Archive for the ‘Amanda in India’ Category

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Amanda: It’s been 60 days

June 22, 2011

Since I returned home 60 days ago from India, life’s looked a lot different for me.  I spent about a month at home checking my eyelids for leaks, spying on people’s literary interests at Barnes and Noble, and criticizing day-time TV (let’s not talk about Oprah leaving the air; I know some people had their qualms with O, but I, for one, found her to be funny, genuine, and encouraging).

Then, about two weeks ago, I moved to Clinton to begin summer research.  I spend my time pretending to be smart, playing board games (don’t worry–traveling to India didn’t stunt my Scrabble skills), and catching up with friends and professors I missed while I was abroad.  Lucky for me, the people at Senor Garcias still remember me even though I took a four month hiatus from their fine dining establishment.

Last weekend I got to travel to Durham, NC to visit one of my roommates in Udaipur, Lily.  From my brief trip I made several conclusions: North Carolina is a lot more travel-friendly than South Carolina, especially regarding public transportation; farmers markets are so cool; and, to affirm a truth that I’ve been thinking for a while, NPR is the perfect radio station…how else can one simultaneously become informed of what’s going on in the world and enjoy cheese-free (and by that I mean non- 80s, easy listening, contemporary Christian, or pop) radio tunes.

And now, I leave you with a piece of beauty from Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian writer/artist/musician I’m getting paid to enjoy this summer:

I know that happiness is the substance of every-day, but joy surpasses the day.  Happiness in fear that dust may soil its hands is hesitant.  Joy, throwing itself in the midst of dust, breaks down all barriers between itself and the whole world, so that for happiness dirt is a thing of contempt, for joy it is the emblem of a jewel.  Happiness is afraid lest it loses anything.  Joy feels fulfilled in giving away its last possession.  So that for happiness to be destitute is poverty, whereas for joy poverty is wealth.  Happiness within its binding measure guards carefully its intrinsic beauty, whereas joy manifests its beauty in unstinted glory, freeing itself through all disruptive elements.  For this reason happiness is bound by outside measures while joy breaks through all measures creating one that is of its own.  Happiness is only concerned in tasting sweet nectar; joy consumes the poison of sorrow accepting it in its very system.  So that happiness is only partial to what is congenial, whereas to joy good and evil both have equal value.

Food for thought!  Be well.

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Amanda: Coming Home

May 30, 2011

Something I have been putting off to write.  Because I don’t really want to believe I’ve landed home yet.

I could go Life of Pi on you:
On my journey home a tornado hit the Delhi airport and all of the computer systems there crashed.  Since I never printed a boarding pass, airport attendants tried to deny the validity of my ticket.  Since the airport turned chaos thanks to the threat of dangerous weather, piercing screams by angry Indian women, and a food shortage, I bypassed security by taking an unguarded back door to the luggage room.  I threw away some extra kurtas and curled myself into my suitcase.  I overheard attendants speaking in Hindi and grunting as they loaded me through a tunnel: “This bag is supposed to weigh 23 kilos?  Bullshit!”  Somehow the pilot made the decision to fly despite previous weather concerns.  Once aboard the plane, I vomited thrice; bags below passengers aren’t secured very tightly.  I did, however, sleep well in my dark cocoon of a suitcase.  Careful not to break the hookah I was bringing home to share with my friends, I curled up in the fetal position and rested my neck on a rolled-up pair of sweatpants India’s steamy climate prevented me from wearing since January.  When the plane landed in Newark, I quickly found a way to escape before some pretentious American worker claimed me to be a terrorist.  While straightening my clothes and re zipping my bag, I did meet an Indian-American man in the room where luggage is stored before it boards the luggage transfer tram to change terminals.  Though I initially feared he would rat me out, after I described my plight to him in Hindi, he gave me his number and told me to call him if I was ever in New York.  With disheveled hair I boarded my connecting flight to Charlotte, then to Greenville.  No conversations with strangers.  No awkward American re-entry experiences.  Just me, and the wonder of my journey home.  When I finally met my parents on the other side of the Greenville airport, we shared a hug and a smile.  After four months in India, I was finally home.

