Monday, August 27, 2007

learning from india

I know I stopped posting half-way through my trip; I'm really sorry. The truth was I got crazy busy. And I figured it's better to live life than to write about what had happened - so here I am retroactively posting - not in any particular order.

Anyway, I wanted to share this in particular, it was a requirement for the program that sent me to India (IRES funded through the NSO). At the end of our internship they asked us to write a little cultural essay, 400-700 words, about our experience. This was what I sent them:

You asked us to write about our cultural experience here in India, something short, something that sums up the time that we’ve had here. But really, I don’t feel that I can summarize all of the things that I have been thinking, all of the problems that I’ve been trying to reconcile. I came here expecting everything and nothing, side-by-side. It was only once I was on the plane did I realize what I was doing. The first two weeks here were horrible and I regretted the trip. This last week, my penultimate in India, I have felt nothing but melancholy at the thought of leaving. To better describe my experience and the obvious transformation that I have undergone, I give you my thoughts condensed:

What I Have Learned From India

• Most of what we worry about never happens.
• Westerners are naked here, often on the fringes of their personality.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. Some things are just too ridiculous to get angry about. And when you do get angry, you usually feel terrible for it afterwards. Laughing is much easier.
• People will blatantly stare.
• Any timeframe given in India will take, in actuality, twice that amount.
• Chaos is found in the city, peace in the country. Take as many weekend trips as possible.
• Always make sure that the rickshaw driver repeats back to you your destination. Also, calling them “boss” usually helps.
• Google-maps are practically useless here.
• This is the best place to be a vegetarian.
• Monkeys really will come into your apartment if you leave the balcony door open.
• Wearing a sari is not as easy as it looks. In fact, it’s rather difficult, but they can be comfortable. Sleeping in a choli hurts the next day.
• Anything out of the ordinary that you need done, as a westerner, will either be done quickly to the inconvenience of all those around, or it will take years.
• Culture shock is not like jet-lag: you cannot get over it in a week.
• Most people here would rather tell you the wrong answer or direction rather than tell you they don’t know.
• Eating at a restaurant will never take less than two hours.
• Everything costs money for a westerner. And all the peddlers will pounce on you.
• Always bring toilet paper. Always. No exceptions. And know what “western toilet” means.
• It’s okay to still be affected by the poverty. Maybe even a good thing.
• A westerner will never be, could never be, part of India. You will always be an observer – no matter how hard you try.
• Describing the food you are eating by its color is, sometimes, your only option (“This is the best green stuff I’ve had!” – Russell).
• Some conveniences are priceless. Others are not all that they are cracked up to be. The trick is knowing which is which.
• Follow through on recommendations given by other expats. They tend to be tried and true.
• Get use to the bugs and the dust. They get everywhere. Including your computer.
• Consider malaria pills part of your breakfast.
• As funny as the head wobble is, you will find yourself doing it at some point.
• When a peddler says, “It’s okay” and shoves something into your lap, it’s not okay. Refuse. Over and over again.
• Don’t always expect a warm shower because the power will go out – often.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for your food to be “not spicy” – because it will still be spicy, it just won’t burn your tongue off.
• Never refuse an invitation from an Indian family. If nothing else, it will make a good story later.
• Watch your step. Cows poop everywhere.
• Pick out your own fruit.
• “Alone time” and “privacy” are western concepts.
• As daunting as it may appear, go out into the city. It’s well worth it. The markets are the best.
• Even though any NIR (non-resident Indian) will tell you that everyone in India speaks English – do not listen to them. Some people speak some broken English, so learn how to gesture well and speak in simple phrases.
• The bucket in the bathroom is for a standing bath. Or for shaving your legs. Or both.
• You will tower over everyone. Learn to duck your head when going into restaurants. Especially in Goa.
• Watch a Bollywood movie and going to a “Bollywood Night” at a dance club is something that you can only do, and should only do, in India.
• You cannot fend off the mosquitoes, as much as you may try.
• Be thankful that your olfactory nerves are oversaturated after ~10 seconds.
• You tip 10% of the bill.
• Street signs are almost non-existent. Your best bet is to look at the business signs as you are driving by and read the address at the bottom if you want to know what road you are on.
• Saris requires buying a petticoat and having a choli made for you.
• Indians can wear any color in existence – realize that white people cannot.
• Making other foreign friends is priceless. Talking about being a westerner in India is validating and consoling. Commiseration means everything because, in reality, you are not alone – as isolated as you might feel.
• Experience leads to loneliness.
• Opt for the A/C section of restaurants.
• The monsoon is nice after living in the desert. Except when you have to take a rickshaw ride in it.
• You can find love in the places that you least expect it.

