My Trip Comes to a Close: Thoughts on Sarees, the Caste System, and Things Crawling Up Your Leg.

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I know none of you want to hear a long-winded summary of how amazing, trying, tribulatifyingtasticnessish, and rewarding my trip was. So I’ll make this a fairly short-winded rundown about my adventure-seeking superiority. Duh.

Yes, really, I did have quite the trip. I had some nasty illnesses and have learned to never again smooch so much with water buffalo. Of the 6 countries I was in–India, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand–I also can’t stop thinking about 3 countries in particular: Thailand, Nepal, and India. 

India isn’t a terrible country at all; had I been traveling through it and not lived in it, I probably would have liked it a lot more. They just have so many problems there, and as one friend pointed out, they DO have the technology and resources; they’re just unable to spread those resources correctly and have even more corruption than we do here. They’re a country out of control: They believe that their massive population equals massive power. They’re beginning to understand and accept more in terms of marrying outside one’s religion, living with those outside one’s caste, even picking who one can “court.” To me–and this is only my opinion–I almost feel that those in love with India are actually in love with what’s on the surface: Unique and cheap food, beautiful colors, history, kindness, and tradition. I loved that part too. But unlike loving those same things in Thailand—a third-world country that’s happy with that status and has just millions, not billions, of people— India believes it is pushing into the modern world successfully. It’s not. Nothing real can change when the large majority of this billion-plus-member country refuses to even let someone of a lower caste co ok for them. Or how they separate their buses into the female and male sections because men can’t keep their hands to themselves. Or how women aren’t allowed to show skin because of how men may act. And it’s not just me complaining; these issues have real and measurable consequences when that rule means you can’t really exercise, farm, or do things “normal” men do (not that they exercise either). Come now, do you even remember seeing anyone from India in the Olympics? When the population is more than one-sixth of the world? The people were, as I mentioned, some of the most delightful and helpful people ever, and I would quickly rush to try to repay them with the kindness they showed me. But I also know that with a suffering economy, pollution running rampant, and a society that’s never been taught how to deal with strangers, there’s no way they can move forward. It breaks my heart to see such intelligence, corruption, and poverty (not that I even saw near the worst of it) juxtaposed in such a way, and simultaneously makes me feel so afraid and disdainful of what this country is doing to their own people—and to the world. When will it stop?

In other news, I still think about Thailand, Nepal, and India every day. Thailand still has horrible food but incredible scenery and situations as always. Nepal had great food AND incredible scenery. And India was great when I was visiting its people and enjoying the surface instead of working and understanding its many pitfalls. How very hypocritical of me, right?

It shocks me at how easy it is to travel in seemingly foreign and faraway places. To those who have never ventured beyond (your local big city), Paris and Cancun, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur probably sound scary and full of the unexpected. Well, they are, but too many never get that far. There are always hoards of young adults—many wearing “PUB CRAWL 2012 PHUKET – AN EXPERIENCE I ALREADY FORGOT” wife beaters—who hop from city to city, often in groups, visiting monuments, drinking on the cheap, hooking up with other foreigners, and looking exhausted and hungover at border crossings. Is this travel? Sure it is, though it’s not travel I’m a fan of. It shocks me how I can actually be working with someone in a foreign country who is so ignorant to what’s going on right outside our windows, or how you can live for years in an unfamiliar city and still elect to go to the local Starbucks every day. Is travel about comfort? I guess for most it is. For me, I seem to brag most about the uncomfortable situations.  I will never forget how crazy it was to be yelled at for having the wrong bit of stomach flab show in my saree, feel scared and lost while sick and seemingly alone in the mountains, get assistance while literally stuck in the mud during rice planting, and be judged by Indian neighbors for wearing shorts in my own home. How could YOU not want to experience THAT?! Those experiences are what I’m most curious about, at least, and I think it’s a lot closer to real adventure than tour guides. Why travel halfway around the world to do the same old when you can have be standing on a rubber tree farm, weilding a dangerous tool of sorts, unsure of what’s about to come next because something is biting your leg and no one around you speaks English?                          

I guess that’s enough from me this time around, but I’m always, always happy to share stories. Best of all? I have an amazing adventure coming up…well, in 2 days. You’ll hear about it soon! Until then, over and out. It’s been real, crazy, and absolutely unforgettable.

Coop

 

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[Here are some of my favorite new photos from throughout my trip. Enjoy!] 

1. (Top) My friend’s sister, a nomade living in Nepal’s Himalayas

2. (Above) The wind catches a woman’s saree

3. Crazy, awesome, magnificent bugs in Thailand

4. A student’s family in India, or the guessing game of Who Is Out Of Place In This Photo?

5. Teaching in Thailand, or the most set-up looking photo ever (it wasn’t)

6. Looking out in southern India

7. Showing neighbors my photos in Thailand (my friend translated for them)

8. And then there was that time one of the greasy locals grabbed me, put his arm around me (I was laughing uncomfortably), and proceeded to…BITE ME?! Stay away from this guy.

9. I can dress up. Sort of. Me and my first roommate, Claire, on conference day

 10. Being blessed by the locals

11. Learning to play the sitar

12. My usual posse of men. Kidding, kidding, they’re my students. Oh come on, stop being nasty!

13. Women of the woods

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Farewell, India (Update Part 10)

Silent Retorts:

When traveling to foreign countries, it’s often necessary to bite one’s tongue and avoid conflict. It’s not my place to correct people on their mannerisms and practices in their own country. Not that this fact has stopped me from imagining two-liners I so wish I could mention in passing.

 

“Why yes madam, of course I think it’s awesome you stepped out of the public bathroom stall and spat on the floor before reaching the sink. It really takes initiative and innovative thinking to spit in the one clean area of India.”                                                                

“Thank you, stranger, for walking up to me on the street and gently pulling down my kurta (Indian dress shirt) to hide the 1.39-square-inch surface space of my waist that these miserable-fitting clothes not made for anyone without a rail of a figure had exposed. I know there are no greater issues going on in India right now as important as a foreigner commuting to work and flashing skin with malicious intent.”

“No, I definitely appreciate your offer of possibly working at this NGO’s American branch. You were only the most incompetent and manipulative people I’ve ever worked for, so I’d be happy to see how your corrupt business operations translate on American soil.”

“Sure, I’m happy to pay literally 20 times more than an Indian for my admission ticket. You sure know how to make foreigners feel welcome.”

“What do you mean we should be careful about wild elephants around here? It’s a small area and there’s no way I’d be lucky enough to randomly encoun—oh my holy mother of *&%$.”

“I love that when an English-speaking teenage orphan kindly offers to lead us through the beautifully terracing crops, you reprimand him and tell him to go a way that will afford you better photos. You are too sweet.”

“Wait, that’s not what I’m saying! I think your one-room house is very unique; after all, few families can lay claim to a giant beehive above the bed and the relaxing drone of thousands of flying critters in their own homes.”

“Now that I think of it, yes, you’re right in saying that I should stay in India and marry an Indian guy. Silly me, who wouldn’t want to give up all personal freedom, friends, living place, and educational pursuits to be treated poorly by my new husband’s in-laws?”

 

Oh come now, I’m not THAT bitter. Here are some tidits in the way of photos (nothing special–just friends and fun) and experiences from my last days in India.

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My last two weeks in India were pretty eventful, but not necessarily in a positive way. At least I had experiences I won’t soon forget, right? After being surrounded by chanting, rioting crowds in Nepal and spending extra money on a flight home (no other way out of the country!), I spent more than a wee bit of time in Bangalore, capital of credit card phone request, health insurance denials, and Dell anti-help centers. Seriously though, I saw wild elephants, went on some small trips, realized Bangalore is only IT people and shopping malls, made amazing friends with many of these people and cannot make fun of the hard work, crazy hours, and intense criticism these folks have every day. Well, I can only make fun of it a bit. Amidst the great friends were some very traumatizing incidents that I will never forget. I was happy to get back to Hubli to retrieve my belongings and say goodbye to everyone, but wouldn’t you know it, Hubli was on strike too. It was down to a little-known but awesome port called Cochin, where I met some great people and had a wonderful last few days in India. If I ever come to India again, I will definitely visit the southern state of Kerala over the others—what a beautiful place full of less staring! I’m glad I spent my last few days of India here, because it almost erased the slightly acidic taste this country has left in my mouth.

