Well, let me start this off with a big, huge SORRY! I’m sure that you have convinced yourself that I’ve fallen off the planet, or that you have the wrong URL for my blog. Well, both assumptions are wrong! I have definitely NOT fallen off this planet. My feet are firmly stuck to the roads of India (although they have been doing a lot of travelling). Also, you do have the right URL… I have just been horrible about informing you of my adventures here in IndiaLand! Well, wonder no longer! I’m going to fill you in about the last five months of my life! (Yes, it’s really been that long since you last saw me in the US.) Sit back, relax, and most of all, ENJOY! 🙂
As of Christmas day, I have lived in India for five months. I arrived in late July 2011 unsure of many things: How would my family be? Would I be able to adjust to vegetarian food? Would I survive the heat? Well, five months later, I can safely say that I am having the time of my life. I’ve learned to eat, dress, and act like an Indian. I’m still learning to speak like an Indian… my Hindi is slowly coming together. Although, I must give props to my host mom for teaching me to read Hindi perfectly!
I’m staying in the small town of Amravati, where I’m realizing what a small town really is! Yes, the population is 800,000 and I can find more to do in Eugene, OR (population 150,000) than I can here. If you asked me what there is to do in my city, I would tell you this: “Hmmmmm…. I can take you to my college… I can show the Jalebi stand…. my host dad’s factory…. hmmmmmm.. let me sleep on it and I can come up with something else in the morning.” No, I am not exaggerating.
By the time my first month in India was up, I had already travelled to Indore, Pachmarhi, Chikhaldara, and Nagpur. Indore is a city a few hours north of Amravati in the state of Madhya Pradesh. I spent a week there… I got to meet my host mom’s side of the family, and meet my host sister for the first time. Pachmarhi and Chikhaldara are hill stations. I was in Pachmarhi (a jungle area) for a week. We had a family reunion there. It was a beautiful trip. We did trekking, bathing in waterfalls, sight seeing, game playing, and LOTS of eating. Chikhaldara is also a jungle area. I was there with my family and our good friends. This was a shorter trip that included boating, sight seeing, trekking, and LOTS of games and as usual, FOOD!
Also in the first month, I began attending classical Indian dance (Odissi), and classical Indian violin classes. Since I’ve attended the dance classes, I’m seeing what a real work out is! Every part of your body is used (eyes included!). However, Indian dance is not just about getting exercise, it’s about telling a story using your body. My violin classes are fun, since I didn’t bring my cello with me to India. However, I’ve officiailly decided that cello is the only instrument I will ever play with seriousness. I’ve also learned the art of mendhi (also know as henna), which turns out is much harder than it looks!
I attended college for two weeks before I realised that it was a waste of my time. Every day I would get up at 6 AM and be at college by 7, only to have my friends say, “Let’s bunk class today. I want samosas.” This became a regular routine, and so, out of my two weeks, I attended maybe 3 lectures. Rather than get fat off samosas, I decided to look into volunteering at a school for young children. One of the local Rotarians owns a playschool near to my house. In the mornings, for a couple hours, I attend her school and help with the children (ages 18 months to 5 years). They learn English from me, and I learn Hindi from them. It’s also given me the opportunity to be out in the community and meet many new people.
A big honking part of Indian culture is their festivals. It seems that every week there is a new holiday to celebrate. Some of the big festivals I’ve gotten to attend so far are Navratri, a nine day festival in which you dance… A LOT, Ganpati, a ten day festival celebrating Lord Ganesh, Kojagiri, a day celebrating the full moon (you get to drink hot, tasty milk), and Diwali, a festival marking the new year of the Hindi calendar with lots of lights and fireworks. Of course, I still have many, many festivals to come, of which I’m most looking forward to Holi (the color throwing festival)!
Right after the Diwali festivals (end of October), I began my travelling spree. I started by attending the RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) camp in Nagpur. It was a four day camp at a Military School. I attended the camp with six other exchange students. We made many Indian friends, and got to try out many different activities including horseback riding, archery, obstacle courses, swimming, and rangoli (a traditional Indian art). We also went for night treks, and got to enjoy star gazing. At the beginning of camp, all the students had been split up into groups of about 12. Throughout the camp, these groups met and practiced a dance that they would perform on the last night of camp. All of the exchange students were put into one group with four Indians, and we put together a routine to Jai Ho (the popular track from Slumdog Millionaire). For the last night, all the parents were invited and we had dinner, and performed our dances, and we had an awards ceremony. Everyones dance went well excpet for the exchange students… we forgot half of the dance and ended up just doing crazy stuff on the stage (we had a really great time though, and everyone seemed to enjoy it). At the awards ceremony, I ended up winning the award for most participating student. I was very proud of myself! 🙂
Directly after RYLA, I went to Mumbai for a week. November 4th was her birthday, so we went and celebrated! It was my first time in Mumbai. I got to see all the big shopping malls, the Gateway to India, the most expensive home in India, the slums, lots of foreigners (very unusual to see white people here), and Necklace Road. After Mumbai, I was in Amravati for two days before again heading off, this time for a tour of South India.
The tour, hosted by Rotary, lasted from mid November until mid December. There were eleven students (all on exchange) on the tour and we travelled all over south India. We started in Hyderabad, and went down the east coast. Then, at Chennai, we headed inland and explored Hassan, Ooty, Mysore, and similar areas. We spent a couple of days in Kanyakumari, and then headed up the west coast, ending with four days in Goa.(Just a note: I’m sure you’ve not heard of any of the places, but hey, that’s what maps are for!!!) On the tour, we explored museums and temples, explored tea factories, relaxed on beaches, saw some temples, rode elephants, went trekking, saw some temples, spent a night on a house boat, watched traditional Indian dance performances, explored a few more temples, shopped, oh, and did I mention that we saw a temple or two… or 33? Apart from being templed-out, we all had a FANTASTIC time! Words can’t even begin to express how wonderful it was!!! (Now I can’t wait for the North Tour!!!!!!!)
When I returned to Amravati, I immediately left again for Gujarat (a state northwest of Maharashtra), where I got to experience an Indian engagement. Let me tell you, if their engagements make an American wedding look like nothing… I can only imagine what an Indian wedding is like!!! The couple came out looking like royalty, and so did the venue! Both families came together for the first time. There was eating, dancing, mendhi, eating, dancing, the ring ceremony, champagne, dancing, eating, dancing, gifts, dancing, eating, prayers, performances, dancing, eating, and then sleeping (at 2 in the morning). After attending the engagement, I’ve sent my host family on a hunt to find me an Indian man (no worries, you’re invited)!
The following day, everyone set out for some sight seeing of Gujarat. We drove several hours north to Kutch (yes, there was dancing on the bus ride, in case you were wondering). Kutch borders Pakistan, and is famous for its White Desert. The White Desert, which is actual salt (like the salt flats in Nevada) is 60 km by 120 km, and it’s absolutely beautiful!!!!! Where we stood, the salt was only a few inches thick, but there are certain places where the salt builds to about seven feet thick!
After returning from Gujarat, the Holidays were here! I enjoyed my Christmas in Pune (a college town 12 hours west of Amravati). Christmas is not celebrated in India like it is in the US. So, in the small town of Amravati we had NOTHING! However, in the bigger city of Pune (where you actually get the chance to see foreigners apart from yourself), they had all kinds of decorations! I definitely enjoyed seeing the lights, christmas trees in malls, and the occasional Santa Clause on the corner! I also decorated the house that I stayed in. I put up a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, some snowflakes, and I even attempted making cookies! The only problem was, in India they don’t have ovens like in America (unless you use a toaster oven) and so making cookies in the microwave definitely doesn’t work too well… even if it says it has a grill setting!!!!
Then, after returning again to Amravati, it was time for New Years!!! Well, if you didn’t know, Indians definitely know how to celebrate the New Year!!!! I went to parties on the 30th, 31st, and the 1st! Each started at 8 or 9 in the evening, consisted of eating, dancing, eating, dancing, dancing, eating, chatting, and then everyone leaving at 2 AM. On the 31st, we actually were gifted with a beautiful rain (which never happens at this time of year). fortunately, the dancing was held outside, and we really got to enjoy the rain!!!
Now that the parties have stopped, I’m back to dance class, violin class, and my normal routine (I admit I miss all the travelling)! In a week, I head off to Nagpur (for 3 weeks) to attend the Rotary District Conference, where myself and the other exchange students will be given performances and meeting all the Rotarians in our district.
Well, this concludes my adventures of the first half of my exchange! I hope you enjoyed it, and are looking forward (as much as I am) to my second half of the year!
Here are just a few things that I’ve learned or discovered about India, Myself, and life in general, so far:
- There is never enough time to spend with your family
- It is possible to be cold when the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit
- Making roti (Indian bread) is MUCH harder than it looks
- Baking cookies in a microwave doesn’t work very well
- There is always room to help out around the house
- Oregon has the freshest/best tasting water in the world (straight from the tap)
- There’s no place like home for the holidays
- Indians like to stare and take pictures of white people
- It’s impossible for me to be completely satisfied without my cello
- Dancing is really, really, really fun
- You should be content with the things that you have… never ask for more, because there is always someone who has less.
- Bollywood films are much better than Hollywood films, only because they are all musicals
- I LOVE INDIA! I LOVE ME! I LOVE LIFE!
Thank you so much to everyone! Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad!