Friday, January 21, 2005


Achachacha (Which means good)

I've ducked into the very appropriately named Ice Net cyber Cafe here in Shimla to escape the freezing temperatures and continuing snow to provide a little update.

I thought I'd give a brief overview of my schedule here as my time here has become very routinized.
8 AM Wake up, take at least 10 minutes to prepare myself to get out of my warm bed and into the cold. The temperatures in Rajgarh haven't been that bad, my guess is that lows were probably in the high 30's or low 40's. The problem is that th building doesn't have heat. This makes the next task, showering, a bit a challenge since the shower area is unattached to my room and only a flimsy door separates me from the cold air. Plus, there's probably only about 5-8 minutes worth of hot water. I've now developed an elaborate system involving 1 foot in a large bucket of warm water that helps to keep me from shivering to death. Next, I return to my room, put on one of my salwaar kameezes, which is an India women's suit that consists of basically a short dress with slits over a pair of puffy, pajama-like pants. I then try to put the dupata, the shawl-like covering the this outfit, on in some elegant way like the women do here but inevitably I fail and end up repositioning it around my neck and torso all day.
9AM Go up to the common room, eat breakfast, drink 2 teacups of chai, read yesturday's Hindustan Times. Grab some yarn, supplies, books and get ready to head out to work.

10AM Kewal, our highly competant driver, winds up around the hairpin turns while pounding on his horn and safely gets me to my first placement. This is a tailoring school set up by ex-military men for young women in the surrionding area to learn a valuable skill. They are funny, boisterous girls. I walk down the treachourous steep and narrow stairs to their classrooms and I'm greeted with outburts of "namaste," "hello Jenna" and "Jenna-didi (sister), sit here!" They show me their awesome finished projects, then I try to show them something else. I field their questions about my "Indian-looking boyfriend" and when I'm going to get married. I listen to them chat and giggle in Hindi, try to pick up what I can.

12PM Go to second placement with a much smaller group of women. They have more education and more of an intuitive sense with the knitting. They are mostly interested in learning new stitch patterns. I help them through the English instructions for them and field their questions about American weddings. Chatter at the son of the school's owner and his wife, who's one of my students. This child is literally one of the cutest children I've ever seen but he's very shy towards me.
2PM Return to the home base, eat lunch. Maybe have a Hindi lession. Have free time until dinner, which I usually tend to fill with reading, sock knitting (almost done with my first pair!), walking around on the hills, watching some satelitte TV. Sometimes we have a cultural event, like our visits this week to a local jam factory and to the nearest larger town to see a Hindi action movie in the theater. Alright, and even though it's totally stereotypical, I've also tried to start meditating. My purpose with it and not necessarily devine but really just to quiet my mind. It's crazy that I've been wanting to come back to this country for over 2 years, I've worked hard and saved to be here and now that I'm here, I spend a lot of time thinking about home. I'm trying to meditate to allow me to be more present in what's going on around me at the moment but I have not been that successful as of yet.
6:30PM Go back to the common room for dinner, eat 15-30 minutes later.
7:30PM Gather around the electric heater, with many exclamations of thunda, thunda (cold cold)! Either stay there and play an intense game of Uno with the 3 staff members (Lalu, Ajay and Kewal) or watch some Bollywood movies. Sometimes, if I can sneak away the remote, I put on whatever cheezy movies are on the 2 or 3 English channels. Generally hang out, chat, knit.
10:30 PM Head back to my room, get ready for bed. Spend at least 5 minutes getting acclimated to the chilly bedcovers. Read for a while, sleep.

Repeat as necessary.

This week was both more challenging and more rewarding than the last. I had a pretty intense bout of homesickness early in the week that got me a little down. One of the amazing things about India is that it's really its own world because it has such a complete culture. Oftentimes in other countries, one will see some familiar reminders of home, for better or for worse. The movies, TV shows, music, foods, of America are now all over the world. Even if these things are unwelcome intrusions, they are familiar and comfortable. While those things are here to some degree, India has its own take on all of these, making English-language, American made versions unnecessary. While I'm trying to gain insight into as many of these aspects as I can, it's a daunting challenge. Even if an outsider could get to a point of full understanding of one aspect of the culture, there would still be 26 other states, at least 10 other main languages, and thousands of local dialects, 6 other religions, hundreds of foods, thousands of temples, 333 million gods, millions of cows, millions of arranged marriages, 1 billion other people, other minds and opinions to know here. This monolithic nature of the culture here got to me this week. Really, I just started to miss hearing my language and understanding what's going on around me.

I took steps to make myself feel better and feel that I have gotten more immersed in my experience here as a result. Now, I look forward to seeing my students, trying to speak to them, watching them actually pick up some new skills. I love the tasty meals I'm served and look forward to seeing the next ridiculous premise and highly unrealistic action scenes in the movies. Overall,however, I don't think I'll be able to make a good judgement of this experience until after I leave in about a week and a half.

Now I'm enjoying myself here in Shimla despite the cold. This town used the be the summer capitol of the British Raj - and now I see why it was only for the summer! Because of this history, there are many beautiful colonial buildings, statues, etc. There's also a temple to the Monkey god here that's filled with many of his primate followers that I'm going to try to climb to tomorrow.

Although I'm not responding to many of your messages, please keep them coming. Mazel Tov to Meagan and Andy! I love reading them and knowing what everyone is up to. I really miss everyone. Namaste.


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