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Mary: Another day in India

August 7, 2011

I’m writing during a mid-afternoon break today as I jam to a little Grateful Dead. I think it’s technically time for afternoon chai but Emily and I just got back from a long exploration walk so we just snuck up to our rooms to flop in front of the window air cooler for a few hours and relax. I’ve already had chai twice today, so skipping this one round is bearable. I woke up pretty early this morning, around 6:30, after going to bed so early. I was just sitting in my room reading when Emily came in a few minutes later and said she couldn’t sleep either so we sat on the floor and played speed scrabble (basically bananagrams but with regular scrabble tiles), and talked about our lives for about an hour and a half. Emily is the second oldest of six children. She spent three months in Tanzania last year volunteering as a teacher there in a small village and then took the rest of the year off from school to work in Minneapolis, where she’s from, in a bike shop, which is all pretty awesome. We’re both interested in a lot of the same stuff in school, environmental science and how people interact with their environments and trying to work on some of the social problems in the world. We bonded over music a bit too and I told her how psyched I was that she brought along her ukulele from home, I’ve been listening to her playing every day so far and loving it. We eventually got dressed and showered. There’s both an overhead shower and a faucet about half way up the wall that you can use to fill up a bucket for a bucket shower. Yesterday I took an overhead shower and thought nothing of it. Then yesterday afternoon I learned from another MSIDer that in our neighborhood the water supply is only turned on for an hour every morning at around 6 am. The owner of each house must turn on a main water supply pipe at that time and fill the storage containers for each home. Then when the water is switched off after that hour, that supply of water held in the containers must last all day, supplying the plumbing, sinks, and everything else in the house that uses water. Needless to say I won’t be taking any more overhead showers—they waste absurd amounts of water. My bucket shower this morning was maybe a little awkward but perfectly enjoyable. Emily and I then had another really big breakfast. It’s a good thing lunch and dinner are eaten so much later here (around 2:30 and 8:30 respectively) or else I would never be able to eat!

At breakfast, Rama-Ji’s daughter was talking to us about how the school where she works is in the middle of transitioning from a private school to a government owned public institution. Even though the government offers some subsidies to private schools, the taxes and corruption which skims some money off the top of the subsidies were so high that it made more sense for the school to just go public. What’s really interesting though is how the government is starting to focus more on rural education. Instead of employing more teachers and building new schools in the villages, the government is sending public school teachers out into the rural villages and telling the city kids they have to go to the rural schools if they want to attend public school. Rama-Ji’s daughter was glad they were finally thinking of the rural children but Rama-Ji was angry they weren’t just employing more teachers.

After breakfast, we made it to school safely, which is saying something considering it was our first walking experience in the city and we had to cross JLN road which is basically like a major highway with traffic lights (jaywalking is the norm here though, nobody uses the designated crosswalk). Class was awesome. We had our first real Hindi lesson and I actually feel like I learned something today. We went over the transcription system, which is really important since we haven’t learned the devangari script yet, how to introduce ourselves, ask how you’re doing, the difference between addressing an elder and a friend, how to make the weird pronunciations we don’t have in English (like curling your tongue back and touching the top of your mouth to make the retroflex consonants like ta, da, ra), how to ask questions, how expensive something is, and the numbers one through twenty. I really like the word for eleven – gyara (pronounced gee-are-ah with a soft g and a rolled r). Our Hindi teacher is a seriously cool woman. She’s Romanian but was born and grew up in Paris and is now married to an Indian man. We had a fun little conversation in French after she asked the class what other languages we had taken (Emily being the totally cool human that she is knows Swahili, Korean and Spanish). We also learned a bit more about religion and marriage practices in India. Despite being about 80% Hindu, India has complete religious freedom, to the point that major Muslim and Christian holidays are considered national holidays alongside the Hindu ones and conversion is tolerated amongst all religions. We discussed how Hinduism worships the abstract (a rock or flower or tree for example) as though it were sacred because God doesn’t have any one single form and therefore can be found in any form, which I thought was very beautiful. We talked a good bit about arranged marriages in India too, which are still very common. Love marriages are completely tolerated for the most part, but “dating” is hardly ever allowed and most Indians just expect to have an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are very complicated, with both people’s caste, education, religious background, and horoscope being the main factors taken into consideration. There are classified ads in the paper every day advertising the families that are looking for a bride or groom and there’s even a website you can go to, basically like the Indian version of eHarmony, except it’s actually used fairly commonly (when I brought it up at lunch today Rama-Ji’s daughter laughed and said she had recently been on to see about finding a wife for one of her nephews).

After class, we came home for lunch which was delicious as usual and we even had mangoes and vanilla ice cream as a treat which was absolutely to die for, the ice-cream over here is different, it’s a lot thicker and richer than most American ice cream and I can’t rave enough about how amazing the mangoes are! While eating we watched some Indian soap opera that Rama-Ji’s daughter really likes and it was absolutely hilarious.  The acting was horrible and there were even sound effects added in. After lunch, Emily and I met up with the other MSIDers and went on our “assignment” to find the price of peanut butter at the closest grocery store (for some reason everyone thinks us Americans LOVE peanut butter, they always ask if we are craving it yet) and then to the closest mall to see how much a bus ticket to Delhi costs. This was all quite the adventure, as we only had vague memories of where everything was from driving past it yesterday and we took quite a few wrong turns down some alleys. We eventually found everything no problem but it was really crazy to actually be on the streets walking around the city. One of my guidebooks had an excellent description of city living that I kept recalling to my mind as we were walking around today – “Urban structures lie shipwrecked in the sea of humanity and a flowing, sinuous, teeming mass enlivens the streets, causing sensory and emotional seasickness. Every space is filled, and just as on the temples, where carvings complicate every surface, so too does the endlessly shifting pattern of the human form in all its postures create the background of the street”. Alright, well I’m going to go sit in the living room downstairs to read so Rama-Ji doesn’t think I’m being anti-social. Plus it doesn’t hurt that that’s the only air conditioned room in the house.

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