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.