Saturday, January 29, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond

I guess it's official - Matt and I are staying in Baroda, and everyone else is leaving.  Everyone else has already left, in fact.  They left last night.  HUGE bummer to be left behind in India again (I think this is the third time it has happened), but we'll be all right.
Me being bummed out.  I think this is from when Ben left, but it was the same last night when the others departed... maybe a little worse... maybe I was doubled up in the fetal position on the floor, but as there are no pictures to document it, we'll pretend I wasn't.  

In fact, it is probably a good thing we're staying because Matt and I have a lot of unfinished business here.... They are building a new Courtyard Marriott in town, and we'd really like to see the completion of that... they haven't broken ground yet, but I imagine in about 4 years it will be done and we can move out of the WelcomHotel for good.

Anyway, just to be clear - Matt and I are staying in Baroda (alone) to finish up this project.  He will be doing data collection until they are ready to do the test run (or until they realize it is a lost cause and sign the guarantee agreement).  So.... anywhere from 2 to 6 months... or indefinitely.  I am fully aware of how frustratingly vague that is, but it cannot be helped.  We found all of this out on Tuesday, but I just didn't have the heart to tell anyone until now.

We're doing okay... I may have been a little hasty/insensitive when I posted "Depression hurts" on my Facebook wall... sometimes sarcasm doesn't translate well over the Internet.  On the plus side, I did get a lot of concerned comments and compassionate text messages from friends, which helps.  To clarify: I am not depressed... at least not in the way that would warrant any medical attention.  I'm just bummed out, homesick and feeling sorry for myself, which isn't all that unusual for me, as you all know.  Honestly, I think that Matt and I will be great.  I actually have made a lot of friends here, (which is more than I can say about any other assignment we've had) and I know that they will help me pass the rest of our time here.  As for Matt... well, I will help him pass the rest of his time here.  On the plus side, his job just got about a million times easier, so he will probably be less frustrated and stressed out.  Cross your fingers.

In case you've forgotten, this is what we look like.  

To our families: we love you all and miss you all and will be busy buying you all loads of presents to make up for all the Christmas/birthdays we are missing. To our friends who are in nice locations: no comment.  To our friends who are in worse locations: we'd love to hear all about it!  To everyone: care packages would be more than appreciated.  Preferably filled with mood-altering substances we can abuse.  I think an addiction and then dramatic rehabilitation and recovery would really help pass the time.  Love to all.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Week in Review

It's Friday, and that means a few things.  Around here, it doesn't mean much, as our weekends are usually pretty much the same as my weekdays, but you've gotta have something to look forward to, right?  My something is Fridays.  This week was fairly eventful... compared to my usual GTL ("gym, tan, laundry" thank you, Jersey Shore) routine.  Monday I recovered from a weekend of kite flying and learned how to do a handstand in yoga (with assistance), Tuesday I had a lunch date with the expat ladies at a new restaurant(!), Wednesday.... um... oh!  I video Skyped with Aura for the first time!  Pretty awesome.  While it gave me mild nausea to go on a virtual tour of her new house, I can definitely see the draw.  Why don't more people know about this?!  (By more people, of course I mean more people in my family/friends circle.  I'm pretty sure we're about the last people on this bandwagon.)  

Thursday my yoga friend, Dhwani, invited me to a glass workshop where she does projects sometimes.  She is an artist and got her masters in glasswork in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I've been there before, so that seems as good a basis as any to base a friendship. Anyway, she took me on her scooter to the industrial part of the city where all the factories and stuff are... I saw some monkeys and a guy picking through a lady's hair looking for lice - it was a nice scooter tour.  I was a little nervous when we got there because I was only wearing short sleeves and flip-flops, and I kind of assumed they'd make me change.  I even brought extra shoes just in case!  I mean, it's a glass workshop!  Do you know how hot it has to be for glass to melt?  Neither do I, but I'm assuming something along the lines of pretty damned hot.  Of course, I shouldn't have worried because this is India.  One guy wasn't even wearing shoes.  Anyway Dhwani gave me a quick tour and then showed me how to make glass beads!  Well, kind of.  She tried to show me.
First you melt the glass tube (in her right hand), and then when it's gooey, you wrap it around that kebab stick.  Voila.  

Dhwani is pretty good at it, even though she's only just learning.  I was horrible.  I attempted once and failed after about 30 seconds.   Of course I ruined both the glass tube and the kebab stick in the process.  At least I didn't shatter anything or get molten glass in my unprotected eyeballs, which was my main concern anyway.  

Some of the products this workshop produces.  They only work on commission, and didn't have a store, so I couldn't buy anything... like that cool lampshade in the corner.  

Thursday night Dori (Canadian expat here) called and invited me to the "Friday Market" in the Old City, and of course I jumped at the chance.  Everyone knows markets are always a good time.  This market was basically a huge flea market/yard sale.  It had everything: clothes, tools, lamps, scales, beds, couches, and every feasible part to anything ever made on earth.  
This could be anywhere in Arkansas. 
For whatever reason, everyone was really friendly to us, which was a nice change of pace.  Of course they wanted to sell us everything, but they also kept asking to have their pictures taken, and I was only too happy to oblige.    
This woman sold me some fabric and then asked me to take her picture.  I think she was pleased with the result.  

I was a little concerned because I only had 200 rupees with me (less than $5), but again, this is India.  I bought 3 huge piles of used fabric and spent all my money.  Later, Dori's driver, Sanjay, told me I overpaid... I felt kind of bad, but only because I guess I'm losing my bargaining skills. 
I keep telling people about the guys who sell earmuffs because it's winter.  I was so excited to finally get a picture of a real life earmuff vendor!  I think it bears mentioning that it was 88F today.  Prime earmuff weather.  
Unquestioningly the best part of the day was when I captured this picture:  
There are no words.

That about does it.  Dori and I have big plans to hit up the other side of the Friday Market next week to find even more great deals.  All in all, pretty solid week.  We'll see where the weekend takes us... probably to McDonald's.   

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kite Festival '11

Sunset over the old city during Kite Festival.  

As I've previously mentioned, last weekend was the Kite Festival, which is probably at least the fifth big festival we've had in Gujarat since I've been here.  Gujaratis seem to celebrate every festival that all of India celebrates, plus they add two or three days to the end of them, and then they also celebrate random "Gujarat only" festivals, like this one.  While I think it's wonderful they are so fun-loving, I would like these festivals a lot more if they didn't keep interfering with the project!  That said, this festival was by far my favorite (so far... if we're here for Holi in March, all bets are off.  I've got BIG plans for Holi).  

Anyway, like the good little kid I am, I tagged along with anyone who would have me to go see what I could see last weekend.  Thursday night Matt and I braved the "cold" (around 55 degrees F) night air and took a walk behind the hotel to see the kites for sale.  It was crazy.  The streets were jam-packed with people selling kites, string, hats, noisemakers, and all number of other fairly ridiculous wares.  I was told that in the ritzy part of the city (where we stay), you could get about 20 kites for $2, but if you went to the old city you could buy them wholesale, and they'd only be 75 cents for 20!  We didn't buy any anyway, but man, if I'm ever in the mood for kite-buying, I know where to go.  
Kites and string for sale in the ritzy area.  

One of the fairly controversial things they do here is dip the string into a glue/glass mixture so that you can cut down other kites more easily.  You can spot the string with glass in it by its vibrant pink color. This is really common, but every year lots of birds and people are injured or even die from the string. (This year there were nine deaths across Gujarat, but most of them were from falling off the rooftops. It's a fairly dangerous holiday.  That's probably why it's so fun.)  I also did not partake in this particular "string of death", but I did enjoy watching people make it.  

This guy dips the string into his magenta glass paint, and then spins it up on that wheel, thereby creating "string of death."  Now you know.  
Friday Matt had to work (even though everyone else in Gujarat seemed to have the day off), so I waited around until he got home, and then Shriram took us to the Old City for some authentic kite flying!  

Kite flying on the rooftops.  Everyone who is anyone goes to a terrace or rooftop during Kite Festival to fly.  They set up loudspeakers blaring Bollywood music, and have huge dance parties along with the kite flying.  It's pretty much the best party ever.  

