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city in the clouds

9 Sep

Now that I’m back in the swing of school in Texas, I feel very far away from my two summer homes, Delhi and Mussoorie. I feel like writing this will bring me back there for a few minutes at least.

My first glimpse of the small town came after an overnight bus ride from Delhi. In nearby Dehradun, a big city at the bottom of the hills, I caught a shared taxi with other travelers up into the town. For almost an hour we drove on a winding, narrow (but still two-way) road up into the mountains. Everything I could see from the window was green and wet and beautiful.

Eventually we reached something that looked more like India—a busy little bazaar, with hotels and restaurants lining the streets. The taxi driver pulled over and we all climbed out onto what I later came to know was called Mall Road. After taking a few steps away from the taxi and realizing that I had no idea whatsoever where I was going, I went back to the driver and asked him for directions to Sister’s Bazaar, the only “address” that my guesthouse had provided. Eventually, he drove me another two or three kilometers up the hill, charged me a rate that was proportionally ridiculous compared to the drive from Dehradun, and took my picture with his cell phone. Probably just a little reminder of the person he ripped off the most in his taxi-driving career.

After a long nap and a day of rain spent trapped inside, I ventured into the great outdoors. Mussoorie is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is remote and green and on clear days you can see the snow-capped Himalayas to the north and Dehradun to the south. Most days, however, are not clear, and when you step outside you find yourself literally inside of a cloud. This makes for some amazing and unearthly views too, seeing the town below emerging out of a cloud almost as if the whole town were floating in the sky.

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The Himalayas

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Mussoorie, “queen of the hills”

The whole purpose of my venture into the clouds of northern India was language study. Although there are language schools I could have attended in Delhi, I wanted to experience more of the subcontinent and the Landour Language School (where I studied), was recommended by the Fulbright program, the University of Texas, and countless posters in an India forum I found online. So I made my reservation and began taking twenty hours per week of Hindi lessons. Within the first week I had learned the entire alphabet and was able to write small sentences. By the time I left four weeks later, I was able to converse with my teachers about such topics as the behavior of rabid dogs and the plotlines of newly released Bollywood movies.

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Many hours of my summer were spent here

Finally, the people in Mussoorie were really what made my experience. There was Joshi-ji, one of my teachers, who would say “I mean” at least one time in every sentence—“the monkeys, I mean, they came into my house too, I mean.” And there were the other students, such as an Oxford graduate student studying Indian economic history, an Australian law student rediscovering her Indian roots, five exchange students from Brown University whom I met up with in Delhi to visit the International Museum of Toilets (that’s another story), my Swedish roommate who was so good at Hindi that he was reading the Harry Potter series, and the large number of American missionaries with even larger numbers of children. And then there were the locals… The little kid who sold me fruit in the mornings and on the last day gave me free plums and a hug, the Sikh guy who lived next door and taught me how to dance bhangra as well as procured our somewhat sketchy 4th of July fireworks, our cook Seema and her family, the guy from Washington state who lives in Mussoorie with his dog and is working on opening a brewery there, and a very special someone with a wonderful smile.   

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Me and Antonia, my lovely British friend/roommate

 

I will go to Mussoorie again. I know I say that about everywhere I go, but I’m always serious. I’ve never been to such a beautiful and peaceful place (minus the wildlife). I might study there again too, but mostly I just want to make the drive from Dehradun and to see that little town rising out of the clouds again.

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River of clouds

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Goodnight Mussoorie

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monkeys in the kitchen

13 Aug

This is the story you’ve all been waiting for. I apologize for the fact that monkeys were in my kitchen almost two months ago and most of you are only now hearing the story. However, in those almost two months, I told this story many, many times, both in English and in Hindi, so I hope that I have perfected its telling.

First, let me set the scene: it is 6 AM on a Saturday morning in Mussoorie, a small town in northern India nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. I, a student at the Landour Language School, am deep into the REM cycle, as is any good student on a Saturday morning. And this is where it all starts…

I am awakened from my glorious weekend sleep by a loud knock on the door. I groan loudly to let my uninvited guest know that I am alive but very unhappy at this early morning intrusion. From the other side of the door, I hear a familiar voice saying, “Audrey?”

