Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Beginning

My school here in the U.S. is about to start again and it's the year anniversary of when I first went to Mumbai. It feels like it's been so long and then I remembered I never finished this blog. Well where I left off was the end of school. On our last night, Austin and my friends took us to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants to take pictures and talk. Although they had exams, they were happy to say goodbye to us one last time. My friend Sanjana gave us both photo books with pictures throughout our stay and everyone wrote comments in them. That night, I talked with my host mom and sister and we said our goodbyes since my host sister would not see me off that morning.

The next day, we boarded the planes at around nine to Delhi. Sanjana, Sasha, and Adhishree saw us off at the airport as well as Austin's host mom (mine had already left when they came). The plane ride to Delhi went fine and not long at all. We were picked up by AFS staff at the airport and took a cab to our hotel, which was very nice. The thing about Delhi is that... it's very spread out and there are wide open roads. After living in Mumbai, it was a bit disorienting and Austin and I agreed that we liked Mumbai better. I don't know why but I just didn't get Delhi. I might have to go back again to visit that city because it just didn't make sense.

We re-united with the Delhi girls and became Team India again. It was great to see them and see how we all had been changed. this was by far the best orientation yet. Everything was just about talking about things in the community and spreading your knowledge. The rest of the time, we just goofed around. We got to go to the Taj Mahel, which was AMAZING, and took a side trip to the birth place of Lord Krishna. The best part of that was riding in these cycle rickshaws down these narrow back roads to a shrine. There were sewers on both sides of it with sometimes wild hogs in them. This one temple dedicated to Krishna was decorated with beautiful flowers everywhere, and I was told that, people will get their name put on a list for years in advance just so that they can decorate this temple in the months leading up to Krishna's birthday.

Of course we are just a bit silly. It is surprising we all became so close as a group of exchange students...

This is Austin and I waiting for our delayed flights out of D.C. Our orientation there went pretty well too, although we didn't meet the president. Instead we met with the assistants to our senators to talk about international relations and to ask them to keep funding the YES program. Thanks to Colorado, we also got free passes to see the House of Representatives, which was cool to see. We saw the Department of State as well and talked with one of it's main women (I'm sorry I'm forgetting your name right now!) Lastly, we made a toast to the future of YES and left on our way.

Now, I've been very busy this summer. I started work, literally the week after I returned home and there wasn't an end to it. I saw my friends quite a bit, my grandma came to visit, and we now have a new member of our family. Her name is Bennasee and she is from Thailand. She will be spending a year here in the U.S. under the YES scholarship. She's only been here about a week but so far, we're getting along great. In that way, it is a new beginning because now I am helping someone on their own journey, while my understanding of my own deepens. I am still in contact with my Indian friends although it is difficult being so far away from them and what with their aggressive school work. But I hope that I've made friends for life and I know these memories will stay with me forever.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Saying Good-bye

So, this won't be my last post because I haven't told you about Elephanta caves and everything else that happened this past week but I thought that since it's my last day, I should put up a little on looking back at my year.

It's true when they say that you will barely realize that the end is coming. It was certainly hard for me too. Thinking back, I can hardly believe that tomorrow morning I'm going to Delhi, leaving everything here behind. And there's nothing I can do. I believe that leaving home is the easy part of an exchange. I mean, it's only 10 months and you can always return early if that's needed. But leaving your host country is a bit difficult. For me, it's scary to think how I'll never have this again. Well, I could live in a different country but I won't have my host family and my friends won't be able to hang out with me in the same way. I feel like I'll become an outsider again. And... I don't want that. I am so connected to Mumbai and I want to take in every part of it. I don't think my exchange was like most peoples (although that is a debate in itself since not everyone has the same experience). But I still have lived in Mumbai and I still love Mumbai and the people I have met (I cannot claim to love all Indian people because that would make everything so generalized and I don't want to lie and said I had access to every level of society).

It's also scary to leave these wonderful people. They have become your advisers and loved ones during the entire year and then suddenly, you can grab a taxi to see them and get coffee. I pray I will see them again, attend maybe one or more of their weddings, maybe run into them in the U.S. But there is always an option of that not happening.

In the end, I would like to say that despite whatever you have read on my blog or anyone elses, it is good to know that your own exchange will not be the same. I made this mistake during mine and became disappointed before I learned how blessed I was with the people around me. But that revelation took a while and valuable time was wasted on not keeping my eyes open to everything. I'm happy with my exchange now but if you are one of the lucky people going on an exchange my advice is: Prepare to be surprised. There's nothing you can do besides this. Maybe you'll be placed in a totally different strata of society or your family has different religious views than your own. You can't control it. When I first got accepted into AFS, I was supposed to be going to a small city in Gujarat but after getting my scholarship, I was put in Mumbai. There is no way I can say that your exchange will be different or similar but I can say, your exchange is what you make it. AFS is right about many things but only you know yourself and you are capable of pushing yourself past that previous limit to find a whole new one and break it down as well. Life is tough and an exchange does not make that any better, but you can decide what your reaction is and, hopefully, you'll come out stronger and better than before.

The world is a big messy place, and it looks even worse when no one is really there to guide you. So it's up to you to take the broom yourself and start sweeping, and that first swish will welcome a whole lot of other sweepers to share the task.

A bad metaphor, I know, but I'm happy right now and I love the people I met this year. I want to never forget what I accomplished and how much I grew. But there's so much left to discover, I want to press fast forward. Unfortunately, I still have my 12th grade left. Oh well. I guess it's back to work.

Until then, good luck :]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Farewell DAIS...

Scary right? Ahahaha that's my English HL batch that I've been with who threw a farewell party for me last Thursday (some of them wanted to bunk/ditch Friday so we had to re-schedule). As I mentioned before, Austin and my last day of school was on Friday and so many small class parties were held in our honor. For English we had a tea party not unlike what we had done while studying Alice in Wonderland. Of course, to cover up the obvious farewell we decided we would say we were having an in-depth conversation on the use of food in Miss Julie. This actually didn't matter in the end as we had it after school so none of the heads could tell us off for doing it. In Austin's class, his teacher had made them cake and they brought in coke. I think mine was honestly cooler since we all had masks and headgear to wear.

We all brought in food. I brought donuts which my teacher had to hide in a FedEx box so that the other teachers didn't steal them. Iced tea packets, chips, and cookies were brought by everyone else and we even had a tea pot to go with.

My English teacher. She's so cool. And she's Parsi, which is one of those secret society type people who have a shrinking society because they can only marry within the Parsi to still be Parsi... This has something to do with how, when the Paris came to Mumbai, the king let them come but told them only if they didn't marry out of their society. Anyways, at the end of the party, she gifted me 5 pairs of gorgeous earrings and I was so surprised! Also, today, she gave my host sister my IOP grade and gifted me a glossy, illustrated version of Paradise Lost, which they'll be studying next year! And guess what my score was? 26/30! It made me happy.

This was on Friday during lunch when they pulled out a cake for Austin and I to cut and talk a bit about our year. Although the student council were trying to keep it a secret, Austin and I found out already about the cake. The only sad part was that they spelled my name incorrectly on the cake... But oh well. We both thanked everyone for letting us go to the school and then I cut the cake, feeding a bit to Austin before smearing frosting all over his face. Of course he retaliated but shoving the piece into my mouth but I caused much more damage. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this...

Excepting one person in this photo, these are all of our closest friends at school. It was so much fun spending the year with them and maybe in the future, we'll meet again.

