Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's Official!

Well it's official. I have survived my first semester of school in India! Yesterday I took my 6th and last final. Now I am free until 2nd semester starts on November 24th!

As I mentioned before, the three finals I had remaining were Quantitative Research Analysis and Statistics, Understanding Society, and Economics. All in all, I feel okay about how I did on them. Me being the huge nerd that I am, Quantitative Research is probably my favorite subject, so I felt fairly confident while writing my essays for that class. I wrote one long essay about the use of literature review in the research process, another long essay about types of research designs, and four short essays on levels of measurement, probability sampling methods, bivariate tables, and Likert Scales. I wasn't always sure what they were asking for in the essay prompts, but I think I did alright. The statistics element was really basic, so I think I did well on that part too.

Understanding Society was a bit harder for me. This was a 3-hour exam, so they expected a little more out of us than they would for the 2-hour ones. I tried to prepare as best I could, but in the end, the subject matter was really vast, and some of the topics I had to choose from were not ones I felt comfortable with. At any rate, I ended up writing an essay on Conflict Theory, another on Perspectives of Caste, one on Class-Caste Dynamics, "drawing examples from either agrarian or industrial social structure", another on the Women's Movement in India, and two short notes on the Functionalist Approach and Secularism in India. Whew! Just typing all of that makes me tired again! I really have no idea how I did on this paper, though. I am trying not to stress too much and to just wait until I receive my grades to find out how much I really did end up "understanding society"!

My last exam was Economics. It was 3 hours as well, and covered both Micro and Macro concepts. This time I really lucked out, though, because the topics that came were the very ones I had studied. I wrote three essays for this exam. The first was about different types of elasticity of demand and the factors affecting it. The second essay talked about supply and demand curves and their relationship. The third talked about the Law of Diminishing Returns, the Law of Returns to Scale and long and short-run cost curves. The prompts were actually much more involved than I've indicated, but I figure I have bored you enough with talk of final exams. Plus, last post I promised you all some fun pictures and stories. So, without further ado...

To celebrate the end of my semester, I did something I have been wanting to do ever since my arrival in India. I got Mehendi! For those of you that don't know what Mehendi is, allow me to explain. Basically, Mehendi is a traditional body art that Indian women apply on special occasions. It's usually applied to the palms of your hands, and sometimes the tops of your feet. Mehendi ceremonies are really common at weddings, but there aren't any rules about when or why someone has it done.

Even though the end of a semester is not usually considered such a huge cause for celebration, I decided it was as good of a reason as any to experience this really beautiful Indian art form. And while just about any beauty parlor in India will be skilled in Mehendi application, I was fortunate enough to find someone in my class at school who offered to apply mine. So I went to the market and bought the henna dye for 5 rupees (or around 10 cents) and took it back to Sangeeta's dorm room.
2 hours later, I emerged with a thick layer of crusty, dried paste halfway up my arms. I wanted to take pictures of the whole process, but, silly me, I forgot my camera's memory card at home. These pictures are several hours after the application, when the paste had started flaking off. It takes quite a while for the color to fully develop. That's why my palms are orange here. The dark spots are where the paste is still clinging to me. At this point, I was a bit skeptical about whether or not I would end up with the pretty auburn hue I was desiring. Apparently there can be issues of not getting good dye. So even though the woman I bought it from assured me it was "bahot atcha" (very good), I didn't know what to expect.

Finally though, when I woke up this morning, the dye had taken full effect and I had exactly what I had envisioned:

This should stay on my palms for about a week. I wish it were longer! I know I will be sad to see this gorgeous design fade away, but I am sure I will find another excuse to have it applied again really soon!

Oh, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have the next month completely free for vacation. (Yay!) That of course means that I am going on an adventure! (Because living in India isn't enough of one already?) On Monday morning, I am heading to the airport and catching a flight to Bangkok, Thailand! I have ALWAYS wanted to see Thailand, so you can imagine how excited I am to finally be going!

I will only be there 3 days though, because on Wednesday evening, I am getting on another plane. This time, I will be going to Cambodia! Some friends of my family and really wonderful people are living in Phnom Penh. They agreed to let me camp out at their place for a few weeks while seeing the sights in this country. I've been trying to read up quite a bit on Cambodia's history so that when I get there, I will be able to fully appreciate all of the amazing things I will get to see. The temple ruins are supposed to be amazing, and the killing fields, really impacting. And, having lived through such recent political turmoil, I know this country's inhabitants will have incredible stories to tell as well. I can't wait to take it all in!

I promise to blog as much as I can while I am away. If it turns out that I can't post regularly while I'm in Cambodia, though, you can bet I will more than make up for it upon my return. A big part of the joy of my many adventures has been being able to share them with all of you. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

After Gramsci, Foucault and Postmodernism, What else IS there?!

...well, Caste, Marxism, Subaltern Studies, Supply and Demand Curves, Purposive Sampling Techniques...

