Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Apparently all the cute boys are in Punjab...

I spent just about a day and a half in Amritsar but it was enough to make me want to stay. Partly because, yes, the cutest Indian boys have been hiding the entire semester in Punjab. The other part of it is a bit difficult to explain over a blog. For some reason I felt more compelled to talk to random strangers in Amritsar. Bhangra, the traditional Punjabi music, is also quite captivating, as my friends and I quickly discovered. But there was much more to Amritsar than just cute Punjabi boys and fun Bhangra music.

Here's a quick recap of what we did. We miraculously got hold of the last room available at the Golden Temple. We ended up paying 50 rupees per night per person. Let me do that math for you: that's a dollar. Down side: you get what you pay for. Up side: when you decide you have to be at the Golden Temple at 5am because that's the best time to visit it, it's quite convenient that you're already there. But, yes, the Golden Temple is quite beautiful, especially at 5am for those who can muster the energy to get up and deal with the cold Amritsar morning. It was really interesting to see that most of the visitors at the Golden Temple were actually all Indian and where there simply to pray as a part of their daily activities. It was beautiful simply to sit there, watch everyone else sit still and pray in the middle of the water. Definitely one of the most peaceful experiences I've had so far.

After napping for a few hours and drinking some chai we headed out to explore the city on a few cycle rickshaws. First stop Jallianwala Bagh,  the memorial gardens dedicated to the Amritsar Massacre where British soldiers shot at a gathering of unarmed people without notice. It was actually really touching. Then we had some lunch at Brother's Dhaba, Amritsar's famous restaurant that's almost a century old and went for a little shopping. Yes, I know. I do that a lot but in my defense, this time I bought nothing for myself - all gifts were purchased for very deserving people.

Anyway, then came the part we had been planning all day long. We arranged to be driven an hour out of Amritsar so that we could make it to the Wagah Border. For those of you who are not familiar with India's geography. Amritsar is way up north and to the west, just on the border with Pakistan. Now, some of you may know that Indo-Pakistani relations are not in the best shape due to the violent partition of British India into the two countries. Happenings on the border can get pretty rough; the entire semester our Academic Director strictly forbade any of us from going to Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places in India. It's also coincidentally one of the most conflicted. However, the Wagah Border just an hour outside of Amritsar is a ceremonial border between India and Pakistan where they have a retreat ceremony everyday at sunset. This is what we were there for.

The retreat ceremony started as a kind of solidarity between the two halfs of the broken village amid all of the conflict and has been held since 1959 by both India's Border Security Force and Pakistan's Rangers. You have India on one side and Pakistan on the other, with only their respective gates in between. India's BMF collects its flag and puts it away at sunset while Pakistan's Rangers do the same with the Pakistani flag. The next day the flags are returned to their place where the Indian flag and the Pakistani flag fly side by side. Either side is packed with spectators; India's side chants "Hidustan!" and Pakistan's chants "Pakistan!" I saw so much patriotism in everyone's eyes and heard it in everyone's voices, including Pakistan's. At the same time I could feel the solidarity spread through the gates and envelope the crowds. Seeing that, being a part of that was one of the most emotional moments I've had in India thus far. I'm afraid I cannot do my feelings justice in this blog. All I can say is that for a while there I forgot that any borders fragmented the world at all.

After the ceremony, I managed to push my way through the crowd of really rowdy Indian men waving Indian flags and holding their camera phones ready to document the moment and snag a few pics myself.  Let me tell you that this getting this picture was not an easy task. It was definitely worth it, however. I got some shots with no one but BSF in it and was standing just ten to twenty feet from Pakistan. I'll take what I can get, for now. You can see one of the pictures just below and I will soon be adding more to the photo page of this blog. If you look behind the man holding the automatic weapon you can see that there are two gates, one with India's flag painted on and the one just behind it, with Pakistan's flag.

And now I'm in Goa beach hopping for the next few days, which is quite the stark contrast from what I witnessed out on the Wagah Border. It's just a bit more relaxing so I have time to upload some pictures. I'm currently uploading pictures of the banquet and Amritsar on the photo page of this blog for all of you to take a look. I'll get back to you on my experience in Goa as soon as possible.


Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Ready to Go

Yesterday was the last official day of my semester in India. We had a session on reentry into the U.S. and reverse culture shock. We had a cute little ceremony where we gave each other silly awards; I got "Most Likely to Design the Best Kurti" and I'm quite proud of this actually. You all know how much I'm obsessed with fashion. Anyway, we were required to go around to everyone and tell how we grew throughout that semester. This took a quick turn towards the sentimental side. I realized how much I had come to all of these people that were strangers just three months ago but have now become such an essential part of my life. Then my friend Poonam cried, which isn't really that shocking but then I started crying. I'm not gonna lie, I bawled like a baby. I could see our Hindi teachers observing and laughing at us but I could tell that, secretly, they really thought we were adorable and wanted to cry right there with us.

Tears were wiped, saris were donned, and with bindis on our foreheads we headed to the Indian Habitat Center, a huge convention center that doesn't really look like it belongs in India, for our final banquet. We all looked beautiful in our saris, our host families were there to say their final goodbyes and have some delicious khana (food) with us. The banquet was a lot of fun but riding back to the hotel was a bit weird. It all felt very surreal, thinking that some of us would be in America within just 24 hours. The United States just feels like such a distant, foreign world after having spent close to four months in India. I'm not sure that the fact that I have to go back has fully sunk in yet, actually. This is probably because I still have a few days left in India before I fly back to Amrika. 10 days, to exact.

You're probably asking yourself what I'm going to be doing now. Traveling, of course. But you knew that so the question is really where will I be going? Well, I'm currently on the Shatabdi train with 5 of my friends heading up to Amritsar so that we can spend the day there. We want to spend the night in the Golden Temple, which you can't book ahead of time, so hopefully we have a place to sleep tonight. Then we'll be heading back to Dilli so we can catch our flight to Goa. Hopefully all goes as planned, or unplanned in our case.

- Eli

P.S. I promise I will be posting the few pictures I took in Mumbai and those from the banquet soon so you can take a look at those. Also, I have embedded a YouTube video of a song that my friend Mateo Corby wrote, it expresses a bit of what I'm feeling as I set off to see as much of India as I can before I have to leave. It's a great, very catchy song. I find it very appropriate that Mateo wrote a song about traveling given that he traveled over 20 countries in his undergraduate career... I'm slightly jealous of him but seriously impressed.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Power of Women

Two days ago, the Dalai Lama received the Dayawati Modi Award for Art, Culture and Education at the Sri Sathya Sai International Center in New Delhi. I had just arrived back in Delhi but entrance to the event was unfortunately restricted to members of the organization so I wasn't actually able to go. I did, however, take a study break to watch this youtube video of his talk on the power of women. I thought I'd share because writing this post would be a nice little way to procrastinate writing my paper....which is due tomorrow. I have 30 pages due tomorrow. In 17 hours, actually. Needless to say, I have a long night ahead of me. Anyway, listen to the Dalai Lama.

- Eli

Friday, 2 December 2011

Flash Mob Mumbai

P.S. My roommate just forwarded this video of a flash mob in Mumbai's CST train station to me. This happened just last week when I was still in Mumbai, though I didn't get to see it in person. What I did get to see is the CST train station. It's in the heart of Mumbai and is a beautiful building. If you watch the video until the end (or skip ahead if you must) you get to see a quick shot of it. Anyway, now I'm back in Delhi and have to get back to working on my lovely 30 page paper. Or pretending to anyway... Enjoy!


Thursday, 1 December 2011

A little taste of Bollywood

Hey everyone! So I know the past few posts haven't been too happy so I thought I'd touch on a much lighter topic today. In spirit of the time I spent watching Bollywood movies this past week, I decided to make a fun Bollywood music playlist. Let me just explain a little bit about how the music industry works around here. In India, all Bollywood movies are musicals and the songs from those movies are released prior to the movie release date. By the time the movie comes around, you're already hooked on all of the songs and NEED to go see the movie. Genius, isn't it?

Anyway, here's the playlist I created on Youtube. Most of these movies are "chick flicks" by the way so some of you will really enjoy all of these songs, some of you will not. You know who you are, enter at your own risk. However, if you feel like laughing for a bit, I suggest you watch the "Bodyguard" music video, it's towards the end of the playlist.

- Eli

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mami, hold my hand.

So here's the part where I tell you why I moved to Mumbai an entire month before my semester is over. I'm not sure if I told you much about the SIT program I'm enrolled in this semester but maybe I should start by telling you that SIT has a very hands-on, experience-based approach to learning. Hence the excursions, the one week workshop in Varanasi and hence my independent study project. For their ISP everyone has one month to research a topic of their choice in a location of their choice and write a 30 page research paper about it. A topic related to health and human rights, of course. Fun, no? Well, despite having to write a 30 page paper it's really pretty easy to spend a lot of time on your project if you have a topic that truly interests you. Something that you're truly invested in.

My topic: the female "rehabilitation" centers of Mumbai, Maharashtra. For those of you who don't know what a female rehabilitation center is (I hadn't heard of one of these before coming to India either), a female rehabilitation center in India is a shelter home where girls are taken after they have been rescued from domestic violence, sex trafficking and rape among other cases. Once at these homes, the girls are supposed to be provided with (if funding allows, which it usually doesn't) shelter, medical care, education, life skills and vocational training, and counseling services. Some of the girls learn how to make jewelry or different pieces of art so they can sell it in the market, while others are trained to work for different companies.

Over the past few weeks I have been spending some time in some of these homes in Mumbai, some have been run by NGOs and a few others have been run by the Maharashtra state government. It only takes a bus, two trains and an auto rickshaw ride to get over to them from where I'm living here in Mumbai. And yes, that's only a bus, two trains and an auto rickshaw there AND back. But don't mind my sarcasm, my 2 hour commutes every morning and afternoon are worth the hassle. Throughout my time in Mumbai I have had the opportunity to interview social workers, counselors, NGO staff and directors, a government home superintendent, staff members of the International Justice Mission, members of the Child Welfare Committee and even girls who have lived in the homes for a few years. I can only interview the girls who have turned 18 according to the International Review Board's rules but I have had the opportunity to also chat with some of the underage girls who live in these shelter homes.

Talking to these girls is a tricky thing. They love me instantly because I am a foreigner and want to talk to me and know all about who I am and what I'm doing there but I have to be very careful about what I say to them because their story is the last thing they want to talk about - it's too painful. But I spend a lot of time looking at their files, building case studies for my paper, learning about every painful, traumatic part of their life and their stories. Then I have to turn around and look at them, talk to them, and be a bubbly person that will hopefully cheer them up and make their day a little better. I talk to them about the latest Bollywood film and how cute that new actor is, nail polish and whatnot but I all I want is to be able to undo what has happened to them. But I know I can't and it's hard. It's really, really hard.

I'm sorry to say that there's no uplifting, happy conclusion for now. All I can say is that this has been my life for the past couple of weeks. But that doesn't really matter because this has been their life forever and will be their life after I leave Mumbai in a week.


P.S. For obvious reasons I'm not allowed to take pictures inside these homes but you can take a look at the few that I've taken on my morning commute just below. And if you're feeling a little blue after this post, just take a listen to "Momma Hold My Hand" and "Green Lights" by Aloe Blacc. As some of you may know, I'm quite obsessed with Mr. Blacc. While the second song lightens the mood more than the first this post brought both of them to mind.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Special Rajdhani Express. Next stop: Mumbai.

Trains are the preferred mode of transportation in India, at least for long distances. They might not be the most comfortable or the cleanest but they are usually pretty inexpensive and relatively fast. The Rajdhani is not faster than flying to Mumbai but being the second fastest train in India, it was naturally only a 21 hour train ride! Hey, I'm just glad I didn't have a 33 hour train ride to Bangalore like some of my friends.

This train ride in particular was a bit different from all the other train rides I've been through so far and I thought I might mention it here. My roommate and I said our bitter goodbyes to our host parents and headed for the New Delhi Railway Station, arriving with time to spare in order to catch our midnight train. I fell asleep almost instantly. The next morning I woke up looking a hot mess, with cilantro chutney on my kurta of course. My roommate was already awake but we didn't feel very energetic at the time so we both busted out our books only to be interrupted by the guy sitting across from us. After being interviewed about our lives and what we were doing in India, we had made a new friend despite having been told by our academic directors not to talk to sketchy strangers. This guy seemed a little crazy so we figured he was harmless. He taught us how to play Indian card games, we taught him how to play some American ones, we argued about corruption and the time went by really fast. He doled out some useful info on Mumbai; where to go, what to eat, which public transportation to avoid. He gave us business cards for all the places we absolutely needed to go see and then threw his in just in case we needed anything while we were in Mumbai. 

His card caught my attention, it said something about immigration services. Naturally, I was really curious about what he did and after interrogating him about it for a bit, it turned out it was just a fancy title for recruiter. American and Canadian universities pay him to recruit wealthy Indian students; the more students he brings in to one specific institution, the higher a percentage of the students' tuition that he is entitled to. All I could do was laugh nervously as he confirmed my undying belief that college is a business. I've always been aware of this but it had been merely lurking in my subconscious and all of a sudden it was in my face, as most depressing things in India seem to be. It does seem like this is increasingly the case in the U.S. On that note, I read an interesting article in the NY Times. It's worth a read.  Both very fun things to think about, I realize. Sorry I'm not sorry.

I also realize I still haven't told you why I'm in Mumbai and what I'm actually doing here but since I'm on a bit of a time crunch, we'll just leave that for the next post.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Love is Here

Happy November everyone!!! There's nothing too happy about today as I am leaving New Delhi tonight (I am going to be in Mumbai for the next month or so, which I will talk about later on in another post) and will be leaving my very sweet host parents, whom I have grown very attached to. However, In the past couple of weeks (all final exams and papers aside) I have experienced some very neat things here that are all very true to the heart of India, today I will share two of them with you: Diwali and a traditional Indian marriage.

The first, Diwali, was the Indian new year as per Hindu tradition and actually took place in the last week of October, a whole three weeks back. Being the Indian New Year, Diwali is a week-long celebration of family, friendship and love. Families come together from wherever they may be, friends visit each other's homes and they give each other gifts. These gifts can be nuts or dried fruits (which are quite expensive here and thus coveted), chocolates, tech gadgets, money, and most traditionally mitai - the Indian sweets which are sure to fill your tummy with flowery, sugary, buttery goodness (they may or may not be fried and then dunked in syrup, ti's up to you). On the actual day of Diwali (designated by the phases of the moon) houses are completely decorated in what you understand to be Christmas lights and diyas (small pots with candles in them). The family comes together at night to perform a puja (refer to earlier post for explanation) for Ganesh and Lakshmi, Hindu God and Goddess of success and wealth/prosperity respectively; you pray for a little bit, decorate the altar with garlands and place money in front of the altar (typically silver coins), burn some candles, and eat some sort of pashaad (blessed food) in the gods' honor. We had jalebi in some cold milk and it was delicious. Auntie and Uncle then encouraged us to make use of all the sparklers they had bought for us, while everyone else on the block and really all of India lit fireworks well into the A.M. Quite a few fireworks actually went off a couple of feet from me, I made no attempt to hide the fear in my eyes. My roommate thought it was hilarious and was shocked that I never did this in the U.S. It was a lot of fun and I can say that I really felt like I was breathing happiness all through Diwali season, which may still be going on as it's difficult to tell when a holiday has actually ended in India. Most kids get 5 or 6 days off of school for Diwali in India, because I am studying with an American institution I got none...not that I'm bitter or anything....

Anyway, fun event number two, an Indian shadi (marriage) took place just two days ago. My host sister's best friend was getting married so naturally my roommate and I tagged along. For those of you that may not know, Indian marriages are really long and elaborate, they literally last for days because of course you have the engagement ceremony, the mehendi day for the bride, the marriage and the reception - the last two may or may not be on held on the same day. My roommate and I attended all but the engagement ceremony and I was definitely blown away. The mehendi is the night before where the bride, her family and closest friends get together to celebrate before the wedding and apply the bride and her loved ones' mehendi (henna, just in case you haven't read the previous post). Aside from the cilantro, tres leches, corn cake thing we were forced to eat, it was really fun. Dinner was delicious, the uncles' dancing was quite amusing, and Tania and I were invited to apply some mehendi for the wedding as well! The next night we trekked over to Lalit Gardens for what would be an extremely fun reception. It was a giant green field decorated beautifully with magical lights; the sides were lined with every Indian street food cart you could imagine (I blame my premature death on this), where the back of the garden had an even more intense buffet. Yes, all the food was amazing but that wasn't all that there was to be seen. We paid a visit to the bride in one of the most ornate and beautiful pieces of clothing I have ever seen; her outfit in the traditional Indian bridal colors (red, gold and green) was beaded and embellished til you could no more, the stacks of bangles on her arms almost covered the mehendi that went up to her elbows and there was so much gold hanging from her that she could barely stand. In fact, the second she stood up to greet us everyone scolded her for standing. Just to give you an idea of this, the gold hoop that serves as the nose piercing is usually tied to her veil so that the weight won't tear her nose off. Yes, that's a true story right there.

As for the actually ceremony, you don't just sit around and watch the priest marry the bride and groom; there are many traditions that must be carried out. The groom arrives on either a horse or an elephant (in Delhi's unfortunate case, it's usually a horse) along with his posse and band. The groom's family and the bride's family exchange pleasantries and dance for a little bit at the entrance. The groom and co. then attempts to cross the threshold but is stopped by the bride's sisters and female relatives.They argue a bit about his eligibility, they refuse to let him in until he bribes them and they feed him some mitai and throw rose petals on him and the entire crew behind him. It was actually really amusing. The bride is then revealed and more pleasantries are exchanged before the ceremony is performed under the moonlight at appx. 2am. Basically, it's an ordeal and a half. But it's a beautiful ordeal. You see how nervous the bride is and how shy the groom is and you feel it. You feel the love.

I thought I'd share both of these experiences with you because yesterday when walking through Khan Market (tourist central) there was a powder blue power box with white graffiti on it that caught my attention. All it said was "Love is here." Well, it got me thinking about the past few weeks of my life in India and I must agree; love is here.

 Love,  Eli

Monday, 31 October 2011


Hola todos! I know it's been a while since I've posted even though I promised I would post soon and I could say I wasn't being lazy and was actually just too busy with really important stuff to post but who am I kidding? You know it, I know you know it so let's just know together. The real story is that during the week I spent in Varanasi on my workshop, I was actually really busy and too exhausted to post. Also, the second week of no posts was necessary for recuperation from really busy week in Varanasi. Anyway...

Yes, this trip did include yet another 12 hour train ride and though exhausting my week in Varanasi was great. The NGO we worked with was Kiran Village. Kiran serves children with disabilities in the region surrounding Varanasi. This organization provides primary education, therapy, skills training and employment among other great services. It really is an amazing organization, I was actually really emotional and almost cried at first because just spending time at Kiran made me really happy but my friends wouldn't let me because they were afraid that they would start crying too. Instead of crying, we decided to play with the bachchas (children) whom we rode the bus with to and from school every day. Most of the time the bus was so crowded that we ended up with one or more bachchas on our laps on the bus ride. Sometimes they decided to sing to us, tell us jokes or show us what they learned that day in class, but most of all they really liked when we took their pictures. And we did...a lot, as you will see in my pictures from Varanasi. 

But we didn't just spend all of our time at Kiran, even though it was its own little version of Utopia. Other significant activities from Varanasi include the bakery where Kiran sold the goods made by those youngsters with disabilities that they trained in their skills training unit. I feel the need to note that we visited this bakery every day given that the bus dropped us off right in front of it on our way home. Convenient, no? But given that we were staying right on the Ganges it was only right that we take a stroll down to the main ghat (the banks of the Ganges are divided into sections called ghats) for a bit of arthi watching. Arthi is a ritual that is performed every night on the backs of the Ganges, dedicated to the river which is considered to be a god in Hindu religion. They light some pretty cool lamps on fire and wave them around for a bit as they pray to Ganga Ji (the river). It was really pretty but I must say that the boat ride we took on the Ganges just before sunrise was a bit more beautiful and even peaceful. Even though I was a hot mess at 5:30 am due to an unfortunate lack of my morning chai (the usual for Varanasi was 4 cups before I even left the hotel - I think it's replacing my other addiction to coffee), the boat ride was breathtaking. We got to see a beautiful deep red sun rise on the river as we were taken down the river where there were many people bathing or performing a puja (Hindu prayer or offering to the gods) in the Ganges, not to mention the two cremation ghats we passed by. Post-boat ride (and an egregious amount of chai, of course) we had a little bit of free time before departure and I may or may not have gone back to the bakery for some of their delicious jam biscuits made with their amazing pumpkin jam. All I can say for myself is I do not regret the biscuits...or the jam. 

There's probably more that I should be telling you but it's been a bit too long since I got back so I've forgotten a lot. I have a terrible memory, I know...sorry! I promise to upload an album with all the pictures from Varanasi very soon. Anyway, hasta luego!

- Eli

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Just Some Hathis, NBD

Hi friends! As I told you last week, I went to Jaipur for the weekend and it was soooo much fun! We were only there for a few days but I think we managed our time well and accomplished a lot in the short time we had. My friends and I bolted out of Delhi on a 4 hour train to Jaipur just after our Hindi exam - which went really well, by the way! Once actually in Jaipur, there was tons to do and not enough time, but we decided to start off with a visit to Amber Palace, which was located on top of a hill and gave us the opportunity to ride hathis (elephants!) up the hill and into the palace. Our hathi's name was Lakshmi and she was beautiful, as was the view of Jaipur from that hill. The palace itself was amazing, it was enormous and a truly beautiful work of art. We were able to visit the queens' chambers and, yes, that is queens as in plural because the king who lived here had 12 queens once upon a time.

After some quick lunch, we then moved on to Jantar Mantar, Jaipur's own observatory. The architecture there was surprisingly modern for having been built in the eighteenth century. It was like going to a giant, old Reuben H. Fleet Museum, which was one of my favorite field trips back in elementary school. From Jantar Mantar we were only a short walking distance to Hawa Mahal, another of Jaipur's beautiful palaces whose name means "The Palace of the Winds." This palace is located right in the middle of Pink City in Jaipur, where all of the buildings like this one are built of red and pink sandstone, driving through there is a lot of fun because of this.The architecture of this palace is really interesting because it was made so that the royal ladies (not including the 300+ unofficial queens) could observe the streets without being seen. Once you got to the highest level of the palace, you got another breathtaking view of Jaipur.

We then headed to dinner at small village just outside the city. This was much more than dinner. Once inside Chokhi Dhani, there was A LOT going on. Want to dance some Bangra? This way please. Want some delicious Indian-style ice cream (kulfi)? Straight ahead and to the right. Some chaat? Why yes, I'd love some chaat, extra masala please.  Mehendi (Hindi for henna)? Take a seat for 2 minutes, it's fast and free! Want to ride an elephant? Well, I kind of already did that today. Well, how about a camel then? We have those too. Actually, that would be kind of fun and I haven't done that yet, sure why not? (Camel rides are fun, but tricky - be careful when mounting/dismounting, it might ruin your mehendi...just saying).

Wait, why are we here again? Oh yeah, dinner. There are several eating areas for you to choose from. Remove your shoes and take a seat. Once seated, we had one giant and an entire stack of banana leaf plates. Question: are all of these for me? Answer: YES. The waiters, dressed in traditional Indian wear, then came down the aisle and put a different type of subjee (vegetables) dish in each of the little plates, brought us four or five different kinds of roti (Indian bread), gave us some salty lassi, and 3 or 4 different desserts. Everything, except for the lassi (who drinks salty yogurt?), was so delicious I even risked eating the chutneys and palak paneer, which is usually a don't if you want to avoid Delhi Belly. I definitely couldn't finish everything though, there was sooo much food and, apparently, "No more food please, I am REALLY full" means "Please put dollop some more of everything on my plate." All the waiters thought it was hilarious to see us look like we were about to have a heart attack. I did feel like had eaten enough for an entire army but it was delicious so I don't regret it. All in all, Choki Dhani was really and though I am aware that it was a very touristy attraction, it made me feel better that all the other tourists around us were Indian tourists.

But then it was time for reality so we all worked on our Independent Study Proposals and headed back to Delhi via what was probably the most traumatizing train experience of our lives. We booked our tickets a little bit on the late side so we were stuck in the non-AC train, which we wouldn't have minded had we not been completely surrounded by 1,000 other people. Everyone preferred to wait 6 hours before going to the bathroom rather than attempting to get through the crowds. My roommate also shared a shoe with someone for a good part of that train ride. But we made it back to Delhi safe and sound, though extremely tired. We were here this entire week, going to classes but are heading out again today. The group is splitting up and going to three different cities in order to participate in their week-long workshop that is required of the program. My group is going to Varanasi, the oldest city in India!! I'll be taking my computer so I can keep up with my work and will try to keep you guys updated, if possible. Wish me luck everyone!



P.S. Check out some pictures of Jaipur here.


Thursday, 6 October 2011


Namaste guys! Just wanted to tell you all about how cool my day was. It actually started off with a Hindi midterm, which fortunately went pretty well...I think. That was not what made today special, however. Today was actually a holiday in India (there are a lot of these in October due to the major festival - Diwali); today's festival is called Dasara and basically celebrates the triumph of good over evil, or so my roomate (Tania) tells me. Tania and I went home on the earlier side today and made it just in time to join our host parents in watching a parade pass by right in front of our house. It was really fun; lots of colors, bright costumes and years of traditions. We then went inside where Tania and I (successfully) made a delicious batch of chai tea for everyone accompanied by the delicious junk food our host parents bought for us to celebrate with; jalebi, samosas, and pakora. All three snacks were fried but all three snacks were delicious and definitely worth the hearth disease they are sure to induce.

Our host sister and her husband later took us to the nearby park where there was to be a huge celebration. The crowds were a bit more than overwhelming, according to Uncle (our host dad) some people walked here from villages - not sure if this is accurate, however. There were three colossal, colorful structures representing Ravan, the "bad guy," and his two sidekicks - Meghanath and Kumkaran, names provided by my host brother who laughed when I thought they were all the same guy. Anyway, Ravan is the manifestation of evil and Dasara celebrates the story of how Lord Rama (good guy, duh) defeated Ravan. So in order to retell this story on this day, they choose to have a huge gathering at the park where they set fire to these structures, which are previously stuffed with firecrackers. The fire spreads really quickly and the fireworks start going off causing a lot of noise and chaos, but is actually really exciting. At first, having not really been told what today was all about before going to said festival, of course thought the fire was accidental and convinced myself I was going to undergo some serious injuries...which was probably quite plausible anyway given that the fireworks were extremely close to my face and I was covered in ashes by the end of the show. Tania explained the situation, however, so I calmed down and enjoyed the show. It was a lot of fun and beautiful to watch, in a strange sort of way. It was loud, bright, quick, terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Now I'm just really excited to for the next festival...and telling you guys all about it, of course!

Hindi Midterm, Part 2 tomorrow and then I'm off to Jaipur with some friends for the weekend. I'll let you guys know how that goes ASAP. In the meantime you can find pictures from today in my Picasa album below. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

- Eli

Monday, 3 October 2011

Udaipur, Rajasthan

I'm baaaaack! I have mixed feelings about this given that the location of our excursion for the past week, Udaipur, was beautiful and I didn't quite want to leave! Udaipur is known as the city of lakes and palaces. The beauty of the city embraces you as you arrive and its blue skies were a welcome change from Delhi's smog-congested air. It was especially exciting to be in a beautiful hotel on the banks of Lake Pichola (our amazing program staff ensured that we were all placed in lake-facing rooms, so I can sincerely say that we were a bit pampered on this trip).

First off it was a 12 hour train ride from the Nizzamudin train station in Delhi (getting there is a trek in and of itself, however) to the train station in Udaipur, though taking an overnight train made the trip go by very fast. It was only a short walk down the streets of the old city, past a couple elephants and camels of course, before we arrived in our hotel and settled into our rooms before much needed showers. We were then quickly off to a village to see the work that a local NGO - ARTH - has developed over some time in the rural villages surrounding the city. We were all surprised to see that the health facilities that ARTH runs in the region are much more hygienic and manageable than the different government run hospitals and smaller health centers  we explored in Aligarh on our past excursion in the state of Uttar Pradesh (pre-blog guys, sorry - I might or might not get a chance to blog about that week sometime soon). The second day was also dedicated to seeing another of the locations ARTH works in.

The next day, we took a long 2 hour bus ride out to a very remote village (also commonly referred to as hamlet here) where a different NGO - Seva Mandir - works. It was quite the bumpy ride, the bus was airborne more than half of the time but it was definitely worth it. The road ended before we reached our destination so we actually walked along the mountains for a while; the sight alone was breathtaking and it was actually a great experience in terms of getting a real feeling for how far someone from such a remote village has to travel to get access to any sort of health facility.

After such a tiring day, the program staff threw a great party for us on the hotel rooftop, with awesome traditional Indian dancers from Rajasthan to perform for us, on top of a delicious dinner, a beautiful night landscape and great company. The dancers were great, they managed to dance with such grace on top of balancing pots on their heads, their own feet on top of pots, cups and glass, and at one on their heads! It was a little scary but exciting to see them one up themselves by the minute. I tried to get as many pictures of this amazing week as I could. I will put these up soon on the photos page for you all to see.

On the last day we also had the opportunity to visit an Ayurveda (a traditional form of medicine in India) hospital. This was a little bit unsettling for our group. Some of the treatments included leeching, enemas, and even drinking 3 gallons of milk to induce vomiting. I don't I'll be seeking treatment by an Ayurveda doctor anytime soon. We were glad to hear, however, that most patients only seek this type of treatment as a last resort. The hospital was just a blur though, as we were rushed over to the nursing college where we all had a bit of a challenging time communicating in our broken Hindi to the nursing students who seemed to be able to take pages and pages of notes in English but couldn't speak it very much at the moment. It was interesting, to say the least. After all that confusion, it was then time to do a little shopping in Udaipur before heading for the train station; we had a few hours to shop and take a look at all the local art for sale along the streets. Everything was beautiful and though I wanted to buy almost everything I restricted my shopping impulses heavily. By the end it was fun just to barter with the shopkeepers even though I knew I wasn't going to buy the item.

Anyway, that was my week in a nutshell (granted, a very large nutshell). Next post will be shorter, I promise!

- Eli

P.S. When in doubt, always follow the sketchy man sitting on a motorcycle on the side of the road down the dark alley when he promises to take you and your friends to a great restaurant with a beautiful view and delicious food. I can tell you this technique has proved 100% successful. 

Monday, 26 September 2011


So, in my last post I gave you all a glimpse into the city of Delhi; the noise, the smog, and the overwhelming size of it in general. However, I also mentioned that Delhi also has many beautiful sights to be seen. Yesterday some friends and I ventured out to explore one of them in New Delhi - Akshardham! The full name for this temple is actually Swaminarayan Akshardham as it is a temple dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan. Though this temple is one of the most impressive sights to see in Delhi, it was actually recently built and subsequently inaugurated a mere 6 years ago in 2005.

After about an hour and a half and 3 different metro lines, we (Carina, Lauren, Jorge, Charles, Kendra, Berit and I) finally made it to Akshardham. The sun was bright and hot as it usually is in Delhi, though it was a sunnier day than usual. Or was it just that we walked around for 7 hours? Yes, it was a total of 3 hours of transportation and we spent a little over 4 hours actually exploring the temple grounds. We looked at some of the gardens, the stadium-like fountain, the main temple (of course), looked at some of their exhibitions and even ventured through a Pirates of the Caribbean-like boat ride. Though Akshardham is structured and resembles an American amusement park, it was actually one of the most beautiful and intricate places I have seen in my life. The outside/inside walls and ceiling alike were almost completely covered in detailed carvings. If the security guard hadn't asked me to get off of the floor, I could have probably spent hours just staring at the ceiling. We crossed the lotus garden over to the food court and had some samosas, some aloo vada, some ice cream...and then some more ice cream, it was all a blast (especially the ice cream part). The only unfortunate part of the day was that the security at this particular temple is extremely high and you are not allowed to take your cameras inside. Sorry guys, I couldn't get you a walking photo tour of Akshardham. However, google was more than happy to provide...see picture below! However, this made it an even more interesting experience because we weren't snapping pictures of every rock, leaf and wall. There is definitely something to be said for enjoying something simply for what it is in that moment. Picture or no picture, the temple was incredible and definitely worth the trek all the way out to the boonies.

Alright, gonna go pack now. My program is taking a excursion to Udaipur tomorrow to get some hands-on experience with the health system in India. I'll be gone for a week and won't be taking my computer (sorry!) but I'll make sure to write as soon as I get back.              
- Love, Eli

P.S. The song I recommend today is "Ojala" by Silvio Rodriguez. It's just as much of an experience as Akshardham was.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Let's talk about Delhi, pronounced dill - ee in Hindi ( दिल्ली ). It's important that you know a little about this city before I go any further with this blog. I know it's been almost a month since my arrival but there are so many aspects of life in Delhi that continue to shock me day to day, I will attempt to convey a bit of the perplexing hub that is Delhi. First off it is important to note that New Delhi is India's capital and as such I had a certain set of expectations with regards to what I would find. So, you know, it's the capital so it should be a little like Washington D.C., right? Negative. I have found that New Delhi does resemble D.C. - all the politicians hang out in a neighborhood very similar to the mall, but that's about it. After a 23 hour layover in Amsterdam and too many stroopwaffles later, I arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 11pm and found myself in frighteningly humid 90+ weather. The amount of honking coming from what at the time seemed like every car on the road was deafening and it soon became clear that the dashed lines designating car lanes are optional here, merely a friendly suggestion. You'll find auto rickshaws (India's inexpensive alternative to cabs) weaving in and out of traffic and racing past in between lanes. But that's not all that you'll find on the roads. One or two...or just about a million cows have been known to cross the road at a moment's notice; some have owners, some do not but they probably have more rights than pedestrians do here. Along those lines, it is certainly important to note that Delhi is not a walking city in the least and for several reasons: sidewalks are practically non-existent here; Delhi is GIANT; and it's extremely hot, making it almost unbearable. 

Whether by foot, auto rickshaw, or metro (which is actually quite clean and impressive here), however, exploring Delhi is certainly a lot of fun. There is an overwhelming amount of things to see and do here in Delhi, whether it's temples, markets, and even gardens, you'll get your share of sights here. Not only are they numerous, but they are beautiful. The architecture and the soul found at each and every one of these places is astounding, I definitely fear not having the time to explore the city enough. But perhaps what shocked me most about Delhi was the stark contrast between the beauty and soul of Delhi and the extreme poverty that plagues a significant part of India's population. I was under the impression that because I was informed and had a notion of these problems that there was no reason for me to be surprised by what I would encounter upon my arrival. Wrong again. Discussing poverty and hunger with your professor and peers in a classroom or reading about it in a textbook or newspaper doesn't come close to the feeling you get when you see it up close, when it's in your face and a child's frail hand taps you and you look up into their pleading eyes. It's something you can't really prepare for, you just have to live it. And after almost a month of living in this environment, as that heart-wrenching feeling lurks in your chests and ferments over some time, I can say it feels even more strange to see this scene play over and over again and become a part of the environment you live in for an extended period of time. And that is why Delhi confuses me so much, you can encounter many scenes like this and yet when you interact with people you find that there's so much color, life and happiness. Delhi's just one extensive, bustling contradiction and I can't say I was able to do the city justice in this one post, but hopefully you will get a better sense of it as I write and post more pictures throughout the semester. Good night everyone! 
- Eli

P.S. On a random side note, I  was listening to "Ja Sei Namorar" and "Boa Sorte" while writing this post. You can find them both on this playlist. They are both fun Brazilian songs that my awesome Brazilian host mom introduced me to, I love them both and recommend that you all listen for a bit.

Monday, 19 September 2011


No time to write right now, but you can all listen to this song from "Mere Brother Ki Dulhan," the first Bollywood film I saw in theaters!!

I'm in India!

Namaste friends, family, and all! For those of you who don't know, I am studying abroad in India this semester on an SIT Health and Human Rights program and it is proving to be quite an interesting (and amazing) experience! Earlier this summer I told myself that I would blog through my entire experience here, every thought, every walk, every picture. The idea was that it would all be documented in this space. It is now almost a month into the semester, however, and I have only yet begun my blogging. This is me. Sometimes I will blog every other day, not blog for an entire 3 weeks, or several posts every single day for a month. My itinerary is susceptible to change at any moment so I don't exactly know that I can set aside a specific slot of time for blogging everyday. However, I will try to keep you guys updated on my time and travels here in India as much as possible. Hopefully, if all goes as planned, you will soon see some more writing as well as pictures and some Bollywood music videos. Love and miss you all!  - Eli