Overall, India was…well, as challenging as everyone said it would be. And unless you’re a white female, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s different for African-American females, different for white males, and different even down to size and hair color. I didn’t feel I could be myself. Sure, I wasn’t living in Saudi Arabia, but with the never-ending stares and attention, the restricting and hot dress, an inability to exercise, and restrictive women’s rights, I often felt like a prisoner here. In my house, I was told no loud noises, no music, no shouting, no drinking, no non-veg food, no dancing, and no visitors. When my neighbors accidentally saw me in shorts several times, one could practically see them stamping the word “slut” on my forehead–I kid you not. The combination look of judgement, fear, and disdain in their eyes made me feel like a bad person for wanting to stay cool in my own home. In the office, I wasn’t allowed to laugh without getting in trouble. In fact, I think I was often the loudest person in all of India. Women on the street were so bitter about their repetitive lives of cooking and cleaning with a cut-short education that in return to me smiling, they would grimace, frown, or look disapprovingly at my outfit. Step out on the street and you were judged (poorly) rather immediately. So yes, living in India was tough, though not a shock.

Despite my constant criticism of this way of life, I still have to say that Indians are the most hospitable and generous people I’ve ever met. I got spoiled by the 99% of people who were just amazing. Friends and strangers alike would bring me into their homes, pay for my meals, give directions and walk with me to the location, spend time researching routes or time tables for me, and invite me to dinner. I can’t say enough how much people go out of the way to help someone they don’t know. Heck, no one in America would treat strangers this well.

Perhaps most enjoyable were the conversations I had with random people. The restaurant owner whose owners called him in to work at night, shouting, “The Whiteys are coming, the Whiteys are coming!” Okay, that one isn’t quite true. The families who fed me, communicated with motions, and apologized when they ran out of food for my ever-expanding stomach. The train passengers who were so curious that after a few hours of sneaking looks in my direction, they’d finally come over to ask the standard 3: My name, where I’m from, and if I’m married. Really, I know all countries have issues, and I’m now in Malaysia, which has plenty of issues itself. Still, I feel I experienced India long enough to get a good feel of its many faces. I will surely be talking about it—and criticizing it, as I do most things—for years to come.

Time for my favorite international dish: roti canai. It’s time for Malaysia!

 

In India, Anything Goes – Update Part 8

Remember when Reader’s Digest was good, and even though it looked like it had the most [germs, bacteria, baby feces, urine sample splashes] on its ratty pages, you wanted to read it? When it was filled with anecdotes, recipes, inspirational sayings, and wise words? I thought the same could apply to India, and perhaps even help you in your future travels here. That being said, here’s some good readin’ for you whether you’re at work, taking a nap, or on the can. 

 #Fact# – – If you see what looks like a headless child hanging from the roof of every home, don’t fret; it’s just a headless grey doll meant to bring good luck.

 *Tip* – To avoid stepping on poop, don’t go outside in India. Or inside.

 ~Inspirational Quote~ – “You are fat. F-A-T. Fat.” –a student’s uncle while talking to me and a friend. So sweet.

 *Tip* – To boost low company morale, create fun, team-building activities such as staff vs. student cricket matches during the last hour of work one day a month, then cancel at the last moment and never reschedule.

 -RECIPE- To make a traditional egg curry:

Small bunch cilantro

Several cloves garlic

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon ginger

4 small tomatoes, roughly chopped

Oil

4 eggs

Rice

Water

Grind the first 4 ingredients until a nearly smooth consistency is formed (but not soup). Add tomatoes and grind just a bit more. Heat some oil in a pot over medium heat, and once sizzling, add paste. Stir constantly and cook at least 10 minutes, or until the mixture has become less watery and has acquired a golden-brown hue. Set aside. In another pot, hard boil the four eggs. When rice or naan is nearly ready, re-heat paste mixture and add a cup of water, incorporating by stirring. Boil for another 10 minutes until the desired thickness has been acquired. Peel hardboiled eggs and cut each lengthwise in half. If serving with rice, make the curry a bit more on the watery or “gravy” side; if serving with naan, cook longer to achieve a thicker curry. Serve with carrots and cucumbers chopped freshly on your floor. Sprinkle with hairs, crumbs, or bug parts as desired. Serve hot.

 *Tip*  – Always be on your best behavior when visiting other countries, because like it or not, you’re representing your nation. Things not going so well? Simply say you’re from a country that, due to a limited education in geography, they’ve never heard of, such as Croatia or Lithuania. Works like a šarm.

