Archive for January, 2011


Kelly: Mercado in Otavalo

January 31, 2011
Went to Otavalo this weekend! There are many more photos from the others in the group… will post the good ones when they are loaded on the facebook.
Día Uno:
  • garbage trucks play fun tunes
  • ate lunch at a beauuuuuuuutiful vegetarian restaurant that was totes spanish inspired: cafe con leche, tortilla española, live band, beautiful flowers, fun conversations (vampires, birds, vacations, music, etc.)
  • crazy big market!!!! so many beautiful things and fruits and veggies for sale! lots of bartering. I got an alpaca shawl and sweater with llamas on it. Will return with my padres de los EE.UU. and exploit their financial resources.
  • hiked to a tree/plant called Lechero that sits by itself on top of a big hill. Apparently it has healing/magic powers. We hugged it. Bought popsicles (aka fresh fruit juice frozen in a plastic cup with a stick stuck in it) on the way down and got “Hola”ed several times by a truck full of niños.
  • we (the eight of us) bought a bunch of fresh veggies and made a stir fry with quinoa (plus piña y radishes on the side)… también cervesas. Total cost per person= $2 (including booze). Score!
  • went out: sat at a restaurant and drank a bit, went to a club where we thought there would be salsa dancing, but it was too fast for salsaing… then a terrible live band took stage… we left.
  • back to the hostel and chatted on the roof for a while before we went to bed. The beds were free of bugs, we think/hope.
Día Dos:
  • found a fair trade/tourist shop where we had “Real Coffee,” which I was definitely in need of. Usually they use instant coffee here, which isn’t too bad actually, but not close to coffee made from freshly ground beans with a little creamer and brown sugar. Mmmm
  • meet a guy via who showed us around the waterfall Peguche. I rode in the bed of the truck on the way back to the hostel—first time I’ve gone through a city like that. He was super cool and is coming salsa dancing in Quito on Wednesday. I say yes to a middle of the week dance break.
  • ate lunch, boarded a bus back to Quito… slept most of the way
  • navigated public transit (well, mi amigo did… the other two of us mostly followed) and made it back to my casa
  • Mis padres adoptivos y mi hermano made me sing karaoke… yay Queen!

I need to take a shower real bad and buy something to rub the gross skin off of my feet.


Sarah: I’m in Jerusalem

January 30, 2011

As most of you know I am currently spending the semester in Jerusalem, Israel studying abroad at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I have now been here for about two weeks and am feeling more adjusted to life here. Even though I have been here once before it is a totally new experience to be independent in Israel and not be on an organized trip. There are a lot of specifics to my program but I don’t want to bore you with the details so I will point out the things I think most people are wondering!

  • I am living in apartment/dorms in the area translated in English as “The Student Village.” Currently, I have one roommate named Paula who studies at Harvard University and is great. We will most likely be getting two more roommates, we’re both hoping Israelis but don’t know if this will be the case.
  • I am currently in a “Hebrew Ulpan” which is a four-week intensive Hebrew course where only Hebrew is spoken. Although I always got an A at the U of M for Hebrew, it is extremely difficult here. I have realized that I am such a visual learner, that learning a language is very difficult for me. I know that I need to study really hard and will need to force myself to do so because as you might expect it is very tempting to simply explore this country everyday.
  • One thing I don’t like about the program thus far is that it is fairly isolating of the international students. I am going to have to go kind of out of my way to make many Israeli friends but am willing to do so. I am applying for two internships and hope to get one. The two places I am applying are “The Ethiopian National Project” and “IMPACT-SE- Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.”

