Saturday, January 22, 2011

Twyla's reflection on 6 months living in India

Next week is the official six month mark of living in India. Hard to believe it’s been that long and, of course, at times it feels like we’ve been here much longer. So, time for some reflections! I’ve started part time work at the school in the counseling department, so the past two weeks have been more busy and have made me appreciate how lucky I was to have the free time to explore. I’ve gotten to know the Bandra area, where we live, fairly well and I’m pleased with the exploration I’ve gotten to do in the rest of the city. Coming back from Rajasthan, I felt relief to be back in Mumbai where things are familiar and I know what to expect. Our flat is shaping into a more lived in space (except for one of the bathrooms which is being ripped up due to bad plumbing). I was excited this week to take photos and some art to have frames made – all custom made and none over 300rs a piece. Accomplishments like that are wonderful and make me feel more settled.

Greg and I have been training for the half and full marathon since the summer and our efforts paid off last weekend. It was very wonderful to have a goal to focus on in the fitness department and I think it has helped us both in our transition here. Moving from GJ, when we were playing in the mountains or desert almost every weekend for the past two and a half years, to then move to the biggest city in the world, we were worried about how we would continue getting the exercise we crave. Training for this running event was a great idea. We both did well too, meeting or exceeding our goals. And now that it’s over, we can start taking advantage of some of the city life on the weekends, i.e. enjoying the night life, since we don’t have to be up at 5am to run.

One pleasant surprise with moving to Mumbai through ASB, is the amazing community that has just been plopped into our laps. Moving to both Oregon and Grand Junction, it took us about a year in both places to start to find our niche and feel like we belonged to a community. Here, we have had the fortune to have too many opportunities and having to constantly choose between what we want to do and with whom. It’s one of the reasons time has flown by so quickly. We really couldn’t of asked for much more!

I did hit a lull, which I was waiting to happen, right as all of our guests arrived for the holidays. Since we had a trip planned and people to share our experience with, I couldn’t wallow in it. For me, trying to figure out what to do employment-wise while in India, the initial newness of everything having worn off, and the fact that some things in India can be SOOOO frustrating to deal with at times, led to a typical new expat lull.

India is a country with the most number of trained IT people in the world, yet the infrastructure is not in place to support sufficient development. Also, the times when you want to find something and you have no idea what type of store to look at, just sent me into a place of “why bother.” The traffic and noise at times can become so overwhelming that getting myself to walk out of our apartment feels nearly impossible. Or course, once I cross the thresh hold, I’m just fine, but getting there can be so hard some days. Picture frames are a great example. I went to some of the department stores nearby and they had like two frames to choose from. Alright, so now what. So, I spoke to some of our friends who have been here a while and found out you just get frames made. Then it’s researching where others have gone and how much they have paid. Finally, I hear of one that sounds like how much I should pay here in India, I motivate to take everything down to the shop, and I end up having a great time getting to choose what matting and what frame I want to be use. India opens up this creative side of myself I never knew was there. I’ve bought most of my clothes at boutiques around Bandra, which has been a lot of fun. Then, three weeks ago, Alison and I venture out to find the fabric bazaar and a whole new world opens up! There are SO MANY choices and my brain is going crazy with all the thoughts of what could be done with the fabric. There were even stalls filled with only dupattas (the long scarf worn with most Indian outfits)! Fun! Anyone one who loves to look at and feel fabric would be in heaven. One moment life feels so frustrating and the next it’s an excited experience.

India is a paradox. There are so many opposites occurring all the time that at first it only feels like chaos. Then, weekly, sometimes daily, little things click and something makes a little more sense or at least I learn how to navigate the chaos slightly better. I’ve realized I need to be kind to myself when I reach those moments of exhaustion and allow myself to relax for a little before heading out again to learn a little bit more. One lesson I continually have to remind myself lately is that even though my skin color makes me stick out like a sore thumb (as does blonde hair and blue eyes), people’s behaviors aren’t solely based on this fact. When I’m trying to get a rickshaw during rush hour and empty ones pass me by, I look around to see the same thing happening to Indians. The driver isn’t singling me out, he’s got other reasons for “being a jerk” at that moment.:)

Being a woman here can, and probably always will be, trying at times. Whether it’s being stared at so intensely you feel like something is grotesquely wrong and rickshaw drivers adjusting their mirrors just so they can get a better look, to being addressed as “Mr” when making reservations over email because why would a woman be making reservations. It’s been a balance of figuring out when to ignore and when to be confident and stand my ground. It will be interesting when we make our first trip back to the US and we melt back into the landscape. I wonder how that will feel after two years here. Our other question is how will our driving will be after witnessing such horrid driving, on the wrong side of the road for two years and then getting behind the wheel of the Cavalier for the first time. We’ll let you all know when that happens so you can make sure to stay off the roads at that time.

