Saturday, December 12, 2009

American Squirrels are HUGE!

I've been home for about two weeks now and I'm feeling like it's time for a little bit of reflection. So far I have found the transition back to home very smooth. The most bizarre adjustment I've had to make is getting used to these huge squirrels we have in the U.S. Apparently that's one thing I had forgotten while I was away. Other than that I still feel a little surprised when random people like store clerks or fellow shoppers engage in lively conversation with me. I guess I'm not used to being able to connect or have a conversation with a stranger and it's a nice surprise. This tends to happen in cliche Minnesota form and it makes me laugh every time. It also makes me happy I will be spending time in Minnesota for a while.

At this point I've decided that the culture shock didn't happen because it's impossible to compare my India life with my life here. Everything at home feels like it's in place and as it should be, which isn't shocking. Since India is so full of surprises and shocking contrasts I had gotten used to constantly adapting so coming home was just another adaptation.

I miss many things from India but I'm happy to be back in a stable environment. It feels good to know I have some control over my own life again (or at least I think I do). I'm sure it wont be long until I'm craving some instability again but for now I am content.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Arungabad and the like...

These photos are from Ellora and Ajantha which are sites of some of the oldest cave temples in India. The place was full of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu temples and sculptures dating back to the 3rd and 4th century.

The caves in Ajantha were situated around a huge gorge. In this picture you can see how they curve around behind us.

We went to 30 Buddhist caves in a row, each with a giant Buddha statue at the back and some with complimentary Buddha's all around.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This past week I received my acceptance letter to the University of Minnesota. While I will miss CLU and the friends I have made there in the past two years I think that transferring is the best decision for me right now. Being abroad has really made me think about my own roots and how important they are, my responsibility to family and friends and where I truly belong. Being away from home has been hard and definitely made me stronger but I feel ready to do something with this new perspective and I feel like the best place to do so is home. At the U I plan to continue my studies of South Asia and hope to take on some sort of religious studies as well.


These are pictures of Mamallapuram, a small fisherman's village just south of Chennai. We spent a short weekend there but some of the highlights were biking around the town, climbing boulders, playing cricket with a bunch of little boys, and watching the fishermen.

This woman was the grandma of the girl who did our henna. On her arms are permanent tattoos that she gave herself when she was young. She had a fever for a week afterward. Apparently this is a popular custom among her generation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pondy and Hampi

It's been a while since my last update. Here's a series of photos to give you a taste of what I've been up to!

A few weeks ago we went to Pondicherry. A nice little, former French colony that' s on the ocean. The European influence sticks but the farther you walk from the ocean the more you remembered you were in India as streets became more crowded and the cafe's with baguettes in the windows disappeared. Pondicherry is well-known where Sri Aurobindo fled to when his nationalistic writings began to upset the British in the early 1900s. He became a spiritual leader who is still worshipped there. It is also a yoga haven!

Sarah and I were relieved to reach the ocean after 16 hours of travel.

They were still celebrating the Ganesha festival here. This is Lakshmi the elephant hanging out during pooja in front of the Gandhi statue.

For just one rupee you could receive a blessing in front of the temple.

Lakshmi and I didn't hit it off right away.

The next pictures are from last weekend's trip to Hampi.  It's in the next state over, Karnataka. It's on the river and used to be a thriving community in the 15th century. The temple ruins are the only thing left to prove it.

We ate at a restaurant on the river in a banana tree grove. This is thali, a rice and sambar dish. The best part is the drink, mango lassi, which is kind of like a yogurt shake.

The Dasara festival was just starting. These women are probably carrying sweet rice for pooja. This festival celebrates the goddess Durga's defeat of the demon Ravan. 

Some people following a procession down the street. We got off the bus to celebrate with them.

A woman doing laundry in the Tungabhadra river in Hampi.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Ganesh!

Today ends the week long Hindu celebration of  the god Ganesh, the elephant headed god. The festival starts and ends on Sunday. Last week some friends and I set out to one of the biggest temples around to pay our respects to Ganesh. We waited in a line outside of the temple and then proceeded to zig-zag our way through the temple (in line) to visit all of the shrines. Afterwards we hit up the bazaar and bought our own little Ganesh statues. There were tables and tables of the small ones and there are also huge ones that are packed together in what I can only compare to a Christmas tree lot (the ones where the trees are already cut down). Families go and pick out their Ganesh and then load it on to a moving truck and bring it home! Each community or family does pooja (a ritual prayer) and on the 3rd, 5th, or 7th day (depending on your preference) you submerge your Ganesh into water (usually a lake). The 7th day is when the largest one is submerged into the large lake here in Hyderabad and there's a big party.

A man making Ganesh molds in the bazaar. 
Some moving trucks hauling Ganeshes back home.

Ganeshes Ganeshes de todos los colores y todos los tamaƱos

The down side to the Ganesh festival this year is that is coincides with the first week of Ramadan. This can cause little conflicts like Ganesh processions, with drums and music and dancing, going by a mosque during prayer on Friday. Also, on campus, when we hear the horn that signifies the beginning and end of fasting for the day we also hear some Hinduesque music playing from loud speakers trying to drown it out. Otherwise things have been very peaceful and after today security won't be so tight around Hyderabad. Our teacher explained that police haven't been as worried about violence because less people are out and about due to swine flu. Ha ha, I guess there's an upside to everything!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bridge School

This Saturday we went to a bridge school for ex-child laborers. A bridge school is specially catered to the needs of children who have never been to school before or dropped out because they were forced to work. India has the most child laborers of any country. The statistic is 90 million children ages 6-14 do not go to school and are engaged in some occupation (often times hazardous). In the region I'm in (Andhra Pradesh) an organization called the H.V Foundation has volunteers stationed in 1,000 villages. Their job is to persuade parents and guardians in the community to send their children to the school and take them out of the labor force. This is a difficult task considering almost all of the parents have little concept of school and most public school in their areas are unreliable (teachers don't show up or are abusive towards students), transportation is also a major issue. Some children have to walk through the dangerous jungle to get to school. Also, these families are living in extreme poverty and the parents feel it's necessary that the children are brining in some money. Some of these girls are even married so persuading the husbands and his family is also necessary. These circumstances can become violent and sometimes it takes years for the parents to say yes. Volunteers try to explain that if the children are out of the work force wages will increase and there will be more work for adults. Also, an educated child has a much better chance of providing for their family in the future.

Currently there are 100 girls at the school, they are a new batch and are still getting used to living away from their village. Usually the girls spend about 1 1/2 years at the bridge school before being integrated into the mainstream school system.

Geeta was one of the girls who shared her story. She was orphaned at a young age and taken in by her uncle. Her job was to watch over her uncle's children, they got to go to school but she didn't. Eventually a representative from the M.V foundation persuaded her uncle to send her to the school and she said that one day she dreams of becoming a teacher. Here she is showing her Hindi writing. Most of the girls speak Telegu and then learn English and Hindi at the school.

There were both indoor and outdoor classrooms. The site of the school is an old poultry farm so the girls live, eat, and learn in the former coops.

Everyone came out to wave goodbye!