Posts Tagged ‘ transportation ’

American from India back in America

Things that I’m having fun with since being back: I smiled and giggled to myself while crossing the street because the cars stopped at the red light while they’re supposed to; people here are big (both height and breadth); the air is crisp; there’s a lot of space everywhere; nothing is colorful (as in clothes or accessories); I keep smiling at Indian people – like the two South Indian men who ended up sitting next to me when I was on the way to meet my sister from the airport; I’m walking a lot; I can drink water straight out of the tap; cars are huge; a lot of people smoke cigarettes; there are non Indians everywhere (in India when that happens I feel weird and out of place and get a little anxiety); I thought I lost my Indianisms like last time, but this morning I wobbled my head unconsciously; I want to use Indian words (don’t ask why but I wanted to say chuddies); I wish I had more Indianisms to say but somehow they disappear when I’m not around Indians (I wonder what will happen with my friend Simmi tomorrow – will let you know!); when I go to the bathroom I have the inclination to throw the toilet paper in a dustbin (Indianism word instead of garbage) instead of the toilet bowl; light switches are opposite here (really confusing!); I don’t feel the urge to wash my hands every two seconds and when I do there’s not a layer of dust/dirt that comes off them; I have a desire to eat with my hands (I had a rise dish for dinner and all I wanted to do was dive in with my fingers); I keep trying to walk on the left side of the street; I keep saying the phrase, “In India…”


Today, in fact, this week, has been great; and it’s only Wednesday. The week began with my new arts fun week at one of our schools. This has been a small dream of mine for a while, and it’s nice to see that it’s come to fruition. This is only beginning too; but that’s not for here, nor for now. We can just say that the program is going very well. We brought drama, painting, kalari, photography, classical flute (Indian), and classical Indian singing, as well as other classes from the teachers at the school, to the kids of this school. Last week they finished their midterm assessments. Friday is the parent teacher conferences. This week, for two hours they are having fun with different art forms. The idea is to expose them to any and every alternative activity that they didn’t previously know. I’m happy. They walked up to me in the school to ask about their classes. They’re having fun. That’s the idea.
This morning I woke up in angst (yes I’ll be talking politics this paragraph, so if you don’t want to read it you can skip to the next paragraph). I woke up early in order to see what was going on with the elections. Last night, we had a mid week out night, and I bothered my friend frequently to see any Electoral College updates. I gave up and left it for this morning. I harassed friends via gchat and facebook. The results were close and by the time I had to leave for work it almost looked as if Romney was going to win. I wasn’t able to cast my absentee ballot because I never got it back in the mail here. The mail system isn’t that reliable and New York will go blue no matter what so I did not get to exercise my right to vote this time. I got a text from Manoj that said “Yay Obama” about a half an hour after I got to the school. I know two other Americans here. It was a really exciting moment. This moment was accentuated at the airport when I saw President Obama’s speech highlighted on the news. At the airport, Manoj and I were checking to see the whole speech and a man peeped over my shoulder at the computer and asked if Obama was winning. I said that he had already won and he stuck his hand out and said congratulations. He was genuinely very happy and was excited to shake my hand. Our eyes met once more in the airport and he smiled again.
Yes, I was at the airport. This is Diwali time, which means a little bit of vacation. This is a travel in India vacation. I’m spending 5 days in Auroville/Pondicherry with Manoj and then will head to Hyderabad to see the city as well as to visit some friends who moved there earlier this year. Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu, was a French colony. It feels like Europe has invaded India. After finding a hotel, Manoj and I wandered the streets for a while, got some ice cream while over looking the ocean and then headed through some of the small, very European-looking lanes for some hot chocolate. We passed by the same small café for a second time and decided to go in. The small uncle with a very Indian mustache opens the door and asks us to come in, in French. It was very trippy to see two older uncles who were very Indian in nature, in India, speaking French. Even when they spoke Tamil it seemed as if it was with a French accent. I fell in love. We’ll return for breakfast tomorrow.
There’s a boardwalk. It’s clean and carless; people just sit on the benches chatting or walk around with friends and family. It’s peaceful. Tomorrow we’ll spend the morning here and then head to Auroville, which is more French. We’ll meet a friend of ours and be on vacation.
Today we went back to the same café where we got hot chocolate. The man was happy to see us and we ate a croissant and had coffee. He brought us extra toast. It was still really trippy to hear him speaking French. It’s easier to imagine that we’re in Europe and there are Indians who speak fluent French than here. I don’t know if that’s wrong to think. We found another café where we’ve plopped down with a class of Savigon Blanc and three yummy French appetizers and will work until we head off to Auroville.

Educational Weekend

My friend from New York had a Jew question to ask a not so Jewish Jew. This was for a project for grad school. He messaged me via facebook in his morning and I got the message this evening, wrote back to him, and then we had a conversation about it. Regardless that I’d always like to feel that I’m there for my friends, we both marveled that it is pretty amazing that he could use someone from across the globe to help out. He’ll give me the results of his paper when he gets them. I’m really intrigued.
I used to have these things that I called, “moments.” They were little glimpses in time where I would stop and think, “Oh shit, I live in India.” I’ve been having them a little more often again but I don’t know why. It might because next week marks 2 years. I’ve been thinking of doing a little two year anniversary blog posting, but not yet.

This weekend was filling. There was a huge education conference in Pune; this was the first one ever here, last year it was only in Mumbai. This year it will take place in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. It just demonstrates the progress, or the attempt to make progress in education in India. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was impressed about the amount of social entrepreneurs here, on the ideas that were being exchanged in informal settings outside of the sessions, and the sessions themselves. There is a lot of really great work being done here and that made me happy. I got to meet some amazing people with whom I really hope to keep in contact; both people who can benefit from my experience and people who I would like to speak to in order to further my goals and ambitions. It was pretty cool.

I also had some unpleasant news and a strange/slightly funny/slightly icky experience yesterday. On the way home from the conference I stopped by to see the kids. I hadn’t seen them since the previous week and Ishwar promised to call me because both him and Chapel were sick with a fever, yet they both came to the park. It was a great park day; we just decided to lie down in the grass and be still. We left early and we got them some medicine and took them home. Ishwar was supposed to call the next day but didn’t. Avinash met me at the entrance of their community and began telling me what happened earlier that day. I proceeded to see Ganesh, whose mother cried in front of me, Chotta Lingapa, whose parents I met for the first time, and the rest of the kids who saw my reaction as I heard the story, understood what I could from it, and tried to explain what I understood back to them. Today we went to see Chapel who was taken to his elder brother’s house about 10 kilometers away.
They were trying to burst crackers (small fireworks). It didn’t go off. They tried several times to light it; they tried to open it and remove the powder and then put it back to light it again. Their last attempt ended up working a few seconds after they lit it when they were looking back to see what happened. Ganesh’s legs are burnt up to the knee, all black. Chota Lingapa is burnt with boils and burns around his hands and legs. Chapel got the worst of it. His face has some kind of third degree burn, his left hand is burnt with a huge scab already over it, parts of his feet are burnt with boils, and there’s a huge boil over his right hand. It hurt to look at his left hand. It was wrapped in a scarf. They all went to the hospital, a free one that’s apparently the best for burns. They got medicine and cream. Chapel doesn’t want to go back though because, as his sister in law said, it’s free and they scream and treat him badly. What do you do for that? It hurt to see their wounds, it hurt to think that I thought they knew better than that. Chapel’s brother and Avinash took us to Chapel’s house today. His bhabi was really great and Manoj and Sagar will take him back to the hospital on Tuesday. It’s just something that happens here, all the time. We’ll do what we can with them. It kind of ties back to this weekend’s conference though. There are great organizations and great people who are trying to change the landscape of India, to make it work for everyone, not just those who it works for now. I wish, as I always say, that I could do more, but it’s not my place to do anymore than I’m doing. I love them, and I think that’s a lot and they know that. They love me back too, which is nice. Enough of that now though…

Frro again…and again…

On Sunday night I saw a movie, English Vinglish. It’s a Bollywood remake of a Tamilian film with one of the most famous actresses in India, Shri Devi. It’s about an Indian woman, a homemaker who does not speak English and is either ostracized or made fun of by her family. She is soft spoken and feels embarrassed often. Her sister’s daughter, in New Jersey is getting married so her sister calls her to help prepare. She goes alone and manages to get on the path train to the city, and finds an English in 4 weeks class. She secretly goes to learn English. There are a mix of interesting English language learners including ones from Mexico (who I thought looked less Mexican than not), France, Pakistan, a non descript African country, India, and China. The story takes her through various spots of downtown Manhattan. At one point their at the Sunshine theatre on E. Houston and then all of a sudden they’re walking next to the Flat Iron building. I found that funny, but no one else would know the difference. The movie was sweet. It made me a little homesick. I wanted to fly home for the weekend just to see everything and run, as Gayatri would say, helter-skelter, for a while.
I also just had a great day yesterday as well. It’s always nice to work one on one with kids, especially when they’re the kids who really need the one on one work. It was also due to my FRO experience. Yes, I had a good day because of the FRO!
After four trips to the local police station and only two to the FRO, I’ve successfully submitted my extension papers. Everyone knows me there now. It’s kind of funny. After you walk in the main gate you have to scan your bag, even if you walk out for only a minute. Most people have to walk in and out several times because they don’t have one copy or another or they need to get their paper stamped from a different desk outside the main building. The women officers who sit there just smile at me as I put the same bag through the same scanner each time. While entering my information into the computer at that table, the man at the front desk (which is kind of smushed up on the side of the computer) started talking to me. At one point he yelled at me last year, but we’ve let bygones be bygones and now he asked me how long I’ve been here, what I do, where I live, what I do for fun. The conversations are in Hindi. There was a new woman entering data in the computer and she did something wrong so her supervisor, very nicely took over and did it again. Everyone was laughing. It seemed like some odd movie. The only thing I can think of comparing it to right now is in Coraline when she meets her other mother and everything is eerily amazing. The rest of the day was just as smooth. Even the woman who scans the documents said that my Hindi was getting better. The main woman who has been super nice through this whole ordeal smiled at me as I walked back to finally submit my papers. As she looked through them she already handed me the famous slip of paper that states I’ve submitted my documents, handed me the whole puncher for me to put them all in my folder. When I was done she smiled. I put a little chocolate éclair candy on the whole puncher and said thanks for being so nice and patient with me through all this. She smiled a huge smile. I decided that this would be my thank you to people. They barely get recognized for what they do, and even better, they’re really nice about it these days, even through people who are quite ridiculous. There was a man who came the first day who was particulary not nice to them. He kept saying whatever and just do what I say. I couldn’t believe that they let him speak to them like that. I think they were just amused at his guts to not care about his own paperwork. So I’m done…for now.

A different way to spend Independence Day

Yesterday was India’s Independence Day. I honestly can’t remember what I did last year although I know I missed a flag ceremony, which happens at each and every school, but that’s as much as I remember. This Independence Day is not to be forgotten. At the last dance festival I was at there was a donation ride by the Pune Harley Davidson club. One of the guys lived in Kansas for quite some time and we got to chatting for a little bit. We met up the day before yesterday so that I could join on the Independence Day ride. My friend was late for the meeting so I ended up around a bunch of mostly 40something year old men, having a whiskey and talking with a few of them, answering the same questions where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, no I don’t ride a Harley but I do ride a bike, what do I do here, etc. I was certainly out of place but didn’t really feel like it. Two of them had also lived in the states, in Kansas and Missouri so we spoke about US things and some differences. I saw family pictures of one man; it was a nice introduction to yesterday’s ride.
We met at 8:30 for a roadside breakfast in my neighborhood. I got a Harley shirt that I had to wear, said hello to all the guys I met the day before, and we spent the morning riding around the city (on Harleys!) with Indian flags attached to the bikes. We made a couple photo and cooling of the bike stops. In the end we ended up at a small restaurant a couple miles outside of the city. It was like we entered a small village. I felt slightly out of place but ended up to the oldest member of the group. Bob (shorter for a longer Indian name that begins with Bob) was in the air force for 20 years before he joined Air India as a pilot. He loves New York. He’s also a part of the jazz enthusiasts group in Pune. Every third Sunday they get together. One person is in charge of learning something about an album or a song and they share it and other stories with the rest of the group. I learned how jazz played such an important role in WWII; I wish I could remember all of the stories he told me. It was such a nice conversation. We also discussed his one many anti-corruption scheme. He wears a blue ribbon every morning. He won’t pay a bribe, he won’t break the law, even if it takes a little longer for things to get done. I really appreciated meeting him yesterday.
When we left my friend dropped me off at Bhakti’s house for a lunch with her parents who were visiting from Indoor. It was so nice to be around parents, and fun and happy ones at that. Lunch was awesome. Bhakti pointed out that it was so nice to see me eating with my hands; at work we usually use spoons. It’s fun to say that it’s more appropriate for me to eat with my hands. We finished up some work and she said that it was a good time for a nap. Because her home feels much like home to me, I took her up on the offer. When I woke up she said that I was sleeping so peacefully, she didn’t feel like she should disturb me – this was three hours after I fell asleep. It was a great nap!
The rest of the day was with some of my Marathi friends who are a part of a hip hop group. They organized a flash mob at a mall, but the group of our friends missed it by 2 minutes. We decided to all go out for dinner with them. It was a really nice way to end a really long and exciting day. There was so much going on; I only now realized it after writing it all down.
This weekend I’m going to a salsa congress in Banglore. I’m excited to dance away the weekend.

Baroda – a few weeks late

I didn’t write about Gujrat – to the dismay of one of my friends here who recently discovered my blog.

This was a great Baroda trip. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but Gayatri had to back out last minute to go somewhere else. We were supposed to stay in her house, with her, and her parents. Both her and her parents aren’t here. We stayed anyway; they insisted. We left Pune at 7:30, 15 minutes after we were supposed to, and only 10 minutes after the last group of folks arrived. They enjoy making me go slightly crazy when they’re late. They kept telling me to relax, but for some reason, the American in me won’t allow me to be late or accept lateness from others when it comes to things like bus times. The bus would have left them in the US. Good thing the bus was later than them here.
The rule was not to sleep on the bus, but of course, none of us abided. We all passed out and awoke at the first rest stop. After getting off the bus, the driver kicked everyone off, and quite bitterly at that. We spent around 45 minutes there. Sachin’s mom cooked us all parathas and we happily ate them with dahi and a really yummy peanut chutney. After sleeping, waking, eating carrots, and sleeping more, we woke up at 6am for another rest stop. It was pitch black out. The amazing part was sitting in a cold rest stop for 20 minutes and to see how the first break of sunlight creeps into the world. I’ve seen it before, but it was somehow different. We’re a great group of people so no moment is lost without a laugh or making fun of something or other, even while getting off a bus and waiting for the car to pick us up. It’s incredible really. We were hosted by Gayatri’s family’s driver and were taken around the city, cooked for, and assisted for three days. The itinerary is kind of as follows – as mapped out by Gayatri to her father who provided instructions for those who were supposed to take care of us. I reread that line and realized how I’ve been indoctrinated. I don’t feel strange that they had a driver, their driver take us around, that they have a maid and cook who cooked for us. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. I’m still quite conscious of it, but more accepting of it as well.

Noticings about Gujrat: It’s much cleaner, hotter, spacious, greener, and drier than Pune. They have fancier tool booths. Both Manoj and I looked at each other with the ooooo face when we passed through. We abided by the itinerary, for the most part provided by Gayatri. When we got “home” Kajal put out this amazing breakfast and we set out for the days events. Her parents got us a mini van for the 9 (turned 8 of us). It was amazing.

Amazing artists, especially the Indian modern art. In each of the galleries there was random European art, mostly Italian and French by artists I’ve never heard of; it was kind of weird. There was great modern Indian art, but the section must of consisted of less than two dozen paintings. After the second museum, we set off for a temple on the top of one of the only peaks in Baroda. I had to face my fear of heights (which has slowly developed in the past few years along with a fear of elevators). Indro wasn’t ready to go either, but after he saw the technology of the tram, he decided it was ok. I took his cue and struggled on the way up. It was a spectacular view. Many places we went, including this temple, didn’t allow photos, hence, there will be none to show.

There are so many mosquitoes! I look like I got a rash. In between my dreams where monkeys were very prevalent, I was bitten up to no other on my legs and back. It’s awful! They itch. Usually Indian mosquitoes bites (for no particular reason) don’t itch for too long, maybe a day or two; these ones are brutal!

The next morning we were out by 6:30, a first deviation from the itinerary. We saw the sun temple and changed the plans to see Akshardam, a privately owned temple that is so well maintained. It also had a water park (closed) and a sea show (also closed). We found that a bit strange.

The rest of the trip is documented in the pictures below and through the album, which you should check out. I would love to write about the rest of it, but doubt I’d do it justice a few weeks later.

For all photos:

Bus observations

As of the past quite a long time I’ve been traveling by bus as opposed to travling by train. I can say I upgraded. Speaking to Jessica, my temporary roommate while Manoj travels around spoke about how we’ve traveled in India. Jessica is from California doing a fellowship here (just some background). We both travel by bus now; we’ve both pretty much abandoned the train. I’ve exmpreneced the train, it was an experience, but I feel much better sitting in AC for 3.5 – 5 hours on a comfortable seat rather than in a hot train. Am I spoiling myself…maybe.
Anyway, traveling by bus you often get to make some observations (only on the times when you don’t sleep yourself). I paid attention to the way people slept this past week. Two weeks ago I was so exhausted, I fell asleep before we officially exited Mumbai and woke up when we were in Pune. I sleep with my arms crossed on the bus. This week, the guy sitting next to me held his wrist. He rested both arms on the armrest, and I was left to make my own elbow space in the air. Sometimes there is a young couple, very infrequently they show any kind of affection. Most of the time they’re quite reserved and barely touch. Rarely you’ll see a very public couple who hold hands or rest on each others’ shoulders. Also rare is a single woman traveling. I always feel bad for kids and sometimes worse for their parents. Only once did I see a mom bring a book for a kid to read, and the kid was apparently from my friend’s elementary school. The mom was amazing. She had an under 2 year old and an 9-10 year old. Her management of the two was pretty fantastic.
I was about to think about how it was rare for people to talk on the phone, and if they do, they’re quite polite, covering their mouth over the speaker and barely spending any time on the phone. However, as this thought was crossing my mind, the man right behind me had a very loud, very long conversation. I’d say, for the most part, people are really respectful when it comes to cell phones. Something really nice happened though which counter balanced that. The man in front of me, as he pushed back his chair, asked if that was ok with me, if I was comfortable. I was shocked and impressed.

safety in Pune ;)

It was safety week at work. On Friday we had a fire drill and in the morning before that we had a “mandatory” fire safety workshop. I reluctantly went and after about 15 minutes, I left. They spent a long time introducing various people (as is very customary here) and then when the guy who was teaching safety lessons spent a little over 5 minutes saying that you have to know where are all the exits. Sometimes I get kind of frustrated when people speak English horribly incorrect. I wonder why in big groups people don’t speak Hindi. Odds were, in that crowd, more people spoke Hindi more proficiently than English. I left after he said, “for what all those exist are.” There was too much to do. Although I heard, and from the 10 minutes I was there, he was quite funny. I got another little taste of his humor when we did a fire drill. Every floor had a person who wore a bright yellow and orange baseball cap who was responsible for getting everyone out and lining up in the driveway. We had to line up in a single file by floor. The gates were locked! The whole thing was kind of a joke (to me, and I’m sorry if I offended anyone at work or in the building by laughing too much and getting a little upset about the counterproductiveness of getting us out of supposedly burning buildings only to line us up next to the building and lock us in the compound). We were required to stand outside and listen to his amusing and much more informative what to dos in terms of safety. It made me happy when he kept reinforcing wearing helmets and, to the shock of most people in the crowd, he told them they’re walking on the wrong side of the road. Everyone walks and runs in the same direction as the cars. I do it too most of the time. He was hysterical, using great jokes, I used it as time to test my Hindi – I didn’t get most of it, but with words here and there I could piece together some stuff.
During a class trip to a park with a nearby pool, I discovered I could go swimming. The guy at the pool was a character! Promptly after work on Friday I went to a sports store to get a suit. I must say, I look like a 20s swimmer. The suit reminds me of the uni I used to wear on the crew team. It’s a one piece that goes all the way down mid thigh. It’s a nice maroon and yellow. I was so excited to buy it. Yesterday after work, Manoj and I ventured to the pool. We can pay by day for Rs30 and swim as long as we want. It was amazing. I’m not a great swimmer; I know how to swim, but by no means a good swimmer. The same man who gave the kids a tour on Thursday asked me to help him coach kids with him, to help out. Manoj says it’s because I’m white, I kind of agree. But it didn’t take away from the amusement factor. For safety purposes they had to see if we could swim. We didn’t even know when the “exam” was over. We shared the pool with about 15 kids taking a lesson, stopping to go to the side when they were taking off.
Unsafe thing of the day – I drove 40km. It wasn’t that unsafe really. I drive well, at least I’m told I do a decent job. I’m getting used to it, but don’t exactly enjoy it. At the safety talk we learned that Pune is the most dangerous city in terms of traffic. Going on a long journey in the car wasn’t exactly the thing I wanted to do after hearing it, but I also enjoyed the challenge. We had a fun day with work so I drove the folks on this side of town to the other end of the city. It was stressful and I feel very accomplished after driving back. Everyone was safe and sound; there was a lot of traffic on the way there and it was really hot both there and back, but everything went fine. The car is going back on Wednesday so I feel like that was a nice last hoo-ra.