…Okay, now for what I think is interesting! The weekend here is different than in America. You have classes Sunday-Thursday and then Friday-Saturday is Shabbat. Shabbat is the day of rest in Judaism and most things that are run by Jews are shut down these two days. It creates a very different atmosphere than a Friday night in America but that is part of the charm of Jerusalem. I started this past weekend in a very militaristic/nationalistic way and this theme continued throughout the weekend. On Thursday night I was with some friends in downtown Jerusalem and we stumbled upon the ceremony that swore in new soldiers to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The entrance we went through happened to be the one where the thousand of soldiers were gathered to march into the ceremony held at the Western Wall or “The Kotel.” It was interesting for me to really look at these soldiers. Ever since I was a young girl, I remember the Israeli Scouts, who were around the age of soldiers, or soldiers at Talmud Torah coming to Minneapolis and myself and all the other young girls admiring the handsomeness and cuteness of these young men. Now, when I looked at them I saw them for what they were, boys. In Israel everyone, both men and women, are required to serve 2-3 years in the IDF. There are ways to get around this, as most of the religious people in Israel do, but it is a requirement. These soldiers I looked at were so incredibly young and were starting something so incredibly big. Yes, many 18 year olds join the army in the United States, but there is a different attitude towards the military in the US. It’s a special kind of person that joins the military (sometimes…) but in Israel it is everyone. The soldiers marched in entering this new chapter of their lives and were awarded a gun. Someone high up in the military gave a speech in Hebrew. I couldn’t understand all of it but did get the overall theme. He stated “We remember” over and over again, each of these “We remember” were followed by a big war that Israel was involved in, such as the Yom Kippur or Lebanon War. At this moment, the man giving the speech was telling these new soldiers (who were all men, I am not sure when/where the women’s ceremony was) what they were getting into. I cannot imagine the thoughts going through these young men’s minds, but as they took their huge gun and wore a soldier’s uniform they were now militaristic representations of Israel whether this was something they wanted or not. I sound very critical right now and I am actually not. I am just writing my thoughts, not my opinions regarding army requirement in Israel.

Day two: JStreet U Jerusalem put on an event called “What is A Settlement?” This event attempted to demonstrate both sides of the issue of settlements specifically in the West Bank. They brought us to the settlement bloc, Gush Etzion, and sat the full bus of about 40 of us down with two men of the settlement. Neither of these men were born there and one of them was not even born in Israel. Both men though had family ties to the area. They presented the settlements as simply their home and somewhat distinguished themselves from the “extremists that burn down olive trees and live in illegal areas.” Yet, both men agreed that they would view their settlement growing as a positive, even when these people moving in are Anglo-Saxons not from the country of Israel. This is not so simple though. Land does not simply come out of thin air and the West Bank is already such a small area of land, therefore what happens to the other people living in this area and their land?

After, leaving this settlement we picked up the director of “Peace Now-Settlement Watch”, Hagit Ofran. She is an Israeli woman who identifies as a Zionist, yet also truly wants peace for all peoples of the land. It was interesting, I was sitting next to my friend Brigitta and as this woman began to speak both of us looked at each other and she said “She has our heart.” Brigitta and I had previously discussed our journey with Israel. We love Israel and believe that there must be a state for the Jews and therefore we identify as Zionists, yet still we recognize and want more for the people that have suffered due to this dream. Hagit took us on a tour via the bus of various areas of settlements. We also stopped and got off the bus where she spoke to us more about the issue. I learned so much from her and at the same time still know so little.

Settlements are a complicated issue because like the majority of land in the Middle East, problems surround lines. Lines of what country is what. Lines of whose land is whom. Lines of legality and illegality. But these are complicated manners because who is deciding these lines? My program at Rothberg is in East Jerusalem, which is predominately an Arab side of the city, yet you never hear leaders at this institute mention this. Yet, they mention to us which areas to not go into which all happen to be Arab neighborhoods. So here, they are the creators of lines. Read the rest of this entry ?


Michelle: As American as apple pie

January 29, 2011

Is there anything more American than Apple Pie? It is for this reason that Casey and I decided to reproduce this American icon in Montpellier. Equipped with the Betty Crocker recipe I copied down from home, we went to Monoprix and bought 5 pommes Granny Smith, beurre (butter), and noix de muscade (nutmeg) then went to Casey’s family’s apartment and got to work.

