Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pictures pictures pictures...

Alrighty. Here are some of the latest pictures - unfortunately I couldn't take any of the Wara wedding as my batteries were dead, but we did attend another wedding later. This first picture is a roti that I myself actually rolled out. Note its (almost) roundness!! To give you an idea of what an accomplishment this is, it took me about two weeks of rolling out flower-shaped rotis or rotis with funny little protrusions from the side to finally get this one right. I'm quite proud of myself.

And take a look at this lovely school bathroom...this should give you an idea of what we have to deal with here. I actually didn't use this one, I only went in to change my clothes, but it was so raunchy I just had to take a picture to show you guys. FYI: the stalls contain identical toilets to the ones against the wall. I guess if you don't like the idea of squatting next to your neighbor, then you can use the stall.

Now I don't know if you can even see this next picture clearly, but it is a picture of a groom on horseback, on the way to his wedding. It was quite a function - the wedding and reception were held on a plot the size of a football field, with thousands of guests. When Indians throw a party, they don't mess around.

This next picture is me with my Wara host mom (she's on the left, wearing her rida) and my current host mom.

And lastly there's my beautiful wedding mehndi. At an Indian wedding, all the female guests get to apply mehndi to their hands. I love it! I'm taking classes soon, so I can give everyone cool henna tattoes when I go home.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Jains and Moslems part II

For the last week, I've been staying with a Moslem family, just to experience their way of life. Moslems are the minority here in India - I believe they make up about 10% of the population of India. There has traditionally been a lot of enmity between Hindus and Moslems (mostly fueled by power-hungry government officials). I won't go into that her, but for more info, read up on Partition following India's independence from Britain. However, relations have been improving lately, and myself and Miho (another exchange student, from Japan) were invited to stay with the Lokhandwala family for a week to learn about their traditions and religion.
The Lokhandwalas are Wara, a particular sect of the Moslem religion. They are not as strict as Moslems in some respects, although the women are expected to wear a burqa-resembling dress called a rida whenever they go out. The rida actually looks kind of Amish to me - it is made up of a long skirt and cape-like top over the arms, with a hood that covers the hair so that only their faces are peeking out. Ridas are much more colorful than the black burqas other Moslem women in Surat wear, and they are often brightly colored and embroidered with flowers. Wara men generally wear a white and gold circular, flat-topped hat with a white tunic and pants. I personally like this look.
Waras eat sitting on the floor, surrounding a huge steel plate called a thal. Everybody gets their own rotis and takes food from the dishes in the center of the thal. Before and after eating, everyone takes a tiny pinch of salt, supposedly to prevent sickness. The food's delicious - they eat meat every day! It tastes great, although I got sick on the second day from eating so much meat all of a sudden.
Our host mother took Miho and I to see the Arabic University in Surat's Old City a few days ago. It's a beautiful school for Wara students, and all of the classes are taught in Arabic. My favorite part was the building used for students who are memorizing the Quran - this is required for graduation, and it's no small task, considering that the book is almost 700 pages long. In order to create a peaceful atmosphere with as few distractions as possible, they have practically soundproofed the building and made it into a sort of greenhouse. There are plants and flowers everywhere, surrounding a tile pool in the center. If they wish, the students can use individual rooms looking out over this view. Every school should have a building like this.
Girls also attend the University (they're required to wear ridas), but a lot of effort is used in keeping them completely seperate from the boys. Whenever they have classes together, a curtain is kept between the girls and boys side, and if a male teacher is teaching a class of girl students, a veil is drawn between him and the girls, to prevent him seeing his students. There are even seperate floors for boys and girls in the school mosque and cafeteria. I actually think it's rather sad - I have so many good friends who are boys, and my life would be a lot less interesting without them.
But anyway, our host family also took us to a Wara wedding that took place this week. It was so cool - I love Indian weddings! They take place over three days, and are the glitziest, most extravagent events ever. On Friday, I went to the groom's house for a ceremony where some aunties grind up spices like turmeric and cloves to smear over the groom's face (don't ask, I have no idea why, the groom didn't even know when I asked him). While they're grinding away, the rest of the guests try to distract them by throwing silly string, confetti, spraying shaving cream, and all sorts of gooey, stinky, sticky substances. Eventually this turns into a free-for-all, which everyone covered in gunk by the end. I personally ended up with a lot of egg and ketchup on my shirt and in my hair. Every wedding should contain a good food fight.
After everyone went home and bathed, we regrouped for lunch and applying wedding mehndi. I got my arms covered in a beautiful swirly design, pictures of which will be posted here...eventually. The next day, we met again for a dinner following the actual wedding ceremony (which only close family members are allowed to attend, unfortunately). Miho and I dressed up in Indian clothes, and had to keep our heads covered at all times with our dupattas - Indian-style scarves. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. My dupatta had an entirely different agenda, one which certainly didn't include staying put on my head.
Yesterday, we attended the final function of the wedding, a parade through the streets with a band and the groom on horseback, completely covered in a cape of flowers. All of the men in the groom's party get to walk alongside him. Four of the youngest boys get to lead the parade, riding atop their own horses, followed by three tiny girls perched in horse-drawn carriages. The groom brings up the rear. We watched them go by with the rest of the women, cheering away. This was followed by yet another dinner, and then we left, happy and stuffed with good food.
Miho and I are returning to our respective host families today, and life will get back to normal. On January first, we're leaving for a tour of North India, which is going to include the Taj Mahal! I'm so excited! Thanks for reading, everybody, and I hope all this makes up for last month's lack of posts!

