Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Indicorps Orientation

I leave for orientation in about two hours. Conveniently, the month long orientation session is also in Ahmedabad and the hostel we're staying at is only a few kilometers from my masi. In past orientations, the group has left A'bad to do a three-four day village stay, as well as spend a week helping a cause unrelated to each of our yearlong projects.

The month is explained to be very challenging and there are definitely a few knots in my stomach. Pushing aside the initial apprehension though, I am excited to meet other like-minded individuals as well as begin the yearlong journey. Outcomes from the month will be a better understanding of  myself, India, Gujarati, and the process of change.

The motto of Indicorps is "Service for the Soul" and a related quote is as follows:
"If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." -- Aboriginal Activist group, Queensland, 1970s

So, with that...cheers to a month of new experiences and the beginning of an unforgettable year. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Quarter-Century Birthday

Celebrating my birthday here in Ahmedabad this year. Simple and mellow, just relaxing with family. Excited to start the program tomorrow- the first day of me being 25 :)
Celebrating at midnight is an Indian norm- with family and/or friends. This cake was a surprise to me last night as I was getting ready for bed.

Dinner, on my actual birthday, with my mom and cousins. An amazing restaurant in Ahmedabad- Mirchi Masala. 

Observations of India (so far...)

For those of you who are from India or who have visited India, this may trigger some memories... But for those of you who have not visited this country yet, here are some observations that may entertain you.

Mobile GPS
I don't mean an app on your smart phone, or an in-car system- I mean every rickshaw (three-wheeled doorless taxi) driver you can flag down. After being here about a week, I've grown accustomed to being in a car and having the driver (in each scenario, a resident of the state) pull over and ask a random rickshaw driver for directions. There is no shame in this and no one minds- it is entirely acceptable and assumed. The drivers welcome the question and many times, his passengers (if any) will try and help. An overall theme of community help has become more than obvious.

Traffic As Usual
Imagine any major intersection in the US around rush-hour, then add a few more types of vehicles (rickshaws, trucks, carts, motorcycles, bicycles) and a few stray animals (dogs, cows, donkeys). Now take away the traffic lights, and any sense of discretion associated with them. Congratulations, you just imagined an intersection in Ahmedabad. It is madness- plain and simple. A honk is not cautionary as much as it is just to ensure everyone knows you're present. Given all this madness, I still haven't seen any accidents. Somehow, there is comfort in the madness and everyone is attuned to it's presence.

Sari Shops
I went to buy a few simple kurta tops for the program (see example here) and was reminded of the joy and humor of sari shopping in India. Generally sari's are sold by men and the whole scenario turns into a show. The shop is floored with mattresses covered in white bedsheets and walled ceiling to floor with shelves of sari fabric folded and sealed in a clear plastic slip. Shoppers (and their family or friends who have come to help them) sit on the floor, cross-legged, and the owner or workers (either way- a man) show different fabrics. The humor comes through the salesmen's tactic to sell the fabric- he drapes it upon himself as it would look on you. To add the humor, as soon as you say you don't like it or want something just a little different, he throws the fabric at a coworker who folds the fabric immediately to be restocked. This process repeats itself more than 5 times within the first 5 minutes you're there. It's all done in good fun and an entirely normal process. In either case, I highly recommended sari-shopping as a to-do for anyone coming to visit India for the first time- quite a fun, lively experience.

Bollywood Music Videos
Mom and I went to dinner with family in Anand (the town my father's family is from- also in Gujarat and about 65 km southeast from Ahmedabad) and just as you may have seen in Indian restaurants in the states, the TV's showed music videos from popular Bollywood films. This may be a little naive but, I'm still shocked whenever I see the costumes worn on the music videos. It's crazy to see the women dancing around in skimpy outfits, similar to hip-hop videos, and the focus of the video being on the movement of their bodies. Obviously, sex sells, but it's just such a stark difference to the conservative apparel and interactions seen everywhere else in the country.

A longer than usual entry, but some fun/interesting observations I've seen thus far.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Train from Bombay to Ahmedabad

Last night we traveled from Bombay to Ahmedabad. The journey was around 6 hours in duration and could have been traveled via plane. The train ride began at 11:25PM and we reached Ahmedabad at 5:30AM. Mom and I were in a sleeper compartment and both slept on top bunks- baggage was stored beneath the beds of the guests beneath us.

Since we had four bags between the two of us, we hired a man to help us bring them onto the train. Just for reference, we paid a man 100 rupees (Rs) [~$2] in Bombay to use a dolly and transport our baggage to the train compartment, as well as load it near our beds. Then, upon arrival in Ahmedabad, we paid two men a total of 120 Rs [~$2.40] to carry them from the train to the car. This time, however, they had no dolly...so, one man carried two 50 lb bags atop his head and the the other man rolled one and carried another. It was somewhat crazy to see, seeing as though I was barely able to carry one bag by myself. Things like this are normal to see at a train station though. I guess I've seen this in Africa too- however, it is always crazy to fathom.

In Ahmedabad for the day with my mom's younger sister (mom's sister is called "masi" in Gujarati), her family and staying with them are my other masi (mom's older sister) and my maternal grandmother (maternal grandmother is called "nani" in Gujarati). Spending the day relaxing and figuring out internet and cell-phone options.

Here are some pictures from the train:
 In front of our compartment- a very colorful train
Getting my bed ready for the ride. The cost of a bed in the AC sleeper train was about 600-700 Rs ($12-$14). Within this compartment they provide two flat sheets, a blanket and a pillow complimentary with the ride.  

Close to My Heart

I wear the same necklace every day and have it photographed as my blog background. It means a lot to me and sometimes I rub a charm when I'm thinking through a problem. There have always been three charms on it, and I was just given a new one. While the ohm and heart pendants are important to me, I will not be wearing them in India because they can be somewhat flashy. The remaining two, however, will stay around my neck and refresh my motivation and strength. 

The first is a quote from Mohandas Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world". This is important for me because the words were a precursor for my hop off the beaten path and a motivation for me to try something new and push myself to do something that is important to me. 

The second has a mehndi pattern on the front and a small ohm & inscription of the word 'breathe' on the back. Hopefully this will remind me that the year will be a challenge and, similar to yoga, I should always find my breath. Being honest with myself will give me strength and help me progress through the year.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


After three flights, we arrived in Bombay late last night (10:30PM). Mom and I are spending the day here and then traveling to Ahmedabad via train tonight. Weather is not too bad and my spirits are up. Excited to get to orientation and begin the journey in just less than a week. For the time being, I will enjoy the time with family and family friends.

Notes from the flights:

  1. I am very dependent on either a TV during the flight, or some form of sedative to help me fall asleep and pass the time. I'm thankful both of these are now normal commodities.
  2. English is everywhere. I celebrate travelers who do not speak English nor the native tongue of the nation in which they're traveling within- seems like it would be difficult.  
  3. Cold weather socks are key during long flights. I purchased mine at REI a few years back and am thankful each time I'm in a plane for more than three hours. 
  4. Carrying my own water bottle is imperative to actually drinking a good amount of water during flight. The flight attendants were totally fine refilling it for me. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Preparing Myself for the Journey

I've spent the last week or so getting physically prepared- packing, haircut, immunizations, etc, but the other portion of my preparation has been fairly psychological. I've envisioned myself in the toughest situations and imaged how I will work through the difficulty. There is no way to avoid it- India will be a shock to my system.  However, I'm preparing myself for the challenges and determining how I will stay energized, focused and positive.

Here are a few great pieces of advice shared with me in the last few weeks that I will turn to throughout the year:
"keep an open mind."
"be yourself."
"let yourself change, but don't focus on the changes- let it come naturally."
"conquer your fears"
"stay focused on why you're there"

And, of course, here is the Holstee Manifesto- a constant reminder to push limits and live meaningfully.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Motivational Art

On June 7th, I sent an email, titled "Leap of Faith", to friends and in turn received an amazing number of supportive responses. The responses meant a lot to me and I've created the following image to share and remember those motivational words.