Or, if you want a story that is more believable:
I paid too much for a taxi to take me to the airport in Delhi.  When I arrived and figured out where to go, my suitcase was 14 kilos overweight.  I scrambled to find another carry-on bag, transferred the scarves, tubes of mehndi, and hookuh I brought for my friends into it, and sweet talked the Continental attendant in Hindi to allow my suitcase to be a few kilos over the limit.  I made it through security with no problems.  I used my last 100 rupees to buy a McVeg in the food court.  I fell in love with an five year old boy waiting for the same flight as me who spoke perfect English and shared a picnic supper of chapati and palak paneer with his parents.  His dad whispered to his wife in Hindi and answered the boy’s many queries in English.  I slept well on the plane since there was an empty seat between me and an Ecuadorian-American woman from Newark who travelled to India because she’d always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.  I arrived in America 4 am, Easter morning.  A taxi driver offered to carry me all the way home to Carolina in his yellow sedan.  There were so many Indians in the airport.  I met a 30-something Indian who immigrated to the states 10 years ago.  I was the first American he’d ever met who chose to go to India.  I talked about Jesus to a couple on their way to the Bahamas on my connector flight to Charlotte.  I drank a coffee that was damn good.  I walked through the doors of the Greenville airport to see my parents.  My brother loaded my suitcase into my dad’s car.  My family drove me home…

Believe what you will.  As for me, I may have been home for the past month, but the journey continues…

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Amanda: Kavitaji’s Words of Wisdom

May 23, 2011

I lived with two Indian families during the course of my stay abroad.  Most Indians value family a lot, and many live in large extended-family homes.  With servants, sibling quarrels, dogs with a vengeance, the drama of existence, and the strangeness of American boarders…there was never a dull moment in either of the houses I lived in.

What I loved most about my host families though, were my two Indian host mothers.  Like any good mataji, Krishnaji and Kavitaji made sure we were well-fed and happy.  I shared several interesting and insightful conversations with Kavitaji over tea. One of my favorites occurred when I commented on a Bollywood actress in the newspaper.  What ensued was a lesson on staying young and beautiful from Kavitaji:

Kavitaji:  We Indian women know how to look young and beautiful. How old you think my mother is?
Me: Eighty??
Kavitaji: Okay no.  She had hard life.  She is only 72.
Me: Oh. I’m sorry.

Kavitaji: How old you think I am?
Me: um…???  Forty?
Kavitaji: Nooo! Forty-seven…aha.
Kavitaji: You want to know secrets to staying young and beautiful?
Me: By all means!
Kavitaji: Three secrets. First, put mustard seed oil on your hair every night.  Keeps grey hairs away.  You already do this. Second, drink 8 liters of water a day.  Third, be happy, which you already are!

Words of wisdom from my sweet Kavitaji!  I am pretty sure drinking 8 liters of water a day would turn me into a human filtration system…but besides that, looks like I’m on the path to eternal youth and beauty!

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Amanda: What makes America different…

May 15, 2011
Going to another country reveals to travelers the sweet (and not so sweet) gifts unique to his or her homeland.  In India I experienced, on a daily basis, life totally different from what I previously knew as a student, daughter, or friend in the United States.  Here’s what I realized about how America differs from the rest of the world in the best (and worse) ways possible.

the US is awesome because of…

  • toilet paper (enough said)
  • physical and internal infrastructure (paved roads with street signs, somewhat methodological way of addressing issues within a government/school/business,etc.)
  • creativity (the fact that students and businesses are rewarded for brainstorming and creating unique solutions is something valued within our society whether we recognize it or not)

I’d wish we’d change…

  • extreme consumerist habits (almost every activity is centered around buying something.  we throw caution to the wind when buying new “stuff”: ipods, cameras, clothes.  need has transformed meaning in this country.  ironically, i’ve learned, the more you “have” the more you “need”)
  • apathy for global events (we care about other countries when they pose ours “danger,” but we often forget that our “land of the free and home of the brave” is also home to the largest army and most nuclear weapons in the world)
  • our individualistic culture (so much is about OUR (fill in the blank) rights, dreams, cities, houses, space, rest)
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Amanda: Cricket World Cup

