Thursday, December 3, 2009

Man Down

My day started off like most any; I snoozed three times, choose my least wrinkled shirt, and gulped down a cup of chai while I searched the paper for the most amusing headline. It was a chilly commute on the motorcycle but I enjoyed the brisk air; it was invigorating. Half way into my commute I see a dozen or so cow about to cross the street 100 meters in front of me. Normally I wouldn’t think anything of this sight except this time it was different. These cows were going hammers to hell with a small pack of dogs nipping at their heels. I had never seen these huge (usually lumbering) beasts move this fast, they bucked at an all out sprint towards the street. As if the cold air wasn’t enough to wake me up the stampede decided to hang a right when it got to the road, setting them and me on a collision course.

Alright, as I’m writing this I’m thinking to myself this doesn’t happen, no one is going to believe you, if this is you bear with me because it gets even worse.

Of course I begin to slow down and formulate an exit strategy for myself from the path the cows had chosen. They were covering a lot of ground very quickly and left me with no other choice but to yield off of the right hand side of the road. Apparently the lead cow choose the left hand side (his left my right, you get the idea. We both pulled out of this game of chicken at the same instant and both chose poorly. Now in a dirt field with nothing but 15 feet between us I see his wild eyes and flared nostrils, and I realized that he hadn’t slowed down a bit. Fearing the business end of his horns I hit the brakes hard and laid the bike down. Ok, I crashed. I rolled out of the accident leaving the bike between him and me. He threaded the needle between me and the tea stand (more on that in a minute) and he and his posse rounded the corner, out of sight and out of my life, I hope.

Before I got to my feet I was surrounded, some lady I had never seen before was yelling, “James are you alright, are you ok” (everyone knows who I am) and the owner of the tea stall started asking me the same question in Gujarati. I tried as best as I could to explain to them that I was fine and that luckily the feces in my pants had cushioned my fall.

The bike had flooded and I laughed it off during the minute or two it took to restart it. I understand that usually the humor in something like this isn’t discovered for hours or days and sadly sometimes never. I had no such problem, from the moment I landed in filth I was smiling uncontrollably and laughing wildly. Happy to be alive and ungored.

So, back to the tea stall. It is a dirt field where 50 or so men were standing around drinking tea. The scene of the accident was about 20 feet away from the edge of the crowd. They stared blankly at this hyena that had just nearly been killed as he waved goodbye to them. No time to make small talk, I thought, and besides the ambassadorial role Fulbright had in mind for me does not include this audience…or does it. Back on the bike I realized that these same men had witnessed my accident two weeks prior. The very same people saw me three months earlier kicking my legs wildly in the air as I drove to avoid a stray dog that had it out for me. Statistically speaking, it is the most dangerous 200ft stretch of road in the world, for me anyway. I began thinking do all of these guys show up every morning for the tea? We’ll find out tomorrow. If the crowd has doubled in size and starts yelling, “get ready, here he comes” I will have my answer. For all I know, my morning commute could be the highlight of other people’s day. The kind of stuff bookies make a living off of. Maybe I could get the proprietor of this tea stall to sponsor my morning commute.

By the time I got to school everyone knew, and I do mean everyone. The director of the school came to see me within two minutes of my arrival to see for himself. He asked me if I was ok and had this look on his face like kids do when they are waiting for a clown to do something funny. The rest of the day was uneventful. A science fair where kids were sticking bare wires into outlets and using hydrochloric acid without safety glasses, pretty standard stuff.

As I write this I find myself completely exhausted, I spent a week’s worth of energy in about three seconds. I must take rest. The picture you see was ripped from the internet, I would have taken one myself but I was too busy crashing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Maybe there are things to do in Rajkot.

As I was preparing to leave the apartment yesterday morning there appeared a young girl at the door. Not the one I hat hit the day prior, but the daughter of my neighbor, she had a note explaining that the president of the Mumbai Planetary society and nationally renowned astrophysicist J.J. Rawal would be speaking this evening at the community center. My Neighbor a physics teacher at a local college guessed correctly that I would be very interested in attending. This is just the type of thing I would jump at the chance to attend at home. She wanted me to inform my students and I ensured her that I would and that I was personally looking forward to this evening. “You are planning on going?” “I hope to attend”, I said realizing how ambiguous my answers to questions have become. I informed all of my classes but it was received with little interest, still I held out hope that I would see at least one of them there in the evening.

I arrived sharply at 6:00 and spent the next ten minutes getting bounced around on a wild auditorium chase where each person escorted me to another who was slightly more proficient in English than the last. Even though I was 10 minutes late I still managed to be 20 minutes early. When something is supposed to start at 6:00 what it really means is that it won’t start before 6:00. When I arrived I saw that all of the students I had told had better things to do with their evening than to show up here. While we waited for the speaker to arrive my neighbor introduced me to the director of the community center. He escorted me into his office and we tried to solve some of the world’s problems.

