Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving, 26/11, and Mid-stay Orientation update

So the last week has flown by and quite a few things have happened. For one, I had my mid-stay orientation in which the American YES girls staying in Delhi came down for the week-end. Least to say we had a blast. Because of our limited talking, we all took the opportunity to catch up and share our experiences. I actually ended up really enjoying it which I wasn't expecting since the last time I had an orientation, I felt like they were just repeating the same things over again (sorry AFS, just being honest). Anyways, we showed them a little bit of Mumbai, watching the gateway through the bus windows, driving down Marine Drive, going to Juhu beach... Almost the works. Plus I got to do a little bargaining with Sarah in order to buy a bag, which is something I haven't done yet. Shameful, right? But I hope I get more opportunities soon. It's a valuable asset to have.
Now, though, I am missing the rest of Team India dearly. Austin just isn't enough anymore... ahahaha just kidding. I really do miss everyone though. Especially Aru, who is one of the volunteers and is on the board of AFS India. How cool is that? She gets to make suggestions to improve our experience and such, plus she's only 19! And we get along so well ;] Actually Aru was there during my D.C. orientation so we've already gotten to know each other. I think this is another perk that I've been given. Since the YES program is only a few years old, a lot of the alumni are younger and excited to encourage other students. When I go back to U.S. I hope also to take up such a responsibility. Well I don't know about Aru's position, but definitely, working as a volunteer. Along with her were Mayank and Dushyant, both of whom I've known for a while and are also younger college volunteers and two older employees of AFS. It was sad saying good-bye but we'll all see each other again soon.

Thanksgiving in India was slightly more interesting and not just because I had to figure out what to make for my host family. First, I'll backtrack though. On the Wednesday before the holiday, Austin and I were invited for a celebration at the American Consulate here which we agreed to go to. We got there at the end, since we had school to escape from, but there were still turkey sandwiches and pumpkin cupcakes to eat. We got to talk to some of the employees and afterward set out for doughnuts and coffee. I hadn't really been to see much of his side of town so that was nice since I'll be moving there soon. Austin is moving to Bandra, one of my favourite places in Mumbai. But anyways, we had fun, just trotting around and talking.
On Thursday we had a school assembly and it wasn't at all about being thankful. It was instead in remembrance of the 26/11 terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai a year ago and affected the entire city.The assembly consisted of some song performances, a poem reading, and a translation of a passage of the Q'uran. It put me into an interesting mood, one of both sadness and thankfulness. After getting back from school, I took the opportunity to write out my thoughts on Facebook. This was my note:

I don't think many people will read this but that's okay because in the end, this is really for me. You could probably look at this and say I don't know anything. It would be accurate because according to TOK, none of us really do. But to me this is something I am sure of and I feel the need to put it out there, even if you will never absorb it.

I remember 9/11. I remember sitting in front of the TV while getting ready for school, not knowing why two buildings were crumbling or why the newspeople were so shocked. I remember rubbing one girl's back because she was crying and hoping her brother in New York was okay despite the fact that I didn't like her. And I remember what followed. The countless TV shows of psychics who predicted it and the documentaries on those who lived through it. The girl who said she was now scared everytime she heard a plane overhead. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Around this time last year, I was preparing my application to go abroad and India was my top choice. When I saw the attacks on the news, I was stuck in place. The next few days were spent religiously following the news for what was going on. My parents said not to worry and that it probably wouldn't affect me going abroad. But I wasn't worried about that. I was worried about the people. I've never heard a gunshot before and I know even less about hiding in a corner a few meters from a door where someone could kill you. The fact that it took place so far away made it even less realistic in my mind. But I knew it was happening. I know it happened.

So maybe you feel more because you were there and they killed your people in your city. You can play a blame game, we all have, and recite the events over and over in your mind until it becomes a distorted fantasy of violence and terrorism that consumes you with hate for those people. I wouldn't put it against you. 365 days isn't that long when you think about it. But just because your innocence has been broken doesn't mean you should let your impression of all of them change. I know it's the most cliche thing to say but honestly, haven't you changed? You work hard on improving relations but to how much are you working to understand. Your ignorance can be laughed at with the small mistakes you make in every day but when it comes down to it, how much do you decide based on what you haven't experienced? You have met me. Has your perception changed? You might call me a weird American, but do you know Americans? Sometimes I question myself too, do I know America, can I represent America? Well I am myself, that is as close as I can get to representing my country.

