Archive for the ‘Deanna in India’ Category

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Deanna: Ready, set, DO!

October 6, 2010

Without further ado, my Study-Abroad-India-2010-No-ReGreTzZz Bucket List…

1. Visit the Taj Mahal. Obviously. BREAKING NEWS: I’m Agra-bound in T minus two hours!

2. Buy (and bargain for) some serious Rajasthani bling. Jaipur is a gold mine of gorgeous jewelry, and the world’s largest market for cutting and polishing stones. I’m thinking I might need an advance on my Christmas money…

3. Have a conversation with a stranger in Hindi. I can spurt a couple of useful phrases (Mai thik hu./I am fine.  Mera nam Dede hai./ My name is Dede. Mai Amerika se hu./I am from America. Jao./Go away. Nahi/No. Nahi! Nahi!/ Seriously, no!  and recently, some good ol’ fashioned “abuse” language—courtesy of dear Bulbul—that I dare not transcribe) When I can say, “I don’t want your stupid elephant figurine, especially for 500 freakin’ rupees, and stop undressing me with your eyes for the love of Shiva,” mission = accomplished.

4. Watch a Bollywood blockbuster at a local “talkie.” Girl’s gotta get her four-hour-long Shahrukh fix somehow.

5. Do hatha yoga in an ashram. Think Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love minus the whole religious-conversion thing.

Put my doodling skills to the test and 6. learn the henna-desinging art of mehndi.

7. Consult an astrologer and hopefully, find that my future is full of many “auspicious” occasions (see #2).

8. Get an Ayurvedic massage. But before I can lie stark-naked at the mercy of some strange Indian lady’s indiscriminate hands and aromatic oils, I’ll have to 9. conquer my fear of  eyebrow threading first.

10. Rock a sari. And I mean rock, not wear.

11. Explore some classic and contemporary Indian lit. Currently reading Arundhati Roy’s poetry-cum-prose in God of Small Things.

12. Watch a professional cricket match and finally, figure out what the hype’s all about. (scroll down to the last paragraph of this article.)

Get my non-veg on and 13. chow some tandoori chicken. And considering my tragically mediocre Indian meat-eating experiences thus far, this task only counts as completed if the butchered bird rivals my auntie’s drowl-inducing Chinese New Year recipe.

Couldn't tell you what the headline says...

And #14 on would have been to make it on the front page of our Hindi-language local daily, like my friends Ellen and Sam here.

But in a city where meeting a real, live white girl is the American equivalent of–oh, say–this, I think I upped the ante when a TV news reporter interviewed me at Ganesh-ji’s bday festival a couple weeks ago. Celeb. status = achieved.

Here’s the proof:


Check out the stink eye from shortie in the background.

So finally, I refuse to leave this country until my host momma teaches me how to 14. make her panacean masala chai and perfectly round chappatis.

Expect a blog entry as I cross each item off my list, beginning after my Agra trip!

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Deanna: A terrace with a view

September 21, 2010

I snapped this view of the teeming Pink City last weekend atop one of those gorgeous terraces skirting the Hawa Mahal. Colloquially known as the “Palace of the Winds,” this 18th century edifice is one of Jaipur’s many architectural landmarks and a popular day-tripper destination. Since I arrived in India, I’ve been playing the dual role of sight-seer and local resident—trying to satiate my wanderlust with an occasional touristy fix while adapting to the humdrum of everyday Hindustani life. For me, the most satisfying experiences—the ones that mitigate my occasional homesickness and longings for the First World fixtures I had always taken for granted (right now, that’s any packaged and commercialized carbohydrate, preferably with an ingredients list that’s two inches long and includes “high fructose corn syrup”)—are my subtle intercultural conquests.

Bargaining down the price of a kurta from 325 to 250 rupees; dexterously devouring chappati and sabzi sans the salty, drippy, fingertip mess; running an errand without my usual entourage of wide-eyed and white-skinned Americans; or just being bored, lying in my room with my friends and host sister, gossiping, perspiring and our stomachs growling beneath the fluorescent glow of a book light because the power suddenly went out and dinner would be postponed another half hour—these and then some are small victories, but they make a big difference in my cultural-adjustment-period-transition-phase just existing here without hesitation, comfortably, normally, even. I’m beginning to move past the whole I-can-see-myself-living-for-a-semester-here to actually feeling at home.

I owe a lot of this to my host family, the Rajawats, who’ve housed almost a dozen MSID students over the years in addition to the foreign expats and Indian coeds who stay in the guest quarters on the upper level. Although my host parents’ hospitality often errs on the side of overkill, (almost everyday I reassure Jai Singh, or “Papa-ji,” that yes, I love my room, am very comfortable, and am sleeping very well—all true, by the way). I can tell their care comes from genuine concern, rather than contractual obligation.

