Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just a day in the life...

the other day i was supposed to go with my host organization to a neighboring city, but they canceled on me at the last minute. as a result, i had a whole day of nothingness ahead of me. or so i thought. in pc azerbaijan, you end up working even when you think you can get away with hiding in your apartment all day long.
during the morning i was sitting in my pjs when one of my work colleagues decided to ask me a question via skype chat. he said, "i am chattin in chatroom with girl. girl asked me if i am hot. in azeri hot means isti. is she asking about room temperature?" well, this colleague of mine is an older married man with this is a slightly uncomfortable subject for me to explain, but i explained it none the less. to me, this qualifies as "work".
next, i'm still at home in my pjs. i should mention i ran the day earlier but failed to shower. as a result i was looking particularly classy. my neighbors decided to come over for a surprise visit. i had just returned from india and my stuff was everywhere, but i could not turn away my neighbors. Consequently, two older women and two children came into my apartment. the women immediately describe their concern over an assumed inability to cook on my part. meanwhile, the kids are running around my apartment looking through EVERYTHING i own. everything. to destract them all i decided to entertain them with pictures from india. this worked out rather well, but the daughter (who is actually very sweet and bright) kept coming up to me and asking me to explain everything in my apt. eventually, she picks up a tampon and asks me what it is. i know this subject is taboo in azerbaijan, so i look to the mother to explain. surprisingly, the mother is also confused.
the mother asks "tampon" (same word)? i say "yes". Then she asks something like: "what is this for?" or "how do you use it?" Ummmm, i'm not sure about the language for this so i say..."when blood comes" or something of the sort. finally, we get to the heart of the matter: how could I, an unmarried woman, use a tampon? After all, it might break my hymen and if my hymen gets broken before marriage, then maybe i will never find a man to marry me. In fact, this same fear drives many women to avoid playing sports: fear of breaking the hymen. Furthermore, some women take a small razor into the bedroom with them during their first night of sex with their newly wed husband in order to ensure the appearance of a hymen breaking (the cut themselves to create blood).
I tried explaining that in the US women don't worry about this at all. That men don't care if our hymen is broken. Well...this causes the woman to ask me if I am a virgin. Of course I say yes. I cannot trust her not to spread rumors in my community. I do not know her well yet. I also consider this "work".
A couple hours later I am on my way to watch a movie at Laura's place (my sitemate). During my walk I am approached by a different neighbor. We are walking in the same direction for quite some time. As a result we begin discussing religion and religious wars. At least I tried to discuss this. My language only goes so far.
Anyhow, this is just a day in the life. Sometimes it is hard to get across how I work every day...even if I'm not working at all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Alexis does bollywood...

me and my new indian fam...
Just kidding. I don't know why, but many many indians wanted their picture taken with lexi and I. the woman to my left in the orange sari started hugging me and i started laughing, so she signaled to her entire family to get into my photograph. MY photograph mind you...they had no camera. Anyways, I love them. The family of the men with a turban on...tried out his English on me. Made for a short conversation, but what joy!
I loved India. all of it. yes it was dirty. yes it was crowded, but it was fascinating. the colors are inspiring: brightly colored saris anywhere you turn, painted buildings, unabashed love for color everywhere. Indians love to smile and they were always helpful and kind. Then there is the Indian gotta see it one day. Yes, people were constantly trying to sell us crap. yes. yes they were. India has 1.17 billion people in it so anything is seemingly true about India. there are poor people, rich people, modern people, traditional people, hindus, buddhists, jains, muslims, christians...everything. there are just a TON OF PEOPLE.
I've never been to a nation so capable of blending the modern with the traditional. Diversity and a sense of expressiveness is at large in India. you walk down a street and see impoverished children trying to catch your eye with a performance, a rich man with a blackberry in the back of a car being driven by one of his servants, a teenager with an mp3 player, red dot third eyes, a fluttering of saris of all colors, jingling bangles, gigantic dogs, and a camel carrying some load of textiles. god only knows...but it is all there at the same time. it is hard to describe.
lexi and i went to 5 cities: New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Goa, and Mumbai. We flew domestically twice. The airlines were secure and easy to enjoy (unless you are afraid of flying no matter where you are). Actually, the security in India is very high...they have a real problem with domestic terrorists. I was searched every time I entered a larger building. Metal detectors are everywhere.
India is a late night country. Generally places do not open before 10am and markets might stay open until 10pm. In Delhi, Goa, and Mumbai many people don't eat dinner until after 10pm and they stay out until the sun comes up.
All I know is that I want to go back. There is still so much to explore. I encourage everyone to reconsider what they think they know about India.

5. Bombay or Mumbai? The wild city

Welcome to Bollywood friends. This is one hell of a late night city. This was also the most cosmpolitan and touristed spot of all the cities we visited.
Art in the Hyatt Regency

Anu (our host), Vlad (Bolivia), Jana (german), Lexi, Me, Kissli (2nd Host)

Gate of India

We are now on a boat going out towards Elephanta Island...

On the island

There is a village of about 200 people on Elephanta Island.



I have no idea what this is...just a random building

Couchsurfers unite! Our last night was a great big dinner.

The view from inside an autorickshaw

4. Goa....the laid back beach on the Arabian Sea

After our late night train from New Delhi to Jaipur, Lexi and I were relieved to fly from Jaipur to Goa. The late night train was hours upon hours late and we had wasted valuable time. Unlike the train, our flight to Goa was on time and smooth sailing. Above is a shot of Lexi and I at the Evershine Guesthouse in Anjuna Beach, Goa. The owners of the hostel are incredibly kind and familial. We hungout with the other hostel goers the entire time.
One day during our trip we visited a waterfall. On the way back we saw this elephant being used for selling rides. I don't like that at all...

During our stay at Evershine, we hungout with the following travelers (from left to right) Brett (Australian), Lexi (my PC friend in Barda), Kathi (German), Anja (German), and Linn (Norwegian). Don't know the dog, but he was enjoyable company too.

This picture is on Baga Beach, Goa.

Baga Beach...leaving little to the imagination.

Baga Beach...and Indian bellies.

A temple in Anjuna.


3. Jaipur, Rajasthan

The third city we went to was Jaipur in the Rajasthan state of Western India. This city of a couple million is famous for its artisans and regionally specific scarves/bangles. In the above shot, Lexi and I are eating our all you can eat Thali vegetarian meal. Cost? 3 dollars per person...including the bottled water. Outrageous.
The salesman put this on me trying to make the sale...wasn't my idea.

Bangles in Jaipur are made with a laquer specific to the region. Lexi and I sat down with this woman and her son for over an hour ordering bangles specific to our wrist size. In the above shot the lady is making my bracelets larger.

This shot is of a palace inside a fort atop a hill in Jaipur.
Facade on the palace wall.

The fort, myself, and Lexi

Poo paddies! Indians round poo into paddies for fuel. These are drying and hardening in the sun.

Gigantic street pigs...everywhere!
Another facade. Notice the swastikas. Just so you know, swastikas are an originally Indian symbol. Behold Wikipedia: In Hinduism, the two symbols represent the two forms of the creator god Brahma: facing right it represents the evolution of the universe (Devanagari: प्रवृत्ति, Pravritti), facing left it represents the involution of the universe (Devanagari: निवृत्ति, Nivritti). It is also seen as pointing in all four directions (north, east, south and west) and thus signifies grounded stability. Its use as a Sun symbol can first be seen in its representation of the god Surya (Devanagari: सूर्य, Sun). The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus, and is regularly used to decorate items related to Hindu culture. It is used in all Hindu yantras (Devanagari: यंत्र) and religious designs. Throughout the subcontinent of India, it can be seen on the sides of temples, religious scriptures, gift items, and letterheads. The Hindu deity Ganesh (Devanagari: गणेश) is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas.

Random temple...with some happy cows.

Marble artisan

2. Agra and the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, a Muslim mausoleum constructed in the mid 17th century is one of the wonders of the world. Literally. So, Lexi and I decided we had to make the trip all the way out to Agra (another city nearby to N. Delhi) to see it. We paid for a driver and traveled about 7 hours in one day to get there, but it was worth it. Funny thing, it costs only 20 rupees for Indian nationals to get in, but 750 for foreigners (15 dollars). Once inside though, everyone is in such an exuberant is hard not to get giddy. Especially when everyone, for some unknown reason, wants a picture with Lexi and I. Of course, absolutely no one took a good shot of us together. The best one we received is the shot above. As Lexi said, "isn't it artsy?" HA.

pure for sure...

I have no idea who this lady is, but she really like me. Notice the hand holding.

This picture needs a little explaining. On the way to Agra our driver stops the car, gets out, and tells us not to get out or unlock the doors. Or open the windows. Sketchy? Um, yes. So we are sitting there while many people come up and try to sell us things. Is this man trying to sell us his monkey? I really don't know. But i took a picture anyways. After which, he demanded money from us, but this would require our opening the door or window. As a result he got his friends together to intimidate us. They tried getting in the car. It was...not comfortable. Eventually the driver got in and we just drove on.