Archive for the ‘Ellen in India’ Category


Ellen: Where am I?

December 12, 2010

Yesterday I was in 70 degree weather in Old Delhi,  exploring the Red Fort, shopping at Main Bazar and mastering the metro.

Today I drove for 6 hours through a blizzard and am back in Petoskey, MI.

My body has no idea what time it is or what it is supposed to do.

I can drink the tap water.
No one is staring at me!!
I am typing this on my own computer.
snow snow snow cold cold cold
I am going to go sit down at a table with my parents and eat food with a fork.

I am tired and happy but so confused by the weather and familiarity of everything.


Ellen: Irony

December 5, 2010

13 weeks in India and I have not been called out on doing culturally insensitive things more than in these last 7 days.

  • I lay down on a bed and didn’t realize that I was pointing my feet toward the Laxmi shine, so I had to apologize to her.
  • Suresh opened my journal and started reading it and I snatched it away from him (because his name is written in it a few hundred times), and I sat on it. But books are considered gods, so I had to bless the book.
  • I turned down chai… I know!!! Stupidstupidstupid, but I was in an emotional mood and I just couldn’t handle being put through the wringer of no brother/not married again.
  • I was called out on talking while I ate, but I think it was because everyone is annoyed with not being able to understand me (Newsflash: I cannot understand you either.)
  • I went to the rat temple in Bikaner (rats. everywhere. no shoes.) and freaked out, but had to be reminded that they worship these creatures.


  • I don’t think anyone noticed, but I did laundry and put my underwear outside to to dry.

Jaipur tomorrow! Face-to-face with native English speakers! Gosh, I haven’t experienced that in over a month…


Ellen: I’m back!

November 28, 2010

Thoughts from a village:

Bhojasar was AMAZING. The family I lived with for 16 days was delightful and we had so much fun! not speaking the same language, playing my ukulele, eating with our fingers, sleeping outside, chasing the baby goats, taking pictures, going for walks and drinking chai chai chai (my maximum was 8 cups in one day)

I visited schools in neighboring villages of Moriya, Denok, Khichan (school kitchen library!) I climbed a sand dune (mountain) in Aau, another one in Lahovat, and climbed 357 stairs to a temple and watched the sunset.

I observed the work that Urmul does in the schools—funding Room to Read libraries and facilitation, providing education in braille for blind children, and I met all the local weavers in the village.

I fetched water from the well every morning to take a bucket shower, washed my clothes on the floor and was careful not to hang them on the clothesline close to the cow (or else she would eat them).

I had lots of time to think and reflect and be an angsty teenager: “Nobody Understands Me!” literally. I have not spoken face-to-face with a native English speaker for a month. and that leaves all the processing to inside my own head. meaning my dreams have been crazy! Every single one is a whimsical combination of Kenyon/Petoskey/MCFYP/India. I go back to Jaipur on Saturday the 4th to be reunited with my MSID friends and for my final week in India!


Ellen: Lost in translation

November 6, 2010

I don’t think Indians understand why I am here. I haven’t figured out how to say “semester abroad” or “experiential learning” or “wanderlust”

I am here to observe and live in their country immersed in their culture. I came prepared for everything to be different and overwhelming—and I think I have handled it rather well. I am adapting to their customs and habits, and I respect their way of life. But they cannot understand mine.

I am 20 and not married *GASP* I might not even get married til I’m 28! and it will be for love, not an arrangement! My sister is 23 and she’s not married! And…wait for it…I don’t have a brother *GASP*GASP*

I try to explain that it is ok in America to not have brothers (would anybody really want to deal with a Blanchard son?) and that I want to get married, but in America 20 is considered young to get married. (The other day someone was appalled that I am not married and said to my face that I was old.) And usually people wait until after college to get married.

So besides that mini rant, all is well!!

I have been in Phalodi for the week, and I will go to a village on Tuesday the 9th. There hasn’t been a lot of internship-related work, but I think this has been one of the best weeks of my life.

I am the novelty white girl at the foundation. Every person and their cousins knows the story of my life, rather, the story that they chose to tell based on the facts I try to tell about myself in broken Hindi (but obviously the most important things are that I am not married and don’t have a brother).

The main people who work at the foundation live at the foundation, so it’s like having 7 host families! So I have chai at least 5 times a day, and get to hang out with…I can’t even count them all…19 siblings.

and Diwali!! in a nutshell: Let all those under the age of 6 run around with sparklers and matches. Let them set off as many firecrakers as they want and stand only 4 feet away. Repeat all night long.


Ellen: I just attended the meeting of the Rotary Club of Phalodi, India.

November 5, 2010

Well, actually it was the staff meeting of the Urmul foundation…but it was exactly the same vibe as a Rotary meeting, barring a few minor details. The 40 staff members gathered in the big multipurpose room (after leaving all 80 shoes outside) and sat on the floor in a circle. Like any Rotary meeting, I brought the total number of women in the room to a whopping three. The meeting was called to order and “Harry Begley” led a few rousing tunes, rather, Hindu prayers. Then I was introduced (I only know this because everyone started starting at me and attempted to say my name “aylin” “eleen” “ellit” and then I was asked to introduce myself—IN HINDI. Now, this is what I have been preparing for my whole life (those rotary types don’t scare me). I was spontaneously asked to introduce Petra Dlouha in front of the whole club and did so without batting an eye. I know that a room full of professionals who are working for the good of their community and world really aren’t that scary. It was empowering to be a young, white woman speaking a language I only started learning 6 weeks ago in front of 40 Indians and do so with confidence.

The meeting proceeded with individuals presenting their specific area of the organization [Urmul has a women’s weaving cooperative, sponsors girls’ schools, trains teachers and librarians, advocates against child labor and child marriage and supports local agriculture in many villages in western Rajasthan]. After each presentation there would be questions and discussion and it would get heated! “Jack Woldvogel” would say something that would make everybody speak up at the same time, “Ken Mainland” would try to calm people down, “Charlie Gano” would say something that would make everybody stop and recalculate, the “Brummelers” would be having their own conversation by just looking at each other from across the circle and of course, there was a jokester right up front.

Then we went to lunch, ate dal, subzi (vegetables), rice and chapati chapati chapati (only using the right hand of course). They talk and joke and laugh and I know they are the types to try and include me, but I am a videshi (foreigner) and cannot speak their language well enough to schmooze.


Ellen: India identity crisis

November 3, 2010

In the last blog I failed to mention that during the awesomeness of the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) I went through India Identity Crisis #847.

The festival was great but the experience was kind of like this: imagine being told that you are a member of a community foundation committee an hour before registration for an event begins. The only people that give you direction are people who speak intimidating philanthropy jargon and throw out a million names of people you don’t know. And you do not speak the same language as them.

Needless to say, it was very overwhelming. I adapted quickly because I can handle that sort of run around/stress/logistic environment.

Also, on the way to Jodhpur we dropped off my good friend from the program, Anna, at a village where she would be working with a school. After leaving her in a tiny room in an incredibly rural setting my stomach began to ache with regret. I thought I wasn’t brave enough to go to a village and a city is what I wanted to experience in India. I was lying to myself. After a few freak outs, minor explosions and 17 pages of journaling and talking to my program director and making a few phone calls…I am getting on a train tomorrow night a going to Phalodi.

I will be working for the Urmul foundation, a women’s weaving cooperative that also invests in girls’ empowerment through education. I will be seeing the work in villages as well as the school in the town. I actually don’t know what to expect, but I am surprisingly calm about all of it.

I will be in a village in India for the next 5 weeks, so blogging probably won’t be happening as frequently.

This has been a whirlwind week and I have learned A LOT about myself and really had time to seriously reflect on my India experience.


Ellen: update

October 27, 2010

To all the honorary Blanchards:

I just read the chapter about Peter on a train in India. While on a train in India. I think I get some extra points for that. I also understand the transcribed hindi. and I can do the ambiguous Indian head nod with ease.

To the commoners:

I am reading The Brother’s K while in India and it is especially significant because part of the story is set in India. Once you read it, you will know all things, and become an honorary Blanchard because it is Paul’s favorite book.

It is hard to read abook that constantly reminds me of my family while I am so far away from them and cannot shout a passage across the hall to get my dad’s reaction, but it is an amazing book and relevant to my experiences in India…in an abstract sort of way.

ANYWAY, I just got back from the Rajasthan International Folk Festival in the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur—google it, youtube it, facebook it. IT WAS AWESOME. Dede and I spent the day roaming the fort, listening to music, dancing, eating, taking pictures, dancing, eating and dancing. My favorites were Susheela Raman and the Bengali Baul philosophers/musicians.

At the Sunset Devotional event at the festival, the speaker made a poignant statement: That all things that rise must set. I am over halfway through my stay in India, so the sun is setting…but my favorite time of day is dusk. So I am pumped for the second half of this adventure but have been reflecting on the whole experience as well. Now I am back in Jaipur and have meetings to attend.


Ellen: No chronology

October 19, 2010

Let me tell you about my weekend.

On Thursday evening I got on a sleeper bus and didn’t get off for 12 hours. I was in a bunk above the seats sleeping, talking and watching the Rajasthan desert whoosh past out the window.

10 of us arrived in Jaiselmer (real close to Pakistan) and had a rooftop breakfast (typical India, rooftop adventure #784) We explored the Jaiselmer fort in the morning and then went to catch the bus to the village of Khuri where our camel safari would commence.

