In India, Anything Goes – Update Part RAJASTHAN!

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Rajasthan. A place that for years I’d always heard about, but never imagined I’d visit. Really, you must know that I’m a greenery-waterfalls-hiking-swimming-jungle-forest-mountain person, not a desert-hot-creepy men-sand person. Okay okay, I do like the creepy men part—who doesn’t, really—but I never expected to visit this northern state of India known for its brown landscape and desert atmosphere.

So when a co-worker of mine, RK, invited me and a friend to his cousin’s daughter’s wedding in Rajasthan, I immediately thought, heck, I get 10 days off in 6 months here. Why would I visit a desert? But in that auto rickshaw ride home that night, they urged me and I said yes. After all, I hate backing out on promises and was allured at the prospect of visiting a place so far out of my comfort zone, so opposite of what I would choose, and so geographically far away. Plus, I just couldn’t resist another opportunity to spend time in a “real” environment and not a tourist one. So I went.

The stories, of course, are endless, but I’ll try my best to summarize. You know that when you’re riding on a train with 30 various family members for 26 hours one way, you’re going to get to know them very well. Too well? Well immediately we caused a scene at the train station, where members of the family included a super old woman walking slower than the speed of light in a black hole, a midget, and people who knew some English and tried to help me get where I was going, not realizing I was traveling WITH them. We crowded onto the train. 

Fights, frenzies, and much food later, the pack of us emerged and boarded three crunched-in vans with our luggage strapped into the top. No, the fights were not with me, yes, that comes out to 10 people per van (comfort is not a thing here), and absolutely yes, some luggage did fall off during the four-hour ride. It was retrieved. 

After arriving at our destination with most limbs and necessary brains intact, we emerged to many family members, much hugging, and the Marathi word for “foreigner!” being shouted. We were put into a hotel at the bottom of a temple. That means we got several small, bare rooms to share with a bathroom. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

I saw and learned a whole lot in those next few days.

-Expensive weddings mean a whole lot of food, but that doesn’t mean the food is any…cleaner.

 -I can make it as a palm reader. I literally had a line of people waiting for me to tell them about their lives. Don’t ask.

-When you spend all day with people for just a few days, and they tell you their deepest, darkest secrets, you feel as though you’re truly part of a family. In a good way, actually.

-People here will go to great lengths to help you, and a good many of them have just beautiful hearts.

-Many men here are sketchy as eep.

-If people in Hubli, India look like they’re from another century, then people in Rajasthan look like they’re from another millennium. Incredible.

-Indians are so lazy (they say this, and I concur for the most part) that they have roads to the top of every mountain. Hiking? Huh?

-It IS possible for roads to disappear and turn into just…sand.

-In addition to Joshua Tree-like rock formations and sands, Rajasthan has beautiful greenery, less litter, and an often-cold climate. Don’t believe the desert hype.

-Yes, I rode a camel (for free, and only because I was a foreigner…sometimes you get lucky).

-Some of the people who knew me would give me their orders of spicy food and take the mild ones. Apparently I can handle it better than most here, but honestly, it’s usually not even spicy.

-Half the girls around the ages of 14 or 15 are already engaged.

-Most marriages are still arranged. My friend didn’t meet his wife until the day he married her. And everyone is still JUST as unhappy in their relationships as they are in America; they just hide their feelings better and are stuck/beaten.

-Monkeys are definitely dangerous.

-Sketchy situations always turn into great adventures. Unless, of course, they turn into, I don’t know, murders?

-Somersaulting down sand dunes is my next professional sport of choice.

 

The wedding itself was incredible and spanned three days. It was truly an unforgettable experience, as was traveling with this new extended family of mine, who now text me nearly every day. Despite the weird situations, the smelly surroundings, the never-ending stares, and the hot train rides, I did not want to go back to work. This was a trip no tourist could, or would want to, take. I loved (almost) every minute of it.

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A Visit to the Doctor and X-Ray Fun

On Thursday night I was in the middle of a practice when I made a poor decision. My boredom, and my students’ eagerness to learn gymnastics, led me to flip around one of my tiny students. He weighs only about 85 pounds, so I decided to teach him how to flip around my arm. Well, I flipped him around fine, but we were on a wooden stage, and when he didn’t land right, I had to fall weirdly so as not to land on his head. Instead, I landed on my knee and heard a pop. A typical how-could-you-do-something-so-dumb-especially-when-you’re-in-a-foreign-place moment, right? 

Well, after the pain subsided, the numb feeling came, and I attempted to sleep, the next morning it hurt even more. Of course I was angry with myself; after all, it was 100% my stupidity and my fault. My bosses convinced me to see a doctor. I actually have travel health insurance, but it’s cheaper here not to file anything–really. So last night, on a Friday, my good friend (“Uncle”) took me to see a doctor. Without swelling or bruising it looked fine, but I was walking with a limp, there were sharp pains, and squatting down (for the toilet) was excruciating. I was ordered x-rays. Some guy in a flannel shirt came into a room after 20 minutes of waiting, flipped on the switch, invited me in, and plugged in the x-ray machine. The good news? I was able to sneak a camera in to the most sketchy doctor’s room I’ve ever seen, mainly to delight my older brother, Timothy. I figured, however, that many people would enjoy this foray into 18th century medical treatment practices.

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I’m scared…is this an iron lung?

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Heck, I’m surprised they didn’t get out the leeches to properly bleed me.

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Uhhhhh…..

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My x-ray machine. Let’s play a game of “guess which year?” and the closest guess within a century will win a cassette tape player.

Was it the lack of technology, the sparseness of the room, or the actual filth filling the place? I can’t say for sure, but it sure was fascinating.

Less than 10 minutes later, amidst stares, nuns, pregnant women, and random occurrences, I went back to the doctor, who said the bones looked fine, and that it’s probably just a torn ligament. He prescribed several things, then talked with us for half an hour, explaining to us his visit to America in detail. He also used his connections, made some calls, and invited me golfing once I heal up. Go figure.

Hopefully I heal up fast and learn my lesson, but really, it could have been worse, right? Tonight I am supposed to dance. This will be fun.

Until next time…

In India, Anything Goes – Update Part 4

India is a country of amazing contrasts. And when I say amazing, I mean that the contrasts are staggering, but not necessarily in a good way. There’s technology right next to poverty, cow carts next to huge jeeps, and beggars next to businessmen. Despite this fact, I often forget I’m even in India. Part if this is probably due to the fact that I adjust quickly to any living situation, and part of this is because I’m spending most of my days working in an office, Western style. I live in an apartment (albeit with differences, but still a place where I feel at home) and work in a fairly normal office on my own computer.  It’s often only when I walk to and from work that I remember I’m in India. Here’s a photo of several Deshpande Foundation employees in our office (post conference):

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Pretty normal, right? Chairs, computers, friends. So aside from the fact that upper management is the worst I’ve ever seen, staff lunches are all fried in massive quantities of oil, and neighbors occasionally hold funerals and burn bodies out in the field behind our building, it’s a pretty normal work environment. It’s only during the walk to and from work that I really know I’m in India. Even though I walk on the same exact roads 2-6 times a day, the stares never, ever stop. And I live in the suburbs, so you can imagine that when I get to the main road I have to cross to get to the college, the buses full of people, tons of moto drivers, and various cows just want to stop and gawk. Get over it, people. Females of other colors and even white males don’t have nearly  the same problem with the staring, and I’d say I can get over it, but it’s an everyday challenge. Aside from the stares, sure there are cows, but those aren’t a big deal. There’s a huge mix of teens in jeans, college students listening to music, ladies in saris, kids in school uniforms, poor students walking barefoot, businessmen, women carrying baskets on their heads, and more. There are crazy homes built with outdoor staircases and rooftop terraces. There are rubbish fires. There is garbage. Still, it’s just 15 minutes of India before returning to relative comfort.  A 15-minute walk just 90 degrees in a different direction, though, brings about an entirely different picture. All of a sudden the city ends, the bustle of traffic disappears, and you’re surrounded by farmland. The air smells fresh, you’re walking on a dirt road, and children are staring like they’ve never seen a white person before. Sturdy cement houses in many colors turn to clay and tin homes that look ready to crack. Water buffalo bathe in a nearby lake. Further on down a few more curves in the road, a young boy shepherd watches his goats. Sugarcane grows in a field next to you. Men in a tree climb down and start collecting the tamarind pods they’ve just picked. Kids who have followed you ask for their picture to be taken. Boys play cricket in a field next door while other youngsters help collect cow dung for fuel. Families of pigs walk by. People crowd around your camera to see their photos. Women sort through piles of red chile peppers drying in the sun. Girls are tattooed on their faces at birth. This is when you realize you’re in India.

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Walks with friends in rural villages are definitely the best part of being here. But whether in the rural areas or in the city, there are still many reminders throughout the day (especially Sundays, my one day off, during which I try to travel) that give clues about the fact that I’m in India.                You know you’re in India when… …whether there are squat toilets or western toilets, the company that makes them is called “Hindware.” Crikes. …people get up at 5, 5:30, or 6AM to sweep. By 9AM, different people are sweeping in front of their homes or businesses. The problem is that they’re re-sweeping dirt, and since most roads are mostly dirt, and trash has no home but the road, nobody ever gets very far. It seems just slightly useless, and it makes me sad to see such a useless chore being performed again and again. …your day is completely made because there’s toilet paper in the bathroom. …you never watch tv with the exception of one time at a friend’s house, and that time you watched was on an ’91 Gateway desktop computer. Okay, I don’t know the date exactly, but it couldn’t have been any newer. …you’re chosen to teach a section of the underprivileged program’s male grooming class because you’re the only one here who knows…how to tie a tie. …boys are good at doing cartwheels but girls aren’t. Well, they might be good at them but we’ll never know. Girls are not allowed to do them for the most part since it’s considered improper for a female to do such a physical movement. …you see things you’ll never understand, such as an Asian Muslim holding hands with a Muslim lady in a culture where you’re not allowed to hold hands. …you’re thankful that you got somewhere alive. There may be laws against talking on your cell and driving in the States, but try it here, where a friend of mine was (literally) texting in Hindi on one phone, talking in English on another, and swerving around cows, water buffalo, and camels while driving us up a mountain. I’m not even kidding. …you have tea in a kitchen with a cow. …you have a whole school out on break collectively turn their heads to stare as you walk by …every guest speaker’s powerpoints fail repeatedly, sound systems never work, 9 different microphones are brought out during a conference only to keep failing, and the audience is groaning in displeasure. …you see the worst magic show of your life, or really a collection of sad “tricks” put on by a man in a sparkly red shirt and a disgruntled, even more talentless wife. Said tricks may involve said previous sound system not working and an attempted dance where an American flag is pulled out and waved in your direction. …every single sunset is amazing. Even though you know you’re ruining your eyes, you can’t stop staring at the huge pink orb. …everyone’s eyes widen in terror as they see you drinking ice water, which causes illness. Same thing with eating fish and dairy together…it’ll cause your skin to turn white.    Yes, all of these things are true. I could go on and on, but you have a life, right? It’s back to work for me here in an increasingly hot India. In the meantime, here are a few more photos for your viewing pleasure.

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I’ll try to keep sane and not mind the stares, and y’all keep on trucking.

Hey, I’m a College Lecturer!

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Lecturing and attending lecturers isn’t all that fascinating, so when I had the chance to start lecturing for a Deshpande Foundation program called LEAD, I knew I wanted to turn the opportunity into a creative workshop experience.

So far I’ve lectured on creativity and innovation at several colleges in the state of Karnataka, India, and it’s been a terrific experience. The majority of the students are in the engineering field and have joined LEAD with the hopes of improving India through social innovation. With a lack of practical learning experiences in the classroom, I hoped that some interactive sessions on new ideas would excite and inspire these extremely intelligent youngsters. I like to think that they really enjoyed the workshop and learned something, because the response seemed very positive. I can’t wait to do a few more!

Work may be frustrating here in India, but these types of teaching opportunities really make it all worth it. I feel so lucky for this chance to challenge their minds!