Wednesday, August 26, 2009

rural adventures part 2

just to let everyone know, i have safely returned from rural india with:
1. more hair
2. less weight (uhh, so i seriously eat 3+ meals a day because the food here is phenomenal but i still lost ~5kgs aka 10 pounds or so... curious...)
3. mosquito bites that amount to teenage pimples all over my body
4. an appreciation for electricity, internet access, and phone access, hot water, clean water, and toilet paper
5. less gifts for you guys (i gave them away to these kids at an orphanage but it's ok, i will find something else...)
and lastly, 6. the concept of "jugar, jugar" - aka no more type A Justin... (IST is so prevalent here. So if you thought BPT or APT was bad, let me introduce to you IST - indian stretchable time. if BPT and APT had a baby, IST would be it. pretty much a test of patience and flexibility, which i have finally succeeded in not succumbing to frustration.)

so the second place we visited was lokshala, jharkhand. we were invited by an organization headed by a fellow wolverine. he did his post doc at uofm way back when and now he teaches biochem at some medical school in india and he's one of the main people in charge of this volunteering area. but anyway, it's hard to describe the village - it has electricity so it's not like terribly rural but it's still a pretty rural place. the electricity ends at around 10pm every night so early rest! or meetings and work in the dark. anyway, upon arrival, they hired help to carry our luggages (even though it really wasnt necessary) but it was still a cool sight. i am super amazed at these hired help because these luggage were pretty heavy. each head-load could be up to like 40-50kgs (100lbs) which is a lot of weight to put on your head and they were able to walk it some distance, balanced and all that.

some pictures of the area:
so this area has a problem with keeping water since it runs off so they built man-made lakes to store the water for irrigation and everything else. depicted here is a small lake that is used to water the crops, do laundry, and shower (i wonder if soap water is good for crops).
a beautiful alley way. there's something tremendously wonderful about these villages. their simplicity is captivating. and the surrounding natural landscape is breathtaking. you wouldnt think this is india if i didnt tell you it is.
so these villages were a lot cleaner than the ones back at gaya - there's no human feces everywhere but there still is cow feces. better at least.
a local craft shop that we visited. their 'sarees' (sp?) are beautiful. they also make sarees for sail. it takes about 30 hours of hard labor to finish one piece and they sell it for like $10-20, which is like nothing. for the man-labor they put in each article of clothing, they should be making a fortune.
some kids observing us. adorable.
our living quarters. as you can see, mosquito nets everywhere. except they were useless. jharkhand mosquitos are way worse than new delhi or gaya mosquitos. those pale in comparison to the deadliness of these monsters. you're itchy for about an hour after the bite but the worse part comes in the middle of the night when the venom starts acting up and you just want to chop off your arms and legs. even now, i have local infections at every bite. mega not awesome!
our common room, which is very cozy and homely. i want my home to be like this... oh and our parrot (?)

so we came here for 2 things: teaching at schools again and cultural exchange. most of the schools were in terrible shape, lacking in school supplies and books. some lacking in teachers (since it's hard to entice teachers to come to such rural an area). and some were so crowded, it's hard to imagine how one can ever learn. there was this one classroom that could probably seat 30-40 comfortably but it sat over 100 students. and since there was no electricity, there was no lights on the ceiling, nor fans. it was dark and stuffy even with the windows and door open. what a terrible learning environment...

this one room building is an entire public school for an entire village. under-funded much?
but the kids were awesome and i think they enjoyed our time there as much as we enjoyed it. i think we ended up teaching at 5 different schools (even though we really shouldve just stayed at one) but nonetheless, it was a touching experience.
doesnt that look delicious? because it was...

then for the second part of the trip, we just enjoyed our time there - milking cows, painting walls, sewing (she said of the entire group, i was her best student - awesome!!), and making daily appliances... like a broom! haha

and of course, we had to do yoga. or why else would we come to india? haha

yeah so that pretty much somes up this part of the trip. lots of little stories but cant remember right now...

OH! and peace corps wrote me. i have been finally medically and dentally cleared. so now all that is left is an invitation for placement, which will happen sometime in september or october... hopefully. cant wait, awesome!!

i will return to new york post september 20th so get ready to hang out with me!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

rural adventures part 1

currently in a small internet cafe which is pretty much a small room with 5 computers located in a basement in a dark underground alley in the small village of bodhgaya, the place where the buddha was enlightened. internet is snail slow!!! but... where to begin!

1. so before i talk about leaving new delhi, a couple more interesting observations. outdated fashion - popped collars rampant. that was totally a news flash bulletin type thing. but damn, i wish i took pictures of the unfathomably large number of popped collars on every street. it's like a twilight zone. BUT i think it makes sense because the sun here is too unbearably unbearable and therefore a "popped" collar would prevent the back of your neck from getting too sun-burned. wow, a useful purpose for a popped collar instead of an antique fashion statement.

2. so we make yogurt from scratch - aka milk and yeast and voila! it's actually quite delicious. none of that fake articial crap. though adding sugar to plain yogurt makes it lovely.

3. a garbage system is non-existent - just throw it out the window like forreal forreal. ok so im sure there's a garbage truck that comes and picks up the street trash at some point in time but like literally, i have never seen it. my reality is that garbage just miraculously and magically disappears each day. but seriously, no trash cans exist. couldnt find one anywhere...

4. cow poop house! so cow shit is very useful. you can burn it like fuel. and quite shockingly, it doesnt smell bad at all. maybe theyre just eating the right things, or they actually smell terrible but im just getting used to them, lol. either way, there's a cow poop house right by where i live. this house is literally made of cow shit. and what's inside this house? piles and piles of more cow shit! basically, theyre storing it for the winter when they can use it to cook or whatnot. (btw, disclaimer: so sometimes i forget to bring my camera along so i take pictures with my blackberry, which dont turn out that great quality-wise, so bear with me...)

5. worst tanlines ever! im dark as a mofo but this flip flop tan and farmer tan is just ridic! luckily by the time i come back, beach season is over but still, if i ever needed to strip down (say hooking up or something haha), im screwed because i'm like crispy deep-fried tan on all my appendages but my core body is like egg white (why am i using food references...) AND no matter how i dont wear flip flops, my flip flop tan just wont go away. but on a side note, I LOVE BAREFOOT NOW. like i've so liberated in my life before. (im totally becoming indian, as the people around me are starting to tease me about)... but walking around barefoot is like... amazing. if only i could be this free elsewhere, haha.

6. realization: accents are one way. they can understand mine but sometimes i have a hard time understanding theirs. it's just not fair.

ok, now i can begin on how and why i am in bodhgaya. so this volunteer group (from taiwan, australia, and canada) has come to india for a volunteering slash buddhist pilgrimage tour so i am accompanying them on their journey. adventures ahead!! we will be teaching at all these different schools and at the same time, touring the countryside.

7. so first, we had to take a train from delhi to gaya, which is about 12 hours (not so bad considering you could sleep and the return trip some other day in the future will be 17-18 hours - gross). BUT chaotic train rides! - best experience ever. so condition #1: we had about 17 people and close to 45 luggages (including personal bags and hand carries). now that's just ridiculous. if we didnt lose anything, that wouldve been a godsend. condition #2: the train leaves the station in like 3 minutes so we had to get all of our luggage on in that time. mind you, there are other people that exist in the world and need to take the train too. condition #3: the passage way is about as wide as a person. aka, not a lot of room to move about. so with these 3 conditions, you can imagine the chaos that happened when we got on the train. it was like the fastest olympic dash (carrying luggage instead of battons). but once settled, i thought these trains were awesome! they had beds and little privacy. when not sleeping, people sat on the bottom bunk and shared. so people stared at me and i just stare at them. lol and then we talk and laugh at how ridiculous it was, whatever just took place, the whole luggage fiasco. the food is delicious, which is always a plus. and the bathrooms are, awkward. so it's like the squatting kind, which by now i have gotten used to since there are many of these overseas. but this one is particularly cool because you can actually see the railroad tracks at the other end of the shitter. which means whatever comes out of your body ends up right on the tracks, where ever the train is. WHICH reminded me that we had to cross railroad tracks earlier to get on the train and the thought of stepping in other people's shit was not appetizing. so lesson learned: never step on railroad tracks in india, no matter how tempting you want to take pictures on them. there's actually this train tunnel in Varanasi where the train goes above and the cars go through the tunnel and there's no ceiling so cars and motorbikes AND pedestrians have learned not to cross underneath the tunnel when the train is passing overhead. (all you hear is splatter splatter splatter. OR you get splatted on. GROSS)

the other great thing is that no one wakes you up when your stop comes so you just gotta pray. nor do you know the actual arrival time because the trains get delayed or travel faster at their leisure. so our "suggested" arrival time was 4am. it ended up being i think, 30 minutes delayed but imagine our feeling come 3:30am. "shit, ive never taken a train in india before. where are we? whats the next station? is the train running on schedule? crap, it's too dark outside to see anything!" adventures!

8. so bodhgaya is in a pretty rural area, but it's a very spiritual place. lots and lots of temples. but before getting to the spiritual bodhgaya, let's talk about learning to let go american cleanliness. now i thought there was a lot of cow poop in delhi. boy was i wrong. the country side is literally paved with animal gold (let us refer to feces as gold). be it cows or dogs or pigs or hogs or horses or duck gold. it's everywhere. but that's not the end of it. there is human gold everywhere too. story time! so as we were arriving at our new residence, we saw many children running naked in the streets. like young 2-4 year olds so whatever, they're young, they're probably poor and they're nude... different but ok. but anyway, they were running, and then one of the kid stops and squats. and im thinking ok maybe he (or she) is tired. but all of a sudden, gold starts flowing from this little kid's butt and everyone around me was like AHHHH! LOL. the kid gets up after he/she is done and then runs along again (totally didnt wipe = hygiene fail) so lesson learned = there is human and animal gold everywhere... like... everywhere... so pray to god that at night time when there are no lights on the streets, whatever you're stepping in isnt what you hope it isnt. (lol) - so peeping on the sidewalks was ok in delhi. now pooping is okay as well. mentally noted.

now if you leave behind the unwelcoming part of the village (town?), the temples are all really beautiful. the main one is at Maha Vihar, the place where the Buddha became enlightened under a Bodhi Tree. now religious tradition is really cool. you must take off your shoes before entering a temple. so around maha vihar (which is a huge outdoor place), we had to walk barefoot (yay! though i dont want to think about the other people that normally walk barefoot outside in the streets and are immune to the cow shit and actually dont mind stepping in it and may have remnants under their feet which i am now stepping where their foot has been - ok im going to stop thinking about it because im becoming sick lol) ANYWAY, other beautiful temples and statues:

9. so after some sightseeing, we began to visit the schools. basic outline of our classes were elementary english, arts & craft, and teamwork building activities. i personally like the last one because i think sends the kids a subliminal message of some life values like doing good, thinking good, and speaking good - the ultimate message the organization i volunteer through sends. it really fits this society because all around, i witness pushing and shoving and this lack of the concept of waiting in line. everyone thinks everything is theirs so they just take it like they own it, without sharing, without appreciation. and the older kids hit the younger ones. there is no sense of unity - kinda backwords really. so teamwork building activities would send the intrinsic message that you have to work together to get things done better and faster, help each other and encourage each other to achieve your goal. it really shows - i never knew how much a smile could move something inside me. at the end of the day, i just want to kidnap all the kids and bring them home to the states with me - so many lost opportunities. it's quite sad. theyre so wonderful - kinda wish i could stay (damn im like totally indian) but anyway, we also brought them a healthy lunch at the school, which by the way was delicious. im very happy that i have a decently strong stomach to handle it. oh but man, i sweat an ocean everyday - sweating so much to the point that i actually dont have to go to the bathroom much - because i sweat it all out (gross). the funny thing is, everyone likes to squeeze together (which makes the pushing and shoving understandable). like the kids sit in little clusters literally on top of each other and the heat just intensifies with the closeness. 2 constants of the trip = sweating and mosquito bites (i hate the mah-chard)

10. i am great at bargaining now. just be aggressive and you'll get what you want at your price. even though they're still profitting since the thing theyre selling was probably close to free.

11. ooh, these were cool pics. on our way to Nalanda, one of the first universities in the world, we saw really cool bus crowding. imagine if buses were like that in the states. unacceptable, haha. but anyway, Nalanda was kinda cool, even though it was just a pile of remaining rocks.

OH, so we saw these beetles that roll poop and roll the poop home. i have a video, i shall post it to youtube someday (

12. cold water is a default. i totally appreciate hot water now. like there is no hot water. you want hot? wait til noon. the natural sun will heat the water and the water will be decently warm. but damn am i getting used to cold showers... and toilet paper is not like a commonly used item. and "loose motion" is the term used for diarrhea. lol, it totally makes sense! awesome!

13. so the second school we went to was... awesome! kinda very sad but let's use pictures to tell the story. first we had to drive on some road, but then we turned and drove down some unknown road. then the road kinda just stopped and we had to drive a little more through villages... but then that stopped and the driver said he could go no further so we had to walk on foot from there. so we walked through patty fields and corn fields and stuff. i felt like we were heading farther and farther from civilization. and then we come upon this river. or what wouldve been a river if there wasnt a drought going on. but still, the water was about knee deep at the deepest part... so we forged a river and then walked some more until, finally!!! we reached this village. i have a shit ton of pictures but it's impossible to post em all. just know that this village had no electricity what so ever. well, they kinda did. it was this old 2x3 feet solar panel. and that's it. phone service is out of the question. so yeah, but like i kinda fell in love with the village regardless because the kids wre so sweet. it's weird how sometimes, other people's happiness (seen through a smile or laughter) could actually bring about sadness. they have so little and have seen so little and yet, they are happy. isnt that what life is really about in the end, for us at least - the pursuit of happiness? seeing their joy really strengthened something in me, some desire to do something with my life. things we take for granted are so cherished here - a rubberband, some rope...
this school was harder to teach at because they didnt really speak hindi so our translators were of no use. the village was rural enough that they only really knew their local dialect so we had to use body language and games to teach, but in the end, everything worked out. i wish we couldve stayed a month at this village school alone - it wouldve been worth every minute of our stay but alas, it was not scheduled that way. maybe next time... (the kid in the blue and white are my fave. i wish i couldve stole them and put them in my suitcase and took them home with me =D) kids are awesome...

14. the last part of our journey was to a city called Varanasi - where the Ganga River is located, and where Buddha taught the Dharma for the first time. the ganga river is quite interesting because people believe the river itself is some god so they treasure the holy river and sand. hinduism rituals take place here all the time. all walks of life can be found near the river - people using holy water to wash their babies, people washing clothes, people taking showers, people swimming... and even the remains of cremations. it's quite extraordinary to see the dynamic of the river and what occurs at each second. (this is my favorite picture of the river. the light exposure did something not quite expected and it turned out pretty well). they say that the ganga river has healing powers so you could, technically, drink it too. so i did. (not! i think i wouldve died then and there from cholera or something...) in hindi, that says "music is my life". this is for all you funkcore-ites. totally getting this in a tattoo someday...

15. some random photos:
so there was this massive traffic jam on the way back so we asked the neighboring truck if we could climb ontop and sit like locals and he totally agreed. awesome! (michigan represent! go blue!)
so in the rural parts of india, they dont quite have the toothbrush yet. and it kinda makes sense since they dont eat that much sugar or drink sodas so why would they need to really brush? it's the sucrose that's killing our teeth anyway. but regardless, they have their own "medicinal" form of toothbrush which is this twig from a medicinal tree. it's actually quite minty and bitter but gotta try it, awesome!

and lastly, i present, GAYLORD ICECREAM!!

ok that should do for now. travelling to jarkhand. yay! post as soon as i have internet...