Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If You Build It, They Will Come . . .

And so they have! Although there have officially been four guests thus far, this is the first time that The Wandering Paisa truly feels like a hostel. A group of eight travelers from various countries arrived this evening. They came to Colombia by boat from Panama and were caught in a storm on the way, running out of food and without proper places to sleep on their unexpectedly extended journey. Talk about an easy crowd to please – as they explored the hostel there were exclamations all around: Hot showers! Laundry! Coffee! Pillows!!!

What’s amazing after all this time with only Miles and I in the hostel, is to see how all the space is being used. It’s exactly as intended with people lounging in hammocks, hanging out in the castle, reading and writing on the balcony, chatting in the reception, and cooking in the kitchen. Every area is comfortable and usable and the guests are making the most of it all. The guests are shopping at the nearby grocery stores, testing the neighborhood restaurants, and exploring the city by metro. Everything is confirmation of the reasons that Brent and Miles chose this location and the countless other decisions that have been made over the past months. Finally, The Wandering Paisa is a fully operating hostel!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Grocery Store Experience

“Could you swing by the store and grab milk on your way home?” is a phrase that you will never hear in Colombia. Not because Colombians don’t go to the store or because they don’t drink milk but because it is a near impossibility to “swing by” the store. That phrase implies a quick in and out, grab the one thing you need, make a beeline to the “under 10 items” register, and you’re out of there. Five minutes max. In Colombia, or in Medellin at least, or in my neighborhood at the very least, going to the store is a full event of a proportion that requires it be penciled into your day planner.

It’s the checkout lines that get you. There is absolutely no sense of urgency among the workers, regardless of how long the line snaking away from their register is. If you’re unlucky the shift change will happen while you’re waiting and could take up to ten minutes. Alternatively, every single person in front of you could be paying their bills as well as buying groceries, doubling the number of transactions required. And heaven help you if a manager is needed. I saw a couple the other day who had the right idea for relieving the annoyance of waiting - they were casually drinking a yet-to-be-purchased beer while in line!

There is, however, a marked difference between the service at Carrefour, Makro, and Exito. Carrefour is a French chain, I think Makro is Dutch, and Exito is Colombian. Colombia seems to have a whole different spin on CSR that is much more involved and effective than what I have observed in India and the US. They go to great lengths to improve the lives of their employees, including helping everyone to buy their own houses. It’s understandable that benefits like this would make employees much more invested in their work.

Another local chain that takes an active role in improving the lives of its employees is Crepes & Waffles. This chain of restaurants only employs single mothers and assists them with schooling, housing, and other investments that help them to support themselves and lead stable lives. The types of CSR practiced by Exito and Crepes & Waffles seem much more admirable to me than large US corporations who might organize a day volunteering at the local food bank or planting trees once every few months.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living In and On the Minimum Salary

Miles and I are apartment hunting right now. In the $300-350 range we’ve found some amazing deals and one of the initial problems was finding apartments that weren’t about 3x the size of what we need. Obviously, by western standards, these apartments are incredibly cheap, but knowing that the average apartment we’re looking at is 650,000 pesos, which is about 100,000 more than the minimum salary in Colombia made me wonder what more affordable housing is in Medellin.

When I asked Federico how much the average Colombian living on minimum salary would pay for a house, he said about 150,000 pesos. Add in 200,000 for transport, which especially adds up if you have to take two buses to get to work. The buses are operated by private companies, meaning that you pay every time you get on a bus rather than receiving a transfer like we do in Seattle. For this reason, many people own motorcycles, but of course gas is expensive too. Now add maybe 200,000 a month for food and you’re already at 550,000, the minimum salary.

Even if both partners work and share the house with other family members, it’s very little money to live on. Then imagine throwing children into the mix – clothes, shoes, books for school, etc. However, despite the difficulty of getting by on the minimum salary, I suppose these workers are still luckier than many, given that Colombia has the interesting combination of both one of the highest minimum salaries and one of the highest unemployment rates in South America.

Limpiar: (v) to clean

It took three tries to get a hostel cleaning lady we’re happy with. The first one earned her dismissal when she was loathe to clean the kitchen because “it’s only going to get dirty again.” Wait a minute, isn’t that the point of hiring someone to clean? Especially in a hostel with a capacity of 34, it’s crucial that the cleaning staff be willing to clean the same areas everyday and sometimes twice a day. Marybel, the new cleaning lady, is a gem who proved her ability to take initiative and her understanding of the term “deep clean” when she took a garden hose to the hallway walls and ceiling on her first day. With her help, the inches of construction dust in which we have been living have been all but eradicated.

Despite my obviously inferior Spanish, each cleaning lady we’ve had insists on reporting to me rather than Miles. Clearly, as the woman of the house, it’s my responsibility to provide direction regarding the cleaning. The result is that my current flashcards consist of words like dust, stain and mop. I suppose managing housework is as good a way as any to increase my vocabulary!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

“The City of Eternal Spring”

Right. Apparently “spring” in Spanish is the equivalent of monsoon! This weather is so reminiscent of the rainy seasons in both Thailand and India that I could almost believe I were in either place when I sit here. I’m on the newly green veranda right now and although sitting ten feet inside the roof, am still getting sprayed. The thunder is rumbling and cracking overhead and the lightning is beginning to flash. There’s barely a pause between the two; the storm is literally right above us and I think this valley must have excellent acoustics because it is impossibly loud.

This rain happens every single day and you can watch the dark clouds roll across the sky and see the misty silver rain envelop the valley. It keeps the vegetation green and the air clean and fresh, but this constant rain is also causing mudslides and flooding all over the country. Apparently this weather has been constant since July and, Miles assures me, is quite uncharacteristic. It’s the result of La Niña and El Niño occurring in the same year, the weather patterns that are probably responsible for the unseasonable snow that Seattle is having right now.

But who doesn’t love a good thunderstorm? And Bowie doesn’t seem to mind, accustomed as she is to the daily hammering, drilling, etc. that forms our daily soundtrack at the hostel. Plus, what better way to discover the less than watertight sections of the roof?! Even so, with my hot-blooded tendencies molded so carefully by a few years in the tropics, I’ll welcome the “springier” side of this city when it finally arrives.

