These opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Peace Corps, Rotary, or any other organization to which I am affiliated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“We Have Bombs!”

On November 14, 2012 much of India is celebrating Diwali.  First, Happy Diwali to all in India and worldwide that celebrate this holiday.  May your life be full of peace and prosperity! 

 So, Aisha, what is up with the title of your blog?  Well, I will tell you!  A week before Diwali I asked one of the cleaning ladies in my dorm to tell me about the upcoming holiday.  I asked, “Do you all have a special dance, music…?” and her response was, “No, we have bombs!”  Now I must come to her defense, she does not speak English very well and her and I spend a lot of time rethinking how we will phrase conversations: I so that I am using vocabulary that she will understand and her searching through her stock of English to convey her message.  She meant that people set off lots of firecrackers.  Haha.  When she first said it my eyes got really wide.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a very expressive face, especially my eyes.  So she then started making noises and open and closing her hands kinda like fireworks so that I could get the picture, “Boom! Boom!”  It was perfect.  Once I realized that there would be no wars going on it was indeed a good thing.  She went on to explain that it was a Hindu celebration so she herself would not be doing much of anything at all other than taking advantage of the day off. 
I must say, SHE WAS RIGHT!  At about 5:15am I could no longer sleep because it sounded like a bomb was coming in my window!  My goodness!  Talk about a firecracker competition!  I didn’t know what was going on.  And also, because I attend a Christian College, there was not much at all going on here for me to get an understanding of what Diwali is all about.  We got the day off, the cafeteria staff in the dorm made a special lunch (I think this has been by far the spiciest of meals I have had yet) and there were Indian sweets given out.  Most of the students spent time studying because exams continue on the 15th.  But I looked it up to get a better understanding of what it is all about.

It turns out that Diwali is also known as the festival of lights.  There are special things done in the home like lighting clay lamps, sharing sweets and other things.  The lamps signify the triumph of goodness over evil.  The firecrackers are set off to ward off evil spirits and it actually lasts 5 days.  I assume we are at the end of the celebration on the 14th this year (it changes each year based on the lunar calendar) because all week there have been fireworks, but this morning was by far the most I have heard.  Because I am on a Christian campus, there is not much to see in terms of how families conduct the holiday in their homes, but I hear the firecrackers and we had sweets.  So I guess I am a part of it all J.  Happy Diwali and peace to all!

Top 8 Things I Love About India

11.     Bangalore has a Café Coffee Day on every corner
22.     Banana Leaf Plates- everyone needs to quit paper plates and use banana leaves…has got to be better for the environment, plus you get to eat on something green!

33.     Jasmine flowers to ornate hair…stop and smell the jasmine in life J

44.      Sidewalk art- so for holidays, events, and activities people chalk on the entry way some beautiful design…it is an added treat when they use actual flower pedals to do it…so creative and beautiful

55.    Fairy tale weddings- while I am personally not interested in having a huge wedding, it is definitely nice how fairy tale-like weddings are…it reminds me of a Cinderella


6.     Avoiding the traffic- so I know this is my 10 things I love about India, I do need everyone to understand that I am NOT a fan of the traffic and am often afraid that my life is in danger, so when I do not have to deal with it, I feel very, VERY happy!

77.     Rupees!- Indian money makes me happy because they are so diverse.  For example, 5 rupees vary from the shape of the coin, color, size, and some are even bills, but it is ALL 5rupees…kinda cool, but at times confusing because you can’t just reach in your pocket and pull something out without verifying that you are giving the right amount of money…but still I love the way its all different, but still worth the same amount! (It’s like the people on earth J)

88.      Porota (I am not sure if I am spelling it right)!!!- This is by far my fav type of bread here.  Hmm…how do I explain.  Well when it is time to eat people ask what type of starch you want.  Like do you want rice, naan, doosa, idly, or porota.  I still have not figured out how to order the food I want in a restaurant because sometimes I can choose the gravy (chicken masala, dal, etc) and the other times they just bring something…I don’t really get it because I do not like all of the side dishes, but you gotta go with the flow I guess…it’s a surprise every time!  For all you Indian restaurant eaters in the states, you have probably been deprived of porotas as I had been since it’s a south Indian food and most Indian restaurants in the states are north Indian.  However, just know that these things are good!

