Archive for April, 2011

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Miles: Påskeferie (Easter travels)

April 30, 2011

Påske (Easter) is quite the event in Norway. Tradition demands that you either read a crime novel or watch episodes of Crime TV every night. (They show them on the national public TV channel.) Stores close from Thursday through Monday. Bus routes shift. And, of course, you travel.

So I did.

My friend Aisha and I spent the week in West Norway. It was incredible and really nothing that I’d expected. Our first few days were spent in Bergen, staying with Ayla and Will (Aisha’s friends). I lucked out, because Will grew up in Duluth, and because he’s both fluent in Norwegian and Midwest, he was a great resource when conversation got too intense for me to follow. Bergen is a beautiful city and I would definitely consider spending more time there on my next Norwegian adventure. (If I say it definitively, that means it’ll totally come true, right???) Bergen highlight: climbing up to Fløyen and staring down into the city center and off at the mountains and water.

Our next stop was Nedstrand, a tiny town right in a fjord, to stay with Hans Olav and his family. He and Aisha went to folkeskole together and I’ve been on a skiing adventure with him before. His family was incredibly nice, and cooked amazing food. It felt great to just relax in a home and be taken care of. Here was were I was introduced to the påskekrim — we spent our evenings watching British crime TV with Norwegian subtitles.

After Nedstrand, our trip became a little more strange. Our next destination was Stavanger, but mostly so we could climb Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock). Because of Easter and the weird transportation schedules, we had no real way to get to and from the rock in one day, so we booked a night at the cabin near the rock. Climbing up and staring right down into a fjord was amazing, and I definitely am discovering/nurturing/indulging my new(ish) found love of nature and hiking. Most of the trail was essentially a scramble up a series of stones — challenge and oh so rewarding at the top. After our hike we got a fairly fancy dinner at the cabin restaurant and then promptly fell asleep.

We were not supposed to spend a night in Stavanger. We were also not supposed to miss our bus the next morning. …Oops. When we learned that the next bus wasn’t until the next day (in that moment, I hated påske) we got a room at a hotel and spent the day exploring Stavanger. Stavanger high and lowlight: The oil museum. We didn’t go in, but we did explore the Geo Playground — a playground made entirely of recycled oil drilling equipment. It was a great idea, and a cool concept for recycling, but I felt funny about the oil industry very purposefully maintaining such a positive relationship with the community. It almost seemed too intentional. Oil and Norway is way more complex than I understand yet.

So after our accidental night in the nicest hotel I’ll be staying in for a while, we took a 9 hour bus back to Oslo. All in all, it was a damn good påske week.

Things I have learned:

NORWAY REALLY WAS MEANT FOR SMALLER CITIES. Bergen and Stavanger just kept making me think Wow, that’s so Norwegian!  in a way that Oslo doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Oslo to death, but I think Norway really really does thrive in smaller cities. Norwegians like their space. Sometimes they seem to prefer having mountains for neighbors. It’s fascinating to live in the biggest city in this country and know that it would be considered a small/medium city by US standards. It’s also fascinating to feel drawn towards the smaller cities in Norway. Maybe I’m just having the pastoral dreams of an urban-raised kid, but maybe the beauty of Norway really is hidden in the small towns along the coasts.

STUDYING ABROAD WILL INEVITABLY MAKE YOU ASK YOURSELF BIG SCARY QUESTIONS WITH NO ANSWERS. My friend Ben and I sat on my porch eating a delicious vegetable feast and drinking beer and talking about life. We both, during our semester abroad, have found ourselves questioning our lives in big monumental ways. The way he describes it “I think I’ve thought through everything from birth to now this semester”. I wonder about things. I suddenly feel so open to do anything, so anxious to be everywhere. My world just got a lot bigger, and that’s so exciting and so terrifying. Sometimes I have to remind myself to just get a kaffe and a bolle and enjoy the ride.

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Amanda: Seva Mandir

April 29, 2011

While I lived in Udaipur, I worked as an intern in the education department at Seva Mandir.  Seva Mandir is the largest and most well-known NGO (non-governmental organization) in Udaipur, and one of the most prominent NGOs in Rajasthan.

