Thursday, October 9, 2008

PS Pix

here are some pix of a temple at thanjavore, my crazy friend Jaan from GW, an elephant i met and a train station i was in a few weeks ago. More to come!!

Speedy lil post

hey all,
so i wanted to use this forum to inform you of my new life plans. By life i just mean next semester. i am going to go to the art institute of chicago and take poetry classes there and will probably be living with moira/goni/lizi. i am so excited about it. i am sad that i wont be staying in madurai for longer, because there is still a ton of stuff i want to do here that i have a feeling i just wont get to do in a month and a half, but i think it is the best thing for me. since my program is so ethnographically focused and ethnography is cool and all but not really my thing, and since writing is really my thing, i figured i should be doing that during my precious college years instead of something that i am only semi-jazzed about. so theres that. it was a really really difficult decision, but i think it makes the most sense for me right now. i feel like i would have a tinge of regret whether i stayed here or not, because the grass is always greener right?
there are two good parts about not staying for the year:
1. everything is much more immediate now, like every day is a possibility to do something great, and i would hate to waste these potentially great days, especially because i may never get to experience this place again.
2. now i get to travel after the program is over! im fairly certain i will be coming home on december 22nd instead of november 30th, and a bunch of my frends here are leaving on the 21st, so we are going to take a whirlwind tour around the country! the potential itinerary is as follows: chennai, andaman islands, calcutta, darjheeling, varanassi, agra, jaipur, udaipur, mumbai, chennai, home. its gonna be nuts, and involve taking a lot of trains, which i am very pleased about.
other than that i have been very well, getting stuff organized with slc and the art institute is stressful, and this week is my midterms, for which i have to write three papers and take two tests. ugh. we also started learning tamil script in the last week, and it is kicking my butt. it is really complicated, and i am slowly figuring out which letters make which sounds, but it is not an easy path. not impossible, but not easy. i had an interview two days ago with a guy named Krishnun, who started an organization called the Akshaya Trust, and he feeds homeless mentally ill people. he was really really cool and nice, and i am thinking of doing my independent study project about perceptions of the mentally ill in tamil nadu. so we will see what happens with that. overall i am really happy, the other day i biked a couple miles into downtown madurai, and i felt really accomplished, like i actually knew my way around a little bit, and i could even bike through downtown rush hour indian traffic. no small task.
i am really happy about getting all of these decisions made and work being done, i feel like a new woman. also we are going on tour to Mysore in a week, which is the home of my favorite indian sweet called "mysorepak" which is delicious. so if you are in a south indian bakery, get some. hopefully ill be able to post again soon about my new tour.
i love you.

ps- my yom kippur was a little lonely, but overall really refreshing. i just thought about things (mostly things involving fancy cheeses that are only accesible via Sam's Club) and wrote a lot about the past year and life in general. I felt really isolated from my surroundings in a deep way for the first time, which is interesting because i am in INDIA where i should feel really different from everything around me. But last night was my first real bout of homesickness, when i really wanted to be surrounded by the people i love. I guess that's what the holidays do to you. THEY ARE CREATED TO CONTROL US. i am hoping to make matza ball soup sometime in the near future, providing that my host mom ever lets me into the kitchen again after i almost burned the house down. but thats a story for another day. I have to go do some real work, ugh. Wrote a poem the other day that i liked, kinda. Here it is:

Before you fall asleep

I just wanted to tell you about

a bird I saw yesterday. It was yellow,

the color of cornsilk, so pale,

it had a body shaped like a bell,

and if it was a bell it would be

in the top of an ancient tower in Venice,

that’s how stunning it was. I think

it was supposed to be a butterfly but someone

fucked with it’s DNA and now

it’s hovering somewhere with a hammer

singing in it’s chest, building a nest,

and maybe one day ill catch it

and squeeze it so tight the little heart will pop,

red balloon all over my hands,

and ill walk back home in silence

and turn on the porch light

just to watch the moths for a while,

slamming their bodies against

the white fluorescent tube.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kerala, first time away from Madurai

okokok so much to say. START NOW.
Last Saturday we took a four hour drive to thekkedy, a tiny town carved into a mountainside which is flanked by the periyar tiger reserve. The entire ride everyone in my car sang, anything from soulful r and b to gavin degraw (im sure you can tell where my influence came in on those two ends of the spectrum). We got to the hotel, which was absolutely awesome, so beautiful, and the weather up in the mountains is much cooler than madurai. We walked around for a few hours in the town, where there are a ton of kashmiri vendors selling cloth and dishes and all sorts of spices. Thekkedy is the spice capital of india, and everything always smelled really good there. So in that vein we went on a tour of a spice garden, where we learned all about the production and harvesting of over 50 different spices. It was actually really cool, and our tour guide was a wealth of knowledge about all things spicy.
Then i rode on an elephant. it was stupid and touristy thing to do, but you only live once, right? they are much taller than they look. That night we went back to the hotel and got drunk on bad indian beer. its like im in college again!
On sunday we woke up at 6 am for a trek in the periyar reserve. The most exciting thing about this excursion was the huge leeches that covered the forest floor. They were just like huge black worms, and you had to wear these special canvas boots so they wouldnt bite through your shoes. The trek was really beautiful and our guide was hilarious. He kept stealing our cameras and taking a ton of pictures of us while we werent looking, and then running far ahead of us. We found a porcupine quill, saw some wild boar, water buffallo and various types of frogs. we had a free afternoon where we just walked around town and hung out, and then in the late afternoon we went on a two hour boat tour on periyar lake. i got into a really interesting argument with john about the commodification of nature, and how humans are terrible to the world around them. oh well. that was pretty much the most productive thing about that trip.
Then back to the hotel, went to some shady resteraunt called "cardamom corner" and went to bed. ok i am boring myself, so now im moving to bulletpoints:
~morning visit to a tea factory, which was smelly, hot and kinda awesome. Some workers were on strike, and they were very tight-lipped about that.
~In the afternoon we took a 5-hour van ride to kottayam, i listened to rap on my ipod with tommy. we bonded.
~next morning we took a five hour tour on a houseboat in allepy, the kerala backwater. it was basically like a tropical venice. it was really really relaxing, oh so scenic.
~took a two hour van ride to cochin, went for a boat ride around the harbor there. Went to see a cathedral from 1400 in fort cochin, then went to a place called "jewtown" and saw a synagogue built in 1500. there are only like 3 real jews left in the town, but it was still pretty cool to see hebrew everywhere.
~wednesday night we watched a kathakali dance program. it was one of the most amazing things i have ever seen. please, for your own sake, try and look up a video of it somewhere. it will turn your head inside out.
~on thursday we took another boat tour around this system of rivers and canals that was also really beautiful. we did a ton of boat-riding this trip. not sure why, but i loved it.
~thursday night at 11:30 pm we got on a 12-hour train ride back to madurai. it was basically exactly like the darjeeling express train. i have never been in a sleeper car before. now i want to live in one. whos with me!? well, im with me.
overall it was an amazing trip. i was so excited and happy to be going on tour, but i never could have imagined how great it would actually be. the group just got so much more cohesive and i feel really close to at least five people here that i can think of. we are all really different, but we all complement ech other so well. i love them all, i cant imagine it with any other people, they are all so sweet and just generally good, y'know? i could not be happier with them. i am kind of coming down from a travelling high, and i am remembering now what it feels like to be with people my own age all the time, who actually speak the language that i speak, and i really enjoyed that. so now i am realizing how much i miss that, and even though my host family is really really good to me, i sometimes still feel isolated here, which is okay.
i am also about to start a really busy two-week period, with final papers and exams coming up very soon. so i guess i am also not really looking forward to that. but after that i get to start my independent study which should be awesome. im still unsure as to what ill be doing it on, but ill keep you updated on that subject.
so the whole experience in kerala was one big adventure, and thats what i came here to do, and i am feeling very accomplished in that sense. yay me!
ok now i have to go home for lunch and then a bike ride to some huge sacred water tank on the outskirts of madurai. exciting! i hope everyone is well, and if you wrote me an email recently i will try to get back to you as soon as i can. im sorry if this was boring. its only MY LIFE.
love and miss all of you,
ps- kerala is a communist state, so whenever anyone had any food i would declare that it belonged to the people and everyone would eat it together, and thats how i mooched off of everyone and saved all my rupees. yay communism!
pps- i discovered that i love banana chips. they are great. you should try them. and also i forgot to bring my camera to kerala, so ill just have to stel someone else's pix. KEWL.

Monday, September 15, 2008


hey everyone,

here are some phat pix that i took. the one of me is in my sari for my host brothers wedding. Note the mehendi (otherwise known as henna) all over my hands. also my host mom on the wedding day and my host sis on the ferris wheel. Also creepy ducks from the theme park i last posted about. and a sleeping cow outside meenakshi temple. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.
ok i have to run, so much work to do, but i want those anonymous commenters from last post to reveal their true identities. who has sold the furmans into slavery? explain yourself!
thanks again for comments, i will ty to write more soon, emma

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

into the deep...

so here i am on the precipice of my third week in india, and whats new? i feel...good? is that a possibliity? why yes i think it is. i was all set up to upload pictures today, but then i got to the internet place and realized there is no usb thingy here. Why would there be? this is india! nothing is convieniant or works when you want it to. Life is chaos! The six-hour powercuts have stopped though, so that is refreshing.
last week we went on a field trip to a place called Jain Hill, where the infamous jainism originated. There were all these sweet caves with ancient stuff carved all over the walls, and i found out the jains were crazy. Back in the day, they used to pull out their hair with their own hands, a strand at a time. Also, they would eat only a handful of rice once a day, and sit on top of this rockface meditating for hours at a time until they got blisters all over their bare skin. They used pain to transcend the physical world. it was also just a really beautiful place, with huge banyon trees that reach down into this big water reservior which is covered in white lotus flowers. There were all these local people hanging out there too, who were really nice. there was this old ascetic guy who was trying desperately to communicate something to me, but i wasnt sure what he was saying. but it is always inspiring to see traditions that have survived thousands of years and are still going strong.
on sunday i went with my host sister and host mom to an indian amusement park, which was exactly like every scary movie about carnivals that i have ever seen. The rides had to be at least 60 years old, and i went on two of them, sure that both would spiral out of control into a fiery crash. But they didnt. Me and my host sis (who is 18) were the oldest people on any of the rides, which was funny and semi-embarassing, as if i dont already stick out enough with my white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. but all in all, it was a pretty fun night. As we were leaving, there was this little girl who had wandered away from her parents and was hysterical. This being india, ten mothers gathered around the child and tried desperately to appease it with cotton candy and toys, but she wasnt having it. We (my host mom, host sis, and me) waited for a half-hour until the childs mother came. I was kind of surprised. My host mom absolutely refused to leave the premises until the child was returned to her family. Im not so sure that that would be the attitude in the US. There was a huge crowd of people gathered around by the time the mom showed up, and then she was severely scolded by all the surrounding mothers. She looked downright ashamed. So that was an interesting cultural difference.
i have adopted a puppy that hangs out by my house. i feed it crackers soaked in milk every morning and evening, but i dont ever touch it cuz it looks super dirty. He is really cute though, and i think one day im just gonna break down and cuddle him mercilessly. my host parents are very puzzled as to why the puppy is always at our house, and they are constantly shooing him away, but he is just so friendly. so that has been an adventure all its own.
i really like having secrets, and this little dog has made that fact all the more apparent. its so fun to sneak around and i like to make it into a sort of spy mission, even though the stakes are very low. this weekend we are going for an overnight at a yoga ashram, which i am pretty excited about. i havent ever done much yoga, but a ton of people swear by it, so why not? also the idea of an ashram really appeals to me. i will let you know if it lives up to its mystical and hippie-ish reputation.
okay, i think thats all to report for now. but thanks fo commenting everyone, i need those words of encouragement sometimes, as im sure you are all aware. So keep it coming! i miss you all, i am eating lots of crazy fruits (like something called a "custard apple" look it up, no joke) and consuming and expelling as usual. Hopefully i will be able to write again soon!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thanjavore, Chennai, Madurai... y'know, the usual.