Operation Fluency

Call me a nerd, but I LOVE learning languages. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to be learning Spanish. There was a time in Thailand when I somewhat dejectedly accepted the fact that I would never know another language as well as I did Chinese. After all, I‘d had the benefit of university courses and full-immersion language programs to help me. But oh, how times have changed.

Spanish and I, we’re going to be best friends. Best friends forever, even. BFFs. I don’t just want to get by in Spanish, speaking enough to order food and direct a taxi. I don’t just want to formulate broken sentences, stringing enough words together to have the same simple conversations over and over again about my family, work, and where I’m from. I don’t want to only know the conjugations of verbs in the forms that I use and need most frequently. In fact, I don’t want even a part or a little bit of anything . . . I want it ALL.

I want to casually read the newspaper with my cup of coffee in the morning, skim a Garcia Marquez short story in the afternoon, and dip into Cervantes’ Don Quixote before I fall asleep at night. I want to make grocery lists, write emails, and keep my journal in Spanish. I want to know every conjugation of every verb and use flawless grammar. I want to always know the exact words to express my sentiments and never need to substitute one that only half means what I want to say. I want to wax poetic about the weather with the checkout lady at Exito, delve into human rights with taxi drivers, and debate politics with the fruit vendor down the street.

So, I’m not there yet, but a girl can dream. And in this case, I truly believe that I can make this dream a reality. Maybe I only just learned the past tense, get lost if a conversation takes an unexpected direction, and fall over even the words and phrases that I do know when put on the spot, but I’ll get there. I’ve only been here for two months and really learning Spanish for one. And I’m making progress with the help of my teacher, Ruben, and his infinite patience with my long pauses and probing language questions; Miles and his tolerance of my adding basic Spanish queries to the barrage of questions he is faced with and explanations he has to give at the hostel everyday; and my dearest friend Collins, Spanish Dictionary extraordinaire. It’s only a matter of time . . .

Farewell, RDF

There’s been a spell of quiet on my blog as I’ve focused on finishing my work for RDF and settling into Medellin. I worked remotely for RDF through the end of October and ended up running over one week into November. This was mostly writing and finishing as many projects as possible given my early departure from the organization. I wrote the content for the website, drafted a volunteer information packet, wrote new items for a flashier version of the Annual Report, and wrote a report on the Washington University program from the summer.

All of this work was with the intention of putting as much of the knowledge that I gained over the last year down on paper to serve as a guide and reference for future volunteers and employees. Nearly everything I did at RDF was from scratch since I was filling positions that hadn’t previously existed, there was very little documentation, and few systems were in place. Hopefully, this will allow for greater productivity and less reinventing of the wheel.

As much as I loved my work with RDF, I have to say I’m relieved to have officially finished. I’ll continue to be available in a consulting type position whenever necessary for volunteers in the future, but my official responsibilities are over. I found it difficult to stay as involved and inspired as usual during the last month of work. Of course, part of this is due to the conflict between needing to be at a computer working and wanting to explore this new city, culture and language. However, I think a larger factor was that, although I often perform best when left to my own devices, I also thrive off of contact with and feedback from others as well as inspiration from my surroundings. Most of all, I detest feeling as though I’m not performing at my best. Although I enjoy when my environment challenges me to perform better, I’d rather not fight against it, especially an environment as lovely as Medellin.

So here’s a final farewell to RDF, in a working capacity, and a thank you for the incredible amount of knowledge that I have gained about the inner working of nonprofits, life in rural India, and myself.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Medellin: Home

After a quick stop in Bucaramanga for Miles to buy one of their famed guitars, we bused back to Medellin. Ha, if only it were that easy! We woke up in the morning to find ourselves part of a long line of trucks and buses parked on the side of the road in the mountains. We waited patiently for a few hours as somewhere up ahead, workers cleared the mudslide that had blocked the road during the night. Then, as the first pangs of hunger hit, we were spurred to take action. Along with two fellow passengers we shouldered our bags and walked the mile or so to the site of the mudslide where we joined other travelers, including a group of nuns, scaling the hillside around it. Once on the other side we were able to get on a bus and finally made it to Medellin, only six hours later than expected!

I often think that a place really feels like home the first time I come back to it. So here I am, only two weeks into my life in Colombia, returning “home” to Medellin for the first time. And despite the fact that I’ve only actually spent five days in Medellin, the sight of the redbrick city set in a valley among mountains already feels familiar, and it’s good to be home.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

La Guajira: The Land of Death and Dreams

After a few days relaxing in Santa Marta we moved on to Riohacha, a new city for Miles. Riohacha is the capital of the northernmost state of Colombia, La Guajira: Land of Death and Dreams. How could we not visit an area with such an enticing moniker! Our plan was to rent motorcycles and head into this “most mysterious place in Colombia” with nothing but the bags on our backs. Ah, how naïve we were.

As our Jeep was expertly steered by our local driver through a cacti forest between the paved road and our coastal destination of Cabo de la Vela, we were exceedingly grateful that motorcycles had not been available in Riohacha. It had been raining all night and the mud and water had collected to the point that we were fording rivers, fishtailing across muddy flats, and gripping the seats to keep from slamming our heads into the ceiling as the Jeep bumped along.

Disappointed by our inability to rent a vehicle and drive ourselves, I was at least mollified by the excitement of this drive. The coast itself was quiet, fairly deserted, and beautiful despite the storms. We finally got to swim, ate delicious fresh seafood, slept in hammocks, and cemented the plan to return at a time of year when the weather is more conducive to exploring the interior. Our time in Guajira was completed with the purchase of traditional hats from the Wayuu people who inhabit the area and with their different dress, features and language make it feel as if you really have entered another land.

Note: La Guajira will have to remain mysterious as I forgot my camera battery . . . but please, admire my Wayuu hat :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Santa Marta: Research

In Santa Marta we got to do some hostel research. We spent the first night at Noctambular, one of four hostels in Santa Marta, only three of which are centrally located. Noctambular opened a couple months ago and was started by a young French couple who are managing the whole thing themselves. It was great to chat hostel work with them, but it seemed like they weren’t in the best place at the moment. Since it’s just the two of them and someone always has to be there, they’re completely tied down to the hostel and can’t even go out for a drink of dinner together. Thankfully, Miles already has a couple reliable employees lined up so that won’t be us!