While at Seva Mandir, I completed a project on children who receive a scholarship from Seva Mandir but drop out of school anyways.  Although I was often frustrated at Seva Mandir because of language and cultural differences, I feel like the work I completed really did matter.  During the course of my project, I visited over 11 villages and spoke to over 20 kids and their families.  I rode jeeps through dry, rocky terrain.  I scaled mountains with my translator and a few 10 year-old boys in search for kids.  My translators gave me tours of villages aboard India’s most common transportation vehicle: a motorcycle.  I drank unfiltered water!  The sun, blazing through cloudless skies, showed my white skin no mercy.  Goats once snacked on my reports while I interviewed a child.  I met women so shy they hid behind their saris, responding to my questions in giggles.  I discovered that poverty, real poverty, has nothing to do with money and everything to do with opportunity.

A high-end clothing company from the UK, Monsoon Accesorize, funds a scholarship for children in villages surrounding Udaipur.  Children must meet several requirements to become eligible for the scholarship.  They must attend at least two 2-month learning camps, be over the age of 9, and have at least a 70% attendance rate at school.  The scholarship is intended to provide children an option to stay in school.  All of the kids I interviewed were eligible for the scholarship but quit school for several reasons: some kids left because their teachers abused them; some left to watch livestock, some kids quit because school didn’t interest them any more; some left because polio crippled their legs, making their walk to school unbearable; some kids left to work at stone mines for the equivalent of $1/day; some kids left after a parent died in order to support their households.

My boss, Sunitaji, was one of the most independent and passionate women I have ever met.  She opted to spend nights at learning camps in order to invest in teachers and children.  She taught me the difference between giving people money and giving people tools for life.  The night before my last day at Seva Mandir, Sunitaji invited me to her house and cooked fish for me!  Sunita let me play with her son and watch whatever I wanted on her TV. Dinner at Sunitaji’s was such a sweet gesture and some of the best food I had in India.

I worked with many other interns from around the world at Seva Mandir, including people from India (of course), France, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US.  I met friends who could sympathize with being a foreigner in India.  We joked about being white in a country of brown.  We celebrated Holi from a rooftop, took too many chai breaks, and complained about “Indian time” (and in doing so, became affected ourselves by the Indian pattern of time-delay). 

I presented my project to Seva Mandir’s entire education department my last day of work.  I was very nervous to make suggestions about the scholarship program to educational professionals.  Although only about half of the audience knew enough English to follow my presentation, everyone was very supportive of the project.

Working with Seva Mandir was great for me at this stage in my life for many reasons.  I have always been interested in education, but made the decision about a year ago not to pursue a career as a teacher in the US public education system immediately after college.  Through my work, I realized that a good education is a right to all children regardless of the country they are born in or their family’s socio-economic status.  A good education doesn’t end when kids quit school.  An education challenges children for life and teaches them the joy in living intentionally.  In my opinion, education is the foundation for development and is essential for individual empowerment.

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Kelly: solamente una semana más en Otavalo :(

April 29, 2011

Some pictures from the week. Many are of Cotacachi. I see her out my window every day and get really excited when there aren’t clouds covering her peak. In the indigenous cosmovision, all parts of nature have a gender (i.e. Mama Cotacachi, Taita/Papa Imbabura). The most wise and respected Yachaks of the community are the ones who assign gender to the grand landmarks. The genders can change or be more masculine/feminine depending on time, weather, and current characteristics of the natural feature.

I rode a horse in el Parque Carolina across from my house yesterday. Wow, les extraño mis caballitos! It was great.

I’ve been called “jovencita” (joven= young, cita= an affectioante, diminutive add-on that is used a lot here) several times, by different people, once I disclose my age. I wonder if it’s true. The typical age guess for me has been about 24. It’s one of those things I won’t be able to recognize until I’m past this life-stage, right? Like when I was in fifth grade and thought whatever little click I was part of “ruled the school,” and then came sixth grade all of a sudden and we got our egos checked.