These apartment buildings are pretty standard for the Old City. The newer ones near our hotel are very different.  
Try as we might, the Westerners just couldn't seem to get a handle on the kite flying.  To our credit, there didn't seem to be much wind, but that didn't really stop anyone else from flying.  We're just bad at it.  
Matt was pretty frustrated the entire night.  Apparently he's used to doing things well the first time off.  I don't have this problem, so it didn't bother me that I was so horrid.    

Like I said, everybody gets on the roof.  

Later in the evening people start lighting big lanterns and letting them float off into the sky.  Shriram had been talking about these lanterns for weeks.  This was his big moment!

Shriram with the lantern.  He's so happy!  

Of course it wouldn't be much of a party without fireworks, and if there's one thing Gujaratis know, it's how to party (well, how to party without alcohol)!   

Saturday, Shriram and his wife, Pooja, took Matt and me to Pooja's uncle's house in a different part of the city.  The uncle had an obligatory terrace, and that's where all the magic happened.  I made history by flying my first kite (Indian or otherwise) ever!  Much to Matt's chagrin, I got it wayyyyy up in the sky, farther than anyone else (or at least anyone who was Western, associated with UOP, and under the age of 28)!  Boom!  

Me making it rain with the kite.  I must have been attracting too much attention flying so high and so far, because shortly after this picture, my kite got cut.  Jealousy is a stinky cologne, Indians.  Remember that.

I guess it's worth noting that on Sunday, Andrew, Matt and I snuck up on the terrace of the hotel, found a kite that had been cut, and flew the crap out of it.  Well, Andrew flew it, and Matt helped.  My job was running across the rooftops finding abandoned bits of string to tie to the end of the kite so it could go higher.  Among my precious finds were a piece of blue string with what appeared to be a charred bird's leg still attached, and a piece of black string wrapped around the dead body of a rat.  Probably I contracted the plague from that one.  Apparently Kite Festival is not a good weekend for animals.  

And thus ends my tale of Kite Festival 2011.  There will never be another one quite like it (unless I'm here next year, in which case, Kite Festival 2012 will probably be very similar).  

While other, cooler people were out flying kites, all the europeans at the hotel were laying by the pool.  This is only a fraction of them; there were so many I couldn't get them all in one shot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Am The Only Human

Tuesday Chris and I finally forced and coerced each other to go visit the United Way of Baroda to see if they needed volunteers.  They did - kind of.  This weekend is the Kite Flying Festival , which, like every other festival, is celebrated extensively in Gujarat.  United Way was putting on a mini kite festival for some 200 disabled children in the area, so we helped a big group of volunteers tie kite strings and write "inspirational" captions on the kites.  My favorite caption (not by me, but only because I didn't think of it first) said "I AM THE ONLY HUMAN" in huge block letters.  I see where this guy was going (I'm only human), but I think you'd agree he fell a little short of the mark.  I think it's better his way, anyway.

Wednesday Little Britain (Chris... because he's British) and I went to some random park we didn't know existed and "helped" the disabled children with their kites.  I use this term loosely, only because I don't know how to fly kites, so the odds of me helping someone else do it are pretty slim.  Most of the kids laughed at me when I tried to help them, and then showed me how to do it.  I gave it up eventually and just walked around and took pictures, which was fine, because all the kids loved having their pictures taken!
This kid most certainly didn't need my help.  I think he was born to fly kites. 

I was quite fond of this kid... he doesn't seem to be all that fond of me, though.  

This boy asked me to take his picture, and then he went into "pensive mode" for his portrait.  

After the excitement of kite flying wore off a little, some of the kids and volunteers decided to put on an impromptu dance party up on the stage.  From what I gather, few Indians can resist the fist-pumping, hip-shaking bass of a classic Bollywood tune. 
Coolest volunteers ever.  This could be a still from 'Tees Maar Khan' (which recently flopped hugely in theaters here).  

This kid has moves I'd never seen before.  He was the life of the party.  At one point, he sat down, threw his arms into the air, and two volunteers grabbed him and pulled him up on stage, where he proceeded to throw down some serious hip thrusts and robot moves.  Awesome.  
Today (Friday) is the beginning of the Kite Festival, which should be interesting.  I have been told repeatedly to be very careful of my neck.  Apparently every year birds and cyclists alike die from running into the glass-covered kite strings.  I'm not sure exactly how this works, but I'll do some investigative reporting and get back to you.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Huge news: Matt ran his very first 5k today!  And he did it in 29 minutes flat!  Good for you, buddy.  I'm so proud.  (He later said he would have done it a long time ago if he had known how much praise he would get.)