In the name of research we moved to Brisa Loca, a beautiful hostel in a renovated hacienda, for the next night. Brisa Loca was the first hostel in Santa Marta and was started by two brothers from California. My dad had actually sent me a NY Times article about them just over a month ago. The hostel is incredibly well done and was a great place to get ideas as well as confirmation of a lot of the plans that Miles and Brent already have. Miles got a chance to talk to both the brothers and they were really helpful with stories from when they started and lots of tips. Exploring these hostels has been a really fun part of the trip for me because, all my recent travel experience having been bungalows and guesthouses in Asia, this is my first exposure to South American hostels. Now I have a much better idea of what Miles and Brent are aiming for and can also recognize how great their plans are.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cartagena: Colonial Town

Escaping the pernicious dust and constant hammering that characterizes the hostel at the moment, Miles and I hopped a plane to the coast, touching down in Cartagena. This Caribbean town, the setting of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, looks as though it could also have been the setting of Pirates of Penzance. In fact, the wall that surrounds the city was built to keep out pirates such as Sir Frances Drake who had a nasty habit of pillaging the area. Unfortunately for residents, the wall took 200 years to build and by the time construction was completed, pirates were no longer a threat.

We arrived after dark and discovered that the streets were romantically lit and perfect for wandering in the sultry heat that lingered even after sunset. Although beautiful, Cartagena is quite touristy with lots of hawkers and not an overwhelming amount to do. We spent only one day there seeing the old city and searching out Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s house. In the evening, we headed over to the fancier Boca Grande strip for massages, a beautiful sunset, and delicious fish dinner. As Miles says, you can’t go to the coast without seeing Cartagena. Check.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

“Operation Sodoma”

I seem to have a habit of arriving in countries right around the time of semi-major but non-threatening unrest. I moved to Thailand within a month of the peaceful coup that ousted Thaksin, I landed in India at the very beginning of the struggle to split the state of Andhra Pradesh in two, and I arrived in Colombia the day after the guerrilla leader of the FARC was killed.

Mono Jojoy, the top FARC commander, was killed in an airstrike of immense proportions, carried out under the somewhat distasteful name “Operation Sodoma.” Jojoy was held responsible for a number of charges related to drug trafficking and holding hostages. He had tens of arrest warrants against him, a price on his head, and an extradition request from the US. No surprise then that all of Colombia seems to be rejoicing at his death. Video footage of the bomb raid and constant updates on how it was carried out have been playing on the news for the past couple days.

Federico described the importance of this event by comparing it to if the US found and killed Osama Bin Laden. I don’t know enough yet about Colombian politics and FARC to know what the further reaching results of this event will be, but considering the other options, I’m glad that this was the FARC-related news accompanying my arrival.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Medellin, For Locals and Tourists

My first excursion in Medellin was to take the gondola up one of the hillsides. The gondola is an extension of the metro and is boarded using the same ticket. Its purpose is to transport locals up the incredibly steep slope to their houses but given the view and the exposure to a distinctively different area of the city it also makes a great tourist attraction.

Another reason to board the gondola is the Spain Library located at the top. Once again, this library is intended and used for local purposes, but doubles as an interesting site for anyone visiting the city. It is a huge structure perched precariously on the hillside and looking out over the entire valley of Medellin. When Miles and I went inside we had to make our way through crowds of children; turns out the Spain Library serves as a childcare center during the day. Unlike the Seattle Library, where the interior matches the sharp, angular exterior just a bit too much, the Spain Library manages to combine an architecturally interesting exterior with a comfortable and functional interior that begs to be used by the community.

The gondola is actually featured on the Wandering Paisa business cards and is the perfect example of the Medellin experiences of which Miles and Brent hope to encourage travelers to take advantage. I already feel that our trip up the gondola represents an aspect of the city that I’m going to love. The Medellin that I’ve been hearing about from Miles and am finally getting to see for myself is not touristy. The areas I’ve seen are not crowded with foreigners and they are not designed to attract tourists but rather to improve the life of locals. It just happens to be Medellin’s good fortune that they have designed transport systems and constructed architecture in a manner so efficient and pleasing to the eye that it is sure to be enjoyed by locals and foreigners alike.

As always, there are two sides to every city, and I know that there are more tourist-centric areas of Medellin, but I’m happy to stick to this one.

Shhh . . . You’ll Give Us Away

For the first time in years, I find myself in a country where I am not obviously a foreigner. Until I open my mouth that is! There’s a whole mix of ethnic looks in Medellin with people who look anywhere between black, Hispanic, and white. Even with my blue eyes I don’t stand out very much. Coming from China, Thailand, and India all of which are much more mono-tone this is quite a change. Not to say that everyone in Asian countries looks the same, not by a long shot, but I don’t even fit into any of the variances.

So, my second day here, Miles and I get onto the metro and ride for maybe about ten minutes before one of us starts a conversation. As soon as the English words were out of our mouths, you could feel a shift in the train car and suddenly, we were the objects of attention/curiosity/speculation. However you define it, there was a marked change, though not negative, as we became “the foreigners.” What was most distinctive about this sensation to me, was recognizing that the atmosphere after we spoke English is what has become the norm for me over past years. It’s mildly uncomfortable, even when the vibe is not negative, to be so aware of yourself solely because of the fact that everyone else is aware of you. I think I’m going to enjoy blending in a bit more, now I just need to work on my Spanish!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Wandering Paisa

A little background as to why Colombia was even on my radar when it came to picking the next country to explore . . .

Miles and his brother Brent were traveling Colombia in January when they decided to try their hands at business by opening a backpacker’s hostel in Medellin. Colombia is only recently beginning to attract more culture conscious travelers as opposed to the traditional drug tourists and this is the new market that Miles and Brent intend to tap into. Their hostel, called The Wandering Paisa, is the first hostel in the local (as opposed to tourist and gringo heavy) “Zona Rosa” or bar area of the city and will focus on exposing travelers to “the OTHER side of Medellin.”

The Wandering Paisa is a two-storey house in a residential area within walking distance of supermarkets, bars, restaurants, the metro, and the city’s stadium. Miles and I are temporarily set up in one of the guest rooms while the last of the construction finishes and then we’ll move into one of the smaller rooms downstairs for the first month or so while the place gets going.

