Sunday, May 10, 2009

small thoughts...

I was on the phone with my mom and I realized that when I sit down to add to this blog only the ridiculous stories of mine come to mind and then I don’t share the subtleties of India with you… and the small things are what make this country what it is.

So, a few small things that I have found that make India India…

         Indian Vogue costs 100Rs. (about 2$) which isn’t that much right?  Well… for the elite few in Mumbai and Delhi it is probably nothing… but where I am living that is more than I will spend on one meal… a monthly income for the average person in this village is about 4,000Rs. (about $80) and remember that most of the people in this country live in great poverty in shanties… 100 Rs is a lot.... 

         Looking through Indian Vogue while in Dharamkot is hilarious. I would guess that maybe 0.5% of the population in the USA can afford the $27,000 Balenciaga cocktail dress that is advertised in Vogue… but could you imagine if the average American didn’t even make $27,000 in a lifetime?  Isn’t that just absurd?  The last issue of Indian Vogue I read had an article about the ridiculously competitive and stressful application process one must go through to get their kids into the best private preschools in the big cities… I spend most of my day surrounded by kids who are not in school and by people who are illiterate because they never went to school. 

It is actually even funnier to read American magazines while here… my friend gave me an old copy of American Elle and on the cover it said something like “how to get thin, be happy, and make money in 2 weeks!”  I forget that I am from a world where everything must be accomplished quickly.  Pay attention to what advertisements are thrown in your face… how stupid of us to believe that we can change our body’s metabolism, figure out what “happiness” is and accomplish it, and make money in two weeks?  I would not say that Indians are happier than Americans… that would be silly, but I can say that the more relaxed state of mind that a lot of these mountain people have just makes life easier.  Fewer disappointments.  There have definitely been times in my life when I thought “If you lose 10 pounds you will be happy. Period. Full stop.”  How stupid is that?  I could continue to mock myself but let’s think about why I thought that… I was raised in a society that flat out said, the more money you have and the thinner you are the happier you will be… What I am starting to realize is that that happiness that the promoters of slim-ness and riches promise me is not that happiness that I want.  Also, how is it that I was trained to believe that “happiness” was something that could be achieved/attained/secured in 10 days with the advice from a magazine?  I don’t think I ever actually believed in any of that crap- to be honest, I don’t actually read magazines… I just look at the pictures… but anyways- I think it is unhealthy to grow up surrounded by that mentality.  I don’t think that the answer is to move to a remote village on the other side of the world but there must be an “opt out” button that Americans can press to get away from that mind clutter and garbage. 

         There is a boy who lives in Mcleod Ganj who cannot be over the age of 14 and is forced to drag himself around town because from his waist down his body is completely deformed.  So, his lame body lies on top of a flattened cardboard box and he uses his forearms to drag himself around. Every pull he has to stop to grab his tin money basket.  I am assuming that he has polio… polio…a disease that comes to mind when I think of the great depression… 1920s!  Its 2009 and people in this country are suffering and dying form things that we got vaccinated against within the first week after we were born.  How is that possible?  Remember Shigella?  Well… Shigella doesn’t kill people… it’s the dehydration from Shigella that kills most infants in this country.  When I went to the clinic in Delhi I paid $4 for each liter of hydration liquid.  I am 21 years old, 5”5 and probably weigh as much as 4-5 infants?  If I needed about 20$ worth of hydration liquids to make me walk out of the clinic alive… how much do you think a little baby would need?  Isn’t there a moral responsibility shared by all of us to fix this?  It seems stupid actually… it just doesn’t make sense to me.  It is like saying “Thousands of children die every day in Mongolia from paper cuts.”  Hmm… something isn’t right.  I know that Paul Farmer has done and continues to do A LOT for such causes and I admire him greatly for it and I am also slightly embarrassed for not doing anything myself to help the issue. 

         So I came to India thinking that there is a chance that I would get an amoeba or worm or something from the food… but did you know that you can get hepatitis from the water here?  There is literally shit in the water… Shit. In. The. Water.  If it weren’t so serious I would have to laugh. 

