Thursday, May 24, 2007

In Conclusion...

Well folks, it looks like this will be the last post of the year. Things are probably going to get pretty crazy here as my leaving date approaches (less than 3 weeks! ack!), so I'm going to wrap this up now, before all that confusion.
Let's see... Indian summer has come with a vengeance. For a week or so the temperature didn't dip below 42 degrees C (that's about 107 degrees F for all you americans), and although it's cooled off a little (ie "only" 34 C), I'm expressly forbidden by my host mom to go out during the hottest part of the day - that is, between 1 and 5 pm. And she's right - whenever I manage to sneak out I return bathed in sweat and meekly repentant. The upside of all this is that it's finally mango season!! And mangoes are a Big Deal around here, let me tell you. My host mom brings them home in crates of 50 kgs or more, orders them all on the kitchen counter, covers them in burlap and monitors them religiously until they are ripe, usually a day or two. There are about 10-15 varieties of mango, and any Indian can regale you with the different taste, appearance, and use of each one. There's a mango used only for pickles when it's not yet ripe, and mango specifically for slicing and eating, another for mango juice (called ras), and on and on. We have big bowls of chilled ras every day for lunch, and then a couple of sliced mangoes for dinner. They're exquisite, and worth the heat.
With the prospect of coming home soon hanging over my head, I've been thinking about all the things I'll miss from India. Near the top of the list (right up there with Indian mangoes) are rickshaws, my preferred mode of transportation around Surat. Here's a picture:

Tiny, cramped, rickety and seemingly designed to catch every bump in the road, rickshaws are a godsend to the exchange students of Surat. These 3-wheeled wonders will take us anywhere our hearts desire - and for next to nothing, if you can bargain hard enough (which is really half the fun, anyway). Going from my house to my friend's - about a 10 minute ride - costs me about 15 rupees (thats about 40 cents). If someone else happens to be going the same way, then we share a rickshaw with anyone else who gets picked up along the way (I've ridden in a jam-packed rickshaw with no less than 5 other strangers - plus a little kid), and the fare is cut down to 3 rupees per person. It's great. Every big city in the world should have rickshaws - for those unable or unwilling to drive themselves somewhere. They're everywhere, too - stand on any corner and it's guaranteed that at least 5 will come by in as many minutes. I will miss rickshaws immensely - especially in Seattle next year. Buses and taxis just don't measure up.
Of course, I'll also miss the food so much! I've been lucky enough to be placed in families with host moms that are extremely gifted cooks, and there's little that I don't like. My ultimate favorite dish, which I try to eat as much as possible (at least once a week), is pani puri:

Those little puffed up, spaceship-looking things are crunchy fried puris. You crack a little hole in the top of the puri, and a little bit of boiled potato, mung bean and gram is put in the puri before it's filled with green chilli water and brown tamarind chutney, and downed in one big bite. Yum! My counselor told me that when he and his family visited the US some years ago, there was a Punjabi Sikh selling pani puri right next to Niagara Falls, which gives me hope that I won't have to suffer a pani-puri-less existence at home. I've also learned how to make dal, chhole, batatanu shaak, pao bhaji and other delicious stuff so that whenever I start missing India, I can console myself with some good Gujarati food. If anybody else is interested, you're welcome to join me!

And of course I'll miss my wonderful host families, festivals like Navratri and Holi, my fellow exchange students who have become some of the best friends I've ever had, traveling to North & South India, around Gujarat and Bombay, seeing Gujarati everywhere and speaking it with my host family, and so much more. It's been a good year - but I can't say I'm not a little excited to come home and see all of my family and friends! Thanks for reading everybody, and I'll see you soon!