July 28, 2011

My Mother is a Saint

Who gets two care packages in one week? Really? Really. My mother is a wonderful woman. I am completely stocked on Cliff Bars, re-hydration packets, peanut butter, and candies. I'm going to have to share with my BCA and Indian friends!

Package 1. It's a bit squished, but nothing bad.

A Happy Birthday Card from my wonderful family, even though I've been 21 for over a month now! 
"Everyday is a day to celebrate you!" 

Package 2. Spoiled, no?

Oh, hey, my address. All of my mail gets delivered straight to the Hall, instead of the Post Office like at Bridgewater. 

Red Vines, re-hydration packets, and goodies galore. 

Thanks mom! Just so you know...they do feed me three meals a day! :)

Love, K

July 26, 2011

Harry Potter in an Indian Theatre

I finally, FINALLY saw Harry Potter more than a week after it came out. We ventured to Escape at Express Avenue Mall. This viewing of a Potter film was unlike any other viewing. For one, I was not seeing it on a midnight release like I have done for the past 7 films. It was devastating. Believe me. Midnight release disappointment aside – Indian theatres are not like American theatres. Here's why:

There are absolutely no previews. 
If the movie starts at 3:40pm the movie STARTS at 3:40pm. So, coming in to find Harry already discussing the Elder Wand with Ollivander was worrisome.

Cellphone use is frequent.
Phones will ring off the hook – blaring bollywood tunes during a heavy scene where Harry realizes he must face Voldemort and die OR when Ron and Hermione kiss OR when Neville is giving his speech OR when they’re breaking into Gringotts OR whenever you don’t want to hear bloody phones in the background! Not only do they ring, but people will answer them! They ANSWER THEM!

There is an intermission.
Harry has just put his hand to Snape’s neck to help stop the bleeding when the lights come on and the screen goes blank. There is a 15 minute intermission – where people can go to the bathroom, grab some refreshments, take that call they didn’t answer during the movie – oh, wait…already did that. Then during the intermission is when commercials are played.

Bringing a crying infant is appropriate.
Except that it’s not. Even in India.

We get reserved seats.
The seats are made of leather and worthy of being in a fancy living room. Some seats are “couple seats” which essentially is a loveseat, because there is not arm rest in between. Perfect for a date. My roommate and I shared one. :) 

Tickets cost 130 Rs.
Which translates to about $3. Yeah, we took 9 people to the movies for about $20. Get outta town.

Clapping is common.
Neville kills Nagini. Clapping. Ron and Hermione kiss. Clapping. Harry’s not really dead! Clapping. Nevermind, it’s Harry freaking Potter and it doesn’t matter what country you’re in – it’s EPIC.

No, it wasn't a midnight release, but it was an adventure in itself. Plus, for 130 Rs a ticket I may see it in theaters 6 or 7 times instead of my average of 4. Yes, I'm a Harry Potter nerd. 

July 25, 2011

A glance at Indian women

The biggest and most meaningful event that took place when we visited Madurai was a visit to Lady Doak college. Lady Doak is an all women’s college in Madurai. We were able to sit down with a group of about 15 students from the social sciences departments. We were able to ask questions, but essentially they described their lives as women and as students. I don’t want this to be a list of grievances against the way Indian society treats their women, but I really wanted to share what they shared.

Women are supposed to be less educated than their husbands and earn less if they have a job.
A more educated wife who earns more is harder to control

“A girl should be in the house, before you have to switch on the light.”
Girls are not allowed to be out past 6pm. If they stay out past dark they are at a greater risk. It could also cause the neighbors to talk. 

"Our lives depend on what others want." 
Whether a girl would like to pursue higher education or whether she gets married by the age of 20 is completely in the hands of  the men in her life. Her father, her brothers, her grandfather, her uncles, etc. etc. etc. 
We talked with a couple of girls who wanted to pursue other majors, but weren't able to because their parents wanted them to pursue something more "stable." One student wanted to be a lawyer, but her parents protested because lawyers are very hard to marry off. "No one wants to marry a lawyer, because they talk and argue all the time," was their reasoning.

"We can be broadminded, but we can't apply it unless our husbands or our husband's family agrees."
I asked if the women would raise their children to be broadminded as they are. One girl replied, "It is not in our hands." So much depends on others. If a girl is married to a man who does not agree with her, she can't do much to persuade him, especially if his family thinks similarly.

A proper wife is expected to be silent, less educated, and doesn't open her mouth for anything; while the husband is be to treated like GOD.

Wives lose their identity and place in society when their husbands die.
Women are forced to wear a white sari for the rest of their lives. They can't wear flowers, bindis, jewelry, toe rings, or anything else that would designate her a married woman. She isn't allowed at big social functions. 

It should be noted that this applies to the group of girls that we met at Lady Doak college. One thing that you begin to learn about India is that there are contradictions all over the place. So, while this applies to much of India, it doesn't apply to all women all over India. Just throwing that out there. Some women have more freedom than this, some don't. For example, at my college the female halls have a curfew of 6:30pm and we're even a Co-Ed institution. The boys curfew? 10:30pm.

A Visit to Kodaikanal

This past week we had our first BCA excursion to Kodaikanal and Madurai. Kodaikanal is a beautiful mountain town located to the South of Chennai. I'll share some pictures with you.

First off, we traveled by an overnight train from Chennai to Kodaikanal. Our train left around 9pm and we arrived around 6am in Kodai (pronounced Cody). This train was sketch, i.e. above sign. 

B, Hannah, and I are SUPER excited to sleep on this train overnight. 

We reach Kodai! Welcome to a few days in cool air and mountainous views!

We visited a gorgeous Zen Bodhi temple, where one can stay for 200 Rs a night or about $5 USD (meals and beautiful views included). We explored a bit, then we were able to do some meditation. 

JJ turned 21! We celebrated his birthday with some Mango Cheescake! It was not like cheesecake you would get in the states, it was much more pastry like. 

We feasted our eyes on a beautifully huge Indian Bison, known as Gower. His name was Biff and he lived in this pear orchard. Gower are much more muscular than American Bison. He was gorgeous, but he didn't get too close because he could gore us to death. 

Our guide, Vijay, a regular Indian mountain man. He was SO knowledgeable! He's even featured in Lonely Planet, I would definitely recommend him if you're ever in Kodai. 

While hiking, we learned that there are only 3 kinds of edible mushrooms in India and only 1 of these are hallucinogenic mushrooms or "Magic Mushrooms." Vijay, our guide, said it takes about 8 to get a buzz and if you eat 12 -"There is nothing like it!" Apparently, it's a big thing eat Magic Mushrooms and then play a round of golf in Kodai!

We traveled to the "Edge of the World" as Vijay would say. Through the clouds we could see 3 large pillars of stone.

This is Bethany (or B) my roommate. She is a delight and hails from Elizabethtown College by way of Boston. 

Bridgewater jumping picture!

 Me and the Mountains. 

I could never get tired of looking at mountains. Ever. 

The Daily Bread had the BEST ice cream! It was the Harvey's of India. For real. I tried mango, jackfruit, and banana during our stay there. It was about 8 Rs for a scoop. This is where JJ's mango cheesecake came from and we also snagged some chocolate donuts for the next leg of our journey.
Also - anytime a beggar was begging outside of this shop a worker from inside would bring them a baked good to eat. They were wonderful people.

This requires a bit of a background explanation. Sometimes we'll refer to JJ as "Heeey! JJ!" just for fun. Well, when at Pick-n-Pack the other day I found a treat called "AJJ" I had no idea what it was and the package didn't give much information, but I bought it for him anyway. 
It ended up tasting really good!

July 15, 2011

Tea, Envelopes, and Pan Pizzas.

TODAY! Today, my friends, has been amazing! AMAZING!

