Thursday, August 16, 2012

Operation Navigation!

OPERATION NAVIGATION.....My day in the city!!! (with out the help of my host family)

Wow today was such an adventure! Today was the first day I actually felt that I could learn to master this crazy city of Chennai. My day began when my host dad called me an auto to pick me up in order to head to community service. Yes, on the outside this auto looked just fine but I guess that just goes to show you that you cant judge a book buy its cover. With in five minutes of driving I could tell something was wrong…..probably due to the fact that the auto had just started rolling down the road, not driving. We pulled over for gas and I could tell the auto driver wanted me to pay for it , thinking that I am nothing but a dumb tourist, but I would not fall for it. Then we continued our long drive to the malar hospital where I was to be met by AFS staff. But my auto had different plans. First time the auto broke down I was kind of frightened and yeah the second time I was a bit scared to. Finally by the fifth break down on the side of the road I could not help but laugh. My auto driver stopped at a quick auto repair shop but the auto well….it didn’t exactly stop it kind of just slowly rolled into a line of motor bikes to the side of the path. With in ten minutes we were on the road again and I was beginning to think this journey would never end. Next we came to a long road with many MANY speed bumps.
 Speed bumps in India Are not like speed bumps in America. In America a speed bump is like a “hey wake up and be careful”, here speed bumps are like “if you don’t stop and just barely roll your over me I will send you shooting through the air break your back and destroy your car -_-“ So each speed bump the driver went over was like a moment of truth to whether I would make it to my destination or would yet another, possibly more damaging, break down occur. After two more suspenseful breakdowns where we had to pray that the auto would turn back on, I finally saw another AFS student walking with his host father on the side of the road. I immediately stopped the driver and ran screaming to Dario like I just had a life or death experience. Thankfully Darios host father offered to walk me the rest of the way to the service project to help people with disabilities make cups !
            After volunteer work we got a ride to T-Nagar and all of us AFS students (besides for cameele)  walked around the shopping area bargaining with the shopkeepers and having a great time. We stopped for some amazing ice cream as a treat and it was so good that I literally cried of happiness! After that I bought some Curtis (Indian dress) and a skirt for half the price they originally asked for!   When it started to get late people began to hitch a ride home in autos. Rowan and I, unwilling to give up on our great day, hitched an auto to the Pondy Bazar. There it is much more exciting crowded and overwhelming…..just as we like it! We walked all around and eventually go caught in the perfect tourist trap (it was heaven) . The people working their saw our excitement with there bags and clothes and immediately began to pull things out from the racks and boxes and anything they could find for us and waded on hand and foot for us. We got ripped off pretty bag because they told us we could not bargain but, I was still really happy with my purchase!
Than there was a man selling drums! I love Indian drums and have been dyeing to get a Tabla! The man saw my excitement and could see that I was an easy target! He pulled the whole “ Madam, they are hand crafted with customizable sound” act on me and I was hesitant. My friend Rowan though was just as excited as me and pushed me to fall into his trap. He asked for 1,500 rupees and I got him down to 500. I thought it was a great deal until I got home and my host family told me 1) its not a tabla 2) yeah it’s a drum but a pretty broken one and 3) it should not have been more than 150 rupees! THUMBS DOWN FOR CON ARTIST!!!!
To finish up the day a transgender women grabbed my bag and tried to rob me! I grabbed my bag back and looked at her with anger. She winked at me, pet my shoulder, did a little hip shake and than tapped on my drums. I than walked away…..quickly!  So I guess that Sums my day! I hitched one last ride from an auto for a good bargained deal and headed home. Even with a crazy Indian traffic jam I managed to make it home before dark safely and happy!! OPERATION NAVIGATE CHENNAI COMPLETE J
This is the bazar i was in! 