Luzmila, Humberto, Maiya, Itumi, and I took an adventure to el Lago San Pablo today. It was beautiful. The local communities used to supplement their diets with fish from the lake, but then an invasive species was introduced that ate all/most of the fish inidgenous to the lake (colonialization happens in waterlife too!). This fishy lives in the very bottom of the lake, so is hard to catch. There are also problems of pollution and receding water. Despite this, the lake is gorgeous and gave me peace. We took a motorboat tour of half the lake; Itumi pointed our every duck to me, “Miraaa Kelly. Un pato allá, y allá, y aquí…”

We went on a walk after eating fruit and bread on the dock. We were trying to get to El Lechero, but we ended up above la Cascada Peguche. I didn’t know that San Pablo supplies the waterfall before this; I have a better idea of the geography now 

Most of the soccer fields can also double for swimming pools. Hay demasiada lluvia en este momento.

Itumi, enthralled by feeding the ducks. “Mis hijos, mis hijos,” he kept saying.

Lago San Pablo

Boat tour over half the lake

Would like to mention that there is a pair of adirondack chairs suspended on posts above the water… don’t think this picture shows them.

Totora- it grows in quantities around this lake and many local women earn a living (well…hopefully) from constructing tortora mats. Most indigenous families use these mats under mattresses, as doormats, and/or as beds.

Taita Imbabura (can you see the heart?)

El corazón de Imbabura

Estimado Peguche: Te encanto. Mejores deseos, K

Now to continue working on my beast of a paper…

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Anna: Wrapping it up

April 28, 2011

I realize I have not vented a whole lot on this blog, which is probably a good thing. Here are a list of things I will miss, and things I will not miss. Might I add the things I will not miss are things I have taken with a grain a salt, and made me appreciate what I have at home!

What I will miss…list could go on forever….1 euro cappuccinos, walking everywhere, affordable amazing no preservative food, my cute apartment, traveling the world every weekend, class once a week, markets…everywhere, lack of technology—no need for a cell phone, letting my undies dry anywhere and everywhere and have it be perfectly acceptable, Pino my man who makes my paninos, hearing people speaking a beautiful language everywhere I go…again the list could go on.

What I won’t miss…crusty jeans because I don’t have a dryer, creeper Italian & Albanian men, grocery shopping multiple times a week, slow internet, my feet are ALWAYS dirty, and cobblestone streets. I would say this list is definitely much shorter.

My parents have arrived! I have spent barely any time with them since I have had finals and they were in Cinque Terre this week! But as we travel, I will try to keep writing until May.

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Amanda: Meet E. Coli

April 27, 2011

My fourth weekend in India, I accompanied my roommate Jezelle to the hospital after she spend half a week suffering from extreme diarrhea, or as Indians like to say, loose motions.  As the only foreigners around, Jezelle and I both stood out like sore thumbs at Fortis Escorts, the private hospital Jezelle attended.  Not only did every doctor and nurse on the floor know both of us by name and nationality, but every housekeeping attendant, room service waiter, and elevator guard greeted us with a hearty “Namaste” and a mouth full of Hindi that neither one of us could understand after less than a month in India.

I never expected to return to Fortis after I left the hospital in February when Jezelle’s health finally began to progress.  Little did I know that a month and a half later I would face the same fate as Jezelle. It happened early March, on a day that will forever live in infamy.  It was during the period of time when my boss was on vacation, and I was enjoying life as a direction-less intern, meaning, even more cups of chai than usual, afternoon naps, and solitaire on my cell phone (that was before a village in the hills mysteriously claimed my cheap Nokia phone, the sole connection I had with the rest of the world).  It was a day that made me love India.  Sun blazing down on my kurta, but weather still resting below the 100 degree Farenheit line.  It was the first day I saw my favorite fruit vendor selling mangoes on the side of the street, and the first day I bought the fruit that made Indian springs famous.

Early that morning, I met Jezelle, purchased two mangoes from the side of the road (one for both of us), walked to Seva Mandir, met my program director and roommate for coffee, and discussed the progress of my internship.  I put in a few hours at the office, and then headed off to Sahliyon ki Bardi, my favorite garden in Udaipur, to read, rest, and indulge in the mango I’d patiently waited to eat all day.

