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November!

I hope everyone had a good Halloween. For one who never plans a costume or anything, I did have a plan for this year. I was going to be Lisa from Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam. I was going to wear a satin-y, pink, poofy jump suit, frizz out my hair, wear some high tops, and carry around an old microphone while doing some crazy 80s dancing. It would have been great. If Shem had his way, I would have had a haunted, zombie Bollywood going away party on Halloween.
Anyway…
I hope everyone had fun dressing up and getting all crazy. I saw some pictures briefly but I was in mini meetings all day at work so I couldn’t see as many as I wanted.

Sorry to scare anyone (my mom). Helmetless and in the midst of much traffic, I ventured to the local registration office on the back of Kamlesh’s motorcycle. As my friend Anjali said, the traffic here makes New York seem quiet and calm. We had to go back twice, even though the papers were at the front outside desk where we asked for them the first time, we had to come back a second time when the office was “open.” Bureaucracy, no matter where, is ridiculous.

I sat in many meetings with various people from work today (and will continue to do so throughout the week) to talk about the different departments and their role within the organization. It was great listening to everyone describe their different roles, and take a long time to say what they do, with whom they work, how the organization works, etc.

I’m not sure if anyone can tell, but I feel better! It’s nice to feel more like myself. Part of it, I realized is that everyone calls me Oriana here. Even when at grad school where I used the name Oriana, I still had an outside community that called me Ana. I’m going to see if I can work some of that in. Ana in Hindi translates to the verb to come. I think that’s interesting. Some of the kids the other day asked me what Oriana meant. I’m actually not sure at all.

I had an interesting lunch today as well. Susie and I went to the restaurant to splurge a little bit (the bill came to R157 with tip which comes out to less than $5). We split 2 dishes, an eggplant and an okra. It was great! The story though: On our way in there was some kind of commotion. There were a few women outside. One of them slapped one of the men who worked at the restaurant. At first I thought maybe it was his wife who was angry at him. We passed by the entrance and all of a sudden she lifts up her sari to reveal her nakedness. She also probably said some pretty raunchy stuff – I’m just assuming by her actions and the tone of her voice, which seemed to be taunting, angry, and mocking combined. When I looked at her face I realized she, nor any of the women with her, was not a woman. I remember reading, in a book called Son of the Circus, about men who castrate themselves and who are often prostitutes. We assume that they’re not allowed in the restaurant after speaking with Susie’s husband who recounted a story where a manly looking woman in a sari was refused service inside a store but who was brought food outside. I wonder if that’s true or not.

First Weekend

Friday. I’ve made it through a half a week here. It feels like I’ve been here less than that, but it seems like I’ve been away from home for forever. I’m looking for apartments this weekend. Nothing can really happen until I have a place of residence; I can’t get a sim card for my phone, I can’t get internet in my house, I can’t figure out a gym to register with, I can’t register myself with the government. On Sunday I’m going to look for places in Aundh with a girl from work, Janvhi.
I’m waiting for stomach problems to arise. Today at the school visit I participated in Diwali celebrations, which included eating homemade food from the kids’ houses. This happened at both centers I went to. So far I’m ok, but we’ll see what tomorrow brings. I also met some of the most enthusiastic girls that I’ve ever met. I wish I could remember their names. They were very excited to show me any and everything, ask me many questions, and speak in English. For their last service project they created a small library for the community. To do this they even asked around to see what days people (kids) would use it. It is one small cabinet, but it is highly used. After their class, they took Susie and myself there. There was a line of small children ready to exchange their books. After showing me their library and the temple right next to it, all they wanted was for me to take their picture on the jungle gym. It reminded me of the kids in Guatemala by the cancha (large concrete area – used for drying coffee and also as a soccer field).

