Author Archives: arschu
Greetings, my faithful blog audience. It has been much too long since my last post. I have been quite a busy bee since the beginning of December, willingly embarking on six weeks of travel (though I was less enthusiastic about the inevitable toll it took on my carbon footprint, sorry Mother Earth). I hope that since I last wrote you have all enjoyed a joyful Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Eid, Festivus, and/or other and New Years celebration! I am looking forward to this year with hopeful anticipation. I expect a dramatic year on a global scale and hope to live an intentional year on a personal level. Here are brief summaries of my recent travels – more detailed entries to come in the next weeks.
My semester ended at the beginning of December – a couple exams and farewells to friends. On December 4th I left New Delhi with my friend and fellow Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar Emrys McMahon for a couple Rotary Club visits and travel in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Sikkim is a small state in the Northeast of India – nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas between Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal. The culture in Sikkim is distinct from the rest of India (which is diverse to begin with), being heavily influenced by the culture and populations of Tibet and Nepal. We were warmly hosted by the Gangtok South Rotary Club and enjoyed telling them about our experiences as students in New Delhi. We visited a few Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, a zoo, and caught a glimpse of the peak of Kachenjunga, the 3rd highest mountain in the world. From there we traveled to Darjeeling, home of darjeeling tea, aptly named “the champagne of teas”. We enjoyed many hot cups of that as well as the fellowship of the Darjeeling Rotary Club.
On December 10th I flew back to New Delhi and after one night’s rest my roommate Lesly and I flew down to Bangalore to meet my friend Nakita (see previous post) and travel to Kerala. Lesly and I spent two days in Bangalore. Though it is a green city – many parks – I was not impressed by Bangalore’s congested traffic and was very grateful when we got on our way to Kerala by overnight train on the 13th. On the morning of the 14th we woke up in paradise. Kerala deserves a much longer entry but for now I will say that it is beautiful, peaceful, rich in history, culture, and tradition, and an overall fabulous place to spend awhile – I wish I had many more days there. We stayed in Allepey, Nakita and I did a homestay in the backwaters, and then the three of us made our way to the quaint and quiet town of Fort Kochi.
I was sad to leave Kerala on the 18th to fly back to Delhi, but happy because at 2am on the 19th I boarded a plane from Delhi bound for Amsterdam and then another to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yes, I went home for Christmas! I realize now that I never announced this on my blog. I will write more later about my decision-making process, but in late October I decided I really didn’t want to miss Christmas at home – not so much Christmas itself as the opportunity to reconnect with the many friends and family members who would be in town for the holidays. I can say now that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I enjoyed a fabulous – if brown – Christmas in my hometown of St. Paul. It was incredibly refreshing, despite being a hectic and short visit, and I am so glad I did it.
So now I am back in India. I arrived around midnight on the 29th with my father in tow! It has been a dream of his for many many years to visit India. I am currently writing from an internet cafe inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar while my caring and watchful dad reads a book nearby. Kevin, thank you for the recommendation, this place is truly beautiful.
We spent three days in Delhi, a whirlwind of sightseeing and visits to homes of the Rotarians who have so warmly and kindly welcomed me and taken care of me during my time here in India. They have been eagerly awaiting his visit and looking forward to meet him. It is very special to introduce him to them finally. Dad is overwhelmed by the generosity and warmth of these families and very grateful that they have taken such good care of his daughter. I know my mom and many other friends and relatives share the same sentiment.
I feel very blessed to begin this new year and the second half of my time in India with the energy and love of a recent visit home and the continued connection provided by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with my dad! I send warmth and love to all of you and your families as you embark on another year. Thank you for continuing to follow my adventure and for all of your support.
With love and light,
On Friday night I welcomed my first visitor, my friend Nakita, to my current home turf in New Delhi. Nakita is from Trinidad and Tobago, we studied together at St. Ben’s, and now she is doing her Masters in Environmental Management in Australia. She decided to spend her three months summer break exploring southeast Asia sans Lonely Planet and India is her first stop! We hadn’t seen each other since summer 2010 so it was a very happy and surreal reunion at the airport. I was so happy to see her bright smile after more than a year and was amazed by the fact that we were meeting on the other side of the globe.
We slept in on Saturday, had a simple breakfast, and then headed out around noon to roam the giant pavilions of the International Trade Fair that was going on at the Delhi Exhibition Hall – it is an annual two week event in which most of the states of India set up a huge pavilion full of handicrafts, food, and cultural demonstrations. We took an auto to the metro and found a spot in the ladies-only car (in case I haven’t mentioned this, there are separate security lines for men and women when entering the metro and the first car of every train is ladies only, a luxury I greatly appreciate especially on a packed metro). Our train became increasingly crowded as we neared the station closest to the exhibition grounds. A wave of passengers exited the train at our destination and we joined the throng of excited Delhiites heading toward the trade fair. Nakita is one of the most laid back and easygoing people I know but I was still amazed by her ability to laugh and stay cool as we were pushed out of the metro station in a sea of people like a herd sheep. We quickly assessed that it could take an hour or more to enter the actual fair grounds so we opted out and instead walked around the perimeter of the grounds, people watching, and commenting on the sights, sounds, and smells of the street.
Once we had our fill of the crowds we headed to Khan Market for lunch at Turtle Cafe. We walked around the market and Nakita got a great looking kurta at Fabindia. We decided to continue shopping so we took an auto to explore INA market, a large neighborhood market which sells beautiful fabrics and just about everything else, and Dili Haat, a government run market with crafts and products from all over India. Dili Haat was a smaller and less chaotic version of the trade fair, so we thought it would be a great alternative.
We arrived in the evening and headed to dinner at the students’ restaurant near the East Gate of JNU. This restaurant, called Secular House by some, and Mezban by others, is one of those places that doesn’t look like anything from the outside, lacks atmosphere on the inside, but serves some of the best (and cheapest) Indian food I have had in all my time here. I invited a large group of friends and we ended up with a table of fifteen people representing ten different countries. I invited friends from JNU, Rotary, and a very random movie audition. There were varying degrees of separation between us and I was Kevin Bacon. Emrys described it as “Anna is the wheel and we are the spokes”.
We ordered family style and had a great time passing the delicious dishes, roti, naan, and chilly potatoes around the table, eating until we were stuffed, sharing conversation, and enjoying coffee and tea. I felt so happy and warm to be surrounded by many of the great friends I have made during my time here so far. Nakita was smiling and telling me she was not surprised that I had already acquired such an international group of friends. It was really great to introduce someone from my life “before India” to the friends and places I have gotten to know so well here. It was a strong affirmation that I am in the right place and growing.
On Sunday morning Nakita and I visited the Baha’i House of Worship, better known as the Lotus Temple. It is a beautiful structure, reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, and the environment inside the temple is serene and peaceful. It is meant to be a space where people of all faiths can come to pray or meditate. Our visit to the information center was an enlightening experience for both of us as we learned about the Baha’i faith. Established in 1844, the main tenet of Baha’i is the unity of the human family. I was deeply touched by each of the quotes we read as we walked around the exhibit. I bought a book, an introduction to Baha’i faith, so I will no doubt take up this subject for further discussion in a future post. I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Delhi to make sure you visit the Lotus Temple and learn more about this unique and beautiful community.
We headed to Little Tibet for a delicious lunch of thanthuk soup, beef momos, chow mein, garlic chicken, veggies, and apple beer at Tee Dee Restaurant. Emrys joined us and helped with our overly ambitious food order. Nakita and I walked off our food coma by exploring the peaceful alleyways of Little Tibet. Our walk led us to this beautiful grove of trees which was completely covered in prayer flags.
We walked further and found ourselves at the edge of a village in the middle of the city at the edge of the river (Yamuna, I believe), complete with reed huts and verdant vegetable patches. Delhi is full of unexpected treasures like this.
Nakita will spend the next 15 days exploring the colorful state of Rajasthan on a group tour before we meet up again in Bangalore for a few days there and four days in the southernmost state of Kerala. I dropped her off to the tour on Sunday evening and joined the group for dinner. It seems like she has a fun group. I told them that Rajasthan is where I fell in love with India. I’ll look forward to pictures and stories from her tour. In the meantime I will finish my semester in Delhi and then jet set to the northeast to explore Darjeeling and Sikkim with Emrys to speak at a few Rotary clubs and drink plenty of tea!
In addition to spending much overdue time with Nakita, the entire weekend was a fun opportunity for me to experience Delhi all over again through new eyes. I was amazed to realize how much I have gotten used to, things I never thought I’d adjust to such as the horns and noise of traffic or the universal disregard for driving in the lanes. This adventure has been such a gift so far. I look forward to unwrapping whatever is in store for me next.
Winter is the time when Delhiites turn off their fans and AC and turn out in droves for the season’s numerous festivals, fairs, and activities. During the first two weeks of November the city hosted the 5th annual Delhi International Art Festival which boasted an impressive slate of live performances and exhibitions from all corners of India and the world.
I took advantage of the cooler weather to get out and see a number of performances including a dynamic flamenco performance (Spain), concerts by world famous Noa (Israel), Akasha (a fusion group from Malaysia), the Sufi Gospel Project (India), Caravan 2011 (Indo-Canada), a group of Sri Lankan dancers, an exhibit by Swiss artist Nesa Gschwend, and an opera (my first) featuring Italian soloists, an Indian chorus, and a blended orchestra of Indian and Italian youth directed by an Indian conductor.
I was impressed by the caliber of the performances, the settings of each venue, and the care and intention taken by the Indian hosts to describe the power and importance of international exchange through film, voice, movement, color, and play.
The performance that touched me the most was that of Noa and her ensemble, guitarist Gil Dor et al. Ena and I ventured to the India Habitat Center for her performance and there met some of my classmates from JNU. We got to see Noa and three other groups perform in the intimate setting of the outdoor amphitheater. Besides Noa, a group of nomadic musicians from Rajasthan performed wonderfully bizarre fusion music with two boys from Canada. The Sufi Gospel Project mixed traditional Gospel hymns with mystic Sufi poetry and set it afloat over the rhythms and melody of traditional Indian instruments. After the scheduled performances a spunky group of Danish youngsters took the stage and performed a few acoustic numbers for the dwindling audience who was nonetheless wowed by the soulful and commanding vocals of the female lead. Ena and I finished the night over beers and greasy food at the American Diner, a surreal red vinyl and chrome restaurant housed inside the Habitat Center.
Noa’s family is originally from Yemen. She was born in Israel and raised in New York City until she returned to Israel alone at the age of 17. She has dedicated much of her life to the the peace process through performance and frequently collaborates with Arab and Palestinian artists. Her song Shalom Shalom is the perfect embodiment of the power of music to bring about peace between peoples, a power I spoke of in a previous post on dance party diplomacy. Her performance had us clapping and singing in our seats. Here is a video of her singing the song with well known Arab Israeli singer Mira Awad.
Noa sang a powerful encore which brought tears to my eyes. She and Gil Dor performed this song, their version of the Ave Maria, at the Vatican in 1994. They were the first Jewish artists invited to perform inside the Vatican. I believe this is a song that speaks to us all.
The Delhi International Arts Festival was a strong testament to India’s keen awareness of its director’s chair and front row seat in a globalized world. The Indians I have met are some of the most politically and culturally aware people I know. It is so exciting to be living in such a cosmopolitan city in a country that is so alive with its own vibrant culture and history and so welcoming of the teeming colors and cultures of other nations. I look forward to the continuation of this festival season and the sights, sounds, and senses it will bring!
Shalom, Salaam, Peace.
On Saturday I celebrated my four month anniversary with India. I celebrated it by attending the Garden City Rotary Club’s annual charity ball with my Rotary host. I finally wore my saree (draping courtesy of my wonderful flatmate Priti) and spent the evening chatting, eating, and dancing with Rotarians to the Beatles, ABBA, and Bollywood hits. I’m tellin’ ya folks, it doesn’t get much better than that! The ball was hosted at the Brazilian ambassador’s residence which is beautiful. I was kicking myself the second I walked in for not bringing my camera (because it’s bulky and the flash isn’t working at the moment and well, frankly, my camera bag clashes with my saree).
The ambassador’s house is a white mansion. I can’t find a picture online for obvious reasons, and my architectural knowledge is nowhere broad enough to tell you what style it is, so just believe me when I say it is stunning. The event was hosted outside on the perfectly kept back lawn. As we entered there was a wall of delicate oil lamps set up to our left, their warm glow setting the tone for a classy event. Next after the registration table came the amazing silent auction items – glittering jewelry and beautiful paintings. I grabbed a glass of white wine and chatted with the ambassador of Iceland and his date while soaking in the ambiance of the evening.
We took our seats at reserved tables under a large tent while a Brazilian musical group entertained us on stage along with a group of traditional Indian dancers and musicians. Each group played a number of pieces on their own and then did a couple fusion pieces. Indian dancers moving to a Brazilian melody backed by an Indian beat. As dinner started a performer from Mumbai took the stage in a stunning evening gown and platform heels. She got the crowd up and dancing to rock-n-roll classics and Bollywood hits.
The festivities did not end there. Gobind dropped me off at my apartment after dinner and my friend Ena came over to get ready for the next event of the night. I changed into jeans and a nice shirt – my attire for the after party of the Marine Ball hosted earlier that night at the U.S. Embassy. The after was at a house close to my neighborhood. I can say honestly that I had the best time I have had so far in Delhi, made obvious by the fact that Ena and I got back to my apartment around 5:30am on Sunday. The crowd at the party was made up of American embassy staff, Marines, Canadian embassy staff, Fulbright scholars, friends, and randoms. We were some of the lucky randoms, now (I would venture to say) friends. Everyone was incredibly kind, inviting, and interesting. We shared experiences from our varied time in India. I have been surprised by how few Americans I have met in India so far, so I was really happy to connect with so many in one place.
The evening was the perfect India-U.S. medley. I told folks it was my “four month anniversary” in India, explaining that ‘it’s been up and down, we’ve had our rough patches but we’re really getting along now…I think it might be love’. And it is. I have fallen in love with India. I think 3.5-4 months is the magic number to get adjusted to a new place. I have adjusted, found my groove, and I am loving it here!
I send love and warm wishes to you all as you prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday (if you are in the States or American elsewhere, or just like turkey and have adopted the holiday!) I am so thankful for my family and friends, for these four months, and for the adventure that lies ahead.
Hello, Dear Readers!
I cannot believe another month – my third in India – has come and gone and that it is already November. I have been doing some serious travel since the last time I posted. As I mentioned earlier, the month of October is jam packed with holidays here in India. And November hasn’t disappointed so far either. I took advantage of the holidays to get out of Delhi and continue exploring this incredible and incredibly large country. I spent the few days before Diwali (October 26) in Gujarat and Rajasthan with my roommates Lesly and Priti. Priti is from Ahmedabad, Gujarat so we traveled home with her for the holiday and learned about the Gujarati way of life.
Diwali is the Festival of Lights in India and also marks the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar. Diyas, or lights, light up homes for the entire week of Diwali. Families light candles and string electric lights on their homes. Like New Years in some parts of the United States the celebrations also involve fireworks, firecrackers, and just generally a lot of noise. It is the most important holiday in India and non-Hindus also participate in the spectacle. For Hindus the celebration begins in the home with a pooja, or ceremony. We got to participate in the pooja with Priti. Most Indian homes have a space for a small temple or even a small room specifically for the purpose of being a temple in the home. Hinduism is a very family-centric religion and devotees practice daily in their homes with prayer, pooja, and blessings. Diwali actually lasts for a number of days with the main pooja and celebration of the new year on the fifth day – which this year was October 26th but it changes every year as the Hindu calendar is lunar. On the 25th Lesly and I helped Priti light candles around the house for the pooja. We placed candles and incense in the entryways, the yard, and entryway to her home. The house was decorated with garlands of leaves and flowers. Priti offered flowers, milk, and prayers to the Lord Krishna who is represented in statue in her small temple room. When we had prepared everything the three of us sat in her front yard/garden and soaked in the serenity of it all. It was really nice.
In addition to learning more about the Diwali holiday and Hinduism we did some sightseeing, relaxing, and plenty of eating over the few days we were there. Gujarati hospitality is second to none and we felt like part of the family from moment we arrived. Our activities included a weekend road trip to Mount Abu, a mountain lake right across the border in Rajasthan about 4 hours from Ahmedabad. We had an evening tour of historic Ahmedabad, saw a Bollywood movie in the theater on opening day, visited the historic palace of the King of Bikaner, ate delicious home cooked food, had dinner with the finance minister of Gujarat (a relative of Priti’s boyfriend’s business partner), ate a traditional Gujarati dinner on the rooftop of one of the nicest hotels in Gujarat, and shot off some (tons) of fireworks of our own.
The end of our trip turned out to be one of the most impressive parts of the entire excursion. Because we had to be back for classes at the end of the week we ended up flying back to New Delhi on the day of Diwali which meant we got to see the fireworks from the air. On Diwali almost every family in India lights off fireworks or firecrackers in parks, parking lots, from terraces, on the streets and in the alleys. The country erupts with noise and light. I am fairly certain you need a license in the US to get the sort of fireworks that are easily available during this season in India. We left the Ahmedabad airport at 9pm to an incredible pyrotechnic display. When we took off over the city the whole plane ooo’ed and aah’ed looking at the gold and glittering sea of lights below. Halfway into our flight we were again transfixed by a stunning light show below us. The golden lights of a medium-sized city were sparkling red, blue, green, and white. We were flying over Jaipur, Rajasthan. Delhi welcomed us with an especially impressive firework display. As we were landing the three of us agreed that we just had the best seats to the most incredible fireworks display any of us had ever seen. I don’t even know how to explain what a whole city lighting fireworks looks like from the sky – awesome, stunning, breathtaking, spectacular, are just some of the words that come to mind.
The trip was amazing from beginning to end. I extend a huge Thank You to Priti and her friends for so kindly welcoming us into their lives for those days and assuring we had an amazing experience in the great state of Gujarat. I’ll be back again.
More pictures coming soon!
In my last update I was looking forward to a long weekend trip to Dharamshala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For those of you who have been wondering whether I stayed there, left all my worldly possessions, and became a Buddhist monk – such is not the case. In fact, I never went to Dharamshala! As India has taught me well, things don’t always go as planned. Luckily, though, in a country as fascinating as India Plan B (or C) is usually as good as your original Plan A when it comes to travel.
Following Plan A I met Daniel L., Blythe, and Daniel C. at 6pm on Wednesday evening to depart for our weekend in Dharamshala. Daniel L. had reserved four seats on an overnight bus which was scheduled to leave at 8:30pm. The plan was for the travel agent to take us from his office to the bus station – he had promised Daniel we wouldn’t pay the balance on our tickets until we saw the bus. This was a smart move on Daniel’s part because it is not uncommon for travelers in India to buy tickets for an AC Volvo bus (the Cadillac of buses) only to arrive and find an old bus with no AC.
The travel agent took us from his office to the bus station on the Metro. At rush hour the Metro from South Delhi toward the city center is as crowded as a rock concert mosh pit – and explodes into the same churning and frantic mess at each stop. If you have never had the experience of riding the Delhi Metro at rush hour, count yourself lucky and feel no need to put it on your Bucket List. I think it actually takes years off your life.
We arrived to the bus departure point at 7:15pm and saw a nice AC Volvo bus waiting on the side of the road. We then found out why our travel agent had been so nervous throughout the Metro ride. As it turns out the bus was actually scheduled to leave at 7pm and was now full. There was another non-AC bus leaving to a city near Dharamshala but after a group huddle we decided to call it a miss (Delhi to Dharamshala is a 12 hour bus ride) and spend the night in Delhi. Still wanting to take advantage of the long weekend to get out of town, we headed back to Daniel & Blythe’s to consult Lonely Planet over beers and pizza. By 11:30pm we had booked bus tickets to Haridwar, a hill station on the Ganges north of Delhi from where we could travel to Rishikesh, another hill station known for meditation, yoga, and adventure sports.
The bus left the next morning without a hitch (other than the 1 hour wait) and I think we enjoyed the 8 hour ride from Delhi to Haridwar. Thursday was a large Hindu festival, Dussehra, which celebrates the victory of goodness over evil. It is celebrated with fireworks and the burning of a large effigy of the demon Ravana, who was conquered by Rama (the seventh incarnation of Lord Krishna). Along the way we saw large parades of people dancing and celebrating in the streets and large effigies in most every village. We arrived in Haridwar and easily found lodging on the main road. We had a delicious dinner at Big Ben AC Restaurant and then hit the streets to explore Haridwar’s endless alleyway markets. The streets were lit up and bustling with families returning from the festivities. We didn’t think they would start until after dinner time so we were disappointed to have missed them.
On Friday we took an auto to the cable car that climbs a hill to Haridwar’s Ma Devi Temple. The cable car had a 3 hour waitlist so we decided to make the hike on foot. It was a very sweaty 35 minute climb but the scenery was nice – a view over the city and plenty of monkeys. We were required to leave our shoes outside the temple entrance so I reluctantly handed over my Nikes, figuring I had a 40% chance of seeing them again. The temple was bustling inside. Directly inside the entrance were gift stores and food stalls. Along the road up from the city there were numerous stalls selling offering bags with flowers, rice, a coconut, and other items to be offered to the deities. A group of Indian men in their thirties started a loud chant of praise behind us as we walked through the temple. Imagine the Litany of Saints as a raucous basketball cheer, it was something like that. We each received a tikka or two (a powder marking on one’s forehead) and asked to make offerings of a few rupees. On the way out of the temple we were able to find a quiet terrace overlooking the city. We stopped there to catch our breath and reflected that the experience was not anything like the serene temple environment we had expected. After retrieving our shoes we headed down the hill to meet our cab for the hour long drive to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is to Delhi as Goa is to Mumbai – an accessible and amazing escape from the bustle of the city. We spent two days there relaxing in the “backpackers enclave” which is located in the foothills of the Himalayas overlooking the Ganges River. The stunning scenery of hills and the river valley reminded me so much of Bellagio, Italy at the confluence of the two sides of Lake Como. That night we went down to the Ganges and spent time sitting by the powerful river. It was so nice to sit by water. A woman gave us small paper dishes with offerings of flowers, rice, a candle, and incense. We lit them and let them go in the river. I thought of my dad who will come visit me and stand by the bank of this same river in December.
Saturday morning we woke up early and watched the sun rise from our balcony. It was stunning. Here are some pictures:
At 8:30am we had a fabulous yoga class and then an incredible breakfast and headed out on a hike to a nearby waterfall. The guidebook had described an easy 15 minute hike to a waterfall and we calculated that the trail should start about 30 minutes from our hostel. We ended up completing a 3 hour hike up a mountain (foothill). It was a crazy trek but completely worth it. We stopped and swam in an icy pool underneath part of the waterfall, which I’m pretty sure was part of the Ganges River so we are all very holy now!
Three hours up we were ready to call it quits but a group of hikers coming from the top of the mountain told us we “must climb up 10 minutes more, you’ll see really beautiful rice fields.” So we kept climbing and eventually ended up here:
Nestled in the foothills are a series of little villages like this one. We met a few teachers from the village who were trekking down the hill to the town below. They said that most teachers stay in the village all week, making the trek down on weekends, but that some of them climb up and down every day! There is a road that reaches a temple at the very top of the foothill (at least four hours more from the point we reached), but no road to access the villages in between by car or truck.
When we reached the bottom of the hill we jumped in the back of one of the many jeeps that shuttles white water rafting tours to and from Rishikesh. As I rode back to town in the back of the jeep, feeling free and refreshed, it hit me that this is exactly what I pictured myself doing in my twenties – traveling, living spontaneously, taking weekend trips to no place in particular with great friends and a taste for adventure, hiking mountains in Target sandals (I did not wear the proper footwear for the trek). When we reached Rishikesh we found a table at a restaurant overlooking one of the suspension bridges that crosses the Ganges. As the sun set we shared a delicious meal and reflected on how totally awesome the weekend had been.
The return to Delhi was just as adventure-filled as our first departure. We arrived at 8:30pm to catch a 9pm bus back to Delhi and ended up waiting until 11:30pm for the bus to arrive. So we made friends with the other waiting travelers – many Israeli students, Germans, a woman from Spain, and the Indian family that sat next to us on the bus from Delhi. When the bus arrived it turned out to be overbooked. But, as is only possible in India, the bus driver and his assistants somehow managed to get us all in the bus and we arrived the next morning in New Delhi in one piece.
You know the feeling of fun that comes with pushing yourself, challenging yourself to keep climbing (literally or figuratively) farther than you think is possible? That’s what I felt during our Saturday morning trek. I didn’t realize until just now, but that climb up the “mountain” is a perfect analogy for my time in India so far. Just when I think I will give up and call it quits I get a new burst of energy, turn a new corner, see a new side of the many faceted gem that is India and decide to keep climbing and see what adventure lies ahead. And at the end of each day I’m always glad I did. I am three months into my Indian adventure and what an adventure it has been. Here’s to the rest of the climb!
I continue to feel more and more “at home” and settled in my new surroundings every day. On Thursday of last week I woke up with incredible new and fresh energy which has been carrying me for the past many days. Fall has arrived to New Delhi and not a moment too soon. The days are now cool in the morning, rather warm in the afternoons thanks to the ever shining sun, and nice and cool again in the evenings.
When I got back from Goa I was sick for a few days with a horrible sore throat and mild fever. I hydrated as much as possible, consumed large quantities of EmergenC, and found a good multivitamin. A doctor at the health center on campus gave me some sort of anti-allergy medicine which I decided to take. Somehow, with the cocktail of pills and vitamins, and more importantly a diet of fresh veggies and plenty of water, I was better by Friday.
As of Tuesday of last week Lesly and I have a new roommate. Her name is Priti and she completing her PhD from JNU focusing on energy politics in Central Asia. She is from Gujarat, a state on the west coast of India. I met her at my birthday dinner at Gobind-ji’s house. She knows Gobind very well because she was best friends with a Japanese Rotary Scholar he hosted. The world is small and it’s amazing how the universe brings you exactly who and what you need if you are open. Lena came along for my birthday dinner and had been thinking of moving onto campus since it is cheaper, so when Priti mentioned that she’d be returning to New Delhi in October to finish her PhD they struck up a conversation and voila! The four of us: Lesly, Lena, Priti, and I, had dinner together last night, so Lena remains an honorary roommate.
Along with Priti’s arrival we have also finally hired someone to clean our apartment and do laundry. We asked our neighbors who was doing their cleaning and lucky for us their cleaning lady was able to take on a new client, so now she cleans our place every morning from 8:30-9:30. It is very common here for families to hire someone to clean the house/apartment every day. It is a luxury (a cheap luxury in India) and has made such a difference for Lesly and I. We were washing our laundry on our own, which was fine but unless you really know how to hand wash laundry it’s hard to get it really clean, especially jeans and such. The woman we’ve hired also really knows how to properly clean dust-prone Delhi apartments. There’s nothing like a clean house to bring peace of mind and make a person happy!
Last week the International Students Association (ISA) held elections for a new executive committee. I planned to run for a position on the exec committee but decided not to in the end because the term is October – September and I am leaving next May. So instead I have been appointed to the position of casual student representative by the new executive team. In this role I will represent casual student issues and chair the sports committee. I’m looking forward to organizing tournaments of badminton, basketball, tennis, etc. and maybe even a Super Bowl party if we can find a way to stream the game on campus. I also sat my first exam last week, for my Water Resources course. From now until December I’ll be busy preparing final presentations and papers for my classes.
On Saturday I attended a conference and earth festival held by Navdanya, an environmental organization led by environmental activist and eco-feminist Dr. Vandana Shiva. The topic was Bhoomi: Learning from Nature, Remembering Tagore. Emrys came along and we saw the screening of the documentary “Harmony” which some of you may have seen on NBC last year. We also listened to a very interesting cross-cultural dialogue on beauty featuring a renowned Indian artist and a design professional from Japan. Next week I will start an unpaid internship with Navdanya. I will help with the organization of conferences and workshops and also hope to learn more about the business side of their operations – in addition to the NGO office they have a farm in Dheradun in north India which supplies organic grains, cereals, honey, and vegetables to a small shop in New Delhi.
Some of you may have heard me say that I am a “high functioning stress addict”. What that means is that I much prefer a busy schedule to too much free time. Since my return from Goa I have been really busy and my mood and energy levels are up as a result.
October is the month of holidays in India. I don’t have classes the end of this week because of Dashera, a Hindu holiday celebrating the triumph of good over evil. So I am heading north this evening to Dharamshala with Daniel, Blythe, and one of Blythe’s coworkers. Dharamshala is the home in exile of the Dalai Lama. We are looking forward to exploring the tiny town, hiking, and maybe seeing His Holiness himself!
A final note on fruit. When in Goa I discovered the custard apple, a bizarre fruit with a delicate, delicious, indescribable taste. Custard apples have arrived to New Delhi and Lesly, Priti, and I shared a couple yesterday on our patio. They look like something that would grow on a cactus, or perhaps as though they are about to hatch a baby alien. Despite their looks, they are delicious!
My dear friend Teresa Welsh is a free lance journalist working in New York City. She connected me with an amazing web site called PolicyMic.org and I was able to publish a piece as part of their Women in Journalism series. Here is a link to my article, a reflection on corruption in India following Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement earlier this year.
Take a look around the site as well, especially if you are a news junkie like me. It has a very cool platform for interacting with the writers by posting comments and giving “mics”, which are similar to “likes” on Facebook, to articles and comments that you find especially insightful. Teresa has posted two articles, both related to the time she spent in Colombia – one on disappearances during the drug wars and one on human rights.
All is well here in New Delhi. I will write a longer update about me in the next couple days.
I have been MIA from the blogosphere for awhile thanks to a week long vacation in Goa from Sept. 16-24 and last week’s mid-semester exams and elections for the International Student Association (ISA). This is the first of a couple overdue posts.
First, the trip to Goa. Emrys, a fellow Ambassadorial Scholar from South Carolina was planning a trip to Goa with friends from his university and invited me along. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad place to wait out the last week of summer heat in New Delhi. I was right. We had a fabulous time. A group of eight of us – three Indians, three Germans, and two Americans – spent a relaxing and fun week together in India’s favorite beach getaway. The colorful and terra cotta tiled houses reminded me of Mexico or Costa Rica and brought back great memories of previous travels to coastal destinations.