My time in the garden began as promising.  I hid under a tree and for once, people-watched in India instead of being people-watched.  I closed my eyes for a few minutes.  I ate my mango.  I read my copy of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss that I got signed at the Jaipur Literature Festival (had to take an opportunity to brag there). Two of my friends, North and Morwenna, met me to chat and discuss their prospects in OK Cupid after their hip-hop class finished.Fast forward to around 7 pm.  I returned home to Kavitaji’s house.  Jezelle stopped by to show off some jewelry she purchased from the gem emporium.  Felecia, my roommate, and I were preparing to accompany Kavitaji to a function.  Then, all of a sudden, a wave of nausea hit me.  I felt sick but thought it may have been because I stood up too quickly.  Once I made it to my room three flights up the stairs, I realized I really was sick.  I tried to throw up but couldn’t.  I walked downstairs to tell Kavita I couldn’t make it to her party, walked back upstairs, and then observed the battle between my bowels and my stomach that was to ensue.  Both organs were trying to empty any possible substance from my body as fast as possible. 

Over ten times throughout the night I awoke suddenly, made my way to the toilet, stacked a plastic bucket on my lap, and, well…became really sick.  Not to go into too gruesome of detail, but I was vomiting and passing loose motions at the same time.  I experienced a stage of vomit/poop, feel a lot better, sleep, feel extremely nauseous, run to the bathroom, vomit/poop.  Suffice it to say, I had never been so sick in my life.  All this, keep in mind, is from a girl who hasn’t thrown up since Algebra II class freshman year of high school.

The next day I was to meet classmates in Jaipur for a mid-internship meeting.  After my night of disaster, I threw on jeans and a tshirt, tried to wipe the previous day’s mascara off my face, and haphazardly packed my bags for the trip to Jaipur.  What a bad idea that was!  The driver chose to ignore my friend Jonathan’s instruction of dhire, dhire, or very slow.  When we stopped in Chittorgh, the village where my friend Gretchen worked, the combination of fast driving and bumpy roads became too much for me.  I rolled down the window and vomited. The rest of the journey was no more promising, either.  I tried to zone out my friends’ conversation and focus on a black hole.  That didn’t work.  I tried to wipe the crustiness off my lips.  That really didn’t work.  Finally, I tried to wish that the dryness in my throat would disappear. When we finally made it to the hotel, I sunk myself into the lush, marshmallow-like beds, but was again faced with a relentless case of nausea.  Jezelle and Jonathan were in the room, watching me lie in misery.  My mom called to check up on me, I answered the phone, moved too fast, I guess, and then…vomit.  I started to feel worse. My teeth started chattering despite India’s hot spring weather.

Finally, one of the program administrators took me to Fortis, where a doctor in Triage diagnosed me with gastroenteritis and severe dehydration.  How the tables turned!  This time, Jezelle was my attendant.  All of the doctors, nurses, housekeeping staff, room service attendants, and elevator guards remembered both of us.  The miracle of intravenous rehydration pumped water through my body again.  A diet of toast, curd, and rice nursed my sick self into its normal state.  My last day in the hospital I was finally ready for discharge.  The resident on duty handed me my discharge papers and I prepared to be wheeled downstairs until my nurse ran into my room, printed out new discharge papers, and wished me well.

By this time in India, I was beginning to learn that India is always full of surprises.  I faced one final surprise in Fortis when I read those new discharge papers in the elevator.  I didn’t just have gastroenteritis and dehydration when I was ill.  A little friend by the name of Escherichia Coli was keeping my stomach company too.

And so the journey continues…
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Anna: 5 Terre, Heaven on Earth!

April 23, 2011

I spent my last weekend of my time as a student in Italy in Cinque Terre. And I decided I liked it even more than Amalfi Coast trip! My friend Ellen and I spent 2 days and 1 night in Monterosso Al Mare, the beach town and the fifth town of Cinque Terre. My friend Paige, another Gopher joined us the first day. We ate some pesto and mozzarella foccacia, had some gelato and then boated to the first town called Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore has really great colorful buildings all stacked close together. We walked from Riomaggiore to the next town, it started with a M but I can’t seem to remember the name. Regardless, we did the walk of love together and reminisced about our time spent in Italy. The end verdict? We love the people from Minnesota and we love the city of Florence.

