Saturday, June 14, 2008

Namaste!

Namaste (Hello in Hindi) from India! There is been much going on since last I wrote and I will try in hit the highlights. India is like Brazil and the U.S.; they are such large countries with diversity at every point so it is worth multiple trips in order to experience them in full. This was a relatively quick trip with tons of work to do so I didn't do much site seeing but I fully enjoyed all that I was able to do. Here in India they work on Saturdays, so their weekend is pretty much one day--and we were complaining about how short the 2 day weekend was. To set you up for the following highlights, part of my work was in Bangalore for 3 days; there was a road trip to the field site in Palamaner about 2 1/2 to 3 hours away; I returned to Bangalore for about 3-4 days to finish my work. My Sundays here are my free days. Next go round, I must take leave and see the Taj Mahal and other sights--maybe the coast where there is a city that is all pink--I've seen pictures and it's cool. You already received a tidbit of my first few days in Bangalore, but that Sunday I was intent on viewing my surroundings and conducting the majority of my shopping. I took a walk around the St. John's campus where there are deer and a bird sanctuary. Later, it was told that there were other guests that I could join for a city sightseeing trip and I decided to tag along--low and behold they were students from Alcorn State University (a fellow HBCU like FAMU my wonderful Alma mater) in Mississippi and quite colorful characters. It threw me off a bit to have the southern accents in the midst of Indian culture, but there commentary during our drive was hilarious.

video

Driving here is more hectic and you feel you life is on the brink every time. It was told to me that there are very few accidents--and I pray that is so. There is constant passing, constant braking, many cross overs and cut offs, cars coming dead on, and near misses. Trust me, it is wild and not much better on the highways. It is comforting to note that the big trucks and buses are bullies here as well.

During our sightseeing tour, we went to a very large Krishna Temple (Hindu). They say that the richest temple in the world is in India that beats out the Vatican in the amount of wealth it holds. The devotees and priest in the temple do get married which is different than Catholicism. I only mention this because there was a hot Hindu Priest saying prayers (no photographs were allowed, sorry) In India, the majority religion is Hindu, followed by Islam (13-14%), followed by Christianity (2%) although I saw many Christian churches and met quite a few Christians during my stay. There was a market with various religious artifacts and sweets. India does not feel as dense as China although it has a very high population that I believe is second to China. In China you felt overwhelmed by the number of people, I did not feel so where I was in Bangalore although it might feel this way in other cities in the country.
We went to the State House and High Court buildings as well and then went to do some shopping. If you come to Bangalore, you can go to FabIndia which is overpriced and a little snooty, or you can wade through traffic and people and head to commercial street which has better deals and you can barter. Now on to Palamaner. It was like going to my great grandmother's house in the rural area outside of Shreveport Louisiana. The staff at the site work in the area all week and then return to Bangalore on Saturday afternoon to have fun with friends in the city. As you can imagine, there is not much happenings for young people. There is definitely a certain peacefulness and refreshing you obtain in the countryside with the breezes and fresh produce that abound. Also, everyone has a cow. There are many foods here that I have never tasted or heard of like drumstick and jack fruit (there are others but I will not attempt to spell). The food is spicy (they use chili peppers a lot)and amazing and better yet home cooked. I am learning to eat with my fingers and it is quite fun. They eat rice and curd (yogurt basically) with every meal. There is very little cheese in their dishes--I have only seen a cottage cheese in spinach. There are mangoes and papayas and coconuts galore. There is the nan, chapati, and other breads. They share a lot of what they have and make guest feel like royalty. Mothers serve everyone at the table before they will eat themselves. They try and accommodate you any way they can and always willing to show you the way. Note to visitors--don't keep saying "thank you", once upon leaving is enough. It was said that "thank you" is used in formal occasions or when you interact with a stranger so that if you keep saying "thank you" it make the other feel like they are distant from you or a stranger.

This is getting somewhat long so I will wrap it up and you can experience through the eye of photography (check out slide show). Some of the staff took me along for walks in the countryside and went for dinner and to see the town. The field site operates out of Emmaus Hospital that has treated leprosy for over 30 years and is quite established in the community. The native tongue of the area is Telegu. In Bangalore which is in the state of Kanataka, speaks Kanataka. Everyone speaks Hindi. Before I forget and leave Palamaner, I cannot forget to mention the monkeys for they will be quite offended. There are many of them and they are quite mischievous. Be careful with your bananas and other fruit for they will snatch right from your hand. I was working and heard quite a commotion--the darn little things had turned over a pot, was throwing pieces at a young woman and was chasing another! I will conclude my trip and write a bit more on my experiences--until then I hope all is vibrant and beautiful in your life as the color and people of India.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Was That A Yes

Hola Compadres! (Ok, I will figure out an Indian greeting soon.) I have made it out of the country through Terminal 5 at Heathrow into Bangalore India with no delays and no lost luggage. Quite an accomplishment if I do say so myself. Terminal 5 is quite lovely with high-end shopping although it takes as bit to get there from the other Terminals so beware that you don't mistakenly end up there--it's a long way back (45 min). I had the luxury of taking a two hour nap on the plush seating with other weary travellers. It's quite an extraordinary experience snoring and drooling among the masses.

Speaking of accomplishments a few sentences back and before I get into my first impressions of my current surroundings, I must inform you of the completion of the second running race of my entire life--the Zooma Women's Half-Marathon in Annapolis, Maryland, June 1, 2008. Again, I feel the need to provide you with proof and of course to brag a little:

Place--591 Number--1039 Split (5k mark)--39:24 Gun Time--3:07:04 Net-Time--3:04:45 Pace--14:06
After losing a day, the soles of my feet plopped down for the first time on Indian concrete. My first trip to India, layover in a new terminal, and arriving in a new airport of only 15 days at the breaking of a new day (4:15 a.m.)--sweet!
One of the first cultural differences one will notice besides the obvious garment and language differences is the way the affirmative is provided. We nod up and down to indicate agreement while they nod side to side but with a swerve--think of a fast Stevie Wonder, or a bobble head. This makes you wonder how we have come to express "yes" in the various cultures of the world. I will have to do some investigation and get back with you.

Lunch (yes there has been no sleep since I have arrived) was a journey into the tastes of south India. In the states, what we usually experience as Indian food is mostly from Northern India. One of the distinct foods of the south is a "dosa" which is a huge triangular rice patty filled with various treats such as cheese and masala. There is a lot of yogurt and chutney around as well. Etiquette-wise, one should eat with only one hand and the right hand at that. The food is quite spicy although they have not allowed me to taste the real hot stuff. In general, they spice their food about 4-fold higher than what we would think as spicy. I say bring it on. Next post-"American explodes from hot Indian experience."