Finally, thank you for all the emails, FB posts and Skyping. One of the hardest things about transitioning is always leaving such wonderful people behind. Greg and I continuously reflect on how lucky we have been to meet such amazing people in our lives and then to be able to continue hearing about how each of your lives continues to change and grow. We are truly a part of a global community, more so now than ever.

Throwing it out – we are in the beginnings of planning our summer trekking around the Himalayas and there’s an open invitation to anyone who would like to join! Cheers to the next six months!

Monday, January 3, 2011


As I’m sitting here, tired of reading my book, still feeling too sick to go out and do something, I realize how difficult starting this blog on our trip to Rajasthan is for me. I’m not sure why since it was a good trip. For me, though, it was shadowed by a head cold that kept rearing its head and two days ago became much worse. Along with that, trying to be a good tour guide for our group, an expectation I had put onto myself. The end of our trip it was rainy and cold in Jodhpur and Jaipur. When I saw our pictures I was surprised by the sunny days we had the majority of the trip. My stuffed up head had forgotten about that warmth. When we landed in Mumbai, I noticed my body relax and the air penetrate my weary bones. I was happy to be back. I think this a sign of settling into this chaotic city. With this said, Greg and I have already had thoughts about our next trip back to Rajasthan. I think I’ll do this blog in a more bulleted format.


Havelis, guesthouses and roof tops. The faithful Lonely Planet, along with suggestions from friends who visited Rajasthan over Diwali, came through in the sleeping category. In Jaipur, our first accommodation had a wonderful back yard with peacocks frequently stopping by, wonderful painted interior including the ceiling and a computerized check-out system. In Pushkar, again, the décor was wonderfully unique and bright. Small balconies over looked the town and the roof top restaurant provided splendid views. The rood top was serene and peaceful compared to the hawkers and pushy Brahmins wanting money for their “blessings.” In Udaipur…oh, Udaipur. We all liked Udaipur and wished we had more time there. The rooms at Dream Heaven all over looked the lake and its beautiful reflections of the white city. So did the restaurant…ahhh, the lake. We were lucky since this monsoon was long and wet. In drought years, the lake can be dried up, the island where the Lake View Hotel (where the James Bond flick, Octopussy, was filmed) stands on rock overlooking dried mud. In Jodhpur, we stayed in an old haveli within the old city’s walls. A haveli is an old mansion of the wealthy. Some have been turned into guest houses in order for the families to keep them. Greg and I walked around one that had been abandoned and was crumbling down. This haveli had fun décor with fabric, though our room had a nasty stench that did not go away. Our last hotel in Jaipur felt like we were in the US at a Motel 6. Bland, but clean.

Castles and forts. Rajasthan is famous for its old castles and many forts during the time of the Maharajas and Maharanis. Some cities still have royalty, much like England. They have opened and preserved palaces and forts to help earn money to keep their history alive. We also discovered the audio tour, which the Agra Fort, Udaipur and Jodhpur have done an excellent job with. So, all of pictures with us in those places have headphones making a cameo appearance. All of the castles and forts were maze like, with each ruler adding their own style and defense ideas. So rooms were elaborately decorated with mirrors, stained glass, and paintings. Others, a simple, but regal marble. I loved trying to imagine what it was like during the time when the walls were filled with the royal family and court. The book called “The Far Pavillions,” which I read during my Dengue stupor in college while in my Jamaica study abroad, took place in Rajasthan, so it was wonderful to see in real life what my mind had conjured up.

Taj Mahal Check, did it. Two out of the six of us had seen the Taj Mahal, but it still is a beautiful structure and hard to take a bad picture there. The adventure to Agra was the train ride. We caught a 6:10am train in Jaipur, which dropped us off about four and a half hours later in Agra. We had lunch, saw the Taj, saw the Agra Fort, had some dinner and then took another train back at 8:10am. The first train, we had AC Chair Car seats. Very nice and food delivered to us. On the way back we had sleep Car seats. This means we each had a seat and a bunk, but the windows were opened allow natural breeze to cool the car. Lesson learned: always carry bedding. I failed to realize how cold it would be in December on the train ride. Luckily it was only 4 and a half hours, so we all lived through it. That was the big adventure part of the trip.

Surprises. Ranakpur! Wow!! Really, the reason I even had us travel by car was to see these Jain temples between Udaipur and Jodhpur and we agreed that this was THE highlight of the trip. The Taj or Ranakpur – Ranakpur hands down. It was in the middle of nowhere, among beautiful hills. The ride there was through small villages and farm land. Water is irrigated by a series of water wheels that are run by oxen and drawn up with many tin cans on a loop. They use one until the water hole is dry for the season and start on another. Simple, yet effective. The Jain Temples were very detailed and ornate. The main temple had 1444 pillars made of marble. Spectacular.

Animals. Holy Cows!!! Peacocks and peahens. Monkeys. Parrots. Camels. Elephants. Cobras. You aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Ryan made his goal of riding on a camel in Pushkar. He was about to pass on fulfilling this goal (he was promptly accused of being all talk and no walk), when Suzy said she’d go with him. The look on Suzy’s face when the camel stood up made it worthwhile for Ryan. My goal of seeing a cobra became a reality. When we went to have lunch on the back side of the Jaipur Palace, I heard the unmistakable sound of the snake charmers’ instrument, wailing close by. Rounding a corner, there they were, two of them, sticking straight up, facing the snake charmer. Sweeeeeet! (The wailing flute does get to be a bit much after awhile).

Lost in Translation? Mmmmm, nope. Over all we liked our driver. He was safe and cautious, which was welcomed. He was on time and would have rather been driving us the entire trip, but there were three days when he did not need to. At the end of the trip, we figured out how much in tip we would give him. After unloading our luggage, we thanked him and Greg gave him 1000 rupees. He looked offended and we couldn’t figure out why. He wouldn’t take the money. I called the travel agent who booked the driver and he said “you can give him a tip or not. It’s up to you. If he won’t take it then that’s his choice.” Greg went to try again. The issue was the driver wanted 500 Rs per person, well above the 100 Rs per day guidebooks and people had told us was typical. The driver called his boss and Greg told him what was going on. The bossman said, give him 1000 Rs, that’s what you are giving him. So, that’s what we did. Very strange.

Shopping. I should say SHOPPING!!! There was a lot of this. Greg and I had some ideas about some decorations we wanted to buy, but for those of us living here and those of us visiting, it’s a whole different ballgame. Rajasthan is known for its fabrics, clothing, miniature paintings, and much more. Suzy and Ryan left with a fair more than they came with and my dad and Alison have begun their India goods stockpile.

Sickness. Okay, this isn’t a highlight, but neither was the driver. But it was a part of the trip nonetheless. Sadly, this tour guide was sick the entire trip. Some days better than others. At the end I was fed up and just wanted some beer, so I decided for a few days I didn’t care if I was sick. Now, I’m on antibiotics. Alison caught the head cold about day two into the trip, so she could guess a little about what would be in store for her the next day. At dinner in Pushkar, with Alison staying to rest in the guest house, my dad suddenly said he needed to leave. I walked after him and he turned red and hot. But, he never threw up. He spent the night and next day feeling nauseous. Luckily, it was a day of driving, so he stretched out in the back of the van and slept for 8 hours. Suzy was next. In Jodhpur, she didn’t join us for dinner our first night. After a yummy dinner, we went up to bed after a long day (including Ranakpur!). As I was brushing my teeth, I could hear someone vomiting. “Oooo,”I thought, “That doesn’t sound good.” For a fleeting moment I thought about Suzy. Ten minutes later, Ryan shows up at our door to tell us about Suzy’s state. Suzy had about 24hours of the bug and then seemed well enough the rest of the trip. Ryan and Greg were unscathed…so far.

There it is in a nutshell. At least my version. There was so much that happened in ten days! Thanks to our four visitors for celebrating the holidays with us!