I have officially made it through my first 3 exams for this semester! It's been a rough few days, but I am glad to be able to mark the halfway point in the testing process. Monday and Tuesday, I sat for Casework and Group work papers. Both were 2 hours long, which sounds like a lot of time. But actually, I am amazed I was able to even touch on half the subjects they wanted us to address in that time period! It's incredible how much material they expect us to cover. In Casework, we had a multiple-choice section (small mercy!) along with an option between several essay topics. I opted for writing 2 short essays and one long. The short were on recording in the casework process, and another on the philosophical assumptions of social casework. The long essay was an explanation and description of the "Task Centered Approach" to casework.
In Group work, the exam started with a case study that we had to read and then write notes about. We were expected to identify the principles of group work contained within the study, with in-depth explanation of two of them. Then we had to identify the dynamics present within the study. The essay component of the exam once again had a few options. Of the choices, I thought that two short and one long essay sounded best, and I went for a short essay on the initial phase of group work, another short essay on the Social Goals Model in group work, and a long essay on the middle phase of group work "with special emphasis on the role of conflict and decision making in this phase." While I'm not sure how I did on either one of these exams, I am fairly sure I didn't fail them. I think casework went better than group work did, but with the subjective nature of essay questions, who knows what the results will be!

Today's exam was one I had been DREADING since day one! History and Ideologies of Social Work is a pretty vast subject, and definitely one in which my foreignness is a huge factor. In the end, though, I think my preparations paid off, and I am relatively satisfied with how I feel coming out of the test. I ended up writing a long essay explaining the contentions of Gramsci and Foucault, another long essay on the Historical Development of Social Work in the Global Context, and two short essays- one on Postmodernism and another on Human Rights. Now, if you are thinking,"How can you possibly write a short essay on postmodernism or human rights and even remotely explain them?", well, I am right there with you. My biggest frustration with today's wasn't that I didn't know what to write, it's that I didn't know what NOT to write, since I couldn't possibly address everything in only 2 hours. But I keep reminding myself that all of my classmates had 2 hours to answer the very same questions, so as long as I did my best, I couldn't have expected to include anything more than what I did.

Now all I have left is Quantitative Research Methods and Statistics on Friday, and "Understanding Society" (a Sociology course within the Indian context), and Economics next Monday and Wednesday. I'm halfway there! Understanding Society is another subject that has my American-born self fighting off a panic attack at every turn. The concepts of caste, dalits, subaltern studies etc. are all completely new to me, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. But, in the end, I am definitely learning, which is what I came here to do. So, while good grades would be nice, I'm trying to just be happy with the personal growth in knowledge that I've obtained from being here.

Well I know this post was probably incredibly boring to all of you. Exams are my life at the moment, so I really can't even begin to think about anything else. Once this is over, I promise to have all kinds of fun and exciting posts complete with pretty pictures of all of my adventures! Until next week!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tying up Loose Ends

Just a quick post to let everyone know that Sonali and I did finally get back to the Synagogue and retrieve our Hebrew translation. The Rabbi did I good job, but it was a little to vague for our purposes, though, so I think the adventure will stop here for now. But, since I never seem to go too long without something "exciting " happening, I'm sure I'll have a new story for you all very soon. (of course, with 6 essay exams over the next 10 days, each lasting 2 to 3 hours, my adventure is more likely to be about me running out of ink than anything else!)

I also wanted to let everyone know that, due to popular demand, my email address is now in my profile. So, if you want to email me, just click on the "About Me" section on the right side of the screen. You should find a link to my address. I'll keep it up as long as it doesn't lead to spam or other undesirable emails. (So keep your messages nice! :))

Sorry this is short, and picture-less. Since I have a few millenia of Indian History to cram into my head over the next few days, I should probably get back to studying!

Monday, October 6, 2008

To Be Continued...

So I know that since my cliffhanging ending to my previous post, the anticipation over today’s has been killing you all! (Don’t worry. I don’t actually have such delusions of grandeur as to think my blog matters THAT MUCH to everyone) But never fear, faithful readers. The mystery of the elusive topic for today’s blog is about to be revealed! So, as I was saying.....A Christian and a Hindu walk into a Synagogue.... south Mumbai, on a Sunday afternoon. The Christian’s name was obviously Jill. And the Hindu was none other than the always-fabulous Sonali.
“But why were Jill and Sonali going to a Synagogue in south Mumbai on a Sunday afternoon?” you ask.
Well clearly it was because they needed something translated into Hebrew, and had decided that a Jewish Rabbi would be the best person to provide said translation. But, seeing as Judaism is not one of the predominant religions in India, they had to do a bit of searching to locate a Rabbi who would be up to the task. Luckily there is an historic synagogue located in south Mumbai. So, one fine Sunday afternoon, Jill and Sonali hopped on the train and ventured southwards on their quest for Hebrew translation.
The girls also decided that no quest would be complete without a nice lunch to accompany it, and therefore made a stop at Basilico, a lovely cafe that oozed of European style. After a wonderful meal which satisfied Jill’s perpetual yearning for exotic vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, the two adventurous souls continued on to their destination.

Along the way, Sonali indulged Jill’s inclination to photograph everything in sight, until the two finally arrived at Kenneth Eliyahoo Synagogue.

(Random mosaic art on a wall)

(The "Black Horse" Neighborhood)

(This is the train station!)
This towering, baby blue building stood in stark contrast to the white-washed walls around it. Having finally neared the end of their journey, Jill and Sonali tentatively entered the building. They shyly looked around the large hall filled with religious texts, pictures of past auspicious visitors to the site, and signs banning unauthorized photography. Finally, Sonali mustered up the courage to inquire after the Rabbi, only to be told that he was on his lunch break, and would return shortly. So Jill and Sonali waited patiently, taking in the beautiful stained glass windows, and resisting the urge to snap pictures of the interior of the building. At last a rotund man with thick glasses appeared and greeted the two. After inquiring whether Jill was Jewish, and looking quite disappointed at her negative response, the man informed the girls that he could not provide translation for them that day. They would instead, need to return in a few days to retrieve their Hebrew writings. Undeterred from their goal, the girls left the Synagogue that day with plans to complete their mission later that week. And thus, the saga of Jill and Sonali’s Hebraic quest continues....

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The End of Monsoon?

This post has absolutely nothing to do with what I intended to write about today. But sometimes, things happen to me that are just too bizarre to NOT tell people. Today’s event definitely fell in that category.

After church this morning, I was waiting for the bus to head back to my flat. The bus stop has a tree next to it, which is usually a nice thing in monsoon, as it provides a slight filter for the deluge from above. Now that monsoon is over, I don’t think too much about the tree. But today, I was standing under it ever so slightly, when suddenly I heard this strange “thud” right next to me. Something had fallen from the branches above. When I looked down at my feet to see what it was, I immediately regretted having done so. On the ground, not 3 inches from my foot was a dead rat. Yes, that’s right. A dead rat had fallen from the tree above me and barely missed hitting me in its descent! I guess a bird or some other animal had been carrying the rat around and dropped it by mistake. I can’t imagine how else a rat would fall from the sky. In any case, you can believe I said a silent prayer of thanks right then and there that I hadn’t been standing a few inches to the right! I guess it just goes to show that, for all my complaining about monsoon, there ARE worse things than rain that could be falling from the sky!

As I mentioned before, I had another topic I wanted to write about today, but I think I will actually save it for tomorrow. But just to keep the suspense going, I’ll give you a hint about the subject matter: “A Christian and a Hindu walk into a Synagogue.....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Almost Crunch Time!

Well my first semester of school in India is starting to come to an end. My last class will be tomorrow morning, afterwhich we will be given a week to study before our final exams begin on October 12th. It's hard to believe things are already coming to a close!

My last day of field work was this past Tuesday. In the nine weeks I've been going to Akshara, I've really learned a lot. I know I haven't written a lot about my work there, but it really has been educational dealing with gender rights issues in a country that has such extreme views on men and women. Next semester, I will have the opportunity to work there even more, and this time, it will be on a more regular basis.

The first semester of field work, we only go to our agencies twice a week. With nine weeks of work involved, that's really just 18 days of interaction, spread out over more than 2 months. In that format, it is diffiuclt to feel any real congruency in the work we do. But in second semester, we have what is called a "block placement" in which we go to our agencies 5 days a week for 5 weeks. It will be much easier to plan projects and have goals for that time, since there won't be huge gaps in between the times we come into the office.

In fact, on my last day, we had a meeting to discuss what I will be doing during my block placement. Several ideas came up.The first possibility is my involvement in "Streenet", which is an online course that Akshara offers to college students that educates them on gender issues in society. I've done a little bit with this course already, by helping plan out some discussion questions that could be posted on the course's discussion forum, and coming up with games and other activities that the students could do during the online chat sessions they are required to attend. However, next semester, I might be able to do more, and even work on designing a curriculum for a future course that targets a different group other than college students. Sadly, I won't be working with Akshara when the course is actually offered, but the woman that heads up Streenet has promised to keep me up to date on how things go, so I will know how the fruits of my labor turn out!

Also, I did not get much opportunity to leave Akshara's office this term. In an effort to help me interact more with the community, we have discussed the possibility of me teaching a few conversational English courses to some of the girls involved in Akshara's vocational training programs. I am supposed to do some research over this break on some different Adult Education Programs and design a curriculum that will help these girls get a better grasp on English, while teaching them concepts that empower and motivate them to use their newfound skills. I am really looking forward to this project. I have taught English in the past, and really enjoyed that. Plus, having a group of girls that I would go to every week should really help me establish more links in the community here.
I apologize for not having any really fun and exciting stories to tell you all today. With exams coming up, I've spent most days sitting in front of a stack of reference books desperately trying to cram as much knowledge of Indian history and sociology as I can into my little, American head! I feel like I have so much catching up to do just to get me at par with the rest of my Indian classmates! It's a little overwhelming, but I am proud of the progress I have made in understanding the intricacies of this culture. I may not get the kind of grades I am accustomed to earning on my exams in the U.S., but, even if I barely pass, the sense of accomplishment I will get from just taking the tests will be enough for me. (though an "A" would be nice!)