow.

Entries for The Day Before Yesterday and The Day Before That

I wrote this entry the evening of Thursday, September 3rd.

New Developments:

Tomorrow, after some more orientation meetings, a driven tour of Jaipur and a tour of the MSID offices, we will move in with our host families! I have learnt that my host father is a jeweller who owns his own shop, my host mother is a housewife, and they have two young children! A boy and a girl, "both very affectionate and excited to have a didi (big sister)." So the children's book I bought won't go to waste =). The family has never hosted before, but their relatives who live in the same apartments have. Four other MSID girls will be living in the same building as Rachel and I. I am excited, but also very nervous! I haven't ever lived with small children.

Health status:
My throat is still feeling fuzzy, but definitely no fever and no other symptoms of illness.

I've never thought of myself as someone who eats an unsual amount of food, but I seem to eat twice as much as all the other girls here/be the only one who ever has an appetite.
It wasn't until lunchtime today that I saw women on the hotel staff (a total of two, whereas we've seen maybe 20 different male staff members). Unlike all the men they appear to be East Asian.
Today when I was trying to nap I heard the drums that welcomed us to the hotel playing; it turned out to be many many men in black polos and slacks. Apparently they occupy 60 rooms, so there are probably at least 120 of them. They are on a company retreat for Samsung.
The sun sets about an hour to an hour and a half earlier here than in Chicago at this time of year.

Animal sightings:
A six inch long lizard that a girl who once had one as a pet said looked like "a bearded dragon," whatever that is. It had a kind of spiky head.
Also when I was getting my moisturizer out of a box inside my bag, I found a big insect inside >:(. Keeping my bags zipped from now on!
I forgot to mention this last time but there are big, angry geese in 2/3 empty fountains here.

Things I've Adjusted To:
Cold showers--although so far I've been very fortunate and right after resigning myself to it staying cold forever it surprises me and warms up. Actually I was surprised to have showers at all (both here and at the YWCA).
Swervy driving--early on I decided that the drivers here are just incredibly skilled, and that I should trust in them. If I actually pay attention I would think that we would get into an accident/hurt a pedestrian in 80% of our maneuvers, but somehow everything always works out fine. Also I should have listed this under 'surprises' yesterday, but the roads here are soooo smooth! No potholes whatsoever.

Yesterday our group was split into 3 cars to travel from Delhi to this hotel. Two other girls and I were with the director of the program, and it eventually became clear that something had gone terribly wrong with at least one of the other cars. After containing my curiosity for a long time, understanding only a bit of the Hindi ("where are you? How many are in the car? ) and the smatterings of English ("flat tire," "foreigners," "just keep going," "foreigners," "it's just a scratch right," "foreigners"), I finally asked what happened in a lull of the frantic cell phone conversations. Rima-ji explained that one of the cars got a flat tire, and the other had rear-ended another car. Despite it being the fault of the non-MSID driver and there being hardly any damage, the people in that car were demanding a lot of money because they saw foreigners in the MSID car. Interestingly, when everyone finally arrived at the hotel, the MSID directors did not tell all of the students about the demands for money. One just said "I guess the other driver just wanted someone to apologize, and say it wasn't his fault." When I spoke with some of the students who were in the car, they said the situation had just seemed humorous to them, and that the people in the other car had smiled and waved at them. I feel weird that the MSID staff wasn't completely honest about the situation with the group.

They had a deposit box at the McDonald's we went to for unused packets of ketchup. Genius! I bet so many of those get thrown away in the US. (Someone had scratched off some of the letters on the box though, so it actually read "Please drop the unused con men s in the box."
In Delhi we saw lots of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) which pollutes much less than regular gas.

"I don't think you crossed all oceans to eat your own food." -Rekha-ji (Sadly this seems to be false in several cases...)
"[mentions some bad thing that a foreign student could experience] Although it will never happen. But it does happen." -ibid.
"Information is given to you in a chewable chunk." -Rima-ji on Indian/Old European style teaching
Also, apparently "kitter kitter" is used here to describe what English sounds like.

Written the evening of Friday, September 4th.

Unexpected Things I Need To Adjust To:
- Bugs. Bugs bugs bugs. There are ants in my room, there are little crawlies in the bathroom...they are everywhere and they are not going anywhere.
- Monkeys. Being a threat. Today my host father told me not to leave the door open at night because the monkeys would come in. (!!!!!) Then later he came in and told me not to be afraid, and that they wouldn't come in as long as the door is locked. And that if anything "happens" or "goes wrong" I can come ask for help. Lol...
- Nicknames. The sister of our host father lives across the hall (with her children; she is a lawyer arguing for her own divorce, it's all very much an off-the-table topic) and today she granted Rachel and I nicknames. Rachel is "Rasgullah" like our eleven year old host sister Kanchi--rasgullah is "a dessert, a white, round sweet dessert." This was awkward/hilarious. Our host mother told Rachel Kanchi looks like her, and both she and our host aunt told Kanchi "this is your future" (gesturing toward Rachel). We laughed about this later, but we were kind of taken aback in the moment. Our host aunt kept explaining over and over how she and Kanchi and Rachel are "fatty" and therefore "Rasgullahs." ... Anyway. And my host mother and aunt both independently concluded that I "look like a Barbie doll." Our host aunt taking it to the next level of course and insisting that this become my official "home name." (While Zena can remain my "school name.") So now this has been propagated among the children and her children and the host father's brother's children (they live downstairs). So. Yes. I don't know how to feel about this.
- Okra. Arrrrgh one of my least favorite vegetables EVAR. But apparently commonly served here as a main component of meals, so I am grinning and bearing it.

