Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Big Fat Indian Wedding

TCSRD (Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development) has a vocational training center. There are classes you can take in sewing, mobile repair, computers, and… beauty parlor. In the beauty parlor training, women learn to do makeup, hair, mendi, etc. so that they may ofen their own beauty parlors in the villages. Kamlesh, who is in charge of vocational training had the brilliant idea to dress me up as a bride before I left India. I agreed, not fully comprehending what I was getting myself into. Two days before I left Babrala, Kamlesh (who speaks as much English as I do hindi), brought me to the beauty parlor class and introduced me to the students. The first three hours were spent doing Mehndi, traditional of Indian celebrations. I sat still on the floor with my limbs spread in opposing directions while 3 different women put henna on my hands and feet. I was relieved when they finally finished. I looked like a meticulously frosted cake. I sat in the same position for another hour while the henna was left to dry. I couldn’t stand up or move without smudging the artwork on my body. So there we sat, communicating with hand gestures and facial expressions.

Then, all of a sudden the women all jumped up from the mat we were sitting on and started screaming. I couldn’t understand what was wrong until a small frog literally jumped on my lap. My impulse was to jump up but I couldn’t get off the ground without setting my hands on the ground. What a fiasco. The women were jumping around the room trying to get rid of the frog while making sure I didn’t ruin their work by standing up. Finally the henna dried my mendi was finished, but my makeover had just begun. Within 5 minutes I was wearing a traditional Indian wedding sari – almost a perfect fit. Before I could admire the heavily embroidered bright red fabric, I was sitting in the beauty parlor chair, my head tilted back with 4 women standing over me speaking loudly to each other in hind. I saw that one of them had a roll of thread. “They must be fixing something on the dress”, I thought to myself. But before I knew the thread was in my face and I could hear the hair being ripped from the skin above my eyes. There was more speaking and pointing to my face. I was tempted to jump up and stop them but I didn’t. “Please God. Just let me still have eyebrows at the end of this”. Another two hours of makeup, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, I was ready to be married. The women stayed through lunch and after their class was over to take pictures and help me out of my wedding costume. What an experience... i will never forget it.


Hair and Makeup


Selene!! Maid of Honor :P

With Kamlesh

I can't believe it's over. I flew out of Mumbai at 2am last night and all i have left are my memories and the faded dye on my palms. I'm back in the Heathrow airport, waiting to board my flight to Accra - already missing the excitement and contradictions of India. I will post as soon as i can from Ghana. Missing everyone!

Love from London

Images of India

My Indian Mothers: Manju, Mamta, & Kamlesh

Fun in Delhi (Qutab Minar)

Grant and I at the Red Fort in Agra

Selene and I on our way to the field!

Pedro and I doing in the field with a female SHG


Family Photo :)

The Taj Mahal!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The British Have Come!

I can’t believe I have already been here for seven weeks. Lately my mindset has been fluctuating between “homesick and can’t wait to get out of here” and “never want to leave” (ok, maybe not never!!). I have very much of a love hate relationship with my current environment and circumstances. I anticipate feeling both sad and relieved when i fly out of Bombay at 2am next Saturday.

Once again quite a bit has happened since my last blog post and when my parents left Babrala. For one thing, the Cambridge students have arrived! Selene and Grant. Their arrival provided a much needed distraction. It has been very amusing watching them get acclimated having already been through the process ourselves. We are doing our best to warn them about certain cultural adjustments that took us by surprise.

For instance, in the guesthouses they have this charming little thing called “Bed Tea”. The first time my doorbell rang at 6:30 am and a man half my size waltzed into my room with a pot of tea in hand I too was taken aback. I remember the first morning I arrived; I had no idea what was going on (partly because of the language barrier and partly because I didn’t have my contacts in). I do remember standing in the doorway watching in awe as this stranger went to my kitchen, poured me a cup of tea, brought it to the table, and then left as quickly as he had come. Needless to say, I left the tea sitting on the table and went back to bed. This routine carried on for the first three days until i got smart and put a sign on my door. “No Bed Tea PLEASE”. I haven’t had bed tea since… until Selen and Grant arrived.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when Grant described his first experience with bed tea… “Who in their right mind would want a cup of tea an hour and a half before they need to get up? …It isn’t bed tea if you actually have to get out of bed to open the door.”

He came up with this brilliant explanation for our experience in India. We have decided that about 80% of what goes on here is familiar, logical, and normal by our standards. The other 20% however defies logic or explanation. So, whenever something happens that we just can’t wrap our heads around or even begin to explain, we just chalk it up to “the other 20 percent”. Our new favorite phrase is “Kia ho ra ha he?” Which means, “What’s going on?”

Last Sunday we traveled by bus to Aligarh, which is 80 km from Babrala. We had a great time. It was pouring rain when we got there and the whole city was flooded. So we spent the first 10 minutes wading through water to get to the point where the rickshaws were. Then we got rides to the shopping areas, got some Salwar suits tailored, had a wonderful non vegetarian lunch (The guesthouse only serves “non veg”. I swear I can actually taste bacon when I see a pig on the streets – no matter how filthy it is). We went to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) which was supposedly modeled after Cambridge University. Shameem showed us the campus and his dorm. We barely made it back on time to catch the bus and sang backstreet boys songs most of the way home.

This week has been very busy. Wrapping up our project and all of the other lose ends before we leave in the middle of next week. I leave Babrala on the 24th for Mumbai and have a presentation at Bombay House on the 25th. Then off to Ghana at 2am on the morning of the 26th.

Miss everyone!! Love from Babrala!!!!