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.
Before it dried
After it dried
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.