Saturday, January 30, 2010

Culture, culture, culture

Alright well I'd better get everyone up to speed, since I'm pretty excited to post about my experience this morning at the widows programme visit. But first things first. The above picture comes from Sushilla calling Chuck "mukka" which means monkey since he is a big goofball, but then we are all goofy, so I'm a "mukkani" or girl monkey. So we're just making sure we look the part. :)

My week started great actually, a bit of an upswing from a tiring day in Hyderabad on Sunday. We had a two day session on strategic planning with a Mr. Vikas Gora. But Wednesday to Friday we did development communications, and let's just say that we decided the only enjoyable way to attend the class was high on cold medications. This professor was a complete hypocrite, preaching feedback and evaluation, and then ripping people apart in private for presenting the slightest criticism or request to him.

Aside from the mixed week of class, we had another culture night on Tuesday with about 200 Bala Vikasa women coordinators who came from around the province for training. And after my friend Sushilla's wonderful Nepali dance, it was suggested that five Canadian girls learn the dance and perform for these ladies, as they were celebrating Christmas and New Years together. Well I was the first one to volunteer!

So basically we learned the dance in 30 minutes, found some hilariously huge Asian looking pants and popped on some black shirts, and we were ready to go. It was really fun, and the night of performances (dances, singing and skits) stretched on to midnight. Most international participants left part way through but I didn't want to miss all the pretty dances or feel like I was being disrespectful.

Regardless, we (obviously mostly Sushilla) got a great reaction from the crowd, and even Santa, the special guest, came to dance with us also. The whole evening was wonderful, watching all the performances, eating ice cream, exchanging gifts with friends and dancing all crazy on the stage.

To culminate the evening, all of the male staff dressed in sarees (like women) and the female staff like men, and danced around the stage, with some getting out of control or provocative!

And to end the night, the women received some gifts from Bala Vikasa - and the few international girls left received some hilarious nightgowns (think Little House on the Prairie). So I put one on, dressed up some boys in the them, and danced around as well.

So that was Tuesday night. Friday night we went to see Veer with Salman Khan - very famous Hindi actor here. This was my first real bollywood movie and though it was 90 percent Hindi, it was awesome! It had action, romance, singing and dancing, and fighting. Okay the ending where Khan's character is reincarnated is a bit absurd but I was so entertained the entire time, plus it costs a dollar and there's delicious popcorn. A bunch of us ended up going so a great time.

My friend Raju - who is from Nepal - somehow reads this blog and wanted me to post a picture of him and I so here it is:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hyderabad, Jai Ho!

Another week, and more love, frustration and new adventures.

I realize I haven't given an update in a couple of days, so I first need to share my thoughts from this past weekend. Sunday we planned a trip into Hyderabad, which was 19 of us on a comfy bus for the three hour ride each way.

I can wholeheartedly say that this one experience has turned me off organized group travel completely. We rented a bus but the Cenre told us there would be a volunteer accompanying us to show us some sights and shopping areas. Well going somewhere with a giant group - many of which don't have the same concept of time - is difficult at best. We first went to a beautiful white granite hilltop temple but some stragglers kept getting lost and making us all wait around. Most of us just wanted to shop but instead every little thing we did took FOREVER.

I bought one scarf and some bangles. And so I guess I'll be going back in a few weekends to try shopping round 2. It was pretty crazy being in a city of 8 million people, I couldn't even look around fast enough to catch anything.

And we sang ALL the way there and back. Lots and lots of Jai Ho :)

View of a part of old Hyderabad:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Half of a Thousand

It's fun to play dress up sometimes :)

I've definitely been keeping myself busy for sure these last two days, and really enjoying the classes. I have now officially memorized everyone's name and we all get along really well dispite age and experience gaps. Well this one participant Deo - a professor back in Nepal - is an oddball, going off on long tangents about nothing and making us listen. The last two days we have been studying asset-based community development, taught by the executive director of the Centre (Bala Vikasa), and it was pretty inspiring. And we've been doing pretty practical activities utilizing the ideas and experiences of the other participants.