One of the things that is evident in both my and Casey’s French family’s kitchen is the scarcity of farine (flour). Their bags are only one kilogram. Caroline told me when she uses flour it’s only a spoonful here or there to thicken soups or give some substance to an otherwise fragile cake. That being said, I ended up using almost all of their flour making the two crusts for the apple pie.  Also, neither of our families had sucre en poudre (granulated sugar). Instead we used sucre cassonade (cane sugar).

Another difficulty was the conversion from cups, tablespoons and teaspoons into an available unit. Anne, Casey’s host mother, has a graduated cylinder with volume markings for the weights of different substances. At first, I tried to convert a volume measurement to weight (using the internet) then back to volume (with Anne’s kitchen gadget). In the end, that ended up being too much work so I just eyeballed the proportions for the crust.

After 40 min at 220°C, the pie was done and we served it to our families à la mode. The reception was fairly positive. Casey’s host sister’s boyfriend is an apprentice at a patisserie. When asked if he liked it, he was very diplomatic by saying he had never had anything like it before. Apparently, the use of nutmeg in desserts is not common here. Although I’ll contend that my dad makes a better crust than I do, all in all, it was comforting to have a taste of home.


Luke: Tower of London

January 28, 2011

I visited the Tower of London last week. Even though I had been there three years ago, it was well worth a second visit. It was actually getting a facelift so as to be sparkly clean for the Olympics, so a giant drawing covered the canvas draping over one side of the White Tower, showing scenes from the Tower of London’s bloody history. The chapel was actual conducting a service since it was Sunday, and Beefeaters really do live at the Tower of London with their families. Who are the Beefeaters? Well, today they are retired members of the British military who still wish to serve their country. Tourists know them mainly as their guides for visits to the Tower, though. Also housed in the Tower of London are the Crown Jewels, including Queen Victoria’s famous “mini-crown” and the crown that George VI wore to India. Many of the items there dated to the year 1661 or shortly after. This is because Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament destroyed many objects owned by the monarch or that were symbolic of the monarchy, which was restored under Charles II in, you guessed it, 1661. Some interesting traditional items were the Coronation Spoon, which is 800 years old and is now used to put oil on the new monarch during Coronation, and the Sovereign’s Orb, which is placed in the new monarch’s right hand during Coronation and represents the monarch’s role as Defender of the Faith of the Church of England. I also saw crowns containing diamonds cut from the Great Star of Africa, one of the largest diamonds ever found.

Outside, I walked on the green upon which many people were executed, including Queen Anne Boleyn, who demanded a particular style of execution, forcing King Henry VIII to get an executioner from France to come over to do the job. The oldest and tallest part of the Tower of London is the White Tower, which was built over 800 years ago under William the Conqueror. Nearby are remains from the original Roman wall which is 2000 years old. Inside is a great collection of armour and weapons from all periods of English history.

I also visited several buildings that are part of the Tower of London that have housed many famous prisoners. Sir Walter Raleigh was held at the Tower, the same one who tried to establish a colony on Roanoke Island and who, while inprisoned, wrote The History of the World. The best story about the Tower of London in my opinion is about the Princes in the Tower. The two brothers were the sons of King Edward VI and were living in the Tower of London (which was actually once a royal residence). The older one (Prince Edward, aged 13) was soon to be crowned king in 1483 after his father’s death, but that summer both he and his brother disappeared from the Tower of London, never to be seen again. Their uncle, Richard III, became king and is suspected of having the princes killed. Another suspect is Henry VII, who followed Richard III as king. He seems to have had a motive to get rid of the two boys, who were in front of him in the succession to the throne. Then again, we don’t necessarily even know that the princes were killed at all. I’d put my money on Richard III as the culprit, since the princes’ deaths directly cleared his path to immediately assume the throne.

