Monday, July 27, 2009

Cowardly Lion... There Are No Lions in India...

I was afraid to come to India.
I came anyway.

I am afraid of Tigers.
I'm going to a Wildlife Sanctuary, to go on a hike, to see Tigers.

I am afraid of traveling in a foreign country without someone who knows the language.
Next week is my week of travel, and I sure as hell am not sitting around in the house.

I am afraid to sing in public by myself. My voice is obvious and vulnerable and naked before the scrutiny of others.
I sang in front of a university music class with no preperation.

I am afraid of big bugs.
That's it, I'm just afraid of them.

I am afraid of the homeless people.
Once on a train, a woman begging for money kept touching me in "blessing".
I gave her 10 rupees just to make her go away.
I would have given her 100.

I am afraid that when I go home that my adventures will be over.
So I can't let that happen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Little Update

Showers are not common here. Our bathrooms are closet-sized little spaces, consisting of a toilet, two faucets (both Cold) protruding from the wall, and a drain on the floor. We have a set of buckets and the method is to fill the large bucket with water and use the minature bucket to scoop water from the larger to rinse and so forth.
I don't do that.
I'm small enough that I can just squat under the faucet to create a sort of makeshift shower.

I absolutely despise the way I am treated by the men here. Trivandrum is a very conservative city with its more old-fashioned paradigms left, by and large, unchallenged. This is not to say that the idea of gender superiority is practiced with brutality, but it is still present.
Some men do possess a more benevolent dispostition, addressing me in such a way that shows that they understand it's not my fault that I'm so simple, I was born a woman. Or worse, they don't bother to listen at all, and just stand there with a serene grin as they wait for me to finish speaking, the way you would with a child whose tantrum amuses you.
What I really cannot stand are the men who treat you as though you're a stray kitten. You're something interesting and cute, maybe even beautiful to watch, they can say anything they like to you because of course you wouldn't understand, and if they like, its perfectly appropriate to try to pet you, or take you home.
Tip: Aggressively attempting to pull a small woman off a dance floor to sit alone with you in a dark corner is not going to be met with a positive reaction.
And while we're on the subject...
Telling a girl that you're a mimicry artist will not impress her.

The area we reside in is recognized as a malaria-free zone. Regardless, the abundance of these little creatures is a constant source of worry among my housemates and myself. For most of us, the concern is limited to the multiple unsightly welts they plant all over our sensitive, milky skin. For me, it is a matter of dozens of little needles, with wings, buzzing in my ears, down my legs, probing the fleshy webbing between my fingers and toes. But Heaven forbid my aim should serve me, and I strike one against the wall. Watching the red, human blood smear with the sweep of my hand fosters an entirely new set of concerns.
Mainly: Whose blood is this?

For some reason, people here don't understand my name.
"What's your name?" (Always asked in the most straight-forward manner, no frills.)
"Samantha." (Said slowly, I promise.)
"Smita?"(Why not?)
Always Smita.
But my dance teacher says Smita means "smile", so I guess it's ok.

On our way to the beach the other day, I scandalized the neighborhood by wearing shorts out in public. I made sure to wear my plaid shorts so that not only would I be shocking, but also, a little funky.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No Cookies With Tea

Practicing yoga in India is much more disciplined than I initially anticipated.
It focuses not only on excercising the body, but the mind as well.
A true yogi has a clear and focused mind.
In attempts to achieve this, one must allow yoga to become integrated into his life holistically. Not simply for a hour or two each day, but throughout. Yoga must be reflected in our daily courses and in our reactions to obstacles or trials.

To practice self control, I have decided to give up sweets for a week.
I told my guru of my resolution.
He shook my hand.

I'm not sure how, but this is supposed to make me a better person...


I have the most irritating habit of talking too fast.
The worst part of which is my inability to correct it.
It has been magnified throughout my stay in India, by the fact that English is a second language to most of the people I communicate with (or attempt to, anyway) on an every day basis.
For some unholy reason, I find it impossible to slow down, let alone simplify my speech, in an effort to grant my listeners the slightest hope of a fighting chance at understanding the rambling American girl.
They can't even understand my elementary Malayalam, because I often don't pronounce the vocabulary correctly, and once I realize this, I follow it with a frantic English explanation of my meaning (I usually accompany this step in the sequence with wild gestures in attempts to clarify. But this only deepens their fear and confusion.)

