I turned 25 this year and I had a bit of a quarter life crisis. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was looking for advice on how to navigate this crazy adventure that is my 20’s. So for my birthday I asked my family to write a letter to themselves…
My 25th birthday is coming up in less than a month. This was the perfect time to find this article. Enjoy!
This should be the last post for today. But I will try to update more as I travel for another month and a half. I’ll be leaving for Mumbai this Friday!
More Kerala pics! These birds were huuuuungry. They risked drowning to keep pulling fish guts out of the water. It’s a pretty place, but fish gut fighting was unavoidable.
For the fishermen (and fishing goddess = Hayley) of my family. Love you guys!
A nice quiet beach in Alappuzha. An hourish bus ride south of Cochin.
This dog is a member of the wonky-eared dog pack, but he’s a little stand offish and likes his alone time. I imagine he’s like Andy from Shawshank Redemption - he’s probably going to escape the beach pack any day now…
We went on a wonderful and relaxing backwater tour. Four hours of trolling through tiny canals and soaking in the lush greenery. Absolutely lovely!
Part of the Daulatabad Fort complex. Incredible design - secret passageways (that are full of bats now!), moats, and complex winding staircases.
That’s my friend Nay! He’s standing in front of the minar for the complex. Note the hills behind Nay - the fort keeps climbing up so that sentries could look down on those hills with an unobstructed view.
My students being rockstars at Daira Art Gallery. These students (and a few outside the shot) were selected as the best artists in their classes and had the chance to visit the gallery, showcase their work in the children’s gallery, and learn about professions in the fine arts. So proud of them!
Back to the trip photos - Kerala!
This picture was taken in Jew Town in Cochin. Yes, I did just type Jew Town. Interesting history around this old port city. You can check out a rough, but interesting documentary about Jewish immigrants and their descendants in Kerala here.
Ginger drying in the courtyard behind a spice shop. This will soon be turned into ginger candy which clears your sinuses and takes care of your sweet tooth. Pretty good stuff but don’t eat too much.
Chinese fishing nets - it takes four guys to raise and lower them.
Hey team! I need to apologize for falling behind in my duty to update this blog with interesting pictures of my adventures in India.
Sometimes I forget that the streets of Hyderabad and backwaters of Kerala are a bit more exotic than the alleys of Lincoln (Sorry, Mayor Snyder!) and Kickapoo Creek. Please accept the delay and my offer to meet you for coffee or cheesecake.
Below is a picture from one of the ruins in Hampi. It’s a beautiful place and looks like something out of the Flintstones.
Goat attack! These goats were herded through the ancient commons and led up to our sunset spot. I definitely had a flashback to all the goats at my grandparents farm when I was a child…so cute! I love kids - the furry kind, not the sticky kind.
The sunset I saw with my friend Amber and our goat friends.
This is one of the largest of the temples in Ellora Caves. The hillside runs up to the edge (upper left corner) and it feels incredibly protected and hidden. We also visited Ajanta Caves, but those pics were not so great. Please read up on these caves.
"Disrupt" the "Scalability" of "Innovation" in "SocEnt"
(Side note - the phrases listed above drive me a little nuts) This is the last of the blogs from Khemka Forum. Browse the previous posts for a link to the entire report. Silliness will resume tomorrow…
In the social enterprise culture of buzzwords like “scalability” and “innovation” and “sustainability” one phrase is finally being picked apart – “impact investing.”
“In India most enterprises fill in a spectrum of zero to one hundred…it’s difficult to say this is impact investing, this is not,” says Atreya Rayaproluthe co-founder of Intellecap. He went on to say that what differentiates impact investors from angel investors is that “validation of the business model is missing” with impact investors. Sujay Santra of iKure Techsoft added that the “investor really feels and understands your objectives” when looking to invest in a social enterprise. The thinking and feeling aspects of the conversation seemed to harken to the marketing campaigns of non-profit organizations. In the world of early stage investing, however, the audience agreed that a good mission story was not enough to secure a grant or even receive first stage funding.
