Mixed Fruit, A Simple Hello & A Short Summary

Wow, it’s crazy how time flies! I didn’t realize it until my dad emailed me this past week that it’s been a month since I last blogged- oops, sorry dad, I’m alive and doing well! I have learned so much about cultural adjustment, the way of life here in India, the meaning of the “little things” and many other things that I probably won’t be able to articulate because there’s just so much that I’ve experienced. So, I’ll discuss two events that really stuck with me and I’ll end with a short summary of what I’ve been up to.

1)    Mixed Fruit

I seem to encounter this just about every time I start a conversation with a local citizen when I’m alone, with Song, or with our group of friends. Whether it’s with a stranger, or a shopkeeper, or a rickshaw driver, I’m always questioned, “where are you from, ma’am?” or “from where madam?” or “Japan me? China me?” or “you are looking like you from China ma’am, from where?.” I never thought anything of it because it was normal to get questioned when we initially arrived in Jaipur and the majority of the time we traveled, I was with the other students who were predominantly Caucasian so we always answered as a group, “we’re from America” or “USA” or we’d replied in our limited Hindi skills, “ham Amrika se hoon.” Then as we spent more time in Jaipur, learned more Hindi, Song & I would get the question twice or they would answer the question for us immediately after they asked it.

This recently occurred when a group of friends and I were on our way home in a rickshaw and the driver had started a conversation with us about who we were and what we were doing here in Jaipur. Since it was pretty loud and only a few of us had a good hold on our Hindi skills, my friend Zeenat & I had answered most of the questions. Surprised by our speaking abilities, he laughed and asked if Zeenat was a “mixed vegetable” (because she’s Indian but from America) and if I was a “mixed fruit” because I could speak Hindi so well but did not look fully Indian or American. To my surprise, I was really amused because one, no other stranger has ever been so impressed about my limited Hindi speaking skills and two, I’ve never heard of the term before. It was one of those moments where I really considered explaining my ethnicity and nationality to him, but chose not to. I’m not sure why I didn’t but I think at that point, I came to terms with the idea that it’s alright if others may not understand who I am or where I’m from, all that matters is that I know who I am and know where I’m from.

2)    A Simple Hello

Two weekends ago, a group of friends and I traveled to see the Blue City, Jodhpur (6 hour train ride from Jaipur). We toured (and ziplined over) the Mehrangarh Fort, toured the Umaid Palace and visited the spice market (we got tons of great spices from a really hospitable and kind lady). After we explored the market, it was time to head to the train station and go back to Jaipur. Now, train rides are always an interesting experience because you never know who you’re going to sit with (aside from the party you’re traveling with), you never know how cramped or empty the train will be and you’ll almost never know the exact arrival time (sometimes early, sometimes on time, sometimes super delayed). On our train ride back to Jaipur, I sat with Sadia and Song, across from an elder couple. We were exhausted from traveling all weekend so we all decided to take naps and listen to our own music.

After about an hour or so, we woke back up and greeted the couple in front of us since we didn’t before when we initially got on the train. We started talking with the couple using our limited Hindi skills and we could tell we were still lacking because they laughed at about everything we said! We mostly talked about who we were (students from America, not from Nepal), where we were going (Jaipur to study) and where they were going. Because our Hindi was so limited, we spoke in English as well, and used a lot of hand signals and pointing. The lady barely spoke because she couldn’t speak or understand English so her husband translated when we spoke in English. This eventually led to the discussion of the lady’s attire and accessories. We admired her pretty bangles, shiny and color-coordinated toe-rings, her matching silver anklets and her perfectly round nose-ring so much that it consumed about half of the conversation. The best thing I said that night was probably, “apke (insert accessory here) bahut sundr hai, ham bahut passand hai” (your accessory is very pretty, we really like it). Every time I said this about a piece of her accessory, she smiled and laughed. When we got to talking about her bangles, she offered to let us try them on and we kindly declined and stated that we were just observing/admiring and wanted to tell her that they were very pretty (her husband translated). The next thing you know, she digs into her purse, pulls out a white-elephant-embroidered with gold bangle and hands it to me as her husband says, “she wants to give to you.” As I was absolutely caught off guard, I wasn’t sure what to do except kindly decline since I was always raised to not take things that weren’t mine, even when someone offered (because it is always more polite to be modest and decline). I declined and replied with, “ah nahi, ye apke kangel, hamare nahi. Ham sirf dekh” (oh no, these are your bangles, not ours. We are just looking). After declining a couple of more times, she took out the other bangle and handed it to Song while her husband stated that she insisted on us taking them. We kindly declined again and he replied with, “no money want, just gift to you. Please take.” Completely surprised and touched by now, we finally gave in and thanked her for it. Since it was nearing their destination, we took pictures with both of them and thanked them both for the great conversation and for their generosity. They smiled and left at the next train stop.

