Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding My Zen in 2010.

This is Yogi Master Santosh, one of the kids in the AIC residential program. During a study session on the roof the other day he busted out some yoga poses to absolute perfection, definitely put my poses to shame! He told me they get to practice yoga at school, how cool is that? When you think about it, of course they do, why wouldn't they? But it didn't stop me from wishing my school had yoga when I was kid.

On a related topic, since I have started working with Ashraya Initiative for Children here in Pune, I've spent a lot of time just adjusting to the craziness of AIC. Trying to find where I could most fit in, where I am most useful. Most of the volunteers live in an apartment near the residential house. So they tend to be always available to the kids. Due to my distance from town, unreliable drivers, and all the general hassles that came with moving to India...I have not had the amount of time with the kids that I would have liked too. BUT, that all changes now. Since I finally settled in India and have a reliable car and driver on my hands I am hoping to spend a lot more time in the residential house/outreach center and a lot less time at home.

The new year has literally brought a new year for me here in India, and I don't want to waste a moment of it. There is so much I want to do here. So much. . .

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"To a western observer our civilization appears as all metaphysics, as to a deaf man piano playing appears to be mere movements of fingers and no music."
-Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet.

I could not agree more with this statement. I've been in India for nearly 6 months and every month, every week, every day, my attitude changes. Just when I feel I have grasped onto an idea, formulated an opinion, or felt a genuine tends to all fall apart. Every person I meet gives me a new outlook, and every place I visit gives me a larger sense of the complexities of their culture. I bought this book when I first moved here because I found it to be a unbiased look into India's history and cultural background. After all, if I am going to live here, I should probably know a little about it, right?

The writer, Edward Luce is English, and spent a large portion of his life living in India. He interviewed numerous politicians, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, mothers, children, businessmen, expats, priests, and pretty much any one wandering India. Which is why I enjoy his stories so much, each one is so different and each one leaves you with a greater understanding. Sure, I could pick up a giant history book on India, going into detailed accounts of every war and every victory. But I find that yes, historical facts interest me, but their relation to the rest of the world is what fascinates me most.

I am only about half way through and it has definitely given me some perspective on India, it's worth a read.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anniversary in Pune!

Remi and I finally dined at the infamous Stone Water Grill, one of the fanciest restaurants in Pune. It's right next to the Hard Rock Cafe (Yes, there is a Hard Rock Cafe in Pune!). Whenever Remi and I get really desperate for some beef we have a delicious hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe. We'd seen this amazingly clean and modern looking restaurant/bar next door and wanted to try it out sometime, we found out from Remi's fellow French colleagues it was the Stone Water Grill. They had nothing but wonderful things to say about it, so since it was our 3 year anniversary last Saturday, we finally decided to check it out.

The ambiance of this place is so soothing and relaxing. Soft lighting, candles everywhere, a very light oil burner, modern bar outside connected to the classy restaurant inside. The staff of course waited on us hand and foot, as they typically do anywhere in India. Everything about this place was excellent, including the price! I was surprised at how cheap it was, Remi's Baked Lobster was only (if I remember right) 400 rupees and my Jerked Norwegian Salmon was around 350 rupees. We had some pan fried stuffed calamari with prawns in a thick buttery herb sauce for an appetizer and a bottle of white wine from my home state of California!

It made for a wonderful anniversary dinner. We were all smiles the whole time and can't wait to go back and try some other dishes. Remi heard that the Steak there is amaizng too, so that's next on the list. All in all, the entire experience was fantastic. We have eaten at only a few highly rated restaurants since we've been here but this was definitely our favorite one so far.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reliability in India.

This is something you must learn to live with if you move here. Which, in it's own way can be looked at as a blessing or annoyance. Typically, it's is annoyance (I'll explain the blessing part later). For example when I need to go grocery shopping and the driver hasn't arrived. Not only has he not arrived on time but he actually won't arrive at all. On top of that I won't get any warning or notification. So I sit at home twiddling my thumbs waiting for a car that never comes. *sigh*

Yes, it's frustrating. There is not much you can really depend on here and as an American this is a difficult thing to adjust too. You may not think it's much now, but when you're here you realize how much you take that reliability in the western world for granted.

So you may be wondering about the previously mentioned "blessing" in all this. Well, if you learn anything while you're here in India, it's patience. As Americans we have zero patience, and that is a fact. We want everything done yesterday and expect 24 hour service and live by the "the customers always right" mentality. There is a certain amount of general trust and guarantees that come along with business transactions. But seriously, leave all those expectations behind. Nothing happens the way it's supposed to here. We couldn't even get our bank account open for the first three months because the Indian governmental department in charge of foreigners in India (FRO) was never open to stamp our official paperwork, and you can't open a bank account without these stamps! Even just getting our apartment set-up took months. Simple things like getting the dishwasher installed, TV hooked up, furniture delivered. Everything will take longer than it should. Promises get made and they're just as easily broken. Even if the guy promises you to your face with a nod of the head and a "Yes Ma'am, delivery on Friday" it means nothing and if it does come on Friday, than lucky you! But if it doesn't, just take a deep breath and remember these words, "c'est la vie"

That is my mantra here, and it's helped me a lot. ;)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AIC doesn't only concentrate on the children affected by the stigma of belonging to "ex-criminal tribes," but also the women. They are the key to breaking the cycle. As a result AIC has enrolled many women from our slum area into workshop classes where they can learn a trade such as incense making, tailoring, or candlestick making. Since most of them sell random stuff illegally on the streets in Pune, they run the risk of have many of their goods confiscated or stolen by police. As a result they end up with nothing and sometimes take weeks to recover from such a loss.

By offering them a real trade and a license to sell their products, we're hopefully giving them a chance to make a real living. So far the classes have been a huge success and I loved taking everyone's photo on graduation day. They were so proud and a lot of speeches were given with many a tears shed.

Awesome day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If anyone wants to break away from America and really see the world, India is a good start.

That said, I love my country. I grew up with a wonderful house in Orange County, California. We had a cat, I went to a top high school, I had friends of every color and background. I had a caring home with good parents and siblings. I was loved, and above all I was safe. My neighborhood was so safe I could ride my bike to the park alone when I was very young. We had things. By things I mean Nintendo, one of the first families to have a computer, or the internet, or AOL when it was first released. I had everything I needed or wanted as a growing child. I had a wonderful life and I love my country for that, I really do.

But, there comes a time where you need to leave the comfort of the good ol' U.S.A. It's almost like this cocoon we've grown up in, completely insulated from the outside world. Sure we can read about it, search the internet, watch videos, read the news. But no matter how old you get you will not never gain true wisdom by staying in one place your whole life.

It is my firm belief that to truly understand Earth, you must travel her.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's hard to remain normal with the work I'm doing here.

Example, last night we went to a nice restaurant with some of the Frenchies. They ask me about work, so I tell them some of what I had done the day before.

Which included taking a boy named Ganesh to the hospital for a CT scan. He had fallen off the roof of the one of the homes in his slum and hit his head pretty hard. Though he did not break any bones, he had been vomiting since the accident. So, we go to the center (Julia and I) to pickup the boy and his mother. They had never in their lives been inside a car before. My car for the day was a really nice jeep style, with leather interior, and cold air conditioner. They were both wide-eyed the entire time. His mother kept thanking me for the ride, and they both stared outside the windows with amazement. When we arrived at the clinic Julia paid for his CT scan, which was 2,000 rupees, the AIC Medical Outreach Program covers all their fees. The scan wasn't going to be ready for 30 minutes, so Julia said we should find a place to eat. We found a veg restaurant really close to the clinic. It was a nice place, and both the boy and his mother had never been to a restaurant before. It was at this time I noticed he had no shoes. Which broke my heart to see, I would never walk barefoot in India that's for sure. The streets are covered with nasty things. The owner of the restaurant came outside while we were standing reading he menu. He looked annoyed and yelled at them to move away from his steps. Julia quickly told him in Hindi that they're with us. The man looked completely shocked, but allowed us all to enter his restaurant. Ganesh, the boy, ordered Chinese noodles. He had never had noodles in his life and didn't even know what they were. He was so excited, examining everything on the table. The silverware, the folded napkins, the salt shaker. Close to us was a fish tank with some fairly large fish inside. He ran over to it and stared at it for couple minutes. He has never seen fish alive in a tank before. Once our food arrived, he went to town on his big plate of noodles. Both Julia and I had wished he'd ordered something a little healthier. After all, he only eats 1 meal a day and that's if his parents make some money that day. His Mom refused to eat a bite of the noodles, saying it's something she doesn't know (she's never had or seen before) and therefore doesn't trust. So she had ordered some dosa instead (also not very healthy). His mother kept thanking us all day, and I remember thinking how weird it was to be thanked for something that is so small to me. I mean...incredibly small. Food in India is so cheap compared to the U.S. or Europe, in total our lunch for all five of us (including chai tea) was only $20 or so. This day may have well been a trip to Disneyland for this boy and his mother. She was in her 30s, and had never been inside such a nice restaurant. Basic things that anyone in the US has done practically since birth.