“A fund which is very patient” must be closely involved with the enterprise according to Dr. Martin Volgelsang of Fems3. Philanthropy can be the entry gate for investors, but eventually results will be required whether in the form of impact assessment or financial returns. No free lunches, social entrepreneurs (unless you run a sliding scale feeding program in which case, carry on!).
For many innovators that saw a problem and found a profitable solution, “social” entrepreneur is not usually a title found on their business cards. It seems that it is easier for an investor to label an entrepreneur’s work as part of a “social enterprise” which places it in a separate category for funding, evaluation matrices, and investor involvement. With the increasing herd mentality of investors, how does the title of “social enterprise” influence other investors?
For social enterprises ROPE International and ULink BioEnergy, the “social” title seems to work for them. Both businesses are supported byIntellecap, and have strong projected rates of growth in their sectors. ROPE co-founder and director N.N. Sreejith states, “social entrepreneur is a thing I am accused of” as he continues to focus on improving business processes while improving livelihoods. For ULink co-founder and directorSintanshu Sheth he was simply looking to find an answer for: “How do you cut out the middle man (regarding agricultural inputs) and pass on the discount to farmers?” Neither of these social entrepreneurs was seeking a special title or buzzword to increase their value – they saw an opportunity to fill a need and make a profit.
What if we stopped using buzzwords, and started being straightforward about the goals and objectives of our organizations? Sreejith’s artisans and Sheth’s farmers do not care about “incubating innovation” so why should we throw the phrase around too? Maybe we should stop accusing people of being “social” entrepreneurs, and just support businesses that solve problems regardless of titles or affiliations.
Some tips from lawyers before you have to call in the lawyers…
(This is the second of my blog posts from the Khemka Forum on Social Enterprise. You can find the full report here.)
Why would a start-up work with their board of directors? A group of old guys with some money and more opinions is not nearly as sexy and cool as software development, business expansion, or social media marketing. The stereotypes of the board of directors fall into two groups – 1. A collection of old-fashioned, out-of-touch retirees that love to meddle in business processes and slow down decisions 2. A pack of investors bent on extracting as much profit from the company while ignoring the enterprise’s future or mission.
Thankfully, Pankaj Jain from Impact Law Ventures and Aarti Madhusudan from Governance Counts were on hand to provide some helpful hints for an audience wary of boards in their organizations. They never ignored the fact that boards are difficult for start-ups as well as established companies, but they provided some very helpful hints.
How do you design an effective board for your organization?
Well, what kind of organization are you? Non-profit or for profit, rural or urban, grassroots or established? Your board members should fit the unique needs of your organization, and insure that there are no “trust deficit issues” as Jain said. Many organizations are legally required to form a board of directors, and follow set guidelines put forth by the Indian government as well as any organizational guidelines. Selecting board members should be based on their ability to follow these laws responsibly as well as support the core mission and goals of your organization.
How do you select board members?
Madhusudan suggested hosting site visits for potential board members. Introduce them to your organization at the grassroots level. Educate them on your organization, but at the same time observe them throughout the experience. Many investors and foundations may already have reputations as board members for other organizations they have supported – do your research! If all else fails, create a probation process for potential members and a rotational process for current members. Just as ideas can become stale, so can board members….
This seems like a lot of work, do I really need to create an active board of directors?
It depends. A few names and proper paperwork from your lawyer will probably suffice, but do you treat your management in the same way? A board of directors can provide benign oversight for non-profits seeking donations, contribute funds for a growing enterprise, and safeguard the mission and values of a grassroots organization. If you can balance the passion of some board members and the competence of others you will have a powerful tool for your organization’s future.
