Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Day 1: Women Writers and Welcome Reception
Arriving in India, my first day involved going to a FDP (Field Directed Practica- field trips related to the classes we are in). My poetry class went to the home of a local professor, she was hosting a meeting and reading with Tulsi Badrinath, a local women writer. Beforehand, we had received some excerpts from her first book Man Of A Thousand Chances. While meeting with the author we got the opportunity to hear her read those excerpts and discuss how they related to the larger story. Because she is an Indian women it was really interesting to read a book from her perspective, it included religious aspects, marital relationships and morality issues. At the end of the discussion I purchased her book and have since begun reading it, I am about halfway through and I am really enjoying it.
For lunch, the professor and her family treated us to home cooked food, it was all absolutely delicious and I felt very welcome in their home.
Tulsi also enlightened us about the traditional dance of India. She performs this style of dance as a hobby that she loves. She showed us how you can tell a story just by using the expressions of your body. We had a lot of fun because we would giver her words to dance and she would portray them perfectly, and occasionally turn the tables on us and make us perform them.
After leaving the FDP, my professor told the class that there was a welcome reception being held and that our bus could bring us there. Upon arrival we received a bindi on our forehead, a feast of food and local shop owners selling us Indian goods at a discounted price. It was an opportunity for us to mingle with local Indian students, to get henna, to learn how to wear a sari and to watch a traditional dance be performed. I found the welcome reception to be a great way to start off my adventure in India.
Day 2: Sick
Sadly on day two I was feeling under the weather, with the symptoms of a cold starting. It was a tough decision but I decided to stay in, take some medicine and spend the day sleeping and recovering so I could enjoy the rest of my days in India without getting worse.
Day 3: Rural India and Dakshinachitra Heritage Village and Meeting Toeseph
The third morning I woke up feeling well rested and much better. I had a planned SAS trip to visit a rural village, Dakshinachitra Heritage Village. Upon arrival all of the school children were so excited to welcome and greet us. All of the little girls had ponytail braids that were looped back up. All of the children enjoyed getting their pictures taken and asking us what our names were. We had the opportunity to practice a tradition of using rice powder to create welcoming designs on the side walk. It reminded me of sidewalk chalk. We were also welcomed into the oldest house in the village. Outside of all the home there is a large porch for visitors and passerbys to sit talk and even just have a place to rest. Once entering the house it is a large room for the family to gather in. There was also a shrine set up to honor the family elder, which I thought was culturally fascinating. Inside of the house was a small room dedicated to the three gods, Shiva Vishnu and Brahma where the family members pray everyday. The most interesting part of the house was the kitchen. After walking out the back door you reached the preparation area and the fire pit for cooking. They had stone grinders and mixers and rolling surfaces. This particular family also had a massive garden in the very back that provides them with all of the food that they eat, it looked like a jungle. The family also started a business of collecting empty glass bottles and recycling them to make a profit. I found this to be a simple and clever way to make money for the family.
From there we took a ox pulled cart to a local rice factory. We watched and got to participate in the sifting of rice grains to dry them, and then we went into the factory. From there we watched the men pour the grains into machines which then took the brown shell off of them and polished and sifted them until the were perfect grains of white rice that got sold to the entire village.
We ended our day by visiting a local school that our tour guide teaches at. The children were all very disciplined and studying high level science and business classes. We offered our hellos and words of advice and then we were on our way
After my trip, I arrived back at the ship and teamed up with two other students who had been on the same trip as me. Dianna, Will and I set off on our way to find a great place to eat dinner. Dianna earlier had met a shop owner in the mall who had hosted home stays for past SAS voyages and who was eager to meet current voyagers. We decided to go to him and ask his advice on where to eat. When we got there he told us if we wanted to wait till 8 his son would take us out and pick out the best food off the menu of his favorite restaurant. We immediately agreed. We spent that time walking around the mall and when we got back to his shop we met his son Toeseph. He took us to a local restaurant, ordered a tableful of food and instructed us on what to eat and how. For the first time I got to eat with my hands and it was considered the polite thing to do. I have never tasted more delicious food in my life! After finishing all of the food Toeseph to the 2nd longest beach in the world. It was absolutely beautiful and I felt like I was back at home, walking through the sand to the edge of the water. At the end of our night we went to an ice-cream parlor and sampled all of the crazy Indian flavors upon arrival at the ship, Toeseph said if we wanted to join him the next day he would be more than willing to show us around to all of the sights! Of course we agreed!
Day 4: Mamalapuram
We met Toeseph at his dads shop and we started our adventure. Our goal was to reach Mamalapuram which was a few hours drive away. On the way we stopped at a science park. Toeseph told us his classes as a child used to go here on field trips. I found the area to be a bit run down but still in operation. We got to watch an awesome show in the planetarium and view the stars the way they are seen in India, and we also went to a very primitive 3d science show.
On our way we also stopped for lunch. This time it was at northern Indian food restaurant rather than southern. Once again toeseph ordered for us and made great choices, everything was superb and a bit spicier than the southern food. We had a lot of sauces for dipping bread into and marinated chiken. I have decided that Indian food has by far been my favorite and my goal is to find a restaurant in the states that does it justice!
We finally made it to Mamallapuram and it was amazing. To see such detailed structures carved out of stone using only primitive tools was absolutely mind blowing. A lot of the architecture was tributed to the gods and it all told a very interesting story. I think my favorite part of Mamallapuram was Krishnas Butterball. It is a very large round rock that is perfectly perched and balanced on a hillside. It looks as if you could just tap it and it would go rolling down the hill, but in reality it hasnt ever budget, even when the attached 12 elephants to it and tried to pull it down!
Day 5: Service Visit
On day five we were supposed to visit and orphanage but it had been relocated for remodeling, so instead we visited a home for the dying and destitute. It was really heart wrenching to see all of the women sharing one room of cots, most not able to communicate or move on their own. As the day went on we found ways to interact by coloring, with stickers and with bubbles. I had one woman who just wanted me to sit next to her and listen to her sing. I didnt know what she was saying but it was a awe-inspiring experience. My favorite part of the day was when I was walking around with Jocelyn, on of the dependant children (children of staff members) and we were exploring the premises. We found the kitchen and met a woman who does all of the cooking for the entire place. It amazed me that she devoted her days to helping. We asked for a picture with her, and when she saw the result it made her so happy and she wanted to take more. It made me realize that its easy to make someones day a little better.
Day 6: Exploring with Krishnan
On the last day in India, I met up with my friend Elise who was spending the day with a local named Krishnan. He is a member of the rotary club and spoke English very well. He has hosted many families and shared lots of great stories of how he has helped improve his town.
First, Krishnan treated us to delicious coffee and then we met up with his sister and went to the temple where she is a member. It was cool to see a small temple just on the side of the street that the people actually attend rather than the large temples that tourists visit. We spent a lot of time listening to the prayer and watching the ceremony. It was a lot of chanting with call and response. We were told that it is a nonstop ceremony that is part of a pilgrimage.
We then spent our afternoon at the spa, getting massages for only $13. I ended my time in India by going out for dinner one last time.