Thursday, June 26, 2008

Haridwar & Rishikesh

A lot has happened since my last post. I spent an hour in the computer room yesterday trying to upload pictures but no luck – unfortunately the internet is just too slow. So I guess I will have to be extra vivid in my descriptions.
Mom and Dad arrived in Babrala last Friday and we spent the whole weekend together. I was so happy and relieved to see them. It was the first time I really let myself relax since I arrived in India. On Saturday after work we left for Haridwar (where the Ganges or "Ganga" flows down from the mountains) and Rishikesh ("the place where the Beatles hung out" mom read in her book). We spent the night in a hotel, walking distance from the street bazaar. Though the bazaar was close to the hotel, I wouldn’t dare say it was easy to get to. As soon as we stepped out of our hotel a typical India street greeted us.
Picture this – me in the front, mom in the middle, and dad in the back. Walking like a little family of ducklings over heaps of mud, around vendor carts, people, and dogs. Horns whaling in the background. Then the fun part – crossing the street – holding hands like little children, dodging rickshaws and cars (which by the way do not drive on the right side of the road nor the left side, but in any which direction/ side they please). Finally we make it to the entrance of the bazaar where thankfully cars are not allowed. It was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it. Both sides of the road were paved with small shops selling fabric, jewelry, trinkets, and snacks (everything deep fried right there on the side of the street). Mom and I bought glass bangles, which make the coolest sound when they clink together.
On Sunday we traveled the short distance to Rishikesh. It is a place where many people come to take holy bathes, pray, and worship the Ganga River. We took a small boat across the Ganga to where the ashrams and temples are. As soon as we stepped off the boat we were asked to take a picture with a group of young men. I really wish I could post the picture because there is no way to describe the expressions on everyone’s face. We were celebrities for a day. Every 20 minutes someone stopped us on the street and wanted to take a "snap" with us. It was like we were a family of giraffes. Pink giraffes! In the middle of super market. Everywhere we went, people stared. It was pretty funny.
Dad bought a small basket of flowers with a candle in the middle that was to be floated down the river - an offering to the Ganga. Sounds like a pretty image, but after dropping the basket from a three-foot ledge the candle was blown out and the half-flooded basket just kind of sat there. Graceful dad! Real graceful! J We walked around for a couple of hours, visiting an ashram (where anyone can stay free of charge as long as they abide by the rules) and soaking in the spiritual vibe of the town. We walked back across one of the two famous footbridges (which I can’t remember the name of) and spent the next 4 hours in traffic driving back to Haridwar.
That night our driver, Pintu, who has been super helpful, took us to the evening worshiping ceremony at the Ganga. There were hundreds of people bathing and playing in the water. The best way I can describe it is like having church in the middle of a wild rivers water park. People seemed to be having a great time. At 7:20 a prayer was recited and we all put our hands in the air in response. Torches were lit and candles were properly sent down the river. It was truly beautiful. The people sitting around us were very eager to explain some of the ritual and share the food that they had brought. Despite the mad stampede-like rush to get out of the gated area after the ceremony, it was an amazing experience.
Mom and Dad are in Agra now and are coming back this weekend to hang out and bring me some essentials (i.e. peanut butter and an extra flash drive) before they head to Jaipur and then back home to the US. Can’t wait to see them again!
By the way thank you guys so much for all of the email messages/ facebook posts/ and bog comments. I get so excited and love hearing from everyone. It makes home seem not so far away.
Love from Babarala.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday the 13th and the beginning of monsoon season

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but I had a strange feeling when I woke up on Friday that it was going to be an off day. After 2 weeks of being in India I finally experienced the infamous “Delhi Belly” (Babrala Belly I guess…). The combination of sleep deprivation, excitement, and well… eating everything in sight (the food is to die for), finally caught up with me. After our fieldwork on Friday I got sick for the first time in a very long time. I spent the rest of Friday hobbling from bed to bathroom and most of Saturday letting my body rest. After sleeping the weekend away, I woke up this morning feeling completely refreshed and entirely awake for the first time since I arrived.

