Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lots to talk about - not necessarily in the right order...

July 5th Michael and Diana invited us to Sector 14 (other end of Udaipur) to go to a wedding that their host family was involved in. We jumped at the chance to see some traditional ceremony so we hopped in a tempo at Chetak Circle. The wedding was in a huge public garden type area, with hundreds of people all dressed in their finest. Food was everywhere so we indulged in some spicy Rajasthani cusine. The ceremony had already been going on for a few hours, but the bride and groom were still being paraded around for pictures and meeting people. During the whole ceremony - 3 days long - the groom is not allowed to look at the bride! Im pretty sure I couldnt do that. Being the tourists we were that night, we couldnt pass up the chance to get up on stage with the couple and get added to the wedding album! That picture is on Liz's blog - Ill steal it later.

The next day we left for our mid-term trip to Kumbalgarh, Rankapur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer. Kumbalgarh is an ancient Mewar fort built by Rana Kumbha in the 15 century. Its 36 km wall is second only to the Great Wall in length. It houses 700 cannon and 360 temples and was only captured once - by the combined armies of the Amber, Marwar, and Mughals. They only held it for 2 days though! Here are some pics of the fort...





















After Kumbalgarh, it was on to Rankapur and the most important Jain temple in the world. It should be one of the modern wonders of the world. I dont think the pictures are going to do it justice. The entire thing is made from carved, translucent marble, so the interior is naturally lit. There are 1444 columns inside - all completely different. The designers even made one column crooked because they believe that only God can make things perfect. For those of you who are rusty on Jainism, its a very asectic religion. Its main concept is complete non-violence. True followers dont eat meat, eggs, or any fruit or vegtable that grows under the ground becaue of the harm that digging them up causes to worms and other bugs. Often Jain monks will walk with peacock feather brooms so that they can sweep the insects out of their path. Its pretty intense - but they dont think so - its all part of suffering for their sins - whether in this life or the last. Enjoy the pics.




















Ok, sorry to cut it short - there is still Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to talk about - but I have to get home before my Auntie starts worrying about me.

- J

PS - hit this link to see some more pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/55636716@N00/

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If you are ever in India, you need to get a haircut here. Best one I've ever had. For 20 Rupees (that's about 40 cents) I got an old school style trim, no clippers, just some speedy scissors. And this guy was a perfectionist, he probably spent about 10 minutes just doing my sideburns. He even broke out the straight blade to make sure everything was shaved just right. Wasn't expecting that though - first time for everything though. Plus, the best part, after he was done cutting my hair, you get a complementary head massage. Now try getting one of those in America for free.

In other news, I've finished my grant proposal for the biogas plants, so as soon as I get my jump drive back from Liz I'll send you the final product. For those of you who don't want to receive 9 pages of grant writing, too bad - I worked damn hard on it, and you get to experience the brilliance of it anyway.

I celebrated July 4th with the rest of the Americans here, (tried not to be too bitter...). Namrata, our adopted mom - she really is the best - got us some fireworks and let us shoot them off the top of her house. Nice stress relief, until someone shot a bottle rocket into a neighbors tree....


Tomorrow the group is going to Jhodpur, Rankapur, and Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary for the weekend. It will be my first real "vacation" since I missed out on Chittargarh when I was sick.

Postcards - to those who I promised to send one to.... well keep hoping, maybe I will send some after this weekend

PS - Check out everyone's blog in the links to the right. Its pretty cool to compare everyone's take on the same experiences, plus they all do a better job of me describing what its like to live here.

Leave comments!

- J

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Two weeks have passed at work, its been an experience I'll never forget. Im struggling to find time to post updates for everyone, I work a 6 day work week out here, and time to actually sit down and collect my thoughts is scarce. I think the only thing that makes me sit down long enough to type is the A/C in this internet cafe!

So the last 2 weeks....

