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...