It's been about a month since I used this program to write anything. I tend to write in journals only when I need to de-stress. This is not the case in this instant. I'm going to use this program to write an entry to my blog. Ok let's go! or Challo! as they say in Hindi.
It's been ages since I've posted anything on my blog. In part, this is because my internet is very slow and it takes ages to upload pictures. The other (maybe slightly larger) part is purely intentional negligence. After 7 weeks in one of the most hectic, overwhelming, and lovely countries I've ever been to, I started feeling overwhelmed to even begin with what seemed a herculean task, telling you about all of my experiences here so far. Even a brief summary seemed like it would take GB of text, which is a lot if you don't know about file sizes of .txt files. This blog post will contain some stories, general impressions of India, and random information about my research.
Background: So far I spent 3 weeks in Delhi, 2 weeks in Ranchi, 1 week in Jabalpur, 2 weeks in Delhi, and I leave for Udaipur on Thursday.
Where to begin...
I always take the window seat when I'm flying because I can avoid that awkward moment when I wake up and realize that my mouth is desert dry, not because of the dry air in the airplane, but because its been hanging open for the duration of your nap.
As I was flying into Delhi I excitedly looked out the above-mentioned-window to see my first views of the city. But my view was blocked by a strange yellow-brown cloud that extended in a half-circle like the glass windows of Jim Carrey's home in The Truman Show. It was my first introduction to the air pollution that leaves dust on your skin, prevents the sun from shining, causes sore throats, and shortens life spans. My heart clenched fear as the plane flew directly into the smog with less than a mile of visibility. I'm still not sure how the plane landed.
A friend described India: "It's crowded, dirty, and disgusting, but I love it." So far that has exactly encompassed my feelings about India. Everyday I see something I could have never imagined. Like the day I saw a newly born litter of puppies lying on the ground by a metro stop I frequent. I was sure they were dead until I saw a scattering of well-fed and slightly older puppies hiding under vehicles and houses a could weeks later. The first day I saw open defecation. The first day I realized that a rickshaw driver's rickshaw is his office and home (the seat also serves as an uncomfortable bed). In the hours I've spent observing Delhi, I've learned about humanity.
I've contacted organisations to interview them, as I did in Jordan, but I've also spent some weeks working with and interviewing an organization called Udyogini. They work to empower women through entrepreneurship and agriculture. For example, they provide business development services so that women can understand how to effectively sell products and manage businesses. Amazingly, they've allowed my to visit their sites in the field in Ranchi, Jharkand and understand how they effectively implement programs and how they go about assessing their impact as an organization.
In Ranchi, I saw lac, the resin that Udyogini provides women with the resources to produce, on branches of Kusum, Ber, and Semalina trees. I felt the saliva of the lac insect drip onto my face like a hungry beast desiring its next feast. The women in the villages were beautiful. Their multicolored dresses masked their ages, making the oldest seem spry with youth. However, my arrival had been announced when they greeted me and an Udyogini employee with a ritual that ended with them placing garlands around our necks. With this introduction it was impossible to tell with a glance what the reality of their lives were like, whether it was a cyclone or a breeze.
My favorite moment was when a group of women from a Village Literacy Center, a small center where women are taught how to write, read, and do basic math, told me how they were empowered by their knowledge. They felt capable and confident enough that, as a group, they went to the local government and requested they install electricity in their village. In the last couple of months electricity poles were set up around their town. The inspiring women, with me sitting awkwardly in the corner, are shown in the pictures at the bottom of this post.
Durga Puja is a 6-day religious celebration in celebration of the goddess Durga. Cities build temporary places of worship for Durga and then submerse them in water at the end of the celebration. This beautiful purple temple, as seen from a precarious Ferris wheel in Ranchi, is made entirely of colorful cardboard and wood.
In India, I'm an outsider that fits in. I have been told on multiple occasions that my curly hair and complexion make me look like I'm from the south. I am black and that's how I've always identified. It has been strange to take on the persona of a brown-skinned person. In India, I pass. My skin is the brown of their skin; my eyes are the brown of their eyes. I'm free to wander the streets as part of the massive crowd of brown people. The only glances I get are the result of my gargantuan height (at 5'6" I tower over the majority of men and women). But I am black. When people realize I do not speak Hindi, many begin to see the signs of my African descent.
I've never in my life been asked so frequently: what are you? In the US, my instinctual, deservedly sassy, answer to that question is, human. But I've found it difficult to respond to others' kindness and curiosity with a curse response. So, I try to explain. Usually, I start "I'm american." Often that is sufficient and we move on. If they persist (and I'm in the mood) I go into the long story every mixed person has about their heritage and why the brown color of their skin isn't like any other brown color the person has seen before (they should get out more). It culminates in me saying, "I'm mixed American-Caribbean." Which often prompts the response, "Oh! The Indies!" In which case people assume I'm American-Indian-Caribbean.
If you're reading this blog post because of the cliff-hanger in my previous post, I will not leave you hanging any longer. My first real night in my hostel (technically, it was my second but I think it sounds more dramatic if I say it was my first night. Also, it was my first night after a full day in India, so it counts), a group from the hostel invited me to go with them to a bar across the street. In an effort to be social (not always my first instinct), I went a long. I was so tired I was almost falling asleep as we walked to a German, no, not Indian, bar. When we arrived, I immediately wanted to leave (the music was too loud and all I wanted to do was read my book and drink a cup of tea), but I decided to stay against my better judgement... and something amazing happened!
After about 30 minutes I looked over my shoulder and then tilted my head to the side inquisitively. I'd recognized someone. How could I have recognized someone? I only knew one person living in Delhi and I hadn't told him that I was spontaneously going to this random German bar. I went closer to confirm that the individual was indeed Mitul, an engineer/mathematician a year ahead of me at Harvey Mudd, and not some strange and disturbing look-alike. When I confirmed his identity I excitedly approached and chatted with Mitul. I can't believe I've run into so many people from my life in the US. The world is small, but I've found it's particularly tiny.
I've also seen many beautiful sites, some of which are pictured in the numerable photos below.