And last night we had our first cultural night, where each country had to present at least one or two songs, dances or acts. Of course we felt lame and since none of us had much performing talents, we sang Oh Canada, gave out pins and flags, and sang a First Nations chant. And we performed first so that people mostly forgot our act after the others. The Sri Lankans somehow transported a traditional drum with them and my Nepalese friend Sushila had a beautiful dress and gold jewlerey to go with her wonderful dance.

And so we danced the night away last night to Tollywood (Telagu bollywood) hits and even taught everyone how to do the limbo, which they loved courtesy of the macarena to accompany it.

Today we visited a model village called Gangadevipally, which has successfully motived its community to use their own funds to have borewells drilled, a health centre built, toilets (actually utilized) in all houses, a temple and have cleaned up all the garbage as well. And now visitors come from all over the country and world to check this place out and learn from their success.

From there we visited a Hindu temple, the Warangal fort and the Temple of a Thousand Pillars (of which 500 are under renovation). I'm pretty exhausted and we're leaving here at 6am tomorrow morning to heard to Hyderabad to do some shopping, which is 3 hours away.

Sending love to everyone, especially the people of Haiti.

Also here is some jargon that Chuck typed while I wrote this:

I'm lost in india because i talk to chuck to much and he makes little sense. bananas are tasty (matt) WHERES DAN! ( anchor) jelly beans are too sweet!! Makka!! get down from there!! (sushila) Don't forget about the toilets! (Sagar Sanitary advisor) " can i just have 1 or 5 minutes." hand in your face (Professor DEO)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A little more excitement

We've basically been couped up in the training centre grounds, up to the main road and the few shops and bakery that line the opposite side of the road. I mean it's only been four days now, but regardless, it felt good to hop into the auto (three wheeled taxi) and go. We ended up going with five Canadians, Ankur - the hilarious Indian character who's laugh I liken to Rafiki from the Lion King, Sagar - with the most pronounced unibrow I have ever seen, and Ahmid. After we finished our class on culture and development, we walked up to the main road and watched as the Indians bargained our trip down to 10 rupees each (about 25 cents I think).

Warangal has a population of about 2 million, but it's pretty chaotic, at least compared to anything I have ever experienced. I'm quite looking forward to visiting Hyderabad on Sunday, which is around 8 million I'm told. I think not getting run over was a pretty big accomplishment.

We mostly wandered around the shops, in awe of the fabrics. Ankur bought some Jalebis - a pretzel-shaped sugar sweet (above picture). This was pretty weird eating fried sugar, and why didn't we think of that already?

We mostly just walked around, taking it all in, so nothing too exciting to report.

And today we moved on sustainable development, and our last day with Professor Rajnikath so that's awesome. It's a LOT of effort to understand his accent. We had some new Nepalese and a Bangladeshi join us today too, and just as I had almost memorized all the names.

We just got back from trying to play cricket, but they got tired of us after a few minutes and got into an intense game, so we just threw a ball around for a bit. One of the guys from Sunday's cricket attempt came later and we secured another lesson and game tomorrow before dinner.

Here's a photo I took from the third floor of a shop in downtown Warangal, trying to capture the functioning chaos:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 1 of classes: success!

We had our first day of classes yesterday, which was pretty good. Still getting to know people's names (as will be the trend for the next week I think), as there are about 30 participants. And most of them have names like Trilantha, Archana and Ankur - and those are just some I actually can remember!

Yesterday we did a little inauguration, which was nice but totally demonstrated why India is such a bureaucracy. EVERYONE had to say words of welcome and thanks. And there was a candle lit by a participant from each nation. And expectations were discussed and the code of conduct, and blah blah. On the plus side we get a morning tea break AND an afternoon tea break! On the down side, the tea tastes like liquid sugar.