Unfortunately this website can’t upload my pictures at the moment, so I can’t show you any. Hopefully they’ll get it fixed soon.


Anna: La Vita e Meravigliosa!

January 28, 2011

This week I had my first Italian quiz, hence the “la vita e mervigliosa” which means “it’s a wonderful life.” I am trying to speak as much Italian as I can! Very different than Spanish I must say but it isn’t too horrible. Some people in my class have awful pronunciation from the East Coast so I don’t sound too bad. This is a short post but I thought I would mention a few fun things I did this week!

First, my art history professor took us to Santa Croce church which was beautiful. Michelangelo and Galileo are both buried there. We are learning about frescos, which are layers of paint that even though many have been chipped and distressed over the years you can still see how much work went into them. They remind me of textural wall murals—very pretty. I am excited to get out into the city for this class! The class is 3 hours long and my professor can talk the whole time and can still hold our attention.

We ate at restaurant called Il gatto e la volpe which means the cat and the fox. It is from the story of Pinocchio, which was written by an Italian author. When reading that back in the day I definitely didn’t connect the dots to that one. Anyways, it was delicious! The balsamic was chunky, different than usual but sooo good. I order the Spaghetti Nonna Rosa which is made with green tomatoes, a bit of cream, spicy, and little pieces of ham. It was so delicious. Anyone who visits me I am taking you there! Besides, the waiter was soo nice and looked like Ray Romano which I loved. He even gave us a 10 percent discount card! I also tried white chocolate gelato with nutella in it, so delish!

I finally met up with a friend from high school, Elizabeth Mountain. We got lunch, well I ate she watched because she is fed at her school and it was great to catch up. I got margherita pizza and the lady was not liking me because I asked for tap water and if I could pay with a credit card. If you want something to drink here, you have to pay for a huge thing of water or order something else. So everyone savor your free water! And basically everywhere you go you need cash, definitely going to take some getting used to. Elizabeth and I are planning a trip to Prague at the end of March. I have heard only great things about it! If you have any suggestions please let me know. Can’t wait!

I haven’t bought anything yet except for a sweater which involves a long story, but I was in need of one. And it was cheap! Coin is a great place to shop, cheap and a department store. Plus sale season is ending soon so if I want anything I need to buy anything in stores I need to do it soon. I have a very limited wardrobe being one of the very few people who brought only 1 suitcase. But I am still resisting the temptation and have not bought anything yet! Still need to make it to San Lorenzo market to barter.

I am going to Rome this weekend! Hopefully I will be able to meet up with both friends and family. I am in contact with my dad’s cousin named Fernando. His wife speaks a little English but I am mainly going to try to speak to his daughter in law who is Canadian and will help me communicate. I heard Fernando has a fever so hopefully he will feel well enough to give me a tour or get a bite to eat. Looking forward to this crazy city. It will be interesting to compare it to Florence since I contemplated going there earlier…but I think I will be happy with my decision anyways!

Lately everyone has been stressing and talking about traveling. I too have been struggling with trying to decide where to travel outside of Italy! I have ruled out Paris recently because it’s difficult to fly there cheaply and will be pricey once I am there. I also ruled out London even though I’d love to go but again, its a lot for a weekend trip.

Here is my list so far: Spain, Prague, Switzerland (maybe next weekend), Greece for Spring Break, and possibly the French Riviera. And my main focus is traveling ALL over Italy! My roommates and I want to do Cinque Terre for my birthday and French Riviera at the very end in April!

p.s. people don’t pick the dog poop up on the cobblestone streets ever. and italians do not know how to drive! I will post a picture explaining the driving next time because again, the internet won’t let me!
In the meantime enjoy this link my cross cultural psych teacher gave me.


Connie: and then there was slime

January 28, 2011

My friend and I went to the second-hand shop today, a wondrous place called Tsutaya. They have everything from video games to clothes to instruments… to Slimes. There is a wall full of packets of kids’ toys that are 5 for 300 yen. So we indulged in 5 packs full of slimes.

