Monday, August 30, 2010

World's Best Countries

Interestingly, I was watching The Colbert Report yesterday and busted up laughing at his usual comments regarding Canada, Americans love to poke fun at Canada. And no, I don't know why, we just do. The episode was hilarious though, he discusses the latest article in Newsweek magazine on "The World's Best Countries".

Check out the clip here... (the embed didn't work on blogger for some reason, but please check out the clip before reading further)

This prompted me to research the article in Newsweek he was talking about, the "World's Best Country" ratings. I checked out their website where they have an "Interactive Infograph" of EVERY country in the world and it's rankings with Education, Health, Quality of Life, Economic Dynamism, and Political Environment. It was fascinating to see, and very surprising. Surprising to me that the U.S. made it as high as 11 on the rankings list. Considering our horrible health care system and education falling farther and farther behind. But I suppose 11 seems somewhat accurate. I was also surprised that Japan was not higher, only making it to number 9. Tsk tsk Japan!

Anyway, of course I looked up India, which made it to a shocking (yet not shocking) #78. Wow. I mean I imagined them behind, but I was surprised such countries like Honduras, Tunisia, Colombia, Philippines, Jordon, among other Middle Eastern countries that were ranked higher than India. As I said...makes sense, yet doesn't, and why is that? I can only explain it this way, it's due to the huge extremes in India. A massive difference between the "haves" and "have nots". It's so drastic sometimes you almost forget that like NOBODY shops at these malls you go to, except you, other expats, and the other 10% of the country who actually can. You live in a huge contrast, especially when volunteering where you see the lowest of the low, yet go shop at what (In India) is considered the best of the best. It's just weird.

Even Botswana and Kenya ranked higher on Education than India, tsk tsk India.

Check the stats for yourself here. (scroll down to #78 and hover over India)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AIC is on CNN ~

There was a huge excitement over the fact that Liz & Julia (founders of AIC) got - our oldest boy at AIC- Akash into this exclusive summer camp program in the U.S. at Exeter Academy. The school even gave him a full scholarship into their (very expensive) program, and an AIC donor offered to pay for his round trip ticket. This all happened back in January/February, and it was such a big deal that he was accepted, it's a very difficult program to get into. He was so excited. Every time we spoke he would ask questions about the U.S. and what to expect, he loved talking about it. I remember telling him about how in the US we don't have dogs running around wild like in India. He thought that was so strange, he said "Well then where are all the dogs?" I said, "Mostly people own them, as pets, they are loved and cared for." I told him "The ones that don't have homes go into animal shelters until they're adopted." This concept was so foreign to him and fascinating. I was explaining traffic laws, and how you can't just cross the street in the U.S. where ever you want like in India. How everything is going to be very clean, and no trash on the ground (mostly). It was like describing heaven....a dreamland to him.

He was beyond excited. Akash has never really been outside of Pune, let alone India. Everyone was so excited for this to happen for him. I couldn't wait for him to return to India after his time in the U.S. and give the other kids hope too. It would be good to give the other kids here some dreams to wish for in their own future. With their backgrounds, even though they live in this house and go to school and get fed everyday, it's hard to keep a hope alive that there is something actually better than this out there. That there is something more than just being fed and having a roof over your head. I really thought this trip with Akash would light their imaginations afire....give them the reality of what's possible for them. Help build their aspirations and give some real motivation.

It's extremely hard for an average Indian to get an American visa. Unlike U.S. citizens who can basically travel anywhere "visa-free", Indians cannot go anywhere without visas. Just getting Akash's birth certificates took months, City Hall here is ridiculously corrupt and refused to give any birth certificate to a slum kid unless bribes were paid (only way to get things done here). After finally receiving the passport, it was sent to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai for the visa, where ultimately it was denied. Basically, because he is a slum boy. They won't send him to the U.S. for fear he'll just run off and never come back.

When I watch this it makes me cry. I guess because I know Akash and how excited he was. He doesn't talk to me about not getting his visa because he is still really upset about it. It really breaks my heart.

It was originally supposed to be done as a "Slum boy gets dream of going to the U.S." type of news piece, however they changed the story after his visa was denied.

Monday, July 26, 2010

There is something very magical about rain. Of course, being raised in Southern California where you get rain maybe 3 times a year probably has something to do with my personal feelings towards rain. I remember as a child those days where we'd have a full days rain (ultra rare) and it feeling like a real winter to me. You see, we don't have huge change in seasons in Southern California, it's pretty much glorious weather year round. Mild temperatures without a cloud in the sky. This is what I grew up with, never too hot, never too cold. Sounds boring, but when it's all you're used too, any change in weather is considered 'freaky'. Like rain. But oh how I loved the rain, such magic! Cold wet rain,wearing your raincoat, carrying and umbrella, coming home and warming up to a fire my Mom would light in the fireplace. This is my winter.

Of course for Remi it's much the opposite, he loathes the rain. Hailing from Lille (Northern France) where it rains continuously throughout the year, with gloomy cloudy weather every day. Having only a brief window of summer in which the sun graced you with it's presence...I can see why he hates the rain.

But, it's monsoon season in India right now and as I'm typing the rain is pouring outside my window. It has been raining steady for the past week now, usually stopping at night and starting again in the morning. I've never experienced rains like here in India before. Last year I arrived during monsoon, but I was told it was a somewhat weak season. But this year has been pretty much on the mark, pouring rain every day.

I love it. It makes me feel like a child again, the excitement of the rain falling, the sounds, the smell of wet asphalt. It makes me want to curl up on my couch and read a book while sipping hot coco. I can't help it, I love anything that makes me feel like a kid.

(Attached a news report of this years monsoon arrival, though it's in Hindi you can see some of the video of the rains)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Living in India makes you (or at least it should make you) more interested in learning about the country itself. After all, you are living in it. As a result I spend some of my time researching many a questions.

Google has that interesting feature that lets you perfect your search to their most common phrased questioned. If you start typing this, "Why is India so " --- Google will pop up with some suggestions to finish your question. You might be interested to know the most commonly phrased questions on India. Number one being "Why is India so dirty" second being "Why is India so poor" and third "Why is India so hot".

Out of curiosity, I chose the number one question. "Dirty" was not as interesting as I'd thought it'd be. I was hoping for some thought provoking reasons, something to do with infrastructure, perhaps a time and date when things began to get bad, a politicians name from history. Some concrete evidence. But nothing really substantial came up, only Indian blogs titled "Why foreigners think India is so dirty" or questions posed to other Indians such as "Are we dirty?". Some were fairly good and had some interesting theories, but a majority do the same thing most Indians do. Which is to tell you you're wrong and that India is amazing and they'd never leave it in a million trillion years (even though they've never been anywhere else). Or they'll cop an attitude about the rumour even being passed around that their country IS dirty. Or the one I am most sick of hearing about, when they actually admit to their country being somewhat dirty but boast about how great their country will be later. Throw in some comments about how they'll kick everyone elses' ass in the THE FUTURE and you have yourself the typical majority response from the "Proud Indian" (notice I said majority, obviously not everyone feels this way).

The future, the future, the future. That's the trend I am noticing. It's all you'll see them say, on any given Youtube video showing India as is, poor people, dirt, animal cruelty. People actually comment "India doesn't look like that! Typical foreigners, always giving us a bad name by filming the bad areas." Which is a total lie I have to tell you. I came to India thinking there would be "bad areas", areas that were of course dirty, etc. But I assumed with all the money in India, and this emerging middle class, that surely there would be "nice areas" too? But there isn't, in fact when I first moved here I asked one of my fellow expats this (now ridiculous) question, "So where are the nice areas in town?" she laughed for about 5 minutes in my face. They simply DON'T EXIST.

India could be great. It's an undeniable fact. But they must let go of these fixations on being #1. Or should I say obsession? China is on the path to becoming AND will no doubt be #1, having just visited there I feel like they're light years ahead of India, especially when it comes to the standard of living. If India would stop looking outward and quit worrying about being better than everyone they may have a chance at being great in the next 50 years or so. But, it doesn't change how it is here NOW, does it? India is still a dirty place to live in the present day. That is just a fact.

I do however look forward to seeing India's progress.

(Sidenote: Out of curiosity I typed, "Why is the US so --" the answers Google provided were also interesting. Since it's World Cup season, #1 was "bad at soccer", #2 dependant on oil, #3 "powerful" #4 "rich")

Monday, July 12, 2010

Finally home!!!

Remi and I got back from our three week Asian vacation few days ago. Let me just say, three weeks is a long time!

I am only now able to reflect and begin going through all the photos. So far we have posted Beijing and Shanghai albums on our facebook. Still working on Hong Kong, Phuket, and Singapore. On top of that we have mountains of laundry to do and no food in the house.

Today however I visit the kids to give them some bracelets I picked up for them in Thailand. I'm so excited, I haven't seen them in nearly a month! I miss those guys so much! I am just hoping they don't fight over who gets what color bracelet (always an issue when lots of kids are involved).

Here is one pic from the first set of photos. Our journey began in Beijing, we visited the Great Wall on the second day. We walked so incredibly far that day that we actually got to parts of the wall which were empty of the typical tourist scene. It was so peaceful and amazing out there alone on this ancient piece of history. Though I did feel like I might die on a few of the really steep climbs, the reward was totally worth it!

I will post a better update this week...

In the meantime I leave you with a song my driver was singing to yesterday in the car. Oh India, how weird are your tastes in music...

Friday, June 4, 2010



Okay I know I haven't posted anything in awhile. *insert typical "I've been so BUSY!" comment*

(Warning! This entry is not really related to India.)

Remi and I are planning a large vacation (Yes, we Americans say "vacation" not "holiday") and the whole planning process has been a long one!

The trip has been in the works for the past couple months, we knew when Rem's school year here was up we'd finally have time to use up his vacation time. Since he is working in India for a French company he gets the French vacation days, which is 3-4 weeks! (So much nicer than the crappy American 2 weeks, ugh.)

Since we're in Asia, we thought we should do a grand vacation of Southeast Asian countries. Here's the itinerary: 1 week in China, starting in Beijing, head to Shanghai via train, from Shanghai to Hong Kong. End first week! (I know! Lots of craziness...) Second week in Thailand, predominantly in Phuket! (the beach pictured above.) We're super excited about this, we plan on relaxing in Kata Beach for 4 days, then switch to Patong Beach (party town) for some crazy fun! Third week we take the train from Thailand through Malaysia, stop off in Kuala Lumpur then head to Singapore. Four days in Singapore, of which one of the days will be spent taking a boat to one of the Indonesian islands for a day trip.

*takes a breath*

I've never had such a crazy vacation. My first trip to Japan came pretty close, since it was nearly three weeks and involved travelling all over Japan via bullet train. So needless to say we're totally beyond stoked for this much needed vacation!!!

I attempted to get our visas for China (the only country we're travelling to that's asking for one), but I was so confused by the websites and was nervous about sending our passports anywhere in India (things get lost here in the mail). But luckily the women who handles all the teachers travel visas offered to take care of both mine and Remi's, even though it was not business related.

So just today we received our visas! YAY.

In a week in a half I'll be in China!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cute little noses!

Check out these beauties!
(Pictured here is Geeta, Pooja, Poonam, Jyoti, and Sonali)

As many of you know, nose piercing is very common here in India. The girls had been begging Julia about getting their nose pierced for weeks now. We were trying to do it last week but some events pushed it back and just few days ago Tresta Didi took the girls finally to get their noses pierced. I'm so bummed I missed this day! In the words of Tresta Didi, "It was wild!"

(Sidenote: I am sooooo tempted to get my own nose pierced while here in India, but I promised my mother before I left that I wouldn't do it. So perhaps I will pickup a fake one instead. ;)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Give it time.

Just like anywhere in the world, when you move somewhere takes time to adjust.

Of course, moving into a culture that is completely alien to you...well that's like 100x harder for obvious reasons. When moving to a new place, it's people and their culture that can make or break you. To me, truly understanding someone (ie. their perspective, their culture) is harder than remembering new street names, finding a good place to buy fruits, or locating the post office.

The problem with living somewhere only two or three months is that you'll never truly know the place. Many people throughout my travels have told me it takes 6 months to really "get it", and it's so true.

India for me was such a roller-coaster. From the beginning phase, or what I called "denial" phase. I mostly kept telling myself "It's fine, it'll be OK, I like it, it'll grow on me, I like it, I still like it, omg is that child pooping on the sidewalk?!" when the reality inside me was more like, "WHAT HAVE I DONE?!"

This passes however into the later "hatred" phase. Unfortunately, after about 3-4 months in India I began to hate it. It took me so much energy just to try to convince myself it was all going to be OK, that it's not "that bad" here. I grew tired of it, I gave into the hatred that was fuming inside. All along I had wanted to be angry at the men who cheat me on rickshaws, or the electrician who promises to come but never does, the waiter who continually over-charges my card, the incredibly slow and unhelpful bank clerks, the cutting in line women do, the street children opening my car door asking me for money, the list goes on and on. Nothing was easy here, everything was hard. Let me just say it once more, every single thing you do INCREDIBLY difficult.

It was during this hatred phase that Remi and I took our well earned vacation from India in December. We'd officially been living here for 4 months when we left. We had a wonderful Christmas vacation in Tokyo and then back home to California, which really lifted our spirits. While home we both spewed opinions on India, quick to say what was wrong, quick to tell long amazingly frustrating stories to our families. Comments like "Wow I can't believe you guys have to deal with all that" always followed. It's not that we consciously went home to destroy India's image to our family, of course not. In fact if anything we wanted to paint the picture that said, "See, we're fine, we knew what we were getting into." But somehow quite the opposite happened. When someone asks you what you think about India, it's like all your anger and frustration begins to pour from you, and you just vent it all out like a poison that was looking for escape. You can't help it.

Once back in India, strangely, we both had a renewed hope. We felt different. There was no more escaping to home, no more vacations coming up. Just many long months in India ahead of us. We accepted it, so began our "acceptance" phase. By the end of January, my attitude had greatly changed. I was working now more often with the kids at my non-profit, learning words in Marathi from the kids, and important lessons from Julia Didi about India and how to improve your experience here.

Time it seemed, was really all I needed.

I became used to India, the culture became familiar, the annoyances became not only tolerable but went almost unnoticed to me. Patience came to me without trying. It now can just exist in me, almost as a new and permanent trait. No more taking a deep breath and telling myself to relax, or "that's just how it is here". Nothing seemed to bother me any more. Sure drivers still tried to cheat me, but I wasn't having it. I was comfortable now with yelling at a rickshaw driver, denying payment, or just jumping out of the rickshaw if need be. I was OK with shoving women in lines or saying, "Excuse me, I'm NEXT!" and making them move behind me. I ignore mostly all sales people even though they shadow my every move, I let them waste their time if they want. I know how to order food to get it brought to me accurately. I know when prices for fruits are too high and I know when haggling will help or when to walk away. I know how to get in and out of my little food market with ease. What once was a big ordeal, taking nearly 40 minutes, now takes me 15-20 minutes. I know how to ignore the women and children touching me, asking for money, and I lock my doors as reflex so they can't be opened. I on occasion do the "Indian head bobble" when speaking to other Indians and say "Ha" more often than I say "Yeah". I feel comfortable with my Indian wardrobe here, so comfortable in fact that even though I'm sweating in 100 degree heat, I don't complain. Eyes still follow me everywhere I go, but I've gotten used to the stares and that is something that can only happen with time.