When we finally reached home, Song & I told our host family about the entire event. After telling them about the couple and what had happened, they said we were “very lucky the couple was nice because people who usually do this ask for money in return.” Then when we discussed how the couple told us they only had three sons, our host-mom told us that the reason for her gifting the bangles was probably because the lady didn’t have any daughters of her own. Whatever the reason was, it was definitely an experience that proved just how far a simple hello could go, despite language barriers.

3)    A Summary

I have learned to adjust to many, many things that I would probably never adjust to back home. Some of these things include: constant loud-honking from possibly every car on the road (mind you, there are about 2.3 million people in the city of Jaipur), crazy rides in tuk-tuks (rickshaws), taking late night cold showers everyday, all-vegetarian meals for breakfast/lunch/dinner, foul-smelling streets, no-structured classes and as mentioned earlier, my assumed ethnicity.

I have improved my Hindi skills but I still have so much to learn and work on. I have now seen one of the greatest 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. I’ve also seen Agra Fort in Agra, India. I can now say that I’ve ridden on an elephant and have seen Amber Fort here in Jaipur, India. I have seen the blue city, Jodhpur, where I’ve toured Umaid Palace and the Mehrangarh Fort. I also zip lined in the vicinity of Mehrangarh Fort, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve learned to bargain well but still have yet to learn how to budget my finances better. We started our internship track courses (I’m in the Education and Social Service track) and took our first field trip to an all-girl’s school (Vimukti Girls School) that serves 300 girls from the slums of Jaipur. It was such a great time meeting and learning from the students. In addition to that, I’ve also been accepted to intern for the remainder of the term at Seva Mandir. It’s a development non-profit organization that strives to build stronger communities through various development projects in woman empowerment, youth education, sustainability, etc. I’m so excited to start after our holiday break, wish me luck!

Here are a couple of photos from my adventures during this past month and a half.

Agra Fort
Agra Fort
The beautiful Taj Mahal
The beautiful Taj Mahal
A prop used in a traditional Rajasthani dance
A prop used in a traditional Rajasthani dance
At the Kalakar Basti art colony
Learning the art of puppeteering at the Kalakar Basti Art Colony
Learning the Kalbilya dance.
Learning the Kalbilya dance.
Ziplining at Mehrangarh Fort!
Ziplining at Mehrangarh Fort!
On our way up to Amber Fort
On our way up to Amber Fort
At the Sanganer Block Printing company
At the Sanganer Block Printing company
Having fun at the Haveli House/Museum in Shekhawati village
Having fun at the Haveli House/Museum in Shekhawati village
With the nice couple from the train. You can somewhat see the bangles she gave us on mine and Song's wrist.
With the nice couple from the train. You can somewhat see the bangles she gave us on mine and Song’s wrist.

Lord Ganesh & Mehndi Fun

It was the first day of the 10-day festival for Lord Ganesh the night that we arrived at our new home. Our family took Song and I to the Ganesh Temple, which is literally about 50 feet from our apartment complex so we walked through the busy road. As I entered the walkway entrance into the temple, I rang one of the temple bells that hung above my head, got up close enough to the platform to see the huge Lord Ganesh (an elephant) completely decked out in costume and mehndi. It was surrounded by many small and huge sweet dessert-like treats called ladoos. A lot of the ladoos were either given as offerings to Lord Ganesh or prepared by the temple owners for the community and people who visited the temple. Parts of the large ladoos were distributed and shared with the community midway through the festival.

Later that week, I looked more closely at the pictures of all the lords/goddesses throughout our house and noticed that Lord Ganesh was the only animal/non-human lord out of the bunch. I asked my host-mom/sister why that was and told me an incredibly neat story of how Lord Ganesh came to be. The story they told me can be found here: http://www.amritapuri.org/3714/ganesha.aum (I don’t want to miss anything in the story so this is an online story version that is closest to the story they told me).

In celebration of Lord Ganesh and our first time being in India, our host-sister Akshara, put mehndi (henna) on our hands. Mehndi is typically applied to female hands and feet during Hindu weddings, festivals and/or happy occasions. After a good 3-hour period of slowly and carefully applying mehndi to our hands, we were finally finished. These beautiful intricate designs on our hands ranged from flowers to swirls to something that looked similar to a peacock (national bird of India). After the mehndi dried, we peeled off the remaining dried ink that didn’t fall off and applied almond oil afterwards. The designs were initially reddish-orange and would eventually get darker overnight/time.

The next morning during breakfast, my mama-ji asked to look at our hands and when she saw them she expressed, “wha, bahut khoobsurat hai! Very dark & red!” (Wow, it’s so beautiful). Our papa-ji was also there at time and noticed how dark the designs had gotten. He cheerfully said, “ariwhar, so dark! According to Indian beliefs, the darker/redder the henna is, the more your life partner will love you or you will find a very loving life partner if you don’t have one yet.” It was the first time I had ever gotten full mendhi so I never knew this before. I was thought to myself, “it’s probably darker because I have lighter melanin in my skin tone but…I sure hope you’re right papa-ji!” I laughed and thanked my host-parents and left for school afterwards.

Thanks to Lord Ganesh’s birthday, I learned a couple of fun stories/beliefs. Looking forward to more stories and adventures this weekend as I’m off to Agra to see the great Taj Mahal- Happy Friday 🙂

Here is the statue of Lord Ganesh, surrounded by the many ladoos I mentioned.

Here is the statue of Lord Ganesh, surrounded by the many ladoos I mentioned.

Before it dried

Before it dried

After it dried

After it dried

Lessons Learned

After the first day of school, everyone in our class decided that we’d go to the local movie theatre at Pink City Mall to catch a movie since we’ve all been eager to experience it. We purchased tickets for the fairly new movie, “Chennai Express” and went to the food court to find something to eat and kill some time before the movie. Ordering food with limited Hindi and with no knowledge on how to order and purchase food was probably one of the most ridiculous, frustrating and funny experience I’ve ever had.

Song and I were really hungry so we wanted to order a decently larger meal that we could both share. We examined the menu and decided on a combo meal of rice and a side dish for 150 rupees but for some reason, we couldn’t pay with cash. We didn’t understand why though because we pay with cash upfront everywhere back home and assumed it worked the same way here. The worker tried explaining why they couldn’t take our cash and tried to direct us to some other place but we still didn’t understand him. A bystander who noticed our struggle to understand the worker, communicated to us with his limited English that we needed to go to the front desk of the food court, get something like a cash card, put money on it and then use it to purchase our food. After we thanked the man who helped us, we went over to the desk, got a card and put money on it. We went back to the food stall and tried ordering our meal again but it didn’t work. A little more frustrated at this point, we asked why it didn’t work and showed the receipt to the worker to prove we had put money on it. The same man who helped us before came back and explained to us that we were 20 rupees short and that the card had not been activated yet. It wasn’t until after we looked at the receipt again that we realized we had technically only gotten 130 rupees on it. We thanked the man again and went back to the desk and added 20 more rupees to the card to activate it. We double-checked our receipt to ensure that we had 170 rupees on the card. Now that we had 170 rupees, we were confident that we’d be able to get our food this time. Nope, we were wrong.

We gave the card to the worker and tried to order our meal- we were rejected once again. Super flustered and frustrated at this point, we showed him our receipts, pointed out that we had 170 rupees on the card and insisted that we had paid enough and should be able to purchase our meal. He pointed at the wall and we read the sign “5% tax to every meal.” Of course there would be tax and of course we would forget about it! Completely irritated and amused at this point, we laughed it off, gave up and ordered a cheaper meal with pop to use the entire value of the card.

Lesson learned: Never assume, always read everything, don’t be afraid to ask for help and remember to laugh about the situation afterwards!

 

Homestay Family

I’ve finally met and settled into my homestay in Jaipur and I am so thankful to have such a wonderful host-family. My family consists of 5 people: mama-ji, papa-ji, Akshay-bhai, Aksharaya-behn as well as my dear friend and roommate, Song. We all run on different schedules but mama-ji always wakes up early to make us breakfast and lunch, papa-ji works late but always makes it home for dinner and there is always family time at the end of the night. It’s only been the first week but I’m already starting to think about how I should be more thankful for the little things similar to this back home and how I should do more to make more time for my family.

Missing Papa-ji

Missing Papa-ji

9/4/13- Trouble at McDonald’s

We left Delhi for Jaipur and took probably what seemed to be the longest 6-hour car drive I’ve ever been in. We stopped 3 times, once at McDonald’s, a gas station and another pit stop so our van drivers could eat. The McDonald’s break was for lunch since we were going to be on the road for such a long time. I rarely eat McDonald’s back home and here I was skimming the menu to see what would keep me full for the next 6 hours. The menu was obviously different but some of the meals were still pretty similar to value meals we have in the U.S. I just found it so interesting that the ingredients were almost completely different from the ingredients used back at home yet the meals were so similar. I’ve never seen such a different McDonald’s menu so I took a picture of it hoping I could compare it to one back in MN when I leave home. As I took my 2nd picture, one of the workers called me out and said, “No pictures please, ma’am.” Startled and confused, I apologized and wondered why it wasn’t ok for me to take pictures of the menu. It wasn’t until 5 minutes after I ordered my 250-rupee chicken wrap meal when I realized why taking pictures wasn’t welcomed. I would’ve never guessed that I would eat a chicken wrap at a McDonald’s in India, let alone get in trouble for taking a picture of their menu.

Lesson learned: Always ask if you can take a picture of something before you do it.

Traffic Ways

Today was full of orientation and a short bus city tour of Delhi. We passed by numerous places such as Red Fort, an ancient beautiful ruined palace of the Mughal Emperor; a garden built in honor of Ghandi and the President’s and parliament houses. On our way to view the President’s house, the van we rode in had died and what an adventure that was. Our driver immediately made what would be an illegal u-turn in the U.S., a “normal” u-turn right in the middle of the highway into the shoulder as our van was shutting down. It made me wonder what exactly were the traffic laws in India and whether or not I’d live to find out. Fortunately, I lived to tell the story but I have yet to learn the “legal” traffic ways of India as well as get used to it.

Namaste from India!

When I landed in Delhi, along with my other classmates whom I randomly ran into on the flight, I finally couldn’t believe I was in Delhi, let alone India! We quickly introduced ourselves and became immediate “best friends” since we were expecting to be the only folks struggling to find our way around the airport. After we claimed our baggage and found our contact person, we went outside to wait for our bus and the extreme heat immediately signified that we were in India. As we walked to our bus, we were slowly approached by a group of men who wanted to help us with our luggage and eventually ended up carrying and loaded our luggage for us since our contact person said it was “alright.” However, all of the men asked for money afterwards. I’m not sure if it was fortunate or unfortunate for us but we were told by our MSID teachers to not exchange our money until we were in Jaipur so no one had any rupees yet. So half of us tried to explain using our hands that we had no money, while the other half were trying to figure out what to do, how to respond and how much money we should give if we were going to give any.

The man who had my luggage held out his hands signaling he wanted money before loading my luggage and I tried explaining that I had no Indian currency yet and said I’d take my luggage and load it myself but he blocked it and said “Amrika money ok.” At this point, the majority of my classmates had loaded the bus already and either paid or ignored the men. I not knowing what to do and feeling a little overwhelmed already, figured it would be alright to give $1.00 in U.S. currency (it was the smallest change I had) so I paid the man, watched him load my luggage and boarded the bus. I mean, it was just $1.00 right?

Apparently not. When I got on the bus I asked if anyone else had paid and I’m not sure if anyone else had but one of the friends nearby asked how much I gave and when I told her I had given $1.00, she said I gave way too much and should’ve just told them I had no money. She explained that it’s only $1.00 to us but it’s about 90+ rupees to them, which is “a lot” for loading just one luggage. Confused and surprised, I thought about what would’ve been a reasonable amount to give and although I did give “too much,” wouldn’t it have been disrespectful or rude of me to not pay him for helping me with my luggage? I understood that perhaps I did give more than I should have, but I still honestly would have felt bad if I didn’t give any money at all.

Pre-travel Jitters

I’m literally one week away from leaving my family and country to live and study abroad in India for almost 4 months! I’m in the process of finishing up my internship at MHS and am moving towards preparing and packing for India- where has summer gone to? I’m so excited and nervous at the same time, I can’t believe I’ll be gone in a week. The feelings are surreal.

Until my first adventure in India, stay safe & happy, folks 🙂