What is Slime? It’s the mascot for Enix (now SquareEnix) as well as the most famous monster from the video game franchise Dragon Quest (which is probably the best-known video game in Japan, the original game having been released in 1986). I’ve always enjoyed the games and been charmed by these ever-happy critters. My friend never heard of them until she found the one lying in my room and was thus equally enchanted with it.

Lately they’ve been cropping up all over, thanks to me. I drew one on the whiteboard in the entrance to the dormitory. Soon all the other girls gave my little slime some friends. Then there’s the slime I draw every week on Monday in our classroom. The teacher painstakingly writes in circles around the thing so she won’t have to erase it. Slime seems to be making quite the impression (as if it’s 30-odd year fame wasn’t enough).

My room is slowly filling up with weird trinkets, and more than just slimes. Here are my top 5 favorite Japanese characters, after Slime.

1. Kuromi(クロミ)

This sassy girl is created by Sanrio, the same people who are responsible for Hello Kitty. She’s supposed to be a demon of some kind, calling herself the “プリティー悪魔” (pretty akuma), or “Pretty Devil.” I’m not exactly sure whether she was created before or after, but an anime was made featuring Sanrio’s My Melody (a cutesy rabbit based on Red Riding Hood who first appeared in the 70′s) with Kuromi as her rival. As with any Sanrio character, you can find just about any product under the sun with her shape.


2. Lugia (ルギア)

Actually, I’m generally a Pokémon fan, even if I am in my 20′s. Lugia has just always been my favorite. I mean, that thing is badass. It sings and has psychic powers and looks like a dragon and stuff. Pokémon merchandise is all over Japan, and though most of the products advertised using Pokémon are intended for kids, I’m told there is a large number of university students who are playing the newest games in the series, Black and White versions. Lugia itself isn’t particularly easy to find, but it was the mascot for the previous generation games.

3. Gloomy Bear

Gloomy Bear is cute in a very twisted way. Though this particular figurine doesn’t show it, usually the bear’s mouth and claws are dripping with blood. The tag-line on Gloomy Bear merchandise typically says “The Naughty Adult Bear” (though the meaning isn’t nearly as sexual as it sounds). Apparently the creator of Gloomy Bear wanted to send a message that humans and animals aren’t meant to get along, and Gloomy Bear is typically portrayed mauling his “owner”. It’s ironic to me that something with that meaning has so much merchandise – aren’t you just owning your own Gloomy Bear that way? At any rate, Gloomy Bear is less universally popular than the other characters mentioned thus far. He seems to be more popular among the alternative crowd. He’s all over Harajuku’s street fashion district.

4. Keroro Gunsou (ケロロ軍曹)

Keroro Gunsou, literally Sergeant Keroro (Keroro being a play on the Japanese onomatopoeia for “ribbit”), is the main character in a kid’s anime. It’s about a strange race of frog-like aliens who come to earth with full intentions to conquer it… but nothing ever seems to go right for them. Even if you’re not a kid it’s pretty amusing. Keroro is fairly popular and can be seen here and there on things like cell phone charms, perhaps selling some kind of snack, and of course figurines. My favorite is the dark blue one named Tamama (another play on words coming from the Japanese word for “tadpole”).

5. Mameshiba (豆しば)

Mameshiba is part bean, part dog. For some reason, while you are eating beans of some sort, one of those beans will have the traits of a dog and will tell you a random fact.

No, really.

I always encounter Mameshiba in really random places, like, say, lotion bottles. And he’s always telling me that random fact. I don’t know why Mameshiba is a bean and a dog. I also don’t know why he comes with a random fact. But he’s so darn cute.

And an honorable mention to: Pedobear Rilakkuma

My friend here is absolutely obsessed with Rilakkuma, the incredibly lazy bear whose name derives from a combination of the word “Relax” and “くま” (kuma), which means bear. She dressed as him for Halloween. Her room is slowly filling up with him. She walks straight to him if she spots him from afar.