All of these small things, all of these seemingly unimportant things are all what makes you feel comfortable in a place you call home. If you can't feel comfortable in the streets of your own town, you'll never like a place. You'll never open up to the people or the culture. You'll feel isolated, alone, and want to give up.

I realize now in these hot months of the Indian summer that I have moved beyond acceptance to a warm and fuzzy love, which you could call a "liking" phase. Yes it's true. India holds a special place in my heart. Through all the months of anger and frustrations and lots of "Why would anyone want to live here?!", I finally see India. I know sometimes I joke about my frustrations here, (it makes for an interesting read to the people back home) but when I am out in the streets of Pune, I really feel good here, I feel happiness, I feel comfort. I love watching all the shop keepers, the old men waiting at bus stops, the women in their colorful saris with babies in their arms. I love watching them as much as they love watching me. Being here is truly a unique and priceless experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

AIC Art Project

Spent all day working with the kids on their posters. These will be hung up in the AIC Volunteer apartment as a sort of "Welcome to AIC, Welcome to India" thing. The volunteer apartment is currently mostly empty, so Tresta Didi and I thought it would be nice to include some warm well wishes from the kids on the walls. They all had such great ideas, they came out so well, can't wait to hang them up!

(Sidenote: I even made my own poster which the kids helped me color in, it's of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey God) and I have to admit he came out pretty cool!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The "Expat Life"

Or what Julia didi (pictured here) calls the "expat lifestyle".

Okay, so I didn't exactly foresee my life becoming one of these clichés. It just happened. Not to say that I don't have Indian friends, (do the children count? heh heh), but when you're an expat you tend to always go places where you run into more expats. You start chatting about India and what you're doing here and before you know it you have another friend. Whether they're Japanese, American, British, German, Canadian, French, or even Nepalese.

^ Pictured here is the infamous Solaris Pool near Hard Rock Cafe, it's packed with expats every Saturday and one of our favorite places to unwind on the weekends. The truth is, this is the only place I know of where you can swim in a bikini and not be stared at, which is why I think so many of us go there. (Fancy hotels excluded)

It's weird to think that the main thing you have in common is the fact you both stand out here. That alone is enough to automatically make you friends with pretty much any foreigner you meet. The usual questions come up, "Why are you here?" "Where do you work?" "How long?" "What do you think of India?" (That question always being my favorite, the long drawn out pauses that follow this question are hilarious.)

The expat circle you make becomes larger and larger, until there is no real dividing lines between yourself and them. Nationalities plays no part, you mix with such a variety of people from around the world that you don't even notice your differences. Also, I get to learn so much from them through their trials and tribulations here. And lets face it, that information is priceless!

One last thing on the expat subject, I've noticed from other fellow travellers that some people are very anti "expat" and the whole scene (whether it's expats in China, Vietnam, Thailand, whatever). But for me, I will say t's comforting. I'm in a country that took me 6 freakin' months to finally adapt too, I get stared at constantly, asked for money every where I go, I should be allowed some foreign companions to empathize with now and again. Doesn't make me understand India any less because I hangout with expats. In fact, working with my NGO I see plenty sides to India that even Indians themselves don't ever see! So neener neener.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Okay, sometimes randomly I think of something truly Indian that is cute, funny, annoying, frustrating, awesome, incredible, crazy, etc. Then I think, "Hey, I should blog about that..." However thinking it and blogging it are two different things. Honestly, once I start blogging I end up ranting and I don't come off saying what I'd really like too. I have a hard time writing about one topic without branching into many others.

To simplify this post, I am including random things I think about saying and never do.

Interesting facts: (I apologize if some turned into rants)

#1. I haven't worn jeans since December (my Christmas vacation in the states). For the simple reason that India is hot, and wearing jeans is uncomfortable. I enjoy my lighter (what we expats nicknamed "expat pants" because we're always wearing them) black balloon-y style Alladin pants. I also own a short pair of white cotton pants, lots of skirts, some linen slacks (like pyjama pants), and of course...plenty of leggings (we're India of course!). It's just more comfortable and easier for me. Also, I get stared at everywhere I go, and feels nice for me to wear something less contoured to my body. The more hugging material does to me (like jeans on my ass) the more looked at I get and the weirder I feel.

#2. My head is almost always itchy. There are two reasons for this issue, one being the water here is dreadful. The quality of it would not pass as "usable" in the U.S.A. and I feel icky even using it to brush my teeth or shower. However I don't have the choice. To make the water somewhat "safe" they load it up with chemicals. Occasionally the water can be tasted when brushing our teeth and it's disgusting, and sometimes when we turn on the hot water for a shower it has a weird smell. So, whatever in is in the water, it agitates my scalp, giving me itchy scalp and sometimes dandruff. WHICH FYI - I HAVE NEVER HAD IN MY LIFE UNTIL MOVING HERE. It's horrible. The second issue that makes it worst is the heat, pollution, and humidity/dryness (going from AC rooms to intense humid heat).

#3. I stopped drinking coffee. The simple and fast explanation of this is that coffee sucks here and it's not even worth drinking, so I gave up my morning coffee. I'm sure my teeth will be happy, less coffee staining.

#4. I've become somewhat rude to sales people. It's true. It just sort of happens, they bring it out in me. They follow you around endlessly, staring at you. Sometimes in pairs, where both sales dudes will be looking you up and down speaking in Marathi to one doubt it's about me. This is the Indian standard for "good service" following potential customers around the store like flies on stink. They just keep hovering, no matter how many times you tell them you don't need help or you're "just looking", I mean if I need help I'll ask for it. I've actually run away from sales people here. It's awkward and it can even make me hate shopping sometimes. Even at expensive malls I will get stared at non-stop. They don't even look away when I stare back at them with angry eyes...they just keep staring with this blank dumbfounded expression on their faces. Sometimes I just want to shout, "YEAH...I'M WHITE, GET OVER IT."

#5. The first and last movie I'll ever see in India was in January (see movie rant post). After an awful, and I mean ridiculously awful) movie experience, Remi and I have decided we'd rather download movies with shit quality than see them in the theaters here. To sum it up, too much late arrivals, too much talking during the movies, ridiculous National Anthem they make you stand up for, intermissions that disrupt the movie, people arriving late from intermission, cutting out scenes whenever they feel like it, opening the exit door with the last 2 minutes of the movie playing, and people actually LEAVING when the doors are opened. In short, there is zero respect for the art of cinema here. And any one who knows Remi and I knows how much we love going to the movies! We used to go to a movie every Sunday night together in SF. Movies are one of our favorite things, so we avoid seeing them just breaks your heart.

#6. I don't sleep that well here. I mean, I sleep...but not that really delicious sleep you almost never want to wake up from. That amazing feeling of waking up on a cloud of comfort knowing you've sleep like 9-10 hours solid. That never happens here for me. Mostly because either an electrical outage in the night turns off my AC unit so the room heats up and within 20 minutes I am awake and sweating. Or, our bed. Our bed is hard as nails, and this is common here in India, as it is in Europe. So of course Remi sleeps fine, but I am often tossing and turning to find a good position. In general, I just wake up more from discomfort, it sucks.

#7. When I order drinks I order them very uniquely here, sort of my "tricks of the trade" if you will. You may take notes. :) First off, drinks in India are weak. Especially cocktails so don't order those unless you want some very EXPENSIVE JUICE. Beer is good, nice places will have imported beer on their menus, but from experience they're usually out of the one you ask for, and usually even your second choice they're out of as well. I dunno why, it just happens here a lot. Which leaves Indian beer, which leaves Kingfisher (I don't know why but I can't ever find other Indian beers like Cobra here). Kingfisher has is a delicious flavor but loaded up with fillers like glycerol (in amount that's illegal in Europe and U.S. beers) which can leave you with a nasty hangover the next day (and I mean NASTY). There is a trick to removing it, which I'd thought was a rumor by expats here but I managed to find a video how, you can check it here. To avoid this beer debacle, I learned that it's best to order just a good ol'fashioned shot, or a shot and your mixer/chaser separate. Sometimes servers look at me like I'm nuts but they'll do it. Since they don't have 'soda water' my traditional SF drink of 'vodka soda' is out of the question. I order a 'large wodka with a side bottle of perrier'. Explanation: "Large" means a regular shot size by U.S. standard, "wodka"...well you have to say the V sound with the W sound sometimes in India (it's their accent, they have a hard time pronouncing the V in English), especially since club music is entirely too loud and they already have trouble hearing what I say through my accent anyway. From personal experience, unless you want your drink ordered wrong it's best to sound as Indian as possible. The "side of perrier" is the closest thing they have to soda water and I use it as a chaser. It's very important to include "side" in your request or they will bring it combined. As they've often done to me.

So there is my full explanation of ordering drinks in India. :)

#8. I haven't worn real shoes in forever. I stick to sandals and flip-flops because they are more comfortable here. Anything with socks is too hot. As a result my feet are growing calluses that I have to file down every so often. It's annoying.

#9. I no longer flat iron my hair. Most people who know me see me with flat ironed hair. Only those in my family or who have lived with me (roomates, etc) know I actually have highly unmanageable curly/wavy hair. So I always have flat ironed it. However here, it's pointless. If I do manage to flat iron it, by the time I reach my destination in town it's already frizzy and beginning to wave-up again. The heat and humidity are not good for my hair. As a result, I've been trying new ways of just dealing with what my parents gave me. I've found some Moroccan coconut oils that keep the frizz down and ways to air dry my hair for optimum wavy locks. It's actually quite nice sometimes, so I guess I will thank India for forcing me finally deal with AND appreciate my hair for what it is, instead of always hiding it with a flat iron. (See pic above of long *hasn't been cut since December* wavy India hair).

#10. I think I've added at least 100 new freckles to my body. My Mom always used to call them "sun kisses" when I was little. I spent too much time at the beach and my nose would get cute little freckles. I don't actually spend time laying around in the sun here in India, and yet I've collected more "sun kisses" on my arms, shoulders, and legs in one year here than the past 3 years in SF combined. All I can say is the sun here is intense, I am just very happy my daily face lotion has SPF 95 in it or I might come back home looking 5 years older!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

We recently had some visitors to our school from France. Over the last weekend we showed them around Pune, including inviting them for a swim at the pool. While laying out in a lounge chair enjoying the Indian sun I pulled out my latest read, 'Being Indian' by Pavan Varma.

The French guy to my right says, "Wow you're American, and you read? That's a rare sight." I wanted to slap him for saying that. Not that I care that people stereotype Americans, it happens. I try not to stereotype Indians but of course I am guilty of generalizations as much as the next person.

Anyway, speaking of generalizations! The first chapter of this book annoyed me. It was reading like another big 'pat on the back' to Incredible India, or as Remi calls 'masturbation of the ego'. This attitude is so common here that it can really piss you off. The complete lie Bollywood sells with almost every movie it makes (always the most fair skinned Indians dancing on clean streets or driving fancy cars on empty roads), to a simple drink commercial showing young kids shopping at a mall. Though these commercials are geared towards all of India (because yes, even slum dwellers manage to sneak electricity for their tiny TVs) they still paint a picture that I wouldn't call accurate for the "middle class" Indian. This is not what India looks like at all. The only real and widely seen movie that paints India accurately would have to be 'Slumdog Millionaire'. And if you ask any affluent Indian what they thought of this movie they'll tell you "It's all wrong", "India isn't like that", blah blah. Wake up call to all you Indians, Yes! This is what your country looks like! Which comes back to my point, India and especially young India, views itself falsely. They have this idea they cling to of becoming the next 'super power', (which I've already voiced my opinion on in another post), they believe this so blindly that they ignore all the huge issues still plaguing their country. As if it doesn't exist. They seriously believe in the fairytale they've conjured up in their minds.

This book explores some definite masturbation of the Indian ego, but it also is sprinkled with some large doses of reality from (who can only be described as) a highly intelligent man. Though he cannot hide his unbiased opinions at times, and not all of it I agree with, he does give me huge insight into the average Indian mind. Why Indians are the way they are, how they evolved over time, and why their priorities are so darn crazy to me.
"Indians are extraordinary sensitive to the calculus of power. They consider the pursuit of power a legitimate end in itself, and display a great astuteness in adjusting to, and discovering, the focus of power. They respect the powerful, and will happily cooperate or collude with them for personal gain. In the game of power they take to factionalism and intrigue like a fish to water. Those who renounce the lure of power are worshipped, not because their examples are capable of emulation, but in sheer awe of their ability to transcend the irresistible."
- Pavan K. Varma

He also discusses how in Hinduism there is no real ultimate sins (karma yes, but sins no), which is why as a society that treasures power and status over anything else, can easily justify the means to an end. Pleasing a God does not necessarily coincide with "being a good person". They essentially want your devotion above anything else. Your offerings, your prayers, and your gratitude. Which comes back to the idea, it's not about how you make your money, so long as you make it. Deep rooted beliefs in the caste systems is still obviously in everyone's mindset (no matter what any young educated Indian might tell you). Which means you will always be trying to get ahead by any means necessary, get a job finished as cheaply as possible, in any way possible, you will get rewarded.

Obviously not all Indians are like this. And he isn't saying Indians aren't good people because they aren't "afraid of sins" either. Not his point at all,and if you read the book in detail he obviously loves India and his fellow Indians and explores much more in detail their complexities. I posted the factors in their culture that interested me most, that helped me better understand them. He poses that India is in such contrast and so unique that it cannot be compared to any other countries rise to power. I quite frankly agree. Which is why they can either succeed or fail. They're a complete wild card.

As for the "Super Power" notion, no way. Global Power, yes, definitely...but who knows when.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the meantime, the kids are all out of school. There was a two week period where all the Outreach kids as well as our Residential kids were enrolled in a "summer camp" program. Where every day they had lots of super fun activities. Like dance classes, movies, arts and crafts. It was so much fun! Especially watching them during their dance practices, they're all so talented, it's so much fun to watch. Pictured here is the nursey school kids. They are so fascinated when I come with my camera, they love to see pictures of themselves. The beauty in the middle is Gauri (5 yrs old), she's very outgoing and always is interested in what Didis have to say. She'll ask you any and every question she can think of to say in English.