Excursions to Kolkatta and Bangalore!

Shout out to Kristen for an awesome trip far far away from Tamil Nadu.  It was a great trip with ups and downs.  I am an introvert so having to spend an entire week with a person every moment of the day is overwhelming at times…I needed some “me time” to rejuvenate… didn't always get it, but we had a blast nonetheless!  I wouldn't trade it in for the world.  Thanks for a great time J

P.s. to those of you who think I am lying about the introvert thing, I am not.  Even though I enjoy talking to people and am not shy, that does not mean I am not an introvert.  The difference between an introvert and an extrovert is the manner in which they recharge their batteries.  If you are the type of person who would like to go home and read a book, walk alone, watch TV or write in your journal…any activity, but just alone after a long hard day, you are likely an introvert.  If you want to go hang out with people and do any activity after a long hard day, you are likely an extrovert…you feel charged by getting energy from others around you.  I feel drained…sorry guys, but it’s the truth.  When my life is most overwhelming I retreat the most…not because I am sad, but because that is the only way I can get enough energy to face the world again.  Love you all…smooches! 

 Enough about hermits and butterflies…lol…Kolkatta!

The first leg of our trip was to Kolkatta…what an interesting time of year to visit.  We went at the end of the Durga Pujas (I think it was durga…it might have been another…I can’t keep them all straight in my head).  Nonetheless, it was a huge celebration of one of the goddesses.  Like I said, it was the end so we got to see the closing festivities when everyone was bringing their huge floats and shrines of the goddess to put into the Ganges.  How exciting!  It was also interesting because there was absolutely NO traffic anywhere.  Everything was calm…which from what I hear is not the case usually…traffic is as bad as in Chennai, but we at least came at a time to get a break from the hustle and bustle. 

 We spent time at Mother Theresa’s House, and went looking for Tigers in the Sunderbans!  We never found them, but had loads of fun in the mud, cruised in the beautiful Bay of Bengali for hours upon hours, and found lots of other interesting creatures.  Our final day in Kolkatta culminated with a little shopping, a visit to the Victoria Memorial and a SUPERB Italian dinner at a restaurant that I stepped into and forgot I was not home.  Food was awesome!  Pizza with pesto and chicken, a salad with spinach and smokey mozzarella…my mouth is watering just thinking about it! 

 The next day we flew to Bangalore…our number one goal there was to relax and get a much needed pedicure after romping around in the muddy mangroves!  Kristen had the bright idea to get a “fish spa” something that neither of us had ever heard of or tried, but it was on the menu of choices at the spa we found in the mall.  I took one for the team this time, but will likely never do it again…though I went looking for animals everyone knows I am not a fan of them and letting little fish eat the dead skin off of my feet was not my idea of fun…I was scared! Haha…But it was my choice…and well, I am not going to make the same one in the future…lol.  Bangalore is indeed a different world from the south of Indian, women wear mini-skirts, there are Café Coffee Day shops on every corner…it’s just like starbucks, and going to a bar or a club is just as normal as it is at home...  So we tried out a bar and I must say I had little faith that India was going to be able to satisfy my lounge needs, but I was pleasantly surprised that the place was pretty classy and enjoyable! 

 I had a mojito, it was lady’s night to entrance, appetizers and certain drinks were free…it was a nice time.  I am not a big dancer in public, so I mainly watched and it made me feel right at home…seemed pretty normal lounge/bar to me.  Plus it was on the rooftop which is always a nice touch.    We dropped in on a Rotary meeting and met some nice people.  The highlight tourist spots were the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens (BEAUTIFUL) and also the Industrial & Technological Museum.  Pretty cool experience. 


It was an awesome step away from Chennai with lots of interesting twists and turns: we got followed and then quickly lost him, met 4 very nice and helpful people on 3 different occasions, rode a bicycle driven rickshaw, got bitten by little bugs in the mud and then voluntarily put our feet in a fish tank to be bitten, I slipped in the mud and busted my bum, we got lost (nothing new to me, so no worries there),  took a picture in front of a Hard Rock Café, and I lost my shoe on the very last hour of our trip…good thing I had flip flops!  A trip to remember indeed!

