Semester in India

Spending a semester in Pune, India! Fall 2013

Diwali Break!

Well it’s been a while since I’ve written on here. I’m sorry about that, since I know some people read this for their Mia updates.

A week ago I was in Delhi for the last day. I had a great time staying with some family friends of ours, visiting the Red Fort and a few other popular tourist attractions by day, and going to swanky Diwali parties by night. The air in Delhi was filled with firecracker smoke, causing some issues with driving because you could barely see what was in front of you. But Diwali was beautiful, and it was perfect to be with a family during it.

After my relaxation time in Delhi, I transported myself down to Kerala, which is in the south of India. Kerala is known as “God’s Own Country”, which could not be more true because it was absolutely stunning. 6 of us from ACM made reservations to stay on a houseboat and motor down the backwaters of a town called Alleppey, which is in South Kerala. We had incredible food cooked by the men who were on the boat with us, and just had a great time relaxing and calling the boat home for a few days. We saw fishermen in their small canoes and saw people cleaning their laundry on the side of the riverbanks. The scenery could not have been more idyllic, with palm trees and coconut trees everywhere. We watched our fair share of movies in the downtime that we had (which was every second we weren’t eating), and I got to journal quite a bit. Overall, it was a fabulous vacation.

Now it’s back to the daily grind of Pune life, though I have a different spring to my step. I’m working hard on my independent project and trying to finish things up here, different assignments and such. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my wonderful host family and a few of Poorti’s cousins, which has been great fun. The other night, Rajeev, Poorti and I went and saw Krrish 3, which is a Hindi superhero movie. I’ve never really been into superhero movies, seeing as I’ve never even seen them. But I really did enjoy Krrish, even if I understood 0% of the dialogue.

I’m looking forward to coming home and seeing my family again, but I’m preparing myself for some culture shock, knowing that coming back to the US will not be as easy and seamless as I think it might be (or hope it to be). Only a few weeks left!

Also I’m sorry I haven’t been able to post any pictures. My computer is broken so there is no way for me to upload my pictures. I’ll do an en mass upload when I get home!

Last month in India

Well it’s hard to believe that in just one month I’ll be spending my last night here in this house, sleeping in my bed for the last time, the bed I’ve slept in for the last two and a half months. I’ve experienced so much here and still have so much more to experience. On Thursday I’m going to Delhi for a few days to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, with some family friends. We’re going to at least 4 parties and I had to have a different outfit for each of them, so I went shopping today. I went alone to kind of experience the whole Indian department store thing. I bought three dresses and they’re very Indian so I’m interested to see how they’re going to look. Of course, I tried them on but I’m excited to see if they’re good enough. I’m hoping I’ll get to walk around Delhi a bit with them as well, and also experience a little bit of Delhi.

After Delhi I’m going to meet a few other ACMers in Kerala, which is in the South of India. We’re going to stay on a houseboat for 3 days and just relax. It’ll be great. Then back to Pune for the home stretch.

Throughout most of the semester, I’ve been working on a project on feminism in India. I’ve been meeting with different young ladies and women and speaking to them about their views on the feminist movement as well as their history with women’s rights in India. Yesterday I met with two women who are part of two different organizations. Both were incredible– strong, empowered and very vocal about their opinions. I had wonderful discussions with both of them, the 2nd one lasting almost two hours! The final result of this project will be a 20+ page paper on the topic, which has to be submitted by the end of the semester.

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much. With a broken computer, it’s hard to find the time and means to do so!

Adventures!

Writing on my phone because my computer won’t turn on WHICH IS ANNOYING.
This past weekend, 10 of us went on a bike trip with a wonderful adventure guide company down the Konkan coast. We started in a town called Dapoli and travelled through many other small towns for about 80km. We did the whole thing in a day and a half and had such a wonderful time. We biked part of it on the ocean, as well! The views were incredible. We stopped for lunch the first day at this beautiful hotel/restaurant overlooking the beach. While they were getting lunch ready, we swam in the sea (Arabian sea, check that one off the list!) and body surfed/dove through waves. After lunch we had a wonderful and sunny nap. Our bike the second part of the day was challenging but incredibly rewarding. We were at our bungalow on the beach for that night by 3. We got settled and spent some time in the hammocks that were held together by coconut trees. Before dinner, Katelyn, Dena and I went to the water and dug our feet in the sand. We ended up sinking up to our knees and tried to jump out. It was hilarious and we just had such a good time doing it.
Dinner was beautiful. We were served on banana leaves and had many small dishes. Think tapas but Indian food! We ate at a family’s house, who were incredibly welcoming and cooked spectacular food.
The next morning we woke up at 6am and were biking by 6:45. We biked all the way up and down a mountain before 8am and ate delicious scrambled eggs right before crossing the ferry to the other side of the canal. When we got to to other side, we biked up another hill and back down, in total equalling about an hour and a half. We were done by 10:20am and got back on the bus to head back home.