But now that summer camp is over our rez kids have lots of free time on their hands. I have been waiting for these moments! Especially since the big push during exams, where we basically did non-stop studying. This free time was much needed. Now we can finally do some fun things! Tresta Didi and I have organized a poster making contest. Each one of the kids will be given a poster to decorate with whatever they want. When it's finished we're going to have them laminated and hung up in the Volunteer Apartments. Since those apartments are virtually empty and devoid of love we thought these posters would add some much needed cheer. The kids all leave Thursday for a trip to Goa. Once they're all gone Tresta and I plan to clean up the volunteer apartment and purchase a few needed items as well as hang all the new posters created by the kids.

The general theme of the posters is a sort of "welcome to AIC, thanks for coming". They all seemed really excited and Tresta and I bought some really nice markers, paints, glitter, a and amazing colored wrapping paper to use for decorations. Yesterday they spent an hour brainstorming and practising their ideas on scratch paper. Today is the day to work on the posters and Tresta and I are so excited!!! Some of them came up with some amazing ideas, even little Poonam had some really cute drawings of the sun and a mouse eating ice cream. It's going to be so cute when finished!

(I will post pics of the completed posters)

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Bored today, decided to finally crack open this box of the henna cones I'd bought nearly 4 months ago. Henna cones are what's used to apply mehendi, think of frosting a cake and it's basically the same tool.

First foot turned out really funky. I was going to just "free-hand" it. Since I was a little girl my sister, Mom, and I would use fountain pens to put designs on each others feet while we watched tv. So with this background I had decided I was competent enough to do this without any practice. However I over did it, and now my right foot looks like a hodge podge of randomness.
Second foot, which is my left (pictured here). I stencilled the design first, which was so much easier. After doing half the design my hands got a little shakey so Remi took over applying the henna. He did a really nice job and did a little free-hand towards my heel and atop the ankle.

I did my left hand myself while watching a movie on HBO. I'd found a simple enough design via google images and stencilled it first again with pen. It went pretty smoothly. When I was finished I was sort of sad. I had one botched foot, one nice foot, one nice left hand, and Remi was too annoyed to do my right hand. Since I couldn't do my right hand myself (I'm right-handed) I now I have nothing left to tattoo. And it's so much fun too!!! The more I do it the better I get. I asked Remi if he'd let me do some on him but he wasn't having it.

I plan on bringing lots of these boxes of henna cones back to California this summer. I can already tell this will be an excellent activity to do with the women in my family.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not an easy task.

First of all, it's not like the guys can be there to fix problems in your apartment when you're not there. You can't leave anyone alone in your place, unlike in the U.S. where you can leave the cable guy alone to install your cable while your gone, have to babysit them.

So you have be present. That always sucks. Having like 5 Indian dudes in your house staring at you is weird. On top of that they almost always smell to high heavens. I don't know why this is, but they just always do. Remi came home once after they'd been gone for nearly an hour and the apartment still stunk. We had to open all the windows (with scorching heat outside) just to flush the air out.

They don't care about your stuff whatsoever. They'll step barefoot on your leather couch, drill into your wall letting dust fly all over your couch, tv, etc. Step on your counter-tops barefoot, BAREFOOT, and leave a smell that requires mass amounts of scrubbing to get out. On top of that they've completely cracked all the paint where they've drilled and left smudge prints all over the walls they were working on.

They never quite fix anything. Everything is either a temporary fix which falls apart later or they break something else in the process of fixing what you called them for. Like for example we had a guy come to fix a tile in the kitchen that the AC installer had broke when he was installing the AC. But the tile guy not only does THE worst job glueing the tile back but he also cracks the tile next to the one he was fixing (see picture above). So now it looks even worse!

This is typical India though, Remi and I try so hard to laugh it off but it gets to a point where you literally expect shit to go wrong. Remi calls it the lottery, you never know if you'll win or lose. If something here actually goes right, as in according to plan, on time, at the cost promised,'re AMAZED beyond WORDS.

I'm not trying to be rude here either, as I've mentioned before I have a love/hate relationship with India and Indian culture in general. These are one of the things I do not not like. The total lack of respect, diligence, or pride in ones job. And of course they aren't all like this, I am making a big generalization. However, my experience compiled with the same horror stories from other fellow expats had lead me to believe this is a normal thing around India.

I wonder how I will feel transitioning back into the U.S. How I much patience I will have earned through countless frustrations endured here. I am absolutely positive India has made me a better person, in its own weird freakish way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I forgot to mention what I've been really up to lately. I just reread my last post and it's so all over the place. Aside from the kids exams, for the past weeks I've made a really good friend out of Tresta.

So, Tresta is a fellow volunteer here with AIC. Unlike other volunteers, but LIKE me, she lives here. She lives with her boyfriend in a nice apartment in Kaliyani Nagar. Since Tresta volunteered for AIC back in 2008 and is now back again, she has a lot of insights in how much AIC has grown and improved. She also has tons of wonderful India knowledge. Both her and her boyfriend have travelled India and her boyfriend has lived in Pune for 4 years now. They know all the best restaurants in Pune. It's so nice to have someone with this knowledge. Not the same as having an Indian friend of course (still looking for one ;p) but good enough.

In light of the fact that during the week I spend my time at AIC with her, Tresta has offered their extra guest room to me to stay in when I stay the nights in town. Even though Remi and I technically LIVE in Pune, we're actually out in Fursungi which is quite far from the downtown/fun areas. So of course I took her up on this offer, it's so much easier for me this way. So I am away from Remi 2 nights a week but he doesn't mind since he is so crazy busy with work at the moment anyway. Plus, he has always encouraged my work with AIC since day one, which I appreciate.

Just last week Tresta, her BF, and I went out to dinner at Malaka Spice (funny name because I am like 99% sure 'malaka' in Greek means 'asshole') for the first time, well first time for me, not them...they're regulars. The food is all Asian style, and by that I mean the menu is a mix up of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, even Indian style foods. The food was so delicious! And much needed after weeks of only Indian food. Remi was so jealous when I told him I got to eat some decent Thai food finally, and can't wait to try the restaurant out for himself. Thai and Sushi are Remi's two favorite foods. The atmosphere here is great, we ate outside (luckily I had my mosquito spray) and were brought plenty of drinks for once. Although the mixed drinks are a little weak (which all us expats agreed tend to be in India) everything else was perfect. The appetizers were so yummy, I could eat plates of these little kebabs and dumplings. I am definitely going back with Remi.

As a rule I find in fancier restaurants in India you tend to get a little annoyed with the waiters. They either never bring you drinks you ask for (annoying!), they often bring you something different than what you ordered (Remi calls it the 'lottery'), or they come to your table too often and bother you with questions they should have asked the first time they took your order. They also don't hesitate to interrupt your conversations (which I hate). And they really try to push you to order more appetizers than you want and really really push desserts, even though you've kindly told them no several times already, and even when you finally say 'If I eat another bite I'll explode', they'll still pester you! You really have to put your foot down and say NOOOOOO THANK YOU!!!!

It gets old, but it's India.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

~ Exam Week! ~

Julia is in Italy for the week and exams have officially started for the kids at AIC. Tresta and I have been working round the clock to prepare all the kids. So far we have 4th standard covered, they all seem like they'll do fine on their upcoming SST. Pooja, our only 2nd standard received a 99% on her English exam. AMAZING to think that only a year ago she barely spoke English and now she's aceing her exams. She's been doing so well they want to bump her into 3rd standard.

