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A Brief Overview of my First Week

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So I was pretty far into writing my first post of this blog when firefox crashed as a result of uploading pictures.  From now on I’m going to put all pictures in edits.  So instead of an in-depth look at my first week I’m just going to give a brief overview of different facets of my experience in Udaipur so far.

My Work

So I’m sure a lot of you are wondering what exactly I will be doing while I’m here.  My answers to that question before I left were pretty cryptic, since the information I was given in that regard was actually pretty slim.  But now that I’ve been here I have a better answer, although still not very informative as to what exact kind of work I will be doing, since I don’t know yet.  In Udaipur I am working with a non-governmental organization called Seva Mandir.  Seva Mandir (church of service) works with local villages in a large variety of capacities.  They do work in the fields of health, education, sustainability, women’s issues and more.  Seva Mandir has made a class just for me (well it was supposed to include two other SMCM students who backed out of the program, a fact I was not made aware of until I arrived in Delhi), Understanding Development Changes in Rural India.  Since the two other students backed out, Seva Mandir has put five people into the class with me, so it’s not just a one-on-one.  Four of them are young staff members, and one is an American Volunteer.  Their names are Mukesh, Mrinmay, Shailendra, Piyush and Wendy (see if you can guess who the American is).  So anyway the class portion of the program is really only for the first two weeks, for the first week, which I just completed, we had lectures on the history of Development and NGOs in India.  For the second week we will visit a different village and differenct aspect of work every day, and then discuss what we saw.  After that we have to do a research project that we will spend the majority of our time working on, and will be focused mostly on a single village.  Since I haven’t yet been to a village, I can’t tell you what kind of research I’ll be doing, but I can detail some of my classmates projects.  Mrinmay’s project will be concered with determing Seva Mandir’s impact on the villages, and Mukesh will be trying to find activities that villagers can engage in other than agriculture that will increase their economic wealth.  Wendy’s project is concerned with organic farming and sustainability though I don’t exactly remember the details.  The end of the semester will culminate in a presentation of our finding.  So that’s what I’m doing while I’m here.  As for some of the particulars of life in Udaipur.

Transportation

My main form of transportation around the city (actually my only form other than walking) so far has been by rickshaw.  Now when most people think of rickshaws I’m sure they think of the carriages pulled by people.  Well at least, that’s what I thought until I went to India last year.  So let me clarify, I’m talking about auto-rickshaws.  Auto rickshaws are three-wheeled motor vehicles which have a thin covering over the top.  The engines are not very strong, and need to be started with the pulling of a huge lever.  In addition, instead of a steering wheel they have bicycle handles (for more information check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_rickshaw).  Because of the traffic system in India, I have been in more close calls in auto-rickshaws than I care to count, but the drivers are extremely capable, and riding in the rickshaws is nothing if not exciting.  Now let me say a little bit about the traffic in Udaipur.  In this city there are about 10 motorcycles for every car.  I’m assuming they are the main mode of transportation because they are cheaper and more gas-efficient, and this is definitely a good thing on the roads in the neighborhood surrounding my hotel.  The roads usually wide enough for a rickshaw to pass another rickshaw, and motorcycles typically have no problem navigating the back alleys, but every once in a while I will see two cars heading towards each other.  Every time this has resulted in a traffic jam.  Why anyone would ever drive a car on these roads I have no idea, but people do.  And meanwhile people are walking by, and motorcycles are trying to squeeze through, I would never want to drive here.  One time our rickshaw-walla (the person who drives a rickshaw) took us down an alley that could barely fit the rickshaw, not to mention all the motorcycles parked on the side of the road, all the people walking, and all the motorcycles coming the other way.  And one time we got stuck for a few minutes because a car was coming the other direction at us.  Our rickshaw was within a centimeter of the car at some places, and our rickshaw-walla was complaining saying the car had so much space to maneuver.  By the way, our rickshaw-walla actually invited us to his house when Ramadan ends, but sadly I will be staying the village that night… oh well.  So anyway, if you are ever in India (or in many other places in South-East Asia that have them), I highly recommend the rickshaw as a mode of transportation.