Fast forward to today. I came home and got to make tea for Neeta, Rajeev and Poorti (and two painters who were working on the house). I think it turned out pretty well, though they might be able to give you a more honest answer. They make their tea with ginger, milk, sugar and black tea. It takes a lot of boiling the proper things at the right time and getting the right amount of sugar. They like their tea sweet. I also got to climb the lemon tree out back with Rajeev and pick lemons from the roof of the house. We had a great time and though I was scraped by some thorns, a good time was had by all.
Things are really picking up on the school front. It’s hard to believe I only have a month and a half left, and I think only three weekends left at home. But I’m also so excited to see what these weeks have in store!

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Two lovely pictures

The first picture is of me on a beach this weekend on the Konkan Coast. The bottom picture is of Dena, Katelyn and me in Goa. Top picture by Dena and bottom by Peter

American Ambassador

Today was a great day.
For one, I’m feeling infinitely better. To follow up from my last post, the 4 batata Wadas I ate on the train back from Mumbai got me sick. Very sick. I was not a happy camper for most of the weekend and had no energy for the entire weekend. My host parents were incredible, giving me electrolytes and letting me lie on the couch for most of Sunday. They showed me a movie called English Vinglish, which is about an Indian woman who is made fun of in her family for not knowing English. She ends up going to New York for her niece’s wedding and learning English and the whole thing is a tear jerker. It’s a great movie, filled with wonderful aspects of Indian life as well as Manhattan!
Anyway, I got better by Sunday. My mom and dad back home were texting me a bit about my sickness and encouraging me to just rest and telling me it would end eventually (I had my doubts at points. I was convinced I had appendicitis at one point).
So today. Woke up at 745 to get ready for school. At 845 I met Alec and Alex to get a rickshaw to school. The ride is usually about 20 minutes, so 5.5-6 km long. The rides are usually silent because we are all tired, but there is a mutual acceptance of this. I got to school and tired to turn on my computer but no such luck. After trying unsuccessfully to get my computer to work this weekend, I’ve determined it might be broken. More on this later.
We had gender class, where we talked more about perceptions of the other here, particularly the Muslim other in terms of Hindu men. It was a very interesting conversation and sparked much discussion about the others in American culture and where we grew up.
Then we had tea. This is a daily occurrence, usually more than once a day.
After tea we had Marathi class, which ended early today after Sucheta (program director and Marathi teacher) decided we were going to do riddles instead of learning Marathi for the second half of the class.
A bunch of us went to lunch after that at a restaurant called Baba’s down the street from the ACM office. It’s slogan is that it is a food mall, and that it serves veg, non-veg, Chinese, “pinjabi”, and juice. These are the cuisines that are written on the sign. Okay. Today was a Chinese day, so I ate some lo Mein type dish.
At 230 we had a talk from a woman who was from an organization called SWACH. This organization works with women and men who are trash pickers, people who support something called the informal economy here. They collect household trash and hand sort through it, essentially picking out the valuable things and reselling them. This is a huge industry in India and is almost essential for the continuation of a semi operational sanitation system here. They seriously decrease the cost of transportation of waste that the municipality has to deal with because they decrease the volume of every day waste. I could write much more about this but I’ll refrain. Plus, my fingers hurt from typing on my phone.
After the talk I headed over to FC road with Alex to try to get my computer fixed. No such luck, but the fake apple store did refer me to a service center. I’m guessing they’re not open tomorrow, though. It is a national holiday– Gandhi’s birthday. Booyah.
After the failed attempt at the iStore, we met up with Ellen (Pinette, for those grinnellians reading this) for some light refreshments/an enormous brownie. Will joined us and we went to town on “Mt. Chocolate”, which the waiter referred to as M. T. Chocolate.
After that, we went to Fergussen College, which is a college/university in Pune. We were invited to speak to some Indian students who are taking a class on contemporary America. There were 20 or so people in the class, so it was pretty fun and we got some great questions about our government, favorite tv shows, hobbies, and other things. We were there for around 2 hours and then they invited us to celebrate thanksgiving with them! Shouldn’t we be the ones doing that?! Anyway, it was very nice and I really look forward to meeting them again, which will definitely happen. I met a girl there who wants to pursue a journalism degree at Columbia, so we talked a bit about NYC after the talk.
When I got home, Neeta had made some incredible dish called daal khichidi, which is three types of lentils and some rice. Delicious.
To conclude this wonderful day, however, I watched the season 3 premier of Homeland. It was suspenseful and I couldn’t watch at points but it was so worth it.
MAN this day was good.

