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Archive for January, 2011

The Upswing

This past week was a good week… a very good week.

It started last Friday when a Fellow friend of mine came to visit me for a few days, see the area, and check out my project. We hiked, talked, laughed, and lamented as I toured him around my India… it was the perfect reminder of how much positive energy I get from connections with good friends.

And then…it was Sankranti.

Sankranti to those of us in AP, Pongal to you Tamil folks to the east – but whatever you call it, it’s hands down my new favorite holiday. It’s a 3-day celebration of the end of harvest, of bounty, of community, and good food. People in the villages decorate their doorsteps with colorful mhughu in celebration of the end of winter – beautiful designs that have been passed down from generation to generation. But the best part? You get to decorate cows and build a HUGE fire.

A friend of mine invited me to her village to help decorate her cows and watch the festivities. Shankaranti is a celebration of harvest and it’s also a celebration of honoring the animals that sustain you. Everyone in the village with a cow decorated their animal – they painted the horns and attached balloons all over. Then a (really) huge bon fire was built in the center of the village and people paraded their cows down the main road and circled the fire. The entire community was there to watch – kids lined the streets and women watched from doorsteps and rooftops. It was fantastic. Afterwards, I made my way back down the narrow street to my friend’s home where I met her family, saw her cows, and ate my weight in homemade dosas. She sent me on my way with balloons from the cows to hang in my room and a bag full of roasted groundnuts to snack on during my walk home.

 

Monday morning I left for my AIF midpoint conference at a super posh resort in the hills east of the mega-tropolis known as Mumbai (it was the company’s “donation” for the year). Aside from a breathtaking pool-side view, complimentary bathrobes (score), and a shower that sprayed from more angles than I thought was possible, I was greeted by the smiling faces and warm hugs of 23 amazing friends. We spent the week talking through the lows, celebrating the highs, and motivating each other to keep going. We danced it out, toasted each other a few too many times, recovered over coffee and sunrises, and then parted ways inspired, refreshed, and loved. I can’t say enough good about how these people made me feel. It was perfect.

A group of us decided to take advantage of floor space in an AIF board member’s condo in south Mumbai and hung out through the weekend to see the city. Whoa. I’m not sure I can put a place like Mumbai into words – it has this totally different feel to it than Delhi did (which is a walk in the park in comparison). There is still this “old world” element to it scattered amidst the two New York skylines worth of high-rise buildings. Totally unreal. I left feeling like I wanted more…much more. The highlight of the weekend was getting in some much needed girl time with a friend of mine that included mid-day beers in the backpacker-hip Colaba area and pedicures instead of nose piercings.

I was greeted back at the Bangalore airport by the same driver who picked me up the first time I arrived in south India…this time without the placard with my name on it. I saw him immediately as I walked through the doors with my bags. He smiled and waved at me eagerly. As we walked to the car he asked about my time in Mumbai and we chatted about what I did and how the weather was. I remembered a lot of awkward silence nearly 5 months ago. On the car ride back to the Rishi Valley he played me his most recent additions to his Hindi/Telugu/Tamil pop music collection – briefly turning the volume down before each song to tell me “this one, really listen, very nice”. He offered to get me a few black market copies on his next trip to the city. We turned off the main highway onto the winding road that led from Karnataka into the rocky hills of southern Andhra Pradesh passing the villages, fields, and people that have suddenly become more familiar than foreign to me. I read the words on the signs noticing when Kannada stopped and Telugu began and smiled at the giant painting that reminded people to use toilets rather than defecating in the fields. As we neared Rishi Valley we talked about a few of his neighbors from his village that I’ve become friends with and he expressed concern that I hadn’t eaten lunch. As he dropped me off, I said thank you to my friend and assured him that I’d come to his home next Sunday for tea and to meet his wife and children.

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4 Months in 3 Minutes

Greetings all!

On Monday I head to Mumbai and then east towards the hills for my AIF Midpoint Conference to spend a week with my long-lost fellows catching up, telling tales, swapping war stories of digestive woes and near fatalities in Indian traffic. Hard to believe it’s already here.

For Midpoint, each of us were required to prepare a 3 minute video of our time at our project sites so far. So, behold: 4 months in the Rishi Valley through the eyes of Lindsey…and her limited movie making capabilities. I’d also like to publicly thank my friend’s 13 year old daughter for assisting me with the ultra-hip soundtrack to the film. Enjoy 🙂

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Dance It Out

If I were at home in the U.S., now would be the time where I would call up a friend or two, we’d cook a surprisingly delicious dinner of an eclectic mix of whatever ingredients we had on hand, pour each other a glass of cheap wine or micro-brew of choice, turn up the banjo-infused background music, dance it out, and declare it a damn good night.

Prior to writing this blog post, I started two others. One on gender discrimination, the other on the role of community interaction in education. I was too frustrated to finish either of them…so they remain un-posted. The last few phone calls I’ve had with my family have consisted mostly of me ranting passionately on my make-believe soap box about government regulation, accountability, colonialism, and individual rights (I’m sorry, family). Yesterday, I had a few minutes to spare before lunch so I started in on an article from India’s Economic and Political Weekly on sustainable food production and consumption.

Good lord.

There is something about being abroad – or maybe just India – that makes my mind go into overdrive. I’m grateful for the experience to be exposed to all of this and, having previously been in school for so many years, it’s really refreshing to be able to have the freedom to delve into any subject I choose…but it’s super exhausting. It’s been a really difficult challenge for me to not take things on in such a personal way – to experience something or someone and not think about the big picture and my role as a fellow human, as an American, as a white-skinned, educated, and economically advantaged person in it all.

Beyond all of this, I don’t have my usual ways of letting down, of switching my brain off for a bit, of relaxing. I don’t have a culturally similar cohort of mid-20/30-somethings in close proximity – also contemplating the ways of the world – to tell me I’m not crazy, to lean on, to cook dinner with…to help me dance it out. I’ve got lots of people I can call or email, sure, but on that daily level – the processing and the letting go that has to happen – I’m sort of making it all up as I go along. And it’s tough.

This all seems sort of silly considering I lead a pretty plush life here – I’ve got everything I need and then some. In India, I’m privileged in every sense of the word. But I think where my head seems to be at lately is that I see it, I hear it, I feel it – so intensely – and I’m hopeful…but stuck. There are so many small, beautiful, good things that go on each moment of every day that fill me with positive energy …but it’s still so easy to get consumed by the big picture.

So I pull out my make-believe soap box and try to make sense of it all. I typically fail. And then I try again…

For some bizarre reason I decided to register for a half marathon a little while ago. I now have exactly 5 weeks until the race. To some people I know this is just small potatoes – an early morning stroll, if you will – but to me this is a big deal. This is my first half marathon and the thought of attempting to run 21km is totally overwhelming when I think about where I’m currently at. But then I think about how far I’ve come. My confidence goes up and down, but I seem to keep moving forward…even if it’s only in 10 minute increments. Honestly, I have no idea if I’ll be able to run the whole thing, but I’m up for trying…because, why not?

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Onward

It’s a new year – a fresh start, a chance to re-charge, to breathe deeply, and begin again.

The past few days have been a series of harsh learning lessons for me, perhaps which I’ll write about at some point in the future, but for now are still in the processing stage. The delicate and frustrating balancing act of maintaining my own sense of self as “American Lindsey” with playing the role of “Indian Lindsey” in order to be fully a part of this community is a journey of false summits. The more you climb, the more you see how far it actually is that you have to go. Exhaustion makes you wish for ignorance, whereas hope gives you the determination and endurance.

But today, I’d rather not go there. Today, I’d rather share with you some photos of kids I met yesterday on my walk home from a village I was visiting…enjoy.

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