Opening is scheduled for the end of the month so the real fun should be in the next couple weeks. Although a stressful time for Miles, with construction running a bit slower than expected and having to wait on the decorating, it’s a really exciting time for me to arrive. I get to see the place in an unfinished state with minor construction left to be done and will get to be involved with the creative work in decorating. It’s the stage where the house will transform from looking like a construction site to being a full-fledged hostel.

48 Hours Later

After farewells in Kalleda and Hyderabad, I boarded the first of four planes that would eventually take me to Colombia. This plane was bound for Delhi where I had a thirteen-hour layover, graciously hosted by Nikhar’s parents. I took the opportunity to soak up just a little more Indian history before leaving the subcontinent and spent a few hours exploring Indira Gandhi’s memorial museum and Nehru’s library. After a lovely evening with Nikhar’s parents and my last home cooked Indian meal, it was back to the airport to continue my journey.

Arriving in the Chicago airport early the next morning, I treated myself to what I deemed to be a suitably American breakfast of Dunkin Donuts and waited for my next flight. When I landed in Miami, I was greeted at the gate by Miles, who had come in on a red-eye from LA. We immediately left the airport and bussed into the city where we ate sushi for lunch, an excellent choice for my one meal in America! Then we headed back to the airport and onto the final flight, which landed me, two days later, in Medellin, Colombia.

We arrived after dark and my first view of Medellin was looking into a valley of lights as we wound down one of the surrounding hillsides. After dropping off our bags, we walked to the main street where everything felt immediately different from India: the streets, the clothes, the faces, the language, the music played by wandering mariachi bands, and the fact that nobody was staring at me. In my first few hours in Colombia, I feel more instantly comfortable than on any other move I have made thus far and am ready to start exploring.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Final Days

Today was a wonderful day, my last lazy Sunday in the village. It was spent with Suma, who has been with me from the beginning, and Sophie, recently arrived. Although there are many things I will miss about Kalleda, I will miss Suma most of all. And sharing Kalleda with Sophie and her energy is allowing me to experience those initial feelings of enthusiasm and eagerness all over again on my last days.

Today, we lounged at the junior college (JC) playing Bananagrams over countless cups of chai before venturing out into the village. Sophie and I devoured the village through photographs from one end to the other and were well received by the villagers relaxing on their doorsteps. No worries about any awkwardness photographing people, they couldn’t get enough!

We fixed up a cycle’s tires and gave Suma lesson #1 in cycle riding: walking the bike back to the JC! Then we napped, cooled down, made suntea, explored the Gigapan (awesome photography robot: www.gigapan.org) on the roof over even more chai, and finished the day with a mehendi (henna) session while watching Lagaan (classic Amir Kahn Bollywood).

I feel comforted by the henna on my hands and arms. I am ready to go, but I know that won’t necessarily make leaving easy. This hasn’t been an easy ride but there are so many things I will miss about India and I’m fortunate to be reminded of them in these last days. I can’t wait to arrive in Colombia but I also can’t quite believe that I’m leaving on Wednesday. One more day in Kalleda, one more day in Hyderabad, one more day in India, and then I’ll be on the other side of the world. As I move to that farthest away of places, it’s nice knowing that traces of India will remain on my hands for a few more weeks, as the mehendi slowly fades. And I do know that the less visible, less tangible, but far more meaningful traces will be with me forever.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

¿Habla Español?

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous about learning Spanish. You see, with the last three languages I’ve learned, people were impressed that I could even say “hello.” Nothing brings a smile to a local’s face like “Nihao” pronounced with the right tone or “Sawatdeeka” or “Namaskaram” with the correct hand gesture. Somehow I don’t foresee “Hola” having the same effect, no matter how nicely I say it.

The thing is, people speak Spanish. A lot of people. In a lot of countries. And many of them aren’t even native speakers. That’s a lot of competition! Okay, I know learning languages isn’t really a race or a competition. But I guess being unique in learning a language takes away feelings of embarrassment at potential mispronunciations and broken sentences.

Also, I already know the basics so I’m a little unsure where to start. There are certain types of words and phrases that I make a point of learning first when I move to a country. But since my K-6 Spanish has ensured that I already know these words it looks like I’ll be jumping into something a bit more complicated right away, namely, grammar. I think the easiest way to tackle this will be to take a formal class. Especially because, even after the last months with Telugu, I’m still not used to conjugation and tenses again! Nonetheless, all explanations aside, it’s strange to feel hesitant about what should be my easiest language learning experience thus far.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dabang: Cop. Lover. Rebel.

I’ve decided that, when watching foreign language movies without subtitles, I prefer the plot be simple to nonexistent and the dialogue superfluous and uninspiring. After all, what I’m really there for is the action, dancing, and slapstick style comedy. Fortunately, the Indian movies in theatres of late have not disappointed, and Dabang takes the cake.

This movie, starring Salman Kahn (one of the three Kahns of Bollywood, and the last one to check off my list) as a no-nonsense cop in an Uttar Pradesh village, was a conglomeration of several movie styles. The film opened with a Bollywood dance number involving a lot of hip thrusting and drawing audience participation in the form of whistles and shouts. It quickly moved into a hardcore fight scene in which the hero dodges flying panes of glass in Matrix style, pausing for a brief dance party every time one of the baddies’ cell phone rings.

Then, the hero meets the heroine and woos her in a clumsy fashion distinctly reminiscent of Inspector Clusoe in The Pink Panther. The requisite Indian moustache helps the association. The movie wanders on for some time with no plot but plenty of hilarious scenes made even more so because they are meant to be serious but couldn’t be more ridiculous if they tried.

The best moment comes at the very end and, unlike my friends who had read the review, I had no warning as to the pure amazingness that awaited. During the showdown between hero and villain, the hero is losing ground until he discovers that the villain killed his mother. This revelation unleashes a whole new level of fury and the camera zooms in on his already sizable biceps and pecs as they bulge and the shirt starts to split. Then a gust of wind sweeps the shredded shirt away, leaving Salman Kahn standing against the sky in a blaze of muscle-bound glory. Whistles galore, of course.

So, recipe for ridiculousness: Bollywood + Matrix + Pink Panther + The Hulk. And honestly, who needs a plot or memorable dialogue when you have all of the above?

Monday, August 30, 2010

As Easy As “3, 2, 1”

(Feel free to sing the title in the style of young Michael Jackson.)

My Youth Empowerment class is nearing the end of our digital story. I’m getting stressed out because of the deadline. My students, on the other hand, are not. They also seem to have lost interest over the past few days as we entered into the phase of serious working.

In today’s class a few things happened to remedy this situation. My strategy can be summarized as follows: 1) give everyone an active way to be involved that makes them feel necessary, 2) make even the hard work fun. This may seem like an obvious strategy but I viewed it as an accomplishment because it’s difficult to find a role for everyone at this stage and it’s difficult for me to make things fun if I’m stressed and the students aren’t working.

As is often the case, the solution to involvement and fun was surprisingly simple. We were practicing the narration as we added photos into iMovie so we used a movie style countdown (starting at five with fingers up for all to see and going silent for the last numbers). Then everyone else was in charge of watching the slideshow during the narration and yelling “Cut!” if anything was not matching. I couldn’t believe how silent people went at the end of the countdown, I should have started using this technique months ago!

And then, of course, because class was fun and relaxed, everything went well and we got tons of work done. Everyone presented great ideas on which photos to use, how to order them, whether or not to change the speed of narration, and minor yet insightful edits to the script. Days like this make you realize how worthless stress is!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Some of you may have picked up on this already, but I just wanted to clarify some of my writing on this blog. I have noticed a tendency in myself to use writing as a cathartic method of working through problems and dealing with frustrations in my life. When I’m happy, I simply enjoy being happy rather than sitting at my journal or computer analyzing the cause and writing about it. However, I would hate to give the impression that my life and work in India has been an unending stream of challenges and aggravation. Those moments have existed, of course, as they would anywhere, but there have been as many and more wonderful and inspiring moments. Especially as my time here comes to an end I’d like to take the opportunity over the next few weeks to document some of my favourite memories and experiences both work-related and in general during my time here. So please excuse the chronological discrepancies and enjoy the read!

Coffee Therapy

As I go through the familiar process of making coffee – measuring out clean water, turning on the gas for the stove, pouring a heaping spoonful of Stumptown into a metal bowl – I notice how tense I am and consciously relax my shoulders. As the water boils and I mix it with the coffee before covering the bowl, I breathe in the scent (aromatherapy?) and focus on my negative thoughts, allowing them to pass, clearing my mind. A few minutes later I pour the coffee through a chai strainer and take my mug up to the roof.

Ten minutes earlier I had found myself sitting in the lab, staring through my computer, blinking back tears of frustration. It’s taking less and less to set me off these days. Today it was a piece of fruit. Well, the lack of a piece of fruit, really. Of course my frustration is not actually about the fruit, that’s only a representation of my sense of helplessness and inability to control key aspects of my living situation.

Fortunately, the last time I wanted coffee and there was current I had the foresight to grind all of the beans. The first time I made coffee I folded a handful of beans in newspaper and pounded them in a rock. The “grind” was not quite as fine as I like, but better than nothing. Next time I used a rolling pin to further crush the beans. This method was more successful but still required a full ten minutes of elbow grease. Luck was mine, however, when the kitchen purchased a blender. Ahh, sweet, sweet development. Thankfully, I now have French Press coffee (minus the French and the press part) readily available for those moments when I need a little coffee therapy to get me through the day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Oh, By the Way . . .

I’m moving to Colombia! And yes, it is a one-way ticket :)

Yup, in less than a month I will board a plane for Medellin, Colombia via Delhi, Chicago and Miami. Check out a globe, India and Colombia are literally on opposite sides. Despite this, I expect the transition to be quite smooth. Colombia is also hot; also a developing country; also filled with bright colours, music, and beautiful scenery. Plus I expect Spanish to be a whole lot easier to learn than Chinese, Thai or Telugu!

True to form, I made the decision to leave India early based on a gut feeling that this just isn’t the right place for me anymore. Since then I’ve managed to sort out some more precise reasoning and have gotten as far as recognizing that although I like the work and I like India, I no longer enjoy doing the work in India.

With the decision made, I talked to Vandita who was not excited about the proposal but accepted my decision. The date of my departure was set by the fact that my visa expires on September 23rd, although I will continue to work for RDF remotely through the end of October.

So what’s a girl to do with an open ticket anywhere in the world, nowhere to be, and nothing to do? Well, charmed by Miles’ tales of Medellin, the City of Eternal Spring, Colombia seemed the natural choice. Do I have plans? No. Do I have ideas? I’m overflowing with them. Am I happy? Yes. And really, at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Marriage (without dowry)

First, as Indian weddings are such a barrage of the senses, especially visual, I must insist that anyone who reads this blog also view the photo album!

I met Sid soon after arriving in India and, as he claims, he became my first friend. The timing of our meeting also happened to be very shortly before he became engaged in a semi-arranged marriage. As a result I’ve been somewhat peripherally on the scene through the engagement, the dating that followed (I explained to Sid’s dad Jagan that this is actually the reverse order of how we do things at home!), shopping for the wedding, and finally my first Indian wedding. Perfect excuse to wear my new saree!

I was invited to stay at the family’s house and experienced every part of three of the four days worth of ceremonies. Aside from the extreme length of the wedding (4 days with the actual marriage day ceremonies lasting over eight hours), and the sheer number of guests (somewhere between 6 and 800, rough estimate), I thought the biggest difference had to do with the family aspect. The marriage is very much viewed as a marriage of families not individuals. This aspect was especially accentuated by the fact that Divya will be moving into the joint family household. Due to the sharp contrasts with western weddings, Sid’s marriage, more than any other experience I’ve had, drove home how focused on the individual western society is.

One of the best parts of the day was when Sid decided he didn’t actually want to get married and announced that he was off to Varanasi to become a monk! Ok, so this wasn’t actually that surprising as it’s a traditional part of the ceremony. He was even aided by the priest who outfitted Sid with a monk’s bag, a hat, a scarf, and an umbrella. Sid then marched out the door of the marriage hall, pursued by an “angry” crowd of Divya’s cousins. One took Sid’s shoes to prevent him from going any further and another berated him for leaving. The crowd that gathered was much amused and even included a 95-year-old aunt who hobbled out to observe the antics. Eventually Sid was convinced and returned inside to continue the ceremony. Crisis averted.