Translated from German and slightly altered: I lost my heart in Bangalore.

~ natalie =)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

rest of the Hampi pictures

Here's the second half of the Hampi pictures, commented and everything. Sorry it took so long but I wanted to be thorough.

a bit more culture shock

5 July - 9:10pm

I have to post this now - a little out of order I know - but I didn't want to forget any of the details because it blew my mind that much.

Background: We live in a rather large apartment complex called Raheja Residency (you can google map it, by the way). Each of the apartments has a balcony that faces the outside, as well as a balcony that faces the inside, like a service alley (very European). The inside balcony usually has the washing machine (remember, no dryer) or an extra sink. There are also windows all over our apartment, facing inside and outside, so most often than not, you can look directly into someone else's apartment. The kitchen is a big place that often opens onto the inside balcony - to ventilate better.

Story: About an hour ago, one of our neighbors came over. She had seen us cooking from her kitchen (we essentially sit inside balcony, 2m gap, inside balcony) and had even said hi a few times. Today, she wanted to meet us properly. Anyway, so she comes in and - honestly - just starts talking for about 45 minutes straight. Now, that is not the story. The story is about her life:

Her name is Nitu. She use to live in Delhi where she was a travel and customer care consultant for an airline company that has recently merged with Jet. Anyway, she got married about 7 years ago to a man named Sanjay - who insisted that she quit her job. So she did. She didn't know anything about taking care of a household - even how to cook. But she learned how to do everything. Four years ago they moved from Delhi to Bangalore, two years ago they had a son (which she said was rather late for an Indian marriage - five years to have a child - she is 33 years old).

She told us very quickly into the conversation/monologue that she has been suffering through depression for many years now and has been taking drugs to deal with it. The problem, though, was that the drugs were causing a lot of bad side effects - making it such that she could barely perform every day tasks because she was so numb. She told her husband that she didn't want to take the pills anymore, and instead go back to work. His response was that medicine and getting better was the first priority, work was second. Then she mentioned that she started seeing a doctor, apparently a psychiatrist, about a year ago - he told her that she was a schizophrenic. Now, my first response was that this guy had no idea what he was talking about. It seemed obvious that she just needed to go back to work and keep herself occupied, since she wasn't depressed when she was working.

Then she said that she started hearing voices, like 8 or 9 of them, a few years ago. When she talked about the voices, how she was alone when she heard them and would try to find the sources but couldn't, she started laughing so hard. Almost maniacally. It was kind of scary. And, essentially, she hadn't stopped talking. My thoughts were, at this point, that maybe the doctor was right.

Nitu said that she wanted to stop taking the drugs and start working again, if only for part time. But her husband was so adamant about her not, that he said if she left the house to work she couldn't return. So she stayed. And even though she stayed at home with him, he doesn't let her go out very much - not even for the sake of their son. Only to a nearby playground while the maids get groceries and run errands. One of Nitu's hobbies, before she was married, was traveling, and now he won't let her do that anymore.

Two days ago she started packing her bags - because she was tired of the voices and how empty her head had become - and her husband wouldn't let her leave. Sanjay said that if she tried to leave, he would cancel her credit cards, block her bank account, and cancel her cell phone. We asked why she didn't go to her parents' house, and apparently they took her husband's side and told her to stay there.

I mean, she was willing to give up her son and leave - just to have her life back, her brain back, her sanity back - and no one would listen to her. Her husband was so set in tradition that the woman shouldn't work but instead be a housewife, that he was willing to have a zombie as a wife (almost literally, Sonnett saw pictures of her heavily medicated). At all costs, she was not to work - even if it meant that she would feel "mentally retarded" - these were her own words - for the rest of her life.

You read about this stuff. The papers are riddled with brides committing suicide over dowry arguments or widows being shunned in their villages because they no longer have a husband (they can no longer wear the bindi or bangles after they are widowed). You never hear about it first hand.

Thank God I was a born a woman in the states. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

some quick pics

I've posted two photo albums on facebook. However, I've only commented one of them so far, which will essentially take you through most of the first day. I've put up about 100 pictures, so I'm trying to get to this in chunks. Once I'm done with the pictures, I'll write more of a blog about everything.

Here are some pictures from Nick:

And some from Nels:

Enjoy - there will be more soon. =)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

a week of work

29 June - 12:45pm

Our first week of work is just about done. I'm writing this as I'm waiting for a Mathematica process to run (yup, my equations are so crazy that it actually takes MMA time to process them....I've already broken it a few times...mmm....theoretical astrophysics).

The beginning of the week was a bit rough because we had to give a presentation on Tuesday on our current research. Now, while I worked pretty hard on my research before I came here, I didn't get anything to a stopping point, which was too bad. But it also meant that I had absolutely nothing that was presentable on it. I mean, all I've been doing this past semester was trying to figure out what was going on and then program. So, really, my presentation would just have been about debugging issues that I came across. Weee...lots of fun. Instead, I grabbed an older presentation that I did from fall semester on an alternative theory to dark matter, which is called Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND. Essentially what is says is that Newton was right when it comes to physics on the Earth and the planets and stuff. But when it comes to more subtle accelerations, it just doesn't work. So, the people who came up with MOND took F = m*a and made it F = m*a*u, where "u" is a piece-wise function that factors into the equation at some points and goes to 1 at other times. I'm not saying that I necessarily agree with this theory, but I do think it's good to question the basics of physics - and isn't 70% of matter being dark a bit much to swallow? On the other hand, MOND doesn't fit into any other theory - not general relativity, not cosmology, nothing. In fact, it only really does what it was designed to do - which was model the rotational curves of galaxies. This was what I presented on, instead of my "current" research. Now, part of me was sort of hoping that no one at the IIA would know what I was talking about and, hence, couldn't ask me questions. However, this was not so much the case, I realized, when a faculty member found me before the talks and handed me 2 papers that he had written on MOND - which cited another dozen or so of his papers on the subject. To say the least, I was probably answering questions for about 10 minutes after my presentation. But I think I handled them rather well - thank god I prepared ahead of time.

On Wednesday, my advisor - who is a most excellent advisor - gave me a list of tasks to work on. Each one moves progressively through my understanding and my project. It was really rather great of him, since it's nice to know that he's thinking about what I'm to learn and how I'm supposed to achieve my goal. On top of that, I actually have a sense of direction and work to do! Such a change from this past semester, it's rather exhilarating. Makes me want to get through as much as I can to show him that I can do a whole project in 5 weeks.

That said, we are taking a nice weekend trip - starting tonight. We were invited by some people that we met at the bar last Friday to go to a little town called Hampi. Nick, Sonnett, and I (Russell has opted out) will be taking an overnight train there, staying Saturday night in town, then coming back Sunday night to arrive Monday morning early. I've heard that this town is rather beautiful and is known for it's temples and gorgeous sites. It's also famous for it's Monkey Temple. Oh yeah, Monkey Temple. I'm so down. Plus, I'm hoping it will be relaxing. And yes, I will take tons of pictures - but probably only digital. We will be hauling our stuff around with us and I don't want it to be heavy. I will packing soooo light, it will be ridiculous.

Oh, so I've posted a few more pictures onto the existing album - here's the link again (which is now actually a link):

Love to all....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

finally relaxing a bit

24 June - 9:50pm

So, I know that the last entry ended with me going off on the the Indian government, and really, I'd like to say that it ended there - but it didn't. On Friday, we got to go back to the police station and pick up some certificates. Now, the hugely ironic part was that Sonnet and Nick got their papers in the first 10 minutes of us being there. And for some unknown and god-forsaken reason, my paperwork was not filed with theirs and we ended up sitting there for another HOUR before I finally got what I needed. I was so annoyed at that point that I actually yelled and jumped up and down once we were outside of the office.

This whole mess 'o fun was added to by a meeting earlier in the day to decide which field trips we were going on to "local" observatories, what was expected of us for the program, and when we had to give a couple of presentations. It was rather tedious to talk about everything, especially since it came down to us only having 5 weeks to complete any work and then give a 30-min. presentation on it. More like a work in progress than anything else. But we were all hoping to get something done while being here - and with five weeks, it doesn't really look possible. Also, I don't understand why that stuff wasn't decided before we arrived.

To make it up to ourselves, we went to an expat get together (expatriate - person originating from another country) at a rather nice bar in a rather nice hotel (drinks were ~$10 a pop). But there was a 2-for-1 special, which we liberally abused. And felt much better for it.

The weekend was one to finally relax. I didn't even leave the apartment on Saturday - which was fine by me. Part of it was that the power went out until 3pm and hence, the hot water heater could not heat water. But, also, I just wanted to sort of putz around and read, watch tv, and talk online. Which I did in excess and felt much better. I made pasta for Russell and myself last night, we also ordered pizza (Domino's - tastes like home).

Today, Sonnett and I decided to walk to a local and highly westernized mall called The Forum. Part of the trip was also to find her an ATM that would actually give her money - she's been having problems. But then continued on further to see how far the walk was...~35 minutes, so not bad. The mall offers such stores as Levi, Wranglers, Tommy Hilfiger, McDonalds, etc.. Looks just like a stereotypical American mall. We bought some things that we needed: pants, watch - I needed a tea cup for work (and it was less than $1, so I figured why not?). We also pre-ordered the new Harry Potter book. While it was nice to get out and do some shopping, the mall was painfully crowded since it was a weekend and we both became quickly claustrophobic. It was also a bit frustrating at times because of the way things are set up. If you want to buy something expensive, the assistant has to walk you over to the "Checkout Point" and you then jostle your way to the counter - like you would in a bar - to pay. Then you have to go to another part of the counter to pick up what you just bought 'cause DIFFERENT people bagged your stuff. Like I've said before, they really make a lot of jobs here since there are so many people. But even buying cookies was frustrating because you have to go to multiple places in the little store to finally pay and get what you purchased.

There was a grocery store across the street from The Forum, which we stopped at for a few things. I was sort of poking around in the back when I noticed a rather nice alcohol section. But as I made way towards it, a horrible and pungent smell - that was a mixture of sewage and bad fish - became stronger and all encompassing. I tried to tough it out, even put my shirt over my nose, but to no avail. I realized when I felt my lunch coming back up - not exaggerating - that I should get out of the store. Do other people really not notice this? Are their olfactory nerves dead?

During the walk home, Sonnett and I were constantly stared at - you know, two white women in the middle of India - and even yelled at. I yelled back a few times. But we decided to take a more residential route home, which was much more pleasant and relaxing.

For those of you asking, here are more pictures - including more of me - illustrating some of the above entry:

Also, some pseudo-official pictures from the program:

Then we also have a page containing my project title and recent photo of me (if you click my name) as well as the announcement for the short talks that we will be giving on Tuesday (which are supposed to be about current research - which I can't really present on - so I'm just talking about a topic I know some about from a project I did during fall semester):

There - I hope you are totally me-in-India saturated. I better practice my talk now. 'Night.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

insert string of curse words here

21 June - 3:45pm

As a testament as to how ridiculous things can be here - in my last post, marked 10am, I had to go because we were going to the police station to register ourselves. It is now 3:45pm. We have just returned. That's right. It took us almost 6 hours to get IIA ID badges, get to the station, fill out all the right forms, photocopy those forms, have an invitation letter driven to us at the police station (since we didn't show up with the letters - each - and traffic sucks), place really horrible pictures of us on all of the appropriate forms, put those forms in the proper order, go to one part of the building to have them signed, get lunch (2pm), go to another part of the building to have them signed again, and then go back to the first part of the building and receive a stupid piece of paper with our names on it. And we have to go back tomorrow to pick up some certificate or something.

But not Russell. His stupid visa didn't have the same stupid "register or die" stamp on so his stupid-headedness didn't have to any of this stupid stuff. But he had to sit there. And make fun of us. 'Cause he's stupid.

Oh, and I experienced the worst bathroom to date at the police station. I'd like to burn, not only my shoes and pants, but also exfoliate the top 20 layers of the skin on my legs.

Or perhaps just drown my frustrations in some really REALLY strong liquor. ::sigh:: So not happy.