            This is the main part of T-Nagar where we were shopping. Yes,  there is no difference between the side walk and the road
The Amazing T-Nagar again!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Evacuate the Hilltop....School excursion to Moonar


Our trip started with a 12 our train ride, which was pretty exciting. Anyone who knows me though, would know that I am able to sleep the entire time! There was about 200 kids overall on this trip from my school! We arrived at 2am in Cochen and then had a 6 hour drive to the hillstop station of moonar…to which the bus had blasting music and strobe lights the whole time!!!!  Our hotel was beautiful but we had little time to rest before we had to head out for our mountain trek!
            The mountains and land was so beautiful it’s unable to be described but I will try. It was like driving through a movie seen. Everything was pure green with trees and rives flowing through the rolling mountains and cows grazing peacefully along the riverside. It was an unforgettable sight that will just be engraved in my mind forever!
            Our trek was cut short due to a surprise monsoon! Thank goodness for good old mother nature because I was suffering terribly from altitude sickness! I was so dizzy and could not stop puking…..but I tried to keep a positive attitude J  We went to some beautiful locations and made some great friends along the trip. The last night we had a huge bonfire and all the girls were dancing and it was loads of fun. The next day we were supposed to leave around 8 and head to a water park for the day plans changed quickly……..
            We were evacuated from the hotel at around two in the morning due to a strike in kerala. Kerala is a communist run state in India so when a strike happens it is not a peaceful activity. It was more like a huge riot to which the strikers were planning to attack and destroy anything moving on the road, that would include are 7 tightly packed large party busses. Oh and I forgot to mention that our bus driver on our bus rolled into the bus in front of us and completely shattered our windshield! We drove without a windshield through the night, in the cold, down the insane mountainside over looking a deathly drop, in the rain, undercover to avoid the riot!  We survived and reached a safe spot around 5:30 and the riot would begin at 6am and end at 6pm. So for 12 hours we sat about twenty too a hotel room sitting and waiting out the strike and watching the news about what was going on outside! It was actually kind of exciting and it was a good time to make friends with the other students!
            We headed home back on the 12 hour train ride and I thought about some of the things I had learned from the three day trip!

1)   In the U.S when there is a mountain and we want a road we just blow a whole right through the mountain. In India when there is a mountain and they want a road they just peacefully build a long, curvey and slightly sketchy path along side the mountain.
2)   Indian girls when free from school will sing and dance no matter what time and what the occasion
3)   A strike in India is generally not like the average strike in America it’s a tad more violent and unpredictable
4)   When in the mountains, drink plenty of water because altitude sickness is NOT fun!
5)   If your in front of teachers you should NOT stand to close, talk to much, or have physical contact with the opposite sex.
6)   Don’t expect hot water in a Hotel room!
7)   All that amazing looking junk food in the hotel fridge…..Is NOT free
8)   Its impossible to be perfect all the time even when people are watching you, so don’t pretend to feel all right when in reality you know your going to puke any second!
9)   When on an Indian sleeping train make sure you get a bottom bunk if you don’t know how to use the latter
10)                  Go to the bathroom before you go on the train because OH MY GOODNESS  my feet were not going to step foot in that bathroom!

                                                      Train station in Chennai!

                                                      Wild Elephants!!!!

                                           Loving the mountains so much!
                                                      Karate kid in Moonar
                                       No touching boys....awkward stance!
Lloyd our favorite bus driver proud of his windshield incident


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

BLESS ME :D trip to the holiest part of southern India!

My Trip to the holiest spots in southern India!

I got home from school around four pm and sat down to eat. My host family had a spontaneous idea to go to a temple. I thought it would be just a hour or so long trip  but…… boy was I wrong. When they said “trip to the temple” they actually meant a four day long road trip to the most holiest spots in southern India! So with in about an hour (after AFS approval) all of our bags were packed and we were ready to GO!
            We traveled about five hours and stayed at a relative’s house for the night. When we woke up and showered (you must always be clean before temple) we were already to go. We arrived at the temple about an hour away in all of our finest Curtis (Indian dress). This temple was called TANJORE temple, one of the biggest and most famous in India! The architecture was so amazing especially considering this temple is over 2000 years old.  It is designed with such precision that the main temples shadow can NEVER be seen! Here was where the famous tradition of whispering into a particular statue and having any wish come true! I also got to pray to the god of education and also to the god where you make a wish and then do a clap and with hope it will come true. Oh and I got blessed by an ELEPHANT!! And since lord Genasha has the head of an elephant it is as if I was blessed directly by him according to Hinduism!
After that we went to two more amazingly beautiful temples in which I was blessed numerous times! It was very unique to see the dedication of the hindu people to there temples! .They will wait for hours just to see there gods and prey to them! And people bring offerings daily of fruit and flowers and money and anything they can just to show there love. The ceremonies are all so beautiful with smoke and bells and flowers everywhere I feel so lucky just to have seen this!
Next we went to a famous mosque a few more hours away! We went during Ramadan so it was super busy!  It is said that many lives have been saved at this mosque just by praying at this spot. When we walked in we went to the spot for preying. Girls were not allowed to go all the way in but we stood on the outside and followed the traditional ritual! We were giving some sort of sand wrapped in newspaper and told to close our eyes and pray.   Than we sat down on the ground and a holy man held our heads and prayed in a different language while slightly blowing on our head. Then he tied a black rope around our hand to protect us from all evils.
Lastly for the day was our trip to an Indian catholic church. It was absolutely beautiful but also very different form most American churches. In this church they don’t just worship Jesus they also worship Virgin Mary. Also in this church Jesus is dressed up as a king and people decorate him with offerings of flowers and gold. There was a whole museum next to the church just to show all of the offerings of gold and the miracle stories associated with them. For example, there was an offering of a small gold baby crib and along with it was the story of a mother who preyed for her babies life…..and here Prayers came true! Another interesting fact was that there is a tradition at this church where people will crawl on there knees all the way from the beach to the church, about 3 to 4 kilometers, just to have there prayers answered. Before I left both me and my host sisters kneeled by the alter and I taught them the “Our Father”.
            The next day we woke up and indulged in wonderful breakfast to which I had never been so excited to see bread and cornflakes!!!! Our last temple we went to was for the God of Dance which was jaw dropingly amazing. We went just in time too! There was a crowd of people waiting anxiously inside the temple infront of a closed door with bells ringing and smoke flying. The doors open to the gods Idle covered in decorations and candles all around! People started praying and pushing to get in front just to see it!  
Then, my host family and I sat down at the palm reader who was teamed up with a parrot. He read our palms and saw our future and some how was extremely accurate! He said I was someone who always gave back to others and in my future I would have a job that’s goal was to help others and ill make a lot of money…..but never keep it; I will always donate it to a good cause. He also said I would find my husband soon and it would be a completely loving relationship with no worries and I will live till I am 90!! I guess that’s good news! Hopefully it comes true!
Our next stop was to go row boating! We had to drive all the way through a small village to get there. The river was so nice and the temperature was beautiful and following are boat the whole time were small jumping fish that would hop down the river.  The person rowing the boat for us took us through a small channel of the river where all of the trees and bushes went over are heads and around the boat kind of like something you would see in the love seen of the little mermaid.
Finally we stopped at a branch of Auraville  (self sufficient communist utopia) where the “mothers” (creator) tomb is. When we were in this area we were not allowed to speak it was supposed to be complete peace. It’s a center of meditation and self enlightenment for learning and understanding. I got to pray with the others by putting my head on “mothers tomb and closing my eyes. SOOO COOL!
We finally headed home after the three days. It was one of the most enlightening and eye opening experiences in my life. I prayed for the same thing at every temple and it was something I thought about for a long time. I don’t know how religious I am but I thought praying is worth a shot and anything can happen. I truly feel blessed after this weekend and I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world to get to see this through my own eyes!!!  Reading about India in textbooks is one thing but actually being here with all my senses is a whole different experience. .

Being blessed by lord 
about to go in temple! Unfortunately no pictures can be taken inside...sorry but it was much prettier on the inside!
Me and Amma on the row boat!

First auto ride alone....and yes i bargained!

Outside of the temple of the God of Dance

My first street food....and i survived! Cuta purota!

Other boating family going fishing!