However, since he bears (haha, get it?) similarity to the internet joke/meme character Pedobear, Rilakkuma gets made fun of relentlessly. Must be tough having a weirdo for a cousin, huh?


Michelle: Les Français est leur Fromage

January 27, 2011

France is a land of cheese. I see it everywhere. There are countless fromageries, street vendors, and even some restaurants that specialize in cheese. After most meals, there is even a cheese plate. From this, I should have known not to tell a French person that Wisconsin is known for their cheese.

Yesterday in my Civilization of Southern France class, the professor wanted to get to know us a bit and asked us questions like, what do you want to do while you’re in France? where are you from?  etc. (This was a class for Americans). Beforehand, the lights had been turned off so we could see the projector. When she got to me, she asked, “where are you from?”
“Wisconsin,” I said.
“What is Wisconsin known for?” she asked. I said the first two things that came to mind.
“Cheese and Beer”
“Mais non,” she said, “France is the land of cheese.”
“Oui,” I said, “but Wisconsin has different types. We even invented some cheeses.” At this point, the lights came on.
“I want to see the face of the person who says that they invented cheese.” I tried to apologize, but my French caused me to stumble over my words a little.
“I didn’t say that we invented cheese, I said that we invented some cheeses. In my opinion, the best cheese is European.”
“and from France.” she added.

The whole class was smiling by this point.  Although I know the exchange was amicable, from now on, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut about Wisconsin cheese…although, Colby Jack (a Wisconsin original) is pretty darn good.


Miles: Oh, Thoreau!

January 26, 2011

Quick Updates:

  • Went Cross-country skiing. Loved it. The falls are significantly less painful. There are beautiful tracks near Kringsjå, another student village.
  • Did Laundry. Am now out about $10. Will now be wearing all clothing for a disgustingly long time.
  • First Norwegian cold! My throat hurts like WOAH. Green Tea and my flatmate’s stash of Ricola throat drops are saving my life.

One of the courses I am taking this semester is a North American Studies class called “Restoring the Earth/Renewing Culture: Critical Evaluations of the Green American Tradition.” It is a course on Environmental studies and writings. Yes, you could argue that it is silly to take a course studying my own country when I am in the middle of a Scandinavian adventure, but having only had the class twice, I can already feel the value of the course.

First, I am getting to see the States from a Norwegian point of view. The professor, while American, skews his examples towards Scandinavia when providing comparison to North America. For example, when talking about forces that are pitted against the environment, we discussed Norwegian economy. (Norway’s primary export is Oil, and many in power argue that the country simply cannot ween itself off of oil when it is such a large part of the economic stability of the country. I will be researching more into this, as I think it is fascinating. I will report more later!) By being a part of a class studying a culture that I am more familiar with (but by no means an expert on), I am in fact learning more about their culture.

But more importantly, and perhaps the thing I am most excited about, I am learning about the role Nature can play in my life. In our first reading assignment, we were given selections of Thoreau’s journals and also his piece “Huckleberries” (which, I have learned, are blueberries. Blueberry Finn. Who knew?) My favorite quote out of the journals was part of a section where Thoreau was writing about how the Earth is always changing, but continues to remain vibrant—we shouldn’t ever think of things as “dying.” He writes: “decayed wood is not old, but has just begun to be what it is.” To think of Nature, especially in wintertime in Oslo, is always being at its fullest is an extremely helpful way to look at things. It turns winter into not the long wait for spring, but rather it’s own beautiful entity.

“Huckleberries” takes the idea of a huckleberry patch to discuss the way we are living—Thoreau breaks down class systems, the concept of property, and challenges “modern” (circa 1861) men to begin the process of restoring the environment around them. (My summary certainly doesn’t do the piece justice and I highly recommend looking into it.) For me, the part that resonated the most was when Thoreau talked about everything that we have to gain from Nature that cannot be captured when things like berries become commodities—concepts like inner peace, happiness, beauty. He argues that Nature is the most important part of any community, and that it should be cherished.

