Friday, September 26, 2008

Top 10

I want to begin by apologizing for my sparse posts as of late. A lot is going on right now at school. Final exams are coming up in about 2 weeks. In Indian education systems, most, if not all of a student's grade is determined by the final exam, which consists of several timed essays. The topic of these essays could be anything covered in the classroom lectures or even things not addressed in class but mentioned in the outside readings that were suggested by the professor. Because these exams are so intense, there is a lot of pressure on us to make sure we've read as much as possible before sitting down to write. (In fact, next week begins a preparatory time in which we don't have formal classes at all and are meant to spend the whole time reviewing for the finals!) It has turned rather chaotic here as students scramble around to find specific articles or books mentioned by the professors and fill in the gaps in their class notes. I'm really nervous about these tests since I have no idea what to expect, and unlike my classmates, have no experience taking this sort of exam. Lately, I find myself exhausted at the end of the day, and not really in the mood to write for this blog.

To be completely honest, I've also been avoiding posting here lately because I've been having a hard time in general, and haven't wanted my negativity to come out too strongly. But, I finally decided two things today. One: The goal of this blog is to tell people about my experiences in India- both good and bad; and Two: I am in charge of how I choose to view my circumstances, and it just might help lift my spirits to try to look at things from a positive light. So, on that note, I've dedicated today's entry to a Top 10 List. Inspired by the Top 10 List some friends of mine posted on their blog, I am making my own, focusing on things I've learned in India. Some of my choices are rather tongue-in-cheek, but all of them definitely represent the knowledge I've acquired since coming to such a new and often confusing environment!


10. How to eat an appreciate ALL kinds of wonderful foods, even when I have no idea what they are! (and with my hands, no less!)

9. Nothing in India will ever start on time, (Or finish on time, for that matter) so I can relax, and take my time getting places.

8. The skill of crossing the street: Step out in front of oncoming traffic, hold out your hand, and stare the driver of the approaching car down until he finally stops two inches from you. (Ignore the incessant honking. They are bluffing, I promise!)

7. Just because a store carried something last week does not mean it will carry that item this week, or ever again. So buy it while you can!

6.How to read!

5. Vegetables that have been bargained for in an open-air market taste better than those bought in an air-conditioned grocery store. (Of course, I could just be savoring the sense of accomplishment from getting the same produce at about 1/4th of the price!)

4. Animals make life more exciting! (This first picture is a cow in front of my flat. The second, a dog in our class at school. She generally comes in the window, but sometimes we let her use the door.)

3. Showers are the best invention ever!

2. My Indian friends are some of the nicest, most patient people I have ever met.

1. Joy can be found even in the most unlikely of circumstances. But you have to be looking for it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Keeping Busy!

Sorry everyone for my blogging absence! Things around here have been pretty hectic with regards to assignments and meetings for school. This week alone I had to write one field work report, give a group presentation and write a 4,000 word essay on an Indian Social Reformer , submit a Quantitative Research Proposal (another group assignment), and write an individual essay about the Group Work Process (also 4,000 words)! This was in addition to the 15 hours I spent at field work on Monday and Tuesday, and the 16 hours of in-class lectures for the rest of the week! Needless to say, I haven’t felt much like typing anything I didn’t need to! But now that the dust is settling on this whirlwind week, I thought I should touch base and let everyone know that I’m still alive!

Despite the academic focus this past week has had, I did manage to have a little fun. Last Friday was a festival day for the South Indian state of Kerala. It’s called Onam, and is meant to celebrate the Harvest season. In honor of the holiday, the girls from Kerala all wore traditional saris from the region. Those of us not from the state still wore saris to school because, well, honestly we’ll take any excuse to dress up!

These are flowers arranged on the ground. Someone is talented!

Then, as if Onam weren’t enough, the culmination of the past 10 days of celebration of the Ganesh Chathurti finished on Saturday. Since September 3rd, Mumbai has been exploding with parades and loud music honouring Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, prosperity and fortune. For this festival, people purchase miniature (or not so miniature!) idols to place in their home. They worship them for 10 days, often inviting friends and relatives to their homes for special “pujas” (worship ceremonies). On the 11th day, the idols are taken through the streets in a procession of drums, dancing, fireworks, and the throwing of this incredibly bright pink powder that stains everything it touches! The parade ends with the statues being immersed in water (generally the sea here, though some people just use a fountain or a tub). This symbolizes Ganesh’s return to his home. There is a rather large Ganesh that was put up near my flat, so when the time for the immersion came, my flatmate and I went out into the street to watch it leave. I was initially wary of getting too close to the pink dye, but finally decided to take a risk for the sake of good pictures. Fortunately, I was able to snap a few shots without getting dusted with it!

The Ganesh leaving my neighborhood

A woman who was not so lucky with the pink powder. (I'm sure she wasn't trying to avoid being dusted!)