Yesterday's afternoon session was a cross-cultural orientation, which turned into a pretty heated discussion on culture. It's definitely teaching me a lot about working to understand different points of view and working in a language that many people struggle with. The other women are mostly from India, with one from Nepal, and they just crack me up because they are constantly laughing. The guy leading the session is odd though and will be teaching again today, but he's one of those people that has a PhD and wants you to know it. Apparently he reads signatures, so I might see about doing that on tea break today.

Tonight, Nasim, Theo (another Canadian from Dominican University College) and I are going with Ankur into Warangal proper for dinner and for a tour from his friend. Hilarious side note on Ankur: he was voted Mr. North India last year and loves bodybuilding. Haha now we tease him all the time.

I'm going to go eat breakfast but I'll post again soon. And here is what our residence area looks like:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I love Dhal

I'm here!

I arrived safely around 4am this morning after a three hour bus ride from the Hyderabad airport. I was and am still so excited to begin exploring but unlike other work and study abroad experiences I've had, this one is more structured. We were told not to walk past the main road on our own today. I know one reason is because there are increasing tensions in Andrah province between the North (Telangana) and South (Andrah) who want to separate. I can't help but feel antsy and confined, but I have to remember that I came here to learn first, adventure second.

After a few hours of sleep, and some chapati, banana and potato chutney for breakfast, we went for a walk outside the grounds of the Bala Vikasa training centre, where we are living and having our classes. It feels really nice to walk around with my sandals again and the heat is dry so it's quite nice.

In a nearby park there was about 30 or so young boys playing many games of cricket and seemed only too eager for us to join in, if not to laugh at our inability to hit the ball. I'm trying to pick up a little Telugu, the provincial language, but it's a bit confusing. Nipee ruenti? Heather. Something like that. I also realized that I don't do well remembering names here. But lots to work on! And I'm working on my nod/sway - which everyone here is fond of doing to meaning something like "sure, whatever" or "unsure." Clearly I haven't got the hang of it yet.

Classes start tomorrow morning from 9-5pm and the rest of the participants are gradually arriving today and tomorrow morning from different parts of India and Nepal, as well as South Africa. I've taken a few pictures, but I'm pretty sleepy still so I might go nap and tour more later.

And I was happy to see the tuk-tuks (here called autos) and hope to learn to drive one in my spare time, the same three wheeled open cars from Tanzania. Also for the foodies out there: it's a little funny getting used to the curries and chillies here, especially eating spicy food in the morning, but the lentils (dhal) are awesome. And I've also had some delicious plain yogurt, chapati flatbread and fruits.

So I'm staying hydrated and enjoying the sun, but missing skating on the canal just a little bit.

Until next time, lots of love and hugs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tomorrow, tomorrow!

Hi everyone,

So I realize starting a blog AFTER I've been away for three months in Rwanda doesn't seem like the most logical idea, but I figured that it's better late than never.

For all those that I haven't had the chance to fill in entirely since my return six weeks ago, I'm going to be participating in a month-long community development certificate course in Warangal, India. I got accepted by means of SOPAR, a teeny tiny NGO based in Gatineau with a pretty special link to this region in India. There is going to be about 3o other participants, 9 others from Canada and I think the majority are from South-East Asia.

I'm leaving tomorrow evening and I suppose I should expect tightened security even though I'm not flying through the U.S. I'll make it to Hyderabad just after midnight on Sunday and then it'll be a two hour drive into Warangal, which I'll be making with the other 9 Canadians.

On a side note: My poor friend Nasim is having a rough time, it's less than 36 hours before our flight and she's still working on getting her Indian visa, just because she was born outside the country! So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well and that she turns on the waterworks at the visa office this afternoon.

I'm not bringing the monster. That's my pet name for my laptop. This means I'll be at the mercy of other people to use theirs or I've been told the Centre were our seminars and workshops will be conducted has a few. If not, we have Sundays free so I can always get out to an internet café then. And just FYI, it's a 10.5 hour time difference with Ottawa, so that might make Skype difficult.

So my apologies for all those that I couldn't meet up with, or contact before leaving but I hope some returning hugs and road trips will make up for it!

Catch you on the Indian flipside amigos.