H.W.O.T.D. – Dance + ‘wee-dee-oh’ (VIDEO)

Naach – dance

Meet Balati:

Sup

Balati is the son of the watchman who lives on the ground floor of our apartment building. Balati’s favorite activities include hiding after ringing the strange, foreign girls’ doorbell at odd hours of the day/night, coloring with the strange, foreign girls’ markers, saying “HI!” as loudly as his little voice will allow when the strange, foreign girls come home from work, and smiling at the strange, foreign girls, well …  all the time.

It should be noted here that Balati doesn’t speak a lick of English (besides “hi” of course) so our interactions with him are limited to saying “HI!” back as loudly as our big voices will allow, smiling at him all the time, and letting him color with our markers to his heart’s content. Deb demonstrates the thrill that is silently watching Balati trace yet another turkey hand…

Joy

But tonight we had a bit of a breakthrough. Although to tell you the truth I can’t take much of the credit. Nehi (no), tonight’s successful encounter was entirely due to the musings of that universal linguist … that boundary-breaking communicator … that BabelFish in the flesh …

Mariah Carey

Duh.

Wait, don’t touch that dial! Hear me out. While MC’s glory days were clearly in the 90’s (when incessant, indulgent riffs and window-shattering high notes were apparently considered ‘music’), she has ONE song that I think spans the generations. A timeless classic during which I dare a listener to restrain from the temptation to tap a toe or hum a line.

This song is accepted by crowds in New York karaoke joints year-round (amIright, Ann-Henley Saunders??) and is a must while trimming ye olde tannenbaum (amIright, Jodi Tovay??)

But tonight was the first time I realized the potential for a truly global impact. Forget New York bars and tiny apartments! Let’s take this thing to the Iraq and the like, such as South Africa!

For, this evening, for approximately 1 minute and something seconds, the divisive barrier of language was broken between little Balati and I. And for that mere wrinkle in time, we both were speaking the same language …

NAACH

You may notice that Balati quits studyin’ me about 3/4 of the way in, but he dances through the grand finale like a champ.

We followed the dance bonding sesh with an entertaining-as-always Mac photobooth shoot, like ya do.

At which point his mom (who also speaks no English) came in and looked from my computer screen to her wee tiny son to me as if to say, “What monster-demon auras are you bringing out in my child??”

No worries, Amma. I’ve only initiated Balati into the billions strong and not-so-exclusive MariahCarey’sAllIWantForChristmasIsYouIsTheBestSongForDancingEVER Club. (It’s a working title…)

I’ll also have you know that by the end of his visit with me today, he knew the words “you,” “rum-pum-pum-pum,” “fa-la-la-la-la,” and “high five” (+ motion).

Baby steps.

Plus, we’ll always have MC.

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Had your lunch?

You’d think that after a 2-month hiatus from blogging I’d get back into the swing of things with a truly insightful post.  One that would explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. And maybe I will get around to a post like that … but this ain’t it.

I’m writing this today from my school where I have my own little desk out in the lobby of the primary school. If I don’t hurry up and get all of this down, the final bell will ring and I will be swarmed with little bitties fighting to shake my hand and say “Hi Teacher!” “Bye Moonma’am!” “Good Evening, Laurensmoon!” and “Can I have your autograph?” Not that I’m complaining. I adore the babies of the primary block. But hundreds (around 13oo to be exact) of hands and hi’s later, my cheeks start to go numb from smiling, my hands are too warm and eversoslightly sticky with Lord knows what, and my brain begins to wander into a linguistic no-man’s-land, wondering why the letters “h” and “i” put together form a greeting (why not “hu” or “hoo”?)

Oh craaaaaaaaap, I’m too late. Here they come. To be continued…

I rest ...

my case.

Ok shwew. Well that’s done. I tell you what, I never want to be famous. No siree.

The real reason for this post is to document how I am feeling at this exact moment. And how I’m feeling is stuffed. Full to the very tips of my fingers. So full that I can barely think, and if I can’t think I certainly can’t work. So it must be a good time to blog.

The reason for my state of over-sufficiency and just-past-surrensified (a saying of my grandfather’s … go with it) is simple:  nobody here thinks I eat enough. The first question I’m asked when I place a single toe inside the school gate is, “Miss, had your breakfast?” And from 11am until I literally hop on my bus it becomes, “Had your lunch?” (Yes). Always followed with “What did you have?” (A sandwich).

Indians don’t understand the concept of a sandwich. Two slices of bread with some mush in between?? That’s barely a snack! Daily the teachers ask me to explain  how I can possibly be satisfied with just a sandwich. And anytime I’m feeling ill (stomachache, headache, sore throat, stubbed toe, anything) the scanty sandwich is to blame.

So today the Madam of my school (the Vice Principal) staged an intervention. I knew something was up when I got a text from her at the crack of dawn to make sure I was coming to school today. Hmmmm. “Yes, Madam. I am coming.”

And then around 10 this morning she dropped the comestible bomb. “Moon this morning I have made you lunch only.”

Oh.

You may find my reaction to free, homemade food strange but live in India for a few months and you’ll understand why. Of course, I was gracious and appreciative, but when lunch rolled around and Madam unloaded her mid-sized duffel bag of food my stomach did a pre-meal flip of fear.

Tanveer Fatima

Mohd Shoib

Mohd  Shabaaz

Shakeer Bagem

Mohd Ahmed

(Oops. Sorry. A 2nd grade cutie had been staring at me for 5 minutes so I asked her if she’d like to come over and learn how to type her name. She would. And she would like to type the names of her father, mother, sister, and brothers too while she’s at it thankyouverymuch.)

Back to the topic at hand … Madam proceeded to set out on her desk a container full of curd, about a liter’s worth of different types of curry, half a pound of rice, and enough biryani (which is also rice, mind you) to feed all of Telangana. My eyes widened as my stomach contracted.

You see, when you are given a meal here, you eat all of it. End of story. And in this case “all of it” would have, under ordinary circumstances, been enough to feed me for a week. She dished up the food, starting me off with a plate that rivaled the weight of a newborn.

I decided to take it slow (which, my friends will attest, is pretty much just par for the course when eating with me). Let HER finish first and take most of the seconds. Plus, the biryani was spicy. I’m talkin’ melt-your-face-off spicy. Slow and steady shouldn’t be a problem. Good plan, thought I.

Hyderabadi biryani. And my helping size.

And then the WORST thing that could possibly happen happened. The Sir (school principal and Madam’s husband) came in and started speaking to her in Telegu. It should be noted here that my Sir is the most talkative man alive. He and I have literally had meetings that lasted for 3 hours.

Sure enough, as she listened and responded to Sir’s concerns, Madam stopped eating. Despite taking the tiniest bites imaginable at the world’s slowest pace,  my plate was emptying bit by bit. And I was starting to panic. She still had a big, fat pile of rice on her plate! How could I stop eating to let her catch up? To pause and act like I was listening or to try and participate in the conversation would be ludicrous. I don’t speak Telegu. DANGIT, WHY DON’T I SPEAK TELEGU??

And just like that my plate was empty. I didn’t make eye contact hoping that they wouldn’t notice. But, despite completely ignoring me for half an hour while being engrossed in their argument, as soon as my right hand lightly rested on the table in a sign of surrender, both Madam and Sir zeroed in on the plate before me. Without even a glance in my direction, Madam refilled my plate faster than I could think of an excuse to protest. If possible it weighed even more than the first round.

Did I mention this food was spicy? Everyone knows that Indian food can be spicy, right? Well, did you know that Hyderabad takes great pride in making its food as spicy as possible while still being edible? Food here is called “Hyderabad hot” for a reason, my friends.

Did I also mention that I didn’t have any water. The ONE day that I come to work without my water bottle…

I thought I was burning from the inside out. Everything was on fire. My veins felt inflamed. But I must. soldier. on. To leave food on my plate (especially homemade food) would be unbelievably rude.

At last Sir left and Madam started to eat. I began to talk nonstop so that I wouldn’t have to eat. I finally had my out. But honestly the damage had been done and I still had half a plate to finish.

Another unwanted helping and two obligatory steaming cups of chai later, here I am. Locked and loaded for an internal combustion. Maybe I’ll take the weekend off from meals.

Lord help me I’m going to a concert tonight at which time I hope to be able to move.

And speaking of music, need a break from the constant barrage of Christmas tunes? Well, regardless you should check THIS out. It has been on repeat in my discman (remember when?) for several days. A friend of mine puts these mixes together, and while they are all incredible (and available on the right sidebar of his blog by the by), I found this one to be especially captivating.

Enjoy! Roll out. (literally)

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Bandh of Brothers

Lately, I’ve come to the realization that besides this and this, I have yet to write about my work here or even about my school…

Oh, you thought that was a lead-in for me to talk about my work and my school? What do you think I am? Predictable?? No, no, this post shall not be about the actual point of why I’m in India in the first place. That would make too much sense. Because I could tell you about my school, if I had been going to my school. But, thing is, I haven’t actually stepped a single toe there in over a week.

You SLACKER! (You think to yourself.) But you would be wrong. You see, I haven’t stepped a single toe on school premises in over a week because I physically have not been able to get my toe there.

Let’s back up, shall we? So in 1947 (yeah, by ‘back up’ I meant back up) when India gained its independence from the British Empire, the Nizam of Hyderabad (aka “Governor of the Realm”) in the Telangana district really preferred not to lose the “His Exalted Majesty” title by merging with the Indian Union. Instead, he wanted to remain independent under the special provisions given to princely states.  But the government of India said, “no dice” and annexed Hyderabad State on September 17, 1948.

Former Monarchy Coat of Arms

Fast forward to 1956 … leaders of the Telangana district and the Andhra district met at Congress to discuss merging. Telangana leaders were opposed but finally agreed to merge Telangana and Andhra with promises to safeguard Telangana’s interests. 10 years or so later, the Telangana people were being discriminated against for jobs and began to protest to which the government basically responded, “Yeaaaaaah, you know those safeguards that we agreed upon a decade ago? Shmeh.”

Fast forward to the 21st century … essentially, promises were made by certain political parties that the formation of Telangana as a separate state would be a priority if elected. They were elected. Promises? What promises?

Such has been the story since 2004. Promises made. Promises unfulfilled. And the Telangana folks are none too pleased. The Telangana movement to secede from Andhra Pradesh and form its own state has been building throughout this decade but has really gained steam in the past three years.

The state of Andhra Pradesh with the Telangana region highlighted in black.

And here we are today. Telangana is the hottest of topics here in Hyderabad. Mostly because it is the only topic (seeing as Hyderabad is the jewel in the Andhra Pradesh crown). Mostly because they have shut the city down. Not the entire city (middle and upper class folks probably are less affected), mind you, but a large chunk. Pro-Telangana supporters have been protesting the government’s indecision by shutting down the bus system, at times the army of autos, and more recently the rail system into and out of the city. Businesses close and schools have been shut down, including mine for part of last week. Power outages happen for about an hour two or three times a day. These strikes are called “bandhs.” (“Bandh,” pronounced “bund” at least by me,  is a Hindi word that means “closed.” … And that was way too many back-to-back ” “s for my liking.)

"Auto" ... not "Car"

And though my school has fortunately remained open for enough days to administer the quarterly government-required exams, without public transportation I am still stuck at home. Even when autos DO run they hike up their prices to around $10 a pop, seeing as they hold the monopoly, and my meager wallet cannot afford these daily astronomical prices back and forth. Not to mention my school is about a 30-40 minute commute by auto (45-60 by bus) into a heavily pro-Telangana neighborhood, while my apartment is located right by Assembly (the heart of the government for Hyderabad and, subsequently, the state of Andhra Pradesh). These are two pretty spicy areas right now, making the desire to venture out on bandh days a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle less than appealing.

Assembly. The guts of the government. Hullo neighbor!

Let me be clear (MOM&DAD), I am not in any danger. These strikes have, as far as I know, been non-violent and are simply very political. But I am careful nonetheless.

Suffice it to say we Fellows are pretty fed up with this bandh business. Thankfully my students have been busy taking their exams so there is little I could have done with them directly, anyway. It has been a good week to catch up on paperwork, work on my business plan, and organize my ideas and project proposals. But some of the other Fellows have schools that will be closed until well into October. Setback city.

Most of our schools have off next week (unrelated to the bands) so some friends and I have planned a trip north to Darjeeling. Gracias a Dios we decided to book a flight rather than suffer the 38 hour train ride, (What? That doesn’t sound fun to you?) seeing as, between this bandh mess and the earthquake near Darjeeling a couple of weeks ago, train transport to the north is likely a no-go.

Telanagana supporters camping out on the rail lines

At this point I’m just praying that the government will come down with a decision soon. Telangana leaders have given them until the beginning of October (i.e. next week) to make a decision. Or … ? Or what? I don’t know to be honest. I simply know that if the strikes continue past the break the students will suffer as their education is put on hold.

Ok fine, and I will suffer. As my sanity is put on hold from being apartment-bound.

Read a recent article about the bandhs HERE.

* Disclaimer 1: I think parts of that article (particularly the end) exaggerate the situation a bit. HERE‘s another article from today.

** Disclaimer 2: If I misrepresented this issue in my recap of its history, you can blame Wikipedia. I, personally, have no opinion regarding the outcome of the movement. I would just like the outcome to be reached. Please and thanks.

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How to: Pursue a Pachyderm

Sometime in your lifetime you should go to Hampi. And sometime in my lifetime, I should write about that time I went to Hampi. But, see, here’s the rub, Hampi deserves the mother of all blog posts. It deserves the kind of thoughtful writing that leaves you all at once entertained and ready to hop on the next cross-continental flight. An ice-cream-with-a-cherry-on-top kind of post (actually, blech, no cherry. Pecans please). It was just. that. magical.

But tonight? Tonight I don’t have a single magical or entertaining thought in my mush of a brain. Why, you ask? Because this is what is occupying my brainspace:

Hampi?? (sad puppy eyes)

You can click the picture to get a better idea, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s full-to-bursting with phrases like “loan amortization,” “flat v. diminishing,” and “debt/equity ratio.” Starring acronyms (what is this, college??) like “NPV,” “EMI,” “ROE,” “IRR,” and “EBITDA.”  Enough capital letters and excel formulas to make a humanities major go weak in the postsynaptic neurons ( …… okyesIdidGooglethat).

Tonight I attended an optional Finance and Business Model Workshop. I opted for the option because, well, ya know, I use money and stuff. But a girl can always learn more, amIright!? (My mother’s neck is about to fall off she’s nodding so furiously right now.)

But what this optional option turned out to be was a an entire semester’s worth of a finance/business course crammed into 3 hours. Or that was what it felt like to me. At the very least it was best suited for people who had a little pre-existing knowledge on the subject. (Hey fellow Higher Ed folks, know what should be a core curriculum requirement in college? FINANCE.) As for me, if there had been “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” competency level boxes, I, apparently, would have checked “ignorant.”

Ok, perhaps I’m not being entirely fair to myself. But, truly, as soon as the speaker began, I quickly morphed into type-every-word-that-comes-out-of-this-man’s-mouth mode. Mostly because I didn’t know what 3/4 of them meant, so paraphrasing was not an option. Intimidating from the get-go, soon pretty much everything sounded like new information. So much so, that I forgot words that I already knew. “What is equity?” “What does accrual mean?” Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I usedah kno dis stuff…

Thankfully the speaker preferred posing questions to the group rather than singling people out. Because my strategy was to appear intrigued, nod every so often, and confidently glue my eyeballs to his. Yet, when he would pose a question, I would instantly become intrigued with formatting my notes, bend my head low and glue my eyeballs to my computer screen. Not suspect in the least.

Truly and honestly, the session was great and so very informative. Thanks to those who organized. I learned so much. Or at least I will have when I go back and review my 5 pages of typed notes.

But that is why my brain is mush and why I cannot possibly write about magic and splendor and all things Hampi. My right brain has been commandeered by my left.

But wanna know what I can tell you about? Love.

But not just any love. Love that I found in Hampi.

Who is he? Well, actually he’s a she. Ok ok and she’s an elephant.

Which brings us to our next “How to” …

How to … Pursue a Pachyderm (editor’s note: I have always had a longstanding love of elephants, which have been my favorite animals probably since birth. Therefore, this is not weird. K? Glad we cleared that up.)

Step 1: Find an elephant to love. (Duh).

Oh THERE you are, Peter!

Step 2: Apologize for calling her Peter. Her name is Lakshmi you jerk.

I sowwy, Lakshmi. You so perdy.

Step 3: Take it slow. Act interested, but, ya know, not TOO interested. And whatever you do, don’t get physical too soon.

Hugs don't count. Just don't scare her with the creepy open-arms approa... Yeah, that.

Step 4: Now that you’ve gotten her attention, look deep into her big brown eyes and marvel at how much the two of you have in common.

You like all things peanut?? SO DO I! I've got this great peanut butter pie recipe ... meet at your banana tree later?