Raju. Of course. I groan again. The South Indian rubber plantation manager who was also studying Hindi at my language school. His awkwardness was notorious, and it was not at all out of character for him to come to my guesthouse and wake me up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning to re-confirm a pre-confirmed plan to visit a temple on a hill in a neighboring village with a few mutual friends later on in the day. Without leaving my bed, I tell him that yes I am still coming, no I haven’t changed my decision since yesterday when you saw me in the bazaar, yes I am still sleeping, yes I would like to sleep some more so I will talk to you later. Finally he leaves, and I close my eyes and snuggle back into bed, where I am only able to fall into a half-sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, my half-sleep becomes a not-at-all-sleep when I hear a crashing noise coming from the kitchen. I assume that it is Seema, the tiny, happy Indian woman who cooks breakfast. But after a few seconds pass, I realize that this is not the case, unless Seema has taken to making screeching sounds and using pans as percussive instruments. My hazy, still-sleepy mind is forced to come to terms with the hard truth: that there are monkeys in my kitchen. Raju had not locked the door when he left and the furry little troublemakers seized the opportunity to wreak havoc in the kitchen of the guesthouse.

For a minute I consider going back to sleep, pretending I heard nothing, and avoiding the problem entirely. But I climb out of bed and creep to my door, pressing an ear against it. Yep, definitely monkeys. Up until this point, I have gone out of my way to not have monkey stories or any interaction with them at all, because they scare me with their sharp teeth and people-ish faces and the fact that they have hands. Now it seems that I have no choice but to wage an epic battle against them, except for one small problem– the door to my room is located between the front door of the guesthouse (i.e. the only exit) and the monkey-infested kitchen. If I come out of my room, I will be leaving an unknown number of monkeys cornered with no way out except through me. Also, I will be weaponless, as I have no objects in my room with which I would be able to fend off monkeys.

Again considering climbing back into bed and deferring this responsibility to someone else, I turn and walk across my room to the wall opposite from the door. On the other side of this wall lived Henrik, a Swedish language school veteran who had lived/studied in Mussoorie since February. He had had his fair share of monkey encounters, most recently being a cheeky monkey stealing an entire jar of Nutella right from his windowsill. Forgetting basic grammar rules of subject-verb agreement in the excitement of the situation, I bang on his wall and shout, “Henrik, there’s monkeys in the kitchen!” Through the wall, I hear a sleepy and confused, “What?”

Eventually, Henrik the fierce Viking warrior gets out of bed and saves the day using a cricket bat and projectile tennis shoes. From my room I can hear the screeches of frightened monkeys running down the stairs and eventually fading into the outside world where they belong. I open my door (camera in hand, of course) to survey the crime scene that is my kitchen.

The monkeys had dusted their own prints using most of a bag of white flour.

The monkeys had dusted their own prints using most of a bag of white flour.

The rest of that bag of flour is carried to the roof across from my window, where the monkeys continue to chow down.

The rest of that bag of flour is carried to the roof across from my window, where the monkeys continue to chow down.

The monkeys faces are all covered in flour, causing them to appear to be abusers of some illegal substance.

The monkeys faces are all covered in flour, causing them to appear to be abusers of some illegal substance.

However, the day has not been completely saved. This is the final scene of the scary movie when you think everything is going to be okay until something pops out at you right at the last minute. The door leading outside had a hand-sized hole so that a human could lock and unlock the door from both the inside and outside. Now that the monkeys were aware that we were in possession of delicious white flour, they wanted nothing more than a way in. And when you’re a small hungry monkey, a hand-sized hole is a small obstacle in the quest for food. So be warned, bags of white flour in the kitchens of Mussoorie. You think you are safe in the kitchen? Think again. Somebody’s watching you.

The End...

The End…

Thanks for reading! Keep checking back, more India stories are on the way!

good people

13 Jul

“Duniya me, kharab logue hain.” My limited Hindi caused this statement to come out much more profoundly than I had intended, translating as “in the world, there are bad people.” The non-English-speaking travel agent in Dehradun, who had initiated our conversation prior to my departure in the mostly-male overnight bus to Delhi, nodded to acknowledge my point. But then he smiled, looked me right in the eyes, and very earnestly said something that I will remember forever– “Lekin bahut bhi acche logue hain!” Then he started singing an Enrique Iglesias song.

I still smile when I think about what he said… “But there are also many good people!” Yes, Javed the travel agent, you are right.

I have had very limited internet access for the past few weeks, and I don’t see that changing much before my return to the states in August. I am writing down all my stories and will post them when I come home. Until then, don’t give up on me. I’m having a wonderful time out here making memories with some of the good people of the world.

changes

10 Feb

Tomorrow I will have been in South Africa for a week, so it’s about time for a post about my new home. But first I want to write a little more about India. On Friday, my last day in the country, I woke up early and went to do a little tourist stuff around the city. I saw the Lotus Temple, which I had never even heard of before last week, and I was very impressed.