On Tuesday, I went to Bandra to meet up with Austin and two of our other friends in order to watch a movie and make a desert Austin calls Stockton Bars. And oh my gosh is it good. First though what I learned is that if you buy a return ticket on the sealink, the taxi driver is supposed to wait and take you back. I think this is a very silly rule because honestly, who would take the sealink for a tiny little chore and immediately come back? That's a waste of money! The reason I'm complaining is that living in a city, a lot of money is used for travelling and for me to get to Bandra I have to take a taxi. Now, one-way on the sealink is only rs. 50 and return is rs. 75. Which sounds better to you? Obviously I want to buy a return because it already costs me rs. 200 to go from town to Bandra and another rs. 200 to come back. Atleast if I buy return , I'm saving a little money.

When I arrived, Austin and I immediately caught a rick and went to Hill Road to buy some groceries. Stockton bars are made with graham crackers, ground coconut, chocolate chips, and, I think, condensed milk. You crush up the graham crackers (there are no graham crackers in India so we used these other ones) and then put them on the base of a glass pan. From there you can either layer the chocolate in the middle and coconut on top or the other way around. Because the chocolate chips had melted on their way to India, we had to have Austin's cook grind the solid blocks of chocolate into nice shavings. After making the middle layer, you cover it with the condensed milk and then do it again after you make the top layer. Each ingredient should be separate of the other and should not mix.

While it was cooking, we watched a bit of The Proposal since Jennifer's Body wasn't working and one of our friends showed up then. It turned out delicious despite Austin's doubts and I went home very happy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sari :D

So because Austin's lazy, I still don't have the pictures from our last day of school, hanging out, and going to the Elephanta Caves. So, you all will have to wait a bit. Until then, you get to hear about my sari!

I'll explain from the beginning. This weekend was spent going through all of my papers from school and... throwing them away. I had a foot or more of paper when I was done and I gave it to my maid for recycling (she needed to make two trips...). But really, do you think I would keep all of those papers? In the U.S. I'm a bit of a pack rat and normally go through all of my things to see if there's anything I should keep. But not this time. As an exchange student, you can't afford (literally) to keep anything of little consequence when you're leaving. So gone was all my much suffered through notes and sheets which lead way to a sense of relief. I wish my friends the best of luck who are in IB but it was a very stressful year for me and I don't wish to repeat this academic aspect (although I did pass math! I got about a C which is fine with me considering...).

Anyway back to the sari. So on Sunday, because I had finished everything on Saturday, I had nothing really to do but was keen on some point trying on my sari and finding out how to fold it. This is very important because I didn't want to buy a sari and then look incompetent while trying to put it on in the U.S. My host mom though doesn't wear saris, only salwar kameez, because she finds it very difficult to put it on everyday and had enough of that in her younger days when it was required for female lawyers to wear saris in black and white. She also admitted to not being the best anymore at folding one so it was a blessing when her parents (my host nana and nani) came to visit Sunday afternoon. So about 15 minutes after they came, Nani came into the room I sleep in with my host mom to help me put it on. First I changed into the petticoat and blouse in the bathroom (they had to help with the buttons at the back) and then it commenced.

Getting into a sari can be very difficult, especially by yourself. You start by tucking in the end of the sari into the front of the petticoat (make sure you're tucking in the right end. The palu is the end that hangs off your shoulder and has all the embroidery while the end has nothing at all. From there you wrap the sari around you once, tucking it into the petticoat all the way. This is when it gets hard. You see, saris don't look long until you have the entire thing in your hands. And it's long. You start by taking the palu and deciding how long you want it down your back (or in front of you; there are two styles, Bengali and Gujarati: Bengali has the palu down the back and Gujarati puts the palu in the front. The Gujarati looks weird to me because I personally like the Bengali, but Gujarati is good if you wish to show off the design on your palu. It makes sense but still) and keep it on your shoulder while you do the next few steps. After you have decided this, make sure you haven't wrapped the sari around your ankles or flipped it around in the process. It is also good at this point to safety pin your palu to your blouse so that it doesn't move. Also it should be noted that Bengali palus go on your left shoulder and the folds also face the left (see picture). Now, you tuck in the palu where it is close to your petticoat and make it meet with the tucked in end at the front of your sari. You will now have a loop of fabric in front of you and you should take the right side of the loop closest to your body in your right hand. Grasp it so that the fabric is between your pointer and middle finger and between your thumb and fore finger (sorry, it's complicated). You then make the folds by inserting the fabric back and forth between the fingers mentioned (I'm having a hard time describing this. If you can imagine an air hockey game in which the puck is the fabric and the two players are your fingers, then I guess that helps). Just make sure you keep a good grip on the folds you have made so that it doesn't fall and your hard work is for nothing.

After you're finished making the folds, tuck them into the front of your sari/petticoat and make sure that all the folds are of equal length. Check to make sure this in general applies to your sari because, although it is usually the same color, it's awkward to see the petticoat underneath. If you find your work satisfactory, safety pin the folds to the petticoat from the inside so that is down unravel while you are walking (this is slightly more awkward...). Then voila! You're finished. I love saris and, although some of the current trends I don't agree with, they're a beautiful garment. It's funny but I have a picture of me when I was younger in girl scouts wearing some long piece of cloth wrapped around my like a sari for international dress day. It was quite a shock to find last year but makes me happy. Who knew that tying a girl up in yards of fabric and then throwing it around her shoulder actually looked good? I know buying a sari is not exactly practical since I am going back to U.S. (and even those other outfits) but I bet I can wear it to some weddings or even prom if I want to take the risk. I love it either way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Parivar aur Doston

So I promised another blog post and tada! Here it is. This one's theme is family and friends. I guess you can guess I'm gonna talk about the differences and similarities, which is true! But gosh, there seems to be so much to discuss! Let's get started...

Okay so this is my current host sister (we're practically the same age but she'll be 18 in 2 weeks). I unfortunately don't have a picture with my host mom or dada or else I would also put that up. Well as I think I mentioned, she's Head Girl at our school and has tons of work since she's doing Math, Physics, and Chem HL plus DAIMUN, Paigaam, Student council, etc. so we don't hang out often. But we do have a class together so that's nice. She's actually a US citizen since she was born there but is studying here with the family while her dad works in the US. There's actually a lot of kids at my school who are born in other countries but then their families move back. Anyway, back to family. So basically, everyday after school is spent in our rooms because she eats dinner between 5 and 6. I got used to eating after 8 (the Indian standard actually) so we eat separately. My host mom eats around these times, I actually don't know specifically when...

I guess an interesting thing about this host family is that despite living in US for so many years, the family is very religious. Well not very but they do prayers everyday, lighting the candles, and sitting in front of the temple. Throughout the day my host mom will carry a clicker around with her and from what I can tell, this is for her to do chants and such in her head. I'm not sure why the counter needs to be there but it is. My host sister is also very involved with this; she herself does much of the prayers and such in the morning and at night. While I was with my host family in Lonavla, it was the second Navratri, which is more of a prayer holiday and doesn't contain the dancing like the first one. They let me sit in while they did pooja and aarti, singing devotional songs for about 30 minutes. It was very interesting to see since my first host family hadn't done that much but I'll get to that in a bit. My family in US is not that religious and I was always interested in this aspect of Indian culture so it's nice to see it.

