Wow, I’ve been off the radar for so long. I need to jot down my memories while they’re still fresh! Here’s a scatter-brained attempt to document what I’ve been up to and what’s been on my mind since I last wrote...
First, details about what’s going on now, and what’s coming up. I just traveled through the night on an Indian sleeper train to the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, where my group and I will be learning about rural development NGOs in the state’s capital city of Dehradun. After four days, we will have a few days of relaxation at the city of Rishikesh, an allegedly spiritual place near the Ganges river, and a Hindu pilgrimage hotspot. (It’s also where the Beatles lived when they wrote sitar-infused songs like “Within You Without You,” one of my personal favorites.) In other news, my host family is moving to a new house in Jaipur as I’m gone this week. I got the news just a few days ago, but the short notice is absolutely no problem for me; on the contrary, I think it’s cool and sort of hilarious that I get to live in two different places during my semester in Jaipur! Just to clarify, I’ll still be living with same family, just in a new house.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting into the swing of the regular academic schedule of my program. There are eighteen students in my program-- sixteen girls and two guys. They are passionate, smart people. It’s pretty cool to be with a group who have so many interests in common (one benefit of a small study-abroad program with a specific academic focus!) The faculty and staff are really great, too. They are very interested in getting to know us, and they are also attentive to our well-being. Yesterday, for example, my left eye had been hurting for the second day in a row, so I called the homestay coordinator. Ten minutes later, one of the program staff was at my door, and told me he had arranged an eye appointment. I was so grateful for how fast they came to the rescue! (It turns out I do have an eye infection, some I’m using some eyedrops for the next week, and I should be good to go!)
I wouldn’t be honestly recounting my experiences if I didn’t admit some frustrations. One is the Indian “teaching style” I’ve encountered. Of our daily guest lecturers from Indian universities, several of them have lectured over the exact same things which they had assigned us to read the night before, rather than elaborating/expanding upon the assigned readings. The standards of teacher-student interaction are much more formal than in the States, and as a result many of the teachers aren’t accustomed to allowing time for discussion, and often go over the two-hour time limit. One teacher in particular, a peculiar old yoga teacher, had teaching habits that were difficult to tolerate: he spent two-and-a-half hours going over the written principles and doctrines of yoga in excruciating detail and repetition, made frequent and intense eye contact with the students, and reprimanded students when they seemed to be slightly inattentive. He also took the license to tell people when they were, in fact, not relaxed enough to do a pose; and to criticize people’s bodies (once we finally got to the actual physical postures after reviewing the painfully long review of yogic scriptures.) We cancelled the yoga sessions with him after the first two.
I’ve also gotten pretty sick of being singled out because I have white skin. I cannot walk down a street without being approached by begging mothers and children, or by dozens of street vendors and shopkeepers who want to sell me worthless crap. I’ve encountered people like this before-- this summer, when I was in Oslo, I encountered Romani beggars every day. But in Norway, I was never singled out for my white skin, by which the beggars and vendors automatically label me a wealthy foreigner (which is true, at least relatively speaking.) I really want to treat these people with dignity-- at least to look them in the eye or speak to them, but even a glance or a simple “no” makes them even more persistent. In one sense, they are denying me of my dignity, by treating me like a cash machine. But I can’t blame them for treating me that way, can I?
In spite of a few frustrations (and a little homesickness for family, friends, and autumn in Decorah), I am having an awesome experience. Actually, this isn’t really “in spite” of my frustrations: I think that each of them has been a source of “positive stress,” a cultural difference that has made me stronger and more open-minded. I’ve really enjoyed the food-- lots of interesting vegetables stewed in butter, and eaten with rice and roti (which are like tortillas). I had a blast at the Amber Fort, the City Palace, and around Jaipur with my friends (see pictures on Facebook!) As I’ve said, my fellow students and the faculty and staff are awesome, and I have been learning a lot in my classes and readings. And for my daily amusement, it’s been fun taking an auto-rickshaw to school along the bumpy roads and nearly getting into head-on collisions each day.
Next time I have a chance, I’ll write about caste and class divides, economics and well-being and all the philosophical awesomeness I’ve been pondering regularly, and also about my Independent Study Project that I’m designing to do in November. Until then, namaste!