Our group had split up to explore, so some got on the bus at the bus station, while my small group was at another stop farther down the road. We kept in contact to make sure we would get on the bus together. Every phone call from those already on the bus was a warning about how the bus was filling fast and we might not be able to get a seat. Well, when there is no room in the bus, you only have 1 choice. Get on the roof of the bus. So yes, I traveled for 2 hours sitting on top of a bus with 30 indians going to the tiny village of Khuri. Absolutely amazing. And the camel safari had not even begun.

From the top of the bus to the top of a camel and into the desert. The view from the top of the camel was spectacular yet incredibly bumpy. especially when we galloped as fast as we could to see the sunset. We ate around a campfire with our 8 Warmari guides and played hide and seek in the dunes before falling asleep under the stars.

Sunrise, tea and back on the camels to return to the village.

We had a hotel back in Jaiselmer and this time we rode inside the bus.

And the diversity of modes of transportation did not end there! On Sunday afternoon we rented scooters and zoomed-zoomed our way to a lake, another village and The Secret Garden, India style.

So, I am physically exhausted but mentally satisfied and emotionally overwhelmed because tonight I pack up my room to move into a new host family to start my internship on Wednesday.


Ellen: Thoughts & feelings

October 5, 2010

I try to cram in all the tangible things I do and see, but a big part of this experience is how I am feeling and how I am processing everything.

A third of my journal is already full, and I could probably be writing more. (“If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me threatening the life it belongs to” –Anna Nalick from”Breathe.” Really cheesy, but so incredibly relevant to my life right now)

I am overwhelmed—but in a good way. I was ready to be confused and frustrated, and I am! Unfortunately, I tend to be over-analytical of myself in situations and that cannot happen in India. I can adapt to people and situations, but India is always unpredictable and there is nothing I can do to adapt to that except stop thinking about everything and that just won’t happen. Every time I try to anticipate the way an experience will play out, it never NEVER goes the way I thought it would. (The rickshaw driver will never take the same route, nothing will ever be on time, you never know how much change you will get after you pay for something,  what you thought would be around the corner isn’t). I guess this makes sense in my head, but it might not translate well on the interwebs. But don’t worry: “ALL IS WELL” (youtube that plus “aamir khan”)

Moving on…

My biggest passions are all intersecting here in India. I have little siblings to dance with and take jumping pictures with, my internship is with an arts foundation, our last country analysis class was about Gender and Development and it started so many amazing conversations. Being in India goes along with moments in my life when I have breathed a deep sigh of relief saying “This is where I need to be.” It’s the realization that this is where I can be totally and completely myself and that is what will make this experience amazing.



September 29, 2010

A few friends and I spent last weekend in Johdpur, the Blue City.
We took the train-sleeper class there and Second AC on the way back. Ven Diagram time!

Second AC:
Closed and curtained windows
Sheets, blankets, pillows
sneezing, snoring, farting old people
Benches that can be seats or beds
Sleeper Class:
Open windows to let fresh air in
cute old couples to sit across from
Lots of college-aged Indians watching Justin Beiber music videos on their iPhones and sharing them with us
Small Indian boy walking up and down the aisle wearing his mother’s heels
Men walking down the cars screeching “chaiiiiiii” “garam chaiiiiiiii”

conclusions: sleeper=more fun.

JODHPUR: So beautiful. We saw the Umaid Bhavan Palace: beautiful, built in the 20th century, small museum. The rest of the palace is royal residence and a hotel. You can see the hotel if you eat at the restaurant and spend 2000 rupees a plate.

Mandore Garden: King Louie’s court from the Jungle Book. Monkeys and all. Built in the 15th century. Tombs of royals and temples. We could freely roam through all of them (no charge) and climb up the twisting stone stairs to the balconies/roof with no railings and no surveillance. The phrase most often uttered on adventures like that is “We could never do this in the US.”  Plus an Indian guy that wanted Sam to sign a 10 rupee note and “be in friendship with him”

Mehrangarh Fort: I am speechless. It is at the top of a mountain overlooking Jodhpur. We all did the audio tour so we were the nerdy white kids with headphones on in a sea (literally, if we didn’t hold on to each other we were swept away) of Indians. Gates and courtyards and battlements and the intricately patterned windows that don’t allow anyone to see in, but allow the women living in those quarters to see out.

On Sunday we met Megan’s host family’s aunt and nephew (Daksh. so. cute.) We had lunch at her house and it was DELICIOUS. Living with a family in India means you eat real Indian food every day. When you travel and go to restaurants the “Indian” food is BLAND. its all about eating in a real Indian home.

More Jodhpur adventures include my first true Indian shopping experience, where you stay in the store for 2 hours while they present all their finest tapestries to you, serve you chai and then bargain. We became regulars at a Lassi place, we sampled tons of sweets, we sat on the roof of our hotel, Megan became an honorary marwari woman and we had a 14-year-old rickshaw driver that had no idea where he was going.

ps: My internship is with the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and I will be back in Jodhpur with the foundation to work at a music festival! hooray!

%d bloggers like this: