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.


Mary's Travels (so far!)