I also saw the India Gate and a few of the Indian government buildings up close. The India Gate is a monument dedicated to all the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in combat.

 

me in front of the India Gate

Then I came back to the place I was living so I could spend a few last hours with my Indian family, and then my best friends Urvashi and Amit came and brought me to the airport. Saying goodbye was so difficult for me, because I have no idea when I will be able to go back to India, and I love it there so much. I could even see myself living there someday. The people are wonderful, the culture is so rich, I love the Hindi language and also the fact that there are so many other Indian languages, and of course the food is amazing.

Coming to South Africa straight from India has given me quite a bit of culture shock. I think part of it comes from the fact that I wasn’t ready to leave India yet and I had kind of already adjusted to that culture. I had been going to Hindi church services and eating spicy food and taking bucket showers and I was part of a family there. Then I came to Grahamstown, a teeny tiny city where everyone speaks English and I can eat hamburgers and take real showers, and now I’m once again an independent college student. South Africa is a really beautiful country, and there is definitely a lot of culture here, but I really do miss India.

One of the first experiences I had in South Africa was the two-hour bus ride with other international and first year students from the nearest airport, in Port Elizabeth, to Rhodes. It was crazy looking out the window—there were beautiful mountains and everything was so green. Another thing is that I barely saw any houses or people, and we only passed a few cars on the road. This was a huge change from India. While there were no people, I did see some zebras, rhinoceroses, and giraffes on the drive. Looking out the bus window at the crazy animals and the scenery, I kind of felt like I was in Jurassic Park or something.

After arriving at Rhodes, I met some more of the exchange students and many first-years. We’ve all been going through orientation this week, signing up for classes and touring the library and going to a million different information sessions. The food here is mediocre at best and has no flavor (but to be fair, all I’ve had so far is dorm food), so that’s taking some adjustment.

Basically I like it here. The people are super nice, it’s beautiful here, and there’s a lot of culture and diversity (walking around campus, I can hear people speaking Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, and who knows what other languages).

This is most of Grahamstown, taken from the top of a hill.

On Monday I will start school. I’ll be taking two linguistics classes, Xhosa (an African language with the clicks), and ethnomusicology. I also plan on joining a few organizations and maybe doing some volunteer work. I’m excited about being in a new place, learning new things and meeting new people, but honestly I’m still feeling a little depressed about leaving India.

p.s. I will put up more pictures of Africa in the next few days, as soon as I take them. I’m really bad about taking pictures, but I’ll work on it.

bananana

1 Feb

One of the best things about traveling to other countries is fruit. Foreign food in general is a great thing to experience, but we can find Indian food or Ethiopian food in the US if we really want to. Foreign fruit, however, is something that can only be truly experienced in another country. Last summer I discovered lychee and mangoes, and I believe that the Indian mango industry suffered significant losses when I came back to the states. During the winter, not many fruits are in season, but I have rediscovered the banana. I have already said that I’m living with a South Indian family. Well, about two weeks ago, a box came from their relatives in Tamil Nadu (a state in the south) and it was filled with food—pomegranates, small bananas, coconuts, and South Indian snacks. I never ate bananas back home because they would always make my mouth and throat itch but they offered me one of the little bananas and I thought I might as well give it a go. I am now a banana addict.

Chikoo is another fruit I have recently found. It looks kind of like a kiwi, but it’s not fuzzy, and the inside is a dark yellowish-orange color. You have to squeeze it until it pops open before you can eat it. It’s not very juicy, and the texture is maybe even grainy, but the taste is so sweet and amazing and unlike anything I’ve tried before.

chikoo!

I went to the movies for the first time in India last night. When I first walked in the door, there was a lady who went through everything in my purse to make sure I didn’t have any candy or recording equipment. Then my friend and I went to our seats, D-14 and D-15. I really like the fact that Indian theaters assign specific seats, because it takes care of that annoying “where do you want to sit? I don’t care, where do you want to sit?” problem where no one can ever make a decision. The movie I saw was Agneepath, starring Hrithik Roshan, which is basically the new “it” movie of Bollywood right now. It’s a violent action thriller about revenge, but still it obeys the unwritten Bollywood law with a minimum of five singing/dancing scenes.