Ganesh was jumping around all day with excitement. I half jokingly told Julia that I hope he doesn't think he should get hurt more often! Luckily his CT scan was fine, and he is doing well.

After explaining this to the Frenchies at dinner, I immediately regretted it. Here we are eating this delicious Italian food. Full plates we won't be able to finish, bottle of nice wine, and I am talking about a cute shoeless boy who eats 1 time a day and cherished his day eating Chinese noodles. Julia had told me later that it was probably the best day of his life. Those things crush your heart, the guilt you feel is overwhelming, and it weighed heavily on the the table. Nnobody said anything...nobody knew what to say. It was then I realized there are only certain circumstances where I can discuss my work, people want to know about it yes...but at the same time they don't. It's is sad but true.

Even though we all know this stuff goes on in the world, and yeah we feel bad about it for a moment or two, then the moment is over and we move on. After all we mostly feel helpless, like...what could we do really? You could donate right? But you never know exactly where that money goes or how much exactly goes to the children or families who really need it. So mostly, we think to ourselves "Oh that's sad", and that's it. But for me, I can no longer do that, I am here...I am in the middle of it. I can't turn it off or forget about it, these children are even in my dreams. It breaks my heart.

When my day on this earth is done, I hope I can look back at my time here in India as probably one of the only truly meaningful things I can be proud of in my entire life. A time where I was doing something that wasn't for myself.

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Stop: Japan (Tokyo & Yokohama from Dec.12th-21st)

In general, Remi is a wonderful travel companion, we never argue and he is so easy going. It's one of his best qualities that I try to emulate as much as possible. After some stressful months in India where we were starting to not feel like ourselves anymore, this trip to Japan snapped us right back to our usual selves. For some reason, (I've mentioned this before about Remi) he is very lucky. Remi even admits to having good luck in life and we joke about how he is our good luck charm. I feel like everything with him happens without a hitch. I know it's silly, and it's probably our belief that we're lucky that makes good things happen. But whatever we want to see, eat, or do, happens effortlessly. Every single meal we ate was fantastic, every event we attended was amazing, all our hotels were within our price range and had excellent service. We were in such cheery moods in Japan that every night our meal was accompanied by hot sake and beer. Restaurants were warm and cozy and everyone was in wonderful moods because Christmas (which they LOVE in Japan) was just around the corner. There was definitely a warm fuzzy feeling that radiated throughout our entire trip.

We both agreed it was probably our best vacation ever, beating our Christmas in Paris the previous year.

After Japan, we fly from Narita Airport in Tokyo to L.A.X. in California. We spent 1 night at my Grandma's house in Orange County with my sister, hanging out with Granny and wrapping presents was great. The next day we drove with my sister to my Mother's house in Central California, where we had Christmas. Which was absolutely wonderful, no one was sick this time, less sugary treats were made (Thank God!), and I didn't get any allergies from the cats since I had taken Zyrtec before I had even arrived.

On the 26th we drove to my Dad's in Northern California, spent a couple nights on the ranch which was super relaxing. I love being on the ranch during Christmas, they get super cold wintry weather. They have a toasty fireplace and a huge Christmas tree in the living room, the smell of pine makes me extremely nostalgic and happy.

After my Dad's we spent a week in San Francisco. Which was incredibly fun! All our friends came out to see us, we got our bellies filled with all kinds of foods we missed while in India. Delicious sushi, Chinese food, Turkish, Thai, American style hamburgers, diner style pie, and yummy coffee whenever we wanted. New Years Eve was the most fun, especially since we celebrated Remi's birthday (January 1st) with a huge chocolate truffle cake from Tartine Bakery. Our friends in S.F. are so loving and so appreciative of who they have in their lives and who they call "friend". Both Remi and I have some serious history with a lot of them. It felt like a homecoming party being there with them again.

It was such a good time to be there, I am glad I got to see my city at Christmas time, cold weather, jackets, Christmas music in Union square, warm drinks, cozy bars. I love my city! SF will always be my home, it's the only place I never grow sick of, which says a lot.

Back In Pune now, been home for about a week. Uploading pictures, getting over jetlag, and also diving right into AIC work. The past month felt like such a weird long wonderful dream!


Mary's Travels (so far!)