Thoreau’s ideas challenged me to think about the way I interact with Nature. Here in Oslo, a city with about half the population of the Twin Cities area, I have the opportunity to interact with a great deal of nature. I walk through a small wooded area to get to campus. Any time I approach the subway from my flat, I see Mountains in the distance. A short ride on the T-bane takes me up into the hills and surrounds me with trees. I can walk to Sognsvann, a beautiful lake circled by hiking/skiing paths and forest. As a student trying not to spend copious amounts of money, I have found Nature to be a simple yet stunning way to connect with my semester abroad. When I go for a walk or cross-country ski, I am not only experiencing Nature, but am truly experiencing Norway. This is why I am here—not to get drunk all weekend every weekend, not to shop at H&M, not to panic about final exams—to truly be here. I think I will find that connection in Nature.

Then I begin to think about “home”—whether that is Madison, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, Minnesota. How can I take Thoreau’s ideas and bring them back with me? At home I am accustomed to my routined way of life—and up until now, it hasn’t involved a ton of nature. Sure, I bike to class when it feels safe to do so, I go for walks, I visit Powderhorn Park and sit on the shore of Lake Monona, but can I take the feelings I get from the Nature in Oslo and apply them to the Midwest? It is a challenge I look forward too.

(Okay, that all sounded way more earthy-hippie than I had initially intended, but really, I think maybe it’s all at least a little true. I also think that there is a part of me that, because of growing up in mostly urban settings, has a weird pastoral fantasy that I have yet to fulfill. Chickens and vegetable gardens, I’m a-comin’ for you!)

Things I have learned:

ROUTINES WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN. I have a limited amount of time in Norway. It would be so awful to get into a rut and not experience every inch of it all. Whenever I feel myself getting too settled or too comfortable, I try to find a way to push. So far, it has been a lot of fun.

MACHISMO SUCKS. REALLY. I MEAN, REALLY REALLY SUCKS. I never realized how fortunate I was to be attending college surrounded by men and women and everyone in-between who believe in gender equality and who constantly challenge themselves to not perpetuate sexism and male-dominance. I am trying to find balance between the cultural differences that I may be oblivious to and the unacceptability of having a sexist attitude towards the women around you. I am trying to remember a phrase we used in Central Touring Theater (the organization that I interned for all last year): “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.“


Kelly: montañas

January 25, 2011

I went mountain hiking/climbing/traversing today! It took my breath away—from the altitude and the spectacular views (excuse the joke). The pictures do the scenery no justice at all.

Rachel, Adam, and I took a taxi (my first taxi ride in Ecuador) to the cable car (Teleférico—the longest in the world) to 4,100 m. We figured we hiked up to about 4,500 m. The hike up took 2.5 hours and the way down took considerably less time. It was fantastic.

There was one point where we were climbing fairly steep rocks—you could call it a cliff in honesty, I think—and I started to freak out (plus I was already a little light-headed from the altitude and looking down). I had to talk to myself out loud to get myself back down the ledge… which is harder to do than going up it.  I hope there will be more time for playing in the mountains. I still am having a difficult time believing that what I saw/did was real.

Click to view slideshow.

After we got to “Quito-level,” we found a restaurant in the touristy area of town and I ordered my first beer here. The Pilsner comes in a glass liter bottle (recycled, I believe) and costs $1.43. Although in reality it’s pretty watery, it was perfect for the moment.

Again, I have failed to read my homework and will be up later than I want to skimming the articles. But really, who wants to do academic work when there are mountains to explore!!


Jonathan: What’s to come

January 25, 2011

The photograph above is of a palace in Delhi with a beautifully manicured garden.  The woman in red in the foreground, a member of the Dalit community (also known as the ‘untouchables,’) lives on the lawn there with her family of over five children.

