Monthly Archives: July 2011

As Indian as Apple Crisp

What is the defining characteristic of any country?  What makes India India, the U.S. the U.S., Jamaica Jamaica?  Is it the people, the government, the landscape, the soil, the border on a map, the customs, the food, the way of dress or the language?  As I have started to feel at home in my new surroundings I have been pondering this question.  What is India?  Not “what is India like compared to the U.S.” but what is India itself?  What is the essence of India?

India can be described in many words: loud, colorful, crowded, dusty, hot, chaotic, and bustling.  India is also welcoming, warm, delicious, happening, young, vibrant, energetic, ambitious, and beautiful.  The people of India are devoted, to their sports teams, their faith, their families, their profession, their studies.

In a world that is becoming ever more interconnected, India has maintained a unique identity.  In New Delhi especially, and other big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, definitively Indian style lives alongside with Levi’s, Lacoste, and Blackberry.  An influential player in the global economy before Marco Polo, India’s rising star is fueled by entrepreneurship, democratic ideals, and sheer gumption.  Many of the Indians I’ve talked to note that opportunities for employment are increasing in India.  This rise in opportunities back home, and the arrival through globalization of the “creature comforts” once sought in the West, means that many members of the enormous Indian diaspora are looking for the chance to move back to India.

Like any world capital, New Delhi is home to citizens of all nationalities.  As I travel around India this year I will gain different perspectives of what makes this country so unique, so Indian.  At home in St. Paul, MN I feel very connected to the larger global community.  Here in New Delhi I feel that connection even more.  I think my constant connection, through newspapers, news media, Skype, Facebook, and email, to the global diaspora means that I might feel at home anywhere in the world with a wireless connection.  Even in a country where I don’t speak any of the twenty some official languages, I don’t feel as far as twelve time zones away.  Folk musician and fellow Minnesotan Peter Mayer sums up my feelings very well in his song “Earth Town Square”, a place where there are “Germans selling Audis filled with gasoline from Saudis to Australians sipping Kenyan coffee in their Chinese shoes…”

Tonight is my last night at home with the Shahani family, and they really do feel like family.  I will be eternally grateful to this loving bunch who have made me feel so at home here in India since my arrival two weeks ago.  Today I made an apple crisp with my Indian host brother Rohan.  There is a supermarket nearby that has everything you could ever want from all over the world.  Next time I go I am bringing my camera because it alone is worth a write up in my blog.  I got brown sugar there, and with oats, dal flour, butter, Himalayan apples, and fresh lemon juice (we forgot the cinnamon & nutmeg!) we made a pretty good replica of my mom’s apple crisp.

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Tomorrow I am moving into the flat with Lesly & Lena.  Today we did the final walk through with our landlords and broker.  The furniture we bought yesterday was delivered, so my bed is already made and waiting for me to crash tomorrow night after my first day of classes.  I have two classes tomorrow: 1) International Trade, Finance & Development, and 2) Polity & Society in India.  The first overlaps with another course I really want to take that doesn’t start until the 15th, so as usual there will be some kinks to work out in the beginning of the semester before I get settled into a set course schedule.

Finally, I am introducing a new page on my blog titled “Question of the Week”.  Each week (or so) you will have the chance to ask me a question.  Out of all your questions I will choose one and respond in a blog post.  The first prompt is “What would you like to know about my experience in India so far?”  Post your response on the “Question of the Week” page below my prompt by entering it in the comment box under “Leave a Reply”.  I look forward to your questions!

Thank you all for continuing to follow my adventures.  Writing to you is one of the joys of my time here.

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Party Hopping, House Hunting, and More

Sunday evening I attended another embassy event, a dinner hosted by the commission of the Kingdom of Lesotho to bid farewell to the current ambassador and his wife, who are leaving India after many years serving here.  Sporting my new threads from Fabindia, I finally felt like I fit the dress code.  Here is a picture with my host Rotarian, Gobind, who has become my Indian grandfather.  I feel so at home, living with him, his brother & sister, and sister’s children and grandson.  Moving to my own space will be bittersweet.  I will most definitely drop in for a home cooked meal and conversation no less than once a week.  The warmth of this family is at least 80% of what has made my adjustment to India such a breeze!  There is an incredible generosity among Rotarians when it comes to hospitality.  The general philosophy is that Rotary is like a large global family, so Rotarians host you as though you are family, treating you very well but not so well that you become uncomfortable.  I look forward to returning the favor in Minnesota!

On Monday we went to a celebration hosted by the Egyptian Embassy.  There are now many familiar faces at these events, ambassadors and their spouses who I have met many times.  I got to speak Spanish with the ambassadors from Chile and Mexico as well as a number of other Latin American countries.  I’ve been testing my French with the African ambassadors, who I sat with at dinner on Sunday.  I also met a counselor from the Bosnian embassy who knew my dear friend Boris, from St. John’s University, when he did an internship at the Bosnian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  What a small small world!

On Thursday we signed our contract with the landlord and his wife, a young couple who seem really nice.  There is still work to be done on the flat, painting, wiring, plastering, etc.  On Sunday night we’ll meet with them again for a complete walk through and instructions on anything we need to know before they hand over the keys.  Tomorrow morning the girls and I will go furniture shopping.  All stores here do home delivery, so we’ll order beds, tables, etc. to be delivered to the flat on Sunday night.  We are all excited to make the space our own!

Today I completed my registration at the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within the necessary 14 days so I will not be deported.  The office is a mini Ellis Island.  People from all over the world were milling about, sitting, and waiting with papers and  passports in hand.  I saw a few Americans.  If  one thing has surprised me about India it is that I haven’t seen nearly as many Americans as I expected.  I met the naval attache to the US Embassy on Monday and that was the first American I had met since my arrival.  Speaking of Americans, Daniel arrived on Wednesday night and I was overjoyed to meet him today!  It’s nice to see a familiar face and catch up.

Two of my classes will start on Monday.  I was able to complete the last of my registration formalities yesterday which is excellent because I was growing quite tired of the signing and stamping routine.  There is no way to describe the process of registration at an Indian university.  Through the entire ordeal I found myself doubting whether so many Americans would go to college if it was such a hassle to register each semester.  Then again, education is an incredible privilege worth any hassle.  But serioulsy, you haven’t seen red tape or jumped through hoops until you’ve registered as a student in India.

Finally, I have some video to post.  The group, Marimba, that I wrote about in a previous post was there on Monday night to play again.  So this time I captured part of “Ojos Asi” as well as the Arabic welcome song I spoke about.  Enjoy!

Word to the Wise, Avoid New Delhi in the Summertime

When I told my Indian acquaintances in the U.S., or anyone who had spent time in India, that I was to arrive to New Delhi in July, I received a universal response – a sharp frown, shake of the head, and the admonition that it was much too hot that time of year.  I was told to anticipate temperatures above 110 F, nearing 115 or 120 with humidity.  Unlike mental preparation for culture shock, there is little to be done to prepare oneself for extreme temperature change (unless you are Ann Bancroft about to head to the North Pole, then you eat sticks of butter like they are Snickers).  I knew the heat would be one of the hardest things to get used to, but hey, I’ve lived through many a hot and sticky Minnesota summer, it couldn’t be so bad right?  Wrong.

While the mercury can push 100 F on a summer day in Minnesota, and even higher with humidity – as proved by last week’s heat wave which had the Twin Cities hotter than New Delhi –  the heat of a Minnesota summer does not usually last more than a week at a time.  Mother Nature’s mood swings plant surprisingly cool days among the heat of summer in MN, and a dip in one of our many lakes or your backyard kiddie pool makes even the hottest day tolerable.

I’m the sort of person that would much rather be too cold than too hot.  After all, when you are cold there is a lot you can do to warm up.  But when you are hot, there is only so much skin you can appropriately expose, and in the decidedly more conservative Indian culture, this amount is very little.  In the dry heat of the desert it is advisable to cover oneself almost entirely.  The cloth barrier between the sun and your skin actually makes you cooler.  But even in 100% cotton, covering up in this sort of humidity makes for an unavoidably sweaty existence.  One of the things I miss most about home is the freedom to wear whatever you want.  Examples: Feel like wearing a string bikini to a public beach?  Go ahead.  Want to go grocery shopping after the beach?  No problem, just throw on your sandals, a pair of Daisy Dukes and (maybe) a sheer tank top over that bikini and you’re set.  Don’t feel like getting dressed in the morning?  Go to school/the bank/the mall/a coffee shop in your pajamas!  Anyone who has visited People of Walmart, walked down the street in San Fran, Austin, or NYC, knows that many Americans take the right to wear anything quite seriously.  The fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one cohesive cultural framework from which to judge what is appropriate and what is not means there are few boundaries on fashion creativity.

But back to Delhi heat, let me try and describe exactly what this feels like.  First, think of how you feel after waking up from an afternoon nap in a hot and humid room, before washing your face.  Next, imagine the temperature and moisture of the skin on your back after an 80 rod portage carrying a Duluth pack.  Finally, conjure up the smell of any fifth grade field trip. I think you get the idea…that is New Delhi in the summer.  Many of the offices on campus have air conditioning, the library is kept quite cool, but at a certain temperature even AC doesn’t do much good.  I slept with the AC on in my room for the first few nights but got a nasty cold so I’ve had only the ceiling fan on lately.  I’m recovering from my cold, thankfully, but the only time I don’t feel like a sweaty Duluth pack that’s been sitting in the sun are the four minutes after a shower.  As mom says so wisely, this is a case of bourgeois suffering.

In other news, my friend and fellow Ambassadorial Scholar, Daniel Liles is set to arrive in New Delhi tonight.  He had a similar experience trying to get to India – his first flight was delayed, rerouted flight to Frankfurt was cancelled, so now he will arrive via Hong Kong.  He is sponsored by a Rotary Club in his home state of California, but worked in Minneapolis for the past year through Americorps, so we were able to meet a number of times before departing for this year long adventure.  I know we are both extremely grateful to have a friend from back home who we can rely upon this year, I am very excited to see him soon!

In other news, I’ll start most of my classes on Monday.  It looks like we won’t be able to move into our apartment until Sunday or Monday.  We are on Indian time so 4 days for the flat to be ready actually means about 7.  Video uploads are in progress, but taking an incredibly long time so I thank you for your patience.  I’m going to see a movie with Lena & Lesly.  I’ll write more soon.  Namaste.

Delhi Life Update

Since I arrived on Monday my sleeping schedule has been quite irregular – 11.5 hours difference is a lot for the body to adjust to.  I have gone to bed by 10pm most every night and only to wake up between 3:30am and 6:30am every day last week until finally managing to “sleep in” until 7:45am yesterday and 7:00am today.  I’d love to see the looks on the faces of those who know my usual sleeping habits.  Let’s just say I’ve never been known as an early riser.  But I really enjoy the peaceful mornings and the time to wake up my body and brain before diving into my day.

After breakfast I caught up on world news and continued to finalize my course selection for the semester.  I heard the news of the horrific event in Norway yesterday and have been shaken by the viciousness of the attacks.  Though I am far from home and far from Norway, the 24 hour news cycle and access to the Internet makes the world feel very small indeed.

I’ve begun to learn my way around New Delhi in the past few days.  On Thursday Lesly & Lena accompanied me on my first auto ride (auto, meaning an auto rickshaw).  A perfect fit for three people, autos are a fairly cheap way to get around New Delhi – especially when you have Lesly, the Queen of Bargaining with you – and the open air construction makes for a cool ride.  Until now my host, who has a driver like most upper-middle class Indian families, has been dropping me at campus on his way to work.  No complaining there, but it’s also nice to start learning my way around the city on my own.  On Friday I took my first solo auto ride to get to campus, about a 15 minute ride from my host’s house and $1 to $2 depending on the time of day.  As one can imagine, Westerners (especially Western women) attract a lot of attention here.  Having spent time as an obvious minority in other cultures, I am used to the stares, gestures, and invitations like “welcome to my country, you be my bootiful wife” (that was one we girls got a lot in Chile).  One learns that these solicitations are not to be taken seriously and most often nothing to be afraid of.  So far, I have found the attention in India to involve a lot more staring but few propositions.

As an experiment on my abilities as a “cultural chameleon” I decided to travel to school in a sort of disguise.  I fit a hijab out of one of my shawls – a skill I picked up during a high school field trip to a mosque – covered my arms with a loose sweater, and put on my sunglasses.   I had transformed from an obvious Westerner to maybe a student from the Middle East or perhaps a fair skinned Indian.  Riding alone to school in the auto, I felt very safe behind the veil and sunglasses.  I have always wondered what life would be like “behind the veil”.  I once saw a Post Secret entry that showed a picture of a woman in a full Afghan chadri, even her eyes made invisible behind the cloth net.  The caption read “I envy their freedom”.  Indeed, I did feel a sense of freedom behind the cloth covering.  As soon as I got to campus I transformed back into the obvious Westerner, unpinning my hijab, taking off the cardigan, and throwing on a pair of hoop earrings.  The JNU campus, as all university campuses tend to be, has its own little “bubble”.  Many students wear Western style clothes and you can walk the grounds unbothered at pretty much any hour.

I have also been traveling on the metro the past few days.  The New Delhi Metro is fairly new and very clean.  It reminds me a lot of the Washington, D.C. Metro.  There are also great security precautions on the metro.  All passengers must be patted down (separate lines for men and women, of course) and all bags must go through an X-ray machine.  Every train has at least one car for women only, which is a nice way to check out Indian fashion and avoid male attention.  The closest metro station is only a three minute walk from my host’s house, so it’s a great place to meet Lesly and Lena, who don’t yet have cell phones, and a good way to get around the city.  There is a lot of security around cell phones in India, ever since mobile phones were used in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.  Now any SIM card purchased must be linked to an address, making it rather difficult to get a phone.

The biggest news, I am saving the best for last, is that the girls and I found a flat yesterday!  We have been working with a broker who has shown us places all around town.  Yesterday we arranged an appointment to see five apartments/flats.  When we arrived, he told us “I will show you this first flat, and you will not want to see any more after that.”  It turns out he was right, though we did end up seeing the four others for good measure.  “The guys”, who are French students Manu and Albin, along with Thibault, another student from their university in France, joined us to look for their own place.  It was a really fun afternoon.  The six of us attracted a lot of attention as Aroon, our broker, carted us around New Delhi in his small truck – three of us inside and three in the back.

Our new home is located in a gated community within walking distance of the JNU campus.  Most of the area’s residents are government workers.  The area is quiet and calm.  We’ll be in a lovely ground floor apartment with three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a kitchen, and a living/dining area.  The selling point for all of us, I think, was a large patio, and the fact that we’ll have Indian neighbors.  I picture us chatting with them across the short wall dividing our patio from theirs as we hang up laundry or have our morning tea :).  We hope to move in by the end of this week.  The place was under construction when we viewed it, so the landlord is taking a few days to finish painting, wiring, and cleaning the entire place, then we’ll sign the lease and get our keys!  So this week’s activities will include registering at the Foreigner’s Registration Office (FRO), which must be done within 14 days of arrival if you plan to stay in India more than 180 days, finalizing classes, getting our library cards, and shopping for beds, tables, etc. to furnish the flat.

This afternoon Lesly, Lena, and I went to Fabindia to buy nice Indian outfits.  Fabindia is sort of the American Apparel of India, though comparatively less expensive.  The company is dedicated to using all Indian materials, mostly organic or natural, and promotes “inclusive capitalism” through community owned companies.  It works with traditional rural artisans to deliver their products to urban markets.  I got a wonderfully colorful number for formal events, including an event I am attending tonight with my host, a dinner put on by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho.  After the dinner I am meeting up with for salsa dancing with John Von Rooy, an ’08 SJU grad who has been living in India for the past many months.  Bennies & Johnnies in India!  What better way to celebrate Week 1 of my year in India.

Dance Party Diplomacy

Last night I experienced another incredible performance which brought together diplomats, students, and professionals from all over the world to share the beauty of music and culture.  Colombian salsa band La Republica played an energetic concert to the packed Siri Fort Auditorium to celebrate Columbia’s Independence Day.  No more than three numbers into the set, the aisles were filled with dancers as merengue, salsa, and Colombia’s famous cumbia flooded the hall.  At one point the performers were joined on stage by members of a New Delhi salsa school (Monday is Salsa Night at New Delhi’s Urban Club) and the audience was wowed by an Indian couple with salsa moves like I have never seen.  Later, a call-and-response number had the audience shouting “Brothers!  Colombia & India are brothers!”

An article in this morning’s Business Standard, which I encourage you to read, spoke to the partnership and deep respect between Hindu and Muslim artists of India’s traditional Hindu music.  Though a devout Muslim, shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan is revered as one of the finest musicians of the Hindu genre and believed in the holy waters of the Ganges so strongly that he would cleanse his shehnai in Hindu holy city of Varanasi after every trip abroad.  He was known to say: Sur maharaj koi jaat paat nahin jante; Sur maharaj to sabke hain aur kisi ke bhi nahin hain.”  (The gods of music know not caste or creed; they belong to everybody and none.)

Last evening’s performance, which opened with both the Colombian and Indian national anthems, brought two nations together to celebrate the fellowship that blossoms when we kick off pretense and put on our dancing shoes.  One of the reasons I chose to study in India this year was to witness how this populous nation, where language, religion, caste, and creed live side by side, functions as the world’s largest democracy.  Music, I believe, is part of the answer.  In the words of Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzai, “Music makes the people come together.”

I am off to meet Lena and Lesly to continue the hunt for a flat.  I will upload video from last night within the next few days.  Thank you for your comments, keep ’em comin’!

And here, as promised, is the video of the evening’s performance:

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

Last night my Rotarian host, Gobind, took me to a concert hosted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations & the Egyptian Embassy – Marimba, a music Group from Egypt.  I have learned that Gobind is a very well connected person, though he will humbly shake his head when I suggest this.  To illustrate my point, before we took our seats he casually introduced me to the ambassadors of Myanmar, Vatican City, Brasil, Eritrea, Bosnia and Herzegovina (rekla sam mu ‘moje ime je Anna, drago mi je”), and Egypt and then pointed out the ambassadors of Jordan, Oman, and Cuba.  Needless to say, I was mesmerized.

At 6:35 an eight piece ensemble took to the stage and Egypt’s star marimba player, Ms. Nesma Abdel Aziz, took to her instrument like it is what she was born to do.  The 75 minute set encompassed music from all corners of the globe, including rousing performances of “Ojos Asi”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and “William Tell Overture”.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to the daughter of the Ambassador of Qatar.  She and I chatted about Delhi, the great fashion sense of Ms. Aziz and, when a man in a long black galabaya took to the stage and began to sing, she told me the words meant “thank you for being here”.

The music of the Middle East has always had a powerful effect on me. The wailing mezmar, sharp tablas, and mystical qanun carry me to a place both familiar and enchanting.  The evening’s performance brought to mind one of my favorite poems.

In The Ground, Rumi writes:

Today, like every other day, we wake up / empty and scared. / Don’t open the door to the study and / begin reading. / Take down the dulcimer. / Let the beauty we love be what we do. / There are hundreds of ways to kneel / and kiss the ground.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.  For me, this line is an invitation to live on purpose, to seek beauty in each moment and live each day on purpose with the beauty we love.  For some of us that beauty is embodied in inviting rhythm from the body of a marimba, constructing prose, tending a garden, or practicing a sport.  Whatever it is, when we live our beauty we shine and, in doing so, inspire those around us to make time for whatever it is that feeds their soul and nourishes their spirit.

After the concert ended we shook hands once more with the Egyptian Ambassador.  He asked me if I enjoyed the performance.

I told him, “I loved it, this music makes me homesick for a place I have never been.”

He replied that I must come for a visit.  “This is the new Egypt,” he said, gesturing to the musicians, “it is young, and alive, and moving.”

I was born with a deep desire to see the world, learn foreign languages and traditions, and share meals and political conversation with those I meet along the way.  That is the beauty I love, and now more than ever it is what I do.  What is your beauty?

This morning: arranging classes on campus, this afternoon: continue the hunt for a flat/apartment, tonight: a Rotary event, then a salsa concert hosted by the Colombian Embassy.

An Easy Adjustment

Today has been another successful day on campus.  When I arrived around 10:30am I found my way to the School of International Studies (SIS) where I will take M.A. classes this year.  I was able to view course lists for the Centre of Intl. Trade and Development and Economic Development and Planning.  I am eternally grateful to Dr. Manju Parikh, one of my professors at CSB, for referring me to three of her colleagues and friends who teach at JNU.  I located the air-conditioned office of  Dr. Anurhada Chenoy and soaked in the welcome cool and her wise counsel.

Since I hope to pursue a Masters in Environmental Science and Policy when I return to the States Dr. Chenoy made me aware of the Centre for the Study of Science Policy which seems to fit perfectly with my area of interest.  She gave me the same advice that many others had at home: Focus.  Dr. Chenoy was also very helpful in recommending which professors are most well known in their field.  M.A. students take at least four courses per semester.  I will do more research this evening, but it looks like my course line up will include:

  1. Environmental Economics
  2. Comparative Politics
  3. Structure and Growth of Indian Economy
  4. Science and Technology Policy Analysis

I felt right at home sitting in Dr. Chenoy’s office, our chat was reminiscent of many a visit to my incredible advisers at CSB|SJU.  I am very excited to get back to school!  Classes will begin the first week of August.  I am enrolled as a casual student, which means I won’t earn a degree, but Dr. Chenoy assured me that if I am formal in my studies – meaning I attend all lectures, complete the coursework, and sit the exams – I will receive an academic credential from the Centre at the end of the year.

On the way back to Admin. to complete registration I met up with Lesly and Lena.  The 3 of us are going to look for a flat together – they are fabulous, I am very glad to find such great roomies so soon!  We spent the late morning and afternoon walking around campus between buildings, securing numerous stamps, signatures, copies, and submitted forms to various offices.  After I completed the following steps (continued from previous post), I was officially registered as a student at JNU!  5. Submit copy of receipt of student fees to Admin. so they can sign your folios. 6.  Get signature of Dean of Students on all your folios BEFORE you 7. Get the signature & stamp of the Dean/Admin. Officer at your School (this is when I received my official ID card, but the process works differently at each school), and finally 8.  Take the signed and stamped folios, submit appropriate copies to: Dean of Students, Your School & Centre, and Admin.  Then you’re official!

We had lunch at one of the campus cafes.  My host gave me the good advice to stop eating while I am still hungry, as my system is still adjusting to the local food.  This is not too hard to do in such heat as it is.  The best thing for a hot and humid day like today is a lassi – a delicious and refreshing yogurt drink ordered sweet or salty.

Below is a picture of me on campus today.  The JNU campus is large, full of greenery, crossed by walking paths, and shaded by promenades near the building entrances.  Walking around I most often feel like I am in the tropical zone of the Minnesota Zoo.  Even with such heat and sun the campus is lovely, so I can only imagine how marvelous it will be as the weather gets cooler in upcoming months.

I cannot overemphasize my gratitude to the Rotary Foundation for making this all possible.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime and so far I am having the time of my life.  Thank you!

Oh, and on a final note, my lost luggage has been found!  I will go pick it up from the airport this evening.  Hoorah!  Lastly, a birthday shout out to my dear Tori Stein – I had fun calling you early this morning when it was still the 19th in MN.  Your birthday has been a great day in India!  (Also happy bday to Garrio & Molly Zim. what a good day to be born!)

My First Day in New Delhi

This post is part two of my arrival and first day in India.

My flight arrived on time to Indira Gandhi International Airport, and after deplaning I joined the masses walking toward immigration and customs.  It took me at least 45 minutes to get through the immigration queue – again with the lack of regard to lines, and my Scandinavian tendency to follow rules even if others around me do not.  This tendency has served me well for the most part until now, but now I am playing a game with different rules – being polite and “waiting one’s turn” seems to put the player at a steep disadvantage.  After passing immigration (with no interrogation) I located my carry-on luggage.

When I checked in at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport on Friday I checked one bag.  That bag got on a plane but I did not, so I knew there was a chance it would not be at the Delhi airport when I arrived.  Indeed, it was not.  I filed a delayed baggage report but was missing my claim ticket number so there was little they could do for me.  They told me to call the airline and request the claim ticket number and call them the next day to update my file.  It was rather complicated because I wasn’t sure whether my bag had been checked through Continental, my original flight on Friday, or Delta, the new flight I was assigned.

After filing my baggage report I followed the Green Line (no customs/nothing to claim) to the arrival gates, like the baggage claim area at MSP.  I expected to be swarmed by taxi drivers (as I was upon arrival in Chile), but was greeted instead by a number of men, shuttle drivers, with signs for various hotels and tours lazily waiting behind a railing looking bored, no swarming of any sort.  I was not disappointed.  I walked out Gate 4 and caught a glimpse of my host Rotarian.  I felt bad because I was arriving so late.  He was just about to leave, thinking once again my travel plans had changed, but had decided to look for me one last time.  So once again, I am being taken care of thanks to your thoughts and prayers.  He located his driver and we made the 20 minute or so drive to his apartment.  My room is spacious and has AC for which I am incredibly grateful.  I will be staying here for the next couple of days before relocating to more permanent accommodation.  Rotarian Gobind Shahani is very kind and has a great sense of humor.  He has hosted students and visitors from all over the world – today I signed his guestbook which dates back to December 1988.

This morning (Tuesday night MN time) I woke up well rested at 6:30am.  I had a cup of tea at 8am and my first Indian breakfast around 9.  More on the food later, it’s delish.  I was able to get my baggage claim ticket number from the airlines and will call the airport office when it opens at 4:30pm this afternoon.  I am hopeful that my bag will turn up.

Rotarian Shahani dropped me at the JNU campus on his way to work.  When we arrived there was a crowd of students with badges that read “Admission Assistance”.  One of the students, Minakshi, took me under her wing and guided me through the registration process.

How to register as a foreign student at JNU:

  1. Make sure you bring copies of the following: passport, student visa, medical certificate, academic transcript.  If you don’t have them when you arrive (I did not) do not worry, JNU is like a city within a city and you will find most everything you need.
  2. Submit required documents in Room 20, Admin. Bldg.
  3. Take the form you receive and make the payment of your student fees – $850 USD for Natural Science, $600 USD for Social Science.  Don’t you wish you could all come to school here?  The payment may only be made in cash, which can be obtained at on campus ATMs.
  4. Walk from Admin. Bldg. to a copy shop to make a copy of your receipt of payment.
  5. …coming soon, I got as far as step 4 today.

In order to get the necessary documents from my email to a flash drive to a printer Minakshi and I visited a number of the copy/print shops on campus and two of the libraries.  The process of saving the documents from my email account to my Sertich Consulting flash drive was delayed by no less than 5 temporary power outages – a frequent occurrence in India due to poor infrastructure and high demand.  Once I printed and submitted my paperwork back at the Admin. Bldg. I received 4 identical folio forms to fill out and was sent to pay my student fee.  At this time Minakshi had to leave, but luckily I met up with other international students – Lena from Germany, and Lesly from France – and we walked together to the ATM.  Near the ATM I was also able to buy 16 passport photos (we need to give 10 to the school for registration as well) and a plug adapter to charge my laptop.

When I returned to the Admin. Bldg. with Lena and Lesy, the finance office was closed for lunch and would reopen at 2:30pm.  We met up with five other students from Leslie’s university in France, and two of them joined the girls and I for lunch at one of the canteens on campus.  After lunch we returned to pay our fees.  Even though campus is very safe, I was glad to hand over the cash I had been carrying since late morning.  Tomorrow or the next day I will return to campus to make a copy of my fee receipt and submit it to the registration office and the adventure will continue.  The entire process has been so much easier than I anticipated.  I am so grateful for the new friends who made it fun and painless.

Gobind picked me up from campus at 3pm and after a cup of tea I set to writing this blog post.  I was able to get my claim ticket number from the airlines and called the airport office here in Delhi.  There is a piece of luggage that fits my description on an inbound flight from Paris set to arrive tonight around 1045pm.  I have a good feeling it’s mine.

I will post more, hopefully with pictures of my new stomping grounds, in the next few days.  Thanks for reading!

Third Time’s a Charm

Hello from New Delhi!  This is the first of two posts detailing my travels to India and my first day in New Delhi.  If you are reading this it means I have landed in Delhi, was collected from the airport by my host Rotarian, and have found a moment to snag Wifi and publish this blog post before crashing for a good night’s sleep.

After the excitement of Thursday and Friday’s failed departure attempts, I had quite a boring time of it on Sunday.  I was thinking I’d have to change my blog title as it was temporarily misleading.  It was a pleasant departure though, as the delay allowed BOTH of my parents to bring me to the airport and wave to me all the way through security – a proper farewell.

My flight from Minneapolis to Newark was delayed by an hour as we waited for the inbound aircraft to land. I was not surprised and didn’t mind either as all it did was cut time off my six hour layover in Newark. My flight to Newark was an express shuttle and my fight mates included a Belgian basketball team, very tall guys for such a small plane.  The Newark airport is large, I bused to my departure terminal, and checked out the cupcake shop and diner my brother and mom had mentioned from a visit out East earlier this year.  Cotton candy cupcakes, they exist.  Gosh, I will miss America.  I also enjoyed watching part of the women’s soccer World Cup final match between USA and Japan (victory Japan).  There is something very heartwarming and exciting about watching an important sporting event with strangers in an airport, the large crowd gathered outside a bar, eyes fixed on the flat screen TVs, the collective gasps, sighs, and cheers.

The process to board my last flight was the most dramatic I had ever witnessed.  Apparently the cultural disregard for lines begins before one even reaches India.  I exchanged an amused glance with a student from Calcutta and we struck up a conversation.  She told me it’s not usually so chaotic.  After the heated orchestration of document checks and boarding, we were on the plane and ready to go.

I am in seat 36E, right in the middle of the plane.  My new best friend Marta is sitting to my right, she is a retiree and resident of Chihuahua, Mexico.  No joke (cuz I know some of you are laughing right now).  She and her husband are on holiday to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.  I discovered this after I figured out she only spoke Spanish while helping her select the language for her in flight movie.  We both watched “Limitless” and stopped to chat every once and awhile.  It was pretty cute.

We are four hours into the flight as I write this, which means ten more to go.  My body clock tells me its 11:45pm (early!) and therefore 11:15am Delhi time.  I can’t decide whether I should try to sleep, which is unlikely and would make falling asleep upon arrival more difficult, or pull an all nighter and arrive a bit delirious.  I will keep you posted.  Right now we’re somewhere over Greenland at 35,000 ft.

…Hello again.  I’m still in the air, now over Mother Russia, between St. Petersburg and the Ural Mountains.  We are scheduled to land in just under five hours.  Since I last signed off I watched two episodes of What Not to Wear, took a stroll around the plane, and managed to catch some Zzzs.  Nine hours of flight time and recycled air have the same effect on one’s eyes as I assume sandpaper would.  My eyes are dry enough that I might as well not be wearing glasses, poor little things are having a hard time focusing.  Note to self, pack artificial tears (are these the same as eyedrops?) for return flight.  I am excited because according to the flight map we will soon be over Ufa, Russia and then Kazakhstan.  Don’t we have a town in Minnesota called Ufa?  We should, it seems appropriate.  Outdoor air temp – 68 F, kinda like da Range on really cold days!

Enough for now, I’m going to stop writing before this gets much longer.  Those of you who know me well know that I am quite prolific in the wee hours of the morning.  Any movie suggestions?

We are landing within the hour.  I was able to sleep a bit more and I watched “The Blindside”.  Now that we’re almost landed 14 hours doesn’t feel so long.  I feel very awake.  Maybe I would rather stay on the plane than face interrogation by an Indian immigration official.  Eeek.

Who am I kidding?  I have arrived.  Let’s do this!

The Story of the Girl Who Tried to Go to India Twice…and Failed

On Friday I woke up feeling calm and excited to spend a day doing one of the things I do best (or so I thought) – travel. Everything was packed. I stopped by my mom’s office to give her one last hug and then swung by the Jamba Juice around the corner for breakfast. At Jamba Juice I met a U of MN student from New Delhi, in fact her parents live about fifteen minutes from the campus where I will be studying. I took our encounter as a sign from the universe that all was in place, that today was a blessed day to depart and New Delhi was ready to welcome me.

However it was easy to see, as Tori and I neared the airport, that the storm clouds which were dumping sheets of rain onto the freeway had a different itinerary in mind. Indeed, my 1:50pm flight to Chicago had been delayed until 3:15pm, meaning I would miss my connection to Newark. So the ticket agent put me on a flight direct to Newark that was scheduled to leave MSP at 3:15, getting me to Newark 1.5 hours before my Newark to Delhi flight was to depart.

After wading through security I checked the departures board and, seeing that my flight was on time, headed to the French Meadow Bakery for something to eat – my airport tradition. After a delicious turkey wrap (Charmagne, you would’ve loved it) I walked to my gate only to discover that my new flight had been delayed, also due to weather, and was not scheduled to leave Minneapolis until 6:15 that evening. What transpired next was the following:

  • Multiple calls to multiple ticketing/re-booking hotlines.
  • Tried to get on a flight from MSP to Paris, Paris to Delhi – no dice.
  • Walked around the airport 4 times.
  • Lost my neck pillow 😦
  • Found my neck pillow 🙂

Once it became clear that I was not leaving Minneapolis today and not arriving in Delhi tomorrow I pulled out my iPad, watched an episode of SNL, and pondered my predicament. I called my brother, the Czar of Calm, to plot my next move: call Mom & Dad to bring me home, again? or jump on this flight to Newark (now scheduled to depart at 7pm) and hang out with friends Teresa & Christian in NYC for the weekend?

In the end I opted to call the ‘rents for a pick up. Arriving in Newark around midnight and trying to get to Brooklyn would have been more stressful than fun after the day I’d had. So here I am, reporting once again from sticky Saint Paul, Minnesota. Despite the difficulty I’ve had actually getting on a plane bound for India I choose to believe that I continue to be in the right place at the right time. Even when I was at the airport waiting to get on a plane I was in the right place – I met my friend Sarah V’s family friends on their way to China to adopt two children and put my Spanish skills to work helping a man line next to me who didn’t speak English. Maybe this is just what I needed after waking up so unsure of this next big step on Thursday morning, a sort of recalibration that turned terror into excitement and excitement into impatience. Anyways, what are two more days of waiting when I have known for 12 months that this was coming?

I am now scheduled to embark on Sunday morning and, God willing, I will arrive to New Delhi on Monday at 8:15pm Delhi local time. My extra day and a half allowed me to spend time with relatives visiting from North Carolina for a wedding (so glad I got to see you guys!), sleep in my own bed for two more nights, and hang out with my darling parents who will miss me dearly – the missing will be mutual.

Thursday’s calendar mix up lent a feeling of levity to my departure for India. The most recent change of plans has made going to India for one year seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – heck, I’ve pretty much gone two times already. When I called my parents from the airport yesterday I said “please come pick me up, but let’s pretend like it’s just a normal weekend, I can’t handle any more of this good bye I won’t see you for a year business.” And normal it was. And lovely. Thanks, Mom & Dad.

So once again I take my leave, but I will make no promises. I continue to be grateful for your prayers, thoughts, and well wishes. As my host Rotarian signs his emails to me:

Jai ho (May victory be yours!)