Food

So far the food has been amazing.  However because of the situation I’m in I have not yet been many places outside my hotel.  Every morning I get breakfast from the hotel which includes mango juice, black tea, eggs or a pancake, and toast or stuffed parathas (which to me taste like quesadillas except with potato instead of cheese).  I’ve gotten the parathas every time.  At first I didn’t like them that much but now I look forward to going to sleep at night so I can wake up and eat them.  There have been two restaurants to note.  Last night Frank (the professor who is watching over me for the first two months) and I took longer than we thought at the Reliance wireless shop so we asked them if there were any restaurants nearby.  They pointed us in the direction of one, and we ended up at probably the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to.  There was a little lawn with chairs and tables on it, and two inside rooms on either side.  The waitstaff was at least 15 people that I could see and there was live music.  I fully expected the entrees to be at least Rs. 1000 ($20), but to my surprise they were about Rs. 200 ($4).  And the food was excellent.  I have no idea how they are able to stay in business.  Needless to say I will return there a few more times at least in the coming months.  Then tonight our rickshaw walla took us to a place he recommended for getting thali.  When you get thali, they bring you a plate, which to me looked kind of like a seder plate, with a few depressions around the edge.  And in each depression they put a different meal.  One had beans, another had chana masala (chick peas), and the last had saag aloo (potatoes and spinach).  This meal was also excellent.  Then they gave you rice and chapattis with which to eat the other food.  There was also a place for curry.  At the end you got a gulab jamin.  A very complete meal, I was stuffed.  Our rickshaw driver had promised us it was only Rs. 95 ($2), but a sign outside the restaurant said Rs. 150.  However, when we actually got the bill it was only Rs. 85.  So we got two really good deals in two nights.  And our rickshaw walla promised us from now on it would be a new restaurant every night.  I can’t wait.

So that covers the breakfasts and the dinners, but what about lunch?  For lunch at Seva Mandir we typically get some roti (bread), some dhal (lentils), some rice and then a vegetable dish.  One time it was aloo matar (potatoes and peas), another time it was beans.  But even these simple lunches are sooo good.  Now as for eating with my hands, my skills are not so good.  I can always eat pretty well, but my fingers always end up dirtier than those of my indian friends.  However I have devised a system of mixing the rice with the dhal and vegetables, and then scooping it up with the roti.  The only problem is I typically run out of roti quickly that way.  Oh well I guess I’ll have to work on it.

My Hotel

The hotel I am staying at is Jaiwana Haveli.  Haveli means mansion, and in years past apparently many havelis have been converted into hotels.  The hotel is owned by a man named Yash, who is a friend of Frank’s, since Frank often stays here when he is in Udaipur.  Yash has a younger brother named Harsh, who has possibly the coolest mustache I have ever seen.  Harsh just got back from a motorcycle trip up to Leh, which is kind of ridiculous, he reached altitudes on his bike where most people need oxygen tanks but he just kept on going and said he never felt it.

From the top of the hotel you can see 5 or 6 palaces, including the Lake Palace and Monsoon Palace, which were heavily featured in the Bond film Octopussy.  Ok you can’t really see the Monsoon Palace, on a sunny day you can barely make it out on the top of a distant hill, but the Lake Palace you get a good view of.  It’s definitely one of the better views I’ve experienced.  The one thing I don’t like about the hotel though. is that it caters mostly to foreigners, and is an area of town more frequented by tourists.  I’d rather be in a place with less tourists, but some things can’t be helped.  Plus after next week I’ll only be here on weekends, and I’m sure I’ll get plenty of authenticity in the villages.  Ok on to the last section.

View of the Lake Palace from the roof of my hotel
View of the Lake Palace from the roof of my hotel

Hindi Language Classes

Wow.  My Hindi class is so much fun.  I really like Hindi, and I think I’m learning pretty quick, although I still can pick up almost no words when I eavesdrop on the street.  The other day in class I read a children’s story in Hindi.  It was about a rich farmer (a jamindar or landlord), who was very greedy and stingy.  He decided if he could make the day longer he would be able to squeeze more work out of his workers and thus make more money.  I was really rooting for him, but alas he ended up getting tricked into learning a lesson by a cunning poor person.  The guy told him to put on warm clothes and take an iron rod and head out to the desert.  There he should climb a tree and when the sun rose he would have to catch it with the rod.  However, he ended up getting so tired from holding the rod and so hot from wearing the clothes that he decided to work his workers less and pay them what they were owed.  I think I might’ve missed something in translation.

But I must say, the best part of my learning so far was learning the devanagari alphabet, and being able to read signs.  The other day I was riding in a rickshaw and saw a sign that said ????.  Koto, I said to myself.  But then I realized that k was ?, what the sign said was photo.  That was a major realization.  Then a little late I saw a sign that said ???? ????.  I thought to myself photo kaw-pi.  And almost instantly I realized that that was a photocopy place.  Being able to read signs that used to be complete gibberish to me is a great feeling.  But I really can’t wait until I can actually converse competently in Hindi.

Until that point I’ll have to word this kind of awkwardly.  Mihir you’ll have to let me know whether or not this actually makes sense.

???? ???? ???? ??! (My love is India)

That’s all for now, I’ll post again in a week hopefully!

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4 Comments

  1. Sorry I didn’t upload more pictures, after that one Firefox crashed again, but also the other pictures didn’t turn out too well anyway. And also apparently the Devanagari which looked fine when I was writing it didn’t come out, oh well.

  2. Wow this is incredibly cool. I guess you haven’t really gotten into the main part of the semester yet but just being in the city sounds pretty awesome. You’re doing that whole “discovering another culture” thing that every person should do, unless they don’t feel like it. Also I love that children’s story, it makes perfect sense to me!
    Well anyway, in conclusion, ????? ??? ???? ??!

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