Thursday, January 15, 2009

Clearly, I'm just incapable of maintaining a blog, but I feel compelled to write this post.

Last night, I met one of the most interesting people I've ever come across.

His name is Barton Brooks and he founded Global Colors, a non-profit. He's currently circumnavigating the globe in one year while volunteering in about 30 countries. He's funded by a ridiculously wealthy family.

He found a rikhshah driver yesterday, doubled the driver's daily fee, and asked the driver to help him spend $75 in one day to do something for the local communtiy. Right now they're at a crematorium buying wood to burn with the bodies of the homeless.

Brooks is an unbelievably charismatic guy and calls what he's doing Guerrilla Aid. The idea is to just help out whenever and wherever you can. If you're walking by a monastery, ask what you can do to help and then spend the rest of the day helping the monks build a garden (he did this not too long ago). He's going to be on Oprah soon.

It's impossible to convey how impressed and inspired I am, so I wanted to share the experience.

Otherwise, the trip has been fun. Our favorite stop was our first, Darjeeling, where we watched the sun rise opposite Khangchendzonga, the world's third highest mountain and a part of the Himalyas. Here's a photo from that morning (there's a small town in the foreground).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Is This What It Feels Like To Be A Foreigner In New York?

I'm hoping that when my friends Ted and Emma arrive in five hours I'll begin thinking thoughts besides "is that guy going to stab and rob me?"

Being alone and incapable of speaking Hindi in Delhi is overwhelming. The city is spread out, so you're forced to constantly get in Rikhshahs (and therefore be ripped off because you're foreign) and I feel like I stand out no matter where I am (although a lady yesterday did stop to ask me directions). I can't imagine what it must feel like to not be ethnically Indian in this city. One positive is that my Hindi is improving enough (I'm on lesson 5 of my tapes) for me to be able to ask for directions and ask a stranger where they'd like to eat dinner -- they're house or mine.

Ted, Emma and I will be spending our first few days in Delhi doing the tourist thing and meeting up with at least one friend-of-a-friend, a friend of Emma's aunt and a freelance journalist based here who I met once.

I'll try to write some more tomorrow after they arrive (and maybe I'll even coax one of them to write a guest post!). I'm also hoping that their arrival -- and the recent end to the three-week family circus I endured -- will usher in a more productive period for the blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I'm in an Internet cafe in Ahmedabad, Gujurat. Yesterday I saw a man wearing standard-issue Indian clothes (pants and a long-sleeved shirt, both adorned with random English words and brand names) and a Santa hat. He was selling the Santa hats to the passing cars.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

India's Patriot Act (And Then Some)

Oh, also, I thought I should mention a new bill that both houses of India's Congress have passed (only a presidential signature is required to make it law).

The anti-terror bill would, among other things, allow defendants to be presumed guilty until proven otherwise and would set up special fast-track courts for terror-related matters.
Amnesty International has come out against it and I'm appalled that it even stands a real chance at being passed.

Maybe it would be easier to count the people who aren't related to me...

My attempts at a blog post have been thwarted by nearly every force imaginable. (Weather, electricity, the Internet itself, family, my intestines.) Sorry.

My parents and I have spent most of the past two weeks either here in Bhavnagar or in nearby Rajkot lounging around and visiting friends and family, so it's not like there's much to have been blogged about anyway. I personally broke two records last Sunday in Rajkot, though: most sets of relatives visited in one day (3) and most independent Abhishek references in one day: (6). (Abhishek count now up to: 14.)

Visiting relatives in India can be a trying experience. Everyone insists that you have at least one meal at their house, which they then proceed to shove down your throat. My dad refused a sweet citing his diabetes and his sister (only half-joking) said they don't have diabetes here. My uncle who also lives in Connecticut and is also here right now told me that when his son was young he was on his own at a relative's house and apparently failed to say no enough times (at least six seems to be the minimum) and so he ate too much and promptly vomited.

Anyway, after the unending carnival of food, we took a bus back to Bhavnagar. The ride was bumpy and I had just gotten sick that morning (two other people on the bus vomitted, both thankfully outside). They were blaring a Bollywood movie that was apparently too long for the four-hour bus ride.

The gist of the movie: Rich fortunate son goes on Australian vacation with friends. Randomly enters and wins bike race to impress girl. Runs down bus (jumps from bridge to land on bus) to ask her out. Man falls in love with girl after one date. Man and girl dance. Dance some more with aborigines (exploitation). Girl gets hit by truck because she's an idiot and didn't look both ways. Man's uncle has time machine. Man travels to future (2050) and finds girl's look alike. Falls in love, again. Dances more, but the dancing is thwarted by a creepy alien overlord.

In two days, we leave for Ahmadabad, the last leg of the second phase of my trip to India (visiting family). We'll be there for about five days and then my parents will fly home and I'll fly on to Delhi for the last phase (vacationing with my friends Ted and Emma), for which I can't wait.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Adventures in Gujurati

Here's an approximation of a Gujurati conversation I attempted to have with some guy who works at the local library in Bhavnagar:

Me: Hi! Do you have English books? [I didn't translate "English" or "books," hoping that he would know at least that much English.]
Male Librarian: Fiction?
Me: Sure. Where?
ML: Well, there are some fees. The first is 40 rupees, that's for some word you've never heard before in your life. The second is some unidentifiable amount. The third is the subscription fee. That's 100 rupees for 12,000 months.
Me: Oh. [...] So, where are the English books?
ML: Downstairs.
Me: Can the books look at me?
ML: [Understanding what I meant] Sure. [Points at a bookshelf in the corner.]
Me: Okay.
Me: [After exploring the entire area around the bookshelf for a flight of stairs and finding nothing] Where?
ML: Over there. [Pointing at the same place.]
Me: [...]
ML: Pant-a-chuck?
Me: [...]
Me: Thanks.

Apparently The Barton Library in Bhavnagar, Gujurat, has English books through the bookshelf in the corner of the main floor.

I wish I had paid a little more attention as a kid when my parents spoke to me in Gujurati.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

(Sort of) Safe at Last

Well, our ten-day vacation is over.

After we got rid of the taxi driver from hell, our pre-family vacation improved exponentially. We spent our last two days in Ooty, a formerly British hill station, where many films are shot and where they grow lots of tea (including Chocolate Chai). I'll upload photos (a lot) as soon as I find an internet cafe with a card reader.

After three domestic, post-Mumbai-terror-attack flights, my parents and I have finally safely landed at my grandparent's house in Bhavnagar, in the state of Gujurat. I was only asked for ID on one of the three flights and I was allowed to carry my leatherman (with two sharp knives, pliers and a screwdriver attached) onto the first flight we took, just days after the attacks. At least I was well-equipped to defend myself.

We arrived the day before yesterday and were met by my Aunt who lives in Albany but comes to India with my uncle in the winter.

My grandmother was with my grandfather in the hospital where he was staying because of complicatiosn that arose from the eye surgery he had a few weeks ago. I wasn't sure what to make of his hospital. One wall in his room had stars-and-smiling-suns-moons-and-planets wallpaper and the window had Pokemon curtains. (They couldn't have given him a room for adults?) The room itself was also pretty spartan, as was his bed, with it's one-inch thin mattress. And, they were dealing with his stomach problems by giving him liter after liter of sesame seed oil. (Maybe they were just saying it was oil to keep things simple?) Regardless, they released him yesterday and he's home, but bed-ridden with a catheter and a long list of prescriptions. On the bright side, he looks really cool with the sunglasses he has to wear, and the solid white goatee he's grown.

The pace here is slow. This visit's no different than any other (our last was in August, 2001). I spend my days reading, walking around town and doing minor household chores (I get to feed the cows outside our leftovers!) and visiting friends and relatives. It's nice, but I may have to duck out early when it gets to be too claustrophobic. The biggest plans I have are to visit Lothal, a 4,500-year-old city (from the time of Mohenjodaro and Harrappa) not far from here. I'm also hoping that a relative who works at the shipbreaknig yard near here will be able to get me in to check it out.

The shipbreaking yard is the largest in the world, but it has apparently been hard to get in since Greenpeace exposed their shitty work conditions a few years ago. Also, the pawn shops in the area apparently can have some amazing stuff pulled from the ships prior to their destruction.

As I said, expect photos soon and more frequent posts.