Facing Identity, Race and Culture: “Where are you really from?”

It is hard to share stories about culture because it is in everything and everywhere.  The fact that people always ask you, “Have you eaten?” after a simple hello, speaks to the importance of looking after those you care about and love.  Being sure that, as a foreigner, I am comfortable and always have a place to sit even if there are fewer chairs than there are people, marks the hospitality of the people.   And while I feel taken care of and supported in my overall day to day activities, it would be misleading to say that it is with complete ease that my experience has unfolded.  As an American and a descendant of Africans who were enslaved in the Americas, it is not an easy feat when people do not accept me as American.  I am constantly questioned about my “real” origin.  And while I realize that most places worldwide are unaware of the history of the development of America, it is hard being reminded constantly that I am seen as an “other”.  My history is a difficult one to trace.  What is most difficult to deal with is that the face of America worldwide is white and everyone else who is there is understood to be “others” who have migrated there.  Though this is not true.  Native Americans are the “real” Americans if one would have to place some sort of value on “americanness” based on their ancestral origin and everyone else including white people are the “others”, but that is not what most people understand or know about America.  I am proud to be American and proud of the struggle that black people in America have passed through as I am now capable of experiencing the privileges of exploration and education worldwide.  

 No matter where I am in the world, if someone asks me where I am from the first thing that pops to mind is America because I am proud to be from America and this is the most significant portion of the story of my origin.  But as I said before I am always asked questions like, “No, where are you really from?  Where is your grandfather from?”  And when I say America, this answer still often does not satisfy people.  So I am pushed to move on and so I often tell them that I am a descendant of African people who were enslaved in the Americas.  This usually prompts people to change the subject to something else completely for fear that I may be embarrassed by being associated with a history of enslavement.  Understandably so because as the history of the caste system and the importance people place on knowing the occupation of your parents appears to be of great importance here.  I am not at all ashamed of my history and actually feel proud to share; knowing where I came from and comparing it to where I am now is beautiful. 
Because of the transatlantic slave trade Africans who were brought to America for slavery were mixed so they would not have common language to revolt, and bought and sold regardless of direct blood alignment.  So tracing such a history back to a specific country in Africa is difficult, though some have done so.  There was much mixing within the African people as well as with the, Native Americans and European whites, as the children of slaves would be enslaved again even if they were biracial.  So those children once again mixed among the “non-biracial” children and so black Americans who are descendants of slaves have a long history of mixing.  So for me to figure out one country in West Africa where some of my people may be from and forgetting all of the mixing that occurred is unfair in my eyes.  So I consider myself Black American to mark both my connectedness to the black continent of Africa and to mark that there was a disruption in our connection and a re-creation of a new group of people.  I usually consider African Americans people who can easily trace their roots to a specific country in Africa, like those who may have migrated after slavery was over.  But labeling is neither here nor there. 

 One of my professors once asked me of my “real origin” and I told him that I was Black American and a descendant of African slaves, but I cannot tell him from where in West Africa my ancestors came from.  He informed me that, “You know the whites in America know there origin based on their names.  So where are you from?”  The question took me aback.  Because my white peers studying here have told me that no one has ever asked them to tell their “real” origin.  So the fact that he knew that white people were not from America was quite a stride.  But, I recognize that he would have no context to know that African slaves were beaten if they spoke African languages and were recorded in books along with the chicken and cattle and more importantly, they took on the name of their slave owners.  I know he had no context to understand that, but I cannot explain the immense hurt I felt facing a man who was comparing my history of forced migration and enslavement to those of slave owners (and also those who were not, but are now American citizens) that often came by choice.  I just told him that our histories were different because our names were forbidden and I left the department.  I realized after that experience that it was important to share the reality of America.  The reality in the sense that there are many people of diverse lands and many of them who cannot trace back their traditional dress, or language, or specific food to the place where their skin color and original ancestors come from, and that America is their home.  I knew I had to share the story of Native Americans so that people here know that the original Americans were not white Europeans.  Please understand that my intention is neither to point blame or put down any group of people whom I consider my American brothers and sisters (I exclude no race in that kinship), but to make the experience of another person who may come to this college who may not fit the picture of what America has been portrayed as worldwide that much easier.  Yes, the president of the USA is a mixed race man, but he can tell people why his skin is tanned; his mother is a white woman from Hawaii and his father a Kenyan who studied in the USA.  Though his face may resemble my complexion, it does not have the same history (it is connected however), even if the world sees us as one in the same. 