Today we had a couple of errands to run in town. It’s Shameem’s birthday so we picked up some supplies for an impromptu party tonight. On the way back to the township we decided to stop by the Ganges. Our driver wanted to take a “holy bath” and Kartik said it was a nice day for a “stroll” along the river. As soon as we stepped out of the car, black clouds rolled in and it started pouring, and I mean POURING!! Raining cats and dogs. We huddled under the tents of the vendors trying to stay dry. We finally decided the rain was not going to let up and hurried back down the muddy hill to the car. The whole time I was thinking “don’t fall in the mud. Don’t fall in the mud”. And to everyone’s surprise (including my own) I didn’t. The dirt path however, was also flooded with water and garbage. As I was making my way through it, my sandal slid off and decided to float away without me. I can’t imagine how I must have looked - sopping wet, dancing around in the mud, chasing my runaway slipper. Miss everyone!

Happy Fathers day Daddio!

Love from Babrala

Monday, June 9, 2008

First week in Babrala and the Taj!

I am happy to report that these last few days have been just as busy as the first. I have been in India for about a week now and the days seem to just fly by. I have already learned so much and met some really wonderful people. Pedro and I have spent the last week getting to know the organization and the current development projects. We have had some wonderful trips to the local villages - The learning never ends. On Friday we traveled to Agra with some of our TSCRD colleagues: Shameem, Kartik, Lipi, Swarn, and Venot. They have really tried to make us feel like part of the family. We visited the Taj Mahal, which is just as exquisite as described, and had such a blast taking pictures of each other. I was pretty surprised when strangers kept asking to have their pictures taken with me (there were very few American tourists, so I guess we really stood out). We spent the night in Agra and went to the Jama Masjid Mosque on Saturday. We walked through the tomb of Salim Chisti with was absolutely breathtaking – covered in beautiful abalone pieces. Afterward we stopped at the wholesale fabric market in the middle of the city. I am constantly surprised at the order in such a seemingly hectic county. There is so much going on at once that it is easy to become overwhelmed – cars honking, cows blocking the roads, rickshaws going every which way, and people. But once you get used to all of the people and noises there is something calming about finally surrendering to the hustle and bustle of the city. We reached Babrala late last night and went back to work in the field this morning. I bought some embroidered cloth (called Karjobi) from one of the TCSRD Self help groups and Kartik is taking me to get the material tailored tonight!
Hope all is well in the US of A. I hear Obama is getting the nomination.
Love from Babrala.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I’m in India!!

Wow. The last 3 days have been an amazing whirlwind of adventures. I arrived in Mumbai/ Bombay at 2am on June 2nd and was brought to the Tata Tea guesthouse where I spent my first night. Later that morning Liza and I were picked up and taken to Bombay House for the company orientation which lasted all day and ended with an informal dinner/ drink at the Clubhouse. By the time we got back to the house I was completely exhausted. Yesterday morning Pedro and I flew from Bombay to Delhi and were greeted by a very kind Bengali driver (whose name I cannot even begin to pronounce). We had a great time – He practiced his English while I was able to humor him with the few Hindi words that I know. He got a kick out of the fact that my name sounds like Anamika, a common Hindi name meaning “No name”. We were cracking up. The 6 hour drive to Babrala was absolutely unreal. We were able to see a completely different side of India than I have heard of read about. People are extremely beautiful here and everything is so vibrant. We passed through many small rural villages each with its own people, market, and cows (which wander in every which way they please). We finally reached Tata Chemicals, which has gorgeous grounds covered in peacocks, and met some of the other Indian students doing internships here as well. The Tata township is really amazing. It is equipped with a tennis court, lake, and swimming pool. We were invited to watch the nightly game of cricket - a hugely popular sport in India. Such a blast - i can't wait to learn how to play! Today (it’s currently 5:45am) we are learning more about our specific projects and getting to know the teams we will be working with.
Love from Babrala.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

And so the journey begins

I’m currently sitting next to a window in the London Heathrow airport (after flying first from LA to Detroit). The weather is overcast which makes it difficult to guess what time of day it is. I have about 3 hours before my flight to Mumbai leaves so I’m passing time watching planes take off. Kind of surprised at my lack of emotion. Not nervous or excited. Not really anything except tiered. Just running on autopilot at this point.

It’s still difficult for me to believe that I will be spending the next two months living in Babrala, India working with Tata. I really have no idea what to expect but I guess traveling without expectations makes the initial adjustment much easier.

I do know that I will be spending the night in Mumbai and have an all day orientation on June 2nd. On the 3rd I fly to Delhi and than somehow get to Babrala (not sure how that’s happening as of yet). For the rest I guess I just have to wait and see.

Will keep everyone posted. Love from London.