Out on the Town

I have weekends and evenings off, so I've been exploring Delhi every chance I get!

I went out shopping with one of the other interns and she introduced me to gola, which is like a popsicle.  I expected it to be sweet like a popsicle, but sure enough, it was masala flavored.


She's a Delhi native, so she was able to haggle in Hindi and get me the good prices.


We went to a really fancy market you have to pay admission to get into, but I've been shopping at the local street markets too.  We live just a couple minutes away from the Sector 9 and Sector 12 markets, where I go to buy fruit or to use the ATM.  It's hard to find chocolate here that isn't melted, since it's so hot all the time and the stores don't have air conditioning, but I found a shop in Sector 12 market that keeps huge chocolate bars in a functioning refrigerator.  I've been stopping there on my way home from work and have made friends with the three men who run it.  I went there to get rice the other day and they asked me, "Aren't you forgetting the chocolate?"

The local snack food Angie and I have both fallen in love with is Mad Angles.  They're rice chips, but they're nothing like rice cakes.  They're much closer to potato chips, but lighter and not as greasy (and masala flavored, of course).  

The view from Angie's bedroom - sunsets over South Delhi

The view from Angie's bedroom - sunsets over South Delhi


A couple days ago, I was walking to our slum center with one of the other interns when her flipflop broke.  So she hobbled over to the closest house and because speaking with the residents in Hindi.  Suddenly we were sitting down inside and she was wearing a borrowed pair of shoes.  I had no idea what was going on.  I asked if she knew these people and she said no - that they were just lending her the shoes while their son ran her flipflops to the cobbler and it would only take a couple minutes.  I burst out laughing when she said that.  A cobbler?  For plastic flipflops?  A flipflop cobbler that's apparently right around the corner?

So we sat with the women who lived there and Malika chatted with them in Hindi.  She suddenly turned to me and said, "You can move in here.  They just offered you their upstairs room.  There's no air conditioner, but you can just use the ceiling fan, right?  It's so close to the office.  And they'll cook for you too."  Once again, I was so severely caught off guard that it seemed hilarious. I kept protesting that I already have a place to live, but they continued to plan my move-in in Hindi until I very firmly declined.  The women were so sweet, though.  I couldn't communicate with them at all but they asked for pictures and I could do that.

And then, sure enough, less than 20 minutes later their son returned with the repaired shoes.  In the US, you would not be able to break your flipflop, walk up to the closest house, and find someone willing to drop everything to take your shoe to the cobbler.  You would not find a cobbler willing to repair a plastic flipflop, nor would you find a cobbler minutes from any given house.  You would not be entertained by the residents for the next 20 minutes while their son was on your errand and they would not offer to open their home up to your foreign friend who doesn't even speak the language.  It was the most surreal experience I've had all summer.


And then today I went to an old fort, Purana Qila, with my neighbors!  A couple weeks ago I met their dad in the elevator and he told me he has two kids who go to school in the US.  He sent them over to introduce themselves and we've been planning to go out around town together ever since.

They took me to McDonald's for lunch before we headed over and McDonald's here is nothing like McDonald's in the US.  They don't serve pork or beef.  They serve chicken, or they have an entire menu of vegetarian alternatives - sandwiches made of potato, paneer, etc.  I'm not big on meat, so I love that vegetarian food is standard here.


And then I tried lassi for the first time, which I had heard is kind of like a milkshake but actually just tasted like Danimals.  Today was an excellent day.


Kurta Crazed

I love kurtas.

The things I love about India are

  • The people
  • The colors
  • The pace (there's so much going on, all the time)
  • The architecture 
  • The metro
  • Street markets
  • Rickshaws
  • The food!
  • And I love wearing a kurta every day.

I actually brought hardly any clothes with me, because I just planned on buying Indian clothes once I got here.  That caused some problems for me for six weeks in Kathmandu.....but the first week I got to Delhi, our cook took me to the market to buy a kurta and I loved it so much that I bought enough to wear every day.

Angie went back to Ranchi, so it was just me and my self-timer here to have a little shoot.


I love them so much because the leggings feel like pajamas and the dress part is loose enough that it's cool - which is important, because it's 100 degrees and humid every day.  It's one of the most comfortable outfits I've ever worn, but it's still conservative and looks nice.  And each of these were less than $10. 





Over the past couple weeks, I've been doing a lot of different things at my host office.  Like I said before, Maitri is a non-profit that works primarily with women and children.  Our four projects are:

  1. Providing care for widows
  2. Reducing gender-based violence
  3. An afterschool program for kids
  4. Providing citizenship rights for migrant workers

I shared a little bit about Angie's project with the migrant workers, so I'll share a little about the other projects too.

Widows in India face huge challenges because women in India face huge challenges.  The good news is that the country is taking steps toward gender equality and has progress.  The bad news is that the progress is so necessary because the problem was so extreme when these widows we're caring for now were young.  Many of the women we cared for were married when they were children as young as nine years old.  The majority of them had children they worked hard (both at home and outside the home) to raise, and many were abused by their husbands.  Then, after the passing of their husbands, they descended to the status of widow - a status often highly disrespected.  Historically, widows have been thought to be unlucky and that even looking at a widow would bring you bad luck.  After a woman's husband dies, she shaved her head and wore a white saree, proclaiming her marital status to all.....consequently isolating herself.  The stigma is so severe that their own children oftentimes don't want to be around them.  It's a fight just to survive as a widow in India.  As a result, 15,000 widows have banded together to congregate in a pilgrimage city near Delhi.  The fight for survival is still real, but the city is a safe place.  Many NGOs, including Maitri, have stepped in to provide homes and meals for the women.  

I don't personally work with the home (because it's not in Delhi), but it's definitely an issue worth learning about.  Maitri made a film about it several years ago that you can watch here.

Not my photo; property of Maitri.

Not my photo; property of Maitri.

Our gender-based violence project aims to reduce violence through education and empowering women.  We teach a sewing class at our center in the slum community, aiming to give women and girls a marketable skill.  We also teach an English class - for both boys and girls - because poverty and violence correlate.  If young students can learn marketable skills like English, they're on track to get good jobs and rise from poverty.

One of the students from our English class.  She wants to work retail because she loves clothes and fashion.

One of the students from our English class.  She wants to work retail because she loves clothes and fashion.

We hold a community meeting every Wednesday afternoon called Mahila Panchayat.  Women come together to have discussions, to talk about problems they're facing, to learn skills, and as support for intervening when they see violence in the community.  Several months ago, the group ran a project to make crafts to sell.  Economic independence empowers women!

One of the most consistent members of our Mahila Panchayat group.

One of the most consistent members of our Mahila Panchayat group.

And then we provide corporate trainings about eliminating violence and sexual harassment, as well as general campaigns throughout the community.  And Maitri has a lawyer who provides legal counsel for women looking to take legal action.

Our afterschool program is another long term solution for eliminating violence.  Education and violence are correlated, just like poverty and violence or poverty and education.  Giving kids from the slum community a good education is one of the best shots we have at eradicating social problems from the next generation.  We run after school tutoring as well as a camp in the summer and other activities for the kids.  

And then, of course, we have the citizenship rights for migrant workers project outside of Delhi in a city called Ranchi.  Here is another story Angie sent me from one of her interviews.

"Sanjay Kumar.

         Mr. Kumar is twenty-five years old.  He’s been working at Munna Garage for five years and currently resides in Ranchi.  But before settling in Ranchi, Mr. Kumar worked in a slipper factory in Mumbai for one year and was a roofer in Delhi for three years.  He is originally from Patna, Bihar, which is 325 km north of Ranchi, 1054 km east of Delhi, and 1,750 km northeast of Mumbai.  During most of his traveling, Mr. Kumar was not carrying identification.  He was a single man at the time and had no need to save money or plan for the future.

            Mr. Kumar said he encountered a few problems from time to time as a result of not having proof of identity.  Specifically, he recalled an instance when he was traveling by train.  He’d been allowed to purchase a ticket and board the train without identification, but then was asked to provide identification to the conductor after the train was underway.  When he could not show proper identification, he was issued a fine before being allowed to pass.

            Mr. Kumar grew tired of these periodic hassles, so he went back to his village and met with his Mukhiya.  A Mukhiya is the leader of a local village council charged with issuing Voter I.D. cards for the people residing in their area.  For a time, Mr. Kumar carried a letter from his Mukhiya to use as identification.  Eventually, he had to go back to his village to obtain a Voter I.D. card bearing his photograph.  

            In 2012, a friend encouraged Mr. Kumar to move to Ranchi and become a rickshaw puller.  Ranchi has a lower cost of living than New Delhi and more money can be made per day.  Mr. Kumar is now one of the higher earning rickshaw pullers, making about 500 rupees per day (7.50 USD).  

            Two years ago, Mr. Kumar met his wife and they have a one-year-old son.  His new status as husband and father requires much more civic participation and stability.  Just after getting married, Mr. Kumar obtained an Aadhar card, which he then used to obtain a Below the Poverty Line card and a Ration card.  He also opened a bank account and has begun saving for the future. "

I don't work with the migrant workers project either, because it's not in Delhi.  So that leaves me to film and photograph the women and children!  I think my favorite activity is English class.  I also love sitting in on the women's meetings every week (even though they're in Hindi and I can't understand them).  

Besides filming and photographing, I write a lot of reports and help our communications officer with content for social media.  I do a lot of editing, I make graphics, I've learned a lot about photoshop and have gotten better at still photography.  Because this organization isn't a production house and I don't have a video team to work under, it's kind of been a baptism by fire.  I've learned through the internet, trial & error, and mostly just a lot of practice.  I think the best skill I've gained all summer is learning how to teach myself things.  I know that in the production world after graduation, I'm not going to know how to do everything I want to do and I'm not always going to have someone to show me.  So it's been highly beneficial for me.....and I hope the content I've created has helped Maitri out!  Here's an overview of the kids' program that I made.  They're so fun to film!




Hello from Mumbai

A couple days before I left, I met Professor Ben Cohen.  He told me about a grant he's been working on with a group of students and invited me to come to their presentation in July - so that's how I ended up in Hyderabad this weekend.  And since I was already going south, I bought a plane ticket from Hyderabad to Mumbai for a detour before coming back - I still heart set on the beach!

I still wouldn't say I conquered flying, because my plane got delayed and I didn't realize so I showed up four hours early, but I definitely showed up to the right terminal this time and didn't miss my flight.  So that boosted my confidence in my ability to fly.  While I was hanging out in the airport for so long I ate at McDonald's to satiate my curiosity.  Sure enough, they don't serve any beef or pork.  No Big Macs here, but they a sandwich called Maharaja Mac.  And they serve various vegetarian options.  (I opted for fries.)

I was completely wiped by the time my plane got into Hyderabad because, with the delay, it was 1:00 AM and I'd put in a full day at the office before I left.  I sat next to this adorable little boy on the flight.  His family was across the aisle from us and he fell asleep immediately, so his mom passed me a pillow and blanket and I tucked him in.  It made me miss my mom so much!

Then by the time I got my baggage and found a taxi, it was after 2:00.  And the hotel was an hour away.  Flying through Hyderabad in the dark on the deserted streets was wild, and was really a cool way to see the city.  I was so confused when we got to the hotel, though.  It wasn't a free standing building and it had garage doors pulled down over it, so when the cab driver told me we'd arrived I thought there was no way this could be it.  It looked completely deserted.  But there was a man asleep on the steps and we just had to wake him up to pull up the doors.  The hotel was such a foreign experience.  The elevator was really old-fashioned, with gates you had to manually open and close instead of doors, and the stairs took you through the kitchen.  My room just faced the inside of the hotel, so there were no windows.  It was pitch black.  I had the most incredible sleep of my life!

And then the next morning I got to meet the students who'd come out for the grant.  It was the best group.  The professors were so hospitable while I was there and so were the students.  They came to Hyderabad earlier this year, when they started work on the grant, so they took me around.  We went to Char Minar (another minaret!) and we could go inside this one.

Welcome to the heart of Hyderabad.

Welcome to the heart of Hyderabad.

Charminar was built in the 16th century - during the time the Mughals were ruling, but it's not a Mughal tower.  I found out that the Mughals didn't arrive in South India until much later than they arrived in Delhi.  And this was built before Mughal architecture - like the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal - really took off anyway.  That was all 17th century. India has such a complicated history because it's changed hands so many times and to this day its borders are disputed.

The other University of Utah students.

The other University of Utah students.

The inside of the tower.  We had to hike the steepest spiral staircase to get up there and I felt like I should have brought trekking poles.

The inside of the tower.  We had to hike the steepest spiral staircase to get up there and I felt like I should have brought trekking poles.

My roommate for the weekend, who was so nice about me getting in at 3:00 in the morning.

My roommate for the weekend, who was so nice about me getting in at 3:00 in the morning.

Julia, Annaka, and I went shopping around town while the boys went to a mosque - we couldn't go inside because we didn't have the right clothes - and I bought some pearls, Hyderabad's claim to fame.

This is Charminar from another angle, and I like this picture because it gives a good representation of how much is going on in Indian streets all the time.

This is Charminar from another angle, and I like this picture because it gives a good representation of how much is going on in Indian streets all the time.

We took it really easy that day, mostly just eating a bunch of nan of biryani.  I was tired, they were jetlagged.  I took a nap for a couple and still slept for twelve hours that night.  That blackout room really did the trick!

And then we spent the entire day Friday at the presentation.  There are three other UofU students besides Matt, Julia, and Annaka who weren't able to come present, but have been working on the grant since January.  The six of them have been collaborating with a group of Indian students on environmental solutions in Hyderabad.  Just like the rest of India, Hyderabad faces problems with pollution, garbage, and mostly water.  The focus of the projects was water.  I was so impressed by them.  I felt so empowered and inspired leaving the presentation, like my generation is going to save the planet!  And I felt so motivated to start taking action.  We went back to the hotel and hung out in the bar all night, talking and eating nan and it was one of my favorite nights I've had this entire summer.  I was so glad I was able to go down for it.

And it's a good thing I slept for twelve hours Thursday night, because after crawling into bed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I had to leave for the airport at 4:30.  Mumbai bound!

Mumbai is kind of my dream destination here in India, because not only does it have a beach - it's the capital of Bollywood (the film student's dream!).  I booked a Bollywood studio tour and headed there straight from the airport.

But the snag of the day is that my cab driver didn't know how to get to the address I gave him.  And he didn't tell me that until we'd been in the car for over an hour.  It was awful!  It was hot, there was no air conditioning, I had no idea where we were, I don't have an Indian cell phone so I couldn't call for help or look it up with my GPS, I had all my luggage with me, and we a major language barrier.  He eventually found a man in the street who said he knew where it was, so I got out of the car with all my luggage and we started traipsing around town.

That man sure didn't know where it was either.  

I was laughing to myself the whole time because it felt like a scene straight out of a comedy.  I was chasing a small Indian man who was booking it through the streets, winding up and down through bridges and backroads and underground.  He was asking for directions from every person we saw and I was just trying to hold onto all my luggage.  It was also well over 100 degrees and it was all too funny.  It was a great way see Mumbai, though.

Like I said, India has changed hands many times and you can consequently see the various influences.  The architecture already looked European to me, but once I saw the double decker buses I felt like we were in London.  In this picture, the woman in the saree is the only indicator otherwise.

I never expected to find Europe in Mumbai.

Anyway, after over an hour of running around the man and I did find the address.......mere feet from where we had started.  Unfortunately, the address was wrong.  I had taken down the address of the tour office instead of the studio.  After all that, I had to turn around and go across town.

So it's a good thing I came in on such an early flight!  Because it was still pretty early when I got the studio and I got to spend the rest of the day there.  There was another tourist my age, a boy from the Netherlands, and we had fun together.  We watched a soap opera filming for awhile, went around to all the sets, and sang karaoke in the sound booth.

It was such a great afternoon.

And then the next day I headed to the place I've been waiting for all summer.....the beach!

I went to Juhu Beach and I loved it.  There was a little boardwalk area with street food and as I sat on the concrete steps, looking over the Arabian Sea, eating cotton candy, I was so content.  One notable difference from an American beach is the way people are dressed.  From this picture, you might think this was a beach in winter.  The women were even wading out into the water in their sarees.

One thing that was really sad for me to see, though, was all the litter.  Garbage is also a big problem in the cities.

It was really nice for most of the day, but it is monsoon season.  So late that afternoon, with no warning, it started to pour.  I had to leave anyway to catch my flight, but it was fun to watch the rain coming down on the beach for a little bit.

And then I successfully made it to the airport with time to spare - which is good, because my hotel was an adventure for one night but I wouldn't want to stay there longer.  So I'm going to chalk this trip up to a success.  I'm homeward bound and headed back to Maitri tomorrow morning!

The Trip I Didn't Take to Goa

I was supposed to take a work trip last weekend that got cancelled at the last minute.  I'd been really excited for it, so I thought "hey, I can still go out of town this weekend - I'm going to Goa".

Goa is this famous, touristy beach town on the west coast of India and I desperately wanted to go to the beach.  Buying a last minute ticket was not cheap and it would have to be a fast trip (fly out Saturday morning, come home Sunday evening), but I don't know if I'll ever be in India again and I've been determined to make the most out every free minute I have here.  So I booked a ticket.

But even though I traveled all over the US, I have very little flying experience.  I did it all in my car.    Even though road tripping was time consuming and expensive and I got lost many, many times and it was sometimes really stressful to navigate big cities and parking is both difficult and expensive, I always thought that was preferable to plane or train travel, because I was afraid of being held to someone else's schedule.  

Which is what did me in this time.

I ran into delays getting out the door in the morning and then really shot myself in the foot by getting dropped off at the wrong terminal.  (Total rookie mistake.......but I'm definitely a total rookie at this.)  I wasn't going to make it in time.  Since I booked through a booking website, I had 24 hours to cancel my booking and get a refund, so it was lucky that I'd booked less than 24 hours in advance.  I wanted to cancel my 9:00 ticket and rebook for the 11:00 flight, but couldn't find wifi at the airport.  And I don't have an Indian cell phone, so I can't use data.  Security told me that my real terminal could help me rebook it, so I had to pay a hefty cab fare over (on top of the fairly expensive fare I'd paid to the airport) and upon arrival, they told me they actually couldn't help me.  I was out of options, so I just paid an even more expensive cab fare home.  Luckily, I could cancel my ticket as soon as I got back to get a refund, but by that point it was too late to make the 11:00 flight.  I was missing my beach trip and I couldn't get a hotel refund.  Pair that with the previous day's trip all the way across town to a yoga studio where I wasn't admitted (it turns out the class was just for senior citizens!), and I was feeling incredibly defeated.

Living and working abroad is not for the faint of heart.  It's incredible.  It's exciting.  It's rewarding.  It's more than worth it.  But it's not easy.

India is culturally, linguistically, and climatically different from home.  The food is different.  The stores are different.  The transit is different.  Customs are different.  Appropriate conduct is different.  Appropriate dress is different.  That makes day-to-day life very exciting, and at times it makes it very stressful.  It took me three hours to pay my internet bill at the end of June because I had no idea what I was doing.  Our cook had the weekend off and the dinner I tried to make for myself was completely inedible because I just don't know how to use the foods and appliances we have available here.  

I facetimed a friend who backpacked Europe a couple summers ago to tell him what happened....I figured he could relate.  He laughed and said that everyone acts like backpacking Europe is some posh adventure, when it reality it's mostly comprised of being terrified you won't make it to your next destination.

Which is what happened to me this time.

But I got home and Angie reminded me that I don't have to travel India in its entirety to "make the most" out of my summer.  Delhi is an incredible city!  There's so much to do and see here!  She cited the birthday dinner the two of us went to one of our coworkers on Monday.  We went to Janpath market and ate so much pasta, pizza, soup, salad, and desert at an Italian buffet.  It was a great night.  Angie said, "If you worry about cramming in as much as you possibly can, it's too much pressure!  You're just going to stress yourself out.  And you'll start to devalue the smaller things like dinner with Tara."

And she's right.  I didn't make it to the beach and instead, we had a relaxing, memorable weekend here in town.  The next day, we ventured out to Qutb Minar - a skyscraper of a minaret, built in the 13th century.  (I didn't know what a minaret was before I came here, but it's the tower where the Islamic call to prayer is projected.)  It was stunning. We made some friends and ran to the back of the complex, where there are no buildings and it's more of a park or a garden.  We crawled around on the gnarly old trees and I have to say, climbing a tree in the rain behind a towering, 800 year old architectural masterpiece in the heart of one of the oldest, largest, most famous cities in the world is something I never imagined myself doing.  Like I said before, living/working abroad is not easy, but it's so worth it.

Check this place out!!

Check this place out!!

We met these nice women.  They took our picture, so we did a trade this time.

We met these nice women.  They took our picture, so we did a trade this time.

See that anklet?  They're so popular here.  I love it.  It makes me feel like Esmerelda.

See that anklet?  They're so popular here.  I love it.  It makes me feel like Esmerelda.

Angie is a yogi.  She came to South India last summer to be trained to teach proper yoga.

Angie is a yogi.  She came to South India last summer to be trained to teach proper yoga.



Afterward, we took the metro to Lodi Gardens, which is kind of like Central Park.  


It was so tranquil there.  It's the only place in Delhi I've ever seen sprawling, green lawns and there were little monuments and mausoleums scattered throughout.  While we were there, it dawned on me that this was the first time since I got to India that I had really been alone in a public place.  (We weren't totally alone, but people weren't packed together in the park.)  India has a lot of people.  I've tried to look up how many people live in Delhi and the data varies, but I've learned that it's much, much larger than either New York or London.  So any time we're outside the apartment, we are constantly surrounded by people.  Lots of people.  I'm so used to it that I didn't even realize how long it had been since I had my personal space in public until that afternoon.  PDA generally does not exist at all here, but the park was littered with couples sneaking kisses when they thought no one was watching and that was our favorite part.  It was so sweet.

We walked down the road to the market once we came out the other side and found a wood fired pizza place for dinner.  We eat Indian food every night at home with our cook, so sometimes it's fun to eat something else.  The pizza was so good and it was the best night.

I'm a person who likes to be in control and this weekend was so good for me because it reminded me that I cannot always be in control and I have to be okay with that.  Especially in a country where I don't speak the language, I can't cook the food, I have to use public transit, and I don't understand how anything works.  There are going to be times that I have to relinquish control and it's a good lesson for me to learn.  So that's one lesson I hope I bring home.

Love you too, Delhi.

Happy 4th!