Our 6th standard kids will probably do the best, they've been doing consistently well on their mock exams over the past weeks. Sanjay actually broke his wrist (playing in our cement yard) the day before his first exam. It's his writing hand too, in light of this accident his teacher decided to take an average score from all his previous exams and use it as his final score. Since it was so high, Sanjay is now officially bumped to 7th standard!!! He was so excited about this news until I told him that just because he doesn't have to take his exams doesn't mean he gets to sit around doing nothing.

Poonam, our latest addition is in dire need of some help with English. I spend as much time with her as I can lately and she's got a firm understanding of the ABCs and counting 1-20. However she needs to know more fruit/vegetable vocabulary and animals before she will be accepted into 1st standard (which is where we'd like her to go). Poonam is the hardest because she's only 6 and was basically abandoned by her parents at the Pune train station (where she'd been living when we found her). Her head is loaded with lice (which she's spread to all the other kids, hopefully not me!!! *scratches head*), she's a Waghri (same as Pooja but differen't from the other kids) which makes her slightly more of an outsider. She speaks NO English. Which is the most difficult in a house that (when Didi's and Dada's are around) speaks predominantly English. She's often feeling left out and as a result cries a lot and will be extremely naughty. We've already caught her asking neighbors for mangos, claiming we don't feed her. She's a sneaky little 6 year old.

We've paired her up with Sanjay (who really didn't like her) who will teach her more vocabulary so she'll be able to get into either kindergarten or 1st standard by next school year. A lot of work ahead of those two but it's cute seeing them study together. I've already seen Poonam's attitude improve. She finally treats study time like "school time" and she's excited to show me her book and all her knowledge after a good study session.

I've become quite fond of little Poonam, she's so skinny and her voice is so high. We call her our pixie, or fairy sometimes. This little girl is so adorable, she's going to be gorgeous when she's older. Great face and perfect white teeth (almost unheard of in the slums). She's got a bright future ahead of her and I feel so happy I get to be apart of these first vital moments in her life.

(The picture above is of our little sprite Poonam) :) Love that girl.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The pictures I posted here show Sanjay going for a swim in the pool at Solaris, in Pune. And Ramu enhoying his new birthday present alongside Tushar and Kajal.

Remi and I frequent the pool regularly, it's such a nice relaxing place to go on the weekend. I knew it would be a great reward for the kids if they did well on their upcoming exams. Tends to happen everywhere I go these days, "I wonder what the kids would think of this?", "The kids would LOVE this!", etc. Having trips like these as rewards for good grades or behaviour is the best tool we have. It adds to their motivation. For this trip we only took the three winners who did the best on their "mock" exams. We knew their great time will then spread like wild fire to the other kids and give them the carrot on the end of the stick that many of them need. It was a complete success, once back home they all discussed their fun at the pool. Some kids were jealous, some excited at the prospect of going next time, and some were just as excited as if they'd gone themselves. They all revelled at the photos I showed from my camera of Sanjay doing a dive, Geeta in the floaty, and Sonali in her new swim suit. Can't wait to see how this week of studying goes, I expect everyone to be at their best behaviour!

After our day of fun and sun we picked up a birthday cake for Ramu in town and also his birthday present, a new tricycle!!! He was so excited!!! After cake Kajal brought it out and his eyes totally lit up. We were worried that his feet wouldn't reach the pedals but with the help of his siblings he scoots around nicely. Ramu seemed to care little for cake or the fact it was his birthday, he just wanted to ride that tricycle!

Today is Monday and Julia (on-side director) is out of town for a week. Tresta and I are going to keep the kids in line the best we can, it's exams week so the house will be very busy with studying.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm confused about a lot of things in India. I never really understand things like how babus can exist so openly. How so many people who claim to live in the "best country in the world" (they seriously believe that here), can allow such horrible disgusting blatant forms of corruption. Down to even the tiniest thing, for example applying for a BPL (below poverty level) card, which is supposed to be FREE cannot be obtained without slipping some rupees to the clerk who handles the forms. You think people who can't even afford a bag of rice will be able to afford the bribe money required for this form?! Obtaining birth or death certificates (also free) require bribes as well. These are only small examples, setting up a business here for a foreigner is incredibly difficult. I honestly don't see how it's worth it. The bribes, the delays, the incompetence with a lot of the workers...I wonder if they factor those things in when companies are like, "Hey, let's set up in's cheap there!"

And btw, it's not that cheap any more. India's inflation rates are through the roof. Every year prices are drastically higher for not only food but even getting clothing or home items. If they don't do something about it, companies are going to be less inclined to set up shop here. Currently the only reason (aside from tapping into the new market here if your selling your products) is the fact that it's cheap.

I could go on and on with examples of civil servants (who btw, are un-sackable in this country) sit around making money by doing nothing. Roads remain unfixed, irrigation goes to rich farmers only, electricity remains shut off in most of the rural areas. The list goes on and on...

What irks me most about all of this, is their total lack of shame, they're not even trying to hide their love of money here. I've been asked for money to park in lots that are free, I've been told I need pay to see the man in charge of the FRO (foreigners/visas) which is supposed to be FREE, or sometimes just pay a cop that stops you for no reason who will make up a reason to get some of your money.

It's all accepted here as perfectly OK.

I know every country has it's problems, I'm not saying the US isn't loaded with it's fair share of corruption. Of course it exists everywhere, but getting caught means jail in the US. You know, ...cuz it's like, BAD to take money that's not yours. So you hide the fact you do it. But here it's like, whatever...everyone does it, who cares? India has so many problems and so much corruption I just don't see them becoming a world power any time soon. If you cannot even fix simple problems like INFRASTRUCTURE how do you expect to be a world power in the next 10 years? If you cannot supply your people with drinking water (a project India promised would be finished back in the 1970's), or even basic food and sanitation...what...the...heck?! How do you see yourself as a world power? It's like almost a joke to me and if anyone has ever been here you'd laugh too.

If you look back on India from Gandhi's day (1940's) until mid 90's, almost nothing had changed. It would look relatively the same. Only in the 90's with their IT and knowledge of English (thanks to the Brits) is India even remotely competitive with China. Even with all their natural resources, knowledge, and wealth they cannot handle simple things like enforcing traffic laws, fixing pot holes in a road, or supplying electricity. All the new buildings and construction going on are still under this old mentality of "it's good enough" (sort of like an Indian standard) they don't have any desire for perfection here. There are no building codes and electrical safety checks...and even if there was, you could just bribe your way out of it anyway. They honestly don't believe in buying expensive quality building materials or hiring professional skilled electricians. Why do that when you can hire cheap and buy cheap? Who cares if a brand new apartment building is falling apart in 2 years? As long as it's up. Honestly, I just don't foresee this "next world power" idea happening for India for a long time. If I were to guess, definitely not for (at least) another 40-50 years.

And what really cracks me up, is if you view some videos on youtube of people's India vacations. They show you India, they aren't showing you anything in particular, just...India. All the comments on these videos sing the same old song, "Why do foreigners always show the poor parts of India? Always giving us a bad name." HA. So laughable. Everywhere you go in India looks the same, there is no "nice areas" here. Everywhere there are stalls, dirt, cows, people, rickshaws blowing smog in your face, beggers, poor people, shoeless children, people going to the bathroom, and loads of trash. It's like the young rich India is in denial that this is how their country looks. They're fooled by their own Bollywood films or TV commercials. Like that is what life is REALLY like here! It's so bizarre. They've either never been outside of India or they live in some fantasy land.

Back to becoming a "world power" idea. There is so much culturally they'd have to change, and they just don't want to give up their deep rooted superstitions, ideas on castes, communalism, and this sort of idea that some how an Indian with wealth is better than a villager. Until they see all their own people as worthy, as humans, as their fellow Indians...they will never fix any problems. Because the root of their problems is not only their severe corruption but their high opinions of themselves (those who make money versus those who don't).

Sorry for the long complaining post. But sometimes this just builds up inside me, working with the kids from tribes that are (even to this day) literally spat on, takes it's toll on my spirits. Being in the slums, seeing all the injustices, it's just enough to make you want to scream sometimes. HOW CAN PEOPLE WALK AROUND SPENDING LOADS OF MONEY ON FANCY CLOTHES AND JEWELRY WHEN PEOPLE DON'T EVEN HAVE WATER TO DRINK???

WHAT THE F***!?!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This weekend was a special festival the school put on. Mostly to sort of put the name of the school out there (since it's still only in it's second year) and attract new students. It's going on right now as I type. There has been music going since 11am this morning. It's a two day event and yesterday they had a lot of music, games, some equivalent of a bouncy house but made for soccer, and other random things. All night they had a really famous rock band play until 11pm. It was so loud I couldn't watch tv at night. Today was mainly paint-ball. Pictured above is Remi and his team, I believe Remi won both matches he played. He is always so calm and methodical when he plays, he also has deadly accuracy with fire arms, it's scary. I would have played, I do love paint-ball. But it's was already scorching hot outside (around 100 degrees), and the idea of putting on these smelly suits that the stinky male students had already been sweating in all day really deterred me. It was so hot that just standing outside watching them for 20 minutes and I was ready to come in. When I finally came back to the AC in our apartment I checked my face in the mirror and it was bright red and hot to the touch.

Yeah so...something you might not know, India is HOT. Hehe.

Friday, March 5, 2010

~ Holi Festival 2010 ~

Holi is a Hindu holiday in India lasting three days, though some people say a week. Now, if you ask the average Indian here what Holi is about, you'll get mixed responses. I think most don't really know, they call it the "Festival of Colors" and that's about it. In fact, I had a Muslim once tell me it's not even a Hindu holiday, that it's just a day of "fun" with colors, which is why sometimes you can find Muslims playing. Since I couldn't seem to get a straight response out of anyone I researched it myself.

The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli Vandana in Sanskrit,also Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated by people throwing coloured powder and coloured water at each other. Bonfires are lit the day before, also known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Chhoti Holi (little Holi). The bonfires are lit in memory of the miraculous escape that young Prahlad accomplished when Demoness Holika, sister ofHiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a staunch devotee of god Vishnu, escaped without any injuries due to his unshakable devotion.

So in fact, it is a Hindu holiday. I started out on the campus here, the students weren't allowed the day off (which they were super pissed about), weird since most of Inida gets t he day off. However, Remi and I knew they'd find ways to play Holi somehow, so Remi made sure to wear an older dark shirt with an old pair of jeans. As expected, during the students lunch break Holi broke out. I watched from my apartment as they ran around dousing each other in water and powder. Eventually they turned on a water spout that sprayed water 30 feet in the air! The French students participated and it looked like they were having an awesome time. I would have joined them but my driver was arriving to take me to my Holi celebration at AIC. If I was wet with colored dyes all over me I doubt he'd let me in the car.

I wore one of Remi's old T-shirts with a pair of black leggings. The kids had already spent the morning playing Holi and had showered. They planned on restarting after lunch. Julia (on-site director) was already recovering from her serious scrubbing. All the kids were so happy and excited, except Kajal who made it abundantly clear she was NOT playing Holi after lunch. She was worried her hands would stain and they're not allowed to have any color on their hands at school.

After lunch the real mayhem began. What started with water guns quickly turned into large buckets of water, and then the powder broke out, smearing all over faces, rubbing in hair, sprinkling, dabbing, throwing, pouring...etc. After we were thoroughly covered we sat around in the sun to try and dry ourselves. Being soaking wet in India can still be pretty cold. After a mini break the water balloons began, the kids went crazy filling up the balloons and once all were filled launched an attack. I was pegged a couple times by Aakash and Tushar, they seemed to have the most vigor and accurancy.

Once we covered Simba (the dog) in color we were finally finished. I followed Nikita to the volunteer apartment for a shower. Most of the color however would not budge from anywhere. It stained my hair pink, my face had blue, yellow, and green and my arms and neck were purple and yellow. Luckily for me, Holi is a huge holiday so having stained skin or hair is acceptable for a few days. :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Just got back from the Westin Hotel (newly opened) in Koregaon Park, Pune. Since I've been here I'd noticed this monstrocity of a hotel in it's contruction phase. Massive gray modern building along the river near Kalyani Nagar. I'd drive by it almost every day wondering when it's completion date would arrive. opened about two months ago, and only now have Remi and I gotten the opporunity to try it out.

Fantastic architecture! Very sleek, perhaps a tad cold, exterior, the inside however is much warmer. Tight security (Mary likey in light of the recent bombing event here in Pune), modern art lining the lobby, the elevators saturate your eyes with a shiny metallic golden floral wall decor, and the restaurants...OMG, must be like five or so just within the hotel itself.

The restaurant we ate at was called "Seasonal Tastes" (pictured above) and it was buffet style (came highly recommended to us by Remi's collegues). We went with our friends Charlotte and Guillaume, who happened to have two friends visiting from France.

The food was wonderful (for a buffet) included a lot of Asian foods, ahem, SUSHI!!!! Woot! We were thoroughly stuffed by dessert time. Desserts (which anyone who knows me knows is my FAVORITE course) were plentiful, along with an extensive cheese selection (which the French loved) they had ice creams, crème brulee, tiramisu, trifle, beetroot cake, fruit tarts, pistaschio bars, apple crumble, chocolate gateaux, mousses, Indian puddings, cookies, chocolates, plus every fruit under the sun drizzled with your choice of chocolate syrup or caramel. It was a relative dessert-lovers heaven.

After a massive overload of sweets + wine I was yawning and ready to pass out. They did bring us some coffee, which I managed to gulp down to waken myself back up.

In total, the buffet was 800 rupees per person (around $18.00)! Though this is still cheap for this class of buffet, still a tad pricey by Indian standards.

Oh, and my only complaint...the drinks took FOREVER. Just bringing us a glass of wine (which was overpriced) took around 20 minutes. I don't know why this was, but they could have made lot more money off of us if they were a bit more attentive with the alcohol. I mean, I ended up having 1 Bellini and 1 glass of wine (and the wine was all my own effort in flagging him down), but had the waiter been around more to offer a refill in a timely manner, I probably would have had 3-4 glasses easy.

Either way, Remi and I love this place and we will be back to try out the other restaurants. They have an Italian one (a bit pricey) which had waiters dressed up as Italian clowns (complete with face makeup, no joke), it was truly bizarre.

Owie, OK my tummy is too full to sit in this chair anymore, time to lay down...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Foamy Mouth = Bad Doggy.

"India has been reported as having the highest rate of human rabies in the world, primarily because of stray dogs." -Wikipedia
Glad I had my rabies vaccine before coming here. We have like 11 stray dogs -plus puppies- living on campus. These aren't the same strays you see in the states, oh hells no. We're talking like WILD dogs here. Like Animal Planet, Discovery Channel type wild. Occasionally in town you find some semi-friendly, but for the most part they're very scared of humans, and rightfully so. Most people consider them pests and will beat on them and chase them away. But at night they tend to gather together and form packs, these packs can be quite dangerous. I've seen a pack chase a little girl on a bike before...she got away unharmed, but was scary to witness. It's for this reason I know my Mom would never like India. She's an animal lover and it would kill here to see all the animals in pain here. It's quite shocking to see and very very VERY hard to ignore.

