Saturday, March 31, 2007


So, I used to think that doing research was difficult. I thought that having to spend hours in the library, online, and talking to various people was somewhat of an arduous task. I now consider such activities to be a great privilege. At this point I realize that being able to actually go to a library, using a computer whenever I feel like it, and ultimately talking to people in a common tongue is truly something that I took for granted back home. I'm finalizing my research proposal, and the various challenges that I'm facing in regards to the above mentioned things are driving me nuts. Ok, enough said...the rant is over. That's all I've got...The moral of this story is that researching in a foreign place, where computer, library, and language barriers are huge, makes for an extremely frustrating experience...gotta love it though!

Also, I've changed my research topic. I was doing the dating thing, but for a number of reasons it panned out to be far to ambitious for one three weeks of research and one week of write up. Instead, I'm going back to Oogna, and I'll be working with my friend Nareshji. My focus is going to be on basic education reform. Further, I hope to posit as to what function education has in a rural setting. It is agreed that education has intrinsic value, but what function will it serve in a setting where an agrarian lifestyle is predominate? Again, basic literacy and math skills are useful almost in any context, but what purpose will higher/highschool education serve? It seems as though most of the children who get this higher education end up going to cities. What will this mean for the cities? What will this mean for the villages? Can the cities handle an influx of educated people who are not only looking for places to live, but also jobs? Can India deal with a rapid urbanization short this is what i hope to address in my research. So, to conclude...blah, blah, blah...just kind of like my mood today.

Much love,
Be well,

Oh Oogna my love...

Sorry about the following spelling mistakes...I've become to lazy to correct them...he he he!

I'm not sure where I left off, thus I'm not sure where to begin, but I feel as though the following place will be more than sufficient.

So, the first point I'd like to address is my recent lack of blog posting. The fundamental reason that I've been posting less and less with time is because I always feel as though my posts are wildly incapaiable of describing whats going on over here. I can barely take it all in, and I'm living it...writting about it in any accurate way is extremly tough. The proximate reason as to why I haven't been posting, and specifically why I haven't been posting very recently is really quite simple...I haven't had any access to a computer.

Oh my! Seth, why haven't you had any access to a computer?

Here goes...

For the past week and a half I have been living in a village called Oogna. It's in southern Rajastan, and if you wanna look at a map, your best bet will be to find a city called's the closest to Oogna. Basically, last Monday night, I left Jaipur with my fiend Chris, Aron, Lissa, and Kat. All four of us took an overnight train that departed at 10:30 P.M. and arrived in Udaipur at 9:00 the next morning. Once in Udaipur, we were picked up by a van and taken to a guest house that SIT is affiliated with, and we were fed breakfast. After breakfast we quickly showered and then headed out to the village. Before departing from Jaipur, the program coordinators prepped us with a mini packing list that included such items as water purification tablets, bug coils, bug nets, bug spray, antibiotics,...the list goes on, but in short we were told "you guys are basically going camping." So in Udaipur, before we set our for Oogan, we were all expecting an extremly rural setting. The drive in to the village took about two hours. The scenery slowly faded from a city scape to beautiful mountains, and evenutally as we got closer to land.
Now, Oogna was by no means as rural as I think we all had romanticized it to be, but lemme give a short description of it to set the scene. The village itself has less than 500 people living in it. Everyone knows everyone else, and the five white students from America, us, were quickly spotted by everyone in town. The center of the village consited of approximately 30 shops. All of the shops had nothing more than very basic necessities, i.e. food items and simple clothing. In short, Oogna is not a place one should go in search of a great shopping experience. Fortunately, this was not what any of us hoped for in Oogna, thus there was no dissappointment with it at all. In actuallity, we were all thrilled to finally be out of the crazy-ass cities and be in a place where the concern of being hit by motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, and busses was truly at a safe minimum. In fact, the village is so small that there are no rickshaws at all. One bus comes into town each day, and I probably could have counted the number of cars I saw on one hand. In short Oogna is tiny, and I fell in love with it.
So, you must still be wondering what we were doing in Oogna. Well, we weren't shopping, we clearly weren't surfing the net, and however nice it would have been to sit in some sort of air-conditioned room, that was way out of the question. Again, what were we doing there? Well, there is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called the Ghandi Mono Kalyan Society (MKS) English this means, the Ghandi Human Welfare Society. I, and the other four students were spending a week interning for this NGO. MKS is a multi facated organization and deals with issues that include, organic agriculture, soil conservation, water conservation, pregnancy/womans issues education, domestic violence education, primary education reform, food for community development, disaster releif, early childhood health and education....the list goes on. MKS deals only with rural villages, and areas that are termed "backwards." Basically, they are trying to help many people whose welfare is directly tied to agriculture, and who otherwise would not recieve much of the vital education that MKS is providing to them.

I decided to work with the Food For Community Development program for the week. Ironically, neither I nor any of the other students ended up doing much work with our respectively choosen divisions. This was because, during our week visiting MKS, they were organizing their annual Womans Day festival. So, instead of doing FFCD work, I went along with a guy named Nareshji, and Ramlalji, and passed out invitations to this event. MKS is very much commited to progessing womens empowerment, thus this event that has been going on since 1991 is appropriately run by them.

So, for the first four days of being in Oogna, Nareshji, Ramlalji and I motorcycled all over the village countryside and passed out invitations to the event. The area we were in was breathtaking. There was not only the type of beauty that a seemingly endless field of golden wheat creates as the wind gently rustles through it, but there was also the type of mighty beauty that mountains bring. This is because Oogna, and all of the other villages we went around to, are situated in a valley between two mountain ranges. On either side of us at all times were these beautiful mountin ranges streching to the horizon, and obviuosly tempting my desire to hike...more about this later.

Basically, for those first four days the three of us, on one bike, motorcycled/dirtbiked to a bunch of villages and passed out these invites. Since the roads in this area are far from good, it was extremly common for us to be taking the motorcycle either up or down a "road" that, in my mind, more closely resembled a steep, rocky, loosely packed hiking trail. Further, at a few points the roads simply ended at a river. So, much to my surprise, we simply took the motorcycle through and across the river. Being knee deep in water while sitting on a motorcycle, and bumping across a rocky river, is truly thrilling, and I highly recommend anyone willing to wreck their bike, or simply get a huge thrill, to try doing this. This is another place in which the detail could go on endlessly, but in short we really went on some rugged terrain to get these invitation out.

I guess I should take a moment to explain what Oogna, compared to the other villages was like. Oogna is arguably a tiny tiny town. The other villages are nothing like towns. First the villages are basically dependant on agriculture. Thus, the village is actually comprised of various fields, which at this time of year, are growing wheat. Each plot of land is obviously owned by someone and this is clear by the mud houses that dot the pastural yet desertish landscape. Further, all of the farm work is done by oxen and by hand. The fields are planted by ox drawn plows, and the fields are harvested by workers using merely hand tools. The villages are litteraly void of power tools or felt as though I had stepped back in time a few hundered was truly beautiful.

Ok, again, I could go on with details, but they'll have to wait until I get back...then, I'll make everyone some Indian food, and spill all the nitty gritty.

Anyways, after passing out all the invitations (we had only been there for 4 days of the 3 week process) womens day happened. Women from 17 villages all around the area assembled in marches, and walked at least the last 5km into the town. The marcheres carried banners with various slogans pertaining to womens empowerment. In short this event was truly amazing. Once everyone arrived there were about 1600 women and about 500 men present. Various state level dignitaries, documentry makers, and reporters were there too. So, why was this such a big deal? Well, women in India, and especially women in villages, are extremly unequal on many levels in comparison to men. 50 years ago the notion of a womens day event would have been unthinkable. Even this past week, many women present wore full face coverings, and some even had to sneak out of their homes to attend the event because their husbands dissapproved. In short, this was a massive example of social mobilization, and thus generated a large amount of outside interest. Again, I could go on endlessly about the critical view, I took as well as the 4 other students, but in short the event was great. I will stand firm in my conclusion that Womens Day has a long way to go in regards to promoting womens equality and empowerment, but change is slow, and at the very least there is a much larger sense of awarness surrounding such issues than there has been in the past.

Also, while we were in Oogna, we took about 5 hikes up various mountains. There were no trails, thus the hiking was somewhat slow going, but indescribably beautiful.

So in short, my absence from the cyber world can be blamed on Oogna...but in my mind blame is not at all the right word. Being in the village, the type of setting that 70% of indian citizens still live in was a blessing. Not being able to get online, not having easy access to a phone, not hearing trafic, seeing the most brilliant stars at night, and hearing true silence is not something I can "blame" Oogna for. Instead, I have to thank Oogna for showing me a side of India, that has quickly become my favorite.

Much love to everyone,
I miss you all,
See you sort of happy yet sad,
As always,
Be well,

After about two hours of driving in to the dessert, our expectations didn't fall short, and we found outselves

south to Oogna and arrived

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I just want to start by point out that I love the Barenaked Ladies. I've been rockin' the iPod today, and they've been my group of choice. Ok, I hope you enjoyed that randomness.

Where to begin...I have so much on my mind, yet I have nothing at all. I'm sitting here at the computer and I'm simply reeling. This whole experience at times seems great, at times seems far from ideal, at times seems to simply happen without me knowing it really is. I'm drifting...from moments of clarity to moments of pure inconrehensible existance. I'm not feeling happy, and I'm not feeling sad, I'm not feeling homesick, and I'm not feeling at home. Today I am. Today my life is. Today I can feel time moving by me yet I have no concept of what a minute feels like, what an hour feels like, what a day means. All the while the sun moves overhead and thus I'm forced to conclude night is nearing.

I don't know where that is all coming from. Whatever. Ok, so here's what I felt inspired to write about. Last week I submited my research proposal. Remember, the thing on the Indian dating scene? Well, I'm psyched about the prospect of the project, but I'm not sure where to begin. I've done one interview so far and it went fairly well, but at the end of it I reviewed the notes I took and the only statement that I could think to make was "so what?" I'm sure things will become more clear with time, but sometimes I really don't like that fact.

So, I got another cooking lesson today. I learned how to make these spicy kidney beans...I hope ya'll are ready for some food when I get back. I also learned how to make a Cilantro chutney...yee haw!

So, I'm feeling somewhat at of a loss of words right now.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

An endless array of options: A gifted life

This past week has gone absurdly fast, and however much it's nice to know that it's the result of a very full and fantastic schedule, it's also sad to think that means it'll be time to go home before I even know it. We spent the last week in Delhi and it was eye opening in may ways, but primarily because it gave me a true idea of what it means to have choice.

First off I will say that having an understanding of what 'choice' means would require years of study, so I won't claim to understand it in a quantitative sense, but in a qualitative way, and a way which I have experienced through the gifted life I've been living, the notion of choice has become very apparent to me. Through my life I've had endless amounts of opportunities to choose things. At home in Newton it was not uncommon to get up in the morning and be able to choose from two to four cereals of which I would eat for breakfast. Next I would choose to walk, get a ride, or take the bus to school. The choices that I have can make in a day go on and on. My ability to choose extends far beyond something as trivial as what to eat for breakfast and reaches into parts of my life that many people never even think could exist. My ability to choose to travel across the world to India is one. My ability to choose to get a college education is another. My ability to choose from a number of well paying jobs...again, the list goes on.

So, why all of a sudden have I become aware of my ability to choose? Well, this past week in Delhi a man who started a NGO called The Rickshaw Bank spoke to us about his program. In short, the rickshaw bank is a micro credit scheme which essentially takes rickshaw drivers who normally pay 30R's per day to rent their rickshaws, and makes it such that with this program, their 30R's each day can go to slowly paying off the cost for their own rickshaw. Basically the rickshaw bank gives small loans to the drivers to enable them to eventually own thevehicle . Along with this rickshaw they, and their whole immediate family, get all sorts of other benefits (basic health care, family planning services, clothing etc). By giving them ownership of the rickshaw, this bank indirectly gives these families endless amounts of choice that they otherwise would have never had. This presentation was one moment of realization for me.

The second instance just happened. I just got back from Delhi, and our housekeeper Jamuna was about to cook dinner. I asked her if I could watch the whole process, and she was more than willing to let me. As the recipe unfolded, entirely from memory I might add, so too did thisabsolutely divine smelling dish of egg curry. Jamuna, a housekeeper for my homestay family is by any standards a master chef. Keep in mind this is only one of her creations. I've been eating well for the past month and this is the first night we'll have had a repeat dish. She's extremely talented as a chef, and she is also very talented in many other regards. After the process was over I said to Jamuna, through her son Rajeev, that she could open a restaurant in America and that people would gobble up her cooking. She graciously said "thank you," chuckled, and then said "ok, than take me back with you when you leave." This comment wasn't made with any tone of resentment, rudeness, or anger, but rather in a joking sense which suggested that she was entirely convinced at theimprobability of such an event taking place. She also didn't say it with any distinct sense of was very matter of fact, and she knew that matter of the fact was that it probably would never happen.

In that moment I felt insanely guilty, and thus I'm here typing. Again she didn't make the comment in any way that was rude, or resentful, but I realized something in that moment. I realize how limited her choices are. For one she is a woman. Here in India that does not mean choice and definitely not autonomy. Further, she is essentially an indentured servant for my homestay family...again this affords her little choice/autonomy. Basically, just as I could endlessly go on about the amount of choices I'm able to make in my life, so too could I endlessly go on about the lack of choices that Jamuna has in hers...this deeply saddens me.

I don't know where this is going, but I'll close with this. Jamuna is extremely happy doing what she does. I'm not sure, if given the choice to come to America, that she would choose to do so, but that's exactly the point. She has never been given that choice...she probably never will be, and for what reason? Sometimes people make bad choices, but at least they have the option to do so. Some people can't make choices, and that's why I feel so blessed in an endless number of ways. My life has provided me with the ability to choose...this was simply a function of luck...none the less, thank you Mom and Dad. Regardless, I think I'mbeginning to understand what a better world will look like...undoubtedly it will be one of great choice for greater people.

That's all I've got.

I love you all deeply. Everyone reading this holds some sort of meaning within my life, and I feel grateful to know you all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


So, lemme tell you about Holi...

Up to this point in my life I thought that I had attended some pretty crazy parties. Boulder definitely has a great party scene. There have been many a time in which I've bounced to Abo's or Cosmo's (local Boulder pizza places for those who don't know) at 2 A.M. to take care of the drunchies. Those were crazy nights, or so I thought until I experienced Holi. In short Holi is a Hindu holiday that is celebrated to remember the following story. Basically there was a king who tried to tell his kingdom that he was God. The kings son however disagreed and told his father that he didn't believe he was God. As a result, the king asked his sister, Holika (a woman who was immune to fire) to take the sun and burn him for his insolence. So, the Kings sister took the boy, her nephew, and tried to burn him. What ended up happening though is that she actually burnt and the boy was saved. Thus Holi is celebrated to basically remember the fact that God's greatness is beyond human form etc.

So, how does this story translate into modern terms? Well, I'll start from the beginning. As I was hoping, a few friends of mine and I headed back to Pushcar for the celebration. Dressed entirely in white clothing, we headed out on the streets of Pushcar on Holi morning. Within about 3 minutes we found ourselves being rushed by a mob of approximately 25-30 kids. Everyone was armed with bottles of red, purple, or blue dye, and various bags of colored chalk. In about 30 seconds our white clothing went from perfectly new, to almost entirely covered in paint. We were armed with paint of our own, so we threw some colors back. All of the paint throwing is done with good intentions, but regardless anyone venturing out on the street that isn't an Indian adult is almost guaranteed to get covered in paint on Holi. Finally we made our way through this first crowd of kids only to encounter about 5 more of comparable size before we got to the street where the main part was going on.

By the time I arrived at the main party the only person left with me was my friend Evan. The three other girls, Amanda, Stephanie, and Juri all were somewhat put off by the grabbing nature of the paint throwers and decided to head back to the hotel early. By this point both Evan and I had lost all signs of ethnicity, race etc. and we had merely become pink, purple and blue. Both of us were pretty psyched about being able to take our shirts off later in the day, wash as much dye off as we could, and have a cool souvenir of Holi. However, this was only a hope we held before we got to the main party. As we approached the center of town where the main party was there seemed to be a massive amount of red dust in the air. In actuality, there was so much of the powered color being thrown around by the near 120 raging teens that there was close to zero visibility. As we got closer we were all of a sudden rushed by yet another mob of about 5-8 people who proceeded to rip our shirts off our bodies and throw them on the power lines above. At first we were a little shocked, but after noticing that all of the guys in the crowd were topless, we accepted the fact we had lost our souvenirs and simply let ourselves succumb to the Hindi trance music that was being pumped into the street.

I've by no means accurately described Holi to the extent that you'll be able to imagine the insanity, but it was truly nuts. Having my clothes ripped off, being mobbed collectively by hundreds of people with massive amounts of paint and dye, and generally being in a town wide party is what Holi is all about, and I loved every moment of it. The other interesting thing was that although some adults clearly didn't want to play Holi, others were really into it, and by the end of the playing time (around 4:00 P.M.) it was entirely common to see entire families happily covered in paint heading home to shower off. In short, Holi was freakin' nuts, and by all means the craziest party I've ever been to.

After Holi was over, Evan and I took a hike up one of the nearby mountains. At the top was a temple, but we made the hike to see the sunset. We got up about 20 minutes before the sunset got good. Then after it had set we waited to see the lights below in Pushcar flicker on before we started to head down. On our way down the mountain we watched the moon rise over the nearby ridge, and after arriving back at the hotel, I went right to sleep.

Now, I'm in Delhi. The program is located here, opposed to Jaipur, for the next week. Were expected to be working on interviews etc. for our research projects. So, today I went to the Jarwala Lal Nehru University, and began the process. I found a guy to interview, and after a pretty successful 30 minutes of questioning, he invited me to have some Chai with him. Ultimately, the interview went much better than I planned it to, and although I'm still not totally sure about how to really focus my research, I'm getting a better idea every day.

So, for now...that's all folks!

Missin' ya'll...lovin' ya'll...wishin' ya'll could be here...


(I hope that wasn't too much "ya'll")

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Understanding myself.

I find myself constantly struggling to keep current on this Blog, but regardless, I'll keep trying. This week has flown by. I feel like I find myself waking up Monday morning, and in a blink of an eye getting ready to head off for a weekend adventure. I don't know where the time is going, but all I can say is that I have enjoyed every moment.
One of the excursions we went on this week, focused on elementary education. As a result we visited a few schools in some "slum" (whatever that means) areas. In short I came to the quick conclusion that many of the budget problems that seemingly disable schools in the states from opperating correctly, are not really due to a lack of money, but rather reflect a lack of ingenuity. There are obviously many exceptions to this, and many schools in the U.S. could truly raise their standards of education with even small amounts of money, but when my home town of Newton, MA, a town filled with a lot of very highly educated people, complain about lack of budget and thus inability to provide a cutting edge education, I am now very skeptical. I have many reasons for this newly found skepticism, but here's a small one.
Lets talk about decimal boards. What is a decimal board, you may be wondering? Well, a decimal board is an educational tool used to teach students about decimals,no shit. You may further be wondering, how can a decimal board create such skepticism about budget complaints in Newton schools? Well here's why. The decimal board, a tool that is used to give students a very necessary and important knowledge, is entirely free, environmentally friendly, and it is able to be made by anyone. So, what is it? The decimal board is essentially a cardboard box top. It is about one foot long and one foot wide. The box top is about one inch deep. Inside this box top are 10 strips of styrofoam. On each of the 10 strips there are boxes drawn in. Essentially if you were to look at the decimal board it would look like a large checkers board with 100 squares. What's neat about these boards is that each strip of styrofoam, that has 10 boxes drawn on it (five blue and five red) represents .10 or 10% of the total box. These strips are able to be removed and this various decimal amounts can be conveyed through using this tool. Again, these decimal boxes are made entirely from garbage, and thus are free, recyclablye, and very easy to make. So...why do I have such skepticism about Newton?
Well, it's it's not already obvious, I'll tell you why. If a school in a underpriviledged area of Jaipur, India is able to effectivly and efficently teach students about decimals with glorified garbage, it seems absurd to think that Newton, a town with far more resources, can't figure out it's so called "budget problems." Sure, Newton may not have a 1:1 computer to student ratio, but I hardly call that an issue. Sure, Newton may not have the funds to provide its art classes with crayons and markers, but why can't various other materials be used to create art. Let me qualify this entire rant by saying the following. I have no problem for trying to reach perfection in any aspect of life. If a persons goal is to create the perfect school system, what is wrong with high ambitions? Surely don't be dissapointed if perfection, something I don't believe can even be percieved, is never gotten, but again, having reasonably ambitious goals is perfectly acceptable in my mind. With this said, I see no problem in Newtons desire to continue inovating its schools with various reforms, but to often claim that doing so is not possible with out more budget, i again believe shows mostly a lack of inovation, and less so a lack of budget. Ok, the rant is over.
Basically, seeing the schools in Jaipur opperating with supplies that most Americans (myself included) would consider garbage, was very inspiring. If with such little resource a community can create such a functional and positive school, I only wonder what they could do with more resources, and further I wonder where American schools could be more conservative in their consumption practices. Ultimately, it seems that money although very helpful, is clearly not the only solution to difficulties in providing education.

So far India has been really amazing. So many events that happen every day are opening my eyes, expanding my mind, and ultimately making me look at myself and my entire life, very differently. I feel so incredibly priviledged in innumerable ways. Although this conclusion is by no means new, I have never been so acutely aware of it before. For instance, I always knew that taking a nice long shower was a luxury, but now that I have been "showering" via. a bucket and a cup for the past 25 days, I've suddenly realized how much of a treat a long hot shower really is. Brushing my teeth is something else. Before I left, I realized that drinking tap water here wouldn't be possible, but again I didn't realize how fantastic tap water was. And it goes far beyond the material realm.

Many people I've met here aren't litterate. They can write their name, but beyond that they can only communicate and learn through talking. This means they can't read signs, books, go on-line, use a menu...and the list goes on. The point is this: The fact that my life in the states is luxurious compared to even a luxurious life in India, is not surprising. What is surprising, is how much I've know this for the past few years, but not really understood to what extent it is true.

Further, another dimension of learning has taken place in my persona. Living in America, Newton, Boulder, or just about anywhere in the U.S. I have been in a position of power. By virtue of the very fact that I'm white, middle-upper class, in college, litterate etc...means that I've lived an empowered life, and a life of an insider. Here in India, i stick out like a sore thumb. This is not at all a complaint, but it is rather a mere statement of fact. In India, people look Indian. I don't look Indian at all, and although I've gotten countless compliments on my now massive beard, this does not change the fact that I'm still an outsider, a guest, a visitor to India and it's culture. This has created an entirely new introspective realm for my consciousness, and experiencing what it feels like to truly be an outsider is changing my epistamology in ways I could have never imagined. Being stared at, 99% of time out of innocent curiosity, has been enough to start this introspection. Further, when I go into a store and I'm linguistically unarmed, when I try to catch a rickshaw and am obviously given a tourist price, when I dress in clothes that I consider to be entirely normal (i.e. jeans and a button down shirt) and am looked at oddly, the sense of being an outsider and one in at least less of a position of power than I'm used to has been marvelously humbling.

I've also tried to deal with some guilt I've been feeling. I have with me a pair of sunglasses that cost me $100. In the states they are somewhat mid-range and are by no means top of the line. Here in Jaipur a full three course lunch costs about $1. My backpack full of luggage cost me more than some people here will ever dream of seeing in a life time. So, I feel a bit of guilt. I don't think the guilt comes from actually having all I do, but rather it comes from seeing people who don't have all that I do. This statement alone raises all sorts of philosophical questions regarding morality and development, such as: are the people here happy? do the people here think they actually need the things I have? am I measuring happiness in only material terms? who's to even say that the people looking at me want this stuff? is the American notion of development and progress one that is sensitive to various cultural neuances? even if the people here had everything I had, would it make a difference? maybe the people looking at me, aren't looking with a longing eye, but rather with a contemptious one. Whatever the case may be, my sense of guilt, although by no means dissabling, is truly helping me to grow and understand my lifes context in the world.

On another note, and I promise this will be the last, I'm pretty sure I know what I want to do my research on. I'm going to copy an e-mail into the following text, and it should sum things up a bit. I'm hoping to maybe expand my initial research here into an honors thesis, but I don't know if it's possible yet. In short I want to look at the Indian dating scene. There has been next to no research done on this topic seeing as it's somewhat taboo to date here, thus I find it's deviant nature to be right up my alley. Here's the e-mail.

"he research I'm planning on doing is going to focus on dating culture in India. Obviously, I will be narrowing the study area, but I've yet to decide specifically where I'd like to locate myself. Dating in India is by no means a new phenomenon, but with the ever rising amount of western culture that is permeating Indian society, dating practices are seemingly changing. The idea that makes this topic most interesting to me however, is that in India it is estimated that about 80% of marriages are still arranged. This number is much lower than it was 50 years ago, but it is still very high. The rest of the marriages are not arranged and are termed "love-marriages." Ultimately, many people who I've spoken to, at this point informally, have told me that even though they have/are dating, they will ultimately marry the person their parents have chosen. This is very much in contrast with the American notion of dating in which, although it is not the main objective, one could potentially find a husband/wife in the course of their dating career. Let me further point out that this possibility is also real in the Indian dating scene; however, the choice to marry someone other than the person one's parent's have chosen, is somewhat stigmatized and often comes with various negative social consequences. Ultimately, I would like to try and gain insight into what function, beyond the obvious, that dating serves in a specific Indian context. Further I'd like to study how changing dating practices are affecting power relations as well as structure within the Indian family.

I realize this is over ambitious, and with time I will most definitely narrow my focus, but for now these are the ideas I'd like to find out more about.

Some other points of interest that I'm simply throwing out as curiosity are: Does the ability of young people to more freely date provide a greater amount of choice within Indian society? Does this amount of choice undermine traditional Indian values? Is the dating scene in India changing to be more like the "American dating scene" (whatever that means). If this is the case, what implications will it have regarding Indian cultural integrity? Will this growing amount of Indian dating create new markets for various goods...? All of these questions (and many more) could be places of further expansion."

So, that's all for now.

I hope all is well back home, and it goes without saying (although I will say it :-)), I miss you all.

I deeply wish I could share this experience with everyone, but seeing as this is obviously impossible, I hope these posts have helped.

Be well,
much love,

Monday, February 26, 2007

A spoonful of Hippie makes the India go down...

So, this past weekend was amazing. I'll try to explain it, but this is going to be extremely difficult. In short, parts of it were wild, parts of it were confusing, parts of it were extremely frustrating, and others were divinely religious. Here it goes.

I'll start with the wild part. By virtue of the fact that a few of us decided to go to Pushcar, the weekend was crazy. Pushcar is located about 3 hours SW of Jaipur, and more specifically is about 30 minutes SW of Ajmer. In short, Pushcar is hippyland of India. The town is by no means a place to go if your looking for "untouched" Indian culture, but if your looking for a really great atmosphere with tons of young travelers and a seemingly endless air of festivity,Pushcar is the place to go. Continuing on the topic of "crazy," getting to Pushcar was somewhat crazy. Dealing with the Indian bus authority made Greyhound, which I formerly though to be terribly disorganized/inefficient etc., seem idyllic. And this leads to the confusing part.

Before we actually left Jaipur to go to Pushcar, I and a group of about 4 other students were supposed to be meeting one more person, Jake. Well, since Jake was figuring out if a couple other students were going to go with him to the bus station, he arrived late, and consequently missed the bus that I and the 4 other people had got on. Ultimately, Jake ended up getting on a bus that left right after ours, and we met him inAjmer, where we transferred to another bus for Pushcar. Here's where the frustrating part comes in.

Aside from the obvious frustration of trying to buy bus tickets and reading the seemingly encrypted Jaipur Central Bus Station schedule, all of our cell phones had been cut off, except for Jake's. Apparently, the phone company, Reliance, needed more paperwork to reinstate our service. I'm calling Reliance,Un -Reliance. Anyway, you might now be wondering "So, how does this factor in?" Well, Jake actually called me right as we were pulling out of the Jaipur bus station (only the outgoing calls were cut off), and essentially told me that he had just gotten a ticket and that he'd meet us inAjmer for the bus transfer, but he didn't know what time he'd be arriving. Since I couldn't call him back, he continually had to call mein order to arrange a meeting time etc. So, why was Jakenulls phone working, and no one elses ? Well, Jake got his phone a day after all of us. Since he too needed to submit extra paperwork, his phone was cut off the next day. Regardless, it was very lucky that off all the people who's phone was still working, Jake's had been the one, and a very fortunate one at that. So, this was the frustrating part. Here's thereligious.

Pushcar is the home of Pushcar Lake...surprise, surprise. Pushcar Lake is one of the two places where Gandhi's ashes have been put. The other is in a memorial in New Delhi. Regardless, as a result, this lake isextremely auspicious, and consequently all of the "waterfront property" in Pushcar is occupied by various white marble temples. I say "waterfront property" because Pushcar is located in the middle of a mountainous desert. However, in a very lucky twist of events, we got to see a thunder and lightning storm while were were there. After the storm passed, we wandered around the city. We entered a few of the temples, made offerings via. throwing in flowers, and eventually headed to theBrahman Temple. While we were by the water, the high winds of the storm were swishing around over head, and various flock of pigeons were twirling through the sky. The entire scene was surreal, and I have never felt such a spiritualconnection before in my life.

The Brahman temple is the only temple in the world that is built to honor Bhrama. So, we figured we had to see it. By this point the storm had passed, and the sun was setting. The entire sky before us was brilliantly red, pink and yellow. The best part however, was that off in the distance the storm that had just been overhead was now fading into thehorizon. What this translates into visually, is a brilliant sunset scene set against a lightning storm. So to recap, we were in the only temple in the world devoted to Bhrama , creator of the universe, watching a sunset mixing with a lightning storm, and in general experience an indescribable sense of spiritual connection...hence, the weekend was somewhatreligious.

Another interesting thing is that we found our hotel by chance. Some guy on a motor cycle came up to us, and said that he had a new hotel with roomsavailable . So, with a bit of skepticism we checked it out, and to our delight it was fantastic, and between the 6 of us (Jake finally met us inAjmer, and then traveled with us to Pushcar) dividing the 350 R's per night, resulted in us each paying a whopping 60 R's for the night.

All in all, Pushcar is a must see in India, and I'm planning on going back next weekend to partake in a celebration called Holi. I'm not going into what Holi is...check it out on Wikipedia or something.

Be well all,
when I have time, I'm missing you all,
when I don't, your all in my heart regardless,


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Perfectly focused blur.

Nothing notable happened today, but I'm in the mood to write, and in other words...I'm having some difficulty in finding a focus for my research project. Let me explain.

To begin, I should point out that as soon as I think I've narrowed my focus to some smaller topic, I inevitably find something else that catches my interest, and I find my self continually leap frogging from issue to issue. For instance, to day I began trying to narrow my research topic by focusing on my original proposal: the Indian family structure. In looking at the family structure, I came to the well observed conclusion that it has been and is drastically changing as western culture is becoming more a part of Indian culture. This then led me to wonder about how marriages have been effected by the forces of western materialism that have permeated India. I talked to a bunch of random people on the street, and in general it seems that the younger the person, the more open they are to the notion that western ideas of materialism are changing expectations surrounding marriage, and generally "young people" don't see this entirely as negative. Also, keep in mind these are the opinions of a few people. Older people seem to feel more strongly that the changes in regards to marriage expectations are somewhat negative. Then my mind wandered again, and I found myself talking to this guy named Abdul, a muslim man I met in the Old City, about premarital relationships and more broadly, dating. He gave me all sorts of insight into the somewhat looked down upon phenomenon, but again, being on the younger side, seemed to be ok with the fact that things are changing and actually told me that "change is natural. If you didn't change your clothing each day it would seem weird. So, why do people find change in society to be weird." Though he was by no means a "school educated sociologist" he was absoultley a sociologist in my mind, and his lack of education by no means reflected the amount of knowledge and insight he had. Ultimately, I stared thinking about materialism and it's effect on the family structure, moved to discussing the changing expectations surrounding marriage, and then to dating culture. Further, in our discussion of dating culture Abdul told me, with absoulte certainty that, premarital sex is part of dating, but that it is kept very secretive. This then led me to wonder about sex education in India, which I found out is barely taught, and subsequently curiosity about the sex trade in India.
In short, I feel totally unfocused, but however much this is frustrating, it also feels great. My mind is expanding in ways I never thought possible, and I'm extremely happy that although my curiosity is unfocused, it is not waning in motivation. I'm sure I'll find a topic that is suitable for both my time frame and interests, but seeing that an abstract is due tomorrow, I think I'm going to have to b-s something to hand in. The assignment is only 150 words long, so it won't be hard, but I just wish I could find something interesting, feasible, and ultimately just get started delving in.
So in close, I hope this rant has been entertaining. If it has been, than I'm glad my angst can be a source of entertainment for you. If it hasn't been, than I'm deeply sorry you chose to read the above :-)

Be well all,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Taj and such.

Well this past weekend was really great. The entire group and I took a trip down to Agra in order to primarily see the Taj Mahal, but also to see the Agra Fort, and to more generally just experience India. My friend Evan and I arranged the whole trip. I found the group a hotel in Agra, and he got the bus for us to travel down in. Ultimately, with very little planning, Evan and I worked out the logistics of the whole trip, and on Friday afternoon, we all left the program center around 11:00 and made the 5ish hour drive. As with everything here, the trip took longer than we planned, and after various bathroom stops, we arrived in Agra around 5:30. Once there, we spent about another hour driving around the city looking for the hotel. The bus drivers, who assured us they knew where we were going, more accurately knew where Agra was. In regards to the hotel however, our guess was just about as good as theirs. Eventually, I decided to call the hotel owner, and he actually drove to where the bus was on his moped. Seeing as buses aren't allowed within close proximity to theTaj , and further that our hotel was within 5 minutes walking, we couldn't get any closer to the hotel driving, so we simply got off the bus where we were waiting, and made the 20 minute walk to the hotel.
Zig-zagging our way through the crowded Agra streets, we were surrounded by various people selling all sorts of Taj Mahal tourist items, from tee-shirts to post cards to marble ash trays. As we continued to near the hotel the streets narrowed, and became even more winding, but eventually we made it to the "HotelShajahan."
The Lonely Planet guide book described the place as "a little scruffy, but a good deal" and that was exactly what it was. Before wecommitted to the place, the hotel owner showed us our room. Over the phone I had negotiated the arrangements such that all 14 of us would be staying in a large room with 10 beds. Further, there would be a bathroom and no shower; however, for two nights we all figured we could withstand a little dirt. So, after taking a quick look at the room, we all decided to stay.
The room was most definitely scruffy, but it only was costing us each $1 per night. In brief the room looked somewhat 3rd-world ish. Let me explain. The ceiling was mostly unfinished and remnants of the construction process were still visible. One of the windows was broken, and the curtains were stained all over. The bathroom had an Indian toilet. This is the type that requires one to squat over it while performing any necessary "duties." Luckily the toilet had a massive crack in it, so to our great delight more of the contents of the toilet would leak onto the ground than actually got out the toilet pipe. The 10 beds were actually old school army cots all pushed together in one massive bed area. On top was a large foam pad. The foam had all sorts of stains and holes all over it, and one of the kids nervously mentioned in a pseudo-joking tone to "watch out for the scabies," but we figured that with some sheets we'd be fine. So, we asked the owner for some sheets, and as we unfolded them it became abundantly clear these sheets with the dozen or so grease stains and the few old blood stains on them were going to be about the cleanest surface we'd sleep on. In all honesty however, I mention all of these details after the fact. In the moment, no one was worried, and the general air amongst us was one of excitement...we were at theTaj Mahal.
After agreeing to take the room, we checked in at the front desk, and in doing so had to provide our country of origin, place of stay, passport number, passport authority where the passport was issued, passport date of issue and expiry, visa number as well as date of issue and expiry, age, sex, date ofarrival in Agra, and intended date of leave. Filling out this amount of information for 14 people was somewhat of a task, but fortunately my friend Lissa helped me, and thus the process wasexpedited greatly. By this point, it was time to have some beer, and fortunately while Lissa and I checked us all in, a few other people got a case of beer. Naturally we headed up to the roof top lounge, and got there in time to see a tempting view of the near by Taj slowly fading into the Agra night. For the next while various sorts of debauchery ensued, and once a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey had miraculously become empty, we all decided to get some dinner.
The hotel owner was extremely helpful for the whole weekend, and he arranged for some bike-rickshaws to pick us up. Little did we know that these five rickshaws would become our personal escort service for the entire weekend, so to our initialsurprise and later delight, they were ready to take us wherever we wanted to go whenever we wanted to. So at around 9:00 we all got in the rickshaws and were happily taken to arestaurant called "Indiana." The food was a little expensive, but it was pretty good. I ate a fantastically satisfying meal of chicken and spinach curry, and once we all were finished and the bill had been paid, we headed back to the hotel where, in anticipation of an early rise the next morning, we went to bed.
At 5:00 A.M. I awoke in the darkness to my cell phones alarm, and sleepily I turned on the one florescent light in the room. Everyone slowly woke up, and around 5:40 we started the five minute walk to the Western Gate of theTaj Mahal . Surprisingly, we got to the ticket booth before any real crowd had formed, and by 6:15 we had all paid the 650 R's and were seeing for the very first time in all of our lives, the figure of theTaj Mahal slowly emerging from the misty morning darkness.
We were all sitting at the far end of the area the Taj is in so we could see the sun rise to our right and ultimately illuminate the Taj. Slowly but surely the Taj become more visible as the sun slowly rose, the outline turned from dull white, to a brighter white, to a yellowish-gold gleaming white marble wonder that is theTaj in the morning sunrise. By this point it was probably around 7:30, and with the sunrise over we all spend the next 3 hours wandering around theTaj Mahal and the various building included on the grounds. I can't even begin to explain the detail that the Taj has manifest in its design, but one example lies in the floral designs that cover various parts of it. Basically the floral designs are created by a technique called "in-lay" in which semi precious stones are set into the white marble. Now keep in mind that all the work on theTaj was done with hand tools, and its entire construction took about 20 years. Judging by the detail in just the in-lay sections alone, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual construction of the building took the least time of the whole process. The detail was truly magnificent, and however much I tend to stay away from tourist attractions, it is endlessly clear why theTaj attracts so many tourists. Simply put...unimaginably breath taking.
By this point we had seen all we came to see, and we decided to head back to Hotel Shajahan where we would eat breakfast at a nearby restaurant and then retire back to the hotel for some short naps on our clean-ish cots. So, that is exactly what we did, and about two hours later, I awoke and headed the Agra Fort.
The Agra Fort is really very nice, and again is a beautiful example of artistic architecture. After checking out the Agra Fort for a few hours, we went back, took another little nap, and then simply wandered around Agra for a while.
Eventually, I got a little hungry, so my friend Jake and Chris decided to join me in a small cafe across from the hotel. Joney's place is its name, and the only way to describe it is that it's a quaint greasy-spoon type Indian restaurant. The food was really cheap, and according to it's guest book (which had been signed by hundreds of people in at least 10 different languages) was praised for having "the best MaliKofta " in all of India. With such reviews, Jake, Chris and I decided to split the dish for a snack, and after merely one bite decided that we'd be coming back later that evening for dinner. So, around 9:00 Jake, Chris, I and about 7 other of the group headed back over toJoney's place where we feasted for about 110 R's each ($3).
Seeing as we were all exhausted, we finished dinner and then went to bed. The next morning we got up, checked out of the hotel and got onto our bus around 10:00 A.M. We then drove back to Jaipur via an old city calledFatapu Sikri, where we got out and explored the old ruins. Finally, we got back to Jaipur, and that's where I am now.
I hope all is well back in the states, and it should go without saying that I miss everyone. I hope my entries have been enjoyable, and Iapologize for the infrequency, but computer access isn't a given here.
On another note, my home stay is going extremely well. I've even accompanied my parents to a traditional Rajput wedding. The entire celebration lasted 5 days, but we only attended for a few hours on two different days. I'm also quickly learning Hindi. I'm by no means fluent, but I can form simple sentences, and it's becoming extremely helpful in regards to all sorts of everyday interaction. I'm also really learning my way around Jaipur. I know where to get whatever I need in regards to material things, and in a more emotional sense Jaipur isbeginning to feel like somewhat of a home. In the very least, it was extremely nice to come back to the relatively luxurious conditions of myhome stay family in contrast with the past weekends hotel.

