Home Away From Home?

I don’t know that I’ll ever get completely used to riding “tempos” (shared autorickshaws) with 10 people when they’re meant for 5 tops, dodging cows and a variety of other livestock while riding my scooter, riding my scooter in general (I had my first minor accident a few days ago), and to the variety of other eccentricities that India offers to its inhabitants. However, three and a half months into the Fellowship, India is slowly supplanting the US as my everyday reality.

Street food has become my cuisine of choice – pav bhaaji, egg burji, and chili paneer are just some of the regular items on my plates. My coworker Akshay from Seva Mandir must be ruing the day he first convinced me to forget the health concerns and eat street food, because now on every business trip I force him to eat some with me. Besides, it has a professional connection – as merchants of food products (tofu and soy milk), Akshay and I have to keep up on the latest street cuisine trends. Right? And beyond the gustatory delights, for someone coming from the US getting full on fresh food for the equivalent of 50 cents just never gets old. I can tell this is something I will miss in the U.S. upon my return.

Another integral part of settling into a new home is enjoying what’s around you. A trip to the famous annual Pushkar Camel Festival proved to be my first opportunity to travel within Rajasthan. The above picture is the view from our hotel’s balcony of Pushkar Lake. Pushkar and its central lake have a central part in Hindu theology. It is said that Lord Brahma performed penance here for many lifetimes to have a glimpse of the supreme Lord Vishnu, and that Lord Vishnu himself reincarnated himself here (at Varaha Ghat).

Pushkar Camels

Moving to the central event, I explored the fields of camels where supposedly each year thousands of camels trade hands. The above picture is just one small part of one small field – you can imagine how the rest of the area must have looked. So…many… camels. Everywhere. However, once you’ve seen your 100th camel, there’s not much else interesting happening aside from music and food stalls. Sadly, I missed the camel beauty and moustache contests which are all the hype of the festival. Maybe another time.

I have more travels to look forward to as well. For Christmas and New Years, I’ll be visiting Mumbai and Goa with a couple of friends from the U.S., two famous locales in India that I’ve never previously been to. Just two weeks after that, it’s back to Maharashtra to reunite with the other Fellows at a resort in Lonavala for our midpoint conference. Seeing familiar faces in both trips will be a welcome change of pace. Both from a personal and professional standpoint I expect the next few weeks to be reinvigorating, a necessary recharge for the tail end of the fellowship.

Finally, things on the professional front are looking up as well – we secured our first major client for our soy microenterprise. Trident Hotel, a 5-star hotel, purchased 12 kgs of tofu for a VIP wedding they were hosting. Better yet, the feedback was positive and the chef told me they’d be happy to do business with us again. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a regular customer in a street food vendor who sells chili tofu. It probably didn’t hurt that Akshay and I were his best customers before we tried to sell him our product.

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