MUMBAI

Okay. Sorry it’s been so long. I guess I didn’t stay true to my vow that I would post more. But hopefully the next two posts will help me explain. 

Last weekend we went to Mumbai. We, meaning me and 8 other ACM students. We got on the train straight after school, and were immediately struck by the train scene. We were all assigned different seat numbers, meaning that some of us were together and some weren’t. So we split in half and half of us piled into one compartment, which seats 6. We had heard that it wasn’t terrible to do this, and many people do it anyway. As the train pulled out of the station, we all sighed, believing that the quiet and pretty empty train was the way the ride was going to be for the next 4 and a half hours. 

Oh, we were so wrong. 

Over the next few stops, more and more people began flowing onto the train. It got to the point where you actually couldn’t even move from your compartment, or move anywhere on the train. There were two women sitting at the window seats who refused to move, even though they weren’t their assigned seats either. Window seats, we came to learn, were prized possessions. The view is remarkable for the entire ride, and there is a slight breeze if you sit by the window, in comparison to if you don’t. So we sat, 5 of us, squished together in 4 seats, on a very crowded train. 

When we got to the outskirts of Mumbai, more people began to get off the train, and by the time we reached our station, which was the last, we were the only group in the car. We got out and headed toward the terminal to find out what we were supposed to do and where we should go. We concluded that we should take a taxi to our hotel, so Katelyn and I went to find the pre-paid taxi stand. 

After we got the taxis sorted out and arrived at the hotel, which was on the 4th floor of a walk up without any air conditioning, we got settled in the rooms and decided we were all hungry. We hadn’t eaten on the train and it was already around 9:30pm. We started walking out of the hotel toward the main road called Colaba Causeway. We were desperate for some sort of food and beer, but would settle for anything. After walking a bit, we came across Leopold’s, which some of the people in the group had heard of. We walked in and walked upstairs to this very British, air conditioned (this was almost necessary at this point), pub-like section of the restaurant. 

Dinner was wonderful and just what we needed. We met a young couple at the table next to us who told us we should go to the Blue Frog Lounge, which they described as “the best club in Mumbai, by far”. So obviously, that was our next location. We headed back to the hotel after some laughs with the waiter and an overall wonderful meal, and retreated to our rooms quickly to change for the “best club”. We were waiting for some stragglers in the hallway when a man walks up to us and asks where we’re from. He is American, for sure, so we satisfy his curiosity and inform him of our reason for being there, etc. His name was Andy and he had just finished the Peace Corps in Liberia and had been traveling around India for 5 weeks. He was planning on going home for the first time in 29 months on Monday. He asked if we were going out and we said we were and invited him to come along with us. He then said that it was his 25th birthday, so that made it even more acceptable for us to invite him. 

We all hopped in taxis and headed to Blue Frog, which was about 30 minutes away from the hotel. When we got there, we were informed that there would be a cover charge of 700 rupees. No one was down for this, so I went up to the guy and tried to bargain the price down. He was very adamant about the price, because there was a British DJ in town tonight. Psh. okay. SO we all congregated again and as we were about to leave, the guy comes up and makes a deal. Success. I somehow managed to bargain our way into the best club in Mumbai. 

After we were all in, we were greeted by a crowd we didn’t expect. There were almost exclusively foreigners, and most of them were much older than us. But since we had paid so much to get in (and almost the same amount on one drink(!)), I decided it was worth having some fun. There was a strobe light and a black light, which proved to be incredibly entertaining. A few of us danced until pretty late, met some fun Europeans, and left to go back home and sleep our hearts away. 

The next morning we got a pretty late start. Of course, we all wanted to sleep in. But by 12:30 when we were finishing breakfast/brunch/lunch?, we were definitely ready to get sightseeing. We walked along Colaba causeway for a while, shopping at the small shops that different vendors had set up on the street. I bought a few presents for friends and did a lot of bargaining. I also bought some traditional anklets with Katelyn that we proudly wore for the rest of the weekend (and are still wearing). We then went to the Gateway of India, which was really cool, and took many pictures by it. I’d show you one but I can’t upload pictures onto WordPress. After the gateway, we decided we were going to go to the modern art museum, which was pretty close by. So we walked there, only to find it was closed. We had to reevaluate our plans, because it was getting a bit late and we had so much on our list but couldn’t do most of it in half a day. So we settled for walking around Mumbai. It was wonderful. We tried sugar cane juice (actually had 5 glasses of it), went to the University campus, saw the high court, and then had tea at the Taj Palace hotel, where the terrorist attack in 2008 took place. 

For dinner that night, we went to a delicious pizza place, called Pizza By the Bay. It is on the Queen’s Necklace, which is a part of Mumbai that surrounds the water. It literally looks like a necklace at night because all the streetlights are lit up and it’s shaped that way. We spent quite a bit of time there, and then turned in for the night, after we found The Hangover on TV. It was perfect. 