A sweet little girl riding the cart with the Ganesh idol.
Hinduism is such an incredibly complex religion. The variations in worship and beliefs and even the gods they recognize are so different from region to region, that it’s essentially impossible for me to get concrete answers to my questions about what Hindus believe and why. I’m really trying to understand this faith, as Hinduism seems to have been incorporated into every facet of Indian life.
I think the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around is the idea of worshipping objects. Because my belief is that God is Omnipresent and Spirit, I can’t imagine having a connection or feeling the need to show such incredible respect to a man-made statue as if it were my God. In fact, I feel like in my journey of faith, most of my efforts have been to keep myself from confining God to human constraints of time or space.
Ephesians 3:20-21 says: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” When I read that, I am reminded how often I limit God in my own head, by looking at a task and seeing it as too big to overcome, forgetting that the Creator of the world is behind me! In a way, it’s like I am creating a miniature god and forgetting how big He truly is!
Anyway, I’m not intending for this to be a Bible lesson. It’s just some of my recent musings that have come up. Encounters with such a diverse and rich culture seem to have a way of making me think about my own values and beliefs, which, in my opinion, is never a bad thing.

Monday, September 8, 2008

You're Never Too Old for a Field Trip

I’m sure all of you remember your very first field trip in elementary school. The excitement of getting to leave the school building behind, pile onto a bus, and spend a day touring an ice cream factory or going to a planetarium or even visiting a museum. Well apparently I at least have not outgrown this love for school excursions, as I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered that my entire social work class would be taking one this past Saturday. As a part of our History and Ideologies of Social Work class, we were to pay a visit to Mani Bhavan, the place in which Gandhi resided during his time in Mumbai. The house has been turned into a museum dedicated to the revolutionary man. Here are a few pictures I took during our visit.

(I was forced to pose for this picture, in case anyone is wondering why I look so enthralled by this sign!)

This is Gandhi's room.

I love this quote!

As excited as I was to be able to see where Mahatma Gandhi lived, I must admit that another part of me was excited about this excursion for a completely different and selfish reason. You see, a lot of my friends in the U.S. have been asking me “So what’s it like living in Bombay?” My responses seem to disappoint them, as I haven’t really ventured out into the more famous parts of the city. To be honest, sometimes I even forget that I live in the 3rd most populated city in the world. My little corner of Bombay often lacks the cosmopolitan flair one associates with this metropolis.

Govandi, the neighbourhood I technically live in, is a smaller neighbourhood about an hour north of Central Bombay, where traditional India is still very much the dominant culture. Being the absolute only Westerner in the area, I attract quite a crowd wherever I go. I have been able to minimize my conspicuousness a bit by adopting the traditional dress. For example, in Govandi I almost always don a shawl (or dupatta) just to run to the vegetable stall around the corner from my flat. While going out in traditional western clothes wouldn’t shock anyone here, it would stand out quite starkly against the backdrop of women dressed in full salwar kameez or saris. So, even on days when I do opt for a t-shirt instead of a kurta, I try to “cover up” in some form or fashion, just to minimize the stares, if nothing else.

So, part of my excitement about our field trip to the southern part of the city was also that it meant getting to venture into the more “touristy” areas, do some shopping, and forget my painfully obvious foreignness for at least a little while.

After our visit to the museum, a few of my friends and I decided to go to Colaba Causeway, a known street market full of vendors selling anything and everything to locals as well as the massive amounts of tourists. Immediately I saw the contrast between South Mumbai and Govandi/Chembur where I live. Suddenly, instead of being surrounded by Hindi-speaking locals drinking chai and hacking up a piece of their lung which they somehow feel compelled to spit in my path, I was inundated with westerners clad in tank tops and capris, consulting guide books and looking generally confused. Now, it was my salwaar kameez which drew attention rather than my incredibly pale complexion!

We spent the afternoon doing quite a bit of shopping, haggling over prices, eating good food, and just enjoying time away from the campus. I was happy to finally buy a few of the “typical” Indian souvenirs that I had been wanting to get, and took great comfort in the knowledge that my Indian companions ensured I did not pay “foreign” prices for any of my purchases.

After this trip, I have decided that I really do need to venture out of Govandi a bit more. Mumbai is a gorgeous city with lots of rich history and fun activities. True, a trip to South Mumbai does take a bit of advanced planning. But two hours of travel seems worth it when it means getting to experience one of the most diverse places on earth!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Who Doesn't Love Animals?

So I’ve mentioned “critters” in my flat at least a couple of times in this blog. Today I thought I would let you see a few of them!

This is some sort of centipede that I find just about everywhere. This morning there was one in the kitchen sink!

This "little" guy was just haning out in the middle of the floor one morning when I woke up. Shradha sent him to cockroach heaven with her shoe. (But she did feel really guilty about it!)

And for those of you who aren't insect fans, we have some reptile representatives in the house. These lizards also roam fairly freely around the place. I see them in the bathroom a lot, and sometimes on the window sill in the kitchen. They're really fast, though, so getting this picture took some effort on my part.

Finally, we have an animal with a little more crowd appeal. This is the stray cat that one of my roommates has adopted and started feeding. She doesn't have a name, but she does come inside and get fed and loved by us on a daily basis. I couldn't get her to look at the camera, though, so you'll just have to make due with these pictures of her strutting her stuff! She's a little scraggly right now, but I think that with all the attention she's getting now, she'll be soft and cuddly in no time!