You can decide for yourself, you have that ability granted to you. I will remember those who died in such unfortunate circumstances and will be upset that I can't do much to ease anyone's suffering. However shallow it might seem, I know the feeling of loss closely, it is universal and connecting. I will not blame anyone for what has happened. It's already over and done with and the focus should go to the aftermath and toward securing ourselves for the present and future. And since it's the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks to all of my family, both natural and host, as well as my friends for everything that they do. Also for the government for working hard and for those in my community. Thank you. We all go through so much and I'm thankful we're all still together.
An interesting conversation followed between myself and a classmate, but for confidentiality purposes I won't put it up. The note was basically to explain my own feeling on the results of terrorism attacks in no way related to it being because of religion, etc. Just loss and looking to an end to the blinding rage that stops our reasoning. Of course, that's a bit of a utopian ideal but I was thinking of my own classmates' predisposition to those types of feelings ( XD sorry for being wordy). Since I am an exchange student, offering my own views might be interesting to them so I wrote. And even then, the topic had been on my mind for a while, so I wanted to put it down before it went away forever.
In other updates, I saw an elephant on the road today. It kind of made me happy.
And a cow too. He was at the intersection, waiting to cross the street.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Almost First Indian Wedding

Ever since I first saw an Indian wedding in a movie, I've always want to see one in person. SO I was really excited when I was told that a close friend of my host sister's would be getting married this year. I went to her engagement earlier during my stay and in these past few days the wedding happened. Well not just the wedding, as anyone who knows the Indian traditions can tell you. Many ceremonies and gatherings happened starting 5 days before the wedding and I got to even participate in one.
Each Indian family and group has it's own traditions and one that is common is what is called Sangeet (which means music). Basically, it is a reaffirmation that the couple is engaged by an exchanging of rings and they eat cake. There is also a pooja between the groom and the bride's brother. Afterward, there is a performance by the close friends and relatives (and sometimes the bride and groom). I was asked if I wanted to participate and so I said yes, doing 2 dances. Okay I'll back up and explain. The bride and groom employed a choreographer to make a compilation of dances set to Bollywood songs to be performed. There were about 14 or so songs and I learnt the steps to 2 of them while other like my host sister, participated in many. Despite the fact that I wasn't quite sure I knew the steps all the way and ended up messing up the first song, the second song went fine and I was happy.
That was Saturday night and on Monday was the Mehendi party and pooja in the girl's home. There was a DJ, singer, and Indian drummers playing music while the bride and friends/family danced in a circle. Numerous times, people would circle money around the bride's head as a blessing and give it to her. She had already gotten her mehendi done earlier so all the other women were getting it put on. I was waiting for a call from my mom so I left a bit early, after having cake (of course) and but soon got a call form my host mom saying to come back up and see the banglewalla. I was interested and so I went. The banglewalla wouldn't make one for me but I atleast got to see how big clay bangles are made. Basically, the banglewalla had a big stick of clay on which he put the heated painted and after letting it cool, spread it out like a thin stick and then wrapped it into a circle (sorry I don't have pictures).
The next night was the wedding or, as I have mentioned, the almost wedding. No, there wasn't a runaway bride or a secret girlfriend. Instead what happened was that first we missed the entrance of the groom because I had homework to finish so we figured we would go later, which is a shame because I've always wanted to see the groom riding on the horse with the band and everyone dancing around them. So after we were all dressed up, we got there during reception (backwards from American weddings, I know). Everyone was eating or going to congratulate the bride and groom + family up on stage. We had been there for quite a while when I was told that the wedding wasn't going to take place until 1:30. In the morning. Well it just so happened that I of course had school the next day and in no position to stay up late (more on that later).
So we ended up leaving early, not without also going up to congratulate. Despite not seeing the wedding, I had a good time anyway. Of course, I was the only white person there and so there were some awkward moments but at the same time, I loved dressing up in my new kagra choli.

As I mentioned before, at this point in time I'm in no position to stay up late. You must be thinking for obvious reasons since staying up late means lack of sleep and you would be correct. In America, I rarely stayed up past 12 and still managed to get about 7 or more hours of sleep; if I go below that and have to go for school, I end up falling asleep in class. Due to stress because of projects and various other distractions, I've been staying up rather late recently, sometimes til 2 which has caused my work and concentration to suffer. Now, you must be thinking, why does it matter if you fall asleep in class there? You're not completing the program with the kids.
That's true but I'm still a student of the school and, since it's an international school, I can still obtain credits for graduation by attending. But you can't really pass a class unless you put in effort. Another reason for my regard towards my classes is my own respect for my school and fellow students. I'm attending one of the best schools in Bombay, not to mention India, on a scholarship. Plus how can I relate to my classmates if I'm not doing the work with them and struggling on common ground? I would rather be respected for trying and failing to keep up with my friends and classmates than to attend class and not do the work at all. Plus, all of my teachers are doing a big thing by giving me advice and helping me with time management to do my work and possibly change my schedule so that I won't be too stress with experiencing culture and keeping up with work. That's a big thing to have while on an exchange and I know it's a rare opportunity. Which is why I'm making the most of it :D
In other news, I recently switched my service project. Although I loved the kids that I went to see every week, I decided to move to a new project that is a Habitat for Humanity club at school. Being world renowned, I think it would be a good way to get involved and change some lives. Just your average service project aims :]
My dance class is going well. I started learning choreography last week or so but now I have a break since my teacher is going to be in her hometown of Agra for about 20 days for a wedding and some performances. While I'm a bit put out, it isn't too bad considering what happened last class. You see, I learned out to go around in a circle on my knees but because I'm not used to it, my knees got skinned up. Consequently we had to put antiseptic and some indian medicine on it. But somehow, the wound got infected and my knees feel super sore so it is a good thing I don't have class. Hopefully, it will get better soon.
Tomorrow's my mid-stay orientation here in Mumbai for the YES kids. Hope it goes well :] I'll update when it's over.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


So it's been a crazy week as we prepared for annual day. I know I've already explained a bit about it but basically Annual Day happens once a year and all classes participate in this huge production. Usually classes preform skits, dances, and songs but we actually put on a play this year. Well more like a musical. Anyway, class 11, my class did both an acting/speaking part and a dancing one. I was in the dancing section and it went well. No mess-ups, we just had to be scary zombie type things at the start and then turn into awake Mumbaikars dedicated to making a change in our environment. We're at the end of the show so it goes right into the finale where all the classes come on stage and we dance and clap.
You must be wondering who the strange looking guy next to me, my friend, and the other exchange student is. Well, he's none other than the famous bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan! His kids go to our school so he came to see the annual day performance. Right after it was over, we rushed into the audience to get the photo. The lady is somebody just getting his autograph so don't mind her. :]
Then today I went to a friend's house that was in the countryside for the day just to have fun. She's actually a close friend of my host sister's who goes to my school and all of their other close friends came along as well plus parents. It turned out to be a lot of fun! We played throw ball (like volleyball except you catch then throw) and football (soccer). They also played some poker and we generally just sat and talked, which is fun in it's own way. The house was big and very pretty, rustic type architecture that you would never find in Mumbai so it did provide a nice escape. Hopefully we can go for something like it again :]
That's all for now. I'll update again soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A quick point

I know I just posted yesterday but since then, I have something that needs to be said for everyone. Being an exchange student is hard and at times you face miscommunication and it disrupts your life for a while. I don't want to go into too much detail but this happened to me with my host mom and she heard a few things and I even got mixed signals.

Host families adjust a lot to you being in their home and you should always recognize that. But even so, know that you have adjusted so much to their lifestyle. Speaking out is also better or as my host mom says "be free with the family". If you have any concerns let them know immediately, even if it's not your nature around those you don't know so well. I know I'm the more quiet type unless I'm around friends but still, speak your mind. And lastly, be more realistic about your situation. If you feel you haven't been getting out enough, don't automatically blame your host family. Look at what's been going on around you while yu've been there, at events, etc. and see if there's been time for those things. Sometimes there wasn't at all. Maybe you did. But in any case, if you want to go out, ask your family to take you somewhere and stick to it. My German friend and I agree, in India especially, if you want something , it is you who has to make it happen. I wanted a Hindi class in school so I went to my coordinator multiple times. I wanted to take a dance class so I looked through the internet and newspaper to find one. In the end, you're experience depends on you and your perseverance so make the most of it. I know I have changed a bit over the past 3 months and I'm glad that I have developed this sense of will and hope it continues to grow.

So everybody, don't worry, everything's fine but think about what I've said. So many things affect you while you're in your host country but never be pessimisstic that it won't change. You yourself have to work hard and deal with it by yourself. AFS is there but it ultimately depends on you. So be strong, work hard, and put your heart into it. In the end, that's all that is expected of you.