1) Woke up to go for a morning run at 6am with BCA friend Hannah! It has been so great to run 3 days a week in the early am here. I run so early here, because it would just be unbearable to run any other time of the day. Also, it gets dark here at 6:30pm, so night runs are out. 

2) SCHOOL! I had Development Economics today!!

3) So, today we learned that the College Calendars that we have been waiting to get for 2 weeks are here! We’re able to pick them up at the Dean’s Office. Good News! We go there and ask for them. We ask one person. Confusion. They ask someone else. Confusion. They ask someone else. Confusion. Phone Call to our On-site coordinator. Confusion. We can’t pick up our calendars until Visanthi is there to sign them out to us and we need to have our student IDs, because technically anyone could walk and claim to be a student. She’s currently off campus. We leave empty-handed. 3 people and a phone call! No lie! For student calendars!

4) Then Bethany, who is my roommate, and I went to the post office. Everything in India is an adventure. I want to mail some postcards to the USA, right? The girl behind the counter says I can’t…that my postcard needs to be in an envelope. But I don’t want an envelope. Argue for a bit. She’ll give me 5 Rs off for the envelope. I. Do. Not. WANT. An envelope for my POSTCARD. Then she has to figure out the number of stamps I need. Do I need international stamps for the postcard to get out of the country? We shall see. I probably will not be mailing home very many things besides letters…that go in envelopes.

E) At lunch, I learned that I need to have my hair pulled back during meals and it’s not allowed to roam free.

6) Then we ventured into town and finished up our work with the Immigration Office. NOW we’re legal student immigrants!

When we come back we promised our friend, Anu, that we would go see her play at 4pm. We said we’d come even if we got back late and it’s not 4:30pm so we head over to try and find the auditorium. Anu’s “play” turned out to be a College Union Society Inaugural Function. Uh, yeah. The auditorium is PACKED. We ask if this is “Anderson Hall” – Yes, yes! Please come in! Come in! So, we’re ushered in and stand in the back. I pray to myself that someone will let us just stand in the back. Of course not! Indians are too hospitable! We are ushered to THE FRONT of the auditorium, while the MC is speaking. The function was to honor the College Union Society and the distinguished guests, who were both graduates from MCC. One of the speeches was in Tamil. Didn’t understand a word, not a word. After a couple of speeches and the loud speaker blaring, you know…since we’re in the front row. There is a transition to a cultural presentation! The distinguished row of guests move and take our seats! We were sitting where the distinguished guests were sitting, so we moved to the 2nd row.

Then each of the halls, minus Margaret Hall, performed a special performance – it was performed and organized by all freshers! There was a mesmerizing traditional dance and awful garbage band “gospel” rap song. Then our lovely Martin Hall girls did a Human Video to a mash of songs – it was about good and evil in dream form.  Then Heber finished with “Hallelujiah” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” ALL of this just blew my mind. What had we stumbled open? I was pretty much overjoyed the whole time this whole cultural presentation was going on. No. Lie.

All of THIS was followed by tea. TEA.

7) Then we all went back to our room and made plans to order pizza. We had decided to have an American Night with our BCA gang. JJ found the number, we decided on our order, then I volunteered to call. Could not understand a word the man on the other end said. He hung up on me! Someone else tried. Fail. We ventured to find Indian friends. Pizza Ordered. We settled in to watch the office while we waited for the pizza to get delivered. We ordered 4 pizzas, an extra to share with friends who helped us order, and two orders of bread sticks, and 4 drinks. The total was 800 Rs, which is about $16.00. Then our friends went to meet the deliveryman and came back with 4 personal pan pizzas, when we were expecting Mediums at least. I could not help laughing. I mean seriously. How funny is that!

We dined on our pan pizzas, breadsticks, and shared oreos and peanut butter while we guffawed at the Office.

It was a great day. 

July 11, 2011

Get away weekend to Mamallapuram

We've had a rather frustrating week this past week. We've been hoping to start class. We didn't. We were hoping to register with the Immigration Office. We didn't. Shoot! We would have been happy to get our paper work from the MCC Dean without much trouble. Not so. I also followed Annual Conference this week and, while I wasn't there, I was frustrated by what I heard and read about it. That was exhausting and disheartening. Anyway, we were shot, fried, and ready for a get away weekend to Mamallapuram, courtesy of BCA.

Here's a brief overview of our weekend.

We played in the waves of the Bay of Bengal and jumped here! First jumping picture of my Indian adventure! How did this take a whole week to happen!?!
We also ate dinner at the Radisson (a very fancy schmancy hotel) and then watched a wonderful fireworks display. Hotel food after 3 meals a day of Samba and rice? Yes, please! Bring on the Naan!

We went sightseeing! 

The statues seen in these two images ^ are both carved from the same exact rock. It was massive! There were two temples in it. 

Meet our Tour Guide. 

We met a monkey, which was a nice first visit for a girl who's a little intimidated by them.

Krishna's Butterball and some happy goats. 

I met my first elephant. She was made from stone and very, very old. 

We drank some coconut water. The water was good! Then they broke open the actual coconut and let us try the actual coconut. Warm coconut isn't quite my thing. 

Finally, we made a stop at the Herpetology Center on the way home! 

Hope you've been able to relax and rejuvenate this summer wherever you are my friends. Don't lose heart. 

<3 K

Suds in the bucket & Bureaucratic frustrations

I just finished doing my laundry in a bucket with detergent made specifically for washing your clothes in a bucket! My forearms are going to be so tough after wringing out all of that water!
It was a refreshing act of physical labor after spending 3 hours on a bus into town and out of town. We've been trying to register with the Immigration office for about 4-5 days now. It's been an uphill struggle to get the proper paper work from our college here in India and today we were ready to visit the offices and finally register. After our 8:30am class we leave by 11am, skipping our International Social Work class at 11:40am. However, after a 1 and a half bus ride into the city we get there only to find they've closed for the day. They're only open from 9:30am-12:30pm. What a window! Wednesday is our last chance to register before we begin to get charged $40 a day for late registration each. Money which will be coming out of our excursion budget. We're all just ready for this bureaucratic mess to be over with.

July 3, 2011

An Introduction to the City: Shopping

Saturday we had our first excursion into the city to shop. We traveled there in a van, which we won't be doing much longer because soon we'll get our train cards. The city streets were so crowded as they're filled with cars, vans, buses, bikes, mopeds, pedestrians and the like! The lines on the road don't really seem to mean much here as mopeds zoom between cars and buses.

Walking along the street was frightening enough, with cars zooming right on the edge of a really non existent sidewalk, but crossing the street now THAT was frightening, exhilarating and exciting. The 7 of us followed close behind Shabik, Anu (BCA), and Anu (2 - MCC). Well, we tried to - I would often cling to the person in front of me or grab their shirt. We only had to cross traffic twice, and the second time was an accident. The second time we were walking right between stopped cars that could go or move at any moment. Here's a view from our van. They really fit 3-4 vehicles in a two lane road and what not.

We went to a store called Saravan Stores and the whole complex had 7 floors! We ventured to the second floor which had "Ladies Readymades" There were loooooong rows of clothes, even western inspired clothing like jeans. We browsed the kamis tops and some salwaar bottoms. I selected a gold and red camis top - Bridgewater colors! (Is anyone surprised, really? Really.) This place was packed with people. PACKED.

We also did a tiny bit of shopping on the street, where we're allowed to bargain. I was satisfied with my one top for the day and snapped some pictures of the street. We had a couple of beggars follow us around. One woman with a baby followed after us in hot pursuit - even through traffic. She kept tapping us on the shoulder. "Ma'am! Ma'am!" It broke my heart. When we stopped at a little stand, I asked Anu (BCA) what we should do. "Nothing." Ah, it's so hard.

Then we stopped at a veg restaurant that was celebrating it's 4th year of being in business. This is what I had for lunch! It was served to us on a banana leaf.

Sunday we went shopping again! This time to a huge mall -Expressway Mall. Anu (BCA) mentioned that it's a small slice of American culture plopped into the middle of Chennai. We found that to be SO TRUE. It's shiny and clean, like a nice American mall. There were 4 floors and a basement, which housed a super store Bazaar foods. Bazaar Foods was very similar to Wal-Mart, you could find everything there. I'm even pretty sure I didn't see everything there was to see in that store. Some of the stores were such a fascinating paradox - there would be western clothing and then a section of Indian clothing right next to it.

Shopping at the Mall was an interesting experience - much less overwhelming than yesterday's shopping experience. I saw as many people in traditional Indian dress as I did in Western clothing. Really, almost ALL of the men I saw were in heavily influenced western clothing - jeans, polos, sunglasses and the like. One group of boys wanted to get a picture with our small group (there were about 5 of us at this point). But each of them wanted their own picture with us. The first one wanted us to do a "Screaming picture" - whaaat? Yeah, it's what it sounds like...it ended up being a picture where we all just shouted. Anu said we shouldn't pose for pictures with men, because they will show them off as "Oh, I have my picture with these American girls" and they'll brag. The assumption about Western women is that we're carefree and easy and we won't really tell them "No". They get these viewpoints from watching Western films and various other Western influences. We said no to similar requests after that.

Shopping in the Bazaar was another overwhelming experience. There are just so many people everywhere. All the time. It's something I'm really going to have to get used to. We stopped here to get some fruits and other groceries if we wanted. I snagged some shampoo and body wash - they had Dove, Herbal Essences, and Garnier Fructis - just to name a few big brands. I mean, seriously, I see the effects of Globalization everywhere I look. There are SO MANY American/Western products here. I did notice that all of the shampoo was focused on sleek and shiny hair or straight hair - nothing was marketed toward me and my curls.

July 1, 2011

Welcome to India: Sleepless Nights & Sweaty Days!

I'm finally here! After much planning, packing (and re-packing), and copious amounts of nervous, anxious, excited anticipation - I'm finally IN India! I arrived Friday morning around midnight. We came straight to the campus and went to sleep around 2. "Sleep" really consisted of waking up about 6 or 7 times between 2am and 6am - then finally giving up at 6:30am. My roommate, Bethany, and I both laid in bed - sweating in the early morning heat of about 92 degrees F. I took a bath from the bucket in our bathroom, which I really prefer to a shower.

Meals here are very different than meals at home in the KCC! This morning we walked into breakfast at 7:30. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8:30 every day and in each of the halls. The students are only allowed to eat in their own halls. Breakfast this morning was a very mild noodle (ramen-like almost) dish. And that is it! There are no "options." Of course, you have the option of not eating there if you prefer. It's great. It was served in this HUGE pot - bigger than any pot I'd ever seen. For lunch, the rice was served in this massive dish too. Dinner and lunch are similar - rice and different types of curry. So far, I am not a fan of the curdled milk products. I have tried them each time, but I just don't have the taste buds for it, yet.

For our campus tour and for dinner we sat with some new Indian friends who taught us how to eat Indian food with our hands! It was great! I may never use a spoon again!

We took a tour of the campus this afternoon after the heat of the day had passed. Madras Christian College is gorgeous! There are trees everywhere and they really isolate each area and building from one to another. It's not wide open like at Bridgewater. There are dirt paths that can take you to each building. Walking to the Social Work building the first few times will be an adventure in itself!

There are deer everywhere. Deer who aren't really frightened of you either. A new Indian friend mentioned that she had a deer come up to her window each night at 10pm and she would feed them!

One animal I was not expecting to see - BATS! They are not little either! They are about the same size as the black birds here. As dusk was approaching, they were flying all over the place. Many of them had gathered in the trees above and were tittering away at each other. Notice the bat in the lower left hand corner, just sayin'. Not to mention all the little black bundles in the trees - yeah, those are bats.

This is our good-looking group after getting caught in some rain during our tour. It was so refreshing!

Tomorrow's agenda? Shopping! (And hopefully picking my courses!)