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  • May 22 2010

    Yeh kya hai?

    Filed under: People

    Hindi echoes in my ear everywhere I go and even when I go nowhere. Little phrases and big conversations imitate the actions that i see around me. I have a great picture of action…nothing in particular, just the vibrancy that is Jaipur. Every moment has turned into a lesson and every sound a melody. The glottal sounds are the hardest to imitate.

    I have always had a special place in my heart and mind for languages although they have not always had the same for me. I imagine what it would be like to live here and revert to the baby steps of picking up the language. First, everything would be a motion and wide eyed enthusiasm and frustrations. Then picking up on verbs. I had a Spanish teacher tell me that if I learned the correct verbs that I would at least be partly understood. The clicks and the subtle tones enchant my mind.

    Yesterday I learned how to say: ‘turn off the lights’ but now I can’t only remember the che’kalo part and even that isn’t absolutely correct. I enjoy watching the many movies that are on TV. In India, 800 movies are made a year and that is the max. The acting is the only way that I know what is happening. A little nod of the head or gesture of the hand can tell a whole story. Sometimes there is a little Hind-glish added in that helps. For now, I will try the baby steps of Hindi…asking for someone who can translate.

    May 20 2010

    How do you like your finger flavored milk?

    Filed under: Excursions, Shopping

    Its official, I don’t like elephant rides, especially when it involves going up a very steep mountainside with no guardrails to catch me if I fall. In the states, I wear a seatbelt for everything even if I am just sitting in my car. The habit of seatbelt safety has led me down a nausea induced state of silence when I ride on the bus and yes, on elephants. I feel relatively safe on the bus with its comfy seats and personal fans, sitting high above traffic relaxing on the arm rest, but elephants have no seat belts. There is a thick cushion with a metal frame that rocks with every step. Try this, walk with one hand on your significant others hip, don’t take it off, just keep it there and notice how your hand moves up and down. Magnify that by 100; add a 4 story cliff and you have experienced an elephant ride up to see the beautiful Amber Fort.

    Once you have arrived to the entrance/courtyard, traditional Indian music fills the air and people crowd around you to greet you with little trinkets, puppets, shirts, pictures, and perfumes. I think I have really mastered the art of bargaining and get the lowest price possible. For instance, a guy tried to sell me a nice little manufactured replica hat for 900 rupees. After a few hard stares and hand waves, I got it for 150 rupees which is roughly about $3. No worries, he sold other people on the trip the same hat for about 500-700 rupees. While everyone else has paid almost full asking price for little trinkets that we have seen everywhere, I have gotten them all for fair market value.

    Today, I like India, yesterday my stomach hurt as expected so I wasn’t too fond of the chaos known as India, but today the sky looks just like the sky in Tennessee except more birds. The birds are so fat that they just walk instead of trying to fly sometimes. Why you ask?…because of the firm belief in karma and reincarnation. People offer alms to all animals just in case in the next life, they are an animal. I have finally learned to distinguish cows from water buffalo. I have also learned that cow milk is cheaper than buffalo because of its natural fat count and that it is often watered down. Our tour guide told us that women stick their finger in the milk before they buy to determine whether or not it has been watered down. So by the time it has reached our table, more than a few people have tested it. This accounts for the curry-mango-tikka-masalla- potato flavor of the milk in our coffee every morning. I thought that was hilarious because I stopped drinking coffee in Delhi.

    May 20 2010

    A smile says a million words but a finger only says one

    Filed under: Classroom

    We have been so busy in Jaipur. Although our evenings are free and we have the option to do many things outside of the hotel, I like to rest and absorb the moment. Never before have I been short of words, but the constant activities of the streets and all the sounds all endless. I work up between 1am and 3am one night/morning and I could hear Hindi from my window and the sounds of cars honking in the distance. Back on the plane, the guy next to me said that he can’t stand the sound of horns, but to me they sound so non aggressive as they are in the states. People honk as just to let you know that they are on your side or about to pass. I think we generally just cut people off and maybe wave an angry finger.

    Although most people are covered you can still see the many faces of everyone else. A smile is rare to see, but when you do see one it’s like a glow. A real and true smile that doesn’t need explanation on why it peaks through. How many times do we smile a real and true smile that doesn’t have any attachments? They are beautiful and it’s impossible not to smile back when you see one.

    Today we visited the NGO, Taabar. NGO stands for non-governmental organization and they work a bit different than non-profit organizations in the states and elsewhere. First, non-profits receive money and supplies from the government while NGOs’ function only through sponsorship, donations, and volunteers. Second, they both work within the bounds of government sanctions as it regards to how they handle funds and run the facility, but NGOs’ are the sole controller of its organization. There are boards and chairs, but the rules are different and vary from NGO to NGO. And most importantly, NGOs’ can reach far more people than most Non-profits, because they work outside of government regulations. I would love to work for an NGO in the near future and being at Taabar made me realize that even if I am able to reach a small number of people, I can still help someone and that will exists in that person and perhaps they too will do what has been done for them. Speaking honestly, I almost lost hope in the kindness of India because of only a few and far between impolite thing that I have seen, but it is fully restored. Where there is darkness, there is light that shines much brighter. We have to look out for one another, it is our duty. This doesn’t mean give out money to everyone and only donate goods, but what about spending some of your time. Share a few games and jokes with someone else. I wish we could have stayed longer with the children. I was really nervous at first about the language difference and the emotional state of the children, but slowly they are regaining their childhood and with every smile, giggle, and handshake they will build better memories.

    May 18 2010

    I just need a hug

    Filed under: Excursions

    We are a little over half-way through our India journey through the golden triangle. We have seen Delhi, Agra, and now Jaipur. All three cities are very different, each having its own approach to daily life. In Delhi, there is more noise, more chaos, and more contrast from street to street. Agra is full of beggars and hard core entrepreneurs. This shouldn’t sound as a discouragement to visit India; it’s only a peak into actual life. Sometimes we are so sheltered in our “reality” that when the time comes for us to experience it, we forget how real and uncomfortable it truly is. Overall I think that Agra is a city that is aggressive and majestic in one, kind of like the spice of a cinnamon candy. Jaipur is very calm. I haven’t experienced anything that is offsetting here. The hockers of trinkets aren’t everywhere, beggars aren’t so upfront. The mountains that surround us and it’s fragrant and fruity trees remind me of a tight hug from someone trusting.

    I am going to diagnose myself with claustrophobia and recommend I step out of the charred smell of my room. I am naturally a homebody, but I can’t handle it here so a group of us decided to venture outside of the hotel and visit a mall. We initially started walking, but soon the sun beamed high from above and the sweat began to fill out shirts. We hopped into an auto-rickshaw and headed about 4 blocks down and around to crystal mall. Because of the death of India’s former vice president, many of the shops were closed. Bangles filled windows and custom textile shops intrigued my eyes. The saris that were in some of the stores were so colorful like a spring day. Imagine all sorts of flowers, bees, birds, and clear skies whirling in the wind. That feeling is the feeling I get when I see a sari or any type of fabric. Steven found a pretty trendy pair of shoes and I found two really nice kurtas. Although I would only spend this much on a shirt for a special occasion, everything from this adventure pans out. I really want to get a custom made outfit like some of the other girls. There aren’t many voluptuous ladies here so it is hard finding something that fits well. I can’t wait to really go shopping for my family and friends, I have already gotten a few ideas on what they may like and appreciate.

    I am probably one of the few that actually don’t mind and even enjoy the heat. It feels nice on my skin, the feeling of a cool pellet of something colder than 110 degrees. The sweat here doesn’t build up like it does in the states, it’s like you don’t feel it coming until it’s already there. Everywhere you go the women are covered usually from head to toe and I find that really commendable. To us, a woman needs to show off her body to project independence and sexuality, here it’s all in their hand motions and their mannerism. Many of the women hide their beauty behind long gloves, loose and long skirts, and complete wrapping their faces in soft and airy cotton. The men also wear pants versus shorts. Many of the older men wear a long piece of cloth that they wrap between their legs that then falls down like loose collates.

