Mary: Day of delicious mango

August 6, 2011

Already another day has gone by! It’s hard to believe. Today was our first day at the MSID building, where I’ll be having class for the rest of the semester. After a huge breakfast of an omelet, toast, corn flakes with warm milk and sugar (very weird but tasty), apples, pears, and oranges, Rama-Ji’s son dropped us off in the car. But starting tomorrow and for the rest of the semester Emily and I will walk, it’s only about seven minutes away. The MSID building is wonderful; I hope to be spending lots of time there over the next few months! It is located in the middle of a residential area, on the top floor of a two story complex with an Indian family living underneath. When you come up the stairs there is a large open balcony area with ten or fifteen chairs sitting underneath several giant colorful tapestries stretched out over head to make an awning. The balcony overlooks the street below, where there is constant activity going on. There is also a magnificent view of the Queen’s Castle, another ancient fort sitting atop a large hill overlooking the city, perhaps a quarter mile away. It honestly looks like something from a fairy tale, I actually gasped when I first came up the stairs this morning. Inside, there is a small entry room which acts as the front desk/reception area with lots of book shelves stocked with Jaipur travel guides, Hindi books, and a small collection of American novels. There are doors leading off into our main classroom, the computer room and library, small kitchen, bathroom, and I think a few more staff offices. Our classroom is lovely, with lots of windows and a small balcony overlooking the street. We have the normal desk/chair combos and a white board and funny little posters showing us how to say the parts of our body and various wild animals and trees in Hindi. There’s also the most well working AC I have yet to encounter in India, I was actually getting cold during class today.  We met four more members of the MSID staff, all women, including Reema-Ji who is the director of MSID India, Meera-Ji, the medical supervisor who I’ll also be having class with later when I start my public health class, and two other teachers. All of the women were very confident and straight forward and if it wasn’t for their kind words as well, I would have been a little intimidated.

We mainly talked about orientation type information and were reminded for the 456th time not drink the tap water or eat street food. We also went over some basic facts about India, such as that there are 28 states, 7 major religions and more than 1600 regionalized dialects throughout the country. We also had a chai break around noon, served in dainty little miniature cups, it was positively delightful! Most of us also signed up to get cell phones and “data cards” which will let us get 3G wireless on our laptops, which is awesome and definitely not a luxury I thought I was going to get.  Around two we all took a field trip to the State Bank of India to get some money exchanged! It was really fun getting to see some everyday business going on inside the bank, there were so many different kinds of people. The exchange rate for the day was 43.3 rupees to the dollar, which is apparently a little on the high side so that was lucky. Just to give some idea of what things cost here, an auto-rickshaw from my house to the downtown area where all the shops are would be about 50 rupees (so about a dollar), a mid-quality sari cost about 250-300 rupees (maybe 5 or 6 dollars), and my cell phone, data plan, and internet card for the semester are going to cost in total around 3000 rupees (about 60 dollars). Not too bad at all! We also took another little driving tour around town. Our teachers kept trying to point out places to use as landmarks but I was totally lost the entire time. We took so many little side streets and a lot of streets are one way so you have to go really round about ways to just get across the street sometimes. I have no idea how I’m going to get around the city. Thankfully Emily seemed to get the hang of it though and admitted that she was unusually gifted when it comes to directions so I’ll probably just be sticking with her.

There is a famous temple honoring Ganesh (the elephant god) located really close by to where the MSID building is and because Wednesday is Ganesh’s day, every week there is a huge market that stretches up and down the central road of Jaipur just outside the temple. I was again just totally overwhelmed with how many people there are here in Jaipur. Either side of every street is just totally packed with people of every shape and size doing anything you can possibly imagine. I was exhausted from just staring out my window the whole time and trying to notice everything going on around me. After our field trip, the van dropped us off at home for the day and Emily and I had lunch with Rama-Ji. There was so much food. Indian hospitality truly knows no limits. No matter how much Emily and I protested that we were full, Rama-Ji insisted we take more bread (called Chapatis) or vegetables or Dal (a soupy food with lentils and spices) or some other potato/vegetable combo. It was all so good but I ended up eating too much and feeling way too full (although certainly not too full to enjoy a few slices of the most delicious Mango I’ve ever had for dessert). I’m going to have to start practicing the art of refusing Rama-Ji or else I’m going to be more than pleasantly plump by the end of the semester.

After lunch Emily and I had some down time for a few hours. Then Rama-Ji’s daughter took us on another short driving tour of the main road in our part of the city – Jawaharlal Nehru Street or JLN for short (named after India’s first prime minister).We saw everything from a giant white marble temple with domes and spires and hundreds of pigeons sitting atop it, to a huge new shopping mall being built by one of the best architects in all of India that looked totally futuristic, to two small Indian girls that came up to the window of our car begging and making a motion of bringing their small hands to their mouth like they were eating saying “please didi” (please sister). The street beggars of India are really difficult to face. They’re all either very young children or very old women. I have such conflicting feelings about them; obviously I feel sorry for them and wish I could help them but at the same time we are told not to encourage their behavior and that often some of them actually have money and homes and are just lazy and don’t want to work. It’s clear that they target foreigners and after walking around today and having to constantly refuse the outstretched hands of the smallest and most helpless looking children, I’m starting to question how long I’ll be able to keep up my act of stoic complacency.

After driving around for about an hour, we made our way back to the house around 7 and promptly had afternoon chai and cookies. Afterwards, Emily and I were completely exhausted, I think jet lag might have finally caught up with me a bit. We decided to just head straight to bed, skipping dinner, much to the chagrin of Rama-Ji. She tried in vain to fix us toast or soup and insisted four or five times that if we got hungry later we should come downstairs and she would make us something, she even said “the kitchen stays open until 11”, reminding me of something my own mom would say. So now I came upstairs and am sitting here in bed recapping my day and wondering what on earth tomorrow will bring.

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