The next day Ellen and I were on a mission to hike! Recovering from my awful sinus infection, I was motivated and ready to kick some butt hitting as many towns as I could! Unfortunately, the main trail was closed. Of course! It was a beautiful day, but it was closed because it rained a week before. Our other option was to take one of the three unmarked trails, hike an hour and a half straight up hill, then hike another hour and a half straight downhill to reach the city directly next to Monterosso. We started to hike it, but it only took about 5 minutes of deciding that we would rather veg out and enjoy ourselves. Who were we kidding to think we could be athletic after stuffing our faces with Italian pastries and pastas and pizzas these last four months? We ended up having a great day boating to Vernazza for only 3 euros and we ended up loving that town! Regardless of our lack of hiking we then headed home later that day. Monterosso has a great beach, and we would’ve like to spent more time there. I don’t think a day trip would’ve been enough here, glad I spent the night.Ellen is again, for the 50th time, my foodie friend. We split a dinner of black home made pasta (made with squid ink I believe), curry, zucchini and prawns. We also tried fish ravioli, which was really delicious and not as weird as it sounds.
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Connie: Shake the Sunrise

April 22, 2011

To those of you cool enough to know where I got this entry’s title, kudos.

To the rest of you: the past 10 hours have been interesting ones. As it is currently 7:30am, and I haven’t slept a bit, a list shall suffice.

  • A group of friends, all foreigners, went to hang out in the new common area. 5 freshmen came in and decided to join us. Turns out all of them live in the same dorm as the exchange student boys. We got to know each other fairly well in that time.
  • This getting to know each other was spurred on by a rather innocent game of truth or dare. Best dare: one of the freshmen running around the building shouting, “外人大好き!”
  • I got two shoulder massages. Their 罰 is my gain.
  • I aired some particularly dirty laundry, but somehow it felt good to get it off my chest after having it there for over a year. I feel somehow lighter.
  • We went to play some darts with three of the five. The lovely habanero-takoyaki chef decimated us all at the game, since he practically gets paid to play day in and day out.
  • By the time we left it was getting light. We decided to go see the sunrise from the top of the nearby mountain, Kagamiyama. Though there were gripes about going, I think everyone was glad they did. The sun was obscured by clouds but the view was still beautiful! All of Saijo and Higashi-Hiroshima could be seen from the peak.

In that time I forgot language barriers and I was spoken to in 敬語 (keigo), or polite form. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of them – I’m usually not these days – but in the end they were all sweet. As they live in the dorms and have as much free time as us foreigners, I wonder if we’ll cross paths more often from now on?

At any rate, I have only a few hours of sleep (or perhaps nap) before skyping with my parents. Then at some point I’m supposed to turn in my registration form, and during some obscure hour of the night I’ll be meeting one of my friends who helps me a lot with Japanese conversation. I haven’t seen him since before spring break, so I hope I don’t fall asleep too early…

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Jonathan: Challenges to social change in India and why western feminism is partly to blame

April 22, 2011

The program is now over, the final photographs taken, and the first batch of MSID students have left Jaipur for Mumbai on a southern extravaganza.  In just a few hours, I too will leave Jaipur, but for Delhi instead, where I will spend a few days until my flight on 25 April 2011 to Darjeeling, the tea capital of India in the shadow of the Himalaya. As we all begin our departures, some for America, some for new iterations of Hindustan, we have been focused on assessing the wild adventure we have just partaken in.  To be frank, I am not ready for the semester to end.  My last week in Railmagra was one of the most important to me in my whole time in India.  I became comfortable, confident, ever more able to address the needs and issues I was confronted with.  I finished writing the curriculum, but the adventure was far from over.  There remains much work to be done: translation, implementation, ownership.  More than that, it felt disingenuous to leave the experience after so little time: one month is not enough for community change.