 My race has been a bit of a struggle for me in India.  And I knew to some extent there may be some issue.  When I was a volunteer in Burkina Faso, the people called me a white woman.  An extremely hard thing to deal with if you grow up with parents who teach you to be proud of who you are and whose you are regardless as to how grim it may be.  I am not anti-white, but I am not white, I am black.  Over time I understood the reasoning.  My mannerisms, language, and interests matched my white peers; the face of America in the eyes of the world is white.  Even though my skin was brown, my features were different, so I was not quite African…so what else could I be but white?  Also the local language did not have many different words to describe races…you were either black meaning African like them, or not.  Most often people would ask me questions like, “which one of your parents is African?”  as if they had come to the conclusion that I must be biracial.  So I knew that I might experience some issues because even in Africa the people were not sure how to place me.  I was once called “one of the lost Africans” by an older lady.  I never thought I was lost, but I understand her point.  Black people who are descendants of the transatlantic slave trade are in a space of limbo when interacting with the rest of the world.  But I was able to get over the “white lady” thing.  I knew they meant no harm.  However, here where I am finally considered black, there is little basis for an understanding that I am also American.  And the negative attitude toward darkness makes it even more difficult, though I think in general they mean no direct harm.

I went to the salon to get a pedicure and the ladies working there tried to convince me I needed to bleach my skin.  I said, “No, I like my skin.  It’s good.”  And they insisted, “No ma’am, it is black color.  Black color is bad ma’am.  Bleaching is good.”  I went to the beach with some of my friends and the next day one of the girls was telling me how her brother saw pictures of her and was now poking fun at her.  “He is the darkest in the family so we used to always call him blacky.  ‘Blackyyyy, Blackyyy!’ and now he is calling me, ‘Blac—“ as she was saying this she was laughing and I stopped her to ask how this was supposed to be funny to me.  She tried to convince me that they were simply poking fun at him because he was the black sheep of the family and it didn’t mean anything.  While it may not mean the same thing to her as it means to me, it does mean something because many women here go to salons to get their skin bleached to remove their tans.  My Indian friends were devastated every time they get a little too tan and are consequently delighted once the tans wear off.  Readjusting my lens to understand the color complex within the given culture and also thickening my skin to deal with the things people may say has been quite essential in this experience.  But I do wonder how people here feel who are darker than me as I have many Indian classmates who are much darker than I am.  But how do they feel?

Beyond being black and realizing that race is not understood through the same lens that I understand it as an American, there are other hurdles to climb: namely word choice.  So I explained the “blacky” thing that was a bit overwhelming, but probably the most overwhelming was the use of the word “niggahs!”  One evening I walk into the room of one of the girls on my hall as she was reading aloud an email that her friend sent to her and some other people, “what’s up my niggahs!” she says and I left the room before I could hear the rest.  Realistically, she was reading something that someone else wrote to her and also the word was used in the sense of fraternity, but who am I to be upset with?  The word has morphed and changed so much as a term used to put down my people and was taken hostage by the black community to change it into a word of love…but among black people…How the heck did it get to India?! Should I be angry with hip hop artists for using it so much in their music that people may have no context to understand the word and how it has been used to abuse?  Wasn’t it supposed to be just between us?  It was supposed to be “our” business, you know like our parents told us as children, “what goes on in this house stays in this house.”  Should I be mad at myself for letting a word get to me and giving it power simply because I let it affect me?  I honestly have no idea.  But it makes me think to say the least. 

 The other word choice example was actually quite comical.  One of my Indian classmates is really dark.  He is so dark that many of his fellow Indians when they first meet him ask if he is African.  Interesting enough, his favorite genre of music is hip-hop.  It kind of makes me wonder why hip-hop is his choice sound.  Is it because he likes the beats, the clever use of words, and catchy hooks?  Or is it because his complexion drove him to seek a group others see him in?  I do not know, but I do wonder.  Nonetheless, one day we were randomly talking about clothes and he informed me that “I like dressing African American style.”  Never in my life had I heard such a thing.  It made me laugh and I asked him what he meant by that.  He explained that he liked hip-hop and so he liked the clothes people wear in the videos.  I went on to explain to him that he likes to dress “hip-hop style” if he wants to label it (though I am not sure if that would even put it into a good box), but calling it African American excludes all the people who do not like hip-hop, but are black.  Plus, would that mean that he likes to wear clothes that people wear to jazz concerts?  It was black America who created jazz music.  He was pretty receptive and I must say that was by far my favorite encounter of them all, because though they all lacked the intent to be harmful, this one instead made me laugh and put into perspective the innocence from which people here speak to me.
To say the least every time someone asks me where I am “really” from, I am sharing about my American culture.  Every time I walk into a place and I say I am American, but my complexion is incongruent with the picture in their heads, I am sharing American culture.  Being American is so beautiful because it is dynamic and ever changing; there is always room for something new and fresh.  I am happy to share all of these parts of me, especially when I sing my favorite nursery rhymes with the children, dance, or as we prepare for the upcoming winter holiday season being able to share Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s traditions are also very important to the story of who I am. 

 As I have said many times before, I am thankful for this opportunity.  When you exchange with people there will be things that are comfortable and those that are uncomfortable.  If for nothing else, I am happy to learn about other people and watch myself mature to be able to face any sort of misunderstanding of whom I am and where I fit into this world.  I am a child of my Creator in heaven and so are each of my brothers and sisters on earth.  I just have to introduce myself to them.  And so I am thankful for this opportunity for personal growth as I continue to explore the corners of this earth and share with the beautiful people of this world…I am simply learning patience, the hard way…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

They Say College Years are the Best Years of Your Life!

So when I went to undergrad waaaay back in 2001 (it was not that long ago, so be quiet!  But slightly off topic, I did realize my age difference the other day when I was talking to another American student studying here and I asked her if she remembers where she was when 9/11 happened and she told me she was in 3rd grade and I said I was in college…YIKES!), people always told me things like, “Enjoy these years, they will be the best of your life,” or “Take advantage of this experience because there will never be another time like this again.”  And well, I always thought to myself, “man, these people must have really terrible lives because I plan on having the best years of my life every year, in college or out!”  And well, to be quite honest, I have tried to do so.  I have tried to make the best of every stage of my life, no matter how much I did or did not travel, I found something that made it exciting for me because I was determined not to be doomed to the life that these advice givers were suggesting.  Interestingly enough, I completely understand what they meant now that I am back on a college campus, living in a dorm, engaging in debates, staying up all night to study or random chatting, laughing…and sometimes dancing J.  It is refreshing to be back in this setting once again, even though I feel I have had an awesome life after college travelling, learning new cultures, and teaching.  But there is something special about college.  

So much of this experience reminds me of my college years and then one day it dawned on me…”Duh, Aisha, it is your college years, just another go around!”  I will fill you in one example:  Galolympics, I think that is what it was called, was indeed a funny time.  So one of the female dorms planned and organized a mini Olympic-type games event for the other 4 other dorms.  The day started with lots of chanting and marching around campus.  Dorms marched together shouting their dorm names and speaking of its prestige.  The noise reminded me of the divine nine coming out ceremonies, and the crowds of people coming together to hear a “dorm-sing” (Shout out to UVA!!).  I was in my dorm room (I am in a room alone) when I started hearing all of the commotion, I knew that the competition would be happening that morning, but I didn’t expect it at that point.  So I rush to get dressed so I could see all of the day’s events.  My dorm was gone by time I got ready so I ended up following behind the girls’ hall that would be rival to mine.  I didn’t know the exact location for the games, so I figured following them and their noise would indeed lead me in the right direction.  Little did I know that because they were hosting the event, they marched and chanted around much of the campus to bring in more participation.   Once I realized that they were taking what I thought was the long way even though I didn’t know exactly where the main event would be held, I had already walked around most of the campus.  By the time I got there, my dorm was already in place.  No big deal, I was just there to watch and cheer them on, but I would have loved to scream out on the way to the event. 
 Once the games began there were pretty funny events like the “Runaway Bride” and the dance contest.  The runaway bride event consisted of each hall racing to dress up one maiden for a marriage.  Mind you the dorms are separated by gender, so the boys also dressed up a “bride”.  It was quite comical, she needed to be dressed in her sari, hena on her hands, jewelry and any other final touches.  It was all done so fast…less than a minute, so the finished product was pretty funny.  But hey, who cares, MY HALL WON!  There was an egg toss, and some other events that I do not remember.  What stands out most was the dance competition.  There were partners from each dorm represented.  They were given a piece of news paper and challenged to dance within the news paper, but after each round the newspaper was folded leaving less and less space for both dance partners to be able to stand and dance.  There were some pretty creative ways to ensure that both dance partners were on the paper: some people put their partner on their shoulders upright, and others did more interesting things, like put their partners’ legs on their shoulders, but their head was facing the ground… I am not sure I can describe it well, but the pictures say it all!  Haha!

 Though watching the games was pretty funny, the judging turned out to cause some women to go on a rampage to have justice served!   Between the rounds, some partner groups took longer to get their positions together, meaning that some pairs were left holding their partner for quite some time before the music actually started.  My girls was one of the groups who had been holding their partner for quite some time and in the last round after holding the partner for about 6 minutes before the song started, my poor girl was so tired she had to put her partner down and was then disqualified.  One of the halls that took the longest to get their partner in place actually won.  Yeah…not fair.  The girls hosting the event consulted with their dorm warden and decided to redo the last round of the dancing.  This decision was greatly due to some of the strong women from my dorm fighting for a just game!  Sadly after it was announced that the round would be redone, a bunch of guys from the “winning” dorm came and screamed at the girls hosting the event and they decided to just give in to them and let them win.  It was an eyeopener of how much despite the intelligence of the women and their ability to assert themselves in the classroom and in the work place, that there is still a very strong and apparent gender hierarchy even amongst progressive college students.  I expected it outside, but not on campus.  But this is by no means true for all women!  Because a few girls from my hall refused to bow down and continued to fight for justice.  Though their demands were not met, that did not put out their fire.  I would not be surprised to hear that next year’s games will indeed have some clear changes.  The games ended well and one of the guys’ halls ended up winning the overall games.  My dorm won a prize because our entrance and march was overall best. 

It’s a nice touch being on a campus again…even though there are some differences in how the students dress, the music they listen to and the languages they speak amongst themselves, there is still the same spirit that is felt on a college campus at home.  So I am enjoying the time to relive my college years J

Saturday, August 18, 2012

“What the What?!”

So I’ve decided to write down the things that I find most “noticeable” while it is still fresh in my mind.  It is quite amazing how quickly a new environment becomes normal and you no longer are aware of the things that made no sense at first or the cultural nuisances that you can easily adopt or let go of for the sake of integration and adapting to a new setting.  We all do it, and well I have gotten in trouble in the past for not sharing the shocking/noticeable things.  Yeah, so my sister came to visit and she ended up giving me the silent treatment for like 8 hours because I forgot to mention some things to her back in 2007 when she visited me in Burkina Faso.  Understandably, she was upset and flustered because I forgot to tell her that as our taxi comes into the bus station there will be many men who will swarm the taxi and begin to reach for our bags.  No they are not thieves (well most of them aren’t), they are just overzealous luggage loaders I guess you can call them.  They are trying to make sure that you ride with them instead of with another bus; they simply want your service.  The best way to handle them is with a firm, “no,” and then, simply moving along to the bus you want to ride.  So this list of “noticeable” things is especially for you, Sugar.  I do want to put a disclaimer though, that some things that may be shocking to another person travelling from the states if it is their first time outside of the comforts of America, may not be shocking to me.  Also, some of these things are probably documented in other places, by people who have traveled in the past.  I usually try not to read anything other than safety warnings because well, the “what the what’s” of life are often times quite comical in retrospect.  My list is candid and my honest thoughts as I experienced these things.  No disrespect to any person anywhere in the world, I doubt I will be offensive, but just in case, I am just telling it to you from the way I saw it at first…my perspective will likely change over time.  Nonetheless, here we go!