Step 5: She might be nervous about rushing into anything too fast. Break down those barriers with your sense of humor. Nothing spells ‘love’ like being able to make a girl genuinely smile.

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros? Hell if I know! (Gotcha grinnin!!)

Step 6: Give her unique, personal, and sincere compliments. Flattery shouldn’t be a requirement for love, but, ya know, noticing what makes her special doesn’t hurt.

What soft elephant skin you have! And, truly, I am in constant awe of your impeccable memory.

Step 7: It’s time to have the all-important DTR (defining the relationship). Don’t be scared to commit. Remember all the love that you share.

So ... what are we?

Step 8: She feels the same!! Rejoice in your first shared photo op.

I know my calculus. It says U + ME = US.

Step 9: Live hephalumply-ever-after. Because love … love may surprise you.

And when you know ... you know. Lauren and Lakshmi - 2011

Step 10: And in your floating-on-a-cloud state, be sure to play and sing THIS on your ukulele at least once a day. (No, ask my roommates, I really have been doing that).


THE END. (The beginning?)

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Does a Body Good

When I was in college, I felt like my body hated me. Never doing what I asked of it. Never looking the way I wanted it to. And so, I gave it the return treatment. Terrible stuff. I’m talking all-nighters every other night, eating nothing but candy from that godforsaken FUSAB candy bucket, running miles to the brink of collapsing and then not lacing up my shoes again for weeks. The no sleeping thing got so bad that one night a couple of friends pulled an intervention and forced me out of the library (where, let’s be real, I was studying more to be near my crush than for actual productivity purposes.)

But for about three years now my body and I have come to a mutual agreement:  I do right by you, you do right by me. And things have basically been rad and groovy ever since. I feed my body what it needs and give it plenty of rest and it responds by, well, being well and doing things like…

Running half marathons

With sisterly support OF COURSE

Fun yoga poses

But only on dangerous precipices.

Bouldering

Blurrily

 And capoeira

Ok NOT actually me. But one day...

But to be honest I had a pretty easy go of it. The lifestyle change I mean. New York is just BURSTING with new forms of exercise to try, new healthy foods to sample. I could walk down the street and point out five hot yoga classes and eight different organic markets. One time while back home in Georgia for the weekend, I asked my dad to pick up some chia seeds at the grocery store. When he got back (from the Super Wal-Mart, mind you), he told me the grocery staff had looked at him like he was nuts (“You mean, chia pet?”)

Fast forward to today. Once again, I am in the learning stages of how to do right by my body in this new, game-changer of an environment. And as I write this from my bed, where I am sick for the third, count ’em, third time since my arrival two months ago, I know that I don’t have the whole staying-healthy-in-India thing down quite yet. What I thought would be a breeze (the vegetarian mecca! yoga! lentils!) has turned out to be a much greater battle for wellness.

Don’t get me wrong the food here is delicious and I love that I can guarantee a plethora of vegetarian options at any restaurant. But factors such as air quality, water, and fresh vegetable availability have been really ragging on my health more than I’d anticipated. Staying healthy is possible, but it just takes much more effort than my former pansy, city-self had to exert.

So I thought I would take a post to explain how to do a body good in this beautiful but challenging country (whether or not I’m succeeding is another story entirely).

Probably the hardest thing to deal with is the air quality. My first time in India I lived in the ruralest of the rural areas. Surrounded by nothing but a few villages, the air I breathed was fresh and flawless. Going on jogs through the banana trees, I could suck in huge gulps of close-to-pure oxygen and at night the stars sprinkled the sky by the zillions.

Hyderabad is a horse of a different color. A population surplus + streets overcrowded with motorbikes and autos belching big puffs of exhaust mean that a large gulp of air would probably result in a five minute coughing fit. I would absolutely not be surprised at all if a post-trip exam showed that I had the lungs of a 13-year smoker. For that reason, whenever I travel by auto, this is how I roll:

Try to catch me ridin' dirty

Head covered – check. Mouth covered – check. Nose covered – check. Eyes covered – check. Forehead covered – dangit. Honestly, I get about 75% less stares by traveling like this than when uncovered. So, not-so incognito it is!

Next, nutrition. On this one I’ll accept a hefty helping of responsibility for my failures thus far. The market is so faaaaar (whinewhinewhine) and the only time I can go is at dusk when the “boy’s club” is in full swing (whinewhinewhine) and all eyeballs turn towards me (whinewhinewhine). For this reason, I have been eating more than my fair share of peanut butter … almost to the point of absurdity. (I kid you not, as I typed this my roommate brought me her get-well specialty:  toast slathered in nutella and peanut butter. Pshaw. ENABLER!/Ilovemyroommates!) Breakfast is usually an apple and peanut butter or granola and soy milk, and lunch is a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Dinner is … um. Well, a couple of times I’ve made some AMAZING vegetable dal and another time I made a salad with wheat atta and cucumbers. But for the extent that I extol my love for cooking, I’ve sure been a sluggish chef.

But as soon as I regain my strength from this recent bout with Brother Flu, that must change. While dropping a few lbs has been welcomed (dare I say … needed), doing so at the expense of my nutritional well-being is not my ideal way to go.  So single-stovetop-be-damned I WILL eat dinner every night and will cram every last vegetable possible into that meal.

That's the ticket

And, finally, exercise. Up until recently, figuring out how to workout has been a puzzle (one of those 1000+ piece kinds). Due to the aforementioned air quality and the general notsogoodideaness of running alone as a female, my cardio of choice has been nixed. Well what about those sweet spinning classes like in NYC?? Yeah, no. Not even the singing-and-dancing-Glee workout like Crunch had? Nope.

But guess what you can do anywhere, anytime, fancy class or no…? Yoga. And so faithfully sits my bedside purple mat:

Cooooome to me.

HOWEVER, lately I’ve been craving more. So I joined a gym, which may be the single best decision I’ve made thus far. Ladies-only and air-conditioned, it is a welcomed change from the muggy man’s-world outdoors. Though a heckuva commute from my school, with an elliptical, a treadmill and a spinning bike to boot, I don’t even mind that it is eversostereotypically called “Pink.”

And now for the icing on the cake. If you’ve made it thus far in this accidentally lengthy post, then hopefully the following will make it feel worth it (probably not).

Last week at school a couple of teachers cornered me as the bell rang for lunch. One of them, my best buddy at school to whom I will dedicate a full post one day, looked me straight in the eye, pointed to her stomach and said, “Can you make it go inside?”

“Um, what?”

“Can you make it go inside?” (still pointing at her stomach)

“Make what go inside?”

“This! This!” (patting her stomach) “I want it to be inside like yours!” (pats my stomach … yes, she did.)

Suddenly it clicked that Anu wanted me to help her flatten out her stomach. “You maintain yourself so nicely!” she gushed.

What? ME? I was floored and flattered. One thing you should know about Indian women:  they are honest. At times to the point of being a bit hurtful (ex: “Miss, you need a facial.  Your skin is not looking so nice.”) So the fact that these teachers honest-to-goodness admired my fitness was such a compliment.

And so I did what any girl does when she is truly flattered … ANYTHING THEY ASKED. Which in this case involved teaching them exercises to help “make it go inside.” And that is how I ended up locked in our school’s A/V room. With a group of teachers. On the floor. Doing plank. In their saris.

We went through plank and side plank and then lower ab and oblique crunches, ending it all with a few bicycles crunches. At which point they asked for exercises for legs and butt. So we did wall-sits, lunges, squats, chair calf-raises and leg-lifts. All of them sweating profusely. All of them in 24 feet of fabric. They wanted to know exactly how many I do at exactly what time for exactly how long.

And then the biggest surprise of all. “Do you do yoga?” Anu asked. “Yes! I love yoga!” I said excitedly, thinking boy howdy now I get to learn yoga in India from the professionals!

“Can you teach us?”

Come again?

And so that is how I ended up locked in our school’s A/V room. With a group of teachers in their saris. Teaching yoga. In India. To Indians.

Oh the irony.

I taught them the first half of Sun Salutation A (no lunges/chaturangas/downward dogs yet) before the bell signaled the end of lunch period. Throughout the rest of the day, 8 more teachers came up to me patting their stomachs and whispering “you can make it go inside?” Word had spread.

And so, folks, thus begins Pragati High School’s new “Health and Wellness” program for teachers. Maybe in the process I can keep myself healthy and well, too. Here’s hopin’ (coughhacksneezeshiver).

Until next time, when I will discuss last weekend’s trip to Hampi. Where I fell in love …

Namaste

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A Sari State of Affairs

Once upon a blog post, I promised you a recap of all of the festivities of August 15th, India’s Independence Day. But truthfully, without photos (since somebody forgot to charge her camera … *raiseshand*) there ain’t a whole lot to tell. Basically the day went like this:

8:00 AM: Arrive to pick up sari from sweet old lady who finished the tailoring over the weekend at her home.

8:30 AM: Wait while the sweet old lady brushes her teeth and her entire family of 10 empties out into the alley where you are sitting to stare at you and murmur to each other in Telugu.

9:00 AM: Allow yourself to be cajoled into this stranger’s hut by a steaming cup of Hyderabadi chai (duh) where you are then stripped and fit to be tied. Not the southern expression … actually fitted to have the sari tied. (For the record, the rest of the family was not invited to sit and stare during this part.)

9:30 AM: After being bedecked and bejeweled, you are revealed to the rest of your new fam who, with a head-waggle of approval, send you on your merry way, 45 minutes later than you had planned.

9:35 AM:  Walk into the schoolyard and ooh and aah at the gorgeous orange, green, and white decor, only to realize that the other 800 people (already seated for the programs … late, ‘member?) are oohing and aahing at you. Nothing quite says “stare at me” like a 5’10” curly-haired white girl in sparkly pink sari.

9:40 AM: “Would you like a sweet, Miss?” “Yes, thank you!”

9:45 AM: While the children sing the Indian National Anthem, watch with skepticism as Principal Sir hoists a flag that is in a tight wad up the flagpole. Look around to see if anyone else notices that the flag is stuck in a ball and not blowin’ in the wind. Consider telling Principal Sir that it might be best if he unrolls the flag first.

9:48 AM: Feel real dumb when the flag-ball hits the top of the pole and bursts open in a colorful spray of orange, white and green confetti to the cheers of all. Cheer along with everyone. You totally knew it was going to do that.

10:00 AM: “Would you like a sweet, Miss?” (a different sweet) “Yes, thank you!”

10:05 AM: “Would you like a chai, Miss?” “Yes, thank you!” (slowin’ down …)

10:10 AM: “Would you like a sweet, Miss?” “No, thank you!” (sweets-lady does not budge) “No, thank you, ma’am. I am so full of sweets.” (sweets-lady does not budge.) “Um, yes, thank you?” (sigh)

10:30 – 12 PM: Fend off the sweets-lady 20 more times as you watch each 5th-9th class perform a special dance to celebrate. Like this but in beautiful salwar kameez:

12:30 PM: Listen to Principal Sir address the students, teachers, alumni and guests. Nod along and then sort of nod into a daydream until you hear your name. Wait, what? Your name??

1:00 PM: Awkwardly make your way onto the stage as you realize that he has asked you to give a speech.

1:01 PM: Thank God for all those Furman Com Studies speeches (ha!) as you are handed the mike.