It's ok.
People in America don't generally understand me either.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

There was a Big Bug

I'd never been on a train before. Not as a valid means of travel, anyway. It's true enough to say that I had it romanticized in my head, influenced by classic scenes from White Christmas or by the quirky style of Darjeeling Limited, but I don't think it's ridiculous that I was excited.
After our tranquil weekend floating down the backwaters of Kerala, we wandered around Alleppey to wait for our train. (We squatted at a hotel, stretching out our lunch with "We'd like some more coffee" and "Maybe we'll have some ice cream...")
As the sun began to descend, the train pulled up along the platform and we boarded. To find our seats, we had to venture up length of the train, toward the engine. Passing between cars, we began to notice the scenery pick up pace.
We found our seats and sank in.
I pulled out a book, intending to distract myself from the tedious length of time ahead of me, but I was drawn to the views just passed my window.
I leaned my forehead against the metal windowpane and let the sights absorb me.
Each passing second displayed a scene that was seemingly tranquil. The railroad cut through the Kerala country side, allowing its passengers to witness the rustic majesty cloaked within.
Small houses with tin roofs, open doors exhibiting warmly-lit rooms, cows tied to trees, cows drinking from troughs, cows lying in the fields. Kids playing cricket, women balancing jugs of water as they waded through the grass, men lighting sacred flames at the altars of their deities. And the green, green, green of it all. The lush forest floor thick with vegetation, with the tall, swaying palm trees shading it from the setting sun.
And every so often, for a moment lasting no longer than a sway or two of the train car, music. A few notes of a flute, or a lady reciting her evening prayers.
As the sun set and India passed me by, the train rocked me to sleep.

A while later, I awoke. Two inches away from my face, there was a huge beetle, about the size of my palm.
I gasped.
Kristi announced that we had a "Bug Situation".
Jean climbed across the aisle, pulled it off the window and threw it into the black night. Thank God for Jean.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Been A While

In Malayalam class, Dr. Nayar says he won't teach us the negative forms of words because he wants us to be positive.

The ice cream in India is so much better than it is at home. Every scoop I've had is so creamy and so rich... I was discussing this phenomenon with Kristi, when I realize that, relevantly, this probably means the ice cream in India is worse for you than it is at home. I proceeded to scan the packaging of my individual-serving cup and failed to find the nutritional information. Kristi says it's because God just wants us to enjoy it.

A few professors from UW came to review the program. Behind their backs, we called them the Dignitaries.

Kathakali is the Indian equivalent of the opera. It's a highly-esteemed form of art, with classic story lines and techniques. Performers study for years upon years to become worthy of participating in its portrayal on the stage. They practice, practice, practice, and anticipate opening night, hoping that their performance will move their patrons like no other production has before.
But in the end, the audience has no idea what's going on.

Through research on the internet, with the use of various sources, I've come to the realization that my sunburn is actually a massive second-degree burn that happens to be from sun exposure.

Thankamma claims to never have had chocolate before. She says no one has ever offered it to her. I think it's heinous that anyone, let alone a woman, has never had chocolate. So, I'm determined to buy her her very own chocolate bar. It makes me feel like a missionary... for chocolate...

The autodrivers here are not honest. They always claim the meter is broken because they think that we will just give them any fare they request if there is no meter to rat them out. Yesterday, was no different.
As we claimed in, we requested, "Meter. Meter?"
I reached over and flipped it on.
Surprise! It worked!
The driver did not look pleased...

I have to keep my gum in the refridgerator here, because otherwise it sweats.

There are traffic law signs posted all along the roads here. The say things like Obey Traffic Laws and Go Slow. My favorite one says Speed Thrills But Kills.

True Story.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Being White In India Is Like Being A Celebrity

Little kids wave at you and glow from your attention
You get special service from restaurants
Women stare at you
Guys want pictures with you
I'll be sad when I go home and I'm treated just like anybody else...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Daily Routine

Alarm goes off.
I realize it's 5:30 in the morning.
Hit snooze.
Wake up for real, against all desire to sleep until the sun is fully above the horizon...
"Aman, wake up"
Wash face.
Brush teeth.
Tie up hair.
No make up.
T-shirt, weird pants (made by our India seamstress and deemed appropriate exercise wear by cultural standards...)
Walk with Chandrika 2 blocks.... we're both still asleep.
Simon, the stray dog that escorts us about town, spots us and climbs the fence to greet us...
Pretend to meditate.
"Once more.... once more... once more..."
I don't think my guru really knows the meaning of "once more..."
Pretend to meditate... again...
Walk home.
Peanut butter.
"You don't eat enough" (in Malayalam)
"Sorry Thankamma"
Catch an auto.
We get stared at... a lot...
So we stare back.
Feel no more fear in India traffic... almost...
"Turn left.... no wait... the next street.... I think...."
"20 rupees!"
"No. 15."
"Bend your knees... slap your feet... you don't make sound! You're supposed to make sound!"
Te-ah-te... Te-ah-te...
Catch an auto.
"Kamleshveram Street...I think..."
"20 rupees!"
"No. 15."
Shower Shower Shower Shower
Peanut butter.
"You don't eat enough!"
"Sorry Thankamma..."
Malayalam with Professor Nayar
"Malayalam malayalam malayalam..."
Tea with Professor Nayar.
He's a cute old man, and he knows it.
He could talk for a million years on any topic in the world... true story.
"Information information information..."
Coffee coffee coffee
Walk walk walk to the corner store
We get stared at some more....
So we stare back.
Walk walk walk back
"This movie's bad"
"This movie's funny"
"Irrelevant chat chat chat..."
Peanut butter.
"You don't eat enough!"
"Sorry Thankamma..."
"I'd eat grilled cheese" (To myself).
Routine power outage at 9:30.
Bed time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I've been in Kerala for little more than a week now, and thankfully, my body finally seems to be adjusting. I am gladly acclimating to the combination of the ridiculous heat and the constant exertion... exertion from yoga, from bharatnatyam, from walking to and fro... exertion from eating, from talking, from sleeping, you would think from the way we sweat through all of these activities... The heat is not the only variable that I've needed to adjust to... the people (even the Americans I live with)... my lack of knowledge of Trivandrum, and my need for accompanyment to prevent getting lost... my inability to fully communicate with most people I encounter...even the food...(it has become a mission of ours to seek out good, authentic American food... and it is a mission we are dedicated to... Tip: Indian pizza does not taste like American pizza)...Thank God for peanut butter... I don't think I would have eaten at all today if I hadn't had peanut butter... My stomach is homesick... my stomach misses barbecue potato chips, and Coldstone ice cream, and Ramean noodles and cinnamon rolls, and lasagna... my stomach misses pineapple turns out I am allergic to the citric acid of the pineapple core... Isn't it ironic that I have to wait to go back to America to eat pineapple? But I am not about to break out into blisters again, not if I can help it... And while the trip to the hospital was not in a fury of emergency, and in no way traumatizing, it does not need to be repeated... If people stare at the pale American girl on the street too much, imagine how they look when she is in their hospital! Not that I was at all discreet when I realized that down the hall, and beyond the open stairwell, it was raining... Rain! I was eager for a break in the heat, and of course had to release my enthusiasm in an exclamation of "Rain!"... for that, I couldn't blame those who stared... But on the street, no no no, look straight ahead, you're with your wife, stop staring at strange girls... My housemates and I have sat around a number of times, cooking up strategies for embarassing an offender... from defensive stares, to yells of "Naya!" (Dog!)... but it's amusing at least and flattering at most, so it's the least of our problems... At the top of my list would be spending too much money... Everything here seems so cheap: 47 rupees to 1 $... a ride in an auto for about 5 miles is around 15 rs... a glass of musambi juice at a stand is 25 rupees... a ready-made outfit that includes top, pants, and shawl (or in Malayalam: shawl-uh), and tailoring can be as little as 450 rs... these prices can be hard to pass up.... but don't worry, I'm cutting back... certain things, however, are neccessities which must not be foresaken... at least that's what I tell myself... clothes are important because we must dress modestly in respect for the culture and our Program... we must pay the washwoman to do our laundry, because we certainly can't do it... and by "can't" I mean "we would ruin our clothing"... not to mention if Thankamma saw us attempting to do anything for ourselves, she would throw a hairy fit and demand that we hand the task over to her... Lord knows, she has enough to do... after all, she cooks enough for 10 (there are 5 of us), she keeps the chai or tea piping hot, she sweeps and wipes all the floors, she cleans our bathrooms, and basically, she hovers, in hopes of meeting our every want or need... and we love her for it... we love her despite the fact that we cannot understand a word she says, unless Chandrika is blessedly available to translate... and we love her despite the fact that we have to wait until weekend to make the food to our tastes, or do our own chores, lest she take over... speaking of which, it is time for a dinner I will probably not eat... unless it is something I can put peanut butter on :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Finally in India!

Namaste! After a 24 hour journey I finally made it to Trivandum... and after 96 hours of being here I am finally getting to my blog... It is amazing here, so different from anything I have ever experienced. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, the reality of India is like a firework display, a continous burst of amazing, colorful light that inspires awe and curiousity. The people of Kerala are the flame that ignites each firework. They are everywhere... on the traffic-congested street, in the 10 x 10 foot tailor shop, even in their homes, they are mere feet away as I type... everywhere. And they stare at the American girls who are such oddities to them, in their world that is such a circus to us. But with their stares come smiles (if you smile first) and with their smiles usually come questions... or at least strings of Malayalam that my mere two language lessons do not allow me to comprehend... in addition to my lessons in Malayalam, tomorrow I begin my performing arts classes... there are number of performing artforms that the participants can choose from ... I circled my options and finally landed on yoga and bharatanatiam, which is a rhythmic dance form, with lots of feet slapping and clean cut motions...Besides lessons, I do have somewhat of a social life here in this foreign place, consisting thus far of only the members of the household: Amandeep, Kristi and Jean, who are also students, Chandrika, the program monitor, who is also a student but much more advanced, by which I mean she's going for her PhD... I know if she were to read this, she would take it otherwise lol... and Thankamma, who is our cook, native to Kerala and considers herself our mother figure... Kristi however has amended this to our grandmother figure because of the way she watches our intake of food with an eagle eye..."More, more, more" to which we respond, "Madi, madi, madi" ("Enough, enough, enough")... Speaking of which, the food is amazing... I have always been partial to Indian food and the authenticity is exciting, to say the least... unfortunately, the heat and jet-lag has taken somewhat of a physical toll and my stomach has suffered some casualities... limited to queasiness, but is nonetheless frustrating... today was a refreshing change of pace, for I am also partial to desserts, which is apparently not a priority of India cuisine, and with tea, Thankamma served kolam, which is a banana fritter... That was the most I had eaten at one sitting thus far... Tea time is an interesting practice, and Jean and I always have to ask for black tea... in leu of the chai, which is loaded with milk and sugar, or the coffee which is also heaped with sugar to an almost toffee-like taste... the authenticity of my experience does not end at the food, however... another factor that screams India is the heat, and the humidity, and the fact that I have not been completely dry for four days, and I have not been able to wear my hair down in a week! The constant sticky state of my skin is frustrating beyond comparison... Even getting dressed is harder than normal... Each of us is expected to dress modestly- covered from head to toe... and in order to carry this out properly, we went and purchased a few authentic Indian outfits, consisting of pants, tunic and shawl... Customarily these are constructed out of 100% cotton and they do not stretch... and with the humidity... you can imagine... simply, Aman has had to help me pull my tunic over my head... but once on they are a relief to wear, opposed to the rest of my wardrobe... very light and good for the heat, and beautiful... not to mention we attract much less attention from the native population... but regardless, the people are like their climate: warm and we get along well enough to the point that jokes can be traded and understood... like when I told the seamstress to make the neck of my tunic wide because I have a big head, to which I received a smile and a bobble of the head.... It's fascinating: everyone here bobbles their head... in response to anything... I've decided that it means they are listening ... Americans nod as they listen, Indians bobble.... but for now, you can stop nodding as you "listen" (or read) my babbling, and hopefully I will remember/ have the motivation to write again soon... Love to all, Sam