Saturday:
I spent the early afternoon looking for a flat in Koregon Park. It’s weird that I think that $200 rent is expensive. My housing stipend covers me for 10,000 Rupee, a little over $200. Gas can get expensive so I’ve heard, and when you hear others getting a furnished apartment for 4,000 or 6,000 Rupee, it makes those that are 14,000 seem ridiculous, even though it’s technically only about $300, seem expensive. Needless to say I didn’t get any apartments. It was exciting to travel around on the back of a moped of the old hippie real estate guy. He used to do yoga with the guy who initiated the ashram here. We discussed some politics and education. It was also unnerving to find out that he and his wife are still recovering from Dengue. I now think about my many mosquito bits a little differently.
He insisted brining me back to Susie’s apartment, so Susie, her husband and I got a beer at a “jazz bar.” I was excited to hear that they have live music on Thursdays. I hope to go there to see what they have to offer. After we came back, I got some gym clothes to see if I could get into one of the gyms on a day pass. On my way there I saw an Elephant!!! It was just walking amongst the traffic. There was a guy on it and its face was painted with an ohm. I’m thinking it might be out and about for Diwali, but I’m not sure at all. Of course I didn’t bring my camera, but a photo from my iphone will have to do. I didn’t get to the gym, but I did find a little park where a bunch of folks were playing soccer, so I sat down to watch. Nightlife isn’t exactly the lower east side. After a trip to the internet café I went home and waited to hear from my sister. It was really nice talking to someone who knows me, who can give me a great pep talk and tell me all of the goings on. It does feel like I’ve been gone forever for some reason.
I do accept all phone calls. I’m usually home after 8/9ish, this will be until next week some time when I get an apartment but please, call! I’ll post this number and when I get a cell phone anyone can call at any time, but for now, please call from the hours of 11am-1:00pm ☺ 011- 91- 20- 2615 – 6735.

Sunday:
Today was a productive, in some ways, day. I woke up a half hour before the alarm clock went off and contemplated on going running for a few moments. Unlike being at home with a million and one other things to do, I decided to take the time for me and go for that run. There’s one lane in Koregon Park with big mansions and less traffic. There’s greenery along the road. Before running it I thought it was much longer. I wove in and out of several streets, going back and forth a couple times. I feel much better. Although I knew I needed to bring my heart rate up to release endorphins, I always forget how much better it feels after exercising. I did some capoeira movements a few times in my room, but nothing’s like a capoeira class or a good run.
I went to Aundh to meet with Janvhi. We painted dias (little clay flower like trays) used for the Diwali holiday, we looked for apartments on Pune flat share – unsuccessfully, and watched Grey’s Anatomy. That’s the only show I ever watch, so it felt good to catch up on some episodes. On our way out she asked her upstairs neighbors if they could check on their work’s bulletin board. I looked at an apartment in Koregon Park this evening as well. The girls were really nice, but it would be sharing a room with one of them. I’m not sure I can give up that much privacy.
I also got a chance to speak to my friend Chapel, from grad school, who lives in Delhi. It was really nice speaking to a familiar voice that knows a bit of what I’m feeling and going through. He was great and found a bunch of list servs for expats living in Pune, for people looking to share apartments, etc. Hopefully something will come up tomorrow.

A couple Photos

10-28

Today was my second day in India and my first day of work. Suzie met me at 8:15 to go to a center I will oversee; Zensar. There is a morning group and an afternoon group. We arrived after the students were already doing their lessons. There were a group of boys in one larger room; they looked like a mix of 8-12 year olds. In a second, much smaller room there was a group of maybe eight 15 year old girls. It just so happens that the girls were all older, the split was not intentional. The boys were doing several team activities involving indoor and outdoor sports and then saying two sentences about those sports. I didn’t get many names; a few of the boys’ names are Rahul and there was one very rambunctious boy named Ashish. Like many boys they had way too much energy. They were learning how to speak and come up with their own sentences. The next part of the lesson involved making a Diwali card. Diwali, a national holiday that celebrates something that I’m not too sure about (one story Susie told me reminds me of the Odyssey but with Indians and the journey was to Sri Lanka) begins next week. They also celebrated the students of the month as well as sang happy birthday to a boy in the class. In between I visited the girls section. They were rigorously studying math or reading about history. All of this was in Marathi (the local language) and the boys were taught in English. The girls are studying for state tests, something very important.
From what I learned today about the school system; schools go until the 10th grade. They take a test, only once, and if they pass they can go to “college” but is probably equivalent to our 11th and 12th grades. Then they can do further studies. From what I gather though, they can only take this test once, and if they don’t do well, they are seriously limited in what they can pursue as a career. This was explained to the second site I visited, Crispin, a girls home run by a very friendly, talkative, church man (unsure the denomination). Most of these girls do have homes to go to but for some reason or another (jail, institutionalized, other) they live at the home. Not all girls at the home get Akanksha services. The ones who do all speak English, the ones who don’t, can’t speak a word. The school, because it gets funding from the state, has to be administered in Marathi. The Crispin school was amazing. The girls were great.
The kids here have been overwhelmingly nice and inquisitive. One child at Zensor asked me about wind energy, drawing a diagram because I was unsure if I was clear what he was asking me about. My name is Didi, just like every other adult female they meet. They ask me where I’m from, how I like India, how long I am here, etc.
I also met the office today. Mansi, the head of HR, greeted me with a hug and the words finally. It was nice to meet everyone. I feel overwhelmed with the amount of information I’m taking in about Akanksha, but that is normal. Combined with cultural inundation, I’m exhausted!
I went with Anandhi to the Crispin center. She is the Director of the Pune site. We spoke several times over skype and email and it was also nice to meet her too. She is very nice. We went to the Crispin center together in her car. She has a driver. When Susie and I traveled, we went by auto-rickshaw. It was really nice to sit with her and talk for a while. On the way back we stopped at the handmade paper store. There, you can buy a large, handmade sheet of paper, which they slice into normal size sheets for you, for .22 Paisa. This would be the equivalent of maybe .50 cents. I got two notepads (Jenny I’m thinking of you for this one), and a couple of Diwali cards that are hand painted. I might have spend $5. Something of this quality might cost me at least $20-30 in the States.
Homesickness has not decreased (it’s only been 2 days so I’m not expecting miracles) but I’m utterly exhausted. When I got back from work I went to Susie’s place, met her husband, and we went out to get some food. When I got back to the apartment, I sat down for a minute and found myself lying on the bed, eyes closed, and had to force myself to get up to shower and write. And now that I’m done, I think, even though it’s only 9:15, I will start getting ready for bed.