As you can imagine, the start of the program has been hectic and unpredictable. In a country where internet is not readily available at the drop of a hat (but cell phone coverage certainly is), it has been difficult to find a sustained time to write. But enough of that…

Everything you’ve heard about India is wrong. And it’s also right. At the same time. It is a land of what appears to be contradictions, a striving for binary’s where the gray area is so omnipresent, and enthralling.  As I end day number eight here, number six in Jaipur itself, I am at a loss of where to even begin. How to even explain the sights I’ve seen when so much has happened in such a short time?

There are eleven of us (ten women and myself). I’ve never been surrounded by so many intelligent, dedicated, and interesting people. For the first time in a long while I feel challenged by my peers in an academic context, and have learned so much from them already. We represent a variety of academic disciplines, including international studies, political science, public health, food science (a huge bonus to the program), economics, sociology and English (with myself representing social work and gender studies). Most have had academic/formal exposure to discussions of international development, others have none, while I have a fair amount just from my outside readings and personal research and interests. The highlight so far has been long discussions with eachother where we bring our own personal studies to try and contextualize and understand this immense experience. While we haven’t begun our formal classes yet (we will finally begin on Thursday), we are all excited to start integrating all the confusing messages we’ve received thus far into our studies.

India is many things, seemingly all at once.

Women in saris, kurtas, and salwar kameses of bold red, green, white, blue, yellow, orange, and every iteration beyond literally glow in the sun light which is reflected off of their gold bangles, nose ring, earrings, and mirrors affixed to their clothing. And yet, men dominate the public sphere, outnumbering their female counterparts at least two to one. Men are everywhere: walking, riding buses, taking auto-rickshaws (a rather unstable three wheeled ‘taxi’), urinating publicly (mind you, in full view of any passer by), manning businesses, and every other imaginable demonstration of public citizenship. It is both full of women’s color, and completely devoid of their presence as well.

The neighborhood I live in with my hosts, the Bansal family, is a stable middle class one with large homes, spotless living rooms, and manicured lawns. At yet just two doors down lives a cow and her calf on the sidewalk.

Just ten more feet away on the main road is a small tent village of desperately poor families who beg for food and money. This abject human suffering of which no words can fully describe, is also punctuated by the reality that they are controlled by the local mob, who takes any earnings they receive from begging.

The streets are filthy here, littered with an unimaginable assortment of trash. And yet, I’ve not once seen a cigarette butt; people here simply do not smoke (although chewing tobacco is popular). And yet, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, an international gathering of famous authors which brings together the Indian intelligencia and gentry, it often has the feeling of a smoking lounge, and the air is thick.

I will not belabor the point, and I think it stands that there is no way to sum up this experience in one blog post, or even twenty. It is a land filled with curios and the mundane seemingly all at once. Sorting through that is my task for the next four months.

At a practical level, I am currently living in a homestay with the Bansal Family comprising of the father (Papa-Ji), a chemist and owner of two small businesses, the mother (Mummi-Ji), an yoga master and homemaker, the sixteen year old son, and the grandmother (Dadi-Ji). A modern middle class Indian family, they are secular Hindu’s, emphasize education, and are desperate to obtain green cards in the United States, where over 40 members of the paternal side of the family currently live. Their older son, who is my age, is currently away at Law School, and a particular obsession is a constant conversation about ‘success,’ standards of living, and how many PhD’s are in the genealogy. This, of course, is mixed with an interest in my background: I gained significant approval upon their hearing the my mother has her doctorate (followed by a barrage of questions about her salary). There is a strong strain of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate,’ mainly in an effort to maintain their class distinction. My running thesis is that middle class is defined in visible opposition. They have money to bathe daily, wear button down shirts over tee-shirts, and maintain a clean house. They are not, thus, at all like the street at the end of their driveway, which is dirty, dusty, and littered. They have a comparison to act against. Read the rest of this entry ?

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