So one of my life goals is to go to an Indian wedding. Last summer, I was invited to two weddings but missed them both by less than a week because I ended up having to come home early. This time, I was invited to two more weddings, both in mid-February. I’m leaving India in two days. Not cool. It really is looking like the only way I’ll ever be able to go to an Indian wedding is to have one of my own.

Blogging this month has been very difficult, considering the fact that I have had no Internet access for almost two weeks. I’m sure my parents are freaking out about not hearing from me, and I want to publicly apologize for not emailing as much as I said I would. In two days, I’ll be on my way to South Africa, and I’ll hopefully be a little more technological there.

Even though I’m excited to go to a new place, I’m really going to miss India—the people, the language, the food, the culture, everything. I will definitely come back to Delhi someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, and I will miss all my friends and the family that has basically adopted me while I’ve been here. This month has gone by way too fast and I wish I could stay, but I know that for now, it’s time to move on. See you in Africa!

variations on a name

19 Jan

This is a word of warning to any other Audreys who may be reading this: if you are planning to become a world traveler, it may be in your best interest to change your name before you leave home. I have come to the conclusion that the majority of people in the world are unable to pronounce the name ‘Audrey’. The kids have the best versions– one little girl in my English class calls me “Ordinary didi” and to the little kid of the family I live with, I am “Eddy didi”. “Didi” is a Hindi word that means “older sister” and all the kids call me that. When I’m teaching English to adults, I’m just “ma’am” and other than that I’m only Audrey. Or Audey. Or Otree. Or Ahji.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m living with a South Indian family. Delhi is in northern India, and Hindi is the main language here. In south India there are many different languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, etc.) The native language of this family is Tamil, which means that in the past few weeks I have become somewhat familiar with Tamil movies and TV shows. And they’re all pretty much awful. The TV shows (all soap operas) are the worst, because there is hardly any action. One of the characters will say something and then dramatic music will play, and then there will be a five second close-up of the facial expressions of each of the main characters– one may be staring off in stunned silence, another may have a tear running down his/her cheek, and yet another may be trying to still a trembling jaw and hold off tears. Tamil movies are also basically ridiculous. They’re just as long as Bollywood movies (around three hours each) and every one has long, drawn out fight scenes in which the hero is ridiculously outnumbered (twelve to one is a common ratio), but the attackers are considerate and only fight the hero one at a time. And every man has a mustache. Here’s a link to a scene from the Tamil version Singham, one of the movies I recently watched. 

My internet accessibility hasn’t been very regular here in the village… When I say “village,” I still mean New Delhi. Shahabad Mohammad Pur is a tiny area of New Delhi, and I would by no means call my lifestyle urban– I take bucket showers, the house I’m staying in has no central heat/air, no microwave, etc. A real village would be way more primitive though, and far away from the rest of civilization, whereas I’m only a five minute motorcycle ride from the metro station.

Final thought: teaching English is probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. To connect and build relationships with the students and laugh with them and see them start to become braver in asking questions and to be excited with them when the sound that comes out of their mouth is the one they were going for is just a great thing that I can’t really even describe. I believe that everyone should volunteer to teach English at some point. It doesn’t have to be in India, or even in another country– people are trying to learn English everywhere. The feeling that comes from helping someone to learn something that can alter the course of his or her life is a crazy awesome thing, and I love what I’m doing.

Life is good.

observations

8 Jan

1)   Most people have socks that you can wear with flip flops. Like one toe and then the other four are all together.

2)   If ever again I am asked the question, “Audrey, do you like goat’s liver and lung?” I can reply with “heck yes I do!”

3)   Technically, it’s less cold here than in America, but there’s no central heat so it feels way colder… at first I thought it was cute how bundled up everyone is, but now I’m wearing hoodies/scarves/thick socks too.

4)   The shower warming thing is an accident waiting to happen. It consists of a metal coil (which kind of looks like a lightbulb) that is stuck down into a bucket of water. A flyswatter or stick lies across the top of the bucket and this little apparatus hooks onto it to keep the coil suspended in the water. Once it’s turned on, it sends electricity through the water until it gradually heats up and starts steaming. After about twenty minutes you have a scalding bucket of water for your bucket shower!

Heating water... in style. Not really, we just lost the stick.

5)   Even though I am now the master of the squatty potty, I still think American toilets are a better idea.

6)   There are a lot of children in India. I somehow became an English teacher to kids on the weekdays during their winter vacation and millions of them come every day, out of nowhere! Also, every single one of them is adorable. And they all believe I can speak Hindi. When in actuality I hardly speak any at all.