10-27

I have to write swiftly because my adapter doesn’t work and I want to be able to write as much as possible before my computer becomes useless for documentation purposes (temporarily).
India is hot. I got off the second flight and was inundated with a smell similar to a smell I would associate with Guatemala, and a heat to match. Kamlesh Chavan, the Administration Associate met me as I exited the airport. I was happy to see a nice sign with my name, drawn in an educational style; outlined in red crayon, filled in with blue. I feel like sooner rather than later I should change my name to Ana with them, or else I will permanently be Oriana – it might already be too late. In the heat, waiting for the driver to come around, I got another shock wave. Ohmy! I’m in India! There wasn’t much talking that went on for the rest of the ride or morning, it was 3:00am so Kamlesh was very tired and it was dark out. I used this time to observe my surroundings. This is what I got:
I don’t know when I missed the fact that they drive on the other side of the road too. It makes perfect sense, it was just something I passed over. That in itself was pretty trippy. The driver was by far the fastest guy on the road. Rules of the road seem to be that if you’re driving, you usually drive between two lanes. If you are passing, you honk several times and sometimes flash your high beams. Intersections are ruled by size and flow; if there are already cars going in your favor, you continue, however, if you’re bigger and there is a space open, you can cut through. There are lights that blink, red or orange, but I couldn’t seem to see the difference between either or no lights. Also, one should honk when going through intersections as well. I did see and experience some crazy road practices (from a New Yorker, American perspective). A word to my mom, please do not read this if you’re going to freak out. There were several cars that were on the wrong side of the road, going against traffic, some cars had no lights, the highways weren’t lit up by anything else then the cars on the the road, some parts of the highway were made up of only cobblestone. I let myself drift to sleep for what must have been an hour or so. I woke up a few times. One of those times was when the driver stopped at a gas station to either relieve himself or get food or both. When he came back in the car there was a lovely belch released. The second time I awoke to the horn (already a sound I feel like I am getting used to) but we were in between two small trucks, neither of which were in their lane. We weren’t either though. But the driver was determined to pass between them. I decided I should keep my eyes closed and go back to sleep. Motorcyclists are content without helmets, many of them wrap their face in a scarf.
Leaving the airport I could see some of the poverty that exists, along the side of the road people slept, sometimes just in a blanket, sometimes in makeshift homes out of tarp or plastic. It seems as if there are many parts (most parts) of the city, both Mumbai and Pune are under immense amounts of construction. There are many buildings with just the structure or roads completely torn up.
I got to the Adina Apartments around 7am. I met Basil, the owner, and Kamlesh promptly left. He said Suzie, the Education Manager will come to meet me at some point today and will come get me for work tomorrow. I’m still kind of confused how that’s going to work out, but if anything I have Mansi and Ananhi’s phone numbers and can call from here to clarify. I thankfully hopped into the shower while Basil prepared a breakfast for me. It was cold (Basil only told me after breakfast about the switch I should flip and the 20 min wait) but it was refreshing. After, I had a simple, yet amazing omelet, with the best tea ever. I love Chai. He gave me warm milk to have with corn flakes – I can’t remember who said that I wouldn’t like the milk, but I can’t say I’m a fan. It might just take some getting used to.
He also provided me with two different types of water; mineral and bottled. The mineral is an unopened bottle of water, the other is just filtered through their system. I feel like I want to take the dive and just drink the filtered water. Maybe I’ll wait until tomorrow. I was given rest time until 1:00, when there will be 15 people here using the living room for a conference and lunch. I am to join them. I would love to go for a walk, but I feel like I should heed the instructions of Basil and Kamlesh and just rest. Maybe I’ll stretch and yoga first.
This is nuts, I am crazy, I am excited, I am nervous, my mom gave me permission to come home if I want. I want to go home. I want to stay. I need to understand that my freaking out is ok. I want to change the world. I want my mommy, I want my sister and my friends, I want those I love. I don’t feel lonely but I feel sad and tears come often and hard. I can get through this.

Later
Triumph! The little things in life get you by. I went for a walk this afternoon. Basil, the hostel caretaker and my provider for the moment told me to be careful because of traffic. He wasn’t kidding! I now realize there are lights, but I’m not exactly sure how they work. I took a long walk along North Main Road and turned down some smaller streets here and there, went across the Yerawada Bridge, but swiftly turned around due to scary traffic. People just walk right through; I waited and watched two women maneuver through moving cars and how they judged the ebb and flow of traffic to get to the other side. Wow is all I can say. On my way back a woman who wanted me to buy something from her store followed me down the street, kept saying, “miss, miss,” and even was bold enough to grab my arm.
For any of you who know Pune, I now realize I’m in Koregon Park. I think I will end up living here as well. There are a lot of white folk around, well not a lot but I saw at least 5 while walking around. I heard a couple speak, and from what I heard they don’t sound American.
So, why am I triumphant? I bought a converter for 60Rupe. This is equivalent to maybe $1.25; definitely less than $2. I bought one in the airport that works for my phone but not computer for $7. Crazy! I also bought a juicy bottle of water. This is bottle 2 for the day, not to count the 4 cups of tea.
I also spoke with Anandhi. She knows I’m exhausted – I had to lie down after lunch out of pure exhaustion. Susie will pick me up tomorrow morning at 8:15 and take me to one after school center and then the office. Anandhi will take me in the afternoon to another few centers; she’s leading another group but those centers will the ones I’ll be working with. For the rest of the evening I will stay in, read, practice Hindi, and sleep. I’m in India!

10-26

This might be the last time I have a second to myself, or am not completely exhausted and jetlagged for the next few days. I had a 2 hour layover in Qatar; I charged my phone, my computer, walked around Duty Free, took some photos of an international airport (although the only immediate difference between this airport and any other one is that this has a child’s play area (which I think is awesome) and a Mosque).