(As a break from my goofy posts, I am sharing a few blog entries I wrote for a social enterprise forum in November. You can see the full Khemka Forum report which includes the work of other IDEX bloggers here)
For millions of farmers throughout India, agricultural inputs are an essential part of their day-to-day existence. But what happens when these expensive inputs – from seeds to fertilizers to farming equipment – are ineffective? This discussion led by Siddharth Tata, a portfolio manager for the Acumen Fund, examined the potential for extension services throughout the Indian agricultural sector.
According to Tata, “low productivity means low income” in a country that sees agricultural productivity which is sixty times lower than that of higher-income nations. India’s productivity puts it behind the productivity levels of Pakistan and slightly ahead of Kenya in the global effort to feed a growing world population. For many farmers the farming process progresses from inputs to farm production to collections/processing to distribution to retailing. Putting Indian farmers ahead from the start of their planting season is not only a national imperative, but also a huge entrepreneurial opportunity.
(a view of farmland in the valleys around the Ellora Caves)
“The Potato Man” of India – Hemant Gaur of Siddhivinayak Agri – has started working with farmers to improve a potato crop, which has been less than successful in recent years. As an extension service provider, Gaur has found a way to bundle services thereby improving extension service offerings as well as the profitability of this work. Currently, extension service providers offer limited follow-up service due to a very small margin of profit. Gaur as well as his fellow panelists Arijit Dutta of Basix Krish and Gokul Patnaik of Katra Group, sees the potential of an effective extension service tied to improved agricultural outputs.
“My definition of extension work is relationship,” says Patnaik. Farmers must being willing to try new technologies and techniques that may contradict years of farming experience in order to see increased productivity. Patnaik has seen an increase from forty-nine tons per hectare to ninety-six tons per hectare for farmers that were willing to do “the right things at the right time.”
In order to provide these timely services to a larger number of farmers, customers need to be close together in order to share basic information. In rural India farmers can be disconnected from other members of their extension service by a few fields or many kilometers. Building communication and collaboration between farmers is a focus of the Acumen Fund as extension services see an increase in clients in various locations.
The agricultural sector is still open to any number of possibilities as technology, botany, and management skills are continually tested in a changing climate and fluctuating international market. Risk-takers exist in every sector, but farmers redefine this adrenaline pumping character trait. It is risky to race to develop the latest GPS software, but what about the risk in waiting for rain? We need to see farmers as risk taking entrepreneurs if we are going to encourage the next generation to succeed in the agriculture business.
This short series of videos are my attempt at GIFs given limited technical resources (and even more limited amounts of patience).
1. I had this reaction when I first arrived in India and was wedged onto a bus of 70 sweaty bodies. Many of these bodies belonged to potbellied ladies with very limited spacial awareness (aka elbows to the neck and kidneys).
Now when I get on the bus…
Ok, not exactly…
2. Trying street food in my first week. I mosey up to the counter and consider my order…
BAM!!! Guys with creepy mustaches appear!
Now when I go out for lunch…(start at 29 seconds)
I’ll try to add a couple each day for the next few days. It’s amazing what happens when you live in India for over six months. Crazy is there.
…are why the British claimed India for a while and stole its riches (at least that’s how I explained it to a teacherless VII Class that I visited). I know salt and mercantilism and whatever, but rubies and gold sounded more exciting!
India’s independence didn’t end the continued “borrowing” of India’s wealth by the West. Indian fabrics, jewelry, and designs have now become of the part of the “exotic” look sold in suburban malls and upscale boutiques.
I find this picture an interesting example of the East meets West continuum.
I think this is an interesting style choice(?) given that this photo was taken in a country which continues to be at the center of a debate on the free expression of religion. I am not to judge whether this young lady is Hindu or not, but the perception of this “stylish” bindi stands in contrast to the views of the strikingly “not-French” burqa seen in many growing neighborhoods in Paris. Please take a moment to read the comments on this photo then look up the latest news on immigration in France. Think on it and we can chat over chai (probably via skype).
Here’s another example of the Western fashion world combining with Indian traditions. I have to thank Emily from Voyage-On for sharing this video - it is a great example of the weaving and fabric traditions throughout India. Also, please note the ridiculous scenes in the textile factory…oh the lusty attraction of sweaty, overweight textile workers.
If you’re stilling looking for more Indian artistry please check out this article. The artist grew up in Hyderabad - yeah! - and has created amazing installation art in an attempt to bring contemporary art down from its elitist status.
Another organization working to making contemporary art accessible to students, teachers, and the Hyderabad community is the Daira Centre for Arts and Culture. They are supporting IDEX schools this year, and are going to host an exhibit of our students’ work! You’ll learn more about them as our exhibit date approaches. For now just remember that they are part of the Hyderabad art scene that is reaching out to students that have never stepped foot in an art gallery…exciting!
This is awesome! I’ve noticed differences in sign languages around the world, but certain technical words (internet, megabytes, inertia, etc.) have been adopted worldwide. Perhaps science terms will connect us to a universal language which is constantly changing and expanding. Enjoy!
Interpreter Lydia Callis explains how sign language is being developed in ways that may enhance scientific learning and communication.
This is an excellent example of combining data collection with storytelling. Often the people behind the numbers get lost (or in the worst cases aggregated into groups with “meaning), and have little input on the final project. Excited to see where this work will lead for city - especially those in India!
At a training today for women’s health and hygiene, I was reminded of one of the interesting American stereotypes that continues to shock me - emotional emptiness. I had joined volunteers and workers from wonderful organizations like VOICE, YouSee, Nirmaan and Sakala, then decided to stay behind to chat with these new acquaintances. When I mentioned that I needed to get back to my apartment to see if I could find some time to Skype with my family, the IT professionals I was chatting with looked surprised. I received the same reactions from teachers and staff after describing how much I miss my sister or how I need to return to the US so that my mom won’t be too upset.
Coming from the country that introduced the world to commercialized Christmases, McDonald’s, and Ke$ha, I understand that we can seem like materialistic automatons. I am also starting to understand how moving out of your parent’s home by the age of eighteen could seem a bit like familial abandonment (from the Indian perspective - I am NOT moving back in with the padres).
Thankfully, a less than scientific survey of emotions in over 150 countries proves otherwise. Based on daily emotional experiences the United States was ranked as one of the more emotional countries. As an American I am not surprised, but I think many of my Indian colleagues would disagree. India ranked a bit on the low end, but daily experiences tend to be fairly normalized when you are one in a billion. In the US we make romantic comedies, and believe we can have the fairy tales we see in high definition and surround sound. Bollywood movies rely on emotional escapism, and then release the audiences back to the reality of daily life. Americans feel emotions as (often oversharing) individuals, Indians feel emotions as members of families and communities. Americans are taught that our emotions matter from early childhood, and now we can update the world on our emotional status within seconds thanks to Twitter and Facebook. As social media expands, I could see the emotional “awareness” aka expressiveness of citizens increasing worldwide.
This stereotype of emotionless Americans has to have implications for foreign aid workers, international business professionals, and US diplomacy in general. Does a Peace Corps member’s work take hold in a community where they are seen as emotionally maladapted? Are international mergers welcomed in countries where new American management is stepping in to increase “efficiency”? Are American diplomats viewed with more or less skepticism than their seemingly emotionally competent peers from non-Western countries?
How do you convince the world that the US has a heart? Or does that even matter when we pride ourselves on hard work, punctuality, and success - all qualities relatively bereft of emotional attachment?
I think this is the end of the trip updates, but hopefully there will be more random adventures to add to this slightly disheveled blog.
Photo I forgot to add to the last update: The Water Palace in Jaipur (you can see, but can’t touch)
Ok…on to Jodhpur - the Blue City!! Jodhpur is an incredible maze of narrow streets, blue buildings, and cute little spice shops…fun times.
It was the coolest city I visited, but I also have a thing for winding streets and lassi.
