Well, I have recovered from my post-AIF-Midpoint depression by leaving Jaipur most weekends to visit fellows in other cities. I have also planned a host of trips to constantly give me something to look forward to. In two weeks I will be visiting and going on a camel trek in the beautiful desert city of Jaisalmer and will be joined by several other AIF fellows. Two weeks after that I will take another weekend trip to visit the city of Jodhpur, and some other weekend I will go to Bikaner to visit the Rat Temple! (That is a temple literally over run with rats. Cool, huh?) I have changed my trip down south to Kerala to March, and in April I will be going home for a week for my sister’s wedding. The trip home is a very new development and is only happening because my dad recently offered to help me pay for a ticket home, which I otherwise could not afford and of course for which I will pay him fully back when I am gainfully employed back is the good ol’ US of A. Then in May it is off to the Himalayas. Sounds pretty cool does it not? I have traveled enough now to feel comfortable on over-night buses and second-class sleeper trains, which makes traveling here relatively cheap, especially if you are traveling on the dollar, which sadly I am not. Also, the little Hindi I know goes a long way when traveling (in the north at least).
What I have done since last writing? Two weeks ago I went to Delhi for the weekend to go to church. I also went to an American movie in English on Saturday, which I enjoyed more than I can possibly express. I think I could have been watching a movie about cockroach dissection, and I still would have enjoyed it. It was in this beautiful new movie theater in Delhi and the seats were more comfortable than any theater I have been to in the US. Plus the movie popcorn in India is very tasty, and you are not clogging your arteries by eating it. Then it was off to church on Sunday, which I always enjoy and appreciate. One of the best testimonies was by a sweet, sixteen-year-old girl who talked about her sister who just received her mission call.
Last weekend I went to a city called Amhedabad in the state of Gujarat. I went there to visit two other fellows and to experience Sankranti, or the Kite Festival talked about in The Kite Runner. Amhedabad has the biggest festival in India, and it was amazing. My friends live in a high-rise apartment, and we went to their roof to fly kites and to get sweeping views of the city. The kites are not those typical of America. They are made with tissue paper and/or plastic and you buy and fly bunches of them in anticipation of them getting ripped apart by various conditions or of being cut by other kite fliers. Of course you purchase the string that has been glassed over, and you tape your fingers so as not to cut them while manipulating your string. I bought cheaper string, and it was obvious once we got home that if you are really serious about cutting other people’s kites you have to invest in higher quality variety. Getting the kites up in the air was a lot harder than expected as well. It is definitely an art and a skill and much different from what we think of when flying kites in America. We would get so excited when any of our group got a kite up on our own, but they were always immediately cut by a group of guys on a neighboring apartment rooftop. At night they attach lanterns to the kite strings, so the sky is filled with lights that appear to be magically floating vertically in the air. It might be my favorite experience in India thus far. It is nice that they have a holiday that is not religious or nationalistic which adults and children both love and supremely enjoy.
Then it was back to work, but at least for most of this week I got to be in the slums interviewing previous Bodh students. It is always a nice break from the classroom, but it is also always a little depressing. This time around I interviewed a couple of girls who did well on their eighth class board exams but were not allowed to continue their studies by the male members of their families.
Education in India is even a worse state than I thought before coming here. The level of education at my NGO is terrible, and yet it is better than the government schools. I have also learned that public universities here are pretty abysmal as well. For example, I work with a man who has a masters in computers, not in programming but in using computers and standard programs like Microsoft Word. A co-intern and I were trying to figure out what we were doing wrong with a frequency table in Excel, and he had no idea how to do anything in Excel but the most basic graphs, which is something I taught my seventh graders at Castilleja. And that is just one small example. The moral of the story is that good, private universities in India are just that, good. But in the public scene, their education system is pathetic, which is sad for the millions of people for whom it is their only option.
Anyway, I hope this finds you well. Be grateful for hot water and showers and rooms that are not always freezing cold. Those are the things I am missing at this moment. I do not want to bathe, because my flat is just a few degrees above freezing and bathing in that environment with a bucket is simply not appealing.