Monday, July 31, 2006

First impressions....

So what’s India like?? On the surface, it’s not to far from my last home in Kosovo. It’s dusty. There are rolling blackouts. There are stray dogs and begging children everywhere. There’s trash in the streets. It suffers from lack of infrastructure. And like Kosovo, the people are warm and kind. But underneath all that, there’s something more.

The smell in the air is a combination of spice, cow dung, exhaust, jasmine and humanity - a complete assault on the senses that slaps you in the face, wakes you up and screams at you that this place is ALIVE. One of the fastest growing cities in the world (the population has doubled in the last 10 years thanks to the booming tech industry), Bangalore has a heartbeat, a rhythm, a seething blend of calm and chaos that is difficult to put into words. The neighborhood where I am soon to live is calm and quiet, the streets lined with gi-normous trees whose name I have yet to figure out. The trunks are as big around as the giant redwoods of California, and as the branches split over and over and over they form a canopy that offers shelter from the driving sun, when we see it. It’s the rainy season now, and although the rains haven’t come often, when they do, it’s fast and furious, and without much warning. Clumps of people gather under the giant branches and wait out the tempest. Just around the corner of this quiet sanctuary is 100 Feet Rd., a bustling commercial center full of wonderful shops, eateries, veggie stalls, basically anything you could ever want, and hordes and hordes of people.

It is impossible to carry on a telephone conversation on the streets here. Evidently, it is mandatory that you drive with one hand on the horn. You honk when you are passing someone walking down the street, you honk when you come to an intersection; you honk if there’s a car anywhere near you, which, due to the traffic is always. You honk if you’re turning; you honk if you’re going straight… it’s a cacophony of reverberating chaos, forming a distinct disharmonious symphony everywhere you go. After the first few days, the sudden HONK behind you, doesn’t make your heart stop anymore, and the noise fades to the background, either that, or I’m slowly going deaf. I like to think that I’m just learning to tune it out.

As for the food, my god, I’m in heaven. I’ve yet to try anything I didn’t like. I’ve been eating like a horse and my whole theory of putting on a little weight before I got here so that I could afford to lose some has completely backfired. Wonderful roasted meats, vegetarian dishes that are out of this world, a thousand different kinds of rice and breads… absolute foodie heaven.

If Kosovo was lacking in color, India could not be more opposite. From the brightly colored saris and salwaar kameez the women wear, to the outrageously colored stucco buildings, the painted temples, the red dirt and the lush green gardens dotted with hot pink blossoms, it is a veritable feast for hungry eyes. Bright yellow auto-rickshaws (the easiest, and by far cheapest, way to get around town) clutter every corner. Even the people come in every shade of brown imaginable – from latte to deep, dark chocolate. My American colleagues and are a bit of an oddity, and being fair-skinned and somewhat blondish, I stick out like a sore thumb. Westerners tend to draw stares on the streets, not only for the color of our skin and hair, but also for our style of dress. Just about everything I brought with me is culturally inappropriate. Tank tops are a big no-no outside of the house or a dance club. Sleeveless shirts at work are acceptable as long as they are not too low cut. I went shopping last week for kurtas (long, tunic type blouses) and other more “appropriate” dress. While the younger crowd has begun to adopt western styles more readily, a little modesty does go a long way here, and in the office, nearly everyone sticks to traditional Indian fashion.

While fashion is catching up with the times, culturally speaking, women still have a long way to go. They are educated, they work, but their role in society is still very traditional, and the men here seem not to have had much interaction with women outside their families and therefore don’t really know how to act around girls. At least that’s the conclusion I’m drawing. My first night taking transport home from work, I jumped into the front seat of the shared cab, as there were already two women in the back seat. Within seconds, the transport supervisor arrived at the car window and kindly asked me to move to the backseat, as women weren’t allowed in the front. Whether this is because they don’t trust their own drivers to keep their hands to themselves, or if it is culturally inappropriate for women to sit in the front seat, I have yet to figure out. I didn’t ask too many questions, just quietly moved my rear-end to the back of the bus.

The house I’m living in now is huge, and spacious and wonderful, with two massive balconies off either side. One overlooks the street and loads of construction. The road is unpaved, so in the rains, it gets a bit soupy. From the back of the apartment, I see a lush green wooded area, a small slum, and the runway of the airport. Watching the planes take off is pretty amazing, as they literally soar directly over my head. On the down side of this, they take off about every 15 minutes and the windows rattle. Ok, if you aren’t here during the day. Unfortunately, since I’m working nights, I haven’t been getting much sleep. I’m torn between staying where I am, because I do like the apartment I’m in, or moving to a better location but an apartment that isn’t so great. I’ve got a week to figure it out.

Once I get settled into permanent living arrangements, I’ll be able to get settled into a normal routine, get my internet hooked up at home, find a yoga class (I’ve already been doing research), and get a life. I’ve made some friends here already – mostly people I work with, so I haven’t had a chance to get bored. Plus, there’s a whole country, a whole continent at my fingertips to explore. I’ve got so much to learn, and so much to see. It’s going to be a phenomenal year.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's aliiiiiiiiive.....

Seriously, I'm fine! I've been in India for over a week now (actually creeping up on two) and have been completely deprived of internet access except for a few minutes here and there. But today i finally got my desk and computer at work, and now that we've gotten most things fixed, i'm up and running.

I've got tons to tell everyone, but it's not going to happen now.... it's 1am and I'm officially done for the night, so i'm a-goin' home. I'll fill you in on all the gory details tomorrow... I might even bring in some photos. ooooooh!