 ~Inspirational Quote~ – “Catholic people are good at making scones.” –my friend Shridhar

 *Tip* – If you’re the government and are building potentially dangerous roads high on steep mountain cliffs, build a guardrail. Start by planting sturdy 3-foot-tall posts in the ground, spacing them out every 10 feet.

 *Tip* – To economically and effortlessly dispose of your old newspapers, magazines, and schoolbooks, simply gather them into a sack and throw, one or two at a time, into your nearest pond/lake/river.

 <Short Story> – A friend and I went out for lunch, ordering both a Davangere Open-Faced Dosa (South Indian) and naan and a Punjabi gobi gravy dish (North Indian). We were in a rush, so when they asked which to bring first, we just asked them to bring both at the same time. The manager actually recoiled in horror and shouted. “SOUTH AND NORTH INDIAN AT THE SAME TIME? NOOOOOOO!” We decided to have the dosa as our starter rather than risk our livelihoods.

 *Tip* – It’s fine—encouraged, even—to eat the same foods for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. To prepare dinner leftovers for your tiffen (breakfast), simply remove food from unrefrigerated shelf, gently brush off ants, and partially reheat.

 *Tip* – Entertain your kids during long car or train rides by playing the famous “I saw a…” travel game. If in India, here’s a sample list of sight-seeing travel goals you might see on your trip through this splendid country:

Check box

Sight-seeing goals

_________

__________

__________

__________

__________

__________

__________

__________

__________

_________

__________

__________

__________

__________

__________

A traffic marker in kilometers

A shepherd

An old fort or rock building

A protest

A green Muslim flag and mosque

2 ox pulling a cart

A man taking a dump on the side of the road

Something purple

16+ people crunched into or on top of a moving vehicle

3 wind turbines

A transvestite in a sari giving blessings or curses to strangers

A motorcycle moving the wrong way in traffic

5 people in a row staring at you

A female wearing shorts and not being stared at

A snack food flavor you regret having seen or tasted

 *Tip* – Rotate your watch from your right hand to your left every few days in order to sunburn evenly.

 #Fact# – If you are a couple of grown men, teenage girls, girl-boy cousins, or anything EXCEPT a couple showing affection, you may hold hands in India.

 <Short Story> – While I was in Bangalore, India’s 3rd-largest city, I met up and stayed with a bunch of people all around my age. In a variety of settings—a home, a bar, an apartment, a restaurant, a sidewalk—my looks were talked about nonstop. Not my facial characteristics or manicured toenails, mind you, but my weight. What they said was so uplifting that I thought I’d compile a list for you to read in case you come to this part of the world. This small list was compiled in just a few hours, too.

 ~Inspirational Quote~ – “You’re not fat; you’re just big.”

~Inspirational Quote~ – “Good things come in big packages.”

~Inspirational Quote~ – “You look like a wrestler.”

~Non-Inspirational Quote~ – “She eats a lot; that’s why she’s so huge.”

~Non-Inspirational Quote~ – “You look like Hulk Hogan.”

~Definitely Not An Inspirational Quote~ – “What are you taking, weight reduction tablets?”

~This Never Could Have Been An Inspirational Quote~ – “You fit into all my shirts, nah? But that means I am also fat.”

“`End“`

-Photos taken in Mundgod, Hampi, and Koppal, Karnataka, India.

An update and photos on Nepal will be up soon, but right now, I have to prepare to leave Hubli for good. You’ll hear from me soon, though!

In India, Anything Goes – Pros vs. Cons (Update Part 6)

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During the worst of times, we tend to pity ourselves and wonder what we did wrong. During the best of times, we try to count our blessings and surf the wave. During my odd, 40-day bed confinement to heal my injured knee, I spent all of these times going through the five stages of Indian grief, as coined by little-known Indian psychiatrist Elavarasi Kumbla-Raza. I’d list them, but they all have to do with cows. You just wouldn’t understand.

WARNING: I may say some things here that you find offensive. I apologize in advance, but this is only my opinion. No, my country is not even close to perfect, and yes, I was frustrated while visiting countries in the past. And sure, I’ll likely regret some of what I write, though much of it is in jest. Still, this is what I think at the moment, and therefore this is what I’m writing.