Sunday morning was a bit different than Saturday. We were all up by 830 and ready to get going. We went to a delicious place for breakfast, which had an Israeli feel to it, and went back to the hotel to pack up. Our train was at 2:30 so we had some time to kill. We decided to follow our Lonely Planet guidebook and go to something called “the great wall of Mumbai”. Has anyone ever heard of this? Probably not. Every single person we asked to point us in the right direction had never once heard of this. The guidebook described it as a huge mural that people had painted onto a wall that spanned from one train station (Mahindra Road Station) to the next (Mahim Train Station). We got to the one train station (Mahindra Train Station) but couldn’t find it or find any sign of it. Thank you, Lonely Planet. Thank you. Finally, after asking a few security guards and some other random women on the street, BethAnn brilliantly pointed out that we were at Mahindra TRAIN station, not ROAD station. SO, a man walked us to the road station and we just stood there. At this point, it was more kind of a joke that we were the only foreigners in a very bustling part of Mumbai and we were trying to find a wall with paintings on it. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow Katelyn found the wall. It was actually really interesting, and I think, totally worth the wait and hassle. We perused the wall for a bit and took pictures of the various paintings, that had slogans like “SEX IS YOU-NIVERSAL” and some about not aborting female fetuses. There were some about keeping Mumbai clean and environmental and many that were Anti-War. It was really fun to see all of these, especially because some of the were very familiar slogans from the US. 

After the wonderful great wall, we all got in taxis and headed to the train station. The train situation was VERY similar to the one before, except 20x worse. Supposedly all of the local trains are cleaned on Sunday afternoons, so they’re all closed, meaning that the locals all shove their way onto the long distance trains and it’s a mess. We were squished for a solid hour but then it cleared up a bit. I decided to have some snacks on the train, because we were told that we should try Batata Wadas, which are basically fried potato burgers. They were delicious, but I had 4 of them out of excitement. That Wednesday night, I began to feel pretty sick, and by Friday, I couldn’t eat anything… more about the illness later…

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

This is the phrase Indians use to wish everyone a happy Ganpati! Ganpati is the festival that Indians, especially Maharastrians and Hindus, use to celebrate Ganesh. Ganpati has been going on for 10 days now, and today was the day of the immersion, which is where all of the Ganesh idols around the city and in peoples’ homes are immersed into the river.
Let me back up for a second.
On the first day of Ganpati, families welcome a statue of Ganesh into their house. These statues, which are usually made out of clay, are worshipped for up to 10 days (different families do different increments of time) and are celebrated daily with something called a Puja. During a Puja, you chant various things and circle a bowl of fire around the ganpati. I’m sure there is more to it but my knowledge of the ceremony is limited. Many times, families do Puja’s two times a day. My family, because they are Jain and don’t celebrate Ganpati as heavily as many Punites, did not do a Puja every day.
Our Ganpati festival started last Monday. We woke up and began our day with a Puja to our personal Ganpati, though ours was a picture, not a statue. We then went to the festival that the society was hosting in the club house, where there was a very big Ganpati and everyone put a flower on the statue. I took some great pictures but it’s pretty hard to download pictures onto here so just go look on facebook. Ganpati also happened to fall on the end of a Jain holiday, so we were fasting for the whole day. That’s unrelated, though.
I got to wear a sari to this Puja, a Puja at Neeta’s uncle’s house, and to the event that we went to in the evening at her parents’ house where I witnessed 2 1/2 hours of Jain prayers, which completely captivated and fascinated me.
Ganpati has been going on around the city, as I said, for the past 10 days. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll see a huge stage with a ganpati statue on it, surrounded my flowers, colorful sand, and curtains. There is music everywhere, and men dancing near the statues later in the day/early evening. It’s really a spectacular sight.
Now back to today. After getting out of school at 11am, I came home and we quickly went to Neeta’s sister’s house for an end of Ganpati lunch. Many of her cousins were there (about 30 or so people) and they were all singing and laughing and eating really good food. Rajeev took me to the river to watch some families immerse their idols and it was really wonderful to see. Again, got some great pictures that wordpress just won’t let me upload…

I haven’t posted on here lately. I really regret that, since my journal has also become non existent. If I ever do write in it, it’s more about how I’m feeling about various things and less about the actual tidbits in my day.
This weekend, a few of my friends and I are going to Mumbai to check out some sights there. I wasn’t going to go because I wanted to stay at home for a few weekends before we go away every weekend, but I realized that if I don’t take this opportunity, I won’t get to see Mumbai. And I’ll probably regret it. So I’m going. We are taking a train (!) and it cost 101 rupees. That’s $1.60. I am promising myself that I’m going to write more on this.