"Some rickshaw drivers are nice. And some are mean. I guess just like real people. Rickshaws are real people!" - logic by Lauren Hayes
Auto rickshaws are our main (read: only) source of transportation in Pune so getting anywhere is always an adventure. I’ve had many very positive rickshaw experiences (see above in the fancy yellow rick), but today was not one of them.
Lauren, Amie, and I were trying to get a ride from MG Road to our Bharat Natayam lesson. We bargained a guy down from meter+50 to meter+20 and got in. Less than 10 minutes into the ride, Amie noticed that the meter had been set improperly and was ticking away at about twice the normal rate. For whatever reason, I was not in the mood to put up with being cheated and told the rickshaw “Bas! Stop!” hoping we could get out and catch another, fairer rick. The driver ignored me and kept driving, so I said, in my best broken English, "Cheater! Cheater! Broken Meter!" The unintentional rhyme of course made us all crack up, completely ruining my intimidating persona :) Eventually the guy did stop and our next rickshaw was very nice and took us straight to class with no funny business. Just another day in India.
This week has been crazy and next week is only going to be crazier! Wednesday was my last day to go to Bopkhel for my class, and the women surprised me by all wearing their uniform saris for their Self-Help Groups, making a delicious potluck lunch, and giving Jitendra (my interpretor) and I each small gifts to say thank you. They told me they were all going to come to America for my wedding, haha (which is the biggest event in Indian life). It was incredible to find that I mean to them at least a small part of what they mean to me :)
(they don’t smile in pictures, but I swear they really do like me)
We just found out our visit to the Pataleshwar Caves and the Tambat Ali Copper utensil makers neighborhood that was scheduled for today was canceled/postponed :( This was the outing we were all looking forward to the most so hopefully it gets rescheduled, but I guess that means less distractions from finishing my two GIANT papers and accompanying presentations that are due Monday.
Safe in Pune, but praying for all those affected in Mumbai.
Indian school children have a way of making you feel like literally the coolest person on the planet. Today I tagged along with an NGO called CYDA (Centre for Youth Development Activities) to a school on the outskirts of Pune. CYDA does 6 day, two hour sessions to educate 9th and 11th standard students about communication, goal setting, values, gender, reproductive health and HIV and have conducted these sessions in over 150 schools so far. They were gracious enough to let me hang out at a session for a day and observe.
When we arrived at the school, I felt like all four of the Beatles and Lady Gaga rolled into one - the kids were screaming and waving and giggling and it was insane. They had to shut me in another room so the kids would stop trying to sneak a peek at me and go to class. Because the area is so remote, to them I was a celebrity just because I was white. So I basically had the best ego boost ever and got to hang out with some pretty cool 13-year-olds :)
My first Indian wedding was today and it was so amazing! We finagled an invite because our friend Aditya was the best man and the bride and groom are the sweetest people ever. The groom, Keran, said he couldn’t be happy if his best friend wasn’t happy, so of course Aditya could invite us :) And when we were there, everyone in the wedding party spoke to us and was incredibly hospitable and kind.
Our host mom, Swapna, helped us wrap our saris and we arrived at the wedding around 9 am. It was very different than Western/Christian weddings - many people were standing up, talking, and walking in and out as the actual ceremony goes on. It’s not rude, it’s just India. The couple walks around a fire seven times, sits down, then each garlands the other with flowers. Part of the ceremony involves everyone throwing rice at the couple; the rice is supposed to be holy, so it symbolizes holiness raining down on the newlyweds.
The happy couple!
Education in India is equally, if not more, competitive than America’s system just in a different way. In India the system is as follows, no amount of schooling is compulsory, and to apply to junior college, university, graduate school, etc, “marks” on a single final exam are the only criterion rather than grades, involvement, curriculum, etc. Which might seem easier, but that puts an undue amount of importance on a single standardized test, while competing with millions of other applicants.
KDG = Kindergarten
I-X Standard = Elementary, Middle, and High School
XI and XII Standard (Junior College) = 1st two years of undergrad. One can study either Arts, Sciences, or Commerce
University (3 years) = College, this is when you choose a specialization/major
A lot of students I know talk about going to the States for graduate or professional school and I originally assumed it was because American universities were just better. In fact, it was explained to me by a girl about to finish medical school, it’s because they feel it is easier to get into graduate school in America than it is to be accepted to an Indian school, because there is so much competition here.
Three times a week, I go into a village near Forbes Marshall called Bopkhel where I teach a basic computers/English skills class to a group of 8 women. The women were originally members of the Forbes-led Self Help Groups (a microfinance initiative) and are currently being trained as Community Health Workers for their village.
These women are each amazing and have been incredibly welcoming to me. After the lesson, we always have chai and ask each other questions about our respective cultures. Today I was so proud: we’ve covered the basics of Word, and I had only briefly touched on Excel sheets, but when I arrived at Mohini’s home she showed me a perfect spread sheet she had made based on some data they collected from the Self Help Groups. It was really encouraging to see the progress she had made from not being comfortable using a mouse to creating a document on her own. It’s amazing to see positive change, however small, in the short time I’m here :)
Our weekend trip to Agra and Delhi was AWESOME. Long and tiring but awesome. We left Friday night, flew to Delhi, drove to Agra Saturday morning, where we saw the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife who died in childbirth, taking 22 years to construct. Basically the ultimate symbol of eternal love. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and definitely lived up to the hype.
On Sunday we drove back to Delhi, were we saw the India Gate, the President’s house, the Parliament Building, the Red Fort, and the Lotus Temple (my favorite!) all in one day. We were exhausted (and some of us got Delhi Belly) by the end of it, but it was an amazing journey with Team Taj :)
Last night, around 11pm, Shivani comes into my room and says there is a special Indian flower that we all need to go see. At first we were dragging our feet, but it was actually really cool. These beautiful white flowers only bloom once every year, for an hour. When we arrived there was a small crowd of people gathered to see the floral phenomenon.
Last night (Saturday), we went to watch Palkhi pass through Pune. Palkhi is an almost 800-year-old religious tradition in which hundreds of thousands of people walk in a giant procession over many days to converge at Pandharpur, a sacred pilgrimage site on the Deccan Plateau. On their way, the warkaris (travelers) pass through Pune. We had an amazing view of the procession from a second story balcony of a restaurant, probably one of the most incredible things I’ve witnessed in my life. It is an exciting event even for those not participating, as the city effectively shuts down for the weekend and everyone comes out to watch the procession.
My favorite aspect of Hinduism is the lack of cynicism. Here is a group of people who walk over 100 miles, dancing, singing and chanting for their religion, and everyone celebrates alongside them, even if they don’t worship in the same way. The warkaris’ zeal doesn’t make anyone else uncomfortable. It’s very refreshing :)
Victoria, Lauren, and I started our Bharatanatyam class today. Bharatanatyam is a classical South Indian dance style, and let me tell you… we are going to be so good at it!
This is basically us in the picture. That good.
Communication difficulties are definitely the most challenging aspect of India for me; with my translators, the Community Health Workers, and with people back home. Every week day, I teach a small group of Community Health Workers basic English and computer skills, and it’s hard not to think, as Max put it, how much more efficient it would be if they just hired someone who could speak Marathi to do it instead. It’s easy to feel useless knowing that your interpreter could be doing your job faster and easier. Then for those in America, it’s hard to keep in touch because of a time difference that has them sleeping for most of the time I’m awake. Communication is really tough.