As many of you know, March started out great, but was soon followed by me being an utter klutz and wrecking my knee. After a rare long weekend spent visiting my friend’s jungle-like plantation, I gave a college lecture, returned to my home base, and continued work as usual. Several evenings later, a few of us were bored during a dance rehearsal (yep, I was forced to do Indian dance, which I’ve named “Hindi Hop”) and started fooling around. I was teaching several of my eager male students gymnastics moves, which they’d been begging to learn for weeks. To demonstrate a move, I flipped a student over my arm who was a bit too heavy, and when he fell, I fell, landing all my weight on my knee. I ain’t light, so the knee has thus far required bed rest and working from home, weeks of physical therapy (sketchy in India), an MRI (even sketchier), and several doctor/hospital visits. It was bone marrow edema of the knee and shin. Fun, right? With so much time home alone to think, I realized I needed to compile a list of events and happenings, and make a list of both the positive and negative outcomes. Not everything is black or white, right? 


Situation: The college lecture. I gave my biggest college lecture yet, which took place in a huge auditorium with over 120 students in attendance. In our opening activity, I forced them to get up and interact with each other in a communications game. It’s necessary to hold hands in this specific game, and I literally had to go around and grab the hands of giggling but genuinely petrified gals and put them into the hands of snarfling guys. It was the first time any of them had held hands with the opposite sex, and for many in this rural village college, the first time they’d ever really spoken with each other. Not sure what to think about that.

Cons: In the program, they spelled my name “Catherine.”

Pros: They didn’t spell my name “Snooki.”


Situation: The explosion. For those of you who don’t know, well, the day after I found out I was assigned to bed rest with an injured knee, on anti-inflammation meds, had crutches, wore a brace, and went to physical therapy every day, I was sitting in my room when I heard the loudest sound in my life. It was actually so loud that I didn’t have time to be annoyed and cover my ears. I knew that since I was in India, such a loud sound could only mean either a.) nothing had happened, or b.) the building next to me was no longer standing. I put on my brace and crutches and hobbled out to see…my foyer filling with toxic grey smoke. It was already in my throat. Realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea to stay inside, I quickly put on India-approved clothing, re-put on my brace, grabbed my crutches phone, and got the heck out of there, coughing. The neighborhood was standing outside, and it took a while for me to communicate to the men scurrying about that the explosion was in MY house on the 3rd floor. A few calls and 7 guys staring at a generator later, it was obvious that one of its batteries had exploded. They all giggled as they talked with me, because when men here are nervous, they giggle. And since the generator was owned by my foundation, they were nervous. Just a little plastic shrapnel, flung-across-the-room shoes, and leaking black battery acid later, they told me a cute tidbit. “Kat-reen, it’s a good thing you weren’t in that room.” [nervous man giggle]

Pros: I’m not nervous about any more generators exploding in my house, because I have a.) no more generator, since they finally cleaned it up 4 days after the fact, and b.) I moved homes.

Cons: It’s India. Anything can explode at any time.

 

Situation: The weather. Just when I thought I was good at predicting this summer weather, i.e. it’s 100 every day and about to get worse, it started storming every day at 6:30. But then it switched up and added marble-sized hail to the mix, and last night, it stormed throughout the night, causing the power to go on and off, mosquitoes to flock in in droves, and the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard—akin to someone playing the timpani right next to my ear. Oh, and the ceiling was leaking in three places. Oh, and I don’t have a generator anymore (see PREVIOUS situation).

Pros: I got some neat photos of the lightening, and heck, anything that provides entertainment from my bed post is pretty darn exciting.

Cons: The dog vs. cow street tournaments keep me up at night. Totally unrelated.

 

Situation: I had a rare long weekend (aka Sat. and Sun. instead of just Sunday) to do something exciting, and since I was to do a college lecture that Monday, I visited the friend/co-worker who was also organizing the lecture at one of the schools in her jurisdiction. She lives in a large house out in the middle of nowhere, with waterfalls nearby and crops surrounding the house.

Here is a girl who, despite being raised in a household far different from ours, is pretty darn “Western.” She watches tv, chats on her cell phone, likes to shop, and uses Facebook. She also must wear clothing with sleeves at all times (even in her house), is treated rather poorly because she’s an Indian female, and, for three days each month, is not allowed to walk into certain rooms of her house. During these days, she must sit separately from her family, cannot touch anyone, has to eat off a banana leaf and not a plate, can only accept food that is dropped into her hands, cannot attend functions (she was forced to miss her cousin’s wedding) and must sleep on a thin floor mat on concrete. Her caste dictates that she follows these rules, and naturally she does so without hesitation. Who am I to judge? Yet to an outsider, these rules seem useless, demeaning, and just plain awkward for anyone visiting at this time. Which I was. Sitting on the floor, by a pole, in the half-lit room, with her family facing me on one side and her facing me on the other, was most certainly disturbing. Yes, it’s tradition. But why can’t things change?

Cons: I learned a lot about the caste system, but every bit I hear makes me angry—and ends in women being treated quite poorly and unequally.

Pros: Despite all those awkward meals, the food was eepin’ great! I had homemade yogurt from their cows, some delightful brinjal mash, and a kind of breakfast pancake served with homemade butter and local molasses that tasted unlike anything I’ve ever eaten.

 

Situation: My friend’s plantation, as well as the adjoining plots of land (there’s rarely any fencing or divides), is full of plants of every kind. It was the end of winter, which meant there were a lot of brown plants. Even so, she taught me all the medicinal uses of tiny fruits I didn’t notice, animals I could only hear the calls of, and what the trees would look like in the coming summer/monsoon season. She then brought me into her family’s plantation, which was a green jungle haven. Tall betel nut trees, banana trees, vanilla vines, winding peppercorn plants, pineapple bushes, papaya trees, coconut palms, and more lived under this beautiful, cool backyard canopy. There were roads leading seemingly nowhere, mystical fog hanging over rice patties, hills to hike, safe, cold well water, gardens…oh, it was just magical.

Pros: I got to spend my weekend in just a lovely outdoor environment, complete with spiders, birds, peacock calls, wild fruit and nut trees, and more.

Cons: Uh, none. I didn’t want to leave.

 

Situation: Spelling and texting. Oh man, America has nuthin’ on these folks. I’m not sure if it’s improper English usage, laziness, just texting shortcuts ‘cause it’s coo’, or a combination, but I can barely read what people write. Also, I’ve told people that certain abbreviations aren’t…good. They don’t care. Here are some real—and no, I’m not joking—texts I’ve gotten in the past few days. Oh, and if you brush it off, thinking that English is a second language, just know that it is for some of these folks—and some aren’t even Indian.

“Inform him, fr da transport.”

“Hey 2day im cumin hubl.. If posibl cum 2mro 2 hospital. I wil b der okie”

“Its good bt im thinkn of takn rest of week and goin to there for rest of week”

“Hey.u know,last night u comes in my dreams.really” (Don’t worry, it was a dream a friend had of us going hiking.)

“Ok.its good.i.ill tel tomorrow.ok.”

Cons: What you just read.

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Situation: International Women’s Day. In our meeting deciding what pandering events to hold for this day, one of the suggestions was to search for and show a variety of clips showing what women do around the world. In a place where women are usually required to be a housewife (yes, in the cities there are female doctors, writers, and software programmers, though I have yet to meet more than one), we all agreed that showing footage of women in Mexico as police officers, women in China as farmers, and women in Norway as CEOs. Most, that is. A good friend of ours complained. “Why do the students need to see international footage? India is pretty much the most diverse country in the world. We can just show them parts of India.” My American friend and I were sort of stunned, especially because he’s her best friend here. “What do you mean?” I asked. “It’s International Women’s Day, and you’re…comparing the diversity of India to the world’s diversity?” He shrugged it off and argued. “India is so diverse, man. There are different people in the north, south, east, west…it’s the best example of diversity in the world. We don’t need anything else. Let them just see India.” I was flabbergasted, and at that point, my blood boiled and I had to say something. I actually argued strongly with someone in a meeting. I’ve been to very little of India, and yes, there are a few African-Indian and Asian-Indian minorities, and for sure, there are many different religions, languages, and types of people. But to say it’s the most diverse country in the world, let alone thinking it’s representative of all the diversity in the world? To me, that’s not even stupid—that’s ignorant. Especially from someone who has traveled outside of India. Oh man, did that one get me going. And it wasn’t even about women, per say! You can bet your butt that during our big Women’s Day talk, when I got up to speak in front of the 200 students and staff at the foundation, it was on my mind. Not only did I give examples of my mother being a lawyer, mother, and teacher, I gave examples of what women can do all over the world. How women in the past, in many countries, have worked long and hard to forge new paths. How I am lucky that I can be pretty much anything that I want to be. And that, when I was asked to present the audience a challenge during my turn at the mic, I decided to start small. You see, many people here think women are equal. If that’s true, I asked the audience, then why can women not wear the same things men do, act the same way men do, and stay out late the same way men do? Men are allowed to wear shorts, special wash skirts, and wife beaters, and can stay out late, give women poor service when not with a man in a restaurant, beat women, and taunt them in the street. Let’s not even talk about how women have to move to the man’s home and stay home to cook and clean all day—literally. One of India’s holidays is actually notorious for being a “let’s surround and touch the woman” day. And yet if a woman were to wear shorts, or even a tank top, she’d be thought of as a prostitute. Don’t go out after 9PM, our male friends say, and let us drive you home. And sure enough, guys think it’s fine to slap us, throw rocks, leer at us on their bikes, or creepily follow us home whenever they please. Yes, these unfortunate circumstances occur all over the world, but here in India, everything seems far, far worse. Maybe it’s because it’s bad here, or maybe it’s because everyone here is so proud of this country without knowing why.