I love the 4th of July.  It's my third favorite holiday (after Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving) and I've never been away from home on it - as in I've never spent that holiday anywhere but my parents' house, much less on the other side of the world.  I like it so much because I always run a 5k that morning (which is always lucky for me - I don't know, something good happens at the race every year), eat breakfast at my best friend's neighborhood party, wear my American flag t-shirt to a barbecue with my family, see family members I don't get to see often, throw snappers and light sparklers with the little kids, eat a whole bunch of fruit and desert, and then watch fireworks from the top of the East High School bleachers once it gets dark.  It's one of the best days of the year.  When I left at the beginning of May, it didn't even occur to me that I'd be gone on the 4th of July.

But I lucked out because the embassy threw a giant party last weekend complete with a barbecue and a fireworks show.

When I got to Delhi, that's actually one of the first things Angie told me when I got to the apartment - "the embassy is throwing a 4th of July party!!"  So we've been waiting for this for weeks and were really excited.  So - decked out in red, white, & blue - we made a stop at India Gate and then headed over to the embassy.

It's this beautiful war monument in a giant park that feels like a carnival.  There are peddlers and photographers and food carts and cotton candy! and men blowing bubbles and henna artists.  Everything here is so busy all the time.  I love it.  There's always so much to take in.

Angie's favorite thing is to take pictures of me taking pictures......because I can't help it, no matter where we go.  I'm a filmmaker.  It's what I do.

(She especially thought it was funny when I set up my tripod in the middle of the train station a couple weeks ago.)

(She especially thought it was funny when I set up my tripod in the middle of the train station a couple weeks ago.)

And then when we got to the embassy, something startled me and I was surprised that it surprised me so much: everyone's American accents.  Before we even got inside, as we were in line buying our tickets, everyone speaking to us was American.  I've spoken to twelve Americans since I left the country the first week of May, and to be surrounded by that many familiar accents was just startling - in the best possible way.  I don't have any words to describe it.  Even though I'd never met any of those people, it felt like being welcomed by a group of friends.

We walked inside and I wanted to cry.  Born In The USA was playing over the sound system, there were bounce houses and carnival games, cooks were grilling burgers and the marines were bartending, and everything was red, white, & blue.  I haven't really been homesick, but it was still comforting.

And then it turned out that we did know someone there after all!  When we went to Agra, we met two Berkeley students at the train station.  Then we ran into them at the Taj Mahal.  And then at a restaurant.  They introduced to some other student interns and since all the tables were taken, we ate picnic style on the grass as it started to get dark.

They served American-brewed beer and whiskey, burgers, pulled pork, french fries, popcorn, brownies, APPLE PIE.  

The other student interns are from the University of Michigan, and we're all here working for various NGOs.  As we ate, an Indian cover band played what must be the cheesiest, most well-known pop songs to have ever come out of the US......from With Or Without You to I Gotta Feeling (no complaints here).

And I don't usually get emotional during patriotic things, but I cried during the national anthem after the marines presented the colors.  I promised myself before I came that I wouldn't go home feeling superior to anyone else because I'm an American or feeling like my culture and lifestyle are better than anyone else's.  I maintain that they aren't, but in that moment, I had never been so grateful to be an American - not because my country is superior, but because it's mine.

I interviewed a shopkeeper on my last day in Kathmandu who - I found out during the interview - was from India.  I got excited because I was boarding a plane to India just a couple hours later and he started giving me tips (places to go, food to eat, etc.).  I could see a light go on in his eyes and I commented that he must really love India.  He said that it's his home country, so of course he does, and when I asked "Why do you love India?" he done something no interview has ever done to me before - he immediately flipped the question.  "Why do you love America?"

I didn't know what to say.  I stumbled and finally came up with "because it's my home."  His eyes got so soft.  He said, "It's the same here.  Same thing, answer is same.  Because I'm holding the passport of India, so I should love my country.  Even though I'm not staying in India, even though I love Nepal too.  But you're ultimately from India.  Which gives you a passport - it gives you a thing where you can go anywhere in the world.  And you're not going as a Nepali.  You are going as an Indian."

That interview was weeks ago and I haven't stopped thinking about him and patriotism since.  I thought about him as I stood with my hand over my heart, that no matter where in the world I go or how long I stay there, I'm still an American.

We watched fireworks and then hit the dance floor with the other interns (dancing badly, but having so much fun) and this might be my new favorite 4th of July I've ever had.


P.S. You can listen to my shopkeeper's interview here.

Adventures with Rickshaws, Markets, Forts, & Food

Last Sunday night, after a weekend sick in bed, I finally felt good enough to leave the confinement of my apartment and it felt incredible to get out for it.

So I took the metro over to Old Delhi, walked through Chandi Chowk Market, and made my way to Red Fort.

First of all, I love the metro.  It's incredibly efficient.  It's an underground system, the trains run so fast, you never have to wait for more than a couple minutes, it's cheap, and it's very very clean.  The downside for us is that we live far enough away from the closest station that we have to hire an auto (little taxis that I love - I'll get a picture of one to post!) to take us there.  The short auto ride costs three times more than riding the train all the way across town.  So we don't use the metro much, unless we're going really far away.

But this time it was worth it, because the train dropped me off right in the middle of Chandi Chowk Market.  

Before I came, I was confused by the interchangeable use of "Delhi" and "New Delhi".  I finally figured out that Delhi was the capital established by the Mughals hundreds of years ago and New Delhi was the capital established by the British early in the 20th century.  So New Delhi is like a district of Delhi.  It's like how we use "Salt Lake" and "Salt Lake City" at home.  Salt Lake is a broad name that can refer either to the city or to the entire valley, while Salt Lake City refers only to a specific part of the greater Salt Lake Valley.  India has a fascinating history.  Delhi has been conquered and reconquered so many times.

But anyway, I live in New Delhi and much of the history of the city is across town in Old Delhi.  I had a picture in my mind before I came about what India would look like and Old Delhi fits that picture - crowded streets, minimal access by car, street markets and vendors everywhere, street food, rickshaws, really old buildings, and people absolutely everywhere.  I love being in the streets because they're so busy.  The city is integrated well, with stores and houses and offices all sharing the same space.  I have about a fifteen minute walk to work every morning that consists of cutting through a neighborhood - I pass a market, I pass a dirt field where boys are sometimes playing games, I pass women cooking corn on coals on the side of the road, I pass houses and I pass people living in the street, I see little kids running around every morning, I pass a dumpster complex and sometimes see the garbage men cleaning it up, I pass street vendors pulling carts of produce, I pass a little convenience store, for the past couple days I've passed men laying bricks, and traffic consists of autos, cars, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians.  It's routine to see 3-4 people, including small children, riding on a motorcycle together.  And the women ride side-saddle!  I can't even balance on a motorcycle without putting my arms around the driver's waist, so I don't know how they manage to gracefully balance off the side while wearing a dress and holding an infant.  Then I cross a major road, which always an adventure because the pedestrians have to run the second the light changes in order to make it in time, and wind through another neighborhood to the office.  The second neighborhood is all dirt roads, so it turns into an adventure in the rain.  Anyway, there's so much to take in at any given second and I'm having a hard time imagining what it will be like to return to orderly US streets.

I haven't really tried street food, because I'm terrified of getting sick, but our cook bought me a snack as we were walking to the market the other night.  As I watched the vendor make it, I thought "that just looks like a leaf with spoonfuls of spices on it".  Then I popped it in my mouth and, sure enough, it tasted like a leaf with spoonfuls of spices on it.  It didn't taste bad, but WOW, it was minty and burning and sweet all at once and my poor mouth didn't know what to do.  I also bought some candy at the market last week and was really not expecting it to be spicy.  I think life will get easier for me once I stop expecting things that look sweet to be sweet, and just start assuming that everything tastes like masala.

There was a McDonald's in the middle of Chandi Chowk Market and I had a flashback to my high school history teacher telling the class how food is intertwined with culture, that local food is one of the best ways you can learn about a place, and that he would kill us if we ever went somewhere exotic and opted for McDonald's...............so I solemnly promise to give street food a chance and I'm still going to McDonald's next time I'm in Old Delhi because my curiosity is getting the better of me.

Red Fort was beautiful.  It was built when the Mughal empire moved the capital of India from Agra to Delhi, so it's Agra Fort's successor.  But it's much, much bigger.  I was there for several hours and didn't make it all the way around; part of that, though, was because the picture-taking-with-strangers was intense.  I couldn't walk more than two or three feet without someone approaching me for a picture.  Parents were having me pose with their kids like I was a Disney princess.  People started forming lines.  I took well over a hundred pictures with strangers that day.

I'm supposed to be posing with the two girls on the right, and the man on the left is waiting for me to take a picture with his daughter in yellow.  The line is starting to form behind him.

I'm supposed to be posing with the two girls on the right, and the man on the left is waiting for me to take a picture with his daughter in yellow.  The line is starting to form behind him.


And I made it home in time to go to Sunday Market that night with our cook.  I love the street markets so much.

Angie, the other Maitri intern, spent a week in Ranchi and got home that weekend too.  She's a law student and is working on a research paper about migrant workers and citizenship rights this summer.  She interviewed rickshaw pullers while in Ranchi and sent me one of her interviewee's stories:

"Sanjay Singh.

            Mr. Singh is thirty-two years old.  He’s been pulling rickshaws for sixteen years and thinks he will be capable of doing so for another ten years.  After that, he feels like his body will give out.  When he’s not in Ranchi, Mr. Singh lives with his wife and four children in the La Tehar District, where they own two acres of land.  He travels home from Ranchi approximately every three weeks.

            Mr. Singh makes about 400 rupees (6 USD) per day from pulling a rickshaw.  He is able to save about half of his earnings for his family’s expenses.  In between trips home, Mr. Singh stores his savings with a local grocery store owner.  The store owner is honest and provides this courtesy to many of the rickshaw pullers at VTP Garage.  In return, the rickshaw pullers buy all their food and toiletries from the store, making the arrangement profitable on both sides.  

            Mr. Singh keeps all his identification documents safe at home.  He has had a Voter I.D. card for twenty-five years and a Below the Poverty Line card (which qualifies him for tax relief and a ration card) for five years.  Mr. Singh obtained an Aadhar card (India's national identification card) three years ago that he then used to get a Ration card.  The Ration card provides for twenty kilograms of rice, two liters of kerosene oil, 1 kilogram of sugar, and 1 packet of salt.  Additionally, he used his Aadhar card to enroll his children in school.  

            I asked Mr. Singh whether he’d been helped by any Maitri services.  He said that the Health Camps have helped him to learn about medicinal remedies from his body aches associated with pulling rickshaws.  

            In closing, I asked Mr. Singh if there was anything else he’d like to add.  He said that he doesn’t particularly like pulling rickshaws but he thinks its better than construction work.  Furthermore, he feels like he would not have to pull a rickshaw as much if the government would provide a sufficient water source for his land.  Right now, Mr. Singh spends a portion of his rickshaw earnings on seeds.  He cultivates his land with those seeds but lately, his crops have been failing.  The crop failure leads to more rickshaw pulling in order to make ends meet.  Then he buys more seeds, the crops fail, and he incurs more loss.  Mr. Singh believes that if his crops were more successful, he would then have two sources of income, and his overall wealth would increase.  

Author’s editorial note:

    Mr. Singh succinctly describes the cycle of poverty he is caught up in and speculates that water could be the key ingredient for relief.  It is a fact that India has suffered drought conditions for two years.  What is not known, but under investigation locally, is the impact of several newly built dams in the Ranchi area and their impact on water distribution to farmers like Mr. Singh.  I might be reading too much into his statement, but I think Mr. Singh said what he said, because he knows the government is capable of giving the water, and taking it away."

Angie and Mr. Singh.  She loved Ranchi and gets to go back in a couple weeks.

Angie and Mr. Singh.  She loved Ranchi and gets to go back in a couple weeks.

And that's a rickshaw!  A bike pulling a seat behind it.

And that's a rickshaw!  A bike pulling a seat behind it.

And then the inevitable happened........

..........which is that I got sick.  When you're living in a place where you can't drink the tap water and you have to be careful about the food, it's bound to happen sooner or later.  Last night my friend Dan told me that while he was living in Africa it happened so often that he stopped even being careful about the food.  His motto?  "What's the point? I'm already sick!"

We have a cook who comes to the apartment, so we're fortunate enough not to have that problem.  She takes really good care of us and knows how to prepare the food so that it won't make us sick......I'd be sunk if I were relying on street food or my own cooking.  I've been abroad for almost nine weeks and only gotten sick twice.

The first time was about three weeks after I got to Kathmandu.  I woke up one morning and wasn't quite sick yet, but wasn't feeling at 100%.  I'm convinced that no matter how old I get or where in the world I go, I will never stop wanting my mom when I don't feel well and that was certainly the case that day.  So by the time I went out to dinner with the other students that night, I was a little homesick and did the worst possible thing I could have done for an already queasy stomach: I ordered a burger.

Nepal has excellent food.  I love the dhal bat, I love the pickled vegetables, I love the dumplings and fresh fruit and fried tortillas.  In Kathmandu, there are restaurants with great Mexican food, Chinese food, Italian food.  I had pizza, garlic bread, crepes, french fries, and brownies with ice cream on top.  They make a lot of food well.  They cook chicken well.  But they don't eat beef.

So I should have known better than to order beef in a place that only has it on the menu for the tourists.  When the waiter brought it out to me, it didn't look (or smell) right.  It wasn't the right color.  It looked like they'd been storing it in the refrigerator instead of the freezer for awhile and had microwaved it.  The cheese was partially melted, partially plasticky, and there were no other toppings.  I barely got the first bite down and then couldn't even swallow the second bite.  I threw some money on the table, ran to the hotel, and barely made it in time.  It took a couple days to recover from that one.  

Lesson learned: if the locals don't eat it, neither should I.  (Also, I have a six hour layer in Seattle on my way home and when I get off the plane the first thing I'm doing is shoving a giant bite of real American hamburger in my mouth.  Other than those two bites of burger, I haven't eaten any meat since I left the country.)

Getting sick this time wasn't so dramatic.  I'm not sure if I accidentally ate some food that had expired or drank some bad water, but I was flat on my back for three days.  It was extremely unpleasant and it meant that I couldn't get out for much adventure this week, but I was feeling better when I woke up this morning so I think one more day of laying in bed should kick it.  Luckily, I'm working my dream job here and part of what makes filmmaking so great is that I can edit from the comfort of my own bed.

P.S.  I was in Kathmandu for seven weeks for both work and school.  I spent three weeks in the film department's faculty-led documentary class.  We spent two weeks in Kathmandu and a week trekking in the Himalayas.  We filmed around town and in the villages that we visited to make a film about life in Nepal for a local non-profit.  It was the absolute best time.  I came out two weeks early to work with my professor on a separate project and stayed two weeks late to finish it.  We did a bunch of filming, visited more villages, spent three days in one hanging off a mountainside, and rode motorcycles through the countryside.  Nepal is a lot different than India - much more so than I was expecting - so at some point I'll post pictures of both and note the similarities/differences I've observed.  For now, here's a quick look at what we did over there.


A Train Ride Away in Agra

I realized a long time ago that potential is my favorite part of being human.  I like that we never know how something is going to turn out, so everything has the potential to turn out incredible.  The best days of my life have generally been days that I wasn't expecting anything remarkable out of.  Every job has the potential to be the job you love so much that you work it for the rest of your life; every person you meet has the potential to be your true love.  Every day holds the potential for you to win a lot of money or meet someone who changes your life or find a dress with pockets (biggest score of them all).  

And, if you're interning in India for the summer, every weekend holds the potential that on a whim, you'll jump on a train to Agra because you've waited 22 years to see the Taj Mahal and you don't want to wait one more day.

And that's really how it happened for me.  Angie - Maitri's other U of U summer intern - and I went this past Saturday.  I had just gotten into town Wednesday night and didn't expect to leave town less than 72 hours later.  I planned to spend the weekend unpacking.  

But traveling into Agra came up in the office the next day and Tara, my communications coworker, told me that it's quite easy to get there.  There's a high-speed train that leaves New Delhi early in the morning, drops you off for eight hours, and then takes you back home that evening.  It's only an hour and a half each way and the tickets cost less than $20.  I knew I wanted to go eventually, so I made a mental note about the train for some future weekend - and then promptly realized that life moves fast, I have so much I want to do here, I only have seven weeks, and there was nothing stopping me from going tomorrow.  It was settled.  I woke up Friday morning with the Taj Mahal far from my mind and by that afternoon I had plans in place to go.

I was proud of us for navigating a foreign train station on our own and making it to our seats on time.  This was actually the first time I'd ridden on a train, and I was surprised when they brought us breakfast!  The ride wasn't that long.  But they came around with food, juice, water bottles, and coffee that we ate while we watched the Indian countryside fly by.

The train stopped, we walked outside......and it was hot.  Really hot.  I suddenly understood why summer is Agra's off-season - but I didn't care, because I was climbing into a rickshaw headed for the Taj Mahal.

It was a total madhouse of tourists and vendors and camels and rickshaws when we pulled up, but the line actually wasn't too bad.  And it calmed down once we got past security, where the vendors and drivers and animals aren't allowed.  We walked through a courtyard to cross the gate, and there it was, framed in the gate's archway.

Angie said that when we walked up, she couldn't believe there was scaffolding up.  We had the bad luck of showing up while they were cleaning the stone??  But I honestly didn't even notice.  I wasn't paying attention to the tourists or the heat or the guards blowing whistles - none of it registered until Angie and I talked about it later.  Standing in front of the Taj Mahal knocked the breath right out of my chest.  As far as I was concerned I was the only one there and it was paradise.

Making it here was particularly meaningful to me because a couple years back, I saw this totally false article online that said the Taj Mahal was going to be torn down in five years.  And I believed it.  The article was a list of landmarks that are disappearing, and the Taj Mahal was listed as the first to go.  When I read that, I told myself it had to be my most urgent priority of all the major worldwide landmarks.  I didn't think about much after that - especially after I realized it wasn't true - but somewhere in the back of my mind I held onto the idea that I needed to go sooner rather than later.  Even if there are no plans in place to tear the Taj Mahal down, fires and floods and earthquakes and disasters that ruin landmarks happen without warning all the time.  It was important to me to see it and whether it's actually urgent or not, I told myself I'd get there as soon as I could.

But like I said, it wasn't something that was at the front of my mind all the time.  I've actually been so busy this past school year that I haven't thought much about anything outside of school in what feels like forever.  When I set up this internship, the Taj Mahal wasn't one of the factors that made me want to come to India.  I didn't start thinking about that article again until we were on the train.

Nonetheless, standing in front of the Taj Mahal felt like fulfilling a giant promise to myself and that felt good.

We spent the rest of the day watching how Persian rugs are made and walking around the Agra Fort.  We also took pictures with dozens of strangers at every site, because for whatever reason everyone wanted a picture with us?  They must think we're cooler or more famous than we are.

The exterior of the Great Gate

The exterior of the Great Gate

The inside of the mausoleum is quite small.  There's not very much to see and a lot of people trying to see it.  You kind of shuffle through in a line and are only inside for a minute.  The fun part is outside, with the gate and courtyard and fountain.  I wish we could have stayed long enough to watch the sunset!

The inside of the mausoleum is quite small.  There's not very much to see and a lot of people trying to see it.  You kind of shuffle through in a line and are only inside for a minute.  The fun part is outside, with the gate and courtyard and fountain.  I wish we could have stayed long enough to watch the sunset!

Persian rug yarn

Persian rug yarn

The exterior of Agra Fort

The exterior of Agra Fort

And the view from the top

And the view from the top

We caught the train back that evening, took a rickshaw home, and it was a perfect day.

Welcome to New Delhi!

When I first filled out my Hinckley internship application at the beginning of the year, I had working in South America in mind.  I knew I wanted to work for a non-profit and I've been studying Spanish since I was in middle school, but never quite made it to fluency.  I saw the opportunity to tackle both in South America.

So back in February, I met with the global internship director, Courtney, to tell her about myself, my goals, and what kind of internship I was looking for.  I'm a film student and I'd like to pursue international documentary after graduation.  I like stories about culture and world religions and social problems.  I like filmmaking because it's a platform that catches people's attention.  I can pursue issues that I think are important and draw people's attention to them through my films.  I like the idea of being able to use my skills and my education to do something good for the world.

Then apart from doing it as a job or as a contribution to the world, I love filmmaking because I love to learn and to explore.  I think the most unique thing about me is that after I graduated high school I spent close to two years traveling the country in my car.  I went by myself, I worked my way through it as a restaurant hostess by transferring to the restaurant in town when I got to a new city, I lived where I could find housing, and I made friends along the way.  I did it, in part, to satisfy my curiosity about the rest of the country and I had the best time learning and exploring.  I chose to approach it like that instead of staying home and planning trips with friends, because any time I tackle something new I tend to dive headfirst, all the way in - for better or for worse.

My rowhouse in Baltimore

My rowhouse in Baltimore

The River Market Pig in Little Rock

The River Market Pig in Little Rock

The Oregon coast

The Oregon coast

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Chicago, from the Willis Tower

Chicago, from the Willis Tower

So as Courtney and I talked and she got a better idea of the way I tackle life and what I was looking to gain from this summer, she told me, "The decision is up to you, but I really think you should consider interning in India.  I think that India, more than anywhere else I could send you, will change your life."

I looked into Maitri, my host organization, and fell in love immediately.  They provide resources for abused and widowed women, migrant workers, and underprivileged children.  I wanted to be a part of it, and it ended up working out well for me because I studied abroad with the film department for the first part of the summer in Nepal (a great experience that I'll expand on later!).  

Until that point, I hadn't ever put much thought into coming to this part of the world.  I'd dreamed for a long time about practicing my Spanish in South America or backpacking western Europe like I'd seen in movies.  I was also interested in coming to eastern Europe, to practice my Russian and see Dracula-type castles.  But I'd never had a reason to look into coming to India.

But over the next couple of months, as I started to tell people I was spending the summer in New Delhi, I started to hear things I'd never heard (or maybe just never paid attention to) - everyone started to echo what Courtney had told me.  I heard over and over again that you can travel the whole world and nothing you see will ever hit you harder than your time in India.  For that, I am so grateful to be able to come here this summer and to intern with such an impactful organization.

My job over the next couple months is going to be to film and photograph the projects Maitri is working on.  I'm working in the communications department, where we use various media platforms to raise awareness about the issues and the solutions Maitri is implementing, and to bring in donations to keep the projects operating.  By the end of the summer, they'll have new short films they can post online as a way for supporters to really see their donations in action and for potential donors to see how their money will be used.  I got to town on Wednesday, started work on Thursday, and am already excited.

And, since I'll have my camera in my hand all summer, I'll have plenty to show you.

I let the curious little kids outside the office take pictures with my camera - this little girl was a good photographer!

I let the curious little kids outside the office take pictures with my camera - this little girl was a good photographer!