1:01 – 1:07 PM: Basically suck up to the teachers for 5 minutes straight (nothing will be accomplished this year without their help after all), telling the students the importance of studying hard and listening in class.

1:08 PM: Realize as you finish that despite slowing down your pace to about 10 wpm (words per minute) and eee-nun-cee-ate-ing ev-er-ree wehr-duh, about half of the crowd did not understand you.

1:10 – 1:40 PM: Remain onstage to be the official award-hander-outter/hand-shaker/publicity toy as about 100 students are individually called up to receive their awards. And, of course, to have their photo taken with the tall sari’d American girl.

1:45 – 3:00 PM: Give two more speeches by Principal Sir’s request and then have a wonderful time with his family at his home where you are treated to – you guessed it – chai and sweets.

So, that was pretty much the rundown to a really fantastic day. And despite feeling absolutely exhausted as I got home, when you’re a girl in a sari, who’s just charged her camera, and whose fellow sari’d flatmates clamor for a fashion show, well there’s just no other option, now, is there?

Thus, what follows are the pictures that I DO have from August 15th. Happy belated Independence Day!




Will be made fun of for this

The "wherefore art thou, Romeo" shot

Errrrm, what to do ...

I ... will ... do ... THIS!

And then, of course, trip.



And one to grow on …

Adarsh loves you.

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Oh the places you’ll go…

Lately, technology and I have been waging a sortie of sorts.  In fact, I’m close to boycotting the industry altogether. Who’s with me!??

"I am! I am! I am!"

What’s that you say? The Internet is technology? I’d have to boycott Gmail? And Facebook? And Pinterest? And everyotherabsolutelynecessarytimesuck? I’d have to stop writing this blog!? Welllll perhaps just a pout then…

You see, my computer has decided that she’s not interested in my camera and refuses to accept his photographic gifts. Despite a lovely green light blinking, “please? please? please?” and a thorough and well-framed (if I do say so myself) selection of pictures, Lady Mac, the high-falutin’ tease that she is, only pauses (everlasting multi-colored spinning wheel), considers (“Importing Photos”) and ultimately rejects (“0 Photos Imported”) my poor, desperate Canon. I know he may come off as a needy, megalomaniac with his constant USB attachment and fire-truck crimson hue, but give the guy a chance!

Alas and alack, until I can entice a techno-hip male to my rescue successfully Google “what to do when your computer plays hard-to-get” you will be forced to look at either old photos or others’ photos. Like this:

Definitely not my photo. Definitely my latte.

But photos or no photos, boy do I have some stories to tell. In the hopes that future tales will be accompanied by related pictorial evidence, I will start with one that could in no way have been documented by Sir Canon. You will soon see why…

The concept of “privacy” in India is interesting. And by “interesting” I mean nonexistent. But up until last week, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I lived in New York City for Bloomberg’s sake! I’ve had 4 years of personal space invasion to prepare for India:  the Everest of everyone-up-in-yo-business.

And then I met Parveen. Sweet Parveen. A thirty-something spirited singleton (“I don’t need a man to make me happy” – go girl) who took one look at me across the aisle on the bus and excitedly patted the open seat next to her. Used to being looked at constantly but never actually addressed, I didn’t quite know what to do. But she was practically pummeling the seat now and people were starting to stare (well, you know, staring harder), so I smiled, sat down beside her, and prepared myself for the usual barrage of questions that Indian women ask young, American women. And come they did …

“From where are you being? What is your name? What is your mother’s name? What is your father’s name? What is your sister’s name? What is your brother’s name? No brother? Are you married? Are you soon to be married? Do you know who you will marry? How old are you?” At which point it was my turn to talk so as to explain why, at the decrepit age of 26, I hadn’t landed a husband. “Um, we get married later in America.” “26 is really not that old there.” (Right??) “People often wait until their 30s to get hitched.” (Am I reassuring her or myself??)

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable conversation particularly when the topic switched to her. As it turned out, Parveen was a bit of a queen-of-all-trades. Part fashion designer (“I’ll design you a saree!”). Part expert chai-maker (“I will teach you the BEST chai recipe”). Part color theorist (“Only I know what colors will look best on your fair skin”). Parveen does it all. But most importantly, Parveen is a nurse. A nurse who’s hospital is right down the street from my flat. So when she invited me to come directly with her to see where she worked, I thought man knowing a nurse and a convenient hospital in India might come in handy someday. So despite fighting exhaustion from a full day of being “on” at school, I hiked up my backpack, adjusted my dupatta, and followed this complete stranger to her professional workplace:  Udai Clinic.

After a 15 minute walk (“right down the street” my arse), I was sweaty, filthy and marching right past about fifty people in the waiting room into a wing marked “Trauma,” where Parveen said she wanted to introduce me to her boss. Her boss who was a surgeon. Her boss who was a surgeon IN THE MIDDLE OF PERFORMING SURGERY.

As Parveen made the introductions, I tried to wipe the horrified expression off of my face, avoid looking at the open, bloody body on the operating table, and hold my breath seeing as I was (as previously mentioned) THE MOST UNSTERILE PERSON ALIVE at that moment.  The doctor, bedecked in goggles, gloves, and face-mask, looked up as Parveen introduced me and waved. With his blood-covered _____ (scalpel? forceps? medicalsomethings) still in hand.

In a daze of disbelief, I waved (I think?) and then allowed Parveen to grab my hand and drag me to the next unit: Orthopedic Therapy. Sigh of relief. Seemed harmless after the trauma of our first stop (yeah, see what I did there?). Harmless, that is, until Parveen began yanking back the bed-curtains of patients to explain to me exactly what their ailments were.

While listening to Parveen detail how they were correcting the lower back pain (or something) of the man in front of us lying on his stomach with his shirt pulled up and pants pulled halfway down (yes, booty rockin’ everywhere), I decided out of self preservation and respect for this man’s dignity that I would pretend to be someone important. I would pretend to be a doctor. Rather than the dirty, random white chick that I actually was, I would at least allow this man to think I was a professional and had valuable input about his health. So, I put on my best serious face, discreetly slid my backpack to the floor, and listened to Parveen’s assessment, even interjecting with some serious-sounding questions in my serious-sounding voice.

When she finally finished and returned the bed-curtain to it’s rightful place, I quickly explained that I really must be going. It had been wonderful to see where she worked, but I had to, uh, feed my cat. And then, dragging my backpack behind me, dupatta askew, I booked it out of there as fast as my non-medical professional legs would carry me.

Moral of the story:  Do not take workplace tour offers from strangers.

And ain’t no HIPAA in India.

Definitely my photo. Definitely not relevant.

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And The World Spins Madly On

World Spins Madly On

It’s been a tough week around here, folks. I’ve been on a crash course with some very hard realities in the past 9 days or so … some personal, others much bigger than me. Thus the blog took a backseat. But I’ve hit the airbag now and am ready to quit being the crash dummy and start taking control of the dadgum wheel. (Enough of a driving metaphor for ya? Thought so.)

But before clicking ‘Refresh’, I thought I’d take a post to discuss the most significant event of last week. One that has very little to do with my life. Rather, it deals with the experience of living in today’s world, be it in India or New York City.

Last Thursday, I was alone doing some work in the Principal’s office at my school when a loud BOOM erupted and the building quaked a bit. It was low and loud  and sonorous, like a mountain was crumbling, boulder rumbling over boulder. I thought I was dreaming. You know that feeling when you’ve sort of wandered into a daydream and then out of nowhere an arm twitches violently, snapping you into consciousness? That’s what I thought had happened. Except I couldn’t remember the dream before the boom.

My school building is comprised of 4 floors, each encircled by an open hallway/balcony. So, when teachers began to run out into the hallway to peek over the railing at the street below, dream shifted to reality. Upon inquiring I was told that the boom was a transformer that had blown. Big freakin’ transformer, thought I. But what do I know about Indian transformers? And the bell rang. And off went I to class.

I’ve been leading a seminar of sorts for my middle school students in order to begin a school-wide project (more on this later), and on this particular day was gracing one of the sections of 8th class with my presence. In the middle of discussing the meaning of change, our loudspeaker system switched scratchily on, and the In-Charge (the Principal’s right hand man) began barking orders in incomprehensible English. Not unheard of. But this time he was much more hurried and forceful with his words, blurry and bursting in my eardrums. My students began to stir and murmur excitedly, and I could hear shrieking from the 6th class halls below. Waiting for a pause in the aural onslaught, I leaned over and asked one of the girls, “what is he saying?”

“A bomb, Miss.”

Now let me just briefly pause to say, it makes me nervous to even type that word on a blog. The b-word in America has become so sensitized (or maybe I just fly a lot?) that to say it here gives me pause. BUT, that is the word that was used, and so quote it I shall.

Yelling backwards at my class to stay silent in their chairs I ran out the door and found an actual employed teacher who confirmed that, yes, it was thatwhichshallnotbenamed (not a transformer) and that the school was being evacuated. As we got the kids safely out of the building, I was told a number of different things by the teachers, some of which I know now to be rumor and thus won’t repeat. But essentially, at that point in time the basic information I was getting was that a blast (used interchangeably with the b-word) had gone off across from our primary school building (the wee bitties ages preschool to 5th) which was a block away and visible from the balcony. It had been an accident, but there were casualties. Everyone at both of our schools was ok.

These moments were the most frightening of the experience for me. We have 4 sections of 44 students in each class 6-10 all of whom were being herded into the already chaotic street and away from the blast site … no quick or easy task. And the street. The narrow backstreet below, typically ‘teeming’ only with the occasional passerby wandering into the sari shops, was a madhouse. People, rickshaws, and motorbikes all fleeing in the same direction.

Once the kids were all out, the teachers were asked to stay, and I was torn. I wanted to show solidarity, but Lordy was I scared. My decision was made for me when the In-Charge charged (ha) up and demanded that I cover up (my head), saying that one of the teachers would escort me to a bus stop a neighborhood away on her motorbike. She was not to leave me until I boarded a bus.

And so she did. And so I did.

I now know more details from both a news write-up and my fellow teachers. As they said, the blast was an accident. Two women in a chemical factory across from my school were mixing chemicals in the basement and it exploded. Both women passed away. As I learned today, sadly one of those women was the mother of one of our students.

This morning on the way to school as I walked past the pile of rubble where a building once stood, I said a prayer for the families of the women. And now I say a special prayer for our 9th class student.

I debated posting about this all weekend because a) I didn’t yet know all of the facts and b) I didn’t want this to be about me. Naturally, I can only tell the story from my perspective, but truly it had nothing to do with me. Rather, it brings up the much greater issue of living safely in this world of both accident and intention. “Taking care,” as one of my friends calls it. This incident had nothing to do with the fact that I am living in a developing country. Such an accident could and does happen in the U.S. (ironically that very morning my dad had told my mom that he was a bit relieved that I would not be in NYC on September 11th this year). But it does serve as a reminder that the possibility of both accidental and intentional danger is a reality. A hard reality.

So take care, dear friends, and do not take for granted.

But also, live.

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How to: Ride, Sally, ride.

Not my photo

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Today marks the 64th anniversary of India’s independence from that greedy Great Britain and their cunning use of flags …

I’ve been looking forward to Independence Day for a week. Watching my students practice their songs, dances and locutions. Listening to teachers oooh and aaah over the prospect of me in a sari. Imagining what gloooorious photography skills I will display as I capture the city draped in orange, white, and green.

And then today as I strode excitedly into my school building, sari-a-flowin’, hair coiffed, makeup (over)done, I gasped at the beauty of the decor, grabbed my camera, framed the shot, clicked the button-thingy …

“Please Charge Battery.” (at least it asked nicely)

My school principal has promised to give me the shots taken by one of the teachers assigned the role of photographer-for-a-day, but judging from the placement of his finger squarely over the lens, I ain’t holdin’ my breath. BUT I’ll see what we’re working with tomorrow, and, pictures or no pictures, will do a write-up of what was a day chock full of patriotic pride, tooth-achingly sweet sweets, and awkward PDA (Public Display of the American).

So, although I won’t be going into today’s excitement in this post (collective awwwwwww), I will be providing our very first “How to” (and a yaaaaaaaaaaaaay).

How to … Ride a Camel

Step 1: Wake up supa dupa early to Skype with friends (who are clearly good luck camel charms), and afterward fall right back asleep only to awaken hours later to the sounds of your flatmates’ squeals.

Step 2: Jump out of bed and promptly topple onto your yoga mat because your right foot has refused to awaken with the rest of your body.

Step 3: Sort of Quasimodo-it to the balcony, look over, and lo and behold …

A blue car!

Step 4: Throw on suitable camel-riding clothes at breakneck speed in case the camel decides to begin sprinting down the street.

Step 5: Wait in anticipation as the camel exhibits some pretty impressive knee-bending skills.

Make YOUR elbows do THIS, suckas

Step 6: Take a million pictures of your flatmate hop on a camel for the very first time …

Step 7: Take pictures of your second flatmate’s ride eversoslightly less excitedly as your impatient inner 7-year-old screams, “My turn! My turn!” (sowwy Deb, sad & selfish, but true)

Step 8: Your turn!

Lord, help me.

Step 9: Realize that your “suitable camel-riding clothes” from Step 4 involve a skirt and flip-flops.

Step 10: Swing that leg over, and climb aboard anyhow.

Inappropriately revealed shins.

Step 11: Forget to hold on and momentarily topple forward.

Red-and-yellow-painted wooden X's save lives

Step 12: Recover and pretend you’re Ali Baba riding into Agrabah.

"He's got seventy-five golden camels..."

Step 13: Look up. Hit tree.

Aplehhharrrgfffhhdhhdeggblehhh

Step 14: Recover and snap a pic to show you’re ok and totally skilled at camelback-riding

All good, guys!

Step 15: Look down. Hit tree.

Oh. You again.

Step 16: Stick to backofcamel’shead shots

Yes, I see that tree thankuverymuch.

Step 17: Prepare for dismount.

Just slide down, yeah?

Step 18: Discover that the camel’s name is Balibir. Thank Balibir for a safe and glorious ride.

In my country, a light neckscratch to the left = thank you.

Step 19: Wait patiently as Balibir replies …

Yoooooou're

wellllllcommmmme

Laaaaurrennnn!

Step 20: Take a money shot for the grandchildren.

Good head-angle Bali. Can I call you Bali?

No. No you may not.

Step 21: Have the song “Sally the Camel” stuck in your head for the rest of the day…

And now so do you!! Jaya he’!

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H.W.O.T.D. – Thank you

Dhanyavad (dhan-ya-wad) – Thank you

Welcome to our first word in Hindi Word of the Day (hwotd!?). By the end of my year here we will all be fluent! Yeah? Yeah.

To kick us off let’s begin with one of the words I find to be the most important in any language … the word that represents gratitude. Because dhanyavad is not just a word. It is a declarative gift. In expressing thanks, you are giving a part of yourself to the recipient.  I give my thanks to you. Just like love, you feel thanks. You feel it first at the tops of your lungs. Air ballooning inward, filling, fighting for space between your ribs. Then exhaling up the back of your throat, funneling between the ‘th’ of tooth and tongue, and finally spilling over your upturned lips (don’t forget to upturn those lips).

And here’s the most beautiful part:  that flooding feeling is shared by thanker and thankee alike, just like love. But unlike love, there’s no risk! When you give gratitude, there is no expectation of gratitude in return. Not really. Giving thanks unconditionally seems a heckuva lot easier than unconditional love. In fact I don’t believe that true unconditional love is a mortal trait at all. But unconditional thanks? Sure! Because the deed has already been done. You already have something for which to be thankful. Whether that is something as small as being delivered safely to your destination by a tuk tuk driver (actually, in Indian traffic, that really is no small feat) or something as infinite as God’s grace.

Problem is, we can be stingy with our gratitude. Reserving it for those whom we feel are truly worthy or assuming that our thankees innately know that we are appreciative. Other times we try to tangibly give gratitude. I know I am all too often guilty of this. Feeling like whatever I have been given should be matched by the thanks I give in return (usually in the form of a gift). But, really, I think the ideal form of gratitude is when it is expressed genuinely and often. Whether written or verbal (my southern mother is biting her tongue here, *cough* WRITTEN *cough*), it is only important to pass it on. To live a life of constant gratitude.

So, to whom am I grateful today? Oh so many. But in this entry I’d like to express my particular and belated thanks to a group of friends who gave me a gift that just keeps on giving. A book filled with love:


So to Allison, Glanzer, Amber, Skewge, Markey, Lisa, Charlene, Scott, Hen, Joel, Neca, Rindsay, Adam, Kat, Mike, Wendell, Lauren, Katie, Steph, Devin, Daniella, Morter, Pete, Meggie, Alan, Amanda, Han, Claire W., Claire T., Sheryl, and any and all anonymous contributors … DHANYAVAD. Dhanyavad from the tops of my lungs and out of my upturned lips. I will never be able to express fully how much this labor of love means to me. But with you I share my gratitude.

And that is enough.

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