Papa-ji, for one, goes out of his way to update Lydia, my MSID housemate, and me on the minutiae of his gold fishes’ gestation and Krishna, “Mama-ji,” typical of her humble dedication and quiet stubbornness, cooks us parathas for breakfast and chappatis for lunch even while running a fever.

Then there’s Bulbul, my 14-year-old host sister, who chases off the local boys who harass Lydia and me, threatening them with slaps and blows in her rapid-fire Hindi. She bargains with street vendors so we don’t get cheated on our Ganesh statues, even if it’s just a matter of 50 rupees (about $1 USD) and paints henna designs on our hands. With Bulbul, everything—Bollywood stars, kurtas, hair clips, toenail polish—is “looking so nice.” When she coyly asks to use my computer so she can change her Facebook pro-pic to a different Aishwarya Rai photo and listen to Bollywood music, I always agree, especially since she’ll help me with my Hindi pronunciation later.

But it’s Lydia who’s held my hand throughout my pimply, little awkward phase. Lydia has been living and studying in India a month longer than I have and plans to stay for the entire academic year. Well-traveled, well-read and fluent in Spanish, German and by the end of the year, Hindi, she exudes cosmopolitan sophistication.  Thanks to her movie star good looks a la Christina Hendricks, she’s been swatting away lingering stares, chai dates, and marriage proposals like flies ever since her red hair entered the subcontinent. Without her—I swear—I’d be curled up in a trash heap somewhere with gangrene and an intestinal tapeworm, or at least, a tad queasy—and I wouldn’t have a clothesline to hang my socks.

So here’s my approach to study abroad: soak up the sights, flavors and exoticism that Western travelers have been marveling about for centuries, but don’t get bogged down in all the sensory fluff. Real India—including the downright depressing and the wonderfully mundane —lies outside the palace gate.

And because I know all ya’ll haters love to hate, here’s some tourist porn for ya: feast your eyes on this slideshow of the Hawa Mahal…

….and this one of Amber Fort (We rode elephants to the top!!).

In other news, I’m working on a bucket list of must-sees and dos in India so I can make the most of my adventure here and (let’s be honest) generate some good blog material. If you have any suggestions, seasoned Indian wayfarers and Bombay dreamers, please post them in the comment section. I’ll whittle down my list and publish it here sometime this week.

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Deanna: Week 1 Travel(bl)ouge

September 17, 2010

Namaste!

That’s right, folks—I’ve survived a whole week of Jaipur’s sticky, monsoon heat, fickle indoor plumbing, chaotic traffic violations and (gasp!) limited Internet accessibility.

As a fledgling world traveler, just being in Jaipur is exhausting—fending off beggars, paying with rupees, talking to locals, swatting flies, buying oatmeal, and, even—or should I say, especially—navigating the bathrooms here sap the energy right out of me. When 4 p.m. rolls around everyday, I fall hard into a post-veggie-curry coma.

But for every lukewarm bucket bath and near-death crosswalk “experience,” there’s been a henna-drawing mehandi party with my host sisters, a shopping trip to a local kurta tailor and a soothing cup of chai that somehow makes everything better.

So I know you’re all wondering what the heck I’ve been doing here since I arrived. For starters, I’m studying abroad through the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Studies in International Development program, so if you want all the dirty details (curriculum, syllabi, application information, etc.), check out this out. And definite peruse the photojournaled highlights of my past week. I’ll add more pictures ASAP–swear!

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Deanna: Great expectations

September 7, 2010
It’s 4:30 a.m. Monday morning in Delhi right now. That’s where I’ll be very soon.
India. For three and a half months.

I keep telling myself that and still, I can hardly believe it. Really, I can’t. My conception of the South Asian subcontinent is limited to the Indian breakfasts my mom makes every Sunday morning, some Google research and a couple of scenes from A Little Princess.

(I kid. But srsly.)
For one of my classes, I’ve been asked to come up with a list of assumptions and expectations I have about Indian culture, people and my study abroad experience in general. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
  1. Allergens everywhere: dust, dirt, monkey/camel/cow/elephant/people dander.
  2. Whether I gain or lose 10lbs will depend on how successfully I resist one of two things: a.) chapatis’ fried, greasy, straight-to-your-thighs goodness b.) cold, uncooked, swarming-with-shigella fruits and yogurt (my dietary staples).
  3. Microbes also everywhere, especially the vomit and fever inducing kind. Bring on the hand sanitizer.
  4. I’ve been told the goats in India like to bite.
  5. And that northern India has a “monkey problem.”
  6. And that locals will stare at me because I’m foreign, Western (= $$$) and a woman.
  7. Roadside and market vendors will be pushy. I’ll steer clear from the street food, but I’ll give in to the textiles. And I’ll probably get ripped off.
  8. Pedestrians do not have the right of way.
  9. At the end of the semester, I’ll leave India in some intrinsically vague and beautiful way “a better person.” Braver. Wiser. More grown up.
  10. I’ll also know how to ”squat.”
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