My family is great, very traditional, very concerned about me - sometimes too much so! My host mother - my auntie - doesnt speak very good English, but that doesnt stop her from trying to over feed me. My Uncle is retired so life at home is generally pretty relaxed when I am there. He speaks much better English but not enough to have long conversations. And because most of our interaction occurs in the mornings when I am still out of it, it is usually hard for me to think of things to tak about. Mr. and Mrs. Sharma don't have any children, which is surprising considering the culture out here. Well maybe they do, but they also refer to all of their tenents as their children so it difficult to figure it out sometimes. They run their own paying guesthouse which is located in Sardarpura, in Udaipur. I've had to completely change my daily schedule from the US. In Udaipur, nothing is really open before 10am - sometimes more like 11:00am. But my family also wakes up really early - 4:30 for Uncle and 5:30 for Auntie. At first I was getting up just as early because I'm finding it near impossible to sleep through the whole night. The heat makes me just pour sweat the whole night. My first few nights were especially tough because my room was literally 90 degrees. Toward this second week, sleeping has become easier, first because I'm absolutely exhausted, and more importantly because my Auntie found me an air cooler from a neighbor. Now its only 80 degrees so I sleep through most of the night now. Mornings are supposed to be a very personal time, you get up early, do your yoga, pray, bathe and then take chai (tea) and breakfast. Shame on me, ive been skipping yoga so far. I need other people to do it with to keep me motivated, plus ive been enjoying actually sleeping so my lotus position is struggling as a result.

Work has been great so far, more ups than downs. After breakfast I walk a few minutes to the main road and then catch a tempo to Fatepura - the nearby area of Udaipur. A tempo is basically an oversized richshaw that crams as many people in it as possible. Fare is usually 3 Rupees (about 6 cents). I get quite a few stares (well I always do) because I'm always the only white person to squeeze into one of these things. The other day my tempo was so full that I just hung onto the side like a true local - I kinda prefer it too, nice breeze on your way to work!

Im working at the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) in Fatepura. Its got quite a nice office considering the other buildings Ive seen. On any day at work there can be anywhere from 2 to 15 people working at one time, depending on how many people are in the field that day. My boss, Mitul, is awesome. He is 28 and really intense about his work. Everyone at FES speaks better English than me and half have their doctorate. FES works to restore the environmental diversity and natural forests around Udaipur. Their website is http://fes.org.in/. The branch in Udaipur is relatively new (2000) so most of the work Im doing is based on the development of new conservation programs. My main two projects will be based on improving the livelihoods of villagers in the rural areas. Many factors have contributed to the massive deforestation of the area. The mountains around Udiapur should look like the Appalachians, but instead it looks more like New Mexico. I will be conducting an impact study on the various new projects FES has started to make sure that the results are indeed falling within the organizations goals. If my report is good enough, it will be submitted to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)!!! Im pretty psyched about that, maybe ill be able to swing a job with them after FSD. Additionally I'll be working on sercuring a grant for the construction of 2 Biogas plants in the Jhadol block of Udaipur. Biogas plants produce methane gas by mixing cattle dung and water and then capturing it so that households can use it to power their cooking stoves and light their houses. This in turn reduces the need for the farmers to cut down fuel wood in the forests and thereby allows the forests to naturally regenerate. So for two weeks I have been researching reading and typing my grant for this upcoming week.

Ok, sorry to cut it short, but ive got to go meet the rest of the FSD interns for lunch. Ill get back online later tonight to finish this post, there is so much I still have to say. Also, ive linked all the other Blogs from the FSD group on the right of this page - let me know if you cant access them. And everyone can now leave comments at the bottom of each post - so please do!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

6/16/06

I'm the first one up every morning - up at 5am like clockwork, but that is way too early to do anything out here. I usually try to sleep more after that, but I've been having the most vivid and realistic dreams ever - I think its my malaria medication, strange dreams are listed in the side effects. They are so real that I usually wake up from them even more tired and drenched in sweat. Everyone else gets a laugh out of it though. Wednesday night we went to a sweet restaurant, Ambrai, that over looks lake Panchol and the City and Lake Palaces. Great food but a bit pricey. I think everyone's attitude is to pamper themselves a bit this first week before getting down to work. After dinner we went to the Whistling Teal, a really nice hukka bar. We shared two between the 11 of us, played some cards and had the most relaxing night yet.

I've been taking daily yoga classes with Liz and Yeye (pronouned "E-E" by the way). Its pretty hard for me, but I'm enjoying enough that I hope I can continue with it for 2 months. Udaipur is a small enough town that people are already recognizing us as the "NGO people". It also helps that it not tourist season, so we are just about the only white people in the city. Everyone is really friendly and many people will just try and talk to you so they can practice their English.

I watched England beat Trinidad and Tobago last night 2-0. Tense game though, everyone got to watch me agonize over it, and I'm sure I woke up most of the hotel when England finally scored.

Yesterday we went to a Saheliyon-Ki-Baree Park for lunch with Payal, Namrata, and Rajul. Namrata is awesome, she made us all boxed lunches - she is pretty much the "mother" for the group, always going out of her way to take care of us. Its a beautiful park with lots of fountains. Yeye, Liz and I started a new trend with the tourists when we started taking pictures of each other under parts of the fountain. The next thing we knew everyone wanted to have their picture taken with us. People were asking us to hold their children, pose with their grandparents, and stand in with their family. Its a strange feeling to be a tourist attraction but that's what we were. It took us a while to excuse ourselves from the area, but not before Liz and Yeye had their picture taken by a reporter for a local newspaper. We are still waiting to see that picture though.

Finally that afternoon we made it up to Monsoon Palace and finally saw a sunset. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. I don't know if pictures will do it justice. You can see all of Udaipur and the mountains that ring it. Its also the only place with a constant breeze so everyone was more than happy to mellow out and find a comfy ledge to watch the sunset from.

6/17/06

Yoga didn't happen today, but we did get to speak with the "yoga master" who gave us a talk on the philosophical side of yoga. It really appeals to me, so I hope I get lots of practice over the next two months. We had our last Hindi lesson today. My biggest challenge is remembering the definition of words after I figure out how to say them. Since today is our last full day at the hotel we indulged ourselves with some poolside room service a la the European tourists that have been staying here the whole week. Our final cultural experience this week was an authentic Rajasthani puppet show and dancing. The dancing is something else, balancing up to 10 pots on her head and still keeping a beat. You have to wonder why that evolved as a tradition though...

We watched Devdas, our first Hindi movie today. I don't know how many of you have seen Hindi movies but they are the longest stories ever! Three hours minimum.

Got some new clothes today so I spent the whole day in my new Kurta - its going to take some getting used to though - its essentially like wearing a really long shirt down to you knees. I definitely got laughed at by the locals but what the hell, you only live once. Tomorrow we get picked up by our families and start work on Monday.

Alright, Alright, you all deserve some semblance of an updated blog so here it is. By the end of this post I think I will have covered everything up until this weekend.
Most everyone else in the FSD group arrived on Sunday. In no particular order we have: Olen, Jen, Yeye, Liz, Michael, Ryan, Kristen, Shivani, Diana, and Rena. We are all staying in Rang Nivas Hotel - a pretty nice hotel from what I can say. Still it makes me feel like a tourist to live in such luxury when you just have to look outside the gates to see the poverty around you. Its surprising how fast we have all gotten used to Udaipur. The days are so long that it feels like I've been here forever. Sunday we all went out for dinner, and tried to get to know each other. The plan was to eat during sunset, but its turns out everyone was too tired to wait that long.
We started our Hindi lessons every morning from 10-1 with Rachna. Its a damn hard language to learn, what with a new alphabet and pronunciation of sounds. By the end of the week we could all slowly read words and if we were lucky actually remember what they meant. Waling around the Old City (the south end of Udaipur where we are staying this week) is a great experience. There are all sorts of beautiful buildings hidden in between the street vendors and stores. The city itself is pure chaos. Between the rickshaws, taxis, bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, jeeps, pedestrians, carts, donkeys, and stray cattle just walking fro place to place is a little insane. The best way to handle it is not to worry too much about where you are walking - if you are in someone's way they will honk the horn at you. Its ridiculous how much drivers use there horn here, it actually an accepted means of communication. You have to blow your horn everytime you pass somebody, just to let them know you are there. Surprisingly, as crowded as it is, I have yet to see any sort of accident. When walking around you just have to try and not realize you are about to get hit by someone. In the long run, everybody is really good at avoiding everyone else, so if you are crossing the street don't hesitate because you will just screw up the person who is trying to avoid you.
Our program supervisors, Payal, Rajul, and Namrata, took us on a tour of the city on Monday. For all the claims that its a small town, Udaipur borders two lakes and has hundreds of nameless streets that make it impossible to get your bearings sometimes. Udaipur is famous for the James Bond movie Octopussy. It was filmed on location here with scenes being shot from the Lake Palace, City Palace and Monsoon Palace - as well as the high speed richshaw chases. So if you get a chance check it out. Its one of the more cheesy Bond movies but that doesn't stop most restaurants in the city from showing nightly for there guests. We've been to so many restaurants that I cant list them all, needless to say, the food is amazing - so many dishes I've never even heard of before. That said, Monday and Tuesday were pretty rough on my stomach - but I'm over that now and can really explore the full range of menus in these places.
I met with my program coordinator for FES, Mitul, on Wednesday. He originally wanted me to move to Bhilwara, which is 3 hours away from Udaipur. I would have been doing an impact study of a project that had been going on for 15 years. Instead I chose to stay in Udaipur and help develop the emerging projects here. I think there was some mix-up in what he thought I wanted to do, but I'm glad I will be staying in the area because I will be working on developing new projects rather than analyzing completed ones.