I think some of the goodbye feeling has set in. I slept almost the whole way to Qatar. I was awake enough to eat really good plane food (no kidding) and watch Avatar, The Last Airbender. Although I love the show, I’m glad I didn’t spend the extra $12 to see the movie. I met two really nice people on the first flight, both shocked that this was my first time to India, and that I was moving here for two years. I explained a bit of the work I’ll be doing, although for some reason that still is a little fuzzy as well. I’m excited to finally get there though.

Some fun traveling stories…
1) I had no problem whatsoever bringing my berimbaus on either flight. No one asked what they were, said they weren’t allowed or anything. I feel like no one will believe me.
2) While sitting in the little technology booth in Qatar, charging my computer and sending small emails to family members saying I’d made it the first leg of the trip, I vaguely heard the word capoeira. I turned around and someone smiled at me as they walked by – I’m wearing my newest edition to capoeira gear, Mestre Boneco’s blue batizado shirt.
3) Another fun fact: Qatar airways not only has good food, but the pass out little candies before we leave the gate.
4) I had to repack my bags at the airport. I think I did a pretty good job packing, but both bags went slightly over 50lbs, unfortunately costing me greatly, but less so than having an extra third bag.
a. If anyone wants to send me stuff – once I have an address – (I think I should add a send me section to this blog) I’m missing Listerine, Body Wash (I bought some really yummy stuff too before I left), my other sneakers, granola, and chocolate ☺

I also feel like there is so much more I should and would like to say, but of course now that I have the time and made up some sleep, nothing comes to mind.

What does come to mind is to ask people for feedback. If you have anything you want to know, or what to know about my experience, differences between cultures, the illnesses (to put it nicely) that I will incur, or anything, please let me know. For your information, I am planning on documenting this trip as much as possible, so if there’s something I’m missing, I don’t want to leave any of my friends, families or readers out of the juicy details.

Ok, enough for now.

P.S. While writing this on the plane, I was sitting next to a man from Bangladesh who had absolutely no problem putting on his reading glasses, leaning over, and read every word as I typed it. He also had me fill out his immigration papers that were handed out on the plane. He wanted to talk during the flight as well, but sleep finally overtook me and I busted out my airplane pillow, my earphones, and passed out. I just thought it was so hysterical that he was ok being so invasive and up close and personal.

Leaving

I apologize for the patch work first blog. It is a conglomeration of my last week of work, the week before departure, and sitting on the plane. The last parts were written through pure exhaustion and excitement, both mentally and physically.

To my friends, family, and passersby, happy reading.

 

And so the great adventure begins. This very exciting new beginning did not come without many tears, fear, and hugs. I can’t lie; this past week and a half I’ve been in nothing more than a daze when it has come to this move. The perfect word to describe this feeling is surreal. As I told most of my friends and folks who asked, I don’t think I’ll realize that I’ve moved until a few weeks from now. I doubt it will hit when I get sick or even when I move into my own apartment. There is just shock that I have the balls to be able to pick up and move to a completely different continent almost half way around the world, a completely different culture. I don’t believe it myself.

To make everyone who reads this cry a little bit, I just wanted to insert that I love my family and friends so much, and I appreciate more than anyone could understand the love and support that I received back. My friend once said, it’s harder for the people that stay behind then for the one who lives. Thank you all so much for everything. I’m not sure if it’s harder for you or me. On the up side, I do expect a visitor every 5-6 months. My first two are already taken care of, so the rest of you should consider yourselves lucky.

In preparation for this trip, I had to think of things that I will miss, I will not have access to, or cannot bring at all.

Two weeks before resigning from work I took a vacation to California for a capoeira event, to see my best friend Julia who is 6 months pregnant, and to see off my old roommate, Nora, who got married. This was a great goodbye trip, a great way to see my friends and let them see me off in a personal way.

I also had a few personal medical issues that came up, fortunately before my last day so that my health insurance covered it. While in the dentist chair I thought of what would happen if I got my first cavity in India. My dentist proposed two options, the first was that I could get my first cavity filled, the second was I could get my scheduled cleaning but I would come back form India with, most likely, a missing tooth. I chose to get the cavity filled, obviously. The dentist, very sympathetic to my fear of getting a cavity, took a picture, played great music, and walked me through the surprisingly painless operation. I wonder what would happen if I didn’t go to the dentist.

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