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!