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")