Another highlight took place at the after party, a small gathering of about twelve close family friends for dinner and drinks. We mingled, discussed the wedding, took turns toasting the new couple, and sang and danced along to “100 Nostalgic Songs.” Himkar Uncle, who it was decided could be a character straight out of Seinfeld, treated us all to his Kung Fu Fighting dance routine. By the end of the night, when the song was on possibly its 10th or so round, Jagan, Himkar, and two of their friends jumped up and put on a show stopping performance complete with high kicks, killer jabs, and appropriately fierce karate faces. I’d take that over the Electric Slide any day!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Dowry Dilemma

My Youth Empowerment group is making their digital story about dowry. So far they’ve been meeting with alumni and junior college students on Saturdays to discuss the dowry situation. I was particularly excited about this setup because I expected the Telugu medium would allow for more in-depth discussion of the topic. That may be the case, but there are certain limits to the views discussed because all students come from the same cultural background, which has fostered the dowry situation. I, however, have no such limitations! I am strongly opposed to dowry and I don’t face the opposition of my society, family, or future husband (I hope!) in this belief.

Yesterday, I led a discussion on dowry in which we talked a lot about what exactly the money is used for. We also pinpointed one of the main reasons people want dowry is because it is "free money". Ah, so, LAZY! I exclaimed much to the delight of the students. We then talked about how good it can feel to earn your own money and not rely on your parents.

Today’s class started with three solutions suggested by the students: 1) If the girl works, then no dowry; 2) Rs10,000 from the boy’s family and Rs20,000 from the girl’s family; and 3) 50/50 split money from the boy’s and girl’s families. Notice that “no dowry” was not a suggestion, highlighting what I see as one of the current roots of the problem (in the case of my students, at least): the perceived lack of money and resources available to them.

The students listed the following uses of dowry money, which are real needs: the marriage ceremony and reception are expensive, jobs are hard to find, one often has to pay bribes to apply to or obtain jobs, buying a house if living apart from the parents, medical treatment for health problems, and helping to pay for a sister’s or daughter’s dowry (hm, vicious cycle?). We discussed other ways to make money to cover these costs: jobs, part-time work, borrow from family, or take loans from the bank (not very glamorous).

Out of this information I framed the choice of dowry in a new way. There are many costs a couple will face after marriage; there are also many ways to cover these costs. One way is dowry, which is the free and easy way – the boys cheered and the one of the girls exclaimed “Lazy!” (Uh oh, I’ve started something…). The other way is working hard. BUT, if we say yes to the dowry system, there will be easy money now, but what about twenty years from now when the money for a daughter’s dowry must be raised? Then there will be much hard work. So, my question was: When would you rather work hard, now when you are young and strong (demonstrated by flexing my arms)? Or later, when you are old and tired (demonstrated by hobbling like an old man with a walking stick)?

I don’t expect the boys to convert to staunch no-dowry advocates in only the few weeks of this class. But I do hope that I can get them thinking about the less obvious long-term effects of dowry on themselves and the other people involved. Also, I realized after today’s class that I need to bring attention to the complicity of the girls in perpetuating the dowry system. After all, it takes two sides and the girls are often also benefiting from the “free money.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Beginning of a Beautiful Thing

About a year ago, soaking wet from the rain we had just escaped, Molly and I huddled over beers in a dark New York bar. She told me about her work and I told her about mine and together, we devised a plan. A few months ago, waiting in line for the ferry from Lopez Island back to reality, we again shared our recent work stories and, revisiting our plan, we decided it was time. One week later Molly called me from DC and subjected me to a grueling interview. Actually, it was loads of fun and with minimal prompting I talked her ear off for about an hour about my work with Bridges to Understanding and RDF. Molly diligently wrote the information into an article for WorldWatch, a DC NGO where she works on project called Nourishing the Planet. Later, Molly even wrote a new article for the Seattle Times. Check out both articles below to see the first step of that plan hashed out months ago in a dive bar. Here’s to a lifelong collaboration between ourselves and the amazing organizations for which we will work!



Monday, August 9, 2010

Natural Henna

How to ensure a lazy Sunday? Paint your hands and feet with crushed mahindi leaves that must be left at least an hour in order to dye your skin.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


If you want to make yourself understood in a new country with a different language, there are a few approaches you can take: charades, broken English, or the local language. When I lived in China, I always used to wonder how people managed to travel there without speaking Chinese. It wasn’t until I moved to Thailand that I appreciated just how far one can go with a little bit of charades and a big smile. However, learning the local language is my preferred approach, so day by day, I worked more and more Thai vocabulary into my exchanges. Depending on the situation, though, I would sometimes find it necessary to call on my housemate Lauranne and her excellent knowledge of broken English.

Believe it or not, broken English is a language unto itself, consisting of a varied pronunciation of English words, a different interpretation of grammar, and literal translations from the local language. Although this type of English varies from country to country, I was recently informed of the rise of “Globish,” which refers to they type of broken English that allows speakers of English as a learned language to understand each other better than they do native speakers. Below are some Telugu/Indian phrases that I have found myself picking up.

Please turn on the light . . . Please on the light.

I’m tired . . . I am getting so much sleepy.

I’m going to go . . . Shall I go?

The power is on . . . Current has come.

It’s going to rain . . . Rain will be coming.

Will you take those papers? . . . Will you catch those papers?

Will you wear bindhi? . . . Will you keep bindhi?

Add “only” for emphasis

- I am one person, only.

- I will go today, only.

Add “yeah?” or “no?” at the end of a question

- I will need to be wearing a sari, yeah?

- There will be many people there, no?

When in doubt, add a ‘u’

- straight . . . straightu

- left . . . leftu

- right . . . rightu

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cochin, In Good Company

For years now, Estalyn, Nikhar and I have discussed traveling in India. At long last those dorm-day discussions have come to fruition! Nikhar was visiting home in Delhi on a break before starting his PhD, Estalyn was traveling on a break after completing her Masters, and I, of course, am living here. I secured a few days leave from work and hopped a 22-hour train to Cochin where I joined Nikhar and Estalyn for the last stop of their travels together.