Jains and Moslems

...Oh yeah, I have a blog. Sorry everybody for the really long break, but we've been having computer issues. The computer at my new host house has gone AWOL, and my host father's been saying he'll buy a new one, but as promptness is not part of the Indian vocabulary, that probably won't take place in this century.
So anyway. I've just switched host families, and this is my new address:
Paresh Shah
3B, Ravi Chhaya
nr. Lourdes Convent School
Athwa Lines
Surat, 395007
My new family is Jain (pronounced "Jane"), which is a religion similar to Buddhism - but with much more emphasis on self-denial - that's quite popular here in Gujarat. In fact, the reason that Gujarat is predominantly vegetarian is thanks to the influence of the Jains, who don't believe in killing any living creature. Jain monks walk barefoot and tie a piece of cloth over their mouth in order to avoid accidentally inhaling any small insect that may want to fly in. In fact, strict Jains won't even eat potatoes, garlic or onions, and I have heard two explanations for this:
a) harvesting any of the above involves killing the plant that grows above it, or
b) they believe that these vegetables contain countless little lifeforms, and eating one would practically constitute genocide
Fortunately, my host mom is the only member of the family who believes this, and prepares potato, garlic and onion-containing food for her husband, my host sister Kanika, and myself. She's actually a great cook, which is impressive, considering her limited array of ingredients. I find that I'm missing meat less and less. (That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the beef jerky you sent me though, Taylor.)
Kanika and her aunt have taken me several times to a house where Jain holy women live, and these women are seriously amazing (or crazy, I haven't decided yet). They basically live their lives with a view to hurting the least lives possible, and sometimes take this to extreme levels. As they believe that electricity kills small creatures, they live without it, without even fans to cool them off in the boiling summer months. They own very few possesions - usually only what fits into the small bag they carry with them - and the furniture is very minimal, only a few wooden bedframes. Bathing takes place as rarely as possible (usually twice a year at most), due to the belief that water also contains millions of small creatures, which is also the reason that they never brush their teeth. They pluck out their hair every six months - minus scissors, this is done by hand - to avoid getting lice, as they bathe so rarely. If the women wish to travel, they walk (barefoot, of course), as trains and cars are practically small-insect serial killers. They spend their days studying holy books, praying, or simply saying the name of god over and over again. They eat only when the sun is out (actually, I'm not sure of the reason behind this) and go from home to home begging food. If no one gives them food, they take it as a sign that god did not want them to eat that day anyway.
Some of these women converted later in life, following their schooling, so I got a chance to talk to some who had studied English in school. They are really truly happy with their lives, and don't miss the outside world one bit. I think some of the things they do are rather impressive, though I can't quite relate to the whole hair-pulling-out thing.
Ok, this is getting quite lengthy, so I'll save part II for the next post...

Friday, October 27, 2006

I take cool pictures

A couple of other pictures from our trip:
We went to a restaurant serving a traditional Gujarati thali, and I had to take a picture of the food, it was just so pretty. This should give you an idea of what I eat here (though as a rule, home-cooked food is always better than restaurant food in India). We use the roti - that flat, tortilla-ish thing - instead of silverware. Basically you tear off a piece and use it to grab a bite of food.