Saw my first elephants today while driving from the hotel into Jaipur; their faces were beautifully painted and there were some men riding them and waving.

My sore throat is now gone! =)

Learned today that Rajasthan is roughly the shape and size of France; a little bigger than it in fact.

Jaipur is crazybeautiful.

So far no harassment of any sort on the streets, woohoo! Of course so far I've spent the whole time walking with my eyes downcast, which feels interesting. I kind of like the conscious modesty of it, but at the same time I start to wonder what I'm missing and wish I could see everyone. But I think I'm going to keep up with the avoiding eye contact until I have been seen around more, and am thus less likely to be taken as a n00b. I want people to get used to the idea of me. I'm only taking pictures in places where no one can see that I am (ie from a car or the rooftop). I will probably still carry my camera in case anything extraordinary happens, but for everyday sights I will wait till the end of the trip to whip out the camera.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

main yahan hoon :P

I am here!
When I first began writing this entry I was going to basically write all the things that have happened and most of the things I've thought and felt, but I soon realized that this would go on for quite a long time and that you may not want to read that much. Hence, I am going to address some key things in list format.

In the Gold Palace & Resorts about forty minutes outside of Jaipur.
Healthy and happy, except for a slight sore throat and intense jet lag weariness. I have been sleeping at appropriate times, but find it difficult to sleep through the night.

Major buildings I have seen:
India Gate
the Red Fort
Rashtrapati Bhavan (the president's house)
call centers
the National Museum
Bharatiya Janata headquarters

Animals I have seen:
camels (most smaller than I expected, and I didn't realize they are used to pull carts)
chipmunks (bigger than ones I've seen before)
dogs (the largest, healthiest and most pure bred strays I have ever seen)
monkeys (many chilling near a little grove of trees; two big ones riding in two peoples' bike baskets)
pigeons (there were literally at least a thousand by the red fort. It was quite a sight when they all got up and started flying around at the same time...made a neat sound too)
various large-ish birds I can't name

Places I have eaten:
American Airlines flight 292 (opted for the vegetarian meal for both dinner and breakfast; very delicious Indian food. except for this one tomato/cucucumber/chickpea/onion salad I found to be much too peppery)
Delhi YWCA (meals came out on segmented tin platters, generally delicious. I was usually the only one in the group to clear my plate.)
Roadside McDonald's (MSID wanted us to have this as a cultural experience, haha. I had a Chicken McGrill happy meal, which was unlike anything I'd had before. the fries tasted as they usually do though. Received a Surf's Up toy.)
Gold Palace & Resorts (buffet dinner, good but daunting to have so much choice after getting used to the rice/daal/potato dish/reita/curry/roti all pre-portioned out YWCA regimen)

Touristy Experiences:
getting hassled for money-- I caved in and gave a dollar to this man who insisted on helping me with my luggage. I only let him because it seemed like he could be with MSID, and then I figured he did help me in some way. But then he demanded five dollars, and I kind of snapped at him. I didn't ask for your help!
being photographed with random people-- when we got out of the car near India Gate to take photos I suddenly noticed a tall man walking straight toward me. Then he smiled a little and suddenly there was a woman next to me, and a photo was being taken of us together! I intended to smile for the photo, but I assumed they weren't going to use flash so I had relaxed my expression by the time it went off, and I probably look very glum in the end product. oops.
being stared at-- despite having been nervous about this, I find myself not minding most of the time. I am doing just as much staring myself. Also when some of the other girls on the program and I went out for a walk our first morning in Delhi, it seemed like we were probably getting looked at just as much for being women as for being foreigners. There were very few women out and about on the street.

I love reading the newspaper here. On Tuesday the Times of India appeared under our door in the morning, and today the Hindustan Times. My roommate Rachel and I each take a section and share interesting things with one another.
There are so many music video channels on tv here! Eeeexcellent.
It feels similar to the Philippines in a much more real way than I expected. I knew that theoretically it was good that I was coming in used to bucket baths, needing to drink boiled or bottled water, living in a tropical climate, etc. But the air feels and smells the same to me; I smiled when I first felt it stepping out of the airplane. The wardrobe in the YWCA smelled exactly like the cabinets in my Auntie Pat's guest bathroom. People tap on your car windows the same way. I am so glad to have had these prior experiences; I can tell the culture shock is more jarring for most of the other students.
I am obsessed with reading Hindi. I try to read every sign, every vehicle, etc. that passes. At this point I don't often understand what I read, but at least I am getting quicker at recognizing things.

"You have a Delhi 6 heart. Tart and spicy like a Delhi snack." - one woman to another in Delhi 6, Bollywood movie I watched on the plane
"Work In Progress" - a sign a big black dog was urinating on as we drove past
"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." - written in cursive on a white board in a branch of Punjab National Bank in Delhi
"LOVE IS GOD" - painted on the back of a truck
"Drive home a relationship!" - printed on the back of a Santro (I analyzed one of Santro's commercials in one of my papers for Popular Visual Cultures of India)

NOTE: I wrote this entry on WordPad on my laptop and am uploading it via the computer in the hotel lobby. The connection is very spotty, making it difficult to upload/make any edits. It disconnects about every 30 seconds and I keep having to reenter the password. (MSID paid for 24 hours for us to use; we're supposed to just send "2 short emails, because if everyone wrote a lot not everyone would get to use it at all" but pretty much no one else is awake at this time, so I don't feel bad using it. Well, my index finger and thumb hurt...I got a little electrocuted when plugging my flash drive into the computer, for some reason.)