(*1 lakh = 100k)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Yoga in India.

I've started a creative writing class and yoga class. Both started last week. I picked up some new yoga mats for both Remi and I, yep it's true, Remi is taking his first yoga class ever!

The yoga was fantastic, I've felt like such a bump on a log lately, it really was needed. The teacher was great, a true yoga master. Unlike all the ones I found in San Francisco who have morphed their classes to suit Americans. Many teachers in San Francisco use yoga as almost an aerobics class, moving from pose to pose too quickly just to make sweat and feel like you "got your moneys worth". I found it hard to perfect my poses and really notice my breathing in any of those classes. I find relaxing yoga much more satisfying for me physically and mentally. Our teacher here was seriously into aryuveda, and after class taught us a little about the main principles. Aryuveda doesn't really interest me much, I don't think classifying peoples bodies into only three categories is very accurate. But he was a great teacher, he took his time to watch his students and align poses that were flawed. He stressed the importance of not straining your body, not to pull muscles, to listen to your body. A belief that is quite opposite in the U.S., where if your not pushing your limits your not learning, so to speak. I always hated that belief! I really liked this style of yoga, focusing more on breathing, and holding poses for longer periods of time. Though I couldn't help but giggle at a lot of his mantras converted to English, especially at the end of class during "meditative sleep", he was trying to relax our minds by giving us soothing relaxing words. His accent was so hilarious though I really had to focus to keep from smiling.

"Tink of your body...*long pause*... as a gatevay to da mind.

I wasn't the only one, I peered over at Remi and he was smiling. Remi was really glad he came, he's has had a lot of back problems lately from working too long in front of the computer. Also, he has really bad posture, he is always hunkered over. I told him yoga would really help with his back, and he did feel a lot better afterwards. He has zero flexibility, I've never seen anyone as rigid as Remi before. I think he will benefit greatly from this class.

The class had such an effect on a lot of us here on campus that we had trouble sleeping that night. Some say they think it was because the class gave them so much energy, but other people heard that yoga can release toxins in your body and that they can agitate, preventing sleep. Who knows, but I'm really excited for round two!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shaniwar Wada, Pune

"Shaniwarwada (Marathi: शनिवारवाडा) is a palace fort in the city of Pune in western Maharashtra, India. It covers six and a quarter acres in central Pune. It was constructed in 1732 as the seat of the Peshwa(prime ministers of the Maratha Empire), and remained the political capital of the Empire until its annihilation. The fort itself was largely destroyed in 1828 by an unexplained fire, but the surviving structures are now maintained as a tourist and archaeological site." -Wikipedia
Remi and I visited this fort for the first time a few weeks ago, it's located in the heart of Pune. We haven't seen much in Pune actually, surprising I know. Aside from this fort and a Ganesh Temple on the outskirts of Pune, we've pretty much worked every day since we've been here. Not that we don't want to do a little sight-seeing, because we really do. It's just that Remi is so busy with school and it's hard to arrange it all. We're definitely putting forth more of an effort to see stuff every weekend. I have been putting a lot of effort into our upcoming vacation to Nepal. Remi really wants to add Tibet to our vacation, I'm trying to squeeze it in but it's a heck of a lot more hassle to go from Kathmandu to Tibet. Not only is Tibet surprisingly expensive, but you require a tourist Visa to enter China, which means even though you can take a bus from Nepal to Lhasa, they will check your passport at the border. So basically it's a lot more money if we decide to go to Tibet as well. However Remi looks at this as a golden opportunity, if we're in Nepal anyway, might as well check out Tibet too? Either way, we really need to get out of our apartment more and start exploring, we've been here half a year already and we've barely seen a thing! That is all about to change though!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pune Terror Attack.

It feels a little weird to be writing about this since never in my life have I experienced something hitting this close to home.

Just last night around 7:30pm a bomb went off at the German Bakery (pictured here pre-attack) in Koregaon Park here in Pune. It's strange on so many levels, but mostly because everyone knows this bakery. It's not just a bakery, they serve coffee, chai, and organic health food. It's famous in Pune, it's right next to the Osho Ashram and is always filled with foreigners in their maroon robes. This was the first place I met Julia (the AIC on-site Director), faculty from campus and students go here to hangout, it's a hot spot that's been in Pune for years. We heard the news last night, Tom (colleague of Remi's here on campus) called us to make sure we were OK, he was in town and saw all the streets closed off and fire trucks. Luckily, no one from school or AIC were involved.

The weirdest thing though was the fact Remi and I were there today, only a mere two hours prior to the blast. We were in town running errands, had some lunch at Hard Rock Cafe, then before we headed home we'd ask our driver where we could go to get an extra key made for our apartment. He took us to a vendor on the street, right on the corner of the German Bakery, near the Osho Ashram. Lots of vendors sell stuff here since there is a lot of tourists. We sat in the car waiting for the key to be made, I made a comment while staring at the Bakery, "That place is always packed with Osho people." We watched as so many of them walked by us in their prayer robes.

Once Tom called us I turned on the news channel, both Remi and I were silent for about 5 minutes while our eyes were glued to the news coverage. The reporters saying it was targeted because of it's "popularity with foreigners". The bakery sign, which we'd seen only few hours ago was completely destroyed, the building was unrecognisable, and we were at a loss for words...we just kept saying "We were just there...we were just there..."

I'm not sure if internally I am being too calm about this or blowing it out of proportion. If this was a place I'd never been to or heard of I suppose my reaction would be somewhat different. But this just hits too close to home, and the fact that we're living on an "International Campus" filled with foreigners makes us feel even more like we have a target on our back. I know you have to keep living your life, you can't be afraid of everything, but at the same time I don't want to be naive either.

This whole thing is just fucked up I tell you (sorry for the language).

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Neighborhood Rascals.

This is a picture of the front yard of the AIC residential house. Whenever I pull up, Ramu is often the first one I see sitting in the yard, usually talking to himself. Since he is not old enough for school yet he stays home and finds ways of entertaining himself.

On this day I had stayed out front to have a little chat with him and within seconds the neighborhood kids appeared out of no where, "Didi! Didi! Hi! Hiiiiii Didi!" The gate is shut but they just climb over it. Ramu is pretty good friends with the girls and the come over regularly to play with him. They're such a bunch of rascals though, with all of them together I am quickly overrun! They immediately all want to (not just hold) but use my camera. Which is actually Remi's and it's not just a camera, it's an expensive camera. I agree to let them each take one picture though, I keep the straps around my neck and hold the base with my hands, this way I know they won't drop it. I show them where the button is to take the picture but with their tiny little hands they all have problems pushing it. They start to get a little too crazy and pushy so I shout "Tanba!", which in Marathi means "Stop!". (Though, I am not sure if my spelling is correct, could be spelt 'tamba' the N and M sounds are similar sometimes). It's always nice to know some command words in the native tongue, the kids will most likely listen better than if you had said it in English.

We have to be careful with the neighborhood kids in the yard though, they will sometimes steal our kids' toys. Most of the residential kids keep all their outdoor toys hidden so the neighborhood kids can't steal them. I don't know if the kids are really stealing or if they just run off with it accidentally. Kajal says they do it on purpose, she gets pretty peeved when she seems them in the yard without permission. Either way I pick up toys I see in the yard now, better to be safe than sorry I guess.


Mary's Travels (so far!)