Fort Cochin has a Mediterranean feel to it left behind by the Portuguese. It is beautifully derelict, with faded and peeling paint on multi-coloured, shuttered buildings. During our few days there we did just about everything that could possibly be on a Cochin to-do list. Boulevards, squares, Chinese fishing rigs, monsoon, traditional Aryuvedic massage, delicious food, elephant baths, backwater houseboat, Dutch Palace, “Jew Street,” synagogue, Dutch cemetery, Kathakali dance, spice market, and Kerelan cooking course. Whew!

And all of these activities were punctuated with exactly the type of love, life, and pursuit of happiness conversations that I have been missing. Having only seen Estalyn and Nikhar ever so briefly on occasional visits to New York in the past few years, it was great to get the chance to do more than just catch up. And what better place to do it than over a few Kingfishers in the beautiful and relaxing Cochin!

Volunteer in India!

RDF is in the market for more volunteers. If you are interested in getting a taste of the Indian NGO life for yourself, follow this link: http://rdfindia.org/2010/08/03/235/.

Please also feel free to direct anyone else here as well. You/they will have the opportunity to be interviewed by yours truly, Elizabeth Sewell, Volunteer Coordinator Extraordinaire!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Riding the trains in India is a unique experience. The interactions between people while jostling for space would be interpreted from a western point of view as just plain rude. People glare stony-eyed at each other, shaking their heads and speaking harshly as they hold seats for friends or family. However, as soon as the train starts moving, the general mood switches to one of pure pleasantness. No one seems to bear a grudge, they just settle into the space they have managed to secure and make the most of it. Conversations and friendships are struck up for the duration of the ride, food is shared out, chai is bought for neighbors, babies are passed from lap to lap. This atmosphere makes for pleasant rides even when five are squeezed on a bench for three, people are crammed in the aisles, and people sit and sleep on the luggage racks above.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday With the Jagannaths

The house that I am staying at in Hyderabad right now is very close to the Jaganath family’s house. I met Sid, who’s my age, several months ago and hanging out with him has been a highlight of every trip into Hyderabad. I met his father, Jagan, not long after and almost immediately became a yoga student of his. Always a wonderful and invigorating experience despite the 6am start time! Recently I have been seeing Divya, Sid’s fiancée, more frequently and it’s been great getting to know her. I’ve also met Sid’s older brother and sister-in-law, Harish and Sharda, a couple times during visits.

Yesterday I spent a great day with the entire family. Piya, our new RDF volunteer, and I had breakfast with Jagan and then spent the afternoon at the mall with him, Sid, and Divya doing wedding shopping. Afterward, we went back to their house and whiled away the hours until dinner playing Scrabble, Pictionary, and cuddling Flash, their adorable seven-week-old golden lab puppy. Pictionary only finished when Flash decided to pee on the board, probably to return the attention to himself! Harish and Sharda joined the games when they came home and Divya’s parents came over for dinner.

Harish and Sharda live at home with Jagan, and Divya will join Sid there after the wedding. Joint households are still quite common out here but this was my first time really experiencing one. The Jaganaths aren’t the Brady Bunch and I’m sure there can be conflict with so many people living together, but on this Sunday I saw one of the best sides of this living setup. Hanging out, chatting, playing games, and eating dinner with family who came and went freely reminded me of weekends with close friends at home, whether on Lopez or Fire Island, in San Francisco or New York. It was the perfect dose of friends and family and relaxation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Change Is Going to Come

The question is, to whom? India or myself? Let’s look at the odds. India is 63 years old in name, centuries old in reality, and has over a billion people behind her. I am young and alone. Oh yeah, I’m also a foreigner and let’s not forget that I’m a woman in a hugely patriarchal society.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess whose going to win this war but let me just be clear about something, it is I who am choosing to let India win. Actually it’s come down to an ultimatum of sorts, change or suffer the consequences. Over the past week, I have been suffering at the hands of India. But what’s worse is that I’ve been making others suffer too. Suffer the consequences of my diminishing patience, my increasing frustration, and a feeling of helplessness that seeps out like a poison in the form of bitterness to nearly everyone and everything around me.

It’s not good. Not good for me or for India. And with four months left, things can’t continue as they are. So, I’m going to do us both a favour, stop trying to change India, and start changing myself instead. I will be patient. I will smile through my frustration and laugh through my anger. I will not expect anything to happen on time. I will handle miscommunications with ease. I will forgive what I view to be incompetence in others. I will bear in mind that I neither know nor understand everything and will withhold judgment. I will breathe deeply, contain the poison, and eventually banish it altogether.

I hereby congratulate India on her victory and vow to graciously accept defeat. However, India be warned, just because you’ve won the war doesn’t mean I won’t triumph in a few carefully chosen battles!

Monday, July 19, 2010

On a Bad Day . . .

. . . my feet are always dirty.

. . . the wet, muddy streets splash all over the backs of my freshly cleaned pants and even as high as the bottom of my kurta and chunni.

. . . the skies open up and rain down on my twenty-minutes-away-from-dry clothes.

. . .my kurtas are too big and I look and feel about as attractive as if I were wearing a paper sack. Actually, a paper sack sounds pretty good.

. . . fire ants hunt out whatever treat I have stashed away to savour between trips to Hyderabad.

. . . the same ants, having devoured my chocolate/sweets/biscuits move on to my toes/legs/arms.

. . . I get locked out of my house at night and have to either spend five minutes trying to wake the owner or scale the walls to the second floor.

. . . my laptop cord has fallen from the outlet during the night and there’s only one hour of charge to last through the next eight hours until power comes back on.

. . . the electricity, which has been on for the last two hours while it was light, goes off now that it is dark and I am in the shower.

. . . someone keeps moving the buckets and jugs I have strategically arranged to catch the 3-4 constant drips in the bathroom. It’s okay, I’m sure the mosquitoes breeding in the puddles on the floor aren’t malarial.

. . . I have to battle a fist-sized spider for use of the bathroom sink.

. . . breakfast is upma for the fifth time in a week.

. . . dinner is bitter gourd, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t make me vomit on sight.

. . . the chapatti looks like it was bathed in grease. No really, it’s fine, my arteries could use a little clogging.

. . . the bugs come out in full force and suddenly my dinner looks like I just ground fresh pepper over it. Protein, right?

. . . Gmail, which has been working just fine all day, won’t allow me to access my account only at the moment when I need to meet the deadline for a document.

. . . nobody understands a word I’m saying to them.

. . . I don’t understand a word anyone is saying to me.

. . . my bus is half an hour late but it’s actually okay cause the train is 2 ½ hours late. And that’s okay too, cause I didn’t really need to get anywhere.

Of course there are good days too, this just happens to not be one of them . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Many would envy my commute to work. After all, I can see the school from my bedroom and it takes me approximately two minutes to get to class. However, on the evening journey home I often hit traffic . . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kitchen Remedies

It’s been a rough few weeks health-wise. First off my appetite has been suspiciously absent ever since I left India. Initially I chalked it up to change in diet, climate, and time zones; then the emotions of leaving Seattle once again; then to adjusting back to India. Eventually I was forced to admit there must be something more going on and made the decision to terminate my anti-malarial medication. Now crossing my fingers that a later blog doesn’t detail the trials of malaria!

Happily eating again I, of course, contract a nasty stomach bug. It knocks me out for a few days but as I’m preparing to medicate, my body prevails at last. Then I wake up with a sore throat and realize I have caught Suma’s cold. As the cold takes over I’m feeling a bit hopeless, stuck in a village, still weak from the stomach bug, lacking the right medicine in my vast collection. Then I remember . . .

Digging through my shelves I open a bag from last year. Inside is a small Tupperware containing oma, an Asian spice known most commonly as “ajwain.” I toss a handful of these cumin-looking seeds into my mouth, tuck them in my cheek, and bite down on a few. As I swallow the sharp, bitter juice it brings almost instant relief to my sore throat and coughing. Then I head over to the dining hall and, with Urmila’s help, boil water and mix in black tea powder, a little sugar, and freshly crushed black pepper. This concoction doesn’t taste amazing and it stings a bit but in a good, slightly numbing kind of way. The best medicine, however, I save for last.

Zinda Tilismath is a self-proclaimed “Panacea for several ailments” including: “swine flu, cough cold & coryza, throat trouble, stomach troubles, dysentery, malaria, cholera, breathing trouble of children, headache, toothache, ear trouble, pains, and scorpion sting.” Talk about a miracle drug! (P.S. not sure why there's an African warrior on the box...)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Electricity On a Schedule

I remember a time when electricity came at the flick of the switch, ever available and reliable. And on the rare occasions that the power went out, the magical effect of candlelight was accompanied by the excitement of a thunder and lightning storm. Long gone are those days!

I am still learning the intricacies of when and how the “current comes” out here. Kalleda shares electricity with three other villages. At the moment we have power every night from 6pm to 6am. There are eight hours of power cuts each day, the schedule of which changes each week. This week, for example, our four hours of daytime power are from 2-6pm. What a fortunate serendipity that Mac designed their batteries to last eight hours!

Today I learned about the phases of power. Phase I is enough power to run small household appliances; Phase III is enough to run farm equipment; Phase II doesn’t exist, go figure. Rural areas are allotted seven hours of free power provided by the government each day in order to operate bore wells, irrigation systems, and the like. In order to switch between Phase I and III, the power plant has to shut down everything for one to two minutes, producing the consistent nightly power cuts I’ve long wondered about. Another electricity mystery explained!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Youth Empowerment: Take 2

I am so excited to be back in the classroom and teaching my second Youth Empowerment class! The first time around was a great success, but I feel like with that experience under my belt, this class will be infinitely more productive. I am using the lessons I learned to create an adjusted curriculum designed specifically for Kalleda’s own unique circumstances but also, I hope, to be used more generally at Bridges sites working with similar language barriers.

My current class is ten students, five new and five returning, who are in 8th, 9th and 10th classes. We are going to spend the first month building general skills in photography, English, public speaking, self-expression, storytelling, and investigation. Only then will we begin to explicitly address social issues. In the second month the students will pick a social issue to focus their digital stories on and put their new skills to use. The goal is that by the time they start the digital stories they will be so adept at the technical side of production that more time can be focused on investigating the issue, fleshing out the story, and getting creative with the photographs.

The organization that it will take to accomplish this goal is much assisted by the fact that I have my own laptop and classroom this time. At the very least I know that there is one computer with internet access everyday and our photos won’t have been deleted. Plus, having space to display the students’ work and our class goals is a great way to give them a sense of ownership and keep them on task. There’s also something inexplicably satisfying about walking into the classroom everyday and seeing our Youth Empowerment board!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Political Pollution

At last! Here, for your enjoyment, is the tangible result of the Youth Empowerment class that Liza and I led at Kalleda School. Using a curriculum provided by Bridges to Understanding, we worked with the students to produce digital stories. Each group picked a community problem, documented it with photographs, interviewed people in the villages, and wrote a narrative detailing the issue and possible solutions. My group, The Tigers, started out investigating water pollution, but as they delved deeper, their story took an unexpected turn . . . click "Play" to find out how!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Cosmopolitan Village

One of the big reasons I came back was because I’ve spent the last few months corresponding with and coordinating for various volunteers to come to RDF, but none of them had come yet. To really take on this role and see it through I figured it was probably a good idea to still at RDF when they actually arrived! I am already loving this part of my job and the opportunity it provides me to meet with so many different and interesting people.

Have already met Nick from Austria and Sammy and her mother from California and AP, respectively. They are currently up at Matendla School but I will get a chance to interact with them more when they come to Kalleda in a couple weeks. Then Stuart from England and his two young children Abi and Charlie arrived by train. Spent the five-hour drive to Kalleda chatting with Stuart and hearing stories of their extensive travel including the most recent impressions of India. Upon arriving at Kalleda, I met Marena who arrived a few days earlier but had also volunteered here last summer. She will help by teaching some classes but is here on a research grant and has a very different area of knowledge about this community and India in general. Coming up will be college students from WashU, Will from Australia, Piya from UW, Robert from England, Sophie from Seattle, hopefully two women from Iceland, and many more who have yet to make themselves known!

It’s wonderful to be a part of introducing people to RDF and seeing how enthusiastic they are about the organization and the work that we’re doing. Plus I’m looking forward to a constantly changing flow of volunteers and guests bringing with them different knowledge, stories, and impressions of India. Who would have thought my life in a village could seem so cosmopolitan?!