Goa is India’s smallest state. Located on India’s west coast touching the Arabian Sea, Goa was a Portuguese territory until 1961 and didn’t become an Indian state until 1987. As a result of its Portuguese ancestry Goan architecture is distinctly Iberian and features many impressive Christian churches. I learned from Rotarian John Gooch in Missouri, who is a trivia junkie like me, that when the Portuguese arrived to India they found the already well-established Mar Thoma Church boasting more than one congregation. It is theorized that Jesus sent the Apostle Thomas as a missionary to India, which explains the Christian presence in Goa dating so far back.
The week in Goa was a much needed escape from the heat and bustle of New Delhi. It was great to see a different side of India than the one I’ve gotten to know in Delhi, which I’m also more fond of since my return. Our group spent 4 days in North Goa and 4 days in South Goa. For anyone travelling to Goa I would recommend you spend the majority of your time in the south which is less crowded. The north is definitely worth a couple days, though, especially Arambol beach where you will find sunbathing Westerners, beautiful sunsets, and plenty of tchotchkes (chachkis) for sale. We rented houses in both places and had fun cooking prawns and pasta and spending the days on the beach. The water was great and the guys spent a lot of time body surfing in the “Danger Zone” (harmless baby rip tides) which often drew a crowd on the beach. When we headed south we rented motor scooters and spent two days touring the coast, for me the highlight of the trip. The scenery was stunning, I spent most of my time wondering if I had fallen into the pages of National Geographic. If you ever visit Goa, plan to rent a scooter and cruise down the coastal roads to Palolem or Cabo de Rama.
Pictures do not suffice to capture the magic of Goa but words do even less, so rather than write more I will let you enjoy this slideshow of some of the best images from our week.
I was soberly mindful of the upcoming ten year anniversary of September 11th last week. When I studied in Chile during the fall of 2008, September 11th gained a double significance, as it also marks the date of the coup d’etat in 1973 that brought military dictator Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile for the next seventeen years.
On September 11, 2001 I was a student in Mrs. Townley’s 8th grade class at Holy Spirit Elementary. That morning I arrived early to homeroom and walked in to see a few of my classmates watching television. I saw the image of the first tower burning on the screen and asked my friend Mike, “what movie is this?” It is reported in the history books that the natives of the Canary Islands did not see Columbus’ ships approaching on the horizon because the idea of a ship did not yet exist within their realm of consciousness. I don’t know if that story is true, but I know that what I saw on the screen that morning did not yet fit into my perception of reality.
I knew I wanted to share that memory and what it has meant to me since with my classmates at JNU. I wanted to observe the tenth anniversary not with prayer or silence, but with conversation. I wanted to know what my classmates remember about that day, what they felt, and what the world has been like for them since. On Sunday the International Student Association (ISA) held a general body meeting to transition leadership from the current executive committee to the advisory committee leading up to the elections that will take place at the end of the month. I spoke with my friend Reza, ISA’s vice president, and he agreed that we could hold the discussion following the meeting.
When the meeting ended I moved to the front of the room and invited anyone who wanted to stay to join in a brief and informal conversation. It was already very late but most everyone stayed. I shared my memory of that day. I told my classmates that the feelings of that day – which were full of sorrow but also full of unity and compassion – had quickly turned into feelings of fear. I said it is it is hard for me to remember “what the world was like” before September 11, 2001 – before a time of Us and Them. Other students shared their experiences. For me the most poignant were the reflections of two students from Afghanistan. Reza was on a train when he received a call from his mother saying, “there is fire in America”. He shared that Afghans so keenly felt the pain of Americans on that day because they had been fighting the Taliban in their homeland for more than four years and they knew the horrors of terrorism. That day, the world woke up to a threat that so many people had already been living with for years. My Afghan classmates expressed their solidarity and prayers for us that day and on this anniversary.
I was very moved to hear my classmates share their memories of that day and feel their sentiments for the people of the United States. For my friends the attacks were not only on my country and our way of life, but that they were felt deeply around the world. The World Trade Centers were a symbol of many countries coming together. Not only the U.S. was attacked and shaken that day.
The conversation ended with the whole room singing “We Shall Overcome” in English and Hindi, a suggestion from President Tawheed. As I looked around the room at the bright and resolute faces of my classmates I felt so hopeful about the future of our world and the possibility of peace. This must be what my parents, aunts, uncles, etc. feel when they tell me “your generation will make this world a better place”. I know we can and I believe we will. Sunday marked the beginning of a conversation that will stay alive throughout this year and beyond. It is a conversation that reaches far behind and far beyond the events of that fateful day in September.
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome