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!

 

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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!

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.