I have grappled with a lot in the last few days, questions of privilege, identity, and culture. Asking myself the question: Why does it always seem to be a ‘culture’ vs. ‘justice’ debate?  What does that mean and how can I responsibly address it?  At its core, the curriculum, Power and Effort!, is about justice.  But to have the dialogue, it challenges the Indian NGO structure to do something it struggles with: actually act on its radical belief structure and develop a truly Indian dialog.

Rajasthan is a deeply conservative state, and India a conservative country.  The basic reality is that its insistence on the family as Center predicates a social structure which cannot challenge itself.  Consider the following script:

Me: What are your feelings on caste?

Them: It is a social evil, I do not believe in it.

Me: Will you marry outside your caste?

Them: Of course not!  It is my culture!  I would be lost without my caste.

Me: Do you have inter-caste friendships?

Them: No, my family will not allow it.

Me: Would you consider a friendship?

Them: No, my family will not allow it.

And thus, caste is replicated, strengthened, and enforced.  Until young people confront their families, demand relationships, and flaut the oppressive social norming, than true change cannot occur.  It is not that they are offended by the caste structure — I am sure they are — rather it is that they are unwilling to stand up against other social structures of social control and demand change.  Saying you believe in justice does not make the world just.  In fact, I believe it is a form of violence against the marginalized community one claims to stand in solidarity with.

I, of course, saw this pattern replicated time and time again in the village while working.  A professional commitment to ending early marriage, dowry, or arranged marriage, yet a lack of follow through to confront these issues.  I saw trained “Gender Educators” and HIV advocates merely replicated oppressive structures in their own families.  They could talk for hours about the abolition of arranged marriage, but they could be actively arranging one for their son or daughter, or be entering one themselves.  They could extoll about the ways that domestic violence against women is intimately linked to alcohol abuse, but not say a thing when their older brother drunkenly beats his wife every night.  Everyone was arrested by a profound inability to take a true stance.  As someone who has sacrificed much not only to be who I am, but also for the work I believe in, I cannot excuse these action: Saying you believe in justice does not make the world just.  Standing up to injustice even if you compromise your own social stability is the only way to create change.  It is the only way change has been made.

It is not as if people are not doing this.  I have met countless Indians who have dedicated their life to flouting the norm for the betterment of society.  Who have chosen to reject injustice and have taken the plunge.  Many have lost the safety and security that going with the flow allows, but they recognize the need to do so.  This phenomenon is not unique to India: spend time in a social work classroom and you too will see those who are willing to enter into Justice on a professional level, but not a personal one.  And thus, the question becomes, what to do about all of this?

It is my core belief that the problem does not only rest in the inability or the unwillingness of NGO workers to stand up for what they believe in.  Rather, I think it is directly related to the way conversation around gender justice developed here.  In short, and with few frills, I think that the gender discourse is too western.  It is not Indian enough for the average Indian, or even the activist community, to feel a connection to.  Instead, it uses a western conceptualization which developed in the classrooms of American Women Studies programs of a different era.  Many are familiar with the stories of western feminists telling those in the developing world, “I am here to save you!”  They rode in on large white stallions and instead began to alienate the very communities they sought to ‘help.’  The attitude gave little attention to local culture, local structures, to justice.  It was a damaging experiment, and I believe one of great lasting effects.

Today, transnational feminism and post-modern ideologies have begun to address this, but the reality remains, the Indian dialog is not Indian enough.  It is easy for many to extoll the values of, but difficult for it to be practiced by even the NGO worker.  This is not because any of core beliefs or claims made my the current conceptualization of Gender Justice are necessarily wrong, but rather because it did not develop here.  Rather it transplanted the vocabulary on the west into the culture of the sub-continent.  It is the vocabulary, not the message, which is flawed.  Until Indians can feel that their social movements are true to them, then no change can occur.  Saying you believe in justice does not make the world just.  Standing up to injustice even if you compromise your own social stability is the only way to create change.  It is the only way change has been made.  Developing a dialog is a process of empowerment, of ownership, and of capacity building.  It is the first step in the process.

