Friday, October 23, 2009

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.


  1. that sounds.... ghastly about the spinning-frog woman... well the part about "my last 2 wives died doing this act"!! seriously every two paragraphs of what you write sounds like it comes out of a novel! you should write this blog up into something when you're back....

    ps. the henna is GORGEOUS. refuse to believe that you did that yourself ;P

  2. ps.... i don't know why my google name is still "die fesche", i've tried to change it but with no success. (it came from the 30's song, "die fesche lola" but since google cut it in a weird place it's just irritating now) ... sorry! but at least you know who i am, right? ;)