May 7, 2011

Cricket, as a sport, dominates India in ways I can’t even begin to relate to sports events in the US.  After students finish exams (or as Indians say, “write” their exams) in early March, many boys catch rickshaws together to spend their days playing the game.  Walk by an empty field on the way to a market and you’ll see dozens of these boys gathered together with a big, flat bat in hand, playing the game against a blue, cloudless sky.  I was cursed by many friends I met when I told them that I once sat across from a former professional cricket player on a train from Jaipur to Jodhpur; my vice being I never asked for his name.  On another instance I was riding through Udaipur with one of my friends on his motorcycle when we noticed a group of people distributing what we assumed to be free cricket bats.  When we got closer, we realized that the same people weren’t distributing cricket bats, but instead incense, the back of the package marked with the words “pray for India’s victory.”  Another time, my classmates and I were celebrating the end of our program’s classroom phase and the beginning of our internship phase at a local rooftop restaurant.  After receiving the eye (not the you’re a foreigner eye, but more of a get out my way eye) from a group of men next to us, we offered to move tables so the guys could see the projected image of India’s cricket game better.

Anyone who knows me know that my knowledge of sports is extremely limited, but while I was in India a sports event of such great magnitude occurred that I would be portraying a false image of the country without including a description of it.  Every four years, the International Cricket Council hosts a world cup for cricket-playing countries around the world.  In 2011, the ICC hosted the world cup in Mumbai. 

Throughout the month of March I heard various stories of how India continued to win game after game to proceed in the tournament.  After the festival Holi, India was doing so well that it seemed that the country maybe had a shot to become world cup champions. 

Here’s what went down:
February 19: India beats Bangladesh by 87 runs
February 27: India ties England
March 6: India beats Ireland by 5 wickets
March 9: India beats the Netherlands by 5 wickets
March 12: India loses to South Africa by 3 wickets
March 20: India beats West Indies by 80 runs
March 24 (Quarter-Finals): India beats Australia by 5 wickets
March 30 (Semi-Finals): India beats Pakistan by 29 runs
April 2 (Finals): India beats Sri Lanka by 6 wickets

If you didn’t know, relations between India and Pakistan are pretty hot.  There has been religious tension between Hindus and Muslims since the Mughal empire.  Couple that with the heat between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947 and the Muslim resurgence movement of the past decade and…let’s just say that the semi-finals cricket match between India and Pakistan was more intense than even the finals match between India and Sri Lanka.

I was lucky enough to watch the semi-finals game between India and Pakistan from the comfort of room 4319 at Fortis Escorts hospital.  News channels flashed the title “World War III” across the screen before the match.   I chose to watch the game despite my failed efforts to grasp the concept of cricket (it looks like baseball; don’t be fooled). A surprising fact about cricket is that it is a game lasting upward of 7 hours.  One of my teachers, Mitaji, kept me company for the first few hours of the game.  I dozed/read during the middle of the game and caught up on the end with one of my nurse friends I met when Jezelle was in the hospital.  My doctor, in his infinite wisdom, decided that watching the cricket match was more important than making his hospital rounds…thankfully the loose motions were beginning to subside by that time.  I tried to gauge the success of each play by the reactions of fans and players I saw on TV.  It was clear, by about 10:30, that India was going to win the game.  When India had finally won, I heard screams and fireworks. 

A few days later India played Sri Lanka.  I watched the game with a few other interns from Seva Mandir.  Despite a rocky beginning at bat (two of India’s best players struck out almost instantly), India managed to pull off another win.  I didn’t watch the end of the game on TV, but instead, I stood on the roof of my host family’s house, and watched the city of Udaipur celebrate India’s victory.

Like I said, I’m no great sports fan, but it was cool to be in India the year India won the World Cup.  Nationalism at its best!

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Amanda: What is a rickshaw, you ask?

May 4, 2011

My friends and I bargained for rickshaws almost daily to get around.  Luckily Udaipur had shared rickshaws that allowed us to travel almost anywhere we wanted for 5 rupees. Some of my  favorite memories in India were on rickshaw rides, including the following experiences:

1) when a rickshaw driver in Jaipur started blasting “Born in the USA” and “Barbie Girl”
2) when a rickshaw driver dropped Jezelle and I off at a random department store in Udaipur instead of the Old City, reassuring us we didn’t have to buy anything, just look
3) when a rickshaw from the Old City in Jaipur had a rear-facing backseat, which my friend Brittany and I rode on 

That’s India for you…seat belts? traffic laws?  who needs them…

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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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