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Amanda: Nose piercing

April 21, 2011

About five weeks ago I made the decision, somewhat rashly, to do something I never imagined myself doing:  I decided to get my nose pierced. 

In the US, nose piercings are edgy, but in India, nose piercings are very culturally accepted and almost as much of an inherent element of feminine beauty as the red bindi women mark their foreheads with.  My decision to get my nose pierced was based partly on my ever-increasing love affair with India, and partly on my obsession with a certain flower-shaped nose ring Indian women in Rajasthan (the state I’ve lived in) choose to wear.  Jewelry + India + Flowers = How could I resist?

On a quest to do the deed, I joined my friends Gretchen and Jezelle (who also chose to pierce their noses) to find the perfect jewelry store.  We were searching for a store that:

A) Could pierce our noses and sell us jewelry at the same time
B) Wouldn’t cheat us because we were foreigners
C) Would be somewhat legitimate and sterile

Lo an behold, in the middle of Raja Park (a shopping scheme in Jaipur), we discovered Jain Jewelers.  For 800 rupees (about 16 USD), a man marked the perfect spot on my left nostril for the piercing, dunked a multi-colored flower-shaped 18 karat gold nose ring of my choice into a pool of mustard seed oil (a form of sterilization in India), sharpened the edge of aforementioned ring, and began the process of piercing my nose. 

No needle, just the force of a very sharp nose ring and a 40 year-old man’s grip on a pair of pliers was enough to do the trick.  While the act wasn’t as painful as the time the nurse practitioner at PC shoved a Q-tip up my nose to test me for the flu, I will admit, pain inflicted so closely to my nasal passages caused a few tears.

Despite these tears, I have to confess, I love the finished product on me.  On several occasions, Indian women have told me that because of my nose ring, I look like an Indian woman too.  Can you really fit in to a culture more than that?

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Michelle: Cross-cultural dinners

April 20, 2011

For those of you who know me, even if only casually, you know I like to cook. Last weekend, I cooked a lot.

Saturday night after coming back from the excursion, Casee and I prepared an American night at her host family’s place. The menu: Jalapeño Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Hot Wings, Sweet Ice Tea, Lemonade, and Brownines. There was also a bunch of American Candy sitting out that Casee’s family back home had sent her (York Peppermint Patties, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Sour Patch Kids, and Hershey’s Kisses).

I will admit, I was a little scared about how everything would turn out. When we made the brownies, we didn’t measure anything (because they don’t have measuring cups here). It was a miracle that they rose and yet another that they actually tasted good. The hot wings were based on my mom’s recipe, but there’s no Frank’s Red Hot here. So, I used a somewhat strange mix of Tabasco, Harissa, Ketchup, (French) Mustard, and garlic. It didn’t taste like home (it was a little sweet), but it turned out OK.

Something I didn’t really realize is a very American concept is eating with your hands. We do it a lot. So do the French, they just do it much less.

After dinner the dancing started. That’s right. We showed them The Electric Slide, The Twist, Soulja Boy, and YMCA. I think the most memorable moment of the evening is probably Casee, and her host sisters’ (Claire and Anais) faces when their dad (Andre) started doing the Souja Boy.

With so much cross cultural interaction, I don’t know why this was surprising, but the French also have the Chicken Dance (La Danse des Canards) and the Hokey Pokey.

Sunday night was Asian night at Brian and Eric’s apartment. Since my host family’s son, Florian, is in town, I invited him to go. I made Satay with Peanut Sauce and Brian did a stir-fry and nems. I just want to take a moment to appreciate how interesting the picture below is. On the left we have Florian, a Frenchman who lived in Australia for a year, learning to make Nems, an Asian cuisine, from Brian, an American who grew up in Africa. Though not in this picture, Florian brought a friend who is Brazilian. Really, all we needed was an Antarctican and we’d have Bingo!

In any case, the food was great, the company was great. Because of Florian and his friend, we spoke a very strange mix of Franglais most of the night. Mom, my sauce was not pale this time and I served it with cucumber salad 🙂 The night was so much fun, we forgot to take pictures though.

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