Anyway, a late Happy New Year to you all!  I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe New Year's Eve celebration!  I know I did.  Maybe a little less wonderful than safe (can't get into too much trouble playing games in the residence lounge), but all in all, not too bad.  We were all pretty psyched to go to Carrie's (the expat from America who had Thanksgiving with us) house for a REAL New Year's Eve party, but she came down with the stomach flu at the last minute and had to cancel.  Either that or she ate some not so fresh Indian food... the jury is still out on that one.  Anyway, we watched the fireworks and Bollywood dancing on TV in Mumbai at midnight, which was pretty fun.  I set my camera on auto and captured the quintessential  happy New Year shot:
That's Andrew on the left kissing his girlfriend via video Skype.  Is that not the cutest thing you've ever seen?  Matt and I kissed, and then Chris kissed Andrew's girlfriend's roommate over Skype because he felt left out.  

Of course the hotel had a "special buffet" again for New Year's Eve dinner, and would you believe I went two times with the turkey fat loaf?  That's just asking for trouble.  However, all the boys were getting Dominos pizza (or "pijja" as the hotel staff call it), and I just couldn't bring myself to have pijja for the second time that week.

Matt carving the bird.  One of the waiters at the hotel invited me to take this shot, and not one to disappoint, I did it just for him.  
So I know everyone is dying to know my New Year's resolution(s) for 2011, and though I would love to keep you in suspense, that just seems wrong.  After lots of careful consideration, I have resolved to be more open and accepting of different cultures (ahem, India).  In addition, I will try to recognize how good I have it, and be more thankful for all the wonderful things in my life (ahem, Matt, family, friends, free trip to India...).  Also, I resolve to run 10 kilometers continuously at least once this year.  Also, I would like to learn 
the words to this song:

While in my quest for new awareness and gratitude for good things in my life, I discovered (or rediscovered) that I love yoga.  I am taking a type called Iyengar yoga, where we use props such as ropes, belts and chairs to get into the correct positions.  My instructor, Smita, is kind of strict, but really amazing, and she has helped me do a lot of things I didn't know I could do.  Allow me to demonstrate:  
This is me doing a kick-up headstand.  It may not look all that difficult, but it is.  Also, I don't know of you can tell, but I'm not touching the wall at all.  Yeah, I'm that good.  
I don't have any other pictures of me doing cool stuff, but believe me, I do it.  I do it all, and I love it all.  It is an amazing workout, and I sweat a lot, and all the other ladies in class make fun of me.  It's their winter here, so they think it's cold.  They wear sweaters in class.  It's embarrassing, but what can I do?  I'm a sweater.  Also, my friend Dhwani gives me a ride home from yoga, and today we rode on her scooter!  It was awesome.  

Another thing I recently found out that I love is when I bring a teacup back from the breakfast buffet, housekeeping will clean it out for me and then return it.  I did this 11 times, and 11 times, without fail, they cleaned my cup and gave it back to me.  
I don't know if they think I'm planning a tea party in my room or what, but these cups were proliferating like nobody's business.  Sadly, last weekend they asked me if they could take them away, and I had to say yes.  I've already re-started my collection.  So far I have two.  
In other news, the Hogs lost to OSU today, and Matt and I had to watch the game with Andrew, a diehard OSU fan!  Bummer for us, but it was a decent game.  We've always got next year.  In the spirit of Razorback victories of yesteryear, here is a picture of Matt and me going to the Arkansas/Tennessee game in 2006.  
If you'll remember, ESPN's College Gameday came to Fayetteville for that game, and Matt and I (supposedly) appeared on TV.  Ahh, how happy we look!  So young and carefree!  
Lastly, because I want to start the new year off right with total and complete honesty, I would like to share this one minor detail so you all won't be shocked if it happens... There is a chance that after this unit starts up, Matt will have to stay and babysit it for two to six months.  It's a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but it might happen.  I kind of flipped when Matt told me, but he swears it is "more of a possibility and less of a probability".  We shall see.  Come what may, I will have my yoga to keep me centered, balanced and (at least marginally) happy.