so i am here in madurai across the street from my school in a sweaty little hole in the wall that has two computers and yet somehow is full of at least twenty people, ninety percent of which are shouting in a language i cannot understand. This has been my life: confusion, elation, frustration, sweat, more sweat, uncomfortableness in the stomach area, itchiness, power cuts, incredulousness, smiles, being lost and bike riding. ok so that makes it sound pretty terrible, but you will all be happy to know im sure that i am having a superb experience so far. it has been very confusing and certainly very new, but still great.
i have been in madurai for just under a week, and living with my host family the entire time. My host brother is getting married on monday, so the house is crammed with relatives whose main topic of conversation is, you guessed it, me. I think their favorite past time is watching me try to eat rice with only my right hand, and everyone telling me how i am doing it wrong and what the correct technique is. Going home is always an interesting experience, as my host father will demand that we do my tamil homework immediately with the whole extended family watching and then everyone bursts into laughter when i try to say anything in tamil. it has been fun though. i dont really mind being the topic of conversation, as i never understand what they are saying anyway and thats okay.
The women in my family are amazing. Both of my grandmothers are staying at the house right now to help prepare for Harish's (my host brothers) wedding. Every morning they insist on serving me breakfast and make chains of fresh jasmine to put in my hair. They put a puhdu on my forehead (the red dot that hindus wear) and bless me as i get on my bike to ride to school.
My host mom is wonderful too. She always shows me how to cook everything she makes and is sure to tell me every step and ingredient, even though she is not very good at english. She loves to take care of people, especially me. The food here is awesome. I have had more than few things that were disgusting and that i hope i never encounter again (AKA 99 percent of indian sweets), but overwhelmingly everything is delicious and i am getting used to the spice.
The power is cut at least three times a day for up to three hours at a time, which doesnt help with the heat. They kinda just accept this and try to go about their business even when it is 100 degrees or more in the kitchen.
There are also these really cool house geckos that change colors. I think they are really cool, but everyone else in the house considers them a pest. They dont really mind roaches or ants here, but they really hate those little lizards. they are about the only taste of wildlife i get here, other than the goats and cows everywhere eating trash. ugh.
the idea of trash here is also really differnt from home. There are no garbage cans anywhere, so people just throw their trash on the street, and most people poop and pee in public as well. sometime you will encounter a river of human waste just flowing neatly along the side of the road. Very pleasant.
I have a ton more to say about this crazy city, but my time is running out. I am really enjoying the grittiness so far, and yesterday we took a fieldtrip to a music college out in the country, where they learn instruments like drums, flute, violin, and vocals in the traditional karnatic style. The blind (literally made of blind people) choir gave a performance and then demanded that our group perform. So we sang mary had a little lamb, and they loved it. or pretended to.

i am sorry i havent been able to write until now, it is difficult to get to internet out here. Just know that i am thinking of all of you, but especially you.

miss you a lot, post comments and tell me whats new!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The First Entry

Hello my friends,
i leave for india tomorrow!! isnt that the most exciting news you have heard in a long, long time? This is my blog, and hopefully i will be posting tons of pictures and relaying a lot of adventures throughout my time in india. I just want you all to know for right now that i will miss each and every one of you a whole lot, and i am really scared and nervous but also i think its going to be an insane adventure that my grandchildren will be telling their grandchildren about. not to get your hopes up or anything.

ok i have to go pack things into a bag,