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Department of Management Studies - Karaikal Campus

Department of Management Studies - Karaikal Campus

Well, here we are. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow instead of sitting on my couch at home writing my first blog entry at the beginning of an exciting year, I am sitting on the couch now writing my last entry at the end of an exciting year—very very late after the end of an exciting year. I have to admit that I have been starting and never finishing this blog post because I wasn’t sure if I could answer any of those questions that people have been asking me: what have I gained from this year?; what have I learned?; how does it feel to be done?; how does it feel to be back? I actually still can’t answer these questions well enough for my own satisfaction. I can give you the generic one or two sentence answer, but the honest answer is this: my past year will continue to teach me something new every day. Even though I’m not in India anymore, I reflect upon everything that has happened to me and everything that I did through a new lens almost every day. So, if you ask me today what this last year has meant to me I’ll have a different answer than if you ask me tomorrow, or next week.So Vaishnavi, you ask, what is the message of this last closing post? Good question. Perhaps you can tell me after you read it!!April 12thReturning back to the US was surprisingly just as scary, if not even more terrifying, as leaving nine months ago. Last June was a transition period for most if not all of my close friends, and we were all propelled by a mixture of excitement and fear. Now, I am propelled by that same mixture of excitement and fear, but it is made from different ingredients. It is made up of a fear that stems from the fact that many of those friends I left nine months ago, have now moved on, settled down, changed without me, and I have also changed and evolved. Now that I am back we are once again an immediate part of each other’s lives, perhaps not in the same city, but at least in the same time zone, where international phone charges and power cuts don’t determine the extent of my communication with them. And I am afraid, perhaps childishly, of the challenge we are going to face, in trying to merge who we were when we were changing with each other, and who we have become in the past year that we have changed without each other. Because I realize how selfish it must seem for me to return—having been the one who left—and expect all of my friends to want to go through this transition, this challenge with me. When I left, it was my responsibility to do my best to keep in touch with everyone, learn about those changes they were going through, and while I definitely tried, I honestly think I could have done better. So I suppose the fear that engulfs me upon my return is actually the same as the fear that I had as I was leaving: the fear associated with having to build a new community for myself.April 30th… But, such is life, right? We all change and evolve all of the time, regardless of whether we live in a different culture for a little while or not. And after this past weekend (reunion weekend), I realized something that I think is pretty amazing (sorry if I am having a “thank you Ms. Obvious” moment): sometimes it’s not about being around when the changes happened, it’s just about being able to accept the fact that they did happen, and about being willing to see those changes in your friend. Because, in essence, we are the same people, and always will be: what has changed, what has evolved, is the way in which we now express, or act upon, who we are. As long as we come back to our friendships with an open mind, then that barrier, that insurmountable challenge, dissipates. And so now, I’m excited. I’m excited to start—not rebuilding—but adding to my community. The people I cared about and loved when I left, are still a part of my ever-supportive and important community, and now I’ve added a few more who have helped me refine the way in which I express who I am.May 22ndSo thank you, to my friends and family at home, for taking the time to understand the changes that I’ve gone through this past year. Thank you to my lovely India family for being a part of the changes that I’ve gone through this past year. And thank you to both groups of people, for becoming a part of my community and for the everlasting change I am sure you will continue to have on my life. Last, but certainly not the least thank you to all of you for reading this blog—it was my first, and it was an absolute blast!! Without an audience, these ramblings of mine would have been nothing.  But with an audience, these ramblings were, if nothing else, hopefully a source of some amusement. The End. Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesAfter one amazing month of travels through Kerala, London, and Paris with some of my dearest friends I’m finally back to the USofA.  Many people have asked me if I have any closing thoughts on my year: the answer, not quite yet.  They are definitely forming, but I find that I’m still absorbing the fact that I’m not just on vacation preparing in the end to return to the MadGirls apartment.For now though, I miss my students like crazy and have no shame when it comes to bragging about them, which is exactly what I’m about to do right now.  In the last week of school, I was struggling to think of something to do in class that would be at the same time a concluding lesson as well as lively and fun.  One of my fellow ETA’s, Kelly, mentioned that she was teaching her kids the song “This Land is Your Land,” and was having then write mini versions of the song about their school, or Madurai, or India after teaching it to them.  This sounded quite fantastic, so I decided to try it with my sixth graders. My kids took this idea, and turned it into something spectacular.  The sixth graders decided that they wanted to write a version about India as a whole grade level—each section would write two stanzas and then I could take the song back to my students in the US (they were under the impression, even after nine months of me explaining otherwise, that I had a class back in the US).  Their song is just too cute not to share.  In case you don’t remember the tune from when we were kids, you should look it up just so you have it in your head while reading. I promise it makes the experience so much better. Sorry, but I’m not done bragging quite yet. My students wrote this whole thing by themselves—I mean they refused to let me see their papers in class while they were working!  I did not give them any ideas and they barely asked me any questions.  I was handed a final product by one of my classes and they attempted to sing it to me while I stood at the front of the class laughing a little and trying not to cry.So here it is, “This Land is Your Land: India” by my sixth grade darlings. This Land is your Land: INDIA!!By the 6th standard students of SDH Jain Vidyalaya School This land is your land, this land is my land,From the Himalayas to the Rameshwara Island,From the beaches of Goa, to the Pandels of KolkattaThis land was made for you and me. I’ve bussed and trained, and I’ve taken a rickshawTo the wonderful land of the Ancient Temples,And all around me the horns were soundingThis land was made for you and me! This land is your land, this land is my landFrom the Meenakshi Temple, to the Ganges River,From the trails of Jaipur to the mountains of Kodai,This land was made for you and me. The sun was blazing, the rains were comingThe rice fields waving, the sugar-cane growingThe cows were mooing and the goats were bleatingThis land was made for you and me. This land is your land, this land is my landFrom Gujarat to Manipur,From the Kerala waters to the Punjab winters,This land was made for you and me. From the hearts of the students at Jain VidyalayaTo the hearts of the students in AmericaWe want to share our beautiful home with you,This land was made for you and me. Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesOne week.  ONE WEEK!?  One week…  One week!  It really doesn’t matter how many ways or times I repeat that to myself out loud or in my head, it doesn’t seem to have sunk it quite yet.  This year, this experience, my life in Madurai is ending in one week.  In one week I will be leaving my apartment, never to return.  In one week I won’t be sharing my daily life with the three wonderful ladies of “Plot#8 Near Tatwananda Ashram.” As doomsdayish as that sounds when I am typing it out right now, it really still has not sunk in.  Oh sure, I’m feeling weird, anxious, sad, incredulous, all of it.  And honestly I find that kind of funny: funny because I am feeling the same way I did nine months ago when I was leaving St. Louis. And returning home to the US should be easier and less scary than it was to leave and come to Madurai.But then there is a tiny voice in the back of my head that keeps popping up… will it?  I could react one of many ways to that tiny voice (and I think I probably have had all of these reactions): 1. Angrily tell it to shut up; 2. Reassure it, that of course it will be easier; 3. Ignore it; 4. Have a mature conversation with it about the things that will be challenging, but remind it that there will be so many things to look forward to. I realize that all of these things make me seem like I’m losing it, but if it makes it any better I usually did this in the confines of my own bedroom…I know, I know it doesn’t help.  All this succeeded in doing is making me look crazy, because the voice has not gone away. So in typical fashion I started reading lots of articles and blog entries about ‘returning’: I gathered that feeling anxious is normal, because we fear that we suddenly don’t fit in anywhere.  We are ‘citizens’ of two or more different places now, because we were not just visiting, we created a life for ourselves in these places, made a space for ourselves in the society, and thus these places will feel like home to us.  But then we realize it was all just temporary, not a permanent, ‘real’ home.  As I was reading all of these things, I realized something pretty amazing: those feelings of misplacement were something I felt when I first arrived, and not something I am feeling now.  My anxiety is stemming from the fact that this city, this town, my neighborhood do feel like a real home to me (whatever that might mean), which is exactly what I wanted.  I don’t feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, I feel like I have a home in India and in the United States.  I am feeling sad and anxious because after just nine short months, I’m leaving another home, and I haven’t even had the time to discover all of its nooks and crannies. We just discovered the paratha man down the street; yesterday I got to hold the flower lady’s little five month old granddaughter(!!); and I still have to eat Murugan Idli’s famous uthapam and idlis. Madurai is a part of me now, as much as I don’t want to admit it (I know that all of those expats that I vehemently denied this to during several of my bad days/weeks are pointing their fingers and saying I TOLD you so! right now… so yea, okay, you win), and I will be coming back. True, it won’t be the same—just like St. Louis won’t be the same—but the potential of change I think, fills me with a sense of nervous excitement more than with separation anxiety.Now that I’ve gotten a hold of that anxiety, I’m facing yet another one that I don’t think I’ll be able to logically handle: the sadness that comes with leaving the wonderful, naughty, adorable, loud, heartwarming, sometimes ire inducing children that have been a huge part of my life these past nine months.  They have unlocked the door to my heart, moved in, and barricaded the door shut (and they have also been uncharacteristically well behaved, charming and sweet since last week which is not helping). One of my sixth grade boys told me a few weeks ago, that he is moving to Detroit. He said at first he was not too happy, but then he looked up the distance between Detroit and St. Louis and “it is so close Mam! Then I became very excited because I know that you can come visit me in Detroit! We will be friends!” I almost started bawling right then and there, so I’m picturing an epic waterworks, similar to when I was in the airport back in June, when I leave the school building for the last time in two weeks.I mean really, how am I supposed to say bye to these adorable, eager little faces!?!?Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesHappy seven month anniversary to us! (Okay I just read “Gone Girl” and my head is still reeling from the book, and I may have stolen the format for that opening line from the book just so I could say, EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT! Moving on…).  With two months to go, things have been getting and feeling much better: the speakers at our past orientations would probably point to those study abroad graphs they have and say “see you’re following it to the ‘T’!” but I’d like to think that it is more than just the fact that I’ll be returning home soon.  As I sit in this mosquito filled middle school hallway, it saddens me to think that in two months my mornings won’t be filled with the sound of my sixth and seventh graders running up the ramp and through the front doors yelling for their friends, and skidding to a stop at my desk to get in a “OHGOODMORNINGMAM” before running off to copy some homework or gossip before the morning assembly. What am I going to do when I don’t have to give my two class clowns ‘the look’ every morning because they are playing Spider Man and Captain America with some yarn and a book in the hallway during break (which turns into a fist fight 30 seconds later when they lose the yarn and book)?  But for now, I’m going to stop reminiscing from fear of making this entire post a romanticized version of my past seven months, because I imagine that my last post will do the job just fine.In December, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Nepal, Pondicherry, Sri Lanka, and Mumbai. In an attempt to summarize this month of travel and still keep this post reasonably short, I’ve decided to make this post mostly pictures and excerpts from my journal entries during my travels.  I am going to do my best not to edit them as I retype them, so I apologize in advance for how ridiculous some of my unfiltered thoughts might be…~Nepal“The scratchy sound of white noise jolted me awake. “Ladies and Gentlemen please upright your seats and your tray tables as we prepare for landing, thank you.”  I cracked my neck, straightened my chair and glanced out the little plane window. I gasped: below me was the most beautiful scene I have ever seen flying into any country. Or perhaps just seen, period. I suddenly felt like a three year old on my first road trip, my forehead was glued to the window, my eyes wide open, my breath making the glass foggy below my nose. The valley was full of mountains of varying sizes cast in varying shadows of blue, with white capped peaks, never-ending jagged slopes, dips and turns, valleys and caverns.  I was entranced, mesmerized, captivated. They were everything I had imagined and so much more.  I have never in my life ever seen mountains that beautiful, and I can’t imagine that I ever will again. They have a magical affect, those mountains. I feel ridiculous for saying that, but it’s the truth. I felt tricked because everything was so peaceful when I was looking at them. I tried to fight it, but it was impossible.”…“This conference is amazing. Well, the people are amazing.  I could use a little less conferencing… Everyone we met in Austin is here, but we are all much less shy, less awkward, less attached to the group of people from our own country.  Although for India, it is also perhaps the last time we will all be together in one big group, so we’ve been trying to get as much quality time together as possible.  Last night, those of us that had arrived already, went to an Irish Pub where they had a band of Nepali men with huge froes screaming (or ‘singing’) to the beat of banging drums. It actually reminded me of a Coheed and Cambria concert (yes, I know, I’ve been to one) only definitely not as good. But after not having been to a real bar in about six months, it was refreshing. It is FRIGID here though. I am not at all prepared. I also blame it on Madurai. I think my internal body temperature has dropped, because I’m pretty sure it is not actually that cold; i.e. it’s US early spring weather. But after the constant one hundred degree weather of the Mad this feels like freezing temperatures.”…“Our last few days have been filled with day-long conference sessions, some more interesting than others.  Each country (for India, each city) had to give a fifteen minute presentation on the first day, those were definitely the most interesting—some of them were tearjerkers.  Hearing about all of the things the ETAs have been doing other than just teaching, has given me that final kick in the butt to go back and start volunteering, to take charge of my schedule at school and get out of these last three months what I wanted out of this experience.  But I think the most inspirational part of this whole conference, is the time we get to interact with each other, outside of the drudging meetings. These people are all amazing, fun, enthusiastic, hilarious, brilliant (I’m starting to sound like a Thesaurus so I’m going to stop now), etc.  I absolutely love all of them, and it’s really exciting to think that we all have this connection for life. We have this amazing experience that we’ll share, will always remember, will continue to learn from in different ways, and continue to share with each other and the rest of the world. So this week is also a really good reminder of how lucky I am to be a part of this group this year.”~Sri Lanka“I knew Madurai wasn’t a very efficient city, but oh man today it hit the limit.  I was so excited that for once I could get somewhere from Madurai with just one flight. It was supposed to be effortless, relaxed, comfortable. Instead I stood in front of an immigration officer’s desk for THIRTY MINUTES. You would think, maybe, that in order to be an immigration officer you would HAVE TO KNOW ENGLISH. Apparently not in Madurai. I really shouldn’t have been surprised: they let you take a water bottle through security here as long as you take a sip of it in front of the security guard…But I’m getting off track. This immigration officer, oh boy. I walk up to his desk, hand him my passport and OCI card and form.  He looks at it for a few minutes while I’m daydreaming about Sri Lankan beaches. “You are student?” I nod my head, “Yes Sir.”  Where do you study? “At an American College sir, in the US.” “Ohh American College in Madurai?” “No, a college in America.” “What?” I spent another ten minutes trying to explain to him that I went to a University called Washington University in America, not American college in Madurai. His response… “Ohh in Washington DC?” I sighed, “SURE, yes.”  He went back to looking at my documents. Two minutes later he started asking me what I was studying. I told him English.  He looked at me. “Mam, American College is an Arts and Sciences College, you cannot study engineering there.” I could feel my temple throbbing. “Sir, I said English. ENGLISH LIKE THE LANGUAGE YOU SHOULD HAVE TO STUDY TO HAVE THIS DAMN JOB.” If only I had said that. Instead I spent another five minutes trying to re-explain that I studied in the US not in Madurai.  At this point a very nice young woman standing behind me walked up to the counter, patted my shoulder, and explained it all to him in Tamil. He seemed to understand. Two minutes later, he asks “Who is your guardian?” I stared at him. “Excuse me?” “You are an OCI cardholder, who is your guardian?” He’s KIDDING right? “Sir, I’m 23 years old I don’t have a guardian.” “Mam, in order to be an OCI card holder you must have a guardian.” I wanted to PUNCH HIM. Apparently this guy has more problems than just not speaking English. “Um sir, NO YOU DON’T. I was born in India.” “Mam who are you living with here?” “My friends.” “What male is taking care of you?” At this point I am ready to go apeshit on his ass. “NO ONE, YOU CHAUVINISTIC PIG.” “Mam I need the number of your guardian.” I was shaking with rage as I wrote down the number of my grandfather. After all of this, he called over two more idiot men and they talked about me for about ten minutes. I was breathing so hard and my face was so red you would have thought I just tried to run a marathon. Finally he decided to let me pass. He pushed my documents toward me and I stormed over to customs.  The customs officer took one look at me and decided it would be better not to speak with me. I handed him my things, and after looking through them for a minute he looked up with a weak smile and then said timidly… “Um mam, where is your immigration stamp?” I almost cried. “What are you TALKING ABOUT? I JUST STOOD AT THAT DESK FOR THIRTY MINUTES.” He shuffled through my things apologetically. He finally found the stamp. It was on my boarding pass. He called over the manager to go yell at the idiot at counter three. Ten minutes later I was boarding a toy plane with three propellers and one seat in each row. Great. I’m never going to make it to Sri Lanka.”…“There are so many Elephants!!!! I love it.  Sri Lanka is actually very much like India, just cleaner and smaller. We walked Colombo (well most of it) in one afternoon, stopping to admire the beautiful Gangarama Temple.  We tried to break into the Harbor that was our Hotel’s neighbor, but decided that might not be smart when we noticed that a Police headquarter and the heavily guarded President’s house shared the same street.” “The beach was gorgeous: Carolina and I spend Christmas Eve on Unawatuna eating a five course meal at a table in the sand with our toes just one foot from the ocean, the waves lapping toward us threatening to wet our feet.  On Christmas we spent the morning in the water and on the shore lounging and reading: it felt a little wrong not to be eating chips and guac and sipping a margarita.”“Kandy was like a jungle paradise on a mountain, lush roadside gardens of coconut trees, palm trees, and flowery bushed.  And the Elephant orphanage!!!! I have never seen so many elephants! I did feel a twinge of guilt that the elephants were prodded with bull-whips and forced to pose for pictures with gullible tourists who would hand over much too large of a tip to a worker in exchange for the quick snap.  But I suppose if not for the orphanage many of these elephants would not have survived…?”~Weary and beat from travel, but inspired by the wonderful people I met at our conference, I came back to The Mad with new resolve: one of my New Year’s resolutions is to try and make these last three months the best that they can be.  Soon after returning I was lucky enough to run into someone who worked at an NGO, People’s Watch, which combines all three of my passions: law, human rights, and women’s health. The organization handles everything from human rights violations in schools to human rights violations in communities, hospitals, the work place, etc. This job is giving me the chance to be involved first hand in so many relevant community, state, and nation-wide issues, and it has really made me feel like a more productive part of this city. Not to mention I’ve met some pretty amazing, bad ass, and strong individuals.I’m excited by the direction this past month has been headed, and as time flies by, I am doing my best to grab every opportunity that comes my way, do things that make me happy, relax, and laugh a little more at the ridiculous things that happen on a daily basis.  I feel more like myself than I have in the past few months and this city is finally starting to feel like a home to me:  I finally have some internal peace and quiet. I of course can’t wait to be headed home—to finally see friends and family—but I’m glad to be ending this year on a happy note, and not an anxious one.Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesThe holiday season is upon us, and for the first time I won’t be celebrating it at home.  It feels very weird… I guess this is what growing up is like!?!  I’m not sure yet that I like it… But in an attempt to prevent myself from crying every day, or hopping on the next plane home, I’ve been reliving the celebrations and festivals I’ve experienced these past few months.  I realized as I was looking through all of my pictures, that I have completely and utterly failed to write about all of these wonderful festivals I’ve experienced and celebrated with family and friends here.  Here are a few snippets from the adventures I’ve been having (I promise I tried to keep them short!).~I stood patiently clad in a brand new sari, as my aunt draped necklaces around my neck, thrust bangles onto my wrists, tested out what felt like millions of earrings until she found the perfect matching pair, and finally carefully fastened flowers to my bun.  I stole a glance in the mirror and almost burst out laughing: I don’t think I’d every worn as much jewelry—definitely not this much shiny jewelry—in my entire life.  But as the acting “eldest daughter” in the house on this special festival day, I acquiesced to being dressed up like a doll.  Seeing the smile on my chickamma’s (literally translated as “younger mother”—she is my dad’s younger brother’s, or chickappa’s, wife) face made it completely worth it to be dripping in shiny, multicolored stones for the day.  Besides (the motto for the year), when in India…The previous evening was spent visiting the tents of the many vendors selling hundreds of Gowri and Ganesha idols—from a few inches high to six or seven or eight feet tall.  I walked around taking in all of the beautifully painted faces, scrutinizing the tiniest detail to find the most beautiful Gowri and the most handsome Ganesha for the Pooja: having never celebrated the festival in India before, I was thrilled by the simple act of picking out the idols while my younger cousin and uncle were laughing at my indecisiveness over painted clay idols we would be submersing in water two days later.  But it was my first Gowri-Ganesha Habba in India and I wanted the idols to be perfect: I wanted Gowri’s face to be so beautiful that you couldn’t help but stare and be a little jealous, and I wanted Ganesha’s face to be just the perfect balance of handsome and peaceful.My aunt had been up since four or five in the morning preparing all of the necessary items for the Pooja: the first day was the Gowri Pooja, celebrating the goddess Parvati, mother of Ganesha.  On this day, the women would perform the pooja while the male of the household (or a priest if you went to a temple) would recite the appropriate mantras (chants).  My cousin and I had spent the previous night decorating a stool and a chair for Gowri, making her a grand little throne to sit on while we performed Pooja.  The floor was adorned with rangoli , plates full of colorful flowers, and various other pooja items such as milk, butter, sugar, holy water, fruits, and the Prasad (usually a special sweet that is made, and offered to the god, blessed by the priest/male of the family and then is eaten directly after the ceremony ends).  My next two mornings were full of melodious mantras, colorful and fragrant flower garlands for the idols, kumkum (red powder), turmeric (yellow powder), and the soothing scent of sandal paste.  At the end of the ceremony on the first morning, the women have a string tied to their right wrist: the string has fourteen knots in it and is died yellow by turmeric.  Usually the father will tie the string on his wife’s and daughters’ wrists: in this case, my chickamma tied the string on my wrist for me.  We say a little mantra while the string is being tied, asking the goddess to protect us, bless us, and give us good fortunes for the year to come.The next morning Ganesha was the center of attention, and the males of the family conduct the ceremony.  My cousin took the seat of honor, sitting on the right hand side of my uncle during the Pooja.  We offer Ganesha five different types of leaves and flowers during the ceremony, and cook his favorite sweet Kadabu.  Kadabu looks like a mini, bite sized calzone, but it is filled with shredded coconut, brown sugar, and sometimes nuts.  After the ceremony, just as on the previous day, we sat down to a grand lunch prepared by my aunt, and served on banana leaves, that included three sweets, and four or five main dishes.  Needless to say I developed a little round belly similar to that of Ganesha’s!  That evening the festivities continued with visits to the neighbors’ houses where we would receive the signature chickpea dish of the festival, along with some kumkum, fruit, and bangles.  My Uncle told me that as children, he along with my father and their two sisters would compete with each other to see which one of them could visit the most families.  My Uncle bragged that they would each go to at least a hundred houses… I made it to four.  I have quite a bit of work to do next year!As night starts to fall on the second day of the festival we are faced with a unique challenge: we are not allowed to look at the moon, or else we will be cursed with bad luck.  Of course on this night of all nights, the moon will appear in his most handsome and enticing form.  As always, there is a story behind this practice.  On the night of Ganesh Habbah one day, Ganesh was walking home after visiting a house and eating a great deal of scrumptious food.  As he ambled down the street, he tripped and fell, and as a result of his rather cumbersome food baby, had quite a difficult time standing back up.  The moon, being witness to this whole debacle, was laughing heartily. Ganesh was furious and cursed the moon saying that he would no longer be visible.  India was thus shrouded in a blanket of darkness and the moon pleaded with Ganesh to let him shine once again.  Ganesh agreed, but on the condition that on the night of his festival, no one would look at the moon or they would be cursed.My cousin and I walked around the streets shielding our eyes and doing our best not to look up at the beautiful, clear, star studded sky.  Unfortunately we were both tricked by the moon and couldn’t help but glance up at his dapper form in the sky that night.  But not to worry, we recited a mantra when we returned home that evening and were thus promptly forgiven for our mistake.  After another small ceremony, we took Ganesha and Gowri outside and submersed them in a bucket of water.  The customary practice is to submerse the idols in a river or lake, but neither of these was available to us so we improvised.  It was a blissful few days surrounded by the warmth of family, good food, and the gaiety of the holiday.~                Boarding pass in hand, I watched as my bag slowly inched forward on the conveyer belt.  I felt like a child who was flying for the first time: the unsettling excitement in the pit of my stomach at the prospect of getting on a plane to go somewhere after four months in Madurai was much more exciting than it should have been.  Usually I walk into an airport and my stomach starts to churn at the thought of sitting in a claustrophobic tube thousands of feet up in the air, and I spend the rest of the time controlling my nausea.  But the anticipation of the upcoming celebration for Durga Puja, the prospect of getting to see all of our fellow Fulbrighters, and the simple satisfaction of appeasing my new found travel bug with a trip to a far-away city was enough to make me forget how claustrophobic and sick I feel on planes.  I was giddy with excitement; we might even say slap-happy.After five and a half hours of flights and layovers we finally landed in Kolkata, the city infamous for pulling out all the stops when it comes to celebrating Goddess Durga’s female power.  I was instantly struck by a certain level of efficiency I had recently lost in my life: our bags came out in less than fifteen minutes, we could take a bus from the airport straight to the street where our friends lived and there was even a metro in this city!  A shove from someone behind me rudely brought me back to the reality of fighting my fellow travelers for a seat on the bus.  The four of us girls created a sort of barricade as one of us watched for the bus to approach and the rest of us formed a line with our bodies and bags (I always thought Red Rover was just a silly game, but little did I know those skills would come in handy one day).  As the bus pulled up, a surge of people unexpectedly swarmed it, forcing the bus driver to slam on his breaks to avoid from running people over.  As we abandoned our post in front of the stop and chased the mob, the driver—quite visibly annoyed by the behavior of the crowd—cut his wheel in the opposite direction and stepped on his accelerator.  We turned on our heels some of us yelling “NONO GO BACK GUYS HE’S DRIVING AWAY!” Luckily instead of leaving us without a ride, he simply drove away from the crowd and stopped a few feet forward.  We grabbed our bags, used them as shields (and weapons), squared our shoulders, and somehow pushed our way to the front of the crowd.  We stumbled onto the bus and after a few feet launched our bags and our bodies into four open seats, tripping and toppling over people and our own feet.  We sat down, heaved a great sigh of relief, looked at each other and started laughing uncontrollably.  It was a true test of cultural assimilation: we successfully muscled our way through a mob of Indians and beat them to the open seats on the bus. Ex-pats FTW!An hour later we arrived at our friends’ apartment, and the festivities began.  The entire week was a blur of Pandals (temporary temple structures that are built in honor of Goddess Durga.  Each community builds a Pandal in a different theme every year.  The scene on the inside of the Pandal however, highlighting Goddess Durga, is for the most part, the same in every community), as much western food and Khati rolls (a DELICIOUS Kolkata special that is kind of like a burrito in a Paratha but oh so much better) as we could get, quality catching up time, and of course a healthy dose of drama (as is to be expected when you cram 14 very boisterous people into two 2-bedroom apartments).  I have never, in all of my life, ever seen as many people as I saw occupying the streets during those six days: I don’t think I would be exaggerating too much if I said that the entire population of 14.1 million people was out on the streets at night, the most auspicious time to see the Pandals.By the final day of the festival we had exhausted our Pandal hopping desires and most of us set out to have a lazy brunch before finding our way to the shore of the Ganges where they would be submersing the clay statues of Durga.  After brunch we hopped in the cabs that infest the streets of Kolkata, asking the drivers to take us to the shore of the Ganges where there would be the most people submersing idols.  As we got out of the cabs a few minutes later, we saw a huge line of local media and a massive crowd of people standing near the shore where there was a large boat, a woman dancing, a man talking on a microphone, and two men playing the drums.  We walked closer to the celebration, instantly energized by the excitement of the crowd.  Suddenly we realized that two of our friends who had left earlier that morning to meet their Principal were on the boat.  We started jumping up and down and waving and yelling like mad people.  The woman dancing on the boat, saw us, thought we were waving at her, grabbed the microphone from the man speaking and said “You foreigners, please come on the boat!”  We wasted no time in hightailing it to the edge of the shore, where we tore of our sandals, rolled up our pants, and waded across the Holy Ganges River to a very shaky ladder that got us onto the boat.  At this point, our two friends had seen us and we quickly learned that the boat belonged to the Principal of one of our friend’s School, and the woman dancing was a Bengali Movie Star. The next hour was like a dream: we were asked/told/forced to dance, our faces were covered in Red Vermilion, we were taped playing the drums, given the microphone to speak to the crowd, and asked to do interviews.  We watched—our toes hanging off the edge of the boat—as they submersed idol after idol into the sacred waters of the Ganges.  Later that night, we became local stars when they aired clips of us celebrating Durga Pooja on local television!~                Looking back through my blog posts I realized that I have failed to introduce the people who form my community here in Madurai, so I thought I would take the opportunity to do so now.  First and foremost there are the four other girls with whom I am lucky enough to be teaching English with in Madurai this year:Kelly (22) is originally from the Maryland/DC area and graduated from University of Maryland in May with a major in Kinesiology.  She was in India last summer for five weeks on a Public Health trip in a village of Himachal Pradesh where they worked on a project mapping TB.  She is an avid runner, always has the answers to our problems and never fails to raise our spirits when we’re feeling down.Erin (22) is a Wisconsin gall.  Originally from Milwaukee she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in May with a major in Cultures and Languages of Asia and she is our resident Hindi and French speaker.  She studied abroad in Pune, Maharashtra the summer of 2010 where she was teaching English.  She is always reading the best novels, has trained as a yoga instructor, and loves to cook and travel.Nicole (24) graduated from Knox College with a major in Poetry.  She is originally from Chicago and has never travelled to India before.  She is definitely the most quirky individual of our group, is extremely clever and innovative, always keeping things interesting, and is an adventurer at heart.Sarah (22) is from Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota in December.  Until June she was working at a café as a barista/baker.  She studied abroad in Paris and thus also speaks French fluently.  Sarah describes herself as an avid yogi and is our expert on homeopathic remedies.These four ladies make up the core of my community here, and I like to think we function as our own little family.  In addition we have met five students studying Tamil language/literature here for a year, two of whom are undergrads and three of whom are PhD students from various universities.  There is also an Israeli-American family that lives in our neighborhood: the husband is the director of a college study abroad program called the SITA program.  He has three children—a daughter (third grade) and two sons (1st grade and Pre-K respectively) who are absolutely adorable (the first grader is my school-bus buddy and best friend at school).  His wife is absolutely fearless and makes the BEST bread I have ever eaten—and she does it in a toaster oven!  In the apartment building right next to my school lives a very unique and lovely couple our age: Paula and Steele.  Paula just graduated from the University of Wisconsin and is working with various NGOs which deal with women’s rights issues.  Steele is a business student who graduated from college two years ago and has started his own business called My Rain India: he is working with an NGO to create an effective drip irrigation system for farmers to use in the surrounding villages of Madurai.  Finally, about three hours away in a little mountain town called Kodaik lives an alumn of the Wisconsin Study Abroad program in Madurai.  After his year in the program, he fell in love with India and decided to move here: he owns a beautiful ashram up in the mountains where he runs workshops throughout the year.This hodge-podge group of wonderful people make-up my family, friends and community in Madurai.  They are what make this year so special: trying to lesson plan in Café Coffee Day (the one and only café in this city), or sharing delicious traditional food at a hole in the wall restaurant (always the best places to eat), or chatting in our dark living rooms with candles burning for light during a power outage just wouldn’t have that magic touch without them.  This week we are attempting to recreate a little piece of each of our family Thanksgiving celebrations to share with each other: given our minimal resources and lack of certain key ingredients and/or appliances, our menu is definitely unique and eclectic.  But I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving.In the spirit of Turkey Day I have to end this post with a little bit of cheese (sorry!)—I am so lucky and thankful to be able to share this year with the amazing new friends I have made here in Madurai, and to have the continuing support and love of my family and friends at home.  I know I’ve said this to so many of you before, but I mean it more and more every time I say it: without all of your support I would never survive this year.  Happy Thanksgiving!! Leave a commentFiled under UncategorizedToday’s post is short (actually this time!!): I just wanted to share a little bit about something that never affected my daily life before coming to India, something was never even remotely on my radar when planning my day—electricity.  In India, electricity is a limited resource, due to various factors.  Each state and city has its own system of rationing electricity among its inhabitants.  Here in Madurai, the power is largely generated by wind and water, which predictably, has a plethora of negative consequences most of which we are experiencing this year.  This year has been the year of the drought, and as a result, we have had very little to no electricity these past few months.  The past month has been especially horrendous.  Sometimes the power would alternate on a schedule of power for one hour, no power the next.  With more than 12 to 18 hours a day without electricity many individuals are not able to complete their jobs, at home we can’t always cook or do our laundry, and at night sleeping is pretty much out of the question without a fan to circulate air in the stifling and unbearable heat.  The lack of electricity has now become a much expected addition to my life, but I can’t say if it will ever become something normal for me.  It’s made me think about how much we really take for granted: clean drinking water, a constant supply of electricity, availability of fruits and vegetables, the list goes on.  It’s also truly fascinating to think that in a country where technology is becoming ever more important, where some of the best surgeries are taking place, and where some of the most innovative and largest IT companies are based can’t rely on the fact that their equipment (whatever that may be) will work throughout the day.  And I honestly don’t know what this says about India, a country that is quickly catching up to the level of the other great world powers.  Is it a testament to the consequence of a poorly functioning government, or a lesson in perseverance and grit to see a country moving forward without all of the luxuries of its competitors?Madurai Power cuts:http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/erratic-supply-renders-residents-powerless/article3974450.ecehttp://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-03-03/madurai/31119190_1_madurai-invertors-power-shutdownsNot just a problem in the South:http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/31/india-blackout-delhi-northern-power-idINDEE86U05C20120731Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesOn my nine hour bus ride back into Madurai from Bangalore, I couldn’t find sleep, so I had nine long hours to sit and think about everything I have been feeling for the past three months.  This is what I have come up with.  I don’t know if it makes sense: this could just be crazy ramblings and for that I apologize.  But for what it’s worth, nine hours of staring out the window and thinking—plus however many hours I have scrutinized my thoughts while writing this post—left me feeling pacified.We had a two week first term holiday from school, and I had decided that I wanted to spend this time with my family in Mysore and Bangalore.  Besides the obvious joys and perks of seeing and spending time with the people I love, for me there was one perk that took the crown: I was once again able to speak the dominant language fluently.  As odd as it sounds, the fact that I didn’t have to think twice (or six times rather) about which verb to use in which tense, number, and person made me silly happy.  I just spoke: words and thoughts came tumbling out of me easily and freely.  I could finally express myself using the proper vocabulary word that wholly conveyed what I was feeling without having to pare it down to a simpler version, as I have to do when I speak English with my colleagues, or when I speak Tamil because I simply don’t know the perfect word.  I fit in again.  The vegetable vendor on the street didn’t look at me and smirk when I spoke.  He didn’t ask where I was from and he didn’t ask in that accusing tone why I didn’t speak the language when I looked Indian, something I get so often in Madurai.  For the first time in three months I didn’t feel left out in a country where I was supposed to fit in.BUT at the same time, I still didn’t feel at home.  It still felt like a dream, a daze: it still felt weird.  I have never visited my family in India without my parents and sister, and I have never left my aunts and uncles houses with the promise of coming back soon and actually meaning within a few weeks/month, instead of years.  I have never been dropped off by my cousin to the bus stand heading ‘home’ to another city in India.  I suddenly felt incredibly homesick again. Every time we skyped with my parents during this vacation I was on the verge of tears and couldn’t figure out why.  I felt silly, childish, and weak.  I looked out the window at the uniformly square cement buildings passing by, the streets filled with piles of trash, the men wearing dhotis (essentially a piece of cotton cloth they wear wrapped around their waist that at any moment could bare all for the world to see, if you catch my drift) and wanted so badly for all of it to feel normal.  I wanted so badly not to have a miniature heart attack—still, after three months—every time the bus driver transferred his body weight onto the horn.This is where, in the past, I have just shaken off the feeling and moved on, but I had way too much time on my hands and it was clear that sleep was not going to grace me with its presence.  So I let my mind wander and I started thinking about what I wanted out of this year, why had I decided to apply for this program in the first place, what were my motivations?  Had you asked me this question before my recent bus-ride this is what I would have said: the last experience I had living in India and teaching children was addicting and I wanted more of the same.  I still hold a special place in my heart for those first kids I taught, and am never as happy as when I get an email from them telling me what they are accomplishing.  I can still close my eyes and conjure an image of Kalleda, from the rooftop of our home there, in less than a second: the smells, the breeze, the sights, the sounds, and my emotions.  And frankly, I didn’t (and still don’t) know the answer to that dreaded question “what do you want to be when you grow up” so I figured I would seek out an opportunity that I know made me happy in the past.I’m not saying this answer is no longer true, because it certainly still is.  But I have been avoiding the whole truth.  The real answer to the question of why I came here, the reason that my top three choices of jobs for this year were in India, the truly selfish answer that one of our session leaders asked us for on the very first day of orientation is this: I have been told my whole life that India is my true home.  I’ve been told that in my blood flows the rich history of a nation of godly kings, the peaceful struggle of a population reclaiming its identity from the clutches of the British, and the magical ability to make curry with the perfect amount of spices without using a single measuring tool (which by the way, I do not even slightly possess).  I have been told through literature, film and the experience of family that I am supposed to feel like an outsider in America and at home in India.  So I wanted to come to India because I felt guilty for not giving my ‘real home’ the chance to leave me pining for it.But now that I’m here I’m pining for St. Louis and I feel guilty for doing so.  I miss the view of the Arch as you drive down highway ‘farty’ (so yea, maybe us St. Louisans do have an accent), I miss being a part of redbird nation, and I miss Kaldis’ Hot Chai-Tea Latte (which any Indian would tell you is redundant because “Chai” means tea, and besides the chai at Kaldis admittedly does not taste nearly as good as the scalding hot masala chai served at restaurants here. But somehow, I like my Kaldis chai better).So you ask, what is the point of all of this whining?  Well, it’s not as glamorous as you probably have hoped, and I promise I won’t be offended if you stop reading right about now, because I’m still not sure if everything I have written makes any sense.  But, I simply think I expected too much too soon.  I inadvertently set myself up to feel guilty by coming into this experience expecting to fit in, adjust, and feel at home easily.  It’s not easy, I don’t feel at home, and I’ve been beating myself up because of it.  I find that when I’m walking down the street with the other girls I simultaneously hope people will think I’m a local and recognize I’m foreign.  I feel hurt when they shower the other girls with attention because they more obviously look different, but then get annoyed when they realize I’m also from America and start badgering me with questions.  I hate and love to have to end my explanation of heritage with, “I’m an NRI (non-resident Indian)”.I recently started reading the book “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”  I got through 15 pages before I got mad and threw the book aside.  The author begins his book with a few pages about himself, his history of immigration to the US and elsewhere, his feelings and emotions toward India and the US.  Mehta moved to the US at the age of 14, and he describes his teenage years in the US as a form of exile.  He says “when I moved to New York, I missed Bombay like an organ of my body,” and that he simply “existed in New York, but lived in India,” for which he was judged (Mehta 8-9).  I got mad and threw the book aside because I was offended.  And because I wanted to pretend that I didn’t understand how he felt.  Yes, sure, I was made fun of when I was younger for being different.  I will never forget the time one of my classmates in fifth grade told me I was disgusting and dirty because of my hair oil (Indian women really like to put coconut oil in their hair to achieve a flawless braid, and my mother having grown up in India was a fan of this hairstyle as well) and the number of people that made faces at the curries my mom would pack me for lunch.  I defended myself and my culture as any stubborn fifth grader would, and I still will (well maybe not the coconut hair oil, I never liked that).  But this never made St. Louis feel like less of a home for me.  Everyone was judged for something.  People will be people: they will be brutal, they will be judgmental, that doesn’t change based on location.But now, I finally do understand what it feels like to miss a place like you’re missing a part of yourself.  I understand what it feels like to walk down the street and struggle to make it through the day, and I understand that irresistible need to bring little pieces of home with you in order to overcome the challenge of surviving a day.  And what I finally truly understand after nine-plus hours of internal dialogue is that I have been resisting my natural instinct to want to bring memories of St. Louis with me to make the streets of India less intimidating.  I have been resisting because I have been afraid of disappointing all of those voices that have told me that I am supposed to easily feel at home here.  But I grew up in the streets of St. Louis—my best memories were formed as a child on the sidewalks of Palm Bay Drive in ‘bumble-fuck-suburbia’, as a teenager by the train tracks of Old Kirkwood outside Dewey’s Pizza, and recently on the fluorescently lit streets of The Loop and in the comforting walls of Essen Manor on Forsyth.  These things and these things only, will feel like my real home to me forever.  By resisting the need to carry these places with me, I’ve been sabotaging any chance that through this experience India can start to feel like another home to me.  I’ve been ignoring all of the little things that come together to make a place a home.  The little old man with the ironing cart at the end of my street, with the toothless smile and the perpetual bidi sticking out of the right corner of his mouth, who waves at me without fail every time I walk by; the security guard of the apartment complex next door who salutes me whenever I come and go and always chides me for not locking our porch gate; the woman who owns the flower cart at my bus stand who calls me over every morning, cuts me a strand of fragrant jasmine and insists on pinning it in my braid for me; and my kids, who never miss a beat, can always divine my mood, and who never fail to do their best to lighten my heart.So one too many hours and pages later I’m going to 1. Start reading “Maximum City” again and 2. Let myself carry as many pieces of St. Louis, of home, with me as I need to without thinking twice about it.  I’m hoping it will turn out better for all of us: for India because I’ll stop giving her such a hard time for trying to prove to me that she’s loveable; for me because I’ll stop feeling so desperately homesick every so often; and for you all because I’ll stop writing these incredibly long, rambling posts and start telling some more interesting stories with more pictures.Leave a commentFiled under UpdatesEnter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.Join 9 other followers



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