Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't fight against the current

In a country where the traffic laws are relaxed and arriving 30 minutes late is generally acceptable, it is advisable to go with the flow. On Monday afternoon around 3:00 I had a conference with a MCC professor. At the conference he talked to me and the other three international students about our field placements, as well as signed a few forms. Around 3:30 he casually invited us on a field trip to Mahabalipuram Beach which is an hour and a half away from school. The bus left the school at 3:50.

In the U.S. context, this situation rarely happens. Going on this trip back home would have meant knowing about it for weeks and singing a ridiculous amount of consent forms. But I’m in India and none of this happened. Instead at 3:50, the other international students and I joined the first year MSW (master of social work) students on a trip to Mahabalipuram Beach, despite there being no additional room on the bus. When I got to the beach I was pleasantly surprised. Mahabalipuram is an oasis with beautiful palm trees and a coast line that stretches for miles. At the beach I put my feet in the water, collected sea shells, and took pictures like a tourist.

Around 6:00 the MCC students and I met with a group of high school Swedish students to talk about cultural differences between India, Sweden, and the U.S. We broke into about eight small groups with five people in each group. There, each person wrote down two questions that would help them to better understand the other person’s country. When all the questions were written down, they were placed in an envelope and traded to another group to ensure anonymity. Question topics included marriage and dating practices, politics, and musical interests. The first question I answered was whether or not it is okay to spank a child. I learned so much about Sweden and India. After the group discussion, I ate a fancy dinner and watched the MCC students perform a department dance.

The trip was unexpected, but I had so much fun and learned a lot. Going with the flow is the way to go.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Highlights from Excursion #1

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I went to Wayanad from Wednesday to Sunday. On Sunday night I left Wayanad and went to Karnataka, India’s eighth largest state. Karnataka is home to Mysore city.  Here are the highlights from my stay in Wayanad and Mysore:

1. Swimming in a river

I have never been in a river before. The water was warm and the current was strong.

2. Climbing the Western Ghat mountains to reach the MeenMutty Water Falls

Going down the mountain was more arduous than going up. Thank God for Michael (a MCC student) for helping me down the mountain and the park ranger for helping me up. The waterfalls were gorgeous; pictures cannot capture its beauty.   

3. Being harassed by wild trash monkeys

India’s wild trash monkeys look cute and innocent from a distant, but up close they are menacing little creatures. The worst part about them is that they do not fear humans. These monkeys will hiss at you, take your food, and invade your bus. They have no qualms about taking bags either; so never lay your bag down, even if it’s inches from you. This was my first time seeing wild monkeys that were not a part of a zoo. I freaked out when the monkeys started hissing at me; it was scary but amusing at the same time. Coming face to face with wild trash monkeys made it seem like I was in the movie Jumanji.

4. Visiting Mysore

In Mysore, I toured the city and visited the famous Mysore Palace. Besides the Mysore Palace, the city is known for its sandalwood and silk.

Mysore is also where I had my first bartering experience. I have to admit, I made a few good deals. A vendor, for example, tried to sell me a wooden recorder for 350 rupees ($7). At the end of the transaction I got three recorders and a toy snake for 100 rupees ($2).  

5. Hanging out with the MCC students

It was nice to get to know my classmates better. We worshipped together and had tons of laughs and interesting conversations. This trip brought me close to them.

6. Enjoying the beauty of Wayanad and Mysore

It is gorgeous out here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Excursion # 1

Here is some background information before you read this blog post:

During the semester I will go on trips throughout India. My first trip was last weekend. I left last Wednesday evening and returned Tuesday morning. I visited Wayanad, Kerala. Wayanad is a district located in north-east Kerala, India. Kerala, which is in western India, is one of the country’s 28 states. Wayanad is a remote part of the Western Ghats and is home to many tribal groups.

My last Facebook status read “going to the woods for 5 days…no internet or phone connection.” When I wrote my status I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that I was going to Wayanad to visit aboriginal groups. I have never been camping nor do I consider myself an “outdoorsy” person. When I heard about this excursion to the woods, I pictured myself killing insects, running from wild animals, and trekking through poison ivy. I thought the indigenous people were going to look like they belonged from the cover of National Geographic. I imagined that they were going to have bows and arrows, little clothing, and face paint.

To an extent, my preconceptions about my trip were right. I did get attacked by mosquitoes and other creepy crawlers; and at the end of the excursion, my bus was invaded by wild trash monkeys (I will write about them later). However, there was no poison ivy and the indigenous people of Wayanad did not fit my stereotypical image of a tribal group.

I visited four tribal groups. And no, the tribes’ people were not naked and they did not have face paint. They did, however, have bows and arrows, but I only saw them during the archery competition at one of the festivals. The four tribal groups that I visited are the Mulla Kurumbas, Beta Kurumbas, Paniyas, and Kattu Nayakas.
Here are some interesting facts I learned from talking to them:

  • When a girl gets her period she gets moved to a separate room and does not go out until money is raised for a celebration

  • They believe in witchcraft. If someone falls ill the tribes’ people blame it on witchcraft.

  • Once a child is born, the mother and child stay in the same room for seven days

Kattu Nayakas
  • Many of the tribesmen are daily laborers who grow coffee and pepper. They can earn 200 to 300 rupees a day ($4-6).  The Mulla Kurumbas may be more educated so they have greater access to better paying jobs.

  • Dogs are used for hunting and protection. But the Kattu Nayakas, used to have 20-25 dogs in their house to keep them warm at night.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Written at 3:20 P.M.

Right now I am sitting in the immigration office to let the Indian government know that I am in their country and will be here for the next three months. The immigration office is like any other federal building I’ve been to. The service is slow, there are long lines with lots of people, and the paint on the walls has been neglected. This not the first time I’ve been to this building; in fact it is the fourth. Each time I come here there is an issue. I have the wrong documentation, I have come at the wrong time, or the internet is malfunctioning.

But as I sit here in this office, I find it fascinating. In this room, which is no bigger than two dorm rooms, there are people who represent multiple countries. As I look around there are people from Africa, Germany, Norway, Iraq, etc. I talked to a Mormon missionary from Las Vegas, two Sudanese students, and a Nissan engineer from Japan while I was waiting. I feel blessed to be sitting among these people who come from all over the world. I could be frustrated and outraged at my situation, but I am taking it all in stride. It is not every day that I receive this opportunity. I am going to absorb every moment here, even if it is at the Indian Bureau of Immigration.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sights from Day One

I was fed so much on the planes to Abu Dhabi and Chennai. I ate four meals: Chicken in mustard seed sauce with mixed vegetables and roasted Yukon potatoes, grilled vegetable and lettuce on white bread, Pasta filled with cheese and Roma tomato sauce, and dory fish served with lemon rice and veggies. Here are the menus:


Abu Dhabi Airport:


The Remainder of the Day

Pick and Pack
Presents from Anu
My Dorm (Martin Hall)

Leading to the Mess Hall
First Lunch

West Tambaram Marketplace
Hungry Cow
West Tambaram Marketplace
Chicken 65