    I am still immensely paranoid about talking to people and even looking anyone in the eye. Some of my fellow travelers have no problem divulging to people that we are from Tennessee or the U.S. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business that I am, where I am from or what I am doing in India. Mindless chatter often leads many down the road of mindless responses. It can be very easy to get wrapped up in a conversation with a local especially if you have been couped up with the same people 24 hours a day.

    In a place with 30 students and over 1 billion citizens, I never expected to feel so alone. A deep longing sorry rests in my heart and no amount of interactions, which is in constant supply, can fill the void. I know what homesick feels like, but this is more like there is so much to do, what only a small time frame to get out there and do it. The confidence from familiarity has dissipated. I can’t even bring myself to unpack my luggage…I simply repack it every night as if that’s the remedy. Pressure often wells in my eyes only to be replaced by humility and gratitude for this opportunity that I cannot waste.

    So I leave you all with a bit of insight once more…experience can only be measured in enjoyment, while enjoyment is always an experience worth repeating. And value your water and your ice cubes, and especially clean clothes. Although I haven’t been as close to a better or complete chakra line like some nor have I felt a sense of spirituality that is like a new awakening, I have learned to watch movies without a lick of English and discovered a patient more observant sense of me.

    May 18 2010

    Daily Taste of India Journey

    Filed under: Food

    I never imagined that I would get tired of Indian food. There are so many flavors like mango mastana, spicy masalas that tickle your tonsils and tandoories that act as soupy as they do thick and flavorful. In Knoxville, to go out and get Indian food is a big deal for me. We make arrangements to go because the restaurant is only open during a small time frame. Now that I am here…I need variation. Typical huh? Usually the most variation I can handle is deviating from the veggie side that I associate with certain
    foods (peas and fish; carrots and potato with roast beef).

    The food at the first hotel was really good. There wasn’t much spice and it was pretty easy on the belly, but then we ate outside of the hotel. The second hotel had food that was a mystery until you chomped it around in your mouth and gets absorbed into your taste buds. The drawback is that you get served a soup that had a strong odor of mushroom, onion, and sneakers. All sharing the same texture of chewy and gummy like really old gummy worms. At the Khadela, the food is spicy and bland at the same time, how does that happen? I had to stop eating because although I have been eating small portions, the food doesn’t digest well.

    In between all this we have eaten out and that is where the trouble occurs. Avoiding a long list of ingredients, plus looking for safe hygienic handling is difficult. We ate a two sit down restaurants and the food was authentic Indian, but I couldn’t handle it. The sweets are even spicy. “One order of plain rice please” is what I will be saying from now own.

    So what better way to top it all off? Go out and really eat like Indians…no utensils and sitting on the floor with your legs crossed. At the Choki Dhani, we experienced a Dixie Stampede like setting with live entertainment, elephant and camel rides, and henna. You could walk around and really feel like you have entered a small village lined with shops and services. There is a boat ride across a small water oasis and many little shrines. At call time, you line up to wash your hands by having steward pour water over your hands. Joining everyone else in the large hut filled with red coated and turbaned men shuffling around and repeating “namaste” you try to adjust your legs between each other and scoot close enough to the small tables. The plates are made from molded dry leaves and the bowls are too. Soon your plate is filled with small portions of food that is rust, champagne brown, forest green and various shades of dark and medium red. The soups are thick and yellow with sprinkles of green vegetables. I don’t think I have every eaten like this before and imagine what it would be like to try Mexican or Italian food is a rustic manner. I also forgot that you receive a small portion of water and milk, but can’t drink it because who knows where either of them came from. I liked eating with other Indians and hearing the chatter of multiple conversations ringing in my ears and simultaneously hearing the clanking of serving dishes and pots.

    In Jaipur there is a Mcdonald’s close by and I had to try it. My roomie was nice enough to bring back a fish sandwich because I’m not brave enough to venture out at night. It was nice to have something so familiar that still had its own Indian flare. I like comparing and contrasting things that we are familiar with and having the local version.

    Water is a constant reminder of the basic necessities of life…that and toilet paper. Whether it is crystal cold or heated by heat waves, it is still delicious to taste. Not many people would describe water as such, but when it gives you nourishment like it does here and clean water has to be bought, then it becomes more than delicious.