Cons: India brags about equality but continues to create an atmosphere of absolute inequality for the female population. I’m no feminist, but it’s hard to stand by and watch this kind of treatment every day. There’s some progress in cities, but women everywhere are struggling for respect and education. And no, they’re not happy about their world.

Pros: Once again, the unfortunate nature of this place makes me proud to be an American.  

 

Situation: The food. Since I’ve been stuck in my house for over a month, I decided that cooking on one leg/a chair would provide more excitement than not. Though I’ve had to rely on groceries picked by and brought rarely by friends, I have been cooking my own food, experimenting, and not consuming gallons of oil and ghee in the food we’re normally served at work. I make everything from scratch, and despite the fact that ants may come in my flour, I’m pretty happy with my good eats. I make pancakes with bananas almost every day, my own confectioner’s sugar for frosting, smoothies, homemade pasta, chapatti, masala beet-stuffed bread, homemade bagels, mashed potatoes, real pudding, thai peanut dressing, sweet chili sauce, pita bread, and much more. It turns out that even without a stove or microwave, a rice cooker and a burner can be used in innovative ways to may pretty good food, if I may say so myself.

Cons: Where do you think all that food is going when I’m unable to even walk?

Pros: India’s food business is booming, and New York’s obesity numbers have decreased by one.

 

Situation: The doors and windows. What could be wrong? Oh, a lot. First of all, some of the doors have normal locks one opens with a key, but NONE have doorknobs. Instead, a bar and latch slide in and out of misplaced holes on the inside or outside of the door, meaning a door can only be locked from the inside or outside. Meaning one can easily be locked out by someone inside, or locked in by someone outside. Increased security? Maybe, but then how to explain the same thing on all doors, including bedrooms and bathrooms? Most of us believe it’s a scheme to lock women inside the house (kidding, mostly), but we really can’t figure it out. And yes, my friend locked his two roommates in at least seven times in the span of two weeks, and I was locked in twice by my landlord, who assumed I wasn’t home. I had to yell for help out a window. Speaking of which…they have an indoor screen and an outdoor piece of glass, both of which can be propped open or closed (though again, the shoddy craftsmanship means that latches give way, creating mini-doors that repeatedly slam open and closed in any wind). Open air? No, because there are—and I’m counting them right now—12 lateral bars on every window. Again, is this to prevent escaping? I don’t know, but it’s altogether rather dangerous in case of an emergency.

Pros: If I were to spontaneously bust into preggerdom, the kid wouldn’t be falling out the window at any point soon.

Cons: It’s annoying as heck, I’d be utterly trapped if a fire or something were to break out, and the poor craftsmanship means that dozens of mosquitoes fly in through the cracks every night to attack my poor albino blood.


So there’s a little for you on the months of March and April. I work from home and pray I’ll one day walk again. And that day is…tomorrow! I think by the end of the week I’ll be almost normal. My knee, I mean, not me as a person.

Until next time,
Coop

 

Photos: 1.) A betel nut sheller; 2.) Two hornbills just hanging out—amazing!; 3.) Can you spot the pepper picker in the tree?; 4.) More shellers at night; 5.) 7AM spiderweb; 6.) Look, it’s as if I’m in New York, ma! 7.) A local worker; 8.) With students at their graduation; 9.) Holi celebrations; 10.) Some of my wonderful students at a party.