Dear India, 

Here is a list of things that I must say shocked me when I got here.  I am not sure how quickly I will get over them, some fast, some slow, and some never.  Some things I enjoy and quite frankly may adopt into my own life.  This is my list to you because I really just want to know, “what the what?!”

1.    -   The “bobble head” nod.  Americans, do this activity so you can understand.  Step 1: Shake your head yes.  Step 2: Shake your head no.  Step 3: Shake your head, “I don’t know”.  I am not sure how else to describe the head shake here for yes other than bobble head like, or like you cannot really decide if you want to say yes or no.  It is like you are shaking water out of each ear when you get out of the pool, but just faster.  Now imagine what it is like to get off of the airplane and you ask someone a question like, “am I going in the right direction to get to gate 17?” and they start sideways/bobble head shaking at you.  There is no expression on their face…not friendly, not foelike.  Just a shake.  WHAT THE WHAT?!  What does that even mean?  Yes is an up and down motion…this sideways thing just looks like you are not sure you know what you want to say, that or you are trying to get an attitude with me.  I may never get completely over this one…but I am getting used to it.
2.     -  “OK-OK-OK-OK-OK-OK-OK” Gesh! Give me a minute to talk!  So Americans, imagine you are talking to someone. (this is the part where you say “uh-huh/mm-hmm”) and they just keep saying, “ok, ok,ok” as you are speaking.  Wouldn’t you think that they are trying to get you to shut up?  Well actually they are not, its kind of like the Indian “uh-huh/mm-hmm”.  And to you my Indian friends, when I say “uh-huh” I am not asking you to repeat yourself, I am acknowledging that I am following the conversations.  It is to say I am with you.  So either you are going to have to stop repeating yourself or I am going to have to start saying ok a million times while you are talking so you know I am with you.  More than likely I will have to give in here, or I am just going to get tired of hearing you repeat your sentence because I said “uh-huh”…I assume I will adopt the ”ok,ok,ok,ok” method.  Sorry American friends if I start doing this unconsciously with you.  I do not want you to shut up.
3.      - Traffic.  In the city roads it’s like New York meets, LA, meets, organized chaos!  On top of that as an American, I must say that I always look the wrong way when crossing the street because you all drive on the opposite side of the street from us.  I’M CONFUSED!  And scared for my life at times because much like NY drivers, it seems like you all are intending to run over pedestrians to let them know you are the boss.  Last thing.  If everyone honks their horns at the same time no one gets the message.  I never know if you are honking at me, or the cars, or just honking for general purpose.  Maybe you are honking because someone thought it was a good idea to paint on the back of several different types of service vehicles for people to honk at them.  Why was that a good idea?  I have no idea.  I am learning to look the right way to cross the street, thank heavens, and sadly I have started toning the horns out, which may be a bad thing because one day you might actually be honking at me.  Pray for me in traffic my friends worldwide J.
4.      - Scents and smells.  Well India, I must say, I love the smells of the food you cook.  Some Americans are not fans of curries and various other spices, but I am.  It is quite interesting while walking around town to smell food cooking and then get smacked by some odd smelling burning thing.  I guess it smells like rubber burning, but then the pleasant smell of Jasmine encircles you.  It is quite interesting, dynamic and unforgettable.  The jasmine thing is perfect!  Women and girls in the south regularly wear fresh jasmine flowers in their hair.  So you find people all over street corners tying the jasmine garlands.  Its calming, its sweet, it’s a lovely smell.  Whoever came up with it was a genius and indeed, soon you will see me with it in my hair too J.
5.    -   Colors.  Much like your dynamic, interesting layers of smells, your colors do the same things.  Buildings in the cities are multicolored, the streets are brown, the saris and clothes are colorful, and the fruits, flowers, and other things sold on corners lay on yet another layer.  It feels alive.  It’s eye popping.  It’s India’s cities.  I love it!
6.      - Word choice.  Ok, so I know we are all speaking English and things vary depending on where you are in the world.  Heck it varies even from state to state in the USA.  So why would I assume that things would be any different here in India.  But my Indian friends, I must say that you may be overusing the word “only” pronounced “wonly” here.  You say things like, “you are “wonly” coming back?”  HUH?  (I am really asking you to repeat yourself this time).  Do you mean am I just coming back, or am I coming back alone?  Am I only going to come back to this specific place place?  Which one is it?  I must ask because all three might be a possibility…this same sentence goes for all three…I have heard it mean each.  Confusing!  I am certain that in 5 minute conversation with someone they will likely use “wonly” at least twice every min…so that is 10 only’s that I have no idea why they are using it.  Most of the time I look at you guys for a little longer and you rephrase your question.  You still use “wonly” in the sentence, but when you rephrase it the place you put the only gives me more clear indicators of what you are talking about.  Funny thing is, all people I have met that are English majors and Indian do not overuse the word only.  So I think I am correct in thinking that it probably does not fit in the sentence where you are putting it.  I am sure you would be just as confused by the American “like” as I am with the Indian “wonly”.  Example: "I like saw my friend at the mall and I was like so excited to see her.  She was like, 'I really like your jeans.' And I was like, 'Do you really like, like them?'"  To my Indian friends, I am sure I lost you like 4 likes ago :-).  Heck, the overuse of like confuses Americans sometimes!  So I feel the same way when you say "only" a bunch of times in "like one sentence". :-)

So this was meant to be funny and informative.  These are some of the things western foreigners may be thinking as they interact with your culture.  There are more that are equally as confusing, but I must say I have enjoyed every minute of the discoveries.  While our differences are clear, it is refreshing to know that at the heart of human beings, we are all the same.  We all love; we all laugh; we all get sad, and at some point may cry.  I appreciate your hospitality and the sense of humor you all have as I make mistakes navigating your culture.  At some point or another, I won’t be shocked anymore, I promise.  And you will probably stop wondering what’s up with me.  (I see you all staring at me on the train and when I walk around campus…I know I look and act weird to you too).  The most important thing is that we continue to build friendships worldwide, recognize our differences and be gracious enough to accept that there are many ways to the same end. 

Sincerely Your Learning Visitor,


“…It followed her to school one day…”

Yes, I am sure you all are thinking of Mary and her little lamb.  How cute was that?  A little girl whose pet lamb loved her so much that it went with her everywhere, including school!  No, I do not have a cute lamb following me to class, but Madras Christian College is a beautiful campus that is indeed a forest.  See the pictures below of my walk to class.  There are lots of beautiful trees and paths that lead to the Social Work Department.  Oh no, if you look too fast you might miss that right beside my dorm there was a picture of a deer.  YES, A DEER!  He is just chilling in the shade by the dorm in the middle of the day.  According to students the deer are very friendly and you can even walk up and you can feed them bananas out of your hand.   I will take all of their words for it, but I am not at all trying it out!  No thanks!  If anyone knows me, then they know my great love for animals, God’s precious creatures…This might be an exaggeration of the truth…I don’t like any of them.  I know we must coexist.  As long as they stay out of my way, I will stay out of theirs, but there is no friendly buddy time going on hahaha…I might be scared J.  As odd as it may sound, I absolutely love the outdoors and forests because the color green is everywhere.  It’s my favorite color and I am convinced it is one of God’s too J.  So it is a nice walk to class each day, with or without the chipmunks, and squirrels, deer, and random dogs roaming campus.  The sounds of nature are calming, and the shade the trees bring is refreshing considering southern Indian heat.  I love the campus and I have by no means seen half of it.  From what I understand, the campus is 365 acres.  I usually only walk about a mile to class and then a mile back, so I know I have not seen it all.  But I have time.  I will likely take a partner just in case I run into some not so friendly deer…