These women are selling spices at the base of a temple we visited, which you have to climb 10,000 stairs to reach. We wimpy exchange students went up 100 stairs, took some pictures and went back down for coconuts and ice cream.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Indian Toilet Odyssey Pt. 2

Ah, India. Just when I thought squatter toilets and hand-wiping was as bad as it gets, something else comes up to prove me utterly wrong. Try this: a little room the size of a shower stall. Tile floor. A drain in the corner. Nothing else. The first time I was confronted with one of these lovelies, I thought I'd gone to the wrong place. This couldn't be the bathroom. Then I realized what I was standing in, and turned and marched right out of there, using all my self-control not to run away screaming. I don't know how Indians do it! I would gladly take an American gas station bathroom right now. That's nothing to this.
My latest toilet adventure took place on our recent tour of Gujarat. We stopped at a town called Rajkot, and were taken to a movie theatre owned by a Rotarian. I went to use the bathroom, which naturally had no toilet paper, no soap, no towels, etc. I was unfazed by this, as I now carry my trusty little toilet paper roll with me wherever I go. However, I was completely unprepared for the BIG HUMONGOUS GIGANTIC cockroach that came scuttling down from beneath the rim of the toilet seat when I flushed. Aaaaaah! It was the size of my middle finger (at least), bright red-brown, and had just been lurking there the whole time. Fortunately I have mastered the art of hovering. My self-control failed me this time, unfortunately, and I ran right out of there as fast as I could. Blecchh.
Other than the traumatizing toilet experiences, our tour was a lot of fun. I got to see Gandhi's birthplace! So cool...We visited his home in a town called Porbander. The exact spot where he was born was marked on the floor by a giant red swastika (a word on the swastika: It has been a symbol of the Hindu religion, something like the cross or star of David, for thousands of years, long before Hitler corrupted it for his own purposes. They are still to be found all over India, and most Indians are unaware that it is a symbol of hatred and prejudice in the west).
We exchange students are all officially temple-d out, but one in particular was interesting, as it featured a pillar built very close to the wall. It is believed (they weren't very clear as to why) that if you can squeeze through this narrow space between the pillar and wall, your heart is pure and you're guaranteed a place in heaven. You wouldn't believe the contortions and sucking in of stomachs that goes on as people try to force their way through. I now have a spot reserved for me in Hindu Heaven, because I made it through! Here are pictures of some other temples we visited:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Navratri Pictures...finally

Oops, once again it's been awhile since I last posted, but they say a picture's worth a thousand words, so hopefully this will make up for it!
The first picture is a woman dancing with pots on her head, which is quite a big deal here. Then a couple of guys in traditional dress, which I personally think is rather goofy. The next one is two guys dressed as Hanuman, the monkey god. He's my favorite Hindu god, mostly because I can make a face that looks exactly like him. Then some kids decked out in their Navratri finest - aren't they cute? And because Indians are delighted that a foreigner has learned their dances, a huge picture of me appeared in the newspaper - too bad I was mad at the photographer, who wouldn't leave me alone, and therefore have a wierd look on my face. And lastly, me and my sisters, all ready to go out and dance the night away. For some reason, Indians rarely smile in pictures.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Navratri = love

Ahhh I have just experienced the best nine days (well, nights) of my LIFE! Navratri is the most amazing thing in the world and every country should have it. I am so bummed that it's over. I'm starting to discover the depressing side of the saying Once in a Lifetime Experience - when will I ever get to do something like this again?
Anyway. Every night, after dinner (around 8ish) my three sisters and I would all start getting ready, donning our chania cholis, dupattas (tied around the shoulders/waist so my glaringly white tummy isn't quite so obvious), makeup and lots of jewelry (necklace, jingly waist belt thing, anklets, bangles, and extremely heavy swinging earrings that I refused to wear - I swear Indian earlobes are stronger than my wimpy American ones), until we can barely walk. All this takes about an hour and a half, and meanwhile, Rutvik is sitting downstairs in an undershirt, watching TV. Five minutes before we leave, he throws on a shirt and dupatta and is ready to go. Boys. Honestly. At 10, we set off for the Indoor Stadium, which is kind of like the Sundome (for all you Yakima folks), but approximately 5 times bigger, and packed with at least 4,000 people every night. From here, I'm going to just copy what I wrote in my journal after the first night, since I think that describes it best:
Sept. 24, 2006 2:30 AM
Back from the Indoor Stadium. The soles of my feet hurt. My calves are sore. I've been poked, elbowed, kicked, smacked, hit with a garba stick, shoved, and even headbutted. All of this accidently (at least, I hope so), and I've doled out my fair share of punches and kicks as well. It's inevitable when you're dancing so fast, with so many people around. I have a monster bump/bruise above my left elbow. And I LOVE it!! There were tons of people there, and Pooja said there will be more and more as the days go by. Inside, the floor is divided, with one side for people in traditional dress who play garba, and the other for people in Western dress who just dance normally as there's no room to make a circle for garba. We'll be on the traditional side every night. I like traditional because there's more room and none of that awkward shifting from foot to foot and avoiding eye contact that passes for dancing on the Western side.
We got there at about 11, in the middle of a "song" (they're actually a bunch of songs with no pause in between, gradually going faster and faster). We joined a circle of people doing a couple's 22-step - women on the outside, men in yellow kurtas and white dupattas on the inside. At one point in the step, instead of clapping our hands twice like normal, we clap twice quickly, and then clap the hands of a guy inside the circle. It was great - we jumped right in, and I only took a couple of little breaks in the hour-long song, during which I sweated a ridiculous amount and my face turned bright red. Well, I didn't have a mirror to check on this or anything, but I saw by the end of the song, Pooja's cheeks had gotten slightly red, and when the Indians are getting red, you can be sure that I'm a tomato. There were lots of photographers and judges roaming about, and a bunch of people took pictures of me. I might be in the paper tomorrow!
After the song, they started playing Indian pop music (which is starting to grow on me) for about a half hour. When that was finished, they kicked off the final garba, which got really fast after only 5 or 10 minutes. I love dancing garba fast - everyone's skirts twirl out, all the mirrorwork and sequins on skirts and blouses catches the light, and hands whip about at lightning speed. When it was done, and we were all laying around panting, they announced the winners for Best Dancer, Best Dressed, etc and we went home to drink gallons of water and cold cocoa. Eight more nights of this. Hooray!

Alrighty. So nine nights and five big blisters on my feet later, Navratri's over. Here are the highlights:
1) I have been in the paper 3 times - the first was my name in the Times of India, mispelled and attributed to a picture that, unfortunately, wasn't me. The next two were in Gujarati newspapers, and one was ridiculously, embarrassingly huge, especially as I looked really serious.
2) I've been on 2 seperate news channels, once being interviewed personally, and the other while singing a dreadful rendition of a traditional Gujarati garba with the other exchange students.
3) I won a prize! Probably just for being a foreigner, but oh well. It was the "Special Prize", and my reward was three saris, which I have no idea what to do with. Anybody want a (slightly lower-quality) sari?
4) I've only gone to school twice during the nine days, a result of coming home pooped at two every morning.
And so much more, but this is already ridiculously long, so I'll spare you the rest. For all of you with the stamina to read the whole thing, kudos to you. Navratri pictures are coming soon, I promise!

Some random pictures...

Just a few uncategorize-able pictures for you all...mehndi (it got a lot darker, this was taken on the first day), my school (how's this for a name - Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan's Nand Vidya Niketan), annnd me in a sari!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Post-flood pictures

Alrighty, these pictures are from the time right after the flood, when we stayed in the Old City and when I went to Baroda. First of all is our Janmastame shrine from the Old City - note the model cars and Disney masks. Then our Ganesh Utsav shrine from the house I stayed at in Baroda (I personally like the last one better). During this festival, huge shrines are set up all around town with monster Ganesh idols in them. Samantha (another exchange student from the US) and I walked around town for awhile checking out some shrines, and here's a picture of a gigantic Ganesh. Later on in Baroda, we visited the Laxmi Vilas palace - which the current maharaja still lives in! It was amazingly huge, and it seemed like everything was covered in gold. For some reason, our tour guide made a really big deal out of the Italian marble on the floors. Indians love their Italian marble, I've discovered. And finally, a not-so-flattering self-portrait in front of a lovely mosaic on the side of the palace. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Flood pictures

Ok, so the Internet at my house is working again (joy!) so I can finally show you all those pictures I've promised. First off, the water at it's highest point- 12 feet around the bungalow! Then the cars, at an early point - they were eventually inundated, of course, but I thought I'd include this picture anyway. Next a lovely sunset from the 3rd day of the flood. Now an Indian army helicopter that was distributing food to the apartment buildings around us, and lastly, a boat that paddled by in the canal that was once the road - our own Indian Venice! Next thing to tackle is Janmashtame and this takes sooo long.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I got mehndi (henna) put on my hands and arms a few days ago! It's an incredibly intricate, red-brown design running up and down the front and back of my hands and arms, almost up to the elbow. I love it, but there are, however, a few things that nobody ever told me about mehndi, including:
a) It stinks to high heaven for the first couple of days, and for the whole evening, Rutvik and Revati (my younger sister) gave me a wide berth. In fact, only Pooja and my mom, who like the smell for some reason, would come near me,
b) It takes 4 (four!) hours to dry, during which time I had to sit and do nothing, arms held stiffly out to my sides. Thank heaven for TV. After it got somewhat dry, I ate dinner, but I felt like a cripple because Moti-Mummy (Mota-Daddy's wife) had to tear my roti into tiny pieces, which I mixed in a bowl with vegetables and eat with a spoon.
c) Also, it gets a lot darker on the palms than anywhere else. Revati informed me knowledgeably that this was because of the "sweatness" on my palms.
Unfortunately it's starting to fade, but still looks really cool.
I had my first d'oh moment with Gujarati the other day...I met the 6-year-old daughter of the servants at another house a while ago. She did the normal thing that Indian kids do when they see me, ie stare wide-eyed and unmoving. So to break the ice, I asked her "Tamaruu'n nam shu'n chhe?" which my (rather outdated, as I soon realized) Gujarati textbook informed me meant "What is your name?" However, this question only made her eyes widen further, and she stayed silent. I asked Pooja about it later, and it turns out I asked the poor little girl the Gujarati equivalent of "What is thy name, dear madam?"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hello all

Kem cho everybody, sorry about the long break, but we STILL don't have Internet up and running at my house, so my only access to the internet is my school's creaky, ailing, paralyzingly slow computers. Life is back to normal again - it came as a shock the other day when I realized that life in India has become normal for me! I'm used to the cows on the road, I don't blink an eye at the men holding hands or peeing on the side of the road (they do this A LOT), I barely notice spicy food anymore, annnd I can even converse minimally in Gujarati!! I don't have the guts to ask my family to only speak Gujarati to me though...I am a weak exchange student.
Last Wednesday was the final day of Ganesh Utsav, a 10-day festival in honor of Lord Ganesh (he's the one with an elephant head). At the beginning of this festival, everyone decorates special shrines and brings a Ganesh idol into their home. After 10 days, they take the idol down to the nearest body of water and immerse it in the water. I'm not really sure what the significance of that part is. As we live right by the river, there was a constant stream of people going by the house all day, hoisting their Ganesh idols, banging on drums, dancing and singing. (Not all at once, of course.) Rutvik and his friend took me down to the river to see the huge idols lined up for their dunking. As I was American, we got to go right down to the river bank - a VIP only place. The idols were awesome - some as much as 6 feet tall, and no two were alike. Getting there and back was problematic though, as I was constantly having to avoid making eye contact with hundreds of drunk, rowdy, leering men. Rutvik was less my brother and more of a bodyguard, bless him.
Not much else to report, other than it's been meltingly hot lately. I'm turning into a little puddle in the computer lab. I've finally realized why Indian women don't have bangs - mine are perpetually plastered to my forehead with sweat. Not pretty.
Oh! There's an awesome festival coming up call Navratri. (In case you haven't noticed, September is a month of festivals.) Its name literally means nine (nav) nights (ratri), and it's nine straight nights of dancingdancingdancing until the cows come home. We do a kind of dance called Garba, which is done in a circle and involves lots of twirling and waving of the arms. We all wear traditional cheniya cholis, which is a short blouse and a long flared skirt. I'm not allowed to wear tank tops here, yet I can show my whole stomach and nobody complains. Strange. Anyway, I can't wait! It starts on the 23rd.
Ok, that's all for now. I swear I have lots of pictures, and you guys will see them all as soon as the internet at our house starts working again! (No promises as to when that'll be.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I would just like to announce that I have fully mastered the art of eating with my fingers. I can even eat rice with daal! and believe me that stuff is runny. Thank you very much.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Ok. Where to begin, where to begin. First things first: forget about my last post, because that was a mere puddle. The water continued to rise for the next two days until it was 12 feet high outside our bungalow. We live fairly close to the river, so we got hit with the worst of it. The basement got completely flooded (bye-bye home theater...sniff) and the first floor was in water two feet deep. Fortunately Indian bungalows are built high up - if this happened in Yakima our whole first floor would have been underwater. The cars were totally inundated, and one actually started floating and settled on top of another, which caused some problems when the water receded. Which it didn't for another two days. They hauled absolutely everything up from the basement and first floor, and we all moved up to the second floor, where we stayed for a week - no power, no showers, no real food (all we had was junk food and snacks) for a week. We were all pretty nasty by Sunday. Fortunately Moto-Daddy (big dad, my host father's older brother) is quite handy with tools, so he managed to rig up a generator, which we used only at night to work the fans so the mosquitoes didn't eat us alive. Boats passed by occasionally - it was like a bizarre Venice. Indian Army and Air Force helicopters flew overhead constantly, delivering food packets to those in worse conditions than us. We were actually really lucky.
The week went by extremely slowly once the excitement of being surrounded by a flood died down. Our only form of entertainment was a pack of cards, which we made ample use of. I taught them Go Fish, Speed and Egyptian Ratscrew, which was a big hit. I was absolutely not, under any circumstances allowed to help them with moving things or cleaning - believe me, I tried many a time - so I was basically banished to my room for the first half of the day while they went to work. Occasionally Rutvik or Revati would take pity on me and come in with the cards to play for awhile before they were summoned out again. After lunch we all took a nap, then came about two or three hours of straight card-playing before dinner. Later on, we all gathered around their little portable radio to hear the latest news. Well, they did most of the gathering, and I waited for a translation. I won't go into the details of the flood, but for more info, here's a link to a story about it:
Once the water receded, we were left with four cars and three motorbikes that were complete losses, 6 inches of nasty-smelling sludge on the streets and garbage everywhere. As soon as the roads were passable, a friend of the family came to whisk us kids away to his house while they fumigated and otherwise got things back to normal. The theory here is that all that would make us sick. However, I had beaten them to the chase and gotten a nasty cold on the second day of the flood. A cold + Kleenex-less India = not fun.
Anyway, the house that we stayed in was in the Old City - completely different from where we live. Blocks and blocks of tall, skinny houses squished together San Francisco-style, intersected by narrow, windy, bumpy roads. Our house was approximately 100 years old and - as the owners told me, chests puffed out proudly - the first house built with cement in Surat. Apparently this is noteworthy. Cement or otherwise, all the houses were about 10-15 feet wide and extremely long, usually with two rooms per floor. And we were in Lakhwala Central, let me tell you. Their entire family still lives in the Old City, so the first night was spent trooping dutifully around to relatives' houses saying "Jai Shree Krishna" (the name of a God, a more traditional form of hello) and sitting for a chat. I played with the smaller children, which there were tons of, and mostly didn't try to talk to the relatives after one family asked me if I was from Thailand. I have no idea where that came from.
Wednesday night was Lord Krishna's birthday, a Hindu festival called Janmastami (I think). We spent the day decorating the house's shrine, watched Indian soaps all night (I'm addicted, despite not really knowing what's going on), and at midnight, we ate Indian ramen and tons of candy and they sang a prayer in Gujarati while I waved a little lamp around and rocked Lord Krishna in his cradle. It was great. Then we went out to other people's houses to pray in front of their shrines. One shrine had Pokemon figures arranged carefully around it. I didn't say anything, as our shrine featured model cars (one of the younger boys is a car fanatic) and paper Disney masks.
So after only two days back "home" I'm now in a nearby city called Baroda for an orientation with the other exchange students. This is rather redundant for me, as I've been here the longest (5 weeks, everyone else either just got here or has been here for a week or two) and don't really need any orientating anymore. But this way I get to miss yet another week of school! It's already been two weeks - hooray! I predict an exchange of toilet stories.
For all you Govindas out there, here's another movie with even more music to get stuck in your head. It's called fanaa: destroyed by love, and it's as melodramatic, romantic and wonderful as it's name suggests.
I have lots of flood pictures, and will post them as soon as I get back home!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

You Know You're in India When... is called off because of rain. There I was at 6:30 am, groggily making my bed and cursing the Rotary club of Udhna, my counselor, the Indian government and all the forces that combine to make me go to school, when Rutvik ran in and told me that the reservoir at the river had run over and school was cancelled. We went up to the terrace and sure enough, our bungalow was surrounded on all sides by brown, muddy water. It's currently rising into the basement, with no signs of stopping. We've just gotten word that they will be releasing more water from the reservoir. People are slogging around up to their thighs in water, and we're pretty much stranded as no one has the courage to try taking a motorbike or car out. We ate leftover pizza for breakfast. Fortunately, the power hasn't gone out - yet.
Everyone else is running around, moving things up from the basement and constructing a makeshift wall around the home theater (if water gets in there, the wiring is doomed - a scary thought), and talking really fast in Gujarati. I can only make out "panni" (water). I was helping out for a while, until it became clear that I was mostly just in the way, so I've retreated to my room until the madness dies down. The panni might not drain away for a few days - hooray!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Dramatic Interlude

Ok, picture this scenario on a busy Surat street, approximately 3:30 pm:
The street goes quiet. Conversations cease and entire groups of men fall silent. Rickshaw wallahs and men on motorbikes or bicycles slow down for a closer look, turning their heads as they pass. Mouths fall open. Men point, then whisper to their friends, who turn and stare. Activity ceases at numerous roadside food stalls. What, you may ask, is this mysterious force that can bring the entire male population of Surat to a standstill? Why, it's, it''s Colleen walking home from the bus stop in her school uniform.
The best part of this is that women and children are almost completely oblivious to my passing. The men, however, are somehow entitled to stare as long and hard as their hearts desire. The thing for a good Indian woman to do is look down at the road, and never, ever make eye contact. I swear, though, one of these days I'm going to stick my thumbs in my ears and wiggle my fingers, or stick out my tongue at them. Maybe I'll just randomly run screaming at them, flailing my arms. I think this would get a good reaction.
Anyway, I thought I'd post my address on here. This is where I'll be living for the next 2 1/2 months:
Colleen Moran
c/o Shailesh Lakhwala
17 Neelam Society
(nr. Shardayatan School)
Piplod, Surat 395003 India

So there you go, you can send me mail, beef jerky, toilet paper, modest t-shirts (apparently I dress quite the skank compared to Indian girls), love letters...whatever.
There's a dance competition at school tomorrow. The school's divided into four houses: white, blue, red and green. I'm in blue house's dance. I don't do much of anything until the end. While everyone's holding a pose, I come out, strew flowers on people, come up to the front and say "Salaam India" while saluting. They want me to wear a sari (the "most brightly colored one you have", the house teacher advised me), despite the fact that nobody else is wearing a costume. The walk down the aisle of the bus tomorrow morning promises to be quite interesting.

Monday, July 31, 2006

More Pictures

I had a slight issue with the computer giving me some attitude, so the pictures are out of order. But you're all intelligent people - I know you'll be able to figure it out!

This took forever.....

Finally figured out how to connect my camera to the computer, so here you go. First off, the famous uniform. Sorry it's such a bad picture, but the power was out at the time...Speaking of school, I am currently taking Hindi lessons twice a week, dance classes three times a week (on a random note, everybody here says "thrice" instead of "three times", I feel like I'm in Victorian England or something), art classes with 6th-8th graders twice a week (should be fun), and history lessons twice a week as well. Also I can go down to the library whenever the other classes get too boring. They basically let me do anything I want. School is finally looking up! Ok, next we have the lovely toilet that I thought was worth a picture, just so you all get a feel for what I'm talking about. To the right is the "personal shower". Now for the family. I couldn't get a picture of all of them - they're quite camera-shy - but I did manage to get one of Seema (my host mom), Ba (which means grandmother), and Rutvik, who is my Peter substitute for the year. He's doing a good job of it, too. There's also a picture of my favorite room in the house - the little movie theater where we go at least three times a week to lounge in air-conditioned comfort and watch Bollywood movies. The last picture is the view from outside the house. There. Now you all can stop bugging me.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Colleen Has Finally Learned How to Title Her Posts

So I'm pretty sure that it has rained more in the last 5 minutes here than it does in a year in Yakima. I like rain, but this stuff is best enjoyed inside. It's not so appealing when the streets are flooded with muddy brown water and you have to ride around on a motorbike with raindrops stinging your face. I prefer a more mellow Seattle rain.
Hm, not too much to report here...can it be that I'm already getting used to life in India? School is improving. I've started dance classes, Hindi lessons, and Indian history lessons. (I never thought I'd willingly submit to a history class ever again, but these past few weeks have been full of surprises.) I learned a Rajasthani folk dance today! It's all about this woman whose husband has just returned from war and she's primping herself for his arrival. We mime putting on earrings and the dot on the forehead. However, whenever I'm tired or something, my host dad is surprisingly willing to let me skip a day. He agrees with me that school is the worst part of the exchange, bless his heart.
Oh! I forgot to mention that Surat is hosting the 3rd annual Asian Gymnastics Championship, starting tomorrow! It's quite a big deal for this (relatively) small Indian city, and our teachers have been encouraging us to skip (or "bunk" as they call it) school to watch. I'm looking forward to it.
For those of you with Netflix - I highly recommend a movie called Sarkar. It's like the Bollywood version of the Godfather, starring The Indian Actor. His name is Amitabh Bachchan, or something like that, but people around here call him "Big B". I find this much easier to say.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A word on Indian toilets. This is not the nicest or most appetizing topic, but when you consider how important toilets are to our daily lives, it is something that must be addressed. There are 3 main types of Indian toilets:
1) The squatter (some of you travelers may know of these, for those of you who don't, it's basically a little trough in the ground). I am still profoundly terrified of these, and haven't attempted to use one yet.
2) The normal toilet, with a "personal shower" hose thing in lieu of toilet paper. This is what can be found in my house, and I didn't realize how lucky I was until I was faced with:
3) The toilet with no shower, no toilet paper, but instead a little water tap low down on the wall with a grubby cup underneath it. You work it out.
I have not seen a square of toilet paper since the Mumbai airport bathroom.
Enough of that. I had another bizarre encounter with the club president a couple of days ago. It went something like this:
Him: So how are you liking India?
Me: I like it a lot! I'm having a lot of fun.
Him (sagely): Yes, it always gets better after the first week.
Me (uncertainly): Well, yes, but I've been doing well since I got here.
Him (persistently): The first week is always the hardest. Things will be better for you from now on.
Am I breaking some unwritten law that says exchange students are not allowed to have fun until the second week of their exchange?
School boring as usual. I have not heard a word about the alleged Hindi, dance and music classes that I'm supposed to start soon. I had to introduce myself to the class and was immediately requested to sing a song in English. I obliged them with a terribly off-key, octave-jumping version of the Star-Spangled Banner. Indian girls sure are giggly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

So I met the president of the local Rotary was kind of an unsettling experience. First off we talk about how he was an exchange student to NY back in the day, and then he starts on the question that EVERYBODY asks me, "How are you liking India?" (the second one is, without fail, "How are you liking the food?" Gujaratis are very particular about their food). I tell him I'm having a great time, and he says comfortingly, "The first week is always the hardest, I know." To which I reply "No, I'm really enjoying myself here!" He looks at me wisely, then says, "Don't worry, things will get better after this week." Okay. Apparently I should be crying my eyes out on his shoulder at this point.
Anyway. Started school....sooooo boring. For those of you who don't know, Indian students have to make a choice in 11th grade whether they want to go into Science or Commerce. Science is Chemistry, Physics, Bio, the works. It's the harder of the 2. Commerce on the other hand is Economics, Accounting, Business Studies, Statistics, Computer Programming. That's it. I got put in commerce. Elective classes are few and far between - all they get is "Games", which is 40 minutes which we spend playing an Indian version of duck duck goose. Being approximately a foot taller than all the girls (and most of the boys), I did well at this game. Unlike most Indian schools, my school (Essar) gets out at 2:35 - normally it's noon for other schools. And I have each class 2 times a day. I've mostly been sleeping, except for the afternoon, when it's so hot and humid that sitting upright seems preferable to laying my head down on my sticky arm. But they said that tomorrow or the next day I can start some interesting classes, like Hindi lessons, India music and dance...yay.
I have to wear a uniform as well. The best way I can describe it is to say that I look like a milkmaid. A very unattractive milkmaid, wearing a tie.

Friday, July 14, 2006

correction. I don't live in an apartment - the ENTIRE BUILDING is their house. Wow.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I made it! After the longest day of my lifetime and a harrowing drive from Bombay to Surat (Indian driving consists mainly of swerving around madly in the streets - which have no lanes marked - honking at everything that moves), I have been installed in my room in an incredibly posh apartment. Life is family's great, they're a jolly bunch. Pooja (the sister I'm rooming with) is really sweet and everyone's friendly in general. I have seen so much new, unfamiliar, amazing stuff today that I'm kind of at a loss to describe it all. I saw my first holy cow! Also a camel. The highways are lined with cheery signs such as "Speeding thrills but kills". I start gujarati lessons tomorrow! It's incredibly hot and sticky here. There is so much poverty. People like to stare at me. The food is amazing, and I'm being fed a seemingly endless amount. I'm totally messed up as far as time. The toilets........well lets just say that apparently toilet paper is a new phenomenon still regarded with suspicion by the general population. Well I'm a little dazed right now, so I'll write more later. I love you all!
Oh yeah...I changed my settings so that (I think) anybody can comment, not just other bloggers. Somebody give it a try and let me know if it works.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

ok, so the rotary people are officially toying with me. 1st I was leaving on the 18th, then they changed it to the 4th. So I had to fast-forward all my plans and I was doing all my last-minute preparations when they informed me today that - just kidding! - I'm actually leaving on the 11th. Goodness. I was so ready to go, too. Oh, well. So (unless they decide it would be cute to change it again) I will be leaving in 10, not 3 days.

Friday, June 23, 2006

my school = english-speaking. hurrah!! family has STILL not contacted me. 10 days...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ok, so this will be my blog while I am residing in the city of Surat, which is in the state of Gujarat, which of course is in Innnndia. Here's what I know so far: I'm leaving on July 4th - eek! - which is less than 3 weeks away (all you myspacers can reference my countdown if you need days, hours and minutes). I have found out the name of my family but they STILL have not contacted me. argh. I can barely make out the name on the form (since it's handwritten and photocopied) but as far as I can tell the dad's name is Prareen Kaklcar...? not so sure about that last name. My school is called Bharatya Vidya the guarantee letter they sent, however, they distressingly refer to me as "Moran Colleen". This will have to be sorted out. On the plus side, I found out I get 1000 rupees/month allowance from the host club. Which translates to approximately $21, but I hear that money goes a long way there. More info as developments occur. I'm off to a family reunion in Seattle.