         If a salesman doesn’t have change he will say “come back tomorrow” or “here, take 10 pieces of gum to make up the difference” or “next time you pay less.” If one of the customers doesn’t have change or enough money the salesman will say “don’t worry take it and come back tomorrow to pay me.”  The amount of trust that goes into what I would call quotidian transactions is inspiring.  Even in a country that is spoiled by so much corruption, I see more confidence and faith between people here than I have seen anywhere else in the world. 

         Women do not have easy lives here.  Full stop.  I have had many Indian women tell me that “being a woman in India is hard.”  Spousal abuse here is horrifically common and while I am sure there are a lot of women’s rights movements or organizations around India, there is no outlet for the women in these remote parts of the country.  Some of the stories just make me want to scream, I took a cooking class with this beautiful girl, Ritya, and she was telling me that her nephew has been crying for days and that her sister is scared because they are leaving soon.  I looked at her with this confused look on my face because first of all, have you taken the baby to the doctor? Why do you think he is crying? Why does your sister have to leave now? Where is she going? Can’t she just wait till the baby was ok? 

Ritya said that they took him to the hospital but the doctor doesn’t know what is going on, they are all scared because the baby is still under 1 year old and a lot of children die within their first year, and her sister has to go back to her mother-in-law’s house because as a married woman you move in with your husband’s family and she is scared because she knows that her mother-in-law will blame her for the baby’s sickness and she doesn’t know what the mother-in-law will do.  What what what what what what what?? I forget how lucky I am to have been raised in a country that has at least had women’s rights on the menu for the past 40-50 years… there are so many feminist groups in the US that say that we have so much farther to go, and yes, I think it will be a LONG time before women and men are completely equal but my god, we have gone so far! I don’t want to settle but I am definitely impressed with where women stand in the West.

         Travel time in India makes me laugh.  All one needs to travel in India is money, some sort of stomach medicine, and PATIENCE.  My flight from JFK to Delhi was 14 hours… now I am 14 hours away from Delhi by car.  It will take me as long to get home as it does to get to the closest legitimate city or airport.  I am planning my trip to Leh, Ladakh and I can either drive there from here which would take three days OR I can drive 14 hours to Delhi and hop on a 1 hour flight to Leh.  WHAT?  I actually don’t understand how that works.. I haven’t done much traveling in India at all but the few trips that I did do felt like epic journeys.. now, look a map… I live in Dharamsala, went to Amritsar for the weekend and then went to Varanasi for a week.. WHAT?  I am used to driving to Pittsburgh in 6 hours or to LA in less than a week!  India makes me laugh. 

Also, he tickets for the first class on the train are ALWAYS sold out… how is that possible? There are trains running all day around this entire massive country… so how can the tickets be sold out?  Oh, I forgot that there are over one BILLION people living in this country…  that is insane!  India is a world.

Also.. patience.. there is one ATM in Mcleod Ganj… one!!… you need money? Have fun!… go wait on line and hope that you get money before the machine breaks.  You need the post office?  You will have to walk by it every day for a week before you catch it when it is open.  You hop into a rickshaw and PAY the driver to take you to YOUR destination?  That’s nice… you will probably have to stop with him to pick up his laundry, stop and talk to a friend on the street, and maybe pick up some potatoes for dinner…. All of this becomes quite funny over time… I just have to laugh… one just has to laugh. 

So… I’m sitting here laughing as I wait for a chai I ordered an hour ago ;)


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bangles and Bindis and Boys... oh my!! (sorry, i had to... have i mentioned that India is making me more lame?? oy)

Dad, remember how I promised that I would never ride a motorcycle? Well, I am sorry because I did.  You might be thinking… idiot, why wouldn’t elinor just not say anything and keep that a secret? Well… because your dear idiot daughter didn’t know how to get off of the motorcycle (lack of experience ;)) and ended up hard core burning her leg on the exhaust pipe.  Definitely going to leave a mark… so I kind of had to tell you. That sucks.  But, to my defense, I was visiting a school in the middle of nowhere and the only way I could get home is if I waited an hour for a taxi to come pick me up… and I was having another Indian sickness day and waiting was not an option. 


So, I moved yet again.  I am living in Dharamkot now ( I spoke about it earlier as “little Israel”) but now that I am living there I am seeing that it is just so much more! Everything is still in Hebrew and the Israelis are definitely taking over BUT the entire village is related… seriously… everyone is related. Actually the three villages on that mountainside are all related.  They speak their own language called Gadi or mountain language, which I have been trying to learn… It is funny though because if these three villages speak this language (and maybe a few more around the area) and all of the people are related…Gadi is like a giant family language right?


So, mountainside… 5 of my friends and I took over a guesthouse owned by this guy Shiva, his wife Kanu, and his mother Krishna.  Shiva and Kanu are the most beautifully relaxed couple I have ever met.  They wake up at 6ish and spend the morning just sitting together and talking.  I don’t think that I will end up living in the mountains when I am older but I hope that I can have a couple hours every day to just talk with the person I love.  It is so nice.  The two of them are really gorgeous and simple and smart and interested… long story short I am in love with both of them and if I ever disappear you can find me in their guesthouse. 

It is absolutely silent at night and the goats and cows just wander around us… the bugs are absolutely insane- I saw a worm with a flashlight butt- his bum is a green light… think permanent fire-fly but a worm…there is a giant centipede hiding in my room which kind of freaks me out but I try not to think about it… I’m scared I’m going to wake up with it in my mouth… anyhow, we have a huge patio where we do work and just sit and joke around.  Remember how I was a total negative fool at the beginning of this trip and said that none of the people ‘get me’ well… I have been greatly proven wrong and I am admiringly in love with my group- there is one girl Stacey who I have been living with for the past month and a half and she is just the most wonderfully unpredictable girl in the world- she is absolutely hilarious and is always joking around and then right when you start thinking “what a class clown” BAM her brilliant neuroscience mind smacks you across the face and just stimulates your thinking… Casey is another one that just blows my mind every day- again, a hilarious and brilliant hipster looking boy that invests himself fully in things that interest him and he never lets a question go unanswered… he is determined in life to figure out a way that physics can explain the mind and in 20 years WILL be that quirky professor at Harvard with crazy hair that writes books that just don’t make sense to the average thinker.  Casey’s girlfriend’s best friend is a friend of mine at Barnard (small world) and so, all of you will meet him next semester.


Speaking of physics… I was more formally introduced to the String Theory last week and HOLY SHIT!  SO COOL! I know that it is still just a theory, and I know that I only understand it on a total basic level, but my god, it totally makes sense to me.  I hated my physics class in high school but I have really gotten into the parallels between quantum mechanics and fundamental Buddhist philosophies… again, information that I am just barely scraping the top of but it is pretty fucking cool.  


Oh wait, another story as to why I am petarded… SO. I went to this little Indian village with my program director on a mission to buy bangles and bindis (now that I am living in India and not mini-Tibet I can dress like an Indian and not be made fun of by my Tibetan friends) SO… on my mission I found the most beautiful bangles AND was advised by my director and the woman at the store that I have to get the right size because bangles aren’t supposed to fall below your wrist when you hold your arm facing down… so think about it… the bangle is supposed to be semi-fitted on your wrist… so a bangle that is usually made of glass or plastic is supposed to SOMEHOW fit over your hand and be semi-fitted on your wrist… following? Ok… so I started trying on all of the bracelets and kept on saying that they didn’t fit and was looking for bigger ones… the shopkeeper looked at me and ticked her tongue in a “you’re an idiot they do fit you’re just not doing it right kind of way” and she grabbed my hand and literally massaged these bangles onto my wrist… OW!! But ok! Great! Lovely! They are pretty and voila- I am Indian…  I wore them that day and then that night I started to smell bad… not going to lie, I have been smelling pretty dandy given the smell standard in this Indian summer but I literally started to smell… nauseatingly so… and then I realized it was the bangles!! I called my director and asked her why they smelled like melted shit and she said “ohh… yeah… sometimes the plastic doesn’t really do well in the heat…” (that is so India… a product MADE here that just doesn’t actually WORK here… fabulous) So… I hung up and actually started to get nauseous and decided- enough is enough I am taking them off…


Taking them off…


Not so easy.  I tried and thought my hands were going to fall off, mind you, the sides of my hands were still bruised and red and cut up from getting the bangles on…so I stopped trying and thought I NEED AN INDIAN TO HELP ME… BUT by this time Kanu was sleeping… so I slept that night with tee shirts wrapped around the bangles so that I didn’t die from the smell… gross right? Anyways, I woke up the next morning and Kanu drenched my hands in lotion and ripped them all off of me… OW!! Damn.  But miss brilliant elinor thought, WOW, this is a part of the Indian culture that I just didn’t know about- these women go through so much to wear bangles… adoration galore. But then Kanu told me that I shouldn’t have bought such small bangles because they shouldn’t hurt… and at that moment my cultural vision was shattered.  I’m an idiot.


Another cultural vision was shattered and put back together a few nights ago when I was walking in Mcleod and this drunk guy was stumbling down the street with his pants undone.  He said something to me and my friends and we just walked away and before we knew it these 4 Indian cops with sticks started beating him- They hit him with their sticks and then one of the guys slapped him so hard across the face that the poor guy fell to the floor… you would think that this would make the cops stop? No, why would they? I know that there is a lot of corruption in Indian authority but seriously? If I weren’t so scared of the cops here and the “system” I would have yelled at them… but I have also heard too much about the horrendous abuse that Indian women are subjected to in this area that I didn’t say or do anything.  To be honest, I kind of feel like an ass hole for just letting the shmucks abuse their power and exert their repulsive egos… gross.


Oh a happier note… I went on an epic hike lead by my philosophy teacher and her two teachers (monks in their mid 50s) from IBD… the two of them were strolling up the mountain and I was leaving a trail of sweat and tears behind me… they climbed the mountain with such ease, each holding an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun… and I actually couldn’t keep up with them… So what was the purpose of the hike? We actually went to visit a meditator who lives in retreat in this hut on the mountain.  He spends most of his time inside of the hut doing his practices and food is brought to him (I gave him a snickers bar… so not appropriate, most people give fruit but I thought the fruit must get boring).  Watch the snickers be the fuel that brings him to the direct realization of emptiness… kidding but how funny would that be?


So, my classes are over and I have the next few weeks to do research on my topic of choice.  I am looking into the New Education Policy of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and want to use this idealistic vision to gage where their education system is right now.  I cannot really put my thoughts into words because I don’t really know where my thoughts are right now… It has been quite the journey though, the Tibetan community in exile in Northern India is so small that I literally just walk into the Department of Education and say “hi, can I talk to your director?” and voila.. I have been interviewing really interesting people and am excited to see where all of this goes…


Did I ever talk about how unbelievably beautiful Tibetan men are?  Not only will I confidently say that on average they are the most beautiful group of men I have ever seen, but I will also venture out to say that there is an odd magnetism between Tibetan men and American women.  It is physically hard to walk down the street or get anything done because my eyes cannot focus.  My friends are enjoying themselves but I decided to just enjoy the eye candy… relationships with Tibetans just seem to be too complicated and not worth it… I’m having too much fun for that.


We have our audience with HHDL in a few weeks and then the group goes on a weekend retreat together and c’est tout… semester is over! A few of my friends and I are planning a trip to Ladakh that is to start end of May.  I’m really looking forward to it…


Ah, last thing… so I always say that being in India tests my English language skills because I always find myself reading something in English but not understanding it… so… the sign that I saw that said “If Married Divorce to Speed.” What?  Well, thanks to India I learned that the word “cum” also means “with” or “combined with”… so one will see signs that say “Internet cum coffee” or “water cum refrigerator” or “sandwich cum salad”… the list goes on… makes me laugh every time… yes, I’m 8 years old… on that note…


back to work! Wishing you all well… x