Travel

Musings

Here are some musings I’ve made over the last few months… This reads sort of like a diary entry. I’ll probably come back and amend and add to this list, maybe make some edits, or maybe delete a section or two. The opinions are mine, the take away is yours…

Details don’t matter that much:

I can’t say I’ve ever been a detail-oriented person but living abroad has definitely expanded this personality trait. Living in a country like Liberia or India ones learns very quickly that details are often pointless. The first week we were here, on the way to Delhi, the Academic Director declared, “I’m happy to announce that we will be there in EXACTLY 2 hours… unless it takes longer.” See in the US, we would expect an exact time frame; 30 minutes of traffic could ruin my day. But in India, there is no reason to expect that things will go at all according to plan. At any given moment things can fall apart- disintegrating into chaos. And any finely planned detail becomes obsolete. This places more focus on being flexible and able to think on your feet. Obviously, details are important when I get home and need to plan something, but a sense of “shit happens,” is definitely healthy.

You’re often completely powerless. I don’t do “powerless” well:

I remember during my Vision Quest senior year, the first lesson I ever learned was about being powerless. I had just started my three-day solo and fast and was trying to build a tent in the area I had chosen to live. However, for whatever reason, the area I chose was SO windy that it was actually impossible to put my tarp up. This doesn’t stop me from trying for 60 minutes in vain. When I finally gave up, I realized that this was the first lesson I had gained on my trip: sometimes we are completely powerless.

I’ve felt that way lots of times on this trip. From the overall organizing of SIT and their hands on approach, to my naivety and inexperience in the India culture. Contracting dengue and being stuck in a hospital was probably the best example of this. Not only was I powerless about this disease and the notion that it was getting worse every day, I was unversed in the workings of the hospital, I spoke a different language than most of the hospital workers, and I wasn’t communicating very much with the people I perceived as the decision makers. Every day however, there are traces of this. I don’t make myself breakfast. I don’t drive myself to school. My day is pretty much planned for me.

Down time can be just as hard as the busiest of times:

I read this online somewhere and realized that its completely true. All of the most stressful, taxing moments of my trip have come when I was lying in bed worrying about one thing or another. When I’m out in the city, yelling at rickshaw drivers, staring down creepy Indian men, I’m too confused and out of place to even think. I’m worried about surviving. But when I have enough time to start being sentimental- to start thinking about home and what I’m missing- that’s when I struggle the most. Sam spoke about this frequently when she was abroad and it serves as one more reason to do the following:

Take initiative:

Especially on a program like SIT, where outings are constantly organized and classes are long and challenging, it can be tempting to utilize my free time to relax and hang-out. However, as I so eloquently stated on the group facebook page, “in two months when you’re sitting at home in your underwear drinking bad beer and perusing facebook… do you want to look back and think about that weekend when you chose NOT to ride an elephant and go streaking at a cricket game?” For the record we never had any intention of going streaking but that’s besides the point. With only 1 more week in Jaipur (crazy right?) I have to consistently push myself to take initiative, take chances, discover new places. I think in some sense this goes back to the mentality that I have to make the most of my time here because I’m giving up so much back home. However, its also a great practice in taking initiative. I constantly find this theme in my life. I feel very involved in a lot of things, but often one within an organization or an activity, I have to challenge myself to keep pushing. This will be especially important for the last year and a half at Claremont, as I continue to push myself in my extracurricular activities.

Ask Questions:

You won’t get anything if you don’t ask for it! I find that the language barrier, paired with the sometimes-hostile reactions of local Indians, often creates a wall of intimidation. I imagine this is only worse for the women on our trip who receive even more hostile reactions. However, I’ve found that the best way to feel in control, engaged with the surroundings, and comfortable in my setting, is to ask questions.

A group of college students presents a bunch of interesting dynamics:

One of the interesting aspects of our group that I have observed is the dichotomy between all of our desire to collaborate, to explore together, to be intertwined in each other’s lives, but at the same time indulge out introverted tendencies that seem to define this time of our lives. It has occurred to me recently how many of my friends don’t seem to match the common understandings of introverts and extroverts. There are times where everyone ones to explore with each other- to share moment of their experience with the group. Not just verbally afterwards, but in the moment. However, there are lots of days when our group is quiet and withdrawn, taking the time to digest and comprehend on a personal level what is occurring around us. We’ve taken trips in sizes of 4 students, 6 students, and 18 students. Each of these experiences had taught me about myself and about the characteristics of different parts of America, if not our generation as a whole.

It’s one thing to understand the variety of material things you miss/need, it a whole other thing to recognize the emotional states you miss/need:

This sounds pretty dense but it’s really not. I’ll put it this way: it’s one thing to miss your car or your favorite food, it’s another thing to realize how much you miss being around your crazy family, and the oppressive love and constant badgering they seem to define. Or how much you miss the constant joking of your friends, the constant presence of friends poking their head in to say hello. It was easy to recognize the material things I missed but took longer to realize the little nuanced activities that make up my day. I’ve also realized, after talking to classmates, that lots of people struggle to realize these things and come to terms with them. They’re a lot harder to talk about.

The more I experience places like this, the less I take for granted back home, but the more I appreciate those aspects of my life:

One of the stranger paradoxes that I have found, and this is related to the last point, is that in some ways my desire for simple things increases when I return from a country like India or Liberia. For a while I found this shallow- working out more, eating more fresh salad, being happy about my nice jeans and clean t-shirt- these things all seemed shallow and material. I wanted to come back from abroad and not care about these things. Not care about the quality of my food. Not care about my clothes. But what I found instead was that I had a greater appreciation for them but I was also more thankful and recognized the great privilege I had for having those things in my life. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone. As many people discover they favor the life they lead in developing countries, my opinion of the life I lead back home has only increased. This all may sound shallow but over the past year especially, I’ve been lucky to find the things in my life that give me purpose, happiness and balance, and luckily enough for me, they are very compatible with my life in the US. Does this mean I’m forgetting my life in India? No- I think the important things to consider are deeper than these issues. Food waste, sustainability, cultural piracy, and foreign imperialism- these are all real issues to think about and incorporate into our daily actions. My preference for fresh air, a clean park to go running in, fresh fruits and veggies- these are all personal preferences which make me happy and I’m not sure I feel guilt about it.

The more I realize how much I’m giving up to be here, the more I’m motivated to make the most of my time here:

This is has been a really important thing for me to come to terms with. The two weeks before I left I had a crisis of confidence in my decision to go abroad. I was leaving behind so much at Claremont. I was leaving behind a great community in which I was heavily involved and which brought great fulfillment and meaning into my life. I had just found balance in my life and I was leaving the things and the people I loved most. This partly carried over to my first few weeks here. It was hard not to think about the things I was leaving behind in the States. Full credit goes to Sam for helping me get over this. She said, “Well, if you’re going to be gone for four months I want you to have the time of your life!” She was totally right. Being sad and spending my time missing home was only going to make things worse; getting out and exploring, challenging myself to try new things, and learning about things I would never have at home was the best way to spend my time. This mindset hasn’t made me stop missing home- nothing could do that. But it’s definitely made sure that my time here is as challenging and fulfilling as possible. Using the things I learn here, whether personal lessons or global challenges, I can return to my community back home and make it a better place. I can infuse these new ideas into my own life and challenge the people around me. This is a great opportunity to learn about myself and the world and I know that everything I left back home will be there when I come back.

Study Abroad, Travel

Varanasi

When I was in 8th grade my family decided to visit my brother in India. He, like I am now, was spending three months studying at an American program in Bodhgaya. Although I made countless memories during my time there, the most vivid experience was my trip to Varanasi. My family woke at dawn and hired a boat on the bank of the Ganges. From there we set off through the lotus-covered waters to observe Varanasi’s famous Burning Ghats. These Ghats are where Hindu families carry out public cremations of their loved ones. The smell, the smoke, the lighting, and the spirit in the air- all of these things were too much for my mind to handle. That moment stuck with me and was a major factor in my decision to study abroad in India. I could never quite grasp everything in that scene. There were so many things that were beyond foreign to me. Although, even at that age, I had been lucky enough to travel to many different places, I had never seen anything like the Burning Ghats. And because they confused me so much, because they challenged me so much, I needed to return to them eventually. I finally accomplished that goal last week.

To prepare students for their time on their Independent Study Project, SIT sends four groups of students off to “intern” at a nonprofit for 10 days. The choices were: a women’s empowerment group in Dharmasala, an education group in Udaipur, an environmental group in Delhi, and an education group in Varanasi. While each nonprofit seemed amazing, I couldn’t pass up the chance to return to Varanasi. So, after 8 years, and a 20 hour train ride, I returned to Varanasi and its Burning Ghats.

My experience there was incredible. I find myself drawn to the holy cities of India; The chaos that engulfs them, the diversity of the visitors, and the spirituality that serves as platforms to the whole ordeal all fascinate me. I am at once bombarded by my senses and at peace with my self. Each day was more exhausting than the next. However we were blessed with an ample amount of time to relax and digest. Literally digest: we found some delicious (and cheap!) Middle Eastern food and our dinners turned into a daily reprieve from the madness surrounding us. I found a great amount of time to read. It was bizarre to escape the world for a while through a novel only to look out onto the Ganges rushing past and hear the sound of cows and taxis consuming the city. We did find time to explore however. We ended up visiting the Ghats twice; the first time we followed a little boy through the skinny, shit-ridden streets of Varanasi to a building that overlooked the Burning Ghats. Even though we spent at least 30 minutes transfixed by the scene, we all were unsatisfied and we returned at dawn a couple days later via boat. Even though I found myself more connected/understanding of the families morning their loved ones, I found myself no closer to understanding what was in front of me. Varanasi was a great city accompanied by an atmosphere that is difficult to describe. I’ve posted some photos below that will hopefully capture what I saw in front of me (no photos of the public cremations.)

The Organization we visited in Varansi was founded by a Swiss woman 20 years ago and was named Kiran. It was a school (better described as a village) for kids with disabilities. The school was created for kids with physical, neurological, and learning disabilities. There were numerous programs offered by Kiran: a special education unit, an integrated education unit (which included kids without any disabilities), a vocational/skill training center, a rehabilitation unit, and a teacher-accreditation unit. We spend 5 days visiting each of the units and it was an amazing experience. I have always been interested in education and I’ve even had the opportunity to volunteer at a special education summer camp, but I’ve never experienced something as educational about this field than my time in Kiran. I have included an excerpt from the journal I kept during my time there that hopefully portrays the environment I was surround by.

“We arrived at the same time as everyone else. After meeting the Director’s personal assistant, who was confided to a wheel chair, she escorted us to the main meting hall for daily prayer and meditation. Students fill the room. Some were confided to wheel chairs- they sat at the edge of the room- others relied on crutches, which they left at the door, relying on friendship to reach their seats. Some differences we obvious some were not. Many students sat on-stage with a staff member seated in front of a harmonium. When the room reached capacity the harmonium began to hum and the crowd commenced in devotional song. After a couple of minutes, the room fell silent and we began mediation. I was immediately jealous of the students for having the chance to start their day with such mindfulness. The students seemed sincere as the room seemed unusually still considering the diversity of life it held. Following another song and what I assume was the pledge of allegiance; the woman we met earlier took the microphone for announcements. She introduced us, along with a French couple and their two younger children. The couple must have been supporters as they were greeted with a garland of flowers. The students dutifully clapped- a strangely routine procedure considering the ongoing stairs of bewilderment we seemed to be recipients of.

What stood out most at first was the sense of community that permeated the room. The group seemed more like a dysfunctional family than anything; accepting and proud of each other’s differences. Next was the sense of foreigner that I felt. I’m sure each of those students was suffocated by a feeling of foreignness throughout their lives. However, here at Kiran, WE were the foreigners; this was their home turf. Unlike the people who had subjected them to this feeling of otherness, the students at Kiran were extremely willing to accept us into their community. Our foreignness and all of our differences only added to the community. In fact, in many ways I felt more comfortable at Kiran than anywhere else that I had visited. The stairs seems more friendly and forgiving and more often then not transformed into a smile or a booming, “Namaste!”

The rest of the was exhausting; Along with the French couple, we received a tour of each program and each of their subsections. We visited the vocational training center where students were busy making jewelry and scarves, canning food, and taking classes on henna painting. We visited the wood workshop where skilled carpenters were hard at work manufacturing the same toys that they themselves had enjoyed as kids. We visited the Human Resource Training Center (HRTC) where Kiran trained the next generation of teachers and administrators for special needs children. We saw the various classrooms- each one distinctly different from the others. Two were for hearing impaired children. Their smiles and play seems even more expressive than that of most people. Their lack of hearing in no way slowed their connection with other classmates or the outside world. We visited the special education unit where students of differing ages and abilities aided each other in their common mission. We visited the integrated education unit as well where we watched one student with polio assist another student with Cerebral Palsy into her wheel chair. I couldn’t help but think that Kiran had accomplished what the American education system had always struggled to do: teach compassion and empathy to its students.”

This week was a lot to grasp. I frequently find myself thinking that these situations are too difficult to describe accurately, at least by me, which discourages me from blogging about them. I hope photos can suffice where I may fail and I look forward to telling these stories (with some more Masala) when I’m back!

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Study Abroad, Travel

An Interview to Remember

Recently, as part of my Field Methods and Ethics class, I was tasked with conducting three separate interviews (one in Hindi) of Indians outside of both my program and my home-stay. This assignment was supposed to prepare me for my Independent Study Project, which I’ll be starting in about 4 weeks. For those that don’t know, a major part of any SIT program is a 4 week Independent Study Project at the end of the program. We can go anywhere (safe) in India. My proposed area of study is definitely focused on social entrepreneurship, however I’m still trying to find a more defined focus. Planning and researching for my project has been a very time consuming, but ultimately very education and rewarding part of my time here. Anyways, back to the interview: My last interview was with the host-mother of a girl on my trip. Her name was Manisha and the interview was one of the most interesting and though provoking experiences I have had in India so far. I conducted this interview in English and because Manisha spoke English very well, we had an awesome, in-depth conversation on her work in Social Entrepreneurship. She works for a British NGO named Trade Craft, which works with artisans to distribute their products, enhance their capabilities as producers, and other enabling activities.

I have provided a rough transcript of our interview below:

How would you describe your work?

Trade Craft is a UK based NGO that works with rural, artisan women to build their capacity. There are several organization in India that work with a similar business model. These include Sadria, URMUL [a NGO Milk Union which works to build the capacity of rural Milk producers. They have now expanded operations to include rural schools, artisan programs, etc. Our group visited their headquarters but unfortunately I was busy fighting Dengue.], Rangasutra, and FABIndia [which collaborates with an organization which sources its clothe from rural artisans and does some similar work in capacity-building as Trade Craft] among others. Rangsutra, which is a part of URMUL, actually gives each artisan equity in the organization so that collectively the artisans own 25% of the organization. Personally I work as a project manager. I also work in the community to spread the principles of Fair Trade. As a project manager I work with artisans to gain market access through a variety of methods.

What challenges face NGO’s working in this area?

It’s very difficult to communicate the necessary changes to artisans. For example, a big part of our business is certifying these artisans with various certifications including fair trade and organic. Take an organic certification- its very difficult the necessary steps for this certification to rural farmers or artisans. In addition its difficult to communicate the necessary changes that need to occur in the supple chain for this certification to be sustainable in a business sense.

What are the greatest challenges facing these artisans?

One of the greatest challenges that face artisans is the ability to recognize changing market trends. It is very difficult for innovation to occur at this grassroots level. People in this work aren’t used to drastic changes in market dynamics.

What is an example of this?

In India we are seeing a rise in the middle and upper class. Especially with the rise in the middle class, there is a rising market need for more expensive, nicer crafts. Whereas before it was more important for artisans to produce things that could be marketed to both the upper class and the worst off, now they need to recognize this growing trend in middle class house furnishings, etc. This all has to do with changing demographics and its often difficult for rural artisans to see these things. This is a challenge we face as an organization but we are doing work to help artisans in this area.

In addition, it is often difficult for artisans to make the coordination necessary to distribute to larger organizations. Organizations working in this field are now changing their business model to incorporate more local coordination and regional offices although this may always be a difficult aspect of this sector.

Maybe for these reasons, in addition to the simple fact that this business is profitable, more and more organizations are operating as hybrid organizations. Trade Craft for example has a for-profit arm that sources free-trade crafts and food to domestically, in India, but also internationally. They also have a non-profit arm that works with training and empowering these local artisans.

The idea of globalization has been getting a lot of grief in India recently and lots of international circles. People feel that globalization is often characterized by the exploitation of the underserved populations by massive corporations. Do you feel this model represents a more sustainable form of globalization?

Absolutely. These artisans can be incorporated into the international markets and take advantage of changing demographics and market needs. It is also sustainable because it supports the rural population. [There are lots of interesting dynamics that have played out in India’s growth. One of these is that nearly 70% of India’s population resides in the rural areas, urbanization has occurred by population growth in cities is relatively low compared to rural areas, however almost all of the economic growth has occurred in cities.]

What role do you see the international community playing in the development of this type of business model?

I think there is lots of work that needs to be done in international markets, domestic markets, and with local organizations to ensure the spread of business like this and the push for capacity building activities in these developing markets. For these businesses to become sustainable, it is important for them to incorporate economies of scale. This involves investment and coordination. There also needs to be consumer awareness and desire. For example, if we are going to support the sustainable practice of hand-made cloth [popular in rural areas- this was a central part of the India’s revolution, and one of Gandhi’s biggest movements, as it represented Indians going back to their roots.], we need to build consumer awareness about what is manufactured by machines and what is manufactured by hand. Then we need to build desire.

What skills do you teach the artisans?

We teach skills including product development, market research, supply chain development, and other similar business development skills.

Do you teach soft skills such as innovation?

Yes- this is central to our education. We need to teach ideas like entrepreneurship and innovation in order for these artisans to be successful. This goes back to the challenges we spoke about including understanding market dynamics. These are much harder to teach because people don’t necessarily understand the value of these ideas.

How important is it for social enterprises to included the underserved population throughout the supply chain (as opposed to solely consumers)?

It’s very important. If this is truly going to be a sustainable business than we need to improve the lives of these people. However, when we talk about inclusiveness we also need to include them as consumers.

How important is it for MNC’s to include the underserved population in their value chains?

Well its very important for corporations because it goes back to the notion of inclusiveness. On the corporation’s end- corporations need to meet market need. This means if there is consumer demand, like we spoke about earlier, they will take the necessary steps to build supply chains.

How do we scale this type of work? (THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION)

Through work like we have been talking about, through the development of supply chains, and through economies of scale and the work involved in that aspect.

Again this is a rough transcript but I’ve tried my best to represent the themes that we touched on. The ideas portrayed by Manisha are consistent with the books and reports I have read on the topic, but her insight on the challenges facing these artisans, including the “how” (as Bill Drayton would appeal to) of how to enable them, was fascinating. These themes are going to become a huge part of my life in the next few weeks and I’ll try to post interesting info and interactions that I have.

Study Abroad, Travel

A Rough Week

This is the story of my week:

Wednesday night I started feeling the effects of a fever and by the morning I felt weak, feverish, light headed and was being pounded by a nasty headache. Fortunately, there were two other students feeling sick so on Thursday we all travelled to the doctor for a quick check-in and some blood tests. Little did I know, the hours and hours of waiting that I had to endure were a sick preview of a shitty week. At the hospital I had my first fainting episode too. I was feeling nauseous so I rushed off to the bathroom, only to wake up on the floor of the men’s room, more than confused as to how I had gotten there. After a rough night, I went back to the Doctor’s with the other students. After a shorter wait, we sat down with the doctor who revealed to us that our blood tests had all tested positive for Dengue Fever.

The moment I heard Dengue, I was immediately taken back to the tiny little clinic in Liberia that diagnosed me with Typhoid Fever. In both cases there was a very distinct moment, directly following the ‘verdict’ where I could do nothing but kind of laugh and think, “are you fucking kidding me? ______ Fever? That’s still a thing?” I think in these instances, a positive person is truly defined. Shitty things happen to everyone, whether they’re a positive or negative person. But one’s attitude is definitely defined by their interpretation of those situations. Luckily for me, I have the ability to laugh at the sheer absurdity of a situation like this one. I mean, who can predict I would get Dengue Fever? That’s hilarious. Well there were less hilarious moments.

The group (read: SIT Staff) decided it was best to admit ourselves into the hospital the next day so that we could utilize an IV, take medicine, rest, and hopefully be well in time to catch up with the rest of our group, which was leaving Sunday for a week-long excursion. So Saturday morning, armed with absolutely nothing, we began our stay at the hospital. I was handed a pair of super funky fitting hospital scrubs, stabbed with my first IV, and given a room with 3 bickering brothers and their very sick father. The brothers discovered that it was very interesting reading through my medical papers with the nurse. There was nothing interesting of course- it was just blood test results- but it was still strange watching people read through my private information. The previous day, when we had met with the doctor, the 4 people in our group shared his office with three other people and we all took turns explaining our current medical conditions. I don’t think I need to explain the absurdity of that situation, just try to imagine a random guy chilling in the office with you when you’re meeting with your doctor… pretty strange…

Luckily, I was soon transferred to a room with just the two other students. One of the SIT staff is incredibly well connected and happened to know the CEO of the specific hospital so we got a good room- so it works in India. There were three pretty uncomfortable beds, a TV, and a bathroom. So began FIVE DAYS of doing nothing but eating bad food, watching bad movies, and getting bad nights of sleep. To be honest, it really sucked. I had no idea that we would be staying there so long. Expecting to only stay there Saturday, I didn’t bring with me anything I needed. (luckily my laptop was brought to me.) Having this expectation also made the morning announcement that we were no closer to leaving so much more frustrating. The first 36 hours my stay was terrible. At one point after washing my hands in the bathroom, I passed out into the corner of the wall, cutting my nose, bruising my forehead, and scaring the shit out of everyone in the room who found me unconscious, shaking on the bathroom floor. I could barely do anything without feeling like I was going to faint. Then when my symptoms started to disappear, I learned that my blood platelet levels were so low I might need a transplant.

Just like my time in Liberia, the illness seemed to jumpstart a period of total negativity, doubt, anger, questioning, and ultimately disappointment. I came to India to love it, to experience awesome new things, not to sit in a hospital room while I missed an amazing excursion. I wanted to challenge myself but this didn’t seem like the right type of challenge. I felt weak and powerless to the powers that be. I underestimated how hard it was to be sick. The physical symptoms of the disease seemed to pale in comparison to the mental mountain that was quickly appearing in my head. It wasn’t until this morning, 5 days later, when the Doctor announced that we could go home, that any sense of hope started to return. Those 5 days were so incredibly boring yet so taxing. I had no choice but to lie in bed all day. 5 IV’s a day, countless pills, two blood tests, and what seemed like an endless stream of hospital staff became my life. I cant say I did anything interesting because I didn’t really do anything. I spoke with Sam frequently, talked to my parents every night, and read every article on ESPN and the New York Times. Thus, the announcement that we were leaving was truly awesome.

I’m home now, clean, and looking forward to getting back to my everyday life. The last week has been pretty hard but I really hope it can teach me a thing or two. If anything, it has added some urgency to my trip. The doubt and disappointment it brought out in me hopefully serves as a reminder that, the more I miss home, the more important it is for me to make my experience here everything it can be. I’m so incredibly lucky that I was able to have my always-supporting parents and wonderful girlfriend next to me the whole way. Now it’s time to get some sleep and head back to the hospital tomorrow for more blood platelet tests! It’s unfortunate that this has been my first blog post in a while, but I’m looking forward to posting more about the economy, my family, and maybe even city-life. Hope everyone is doing well!

Study Abroad, Travel

A Weekend Away

This weekend I travelled to Pushkar with 5 of my fellow students. I’m way too exhausted to communicate this in a shorter way so I guess I’ll just share what happened:

We left from the program center after class on Friday excited for the opportunity to explore on our own. We all shared rickshaws to the bus station, anxious to see if we could find the right bus. After lots of yelling (and our fair share of confusion) we found a man who could sell us bus tickets. We asked him to prove his legitimacy so he grabbed a pen and wrote out an invoice of some kind right on my hand. Everything checked out, so we forked over the cash ($2 each for a 3 ½ hour bus ride) and hopped on board. I can’t say the bus itself was too notable, other than it was hot and crowded.

The ride was fascinating. We passed upscale hotels on the side of the road- new windows brilliant in the desert sun. We passed towns of marble factories filled with signs that said “World Most Famous Marbles.” We swerved around trucks, motorbikes, camels, and pilgrims- all heading to worlds unknown. When we finally arrived in Pushkar it seemed like we could have been on another planet. Luckily, we were called back to earth by the familiar sounds of city life in India, and the recognizable smell of cow-shit and street food. We meandered through the streets of Pushkar until we spotted a sign point us to Hotel Everest- our home for the next few days. The hotel proved to be a great find. The rooms were small but had a fan and were comfortable enough to fit three people each and for $10 a night per room, I wasn’t going to complain. The highlight of the hotel was definitely the rooftop restaurant where we were immediately romanced by the spectacular views and excellent Lassi. Add the Buddhist prayer flags and the washed up hippies and we felt at some kind of home. However, we decided we were too excited to wait until morning to explore the city. We set off through the narrow streets towards the lake- the epicenter of Pushkar. At the lake we discovered the Gandhi Ghats- bathing ghats on the edge of the man-made lake that Gandhi’s ashes were spread in. What a scene! The ghats were filled with people of all ages, spread around the lake in close bunches wearing a vast range of clothes, all carrying the mystique of rural India. The lake was surrounded on all sides by stairs and seemingly every 20ft stood a temple of some kind. After part of group got yelled at for carrying their shoes instead of leaving them at the temple entrance, we retreated to a nearby temple where a procession immediately began. We stayed for 20 minutes, filled with incense and chanting, before we throw in the towel and snuck out the back. We had just enough time to poke around the market before we retired to the restaurant and eventually to bed.

We woke up early the next day to hike up one of Pushkar’s many hills to one of Pushkar’s many temples. The hike was challenging but not quite up to my Rocky Mountain standards. The walk was much more wild however than anything I could have experienced in Colorado. The road to the hill was packed with people on their daily commute, shops were opening, religious-men were heading to temples, and cows mixed every-which-way. On the climb itself we were bombarded with every mix of people. We found people praying every 20 feet, a few tourists too timid to say hello, and our fair share of families eagerly waiting to take our picture. After only a brief stay at the top, we headed for breakfast, far too hot and too sweaty for 8am. Breakfast was at the “Out of the Blue Hotel” which served traditional Indian food, as well as, to our excitement, traditional western breakfasts such as porridge, toast, and yogurt.

After recollecting our wits, we went in search of the Brahma Temple- the only one of its kind in the world. This was perhaps the highlight of the trip; It was a bizarre mix of Pilgrams, who embodied the almost incomprehensibly mysticism and antiquity of the India, families, representing globalization, and young entrepreneurs, representing the constant buzz of modernization. For such an incomprehensible experience, the exercise seemed almost routine.

This proved to be the theme of the day. As we dragged ourselves from temple to temple, we seemed almost too tired or shocked to comprehend the utter absurdity of our situation. 6 students wandering through a Hindi holy town, scorning fake priests, avoiding eye contact with other tourists, and trying our best not to offend anyone. It was exhausting and intense in every way. As we looped through the market, constantly the target of sneaky cell phone pictures, we gaped at the spectacle and It gaped back at us. Trying to skim the surface of what seemed like a bottomless town, we ran out of monuments but fell short of any understanding. Even after a nice dinner at one of the better restaurants in town, a bucket-bath, and a good night sleep, I still felt like I was on some bizarre trip. We made it back to Jaipur after another sweaty, chaotic bus ride. A quick rickshaw drive and I was home. In fact, I can’t say I’ve ever felt more at home with Dal, Chapatti, a cup of chai, and a shower with my own bucket. A call to Sam, a skype session with the parents, a few hours of homework, and I was back in my comfort zone.

This will definitely be one of the experiences I look back on and laugh. I’m not sure I have any other way of digesting it. I hoped I (along with the photos) provided some glimpse into my weekend. Its always easy to describe the blocks of a town, those things that remain, its much more difficult to describe the ambiance of a town- especially in India it seems too distant to ever capture with words. So I apologize if this reads like an exhausted account mixed with flashes of inspiration. I may be too tired to really recreate what happened but I’m afraid if I wait until tomorrow the whole town will be forgotten. Just in case I posted photos to capture what I have been unable too.

Study Abroad, Travel

Well This Just Got Interesting….

One of the more interesting aspects of my time so far in India has been the state of the Indian Economy. As classes have started and we dive into various development and macroeconomic theories, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are living in one of the most interesting cases of development, well, ever. I came here to experience India and often discounted the role that my classes would have on my time here. However, so far they have been an incredibly interesting companion to my experiences here. One great example of this is that we spent most of yesterday talking about India’s current economy then went to visit a settlement in Jaipur. To see the need first hand really bridged the abstract academic theories of economics with the real life need in our back yard. Another example of this has been the rapid change the rupee has experienced during my time here (literally two weeks.) When I first arrived the rupee was around 62 rupees to one dollar. Three days ago it was 69 rupees to 1 dollar. Now it’s around 65 rupees. HOLY SHIT! I’m trying to time my exchange transactions and my purchases accordingly but it’s becoming difficult.

Anyways, this was a weak excuse for a post but I’m packing for the weekend and I have way to much to say to write more right now (does that make sense?) Hope everyone at home is doing well and you all better hope the rupee keeps falling- it will directly pertain to the quality of your Christmas presents.

Study Abroad, Travel

Walking Far From Home

I had a great experience on Sunday. Mr. Mehta invited me to join him on his daily laps around the park. He said he usually walks 10-12 times and he enjoys the fresh air and exercise. Today he wanted company and he thought this would be a good opportunity to speak to me further. We talked the whole time about development, about technology, about America’s role in the world, and about the shortfalls of the current states of both Indian and American government. Mr. Mehta is a very intelligent man- he cited Gandhi and his push for de-centralized government. We spoke about Thorough, civil disobedience, and the subtlety of Walden. We talked about Occupy Wall street, Prop 13, and Citizens United. We spoke about corruption, partisanship, and equality…

It was amazing how often we agreed. It was amazing how often we realized that at the heart of each problem we discussed were very similar issues. India and the United States are different in nearly every way. It’s sad how we found commonality in greed and power. But it was amazing that with so little in common, we could enjoy a nice Sunday walk in the park talking about philosophy, politics, and current affairs.