Monday, June 19, 2006

6/11/06
Quite a lost 24 hours! Jen and I caught our car to Agra at 7:00am. It was about a 4 hour drive, stopping once for our first Indian food - vegetable samosas. Once in Agra we went directly to the Taj Mahal. You have to take an electric rickshaw to get to it to keep the pollution down, but still every few years they scrub down the entire building. It truly is an amazing building, one of the seven modern wonders of the world. The stone inlay is exceptional. When it was constructed, the Raj of the area sent for thousands of Persian stone craftsmen. He boarded them in Agra, and eventually the town of Agra built up around them. Today there are still surviving ancestors of the same craftsmen that built the Taj. I have to say that many times people build places up too much and I'm disappointed when I actually get there. Not so with the Taj Mahal. Wow, awesome, I'm really at a loss for words. Hopefully the pictures will speak for me. When I finally up load them, I swear it will be soon, I've finally found a high speed internet place. After the Taj, our driver took us to a local marble workers shop, which had the most amazing tables and marble inlay. Bought Mom and Dad a gift made from the same marble and techniques as the Taj. So Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, sorry for ruining the surprise.
Next we went to the Red Fort of Agra. Its mostly closed to tourists so we skipped paying to go in and just took pictures from the road. After the Taj it really lost its effect on me. Finally we stopped at a Muslim mosque and snapped a few more pics. Jen and I were really tired of sightseeing at this point, the Taj being the highlight, nothing else could compare.
Our driver told us that instead of driving the 4 hours back to Delhi, it would be easier for everyone if he dropped us off in Mathura, a small town that our train would stop at further on down the line. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In the end, I think he just wanted to pick up another passenger that was going to pay him something extra on the side. So there we were, Jen and me, standing on this very rural train station...Where no one spoke English... and the power kept going out... and we were the only tourists there... four hours before our train arrived...yeah, it was interesting. We were finally able to confirm that we were indeed at the right station, and our train would be coming in 4 hours. After that it was a waiting game. Jen and I chugging down bottles of mineral water because we were sweating our asses off. We tried to settle down in a small "restaurant" - I use quotes because it only served one dish and had 3 tables. After an hour the power went out and that meant no more lights or ceiling fans - then the owner asked us to leave because we weren't giving him any business.
Finding a comfortable place to sit was damn near impossible as the so called air conditioned waiting rooms were hotter than the platform. Most of the people were happy to leave us alone and just watch us intently. After only 2 days in India I'm quite used to people staring at me the whole time. I killed another hour trying to tune into the BBC on my short wave radio and catch the World Cup results. Then we decided to head to our platform because we could not afford to miss this train.
The power had been failing quite regularly now, so walking around the platforms was really difficult. You are constantly avoiding people sleeping, cattle (yes cows roam freely in India - where ever they want to be, they go), piles of trash, and other unidentified wet spots that you really don't want to tread in. There were no seats on this platform so Jen and I just huddled around our luggage as best we could. After awhile a young guy approached us and started talking to us about who we were and where we were going. Once we got past the initial paranoia of thinking he was just trying to distract us while his friend made off with our bags, I actually had a really good conversation with him. Turns out he was traveling to Kota, half way between Mathura and Udaipur, to finish his IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) training. It is apparently a really competitive program that many people fail due to the extreme stress and expectations of the curriculum. He was very happy just to talk to us and practice his English. I gave him a few US coins because he said his hobby was collecting coins from the various tourists he talks to. I was his first US coins. At this point, more of his friends had gathered their courage and Jen and I spent the next hour answering their questions about America. One of the questions we kept getting was: "Are you friends? Or are you More than friends?" It seems many people thought we were married and they were quite surprised when they found out we weren't.
By now our train was an hour late and we were really tired of traveling. We were really wishing we had gone back to Delhi and taken the train from there. When it finally arrived an hour late we had no idea what car to get on. We sprinted to the one we though was the right one (luckily we here right!). Third Class Sleeper - with A/C!!!! We just collapsed on the first bunks we saw - of course they were the wrong ones. There was some confusion when we showed the conductor our tickets because we supposed to board in Delhi. When we weren't there they sold our seats to someone else. Thankfully, the conductor got us our seats back and we could finally relax.
I managed to sleep for most of the night, an hour at a time, so when we finally arrived in Udaipur at 7:00am I was pretty awake. We took a rickshaw to our hotel for the first week of the program, Rang Nivas Hotel, checked in, and finally, mercifully, had a long shower.
After catching our breath, Jen and I took a walk around town trying to figure out where the cafes and restaurants were. We weren't very successful so eventually we just told a rickshaw to take us some where to get something to eat. Everywhere is closed that early on Sunday so in the end we just went back to the hotel and had some pancakes and watch World Cup highlights on the TV.

I'm finally in Udaipur, I cant believe it!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

6-10-06 6:30am India time

Got into the Hotel 55 around 11:00 last night - thats over 24 hours traveling. All in all not too bad. Im fairly certain that I got ripped off by the first taxi driver, but Im writing it off as first day inexperience, besides, I was too tired to argue. That night I met Jen Anderson, a fellow FSD worker. She has been in India for 3 days now and has toured most of Delhi. According to her its nearly impossible to walk around alone, especially as a female. Jen will be doing microfinance in Dungapur, which is about 3 hours South from Udaipur. Last night we chatted for about an hour because I was too wired to sleep.

Currently Im waiting for the car to take us to Agra, where we will see the Taj Mahal before taking the overnight train to Udaipur.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Namaste from Udaipur, India!

I have been in India for six days now, and am finally settled in enough where I can find time to get my thoughts and experiences out to you. Ok, blogs aren't my thing, so I'll just call this my way of keeping me honest with my diary. Basically to play catch up here, I'm just going to type my diary thus far. My thanks to everyone who helped me realize my dream - None of this would have been possible without you!

Enjoy...

6/9/06 - 8:00am EST

Just woken up from my umpteeth nap on this flight to Delhi. Ten and a half hours gone, two more to go, and I managed to do it without watching Big Mommas house at all.

The day started well enough, up at 7:30 to finish packing. (Went to bed around 4 though so still very tired.) It wasn't too frantic, just busy enough to keep me from really thinking about what I'm about to embark on. Now, about 2 hours from touch down, the excitement is growing.

The first person I met on my trip sat next to me on the flight from Norfolk. Her name was Angel. She was an English girl, of Pakistani descent, who was returning to Birmingham after visiting her boyfriend in my home town, Suffolk. (Small world, go figure) We both had a 7 hour layover in Newark so we kept each other company until she left for Gatwick. Angel if you are reading this, remember you promised me a place to stay if Im ever in the area. Likewise if you are in Suffolk again.

After she left I managed to wait at the wrong gate for 2 hours before finally figuring it out. Just before boarding I met another girl, Sarada, who was traveling through Delhi on her way to teaching in Southern India.

They told me that I would get sick in my first week in India, so it cant be a good sign that I was having stomach cramps after the first airline meal. Im feeling much better now, so Im blaming it on the quality, not the dish.

Met another man, Gaebi, while I was stretching my legs on the plane. He is moving to Punjab for 10 years after a long time in the States. He gave me the same advice as everyone else about not drinking the water and keeping my money safe. If everyone I meet is as friendly as Ive met today, this trip truly will be an amazing experience.

Finally landed in Delhi, this is the first time Ive seen a 777 unload onto the runway. It took a while to get my bags, but I did meet another traveler, Jamie, who will be learning Hindi in Lucknow for 2 months before heading up to Leh, Ladakh, so hopefully I will be able to visit her after my time with FSD is over.

--- Im out of time now, so ill continue to update this until it is current - which will be by this weekend. Pictures will be coming this weekend too.

Thanks everyone!