Mehrangarh Fort - two seconds of the latest Batman movie were green-screened in front of this behemoth.
This is the room for an audience with royalty. So pretty.
View from the top of the fort…
And a picture of one of my travel buddies, Yasmin, if you don’t catch the theme yet.
Now that you have your blue fix, I’ll whisk you back to Delhi where we visited Qutub Minar.
(Fun fact: It’s very old, but people will still want their picture with you and not the series of 12th Century monuments)
So that basically wraps it up. The trip was great, the company wonderful, and I feel like now I can join in on the north vs. south discussions. During my whirlwind tour of the Golden Triangle, I realized that I generally enjoy living in the south.
The food may be more fattening and the mustaches less impressive, but Hyderabad is the India that I have accepted as my home for these ten months. Returning from the trip was tough, but once I had done a load of laundry I felt like I had found my nest. But this bird will have to spread its wings sometime soon…Kerala?
I think it’s about time for another update on the trip north.
In my last post, I covered most of Delhi and mentioned Agra (aka home of the Taj Mahal). Agra is a great place to delve into the not-so-distant history of ruling royalty in India’s northern provinces. If you want to rule you need forts, impressive monuments, and lots of stuff named after you.
That white building? That would be the Taj Mahal…
This fort was one of my favorites. We also got a chance to explore it in late afternoon light so it all seemed more dramatic and beautiful.
The next day we tried to get to the Taj Mahal in the early morning (some logistical snafus occurred, but we got in by 9:30 am).
Goat crossing on our way to one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
When you go to India, people always say “You have to see the Taj Mahal!” And in your infinite indifferent traveler wisdom you say, “Yeah, ok ok.” And then you look for a cup of coffee and start planning your trip to somewhere less “touristy.” Go see the Taj Mahal! Seriously! It doesn’t look real. You’ll think some masterful Photoshop-ing has been going on until you touch it.
This script actually gets wider as it goes to the top so it will appear symmetrical from the ground…pretty cool huh?
Sorry this pics aren’t great, but you really can’t capture it. It’s soo bright in the morning light that it’s hard to look at it. Inside (in the tomb) is soo peaceful and airy. The open ceilings and marble window carvings make it feel incredibly light for being the world’s most famous burial site.
From Agra our fearless crew moved on to Jaipur - the Pink City!
After the Taj Mahal, you might think there’s not much left to see…and then you realize you are in Rajasthan. North India is what I realized I had imagined before coming to India (if you add some tigers and green chilies). Women wrapped in elaborate saris and adorned with jewelry walked the streets past lassiwalas and unending street shops. There were also some camels – let’s just say I was a little excited…
Jaipur was a manageable city with a few exciting sites and more exciting street bazaars.
This is Hawa Mahal – the “Palace of Winds.” The most ornate portion was the shuttered area which housed and simultaneously hid the female members of the royal court.
Jantar Mantar – an astronomical and astrological site was pretty trippy.
Amber Fort was incredible. Had a chance to climb around in all the rooms of this incredible fort. Its strategic advantage was pretty obvious – clear views into the valley, nature walls via steep hillsides, and an underground (and secret) water source below the fort’s foundation.
(Fun fact: This fort had over 100 latrines/toilets…nervous bladder, anyone?)
A tunnel connects Amber Fort to neighboring Jaigarh Fort. Cue Indiana Jones theme music…
Here’s another view of Amber Fort from a tower in Jaigarh Fort
Jaigarh Fort was less exciting than Amber Fort…those pics will be relegated to Facebook for the sake of tagging my travel companions. The final post on the trip will be up later today!
Recently returned from a trip to Delhi, Agra (the city surrounding the Taj Mahal), Jaipur, and Jodhpur. As with most travel experiences it was amazing and enlightening! Living in Hyderabad affords me two (maybe three?) historical sites to give me a sense of how this city rose out of the Deccan Plateau. But in the north…
Very cool city. Super sprawled, but the wonderful metro line whisked us from Old Delhi to New Delhi in about thirty minutes. I had expected the city to be terrifying and overwhelming. Perhaps I have adjusted better to India than I realized, or maybe I just heard horror stories from individuals that traveled Delhi without any previous experience in the country? In either circumstance Delhi is a wonderful city with plenty of sites, great food, and interesting people.
Red Fort - 17th Century fort built by Shah Jahan (Fun fact: The capital was called Shahjahanabad at the time…it would eventually be known as Delhi)
If I remember correctly, the moat-like design in the middle of this building was fed by the Yamuna River to keep the hallways and nearby rooms cool.
This was a “floating” palace room which would have required a small canoe to be accessed from the surrounding courtyard.
This is Jama Masjid - the largest mosque in South Asia.
Humayun’s Tomb - Built according to his widow’s orders and completed in 1572. (Fun Fact: Humayun is not alone - there are over 100 tombs on this site including that of the royal barber)
An adorable couple walking around the gardens at Humayun’s Tomb.
That’s my roommate Karolle! This is inside the main tomb - so peaceful and soo much dappled sunlight.
I’ll end this post here, and the series of photos and random captions will continue with Agra in a bit…
"In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness."
This last line from the Indian national pledge always strikes me as bizarre. India is one of the most diverse and segmented countries in the world. Caste, gender, mother tongue, economic class, education level, and occupation all come together to form the identity of the average Indian. I get upset filling out forms that ask for my age - Indians frequently fill out forms with their caste AND religion.
"To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion."
How close are the Indian people? The country has created an identity that has lasted for thousands of years, and drawn millions of visitors to this magical place. If you picture castles and forts rising from hillsides - you are imagining India. If you expect to see beggars on the road and children working alongside their parents - you will find this outside the castle gates. The economic disparity between modern-day royalty (they do exist) and the rural farmer are lifetimes apart. The GINI index for India hovers around .366 which is far from the equality preached by politicians (0 = perfect equality, 1.00 = perfect inequality).
Then let’s take a look at the United States….450! .450? Add an extra Porsche to the palace and take away the farmer’s steel plow, and then you get a picture of inequality in the US. A Gini index of .450 puts us just about equal with Iran. You can also see the inequality by city which is even more startling. Given the huge number of millionaires and overpaid CEOs, the US shifts its income up the scale by a decent percentage, but this economic rift is growing. Chicago’s Gini index is almost equal to that of El Salvador (.468)!
From a community development perspective, how do you connect people that live worlds apart? Cleaning up a playground seems less important than getting fresh fruit into local grocery stores. Do you slow down development over a historic site, or do you wait for the taxes that will help to rebuild other crumbling structures? Where does ecological remediation come in when the local community has no choice, but to live near a superfund site?
How does this economic rift alter the two countries I now call home? Indian politicians promise concessions to castes that are looking to gain “equal” footing, while American politicians promise prosperity if you’ll just give your vote. Perhaps equality is too much to ask, but the feeling of economic security should be within reach. My students study to be engineers and doctors and my college friends take unpaid internships and student loans, all in the struggle to find economic independence. Does this struggle every really stop?
A couple days ago, I accidentally walked into a memorial lunch. My school owner’s father died on September 25 in 1997, and his death is marked each year by a meal in his honor. A plate is offered to his memory, and the family (which due to my undocumented adoption, includes me) eats a variety of special foods. Chapathi, aloo curry, veg curry, seviyan kheer, wada-esque pastry, and milk cake were served.
As an outsider with little cultural background, this seems to make a lot of sense to me. Going to a grave, leaving flowers, and saying a prayer is thoughtful, but it doesn’t really make you think of the person. You just stand there and think of how cold it is outside or how they really would have liked that the granite is holding up through the fluctuating temperatures. For future reference I will memorialize each of you with food. Dad will be remembered with barbeque and a Rocky’s pizza, and Mom’s day will consist of tea and some chocolate. I’m not planning on ordering these foods any time soon (except for the tea…i do live in India), but I just wanted to put it out into the blogosphere as a possible antidote for the loneliness of graveyards.
Now to the life part of this post - sports! My students are pretty excited about planning sports and have started to hound me a bit…I mean, A LOT. Not having a physical education class would be difficult for me, and I was awful at the American PE games that marked my childhood. The upper class students (7th - 10th Class) attend school from 8:30 am to 6 pm. The 10th Class students often have classes from 7 in the morning to 8 o’clock at night. Going without real physical activity has to be tough, especially for the teenage boys that seem to outgrow their pants and shoes by the minute. Scheduling a time for the students to have sports with appropriate supervision is one of my current challenges, but I am determined to find a way to get these kids running around and out of their desks for an hour or so each day.
So here’s some pics of the 9th Class Boys playing koko. Pics of the girls are on Facebook and will eventually arrive here…
What good is a sport without a good referee? Sorry Packer Nation…
PS The title of this post is actually a rip off of a wonderful, heartbreaking documentary Death in Gaza. Very appropriate for those of you following the US presidential election.
As my blog title suggests, I’m used to standing out in a crowd. In Argentina my lack of style and boyishly short hair separated me from the habitually glamorous porteños. Residents in Koidu, Sierra Leone greeted our primarily female work group with “White man! White man!” Even as an oblivious high school student, I was aware of my short-lived minority status during a couple short visits to the Dominican Republic. Through all these instances, I accepted the fact that I was an “other” for a short period of time while many people are forcibly relegated to the “other” status for most of their lives.
Until I came to India…
To say that I am stared at would be an understatement. Maybe “examined at a distance” or “judged by all the passengers of the passing bus,” but I would not say people just “stare” at me. I have been stopped at the zoo/restaurant/street/festival/school for a photo with a stranger. I have had people yell at me occasionally (to test their English?), roving packs of children will point and laugh at me (I am not lying), and sometimes babies will cry at the sight of my lanky, blonde presence.
I am fine with saying hello to schoolchildren that wave to me, and I often smile at my fellow female passengers on the city buses. It is the pervading, overbearing stares that I find unsettling. I doubt I have ever looked at someone as intensely. I don’t think my doctors have taken stock of me as effectively as the occasional passerby in Hyderabad. What bothers me about my “otherness” in India is that it has become an essential part of my identity. I am completely unknown outside of my status as a non-Indian. I am not saying that all Indians are intrusive and xenophobic – that generalization would be completely false. I have found another set of family and friends here that are essential to my day-to-day contentedness. Random strangers have helped me find the right bus, order food, buy clothes, and navigate bumper to rickshaw traffic as a pedestrian. Many, many Indians are kind, hospitable, and understanding individuals.
I guess it just comes back to the American quest for anonymity…walking through Times Square, joining a row of window-facing treadmill runners without a wave of acknowledgement, sitting in a conference hall with three hundred other suits as boring and non-descript as your own…these are my dreams of anonymity. These are the markers on my journey through culture shock.
I’ve neglected this blog for a week or so but I have a good reason! I am in the process of ramping up my work at the APS (Affordable Private School) where I will be looking at everything from overdue fees to playground equipment in an attempt to improve the education system sustainably. As an IDEX Fellow, I am not expected to be an education expert, but rather a business-minded individual capable of connecting the dots when it comes to school needs and outside resources.
My school is pretty amazing - Tagore’s High School in Gandhi Nagar in case you were wondering. You won’t find it on a map of Hyderabad, but it is in the northern part of the city for future reference. Situated in an industrial complex, the primary and secondary school draws its students from the surrounding residential neighborhood. Many of these students are from nearby villages, but a few are from provinces far from Andhra Pradesh.
The school owner and principal (husband and wife, respectively) have adopted me into their family as a third daughter. I’ll have to dedicate an entire post to their hospitality and unending patience as I attempt to adjust to the Indian lifestyle.
I’ll stop my rambling here and provide you with a few pictures that feature the amazing students of Tagore’s High School:
Yesterday, I went on my first run in Secunderabad. Recreational running in the States entails the requisite iPod, flashy running clothes, and an experience-appropriate pair of running shoes. I’ve traded the running tank tops and shorts for long leggings, baggy shorts and a big t-shirt. No iPod for this runner – gotta have a head on a swivel! Between autos, cars, bikes, scooters, and the occasional cow, I am thoroughly entertained even if I lose some of the pacing that my “Run!” playlist usually provides.
As one of the more conservative cities in India, Hyderabad (and it’s sister city Secunderabad) has a more modest clothing culture that most Westerners would find tough to ignore. Burkas and headscarves are common sights. Seeing someone in a burka elicits the same reaction that a man wearing a baseball cap in the Midwest might receive, except that here all the caps are black. So I set out in my baggy pink shirt and black leggings.
Surprisingly, I only had a few stares. I was also staring at the ground trying not to trip so that might have made me feel somewhat more invisible than usual. My route took me on the public road running through the military complex behind my house. The tree-lined street was a lovely refuge from the heavy traffic of Hyderabad and dusty roads of West Maredpally. The soldiers at the complex seemed amused and confused by the red-faced blonde slogging through their well-manicured space. It was a good run overall, and it won’t be my last as my love of Indian food continues to grow…
Looking back on my first week in India, I can say I’ve seen and smelled quite a bit. I could watching traffic from the back of an auto rickshaw for hours, and the smell of hot chai will stop me in my tracks. I hussle past street beggars and cover my nose at the smell of popular bus stops. I think it is the interaction of the beautiful and tragic that makes India such a mystical place for many Westerners. A land of diamonds, pearls, and gold is also home to one of the world’s largest slums. Lush green gardens give way to dusty, trash-lined streets. These aesthetic contradictions exist around the world, but for now seem more apparent in the India I have decided to call home.
The Bonalu festival in West Maredpally is one example of these contradictions. Picking our way over wet streets in early monsoon season rain, my roommate Karolle and I stumbled into a local festival celebrating the goddess of power, Mahakali. At the time we had no idea what the festival was for and just followed the crowd.
The happening streets of West Maredpally.
Although the festival was celebrating a goddess, with women occasionally playing a leading role, the majority of dancers and costumed participants were men.
I apologize for the lack of background on Bonalu, but it is a fascinating festival (turmeric-covered dancers, music, flashing streetlights, feasts, etc.). I was pulled from dance circle to dance circle by a few fearless pre-teen “guides.” The fee for this service was a few pictures taken on my unimpressive point-and-shoot camera. Our fearless guides led us through packed streets to the front of each dance circle where our entourage became a spectacle unto itself. After many handshakes and photo ops, Karolle and I made our way back to the house where we washed off our feet and tried to figure out what we had just experienced. We’re still not quite sure…
So…I’ve moved to Hyderabad (actually Secunderabad), India for ten months without any previous experiences in this insanely diverse/colorful/delicious/traditional/modern/fascinating/confusing/exciting country. I’m excited to see where this journey will take me and how much it will alter my personality, opinions, and general view of the way the world works. As an international relations nerd and culture studies enthusiast, I am overwhelmed and challenged to understand the complex place that will now be my home (and as a constructivist now part of my “identity”). On my walk back from the blacksmith (who hand cut three copies of my apartment key for $1.08), two school girls yelled at me once I had passed them…”Hello!” After I had turned back to wave and smile at them which was met with giggles, I started back down the road. Then I heard their two little voices yell, “Hello! I love you.” In a world where women are yelled at every day by billboards, window displays, and the occasional creepy man on the street, it was refreshing to hear something so innocent. Hello, Hyderabad. And right now I think I could learn to love you.