I have actually been sleeping in my host mom's room with her since I got here except for a few times when my host dada has been out of town. Sharing a room here isn't that un-common due to the lack of space and price of property. Of course, the upper classes usually do have separate rooms for everyone but I know one of my friends does share with her younger brother so it's not that different. In the US I rarely slept with others unless it was at a sleepover. Now, it's like if I'm on a trip or at home, I always slept with others. Now because my dada is in Spain until I leave, I have to sleep alone and it's kind of weird. I mean, I can stay up for how long I want to and use the computer for homework (except the internet is shut off). It's... weird. I mean going from sleeping alone most of the time to usually with others around you makes you kind of lonely. I never thought I would feel this way but it has happened. So a warning! You might be sleeping in a room with someone else! :p ahahahah

So this was my second host family although this picture is missing two people, the older sister and their grandfather. I actually went over to their house the other night for a final goodbye, and we all had dinner together (the 6 of us!). Although I had some problems coming in and especially during those first five months, we all had a great time together and I had a long chat with the mother. Our conversation was mainly about my experience and the culture and religion in India and other places. She wanted to know how it was at my current host family and what I did everyday. She was surprised that I didn't go out with Ambika often but she knew that that family is more education based. I told her how they pray everyday and how it was different since at their house, I never saw them do any prayers except at Diwali. She then explained to me how it was for a variety of reasons, that the dada in this family did not want prayers always taking place, he was not very religious and would prefer for her to feed him first and then do prayers (she's a housewife). This really surprised me because I hadn't thought before that maybe the dada hadn't been religious. She also told me that it was the opposite from her whose family is very religious and who often go on pilgrimage to a temple during the year (she is only able to go once). It actually explained quite a bit and I'm happy to have learned these things about this family before I left.

The older sister Jheal was also there when I visited so I got to eat dinner with all 5 of them, which rarely ever occured since we were all busy usually. When I had just arrived they practically fed me to death since they made they gigantic sandwiches and then decided to make waffles and put ice cream on top as well as they had just gotten a waffle maker. Jheal and the mom made dinner since the cook had gone on holiday or something and they made baked bean soup and toast with cream of mushroom, cheese, and olives on top. It actually tastes better then it sounds. After dinner, I gave them a card and a framed photo of Juhi and I. But of course, that isn't the end to the presents. My parents back home will be sending things after I leave, which is nice because I have no idea what I would get them from here! I slept in Juhi's room for the last time and went with her to school in the morning. It was sad to say goodbye but I hope to visit them in the future and they want to see me too.

This was from my birthday. From left: Akanksha (Sasha, my "mom"), me, Srushti (my "sister"), and Sanjana (my... really really good selective sadistic friend :p). They're so pretty! Sandra, the German girl, and I have both decided that Indians are some of the most beautiful women in the world. The guys... are okay (ahahahahhaha).

So this was at the 12ths Farewell. They don't really have a Prom here but this is practically the same thing. The 11th graders are given a budget and have to plan the whole thing, from the theme to catering to the entertainment. This is a good thing in some cases since you get student input but it must suck when they don't plan anything...
Our school uniform! It's Austin, Juhi, and I.

Our pool party farewell party at Austin's apartment. We had so much fun just swimming and eating pizza with each other. It's actually not common for Indians to go swimming this way, in fact many of out friends needed swim suits since they hadn't brought one. They mostly wear one pieces and I was the only one wearing a bikini (there was no way I was going to wear my Indian swimsuit).

This is Austin and I with our Hindi teacher, Miss Singhal. She invited us for dinner for one night and we had a good time talking about India and such.

Today was my last day of school (05/21/10) but I'll post about that later when I get the photos.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This? Oh it's natural...

So, I found some of these pictures taken throughout my year that are pretty distinctly "Indian". Enjoy :]

Something pretty typical here in India: this was taken at the Indian derby at the drinks counter. Basically what you're seeing is a bunch of people pushing their way through to get their drinks and get out. Someone once described it to me as a full-body massage. I, on the other hand, prefer to get in and out as quickly as possibly. I've never been robbed but still, it can get kind of sketchy, especially when you ride trains in these conditions (I believe I've mentioned this before in an early blog about riding trains...) In any case, it's just one of those "Indian" things.

Ah, this was at the Kala Ghoda festival. Basically an art and NGO (Non-Government Organization aka Charities) festival with various stalls and programs going on. We were lucky that on the day we chose to go, there was a Bharatnatyam performance and this is one of the pictures from it. It's a truly beautiful form of dance and if you've never heard of it, I suggest going to youtube and checking it out. In this dance sequence, the girls stand on this clay jars, balancing and dancing at the same time. Each dance has a specific meaning or story. The ones we got to see were about creation, Lord Ganesh, etc.

Oh the dhobi ghat! I've been here twice and it's amazing. Dhobi means washerman (dhona: to wash) and here is where people from all over Mumbai send their laundry every week to be washed, dried and ironed.

This was from my Christmas trip to Gujarat in a catholic church. As you can guess, this was the nativity scene. I have never seen a more colorful or ecstatic Christmas like the ones Indian's offer. I should also note that Indians treat churches the same way as temples: you take your shoes off at the door and make a prayer when you enter before the altar before looking around.

You've probably heard the cliches and I've probably mentioned before how many cows you see in India. And it's no joke as you can tell. Being a metropolitan city, Mumbai doesn't have as many roaming it's streets as a town like Baroda does but there are still many. And a scene like the one above isn't uncommon. It all makes the day a bit brighter.

I guess... these are just more things I love about India and Mumbai.
[16 days til Delhi]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Some food and recent pictures

A demolished dinner of pav bhaji
Masala soda: an... acquired taste
Trying on saris: this isn't the one I got though
The sari shop. And this was only one wall
Gulab jamun with ice cream: Heaven!
(this added to be added separately because blogger messed up somehow with my html. oh well)

20 days? Nahi!

It's a very scary thought for all exchange students and that is: the end. To be perfectly honest, I'm quite scared. I keep wondering how things are going to be when I get back, hoping I’ve bought presents for everyone, that people will come to my welcome back picnic, etc. etc. etc. But what I’m most scared about is the leaving behind part. It’s all very easy to leave your home country because you know in 10 months you’ll be back with the family and friends who love you. But what’s difficult is leaving behind your new family, the new mother, father, grandparents, what-have-you that have become your world. The aspect of loss kind of gets to you. You’ve had so many great memories but suddenly, they will have to end, and you find that you’ll probably never be able to have this ever again. This has been what has occurred in my mind the past couple of weeks as my time in India becomes shorter and shorter. But as the international president of AFS, Tachi, said, this really isn’t the end of a journey, but the beginning.

Eedar Oodar

So the past weekends I have been buying presents for people. This is a very difficult thing to do because it can be hard to pick things out for people. For one, you have to remember EVERYBODY back in the U.S. and then their tastes and try to find something suitably within your budget as well as something that kind of represents your host country. It’s… tiring. Austin and I have been rushing around (well I guess it’s more like I drag Austin around…) to shop for things. We’ve hit Bandra (Linking Road and Hill Road), Colaba Causeway, and various other places in search of gifts.

Since I have a lot of girl friends I got mainly things like scarves, jewelry, some tops, really simple things. For my dad’s coffee shop I got one of those toy auto rickshaws despite its semi-clichĂ©-ness. Of course, I can’t deny the fact that I bought myself a few things. This includes some awesome puffy white pants, a sari, and some movies. Actually there is probably a bit more I got but oh well, I don’t remember now.

The thing I most excited about is the sari because, well despite already having one in the U.S. that my dad had bought me when he came two years ago, I get to have this one done professionally. I didn’t get to put it up when it happened so as not to ruin the surprise but I did buy my mom a sari earlier this year as a Christmas present (and I guess late birthday because I didn’t send her anything then…). Considering how cheap that sari had been (something like rs.1200-1800 for the sari, about rs. 300 for the blouse and petticoat, and approx. rs. 500 for the tailoring), I wanted to get one done for myself. Now I guess if you want to travel to India this would be a bit difficult to do unless you’re spending more than a week in one place and you know where a good tailor is. But I do suggest it because the price is so cheap here for these things. Even dry cleaning is relatively cheap. I have sent a kurta from a set of mine and the cost is less than rs. 300, which is about $8.

Oh but you must be wondering about the act of buying a sari. Well I should first start off by saying that Indians’ hospitality is quite well seen here. Like most of the street shopping in India, you yourself never go through the clothes, but instead they are pulled out and laid out before you. At first, it’s really strange because you know what you like and you just want to do it yourself plus they just keep pulling out one right after another, some in styles you definitely don’t like. It can also be frustrating when, once you’ve found something, they keep on pulling items out, or you decide you actually don’t like anything and they have to now put everything back on the shelves. I feel really bad at these moments but it really gives one insight into the American personality. Though as I mentioned, I’m now used to it and sometimes it does serve a quite useful feature because they know where to find the right products so you’re not running around. Also, many (if not all) will ask if you want some refreshment in the form of chai, coke, or any other beverage at their disposal. Anyway, back to the sari. Austin likes to joke that this is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever bought here and it’s true my decision making was quite fast since I already had an idea in my mind. Otherwise, I’m a typical girl, debating over the color, style, etc. and having to go to quite a few other places before finding exactly what I want. Because I already had one blue kagra choli that is extremely fancy I couldn’t get a blue sari and I don’t look good in yellow or orange nor do I extremely like purple, I decided to look only at red and green saris. Although really maybe I should have looked at green since that sari in U.S. is red… whatever, I already got mine so it doesn’t matter.

My budget was under rs. 3000, so that automatically ruled out some. Eventually I took a red sari with a black border. Another thing about choosing a sari is that they will test drape it around you so that you can see how it looks on yourself. They do this by wrapping the sari around your waist once, making the six or so folds, and tying an elastic black belt with Velcro around so that it doesn’t fall and then pulling it over your shoulder for the whole look. This really does help with the visualization. See the picture to get a good idea. The sari ended up being rs. 2400, a nice price. Later in the day we went to a color matching center, which is just what it sounds like. You go there with the sari and the blouse material (which is attached to the sari originally and is cut off by the sari shop employees to take to a tailor) and look at the color you wish you go under the blouse material and for your petticoat. The reason you need it for the blouse is because, well if the sari material ends up being see-through, you don’t want to expose anything! The same thing is with the petticoat. The petticoat helps to give a definite shape for the sari and keep everything in place. In some cases, the tag for the petticoat is very humorous, as the one for my mom’s petticoat read out “Specialist in Fish Cut Crap, A Line, Bizzy Lizzy”. I’m sure this means something in Indian tailor-jargon but it just made me laugh.

Another unique place we went was Chiminlal’s, a stationary store with so many nice paper products. I got some nice cards to write thank you letters to people here, a bangle box for myself, and some other tiny presents for people in US. I wish I could’ve gotten a packet of stationary but I know myself too well and the fact of me never using such nice paper would make it a waste for me to buy it. My host mom took us to Bombay Blue for lunch which is a pretty nice chain of restaurants. AND they have Onion Rings. Okay maybe that’s not such a big accomplishment and yes, they do taste different from the ones in US but they are good. Plus here, we eat them with chaat masala and it’s delicious (but I’m betting it’s an acquired taste because at first I didn’t like it either. The causeway was nice as usual and I ended up getting a new bag because the chain on mine broke again (it’s a warning: I had bought a fake Diesel bag here and when I was in Goa it broke due to over stuffing but when I got back we fixed in. Little did I know it wouldn’t last…). Although if your bag or purse does ever break in India, be happy, because in cities like Mumbai with a western influence (like Goa or probably Delhi too) you can get pretty good quality, cheap bags. Mine feels almost like real leather and was only rs. 500 (yes I will sell my host country to you slowly).

Last weekend was a “farewell” party for Austin and I at Mumbai’s Hard Rock CafĂ© which of course would not be the real thing. A lot of our friends were taking their SAT and so afterward we hopped into cabs and went speedily to the restaurant. Now, I should’ve been more careful but sadly I was tempted. Here is the moral of the story: DON’T EAT BEEF IN INDIA! Yes, I had a burger (well more correctly I had the equivalent of ¾ of a burger- ¼ of one and ½ of another). It was good but too much meat after a practically all veg 10 months with small meals here and there of fish and chicken is a bad idea. My other two Indian friends didn’t have digestion problems but my system hasn’t been good for the past few days. I didn’t throw up or anything but just generally stomach aches and all that goes with it. Anyways, despite being in India for so long, it upset my stomach, and this was a reputable company too so just a head’s up. I, myself will stick with lovely veg burgers. And this also leads us into our next topic…

Ap kya khana pasand hai?

Oh khana. Or what is better known as ‘food’ in English. It occurred to me that I have never necessarily talked about this so I should really do that now. The typical Indian meal involves roti, subzi, daal, and chaval. This translates basically to bread, vegetables, soup, and rice but not exactly. Roti can also be called naan, paratha, rotilal, etc. based on how you make it and it generally can be called bread but is rolled and made over a fire on a pan with ghee/butter into a circle/triangle/whatever shape you want. You use this to eat your subzi or vegetable (with your HANDS! :D) which is actually vegetables mixed with masala/spices or put in gravy (if you’re familiar with Indian food think aloo gobi vs. paneer tikka masala). Now if you’re non-veg (you eat meat) this can also be where you have chicken or lamb (like the favorite chicken tikka masala or lamb korma).

I actually don’t think you can call daal a soup but that’s the best way to explain it. It’s made out of daal (that’s what it’s called) or lentils and they are boiled in water with other vegetables or spices. Take Daal Fry, which is what I usually have. You put in toor daal with water into a pressure cooker. You can add also, tomato, onion, and green pepper with the masala. Daal Makhani is different, instead having lentils, kidney beans, onions, tomato pulp, and some other things. As you can see, daal has various interpretations. Chaval is the name for rice and you have many different styles there too. It can be mixed with jeera or cumin seeds, it’s called pulao if you add peas or dired fruits, etc., biryani with a spicy sort-of paste with vegetables, or kichadi, which is a mix of daal and rice (very easy to make when camping). This is typically what I have everyday for lunch and dinner with a few exceptions and for breakfast I have cornflakes (boring I know. I wish I had an exciting breakfast like paratha and jam).

Another type of food that is close to my heart is chaat or street food. Oh my gosh, if you come to India and not have this then… well you’re losing out because it’s some of the most fantastic food you will ever have. My favorite is pav bhaji, which is buttered bread with mashed up vegetables- a Maharashtrian special. There’s also sev puri, pani puri/ gol gappas, bhel, Bombay sandwiches, cheese toast, vada pav (the “Indian burger”), the list goes on and on. I suggest you try them all except for a few factors: if you have a small mouth like me, I would skip on the pani puri since it can be hard to chew then and consequently gets stuck in your throat. Also always make sure it is made in front of you, if using raw foods- be hot, and make sure none of it looks spoiled. It really helps to have an Indian with you when you do this: they’ll obviously know the right places to go.


I forgot to mention the events of Saturday night which was actually quite exciting. All of the exchange students, their families, and AFS staff and volunteers got together in Mumbai for a dinner with AFS International president Tachi. Tachi (it's not his real name but a nickname) is from Paraguay and had been on an exchange himself to the U.S. and now works with AFS in New York. It was really nice to meet him and share our experience of being in India and he was very excited to talk to us. Because Austin and I have learned hindi in school and the others know a bit of it themselves, we were asked to speak a bit. During dinner, all of us exchange students sat together and caught up a bit. Sadly, they will be leaving this saturday so this was the last time I might see all of them. That's another thing great about U.S.: meeting the other nationalities. Of course we didn't meet so many since we're on the YES scholarship but I like my new German and Belgium friends. AFS gave us all gifts since our experience was ending: the girls were given scarves and the boys, elephant statues. It was a really fun night in the end.

Well I think that’s it for now. I’ll post more later!

Monday, April 26, 2010

March Madness and Spring Fever

I'M SORRY my lovely readers for my absence but as you might be guessing I've been very busy. I've been on 4 trips since I last posted and it has been a complete rush. The first one which I had mentioned in my previous post very briefly was to Rajasthan. It was a class trip for geography and we were investigating the eco-tourism in effect there. If you want more information... google it :p just kidding. Eco-tourism is just what it sounds like: tourism in an eco-friendly fashion. So we stayed at an eco-friendly hotel (which turned out it wasn't) and went on a couple of safaris through Ranthambore National Park to look at the state of the park and how it dealt with pollution, etc. As you can see from the photos I've posted, we took an overnight train there (so much fun!) and ended up seeing two leopards mating (oops).

Most of the trip was spent either at the hotel, at the park, or going to some different markets. Rural India is very interesting and so peaceful compared to fast-paced Mumbai. I loved seeing the old ruins inside the national park and the beautiful colors worn by the locals. On our last day we drove to Jaipur to get on a plane back (our school didn't want us to miss another day of school by taking the train). We didn't see much of the famous city, just ate lunch at a Pizza Hut and then did some quick shopping in some shops.

The nest trip I went on was during Spring Break to Lonavla, a small Maharashtrian village where my host family has a vacation home. We barely went out except for meals, spending most of our time reading or playing cards. It was really relaxing surprisingly, considering me. My family in U.S. usually can barely stay in the hotel for longer than maybe 2 hours when there are places to go (this might be a slight exaggeration but pretty close to the truth). I was only anxious because a lot of my friends were just hanging out in Mumbai and I wanted to be with them. But really, it was nice getting to know my host family better. The picture above of the man and the coconut was spurred by me. We found a coconut had fallen so I wanted to see how much juice was inside. It turned out not much but the guy was kind enough to open it for me.

The third trip was to beautiful Goa. I know it's such a typical place to go and yes it was the second time I was going but gosh was it worth it. My German friend and I went together to meet her friend and her friend's mom who had already been there for 2 weeks or so. We stayed at the same guesthouse/hotel as them, in no way luxurious (just the way I like it). Unfortunately due to malaria threats, I brought along some odomos (mosquito cream) and we used it safely. Honestly I recommend this because if you want a tan (and even if you don't) the mosquito medication they give at the travel clinic will just make you more pink than brown. Trust me, Austin has been taking the stuff all year and he says he's way whiter here then he ever was in the US.

We rented out bicycles and everyday rode to the beach in the morning, went into the waves then got out to eat breakfast, layout for a couple hours, bought from some hawkers, ate fruit and had lassis (like the Indian milkshake), got back in the water, and repeat. I love the sea and the beach (the latter not being found in Mumbai unless you just want to sit on the sand with all your clothes on) and it was incredibly awesome to just be there. Although it is true that Goa is expensive. A ten-minute taxi ride which would be maybe rs. 30 in Mumbai, they want to charge rs. 500 is such a rip-off. But I guess they are just trying to get the best out of the tourists. But if you accidentally forget your swimsuit, have no fear they do sell those. And don't be turned off by the ugly fully covered + skirt swimsuits that displayed outside shops. Inside you will find real bikinis and one-pieces! (I learned because I'm smart) And the price is under rs. 500 (remember bargaining is my secret weapon, I got mine down to around 400).

In the end, I got a nice tan, some nice jewelry (4 pairs of anklets ahahahah), a dress, swimsuit, and some nice memories. It helped that we were at a nice beach too (Benaulim) at an awesome beach shack (if you stay at one of these all day and order food, drinks, etc. they allow you to use these beach chairs). Sandra, my friend, and I took the train back (I will repeat, trains are amazing; although not always the cleanest thing, even in AC, it's still good, we went and came back this way for only rs. 1500) and I returned to my host family.

The last trip was to Jamnagar in Gujarat the week-end after my brithday. So before we talk about the trip let me just say, my birthday was AMAZING! In Indian schools, they allow you to wear whatever you want and it's tradition to bring chocolates and give them out to your classmates (weird right? I thought you were supposed to receive gifts on your special day... just kidding). After school was finished and Austin and I were walking out, he spotted Hrithik Roshan, one of our favorite actors, and we immediately followed him. He was being showed around the school since his kid will be coming next year and we didn't know whether we should stop him for an autograph. But we got our answer when some other kids stopped him so we rushed up and got his as well. It was even more cool though because when I told him it was my birthday, he wrote out (and spelled correctly) my name as well as happy birthday then gave me a hug. I kept my composure but I was freaking out inside! I was practically jumping up and down. When I get back to US, I'm definitely getting his autograph framed.

So Jamnagar was nice. We had to take planes there and back (a bummer) and had to take buses everywhere since it was the entire 11th grade. Thankfully, my friends and I were all on the same bus. Sanjana and I ended up rooming together. I ended up getting a bit in trouble on the first day but that cleared up. I didn't really do that much that weekend since I'm not taking a science and my group didn't have much for me to do. The pictures you can see of the water and rocks and the octopus were taken at this marine sanctuary near Jamnagar which was awesome to go to. Austin held one octopus but the one in this picture was actually poisonous so we couldn't hold it. It was funny though cause it ended up inking on him. On one of the nights we were given the option to go play football or watch a movie, so Austin, Sanj, and I picked the movie, I truly B-C rated one called Prince. All of us who went took pure delight in making fun of it because the dialogue and plot were so bad. As my classmate loves to point out it took the storylines and other aspects from about 20 other famous Hollywood blockbusters and smushed them together. I thought was one of the funniest parts was when the hero on a motorcycle started going up a parking lot entrance in Mumbai, despite this part of the film taking place in South Africa.

Well since then, nothing has happened except that Austin and I are currently buying presents for those back in US. It's scary to think that we only have about 35 days left in India. Where did the time go? I'll update soon, I promise!

(you happy now mom? :p)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You can't stop the beat

Due to my lack of activities lately, I haven't posted but things have picked up recently. My new host familyis very welcoming and eager to show me things. My host granddad (Dada) has even made a list! Although my host sister is usually doing her studies or working with the student council, my host mom is usually ready to take me out and we've gone to see some movies. Because Austin and I had switched residences, a few weeks back in January we had to go to the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (the lovely FRRO) again, bunking school since they're only open on weekdays. Despite this perk though, the trip was exhausting because, due to it being peak time to come to India, it was positively packed inside and we had no clue what we were supposed to do. Eventually we figured it out (being persistant is one of the traits that really works in India) and were able to get it done in about an hour or so.

Afterward, Austin and I stopped to eat some yummy street sandwichs and then called my driver to take us to Inox theater to catch a movie. Theaters in India can be kind of interesting as sometimes, the ticket booths are on the ground floor and you have to take escalators to the top of the mall where the screens are. While you don't have to worry about your seat being taken, it is annoying to have to go so far, especially when you're in a hurry. But as I mentioned, Indians actually have numbered rows and give you actual places to sit so that's fine. We decided to see a hindi movie since we're both learning the language and decided to see this movie called Chance pe Dance. While buying the tickets, the ticket man had said," You want two tickets for Chance Pe Dance." And we were like," Yeah we do." So he said," Yes hindi movie, no subtitles." Again we said "Yes." I couldn't help but laugh a little.

Since there was tons of time to kill before the movie, we grabbed a bite to eat (falafels) at this food court called Spoon where you put money on cards and then go get your food. Afterward, we decided to walk around outside for a bit and found this really big square and garden which we could not find a reason why it was there. I found out later that that's where the state legistator sits which is why there are all these important looking statues around and security guards at the gates. Plus, I guess the Indian emblem was a dead give away. It was soon time to head back though, so we wound back to the theater and took our seats. Throughout the movie, we got really excited whenever we actually understood fully what the actors had said and scoffed at the use of fans but all in good fun. At the end, we took a cab back to my flat and Austin left for Bandra.

For one entire week, my host sister had to go to the Netherlands for an MUN conference, so I spent time with my host mom and Dada. One weekend, as a part of his list, my Dada took me to the dhobighatt, which means "washerman's area". An old system of hand washing laundry, it is still used by people who send their clothing weekly, and that Sunday, we saw loads of laundry set out to dry. We took a cab to the Mahalaxmi station which is literally right by dhobighatt, and stood above to take pictures of the area. Dada asked me if I wanted to go down so I said," Sure why not?" So we went down the stairs and approached the entrance but sadly couldn't why around inside. Kyun? Kyunki some guy stopped us at the gate saying we had to pay rs. 100 for each of us for a guided tour. Now we're all knowledgable about people who are trying to rip you off so my Dada said he wouldn't pay if he didn't give a receipt. So then the man went on and on about how it's written on the board, the government gave them this right as it was where they worked and so forth, but did not state whether they would give a receipt.

While we were down there, another firung had followed us and wished to walked around and they tried to play the same trick on him. But he also said he wouldn't pay and such. Finally, I told Dada that just seeing that much of the dhobighatt was enough and we should leave. He agreed and we walked back, took a few pictures from the top and then decided to go home by train. It was only 2 stops to the nearest station, Grant Road, so we quickly got on one and took a taxi the rest of the way back to the flat.

The night before, one of my school friends, Divya, had invited me to her old school's fair. It was quite the event. Since I had spent the day swimming and out with my host mom, I was only in a t-shirt and jeans ad when I arrved found myself quite a bit under-dressed. There were people everywhere dressed in nice clothing so I felt a bit too casual. Also it was pretty crowded. I'm not claustrophobic or anything but being in India has taught me to be wary of crowds and it only adds to the fact how much litter there is on the ground. But it was fun to meet her friends and talk to her.

The next weekend, after my host sister had gotten back from the Derby, my Dada took me to see the Indian Derby at Mahalaxmi race course. I've never been to one before, let alone watch one on TV but I had a good time cheering the horses on. It was one of those glamour events, where socialites and high class business people come to watch, along with regular citizens, and betting was quite common. At one point, my Dada and I were down on the lawn when some very beautiful girls and another man came to stand next to us, talking about their bets. Before we knew it, there were several photographers around them and they even ended up taking our picture! But, considering how many people were there, I shrugged it off because the chance of my picture getting in the newspaper was very little. We watched the rest of the races with anticipation and the last one was absolutely gorgeous. The horses were amazingly graceful and watching them was a treat. But the story doesn't end there. The next day after returning from school, I picked up the newspaper like normal and saw my face! It wasn't in the middle of the picture but it was very noticable (I'm putting it up here so you can see). I was so surprised and happy.

Soon it was time to go back to Matheran for our IAYP trip which was even more fun than the first time we went. IAYP is an adventure camp so we did a lot of hiking and learning "adventure" skills. I even got to face my fear of rock climbing by going up a 2-3 meter rock face! Well I just have a fear of falling from heights so it was awesome to face it and come out on top, literally. We had to rapell down which was just as scary but I got through it. We had to sleep in tents one night and every morning we had to get up early to jog and do stretches. It turned out to be a pretty okay weekend in all, we got to hang out with our friends while learning tiny bit of things.

As anyone in the IB knows, there's this amazing thing known as CAS which makes you go a little crazy at times. CAS stands for Creativity, Action, and Service and we actively participate in these things during the week. So to raise money for the charities we volunteer for, we hold a CAS Fete which is planned weeks in advance and that we have to plan ourselves since we're the first year IB students. I helped with making bookmarks and the stall for my NGO, Habitat for Humanity but during the fete I ended up passing out flyers for the village project. In order to raise awareness, Austin, me and some other students dressed up in traditional Indian clothing and preformed a skit 4 times throughout the day. It was so much fun and I loved running around in the clothes. As you already know, during Annual Day, I got a picture with Shah Rukh Khan and this time I also got a picture with another star, Farhan Akhtar. He has a new movie coming out so I told him that we were looking forward to seeing it and that we hoped to understand it despite probably not being able to understand it all.

The weekend after that, the French exchange students came to our school. I'll explain: DAIS has it's own exchange programs for its students, one to France and one to Mauritius for one week each, with students going and coming from India. So last week, the French students came to Mumbai. That Saturday we had parent teacher conferences and afterward we took the Frenchies to Pheonix Mills for lunch and to look around the mall. They were going to take them to Colaba Causeway but I decided to leave and meet up with Sanjana, Austin, and Utsav in Bandra because Sanjana was also hosting a French student. We took the girl, Rosie, street shopping and because there was a party that night, we decided to go there too. The previous weekend there had been a party at the same p-lace so we knew the way. I felt bad though because deciding to go to this party meant that I wouldn't be home for my Dada's 75th birthday but my host mom said it was fine and I wished him in the morning. The party turned out okay but ended early because the host didn't like the music the DJ was playing.

I was really excited though because that Monday was Holi, one of the coolest Hindu festivals. [EDIT] Sunday was the day to observe the religious aspect of it while Monday was for the fun. So while my host sister spent most of Sunday studying, that night my host mom, sister, and I went to a temple for the traditional prayers. There we went to pray and recieve blessings from the gods before walking around the burning pyre. Basically, everyone goes to the temple to make offering to the gods into a huge burning fire after a pooja has been preformed. The offerings include water, fire, and surprisingly coconuts. After walking around in a clockwise motion, we ate some pakoras and sandwiches at a nearby theatre then went home by taxi. We didn't have school and after dropping my host sister at her friend's house, I picked up Austin and we went to Sanjana's building. There, we went color shopping and water gun/pichkari shopping before assembling in the back of her building with the rest of our friends and Sanj's brother for an insane Holi party. Basically Holi is the celebration of the end of winter and a return to color so Sanj's parents filled up buckets of color water and trays of colored powder (organic because the type on the road can be toxic and stay in your hair for weeks afterward) (this didn't happen to me because my host mom insisted we oil EVERY pat of our bodies before leaving the house). We all had our own water guns and pichkaris to squirt water at each other and t was full out war of color. After a while we made a "hot seat" in which every person had to sit and we would all pour water on them and throw powder at their face. We were so gross and disgusting at the end that we had to eat lunch out in the hot sun.

We were still hungry after devouring a pot of lamb and egg biryani so we decided to take a trip to Carter road for food. If you happen to come to India for the first time during holi (or any holiday that involves big celebrations during the day for that matter), my advice is to make plans for your own little party and not go out walking. Austin and I are used to it by now but we kind of forgot to inform Rosie of everything. While we remained a happy party, we were weary of all large group of people, especially men, who could potentially be holding more arsenal in their pockets. We decided it was a good idea to spend time in the deserted kids' playground, which included a teeter-totter, swings, and slides. We decided eventually to go just as some group of boys started to come up behind us. Walking further down, we were semi-ambushed by them and I swiftly had to pull Rosie away, apologizing later for being really abrupt in my actions.

We bought doughnuts and went back to sanj's house, again having a run-in with a group of guys. When we got back, there was a mad-spree of showering to get rid of all the colors and oil and I had to borrow Sanj's mom's clothing since I hadn't brought any clothes to change into.

Everyone was planning to go out afterward for more food but I had to leave because my host sister was coming to pick me up. I said goodbye and hopped into the car, back to town.

This past weekend was myt Geography class trip to Rajasthan but I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Year, New Place, New Blog post...

So, first of all, I'm sorry I'm such a horrible blogger but honestly, so much has happened since I last wrote that I barely had time to sit down and type out my thoughts for you guys. And you would not believe what I've been through! One thing is for sure about being on an exchange, it's a crazy adventure. Well, at least that's been my experience.


So, as I mentioned, I've never taken part of a model UN conference before. In fact, I've never even particiapted in Model UN. In the end though, I'm not too sad that it ended up happening. With me in the Human Rights Commission was my fellow exchange student Austin and we got to meet some new people while doing our best to represent our countries views. The fun thing about MUN is that you get to represent views so differently from your own and try to back them up with evidence. In this case, kind of being a bad guy by American standards by supporting censory laws on journalists. We also got to have a few "Movements for entertainment" which was quite fun as we got to watch the Chair being made fun of. Plus, the delegate of Greece had the most amazing analogies I have ever heard, comparing resolutions to creme brulee and lifesavers.

I can't say I made a significant contribution to the committee at all, mainly trying to figure out what I wanted to say as well as trying to remain healthy and awake (sorry you guys). But I had fun with my fellow delegates, no matter how annoying and funny some were. Although, really that's life so I shouldn't complain. Plus, with several of my friends as delegates, chairs, and press, I got to see several parts of the conference. It was a busy weekend, going to the conference in the day and attending to various friends' places at night. That last day I got food poisoning from somewhere and ended up having a not-too-pleasant festivity in the bathroom, if you catch my drift (sorry if you're the sensitive type). But despite that, I'm really glad that I got to have fun with my friends.

Christmas in Gujarat

Because my host family, the Shahs, had planned out their own travel since I had planned to go to Gujarat to see my friend, they wouldn't be back until the 1st of January. 5 days after I would get back. So I had to pack up all of my stuff while packing to go to Baroda, which was a real pain. I honestly could not believe how much stuff I had bought in the past 5 months. In my big red suitcase, all of my Indian clothes made a solid bottom layer, and as my host mom commented, it took up a lot of space. Probably going to be sending some stuff back premature soon. Not to mention, I had bought Christmas presents for my family back home which I needed to send before I left. This included a very beautiful pink rose sari for my mom that I was very proud of. So, in one mad rush, I got the blouse back from the tailor, got my teeth cleaned, and rushed down to send a package to the US. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to send everything so I only sent the sari (sorry papi and sis!).

I eventually got everything packed up and the next morning I took a plane to Baroda (Why a plane? Because a) I have never taken the overnight train so would have no idea what to do and b) since the US government is funding me, they want to make sure I don't get killed). Reaching Baroda, my friend Aru and her dad met me at the airport and delivered some surprising news: we weren't staying in Baroda but instead taking an overnight bus to Bhuj, in northern Gujarat, which is known as the Kutch region. Basically, I was really shocked but not put out. I decided that this was an excellent time to pick up on what I was missing out on living in Mumbai: a true dash of Indian culture. I'm not saying that I don't get culture here but there's a big difference in living in the big city and going to a small town.

After dropping my luggage off at their apartment, we went to pick up some snacks and then headed over to her gandmother's flat to have lunch and I met some of her other relatives. After that, she took me to see some of her really good friends, visiting two different houses. If there's one thing that I really took away from Baroda was that it was clean. It wasn't as loud or muggy or smelly as Mumbai at all and... I really liked it. I don't know how it would've been living there, but I know that I got a nice impression of it. As soon as we got back, it was time to make sure we had everything packed and then we left to catch ricks to the bus stop. The bus itself was an experience. There are three options: You can have a seat, a single bed, or a double bed and if you take the bed you then either get one on the bottom or top. Ours were on top and they turned out to be surprising more comfortable than I thought and pretty clean too (if you're a clean freak, don't go to India. It's best not trying to wonder who has been where you're sitting right now). And in all, the ride wasn't that bad, not too bumpy and our conversations ranged into the nonsensical types you usually get into while travelling.

At about 11, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a quick bite before continuing on. I had to go to the bathroom and took the brave walk to the outhouse. I'm saying brave because, you have to be really sure you can handle what lies in an Indian public toliet. Okay, okay don't get scared now but I'm just saying the truth because I did it myself. First off, there's the smell. I got the first wiff about 10 feet away from the door. When I got in, I saw that I had two options: open squat toliets on one side and out-of-shape western toliets on the other. I swear I will never complain about truck stops again. Getting into the stall, I found that the door didn't close all the way and there was no toliet seat so I would have to bear with it. There wasn't a hose, on a tap so I used that both for the dirty deed and to wash my hands afterward (you need more information, just let me know). There was an air of triumph as I exited the bathhouse, a sort of "Yes, I could do it", like this was some right of passage that I needed to take in order to prove myself. I guess, to me, it was. I had been worrying for a while what would happen if I did have to confront this situation so it was nice to do it and get it over with. Not that I suggest it for everyone but now I can say that I have lived through it.

The food at the dhabba was fine and despite my weak stomach from the previous day, everything went down okay. I didn't eat any of the raw stuff and only took what was hot (my mantra for all outside food anyway) and after finishing, it was straight back on the bus and onto Bhuj. We woke up at the last stop, not ours but close enough to take a rick to the NGO where we would be staying. It was chilly at 6 in the morning but when we got to the NGO we immediately fell asleep under felt blankets. We woke up around 10 or 11 and as I went to go have breakfast, I saw just how pretty the grounds were. Desert flowers among concrete, wood, and metal building, there's actually no way to really describe it. The room's were simple and it was all very relaxing. Since it was Christmas Day, they took me to a near-by catholic church in order to pray or at least get some feeling that it was a holiday. Indian churches are a bit different then those in America and Europe, including the fact that they have a prayer bell you can hit while going in and that you take your shoes off before going inside. Although I prefer to keep my religion as something personal, I would like to say that it was nice just going to the church despite that Santa Claus didn't come this year.

Afterwards, we went to go to some craft makers, where you can see traditional crafts like fabrics and bells being made. Everything was so gorgeously made and all by hand, it was hard to believe. At one part, we stopped at one of the traditional homes where a older mother and her daughter were and they were selling their own crafts, all of which were bright with various tiny mirrors patterned. When we had seen enough, we went back to the NGO for lunch where Aru fell asleep. Aru's mom asked if I wished to see an old Indian palace and I said yes so she, another lady and her daughter, and I went. It wasn't just this palace though but also a fort that the British had built when they gained power. Nor was the palace in the best condition due to an earthquake which had occured several years ago. Despite this, what was left was beautiful. The Aina Mahel, the indian palace, had been turned into a museum so that you could see all of the artifacts, from paintings to beds to jewelry. The walls were covered in old mirrors and you could see remanents of old designs on the walls. From there, we went to look into the British fort which was just as grand although having a few unfortunate pieces of rotting taxidermy. Inside was a grand ballroom open as well as a dining room and drawing room. The ballroom was amazing at two storeys tall with beautiful carvings into the walls. It would definitely need some restoration, but if anyone made it into a hotel, I'm sure it would be quite the draw. Or even just as a cultural site.

The next day, we took an early morning trip to see the sunrise at a famous Gujarati temple which was the birth place of a particular set of hindus who follow the teachings of a revered guru Swami Narayan. It was a huge temple and in the early morning light, everything felt fresh and new. After walking around and seeing a slightly scary talking doll re-enactment of his life and re-birth, we ate breakfast at the worker's quarters before setting back out. That afternoon we went to the edge of the border before the salt desert and went up into the black hills and overlooked Gujarat and into Pakistan. It was gorgeous up there and we visited the Hanuman temple to pay our respects (apparently, everyday they feed the jackles up there at sunset because they helped Hanuman at some point). My most best memory though was of my encounter with a special cow. As many of my friends here kow and my family back home, I love seeing cows on the road and hate it when I see that they're chewing on some plastic bag. But in this case, it was only the former and he (or she) was standing beside the wall which separated us from it. I don't remember why but we all got very excited and ran over to pet the cow. At first, it was being unresponsive and tried to avoid our hands but after we locked our eyes for a few seconds, the cow finally let me pet him. Least to say, I miss the cow :]

So after we left, we went down to the Indian bridge, separating India from "no man's land" aka the beginning of the border. It was here that the salt desert started and late afternoon sun shone brilliantly down upon the vast whiteness. I had another funny encounter while taking pictures of the stray white dogs near the gate. The driver looked over and commented on it, saying the dog was Karisma Kapoor (a famous Bollywood actress). I just laughed and nodded. We stopped on the way back to catch the sunset at a traditional gujarati themed hotel in which you stayed in traditional homes. I got to buy a small doll and hanging mirror mobile. When we got back, we quickly made sure all of our bags were packed and went to eat dinner at Aru's parents' friend's home, an NGO couple who had a very open, artistic home. We had a pleasant time and then we settled back in the car for one last trip to the bus stop.

The ride back was pretty much the same as going, bumpy and a bit cramped but alright in the end. Getting back into Baroda, we got back to Aru's place and I re-packed what I had taken out and prepared to catch my plane, which turned out to be late anyways. Getting back to Mumbai was a dream, I hardly felt like I was there but also that I had come back at all. It was great seeing rural India and it is hard to compare Mumbai to anything I saw there. But it's still India all right.

New Year

I spent the next few days lounging around the flat of an AFS volunteer and her daughter, trying to get in as much relaxing time as possible, despite how weird it felt to be between homes. It was New Year's Eve that I was waiting for though, a chance to get out and party with my friends. Despite an invitation to another party, my plans were already set with my friend Sajana, Austin the other exchange student, and her boyfriend. I took a rick to Bandra and changed at her house, before going to her boyfriend's place, where Austin was. Because of a mix up with reservations, we had to re-work our plans and the new place we intended to go had a dress code- white, which none of us were wearing. This lead to a mad rush to find white shirts and, in Austin's case, one that fitted. Finally all 6 of us (2 of her bf's friends joined) were ready and we set off.

We started with dinner in Bandra and proceeded to get into where our reservations were. Because it was New Years, there were a lot of drunk people around and least to say, we didn't have the most mentally smooth time. Now don't get too freaked out, I'll explain. You see, as we were walking down the street back to our car, we had passed a guy who was pretty sloshed by the looks of it and giving us the eye. By now though, we're pretty used to it so we just kept on walking but soon he started walking behind us so we all grabbed each other's hands and walked a bit quicker, but not quick enough because at some point, he touched Austin and it became pretty clear: he was gay. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just that... well a drunk, gay man onNew Years following you? Yeah, pretty creepy. Thankfully, we got far enough away and found our car. But driving towards our final destination, we passed by the same area again and he was still there. I had to feel bad for the guy though, it can't be easy being so out of it like that where everyone is staring you down because you're so obviously drunk and gay. I hope he got safely home in the end.

Our reservation turned out to not have been written down and what could we do really but find a party to crash. It turned out that we did know one person and proceeded to trick them into inviting us over, which went down pretty effortlessly. Despite the fact that we had to spend the countdown in our car (pretty sucky right? Does this mean the rest of the year I will be stuck in one too?), we got to the party and spent the next 30 minutes dancing like mad. It was time to go though, so we said our goodbyes to the host and hopped back into the car. I stayed over at Sanjana's and Austin got a ride back so we were all safe. The next morning I ate dinner with Sanj and her family before taking a rick around 12 to go back to Powai. I spent the rest of my time doing a final check on luggage and soon enough, my new host mom had pressed the doorbell. We said hi, the AFS volunteer thanked her for hosting me and we loaded my insane amount of luggage into the tiny car. My last host mom had called me earlier that day to see how I was, wish me a happy new year and deliver a surprise: a package had come for me. So I asked my new host mom, Rupal aunty, if we could stop by there so that I could pick it up. She said yes so while I was visiting my old host family, she met up with her old college friend.

It was nice seeing them after so much time and to be able to say a proper goodbye. We talked about our trips and new years, and they gave me some leftover cake from the night before. The package turned out to be from Austin's parents for the holidays (curse you Austin! Making me have to send a thank you card to your parents and getting mine to send you one as well!). Our 10 minutes were over soon though and I said goodbye one last time and was off to South Mumbai.


The last few weeks have been good, settling in, seeing some of my new neighborhood, with one exception- school, or more specifically- IOP. Individual Oral Presentations are 15 minute presentations on book read in school and required out of all the English batches. To give them, the school organized a trip to Matheran, a hill station in mainland Maharashtra. I was stressed the week before the trip as I had just been moving, now lived in a new location, and hadn't done any work on my IOP during break. So it was a mad rush to finish everything in time (which I did) and the trip didn't turn out to be so bad after all. While doing our IOPs, we were also checking out the village we were adopting for our CAS hours to help improve its' infrastructure, school, and impowerment.

The weekend was a lot of fun though. The school had bought off an old hotel so we were all in these dorm like room settings. Everyone was running around, hanging out with each other, and eating together. I got to talk to a lot of people that I had barely talked to before and gotten closer with others. The first night a lot of kids were working on their IOPs but the second was spent doing much more fun things. We spent ours watching The Hangover and New Moon (much to the boys' chagrin). The Hangover was just as funny as the first time and New Moon was much worse than expected but it was all in good fun. I almost didn't get to see the village because my IOP was planned to be at 1200 pm on the last day- when everyone would be going. But I spoke to my teachers, did my IOP at the last minute, and in good time, made it down to the village with another teacher and classmate. Because the village was in the valley, it was a steep walk down on a winding path that was at times rock and others gravelly dirt. But it was worth it to see the village, rural India in full force complete with dish TVs and worn clothing. Yes, it was very surprising to see the dish satellites on their roofs. But it was also interesting to find that out of the 3 months they work in a year, they only get rs. 1500 a month. That's a little less than the stipend I'm given monthly on my scholarship. And they have only 2 wells with water coming from a fresh water spring. But the well water gets polluted from various outside sources, making it unsafe. Before we left, we handed out chocolates and crackers to the little kids which was really fun and then we made the horrifying climb back up the hill.

Makar Sankranti

Or the kite flying festival, for those of us unaware with Indian culture. If you've read The Kite Runner, you probably know have an idea what I'm talking about. Makar Sankranti is a festival celebrating the end of winter and a return to work. As my host aunt described it, Makar Sankrant symbolizes the attitude you should have towards works: you should keep your eyes securely on your kite; if you turn to talk to the person next to you, someone will cut yours. My host mom took Austin and I to my host aunt's (masi's) house for kite flying because they have a private terrace that you can fly kites from. My host cousin helped us out, first getting the kite up in the air and then giving it to us to try our hand at. I was pretty good although I didn't cut anyone else's kite. Austin wasn't too lucky though and instead decided to become the kite "doctor" instead of flying them. I had a lot of fun though and it was nice getting to know my new family (I have two cousins- one boy and one girl, both around my age. The boy taught me to fly kites and the girl I had met earlier when we went to see Avatar in 3D).

Earlier today, I finally got to go play tennis again at the club my host family is members at. I thought I would suck horribly but my fore-hand was still good, only my back hand and serve suffered. Hopefully I'll be able to play more now and get back into the game so that I'm in shape when I get back to US :]