Well, that's all for now. Much love to everyone, especially Mom, Dad, Jared and Rachel.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The begining of understanding...

I apologize in a advance for the lack of capital letters in this post, but the keyboard on this fantastic computer has two perfectly non-functional shift keys...gotta love anyway, everything, besides this keyboard, is going really well.

i've only been with my home stay family for one day now; however, i already feel a really strong attachment to them. rajeev, vikram and manesh are so smart, and eagerly greet me each day with some new piece of wisdom they've picked up from school. manesh gave me a lesson on ratios, manesh gave me a lesson on circumference, an rajeev who is the oldest is full of fantastic questions regarding western culture and generally what it is like in america. however as much as i've just met my home stay family, i can already tell i'm going to miss them immensely when i leave.

we read the introduction to "orientalism" by edward said, and i would recommend that small bit, if not the entire book, to anyone wishing to be filled with insight on many issues regarding the american discourse surrounding the middle east and asia more was really great.

also, my home stay family does speak some english; however, starting next week i've asked them to only speak in hindi. although it's going to be difficult to communicate, it will be best for my language accusation.

so, i was walking down the street today and found myself totally at peace regardless of the busy city happening all around me. i was able to simply exist in the moment i was experiencing, and in doing so the distraction of anything outside of that moment melted away. i was able to truly experience the now, and although this seems somewhat koom-by-ya (sorry...i don't know how to spell that), it is all very true.

i've been learning patience here in india. this virtue, of which i desperately need to learn more of, is somewhat forced upon me in every situation. it is by no means a problem, and it is not bothering me at all. in actuality, however much learning patience is a slow and sometimes tiresome process, i embrace it with the understanding that sometimes the best things in life are not easily gotten, and require an uncomfortable learning process.

this theme of patience is manifest in my home stay experience, my five hour jaunt at getting a cell phone, the endless difficulty of finding my way around jaipur, and even in using this computer...but i'm slowly learning patience, and the the seeming difficulties of living in jaipur are quickly fading.

to go into a bit of detail...yesterday, seven other students from the program and i went to get cell phones. the process seemed simple enough before we actually tried to go through it, however, this was not actually the case. after being required to provide our passports, various address information, photos and various other seeming arbitrary bits of info, such as our fathers full name, and citizenship status, we were able to buy the phones.

i want to make absolutely clear however, that i'm writing of all these experiences without any malice, anger, or negative evaluation of india or the culture here. i've simply accepted the pace of life over here without comparison. everything here is different and by no means necessarily negative, bad, or of lesser virtue than life in america...things are simply different. things simply are. i don't place judgment on the differences, i merely absorb them. let me not forget to acknowledge that natually i judge without even meaning to, but i constantly make an effort to avoid doing so.

in short i'm beginning to really integrate into jaipur. life here is different...not different therefore better or worse...simply different. to compare the two would be to compare apples and oranges. both have positives and negatives, but i am by no means in any position to judge what i'm seeing here. who would i be to think i could do so?

so, for now that's all. i've been really excited to read all of the comments that people have been posting, and although i haven't responded to any of them, be sure that i'm happily and extremely gratefully reading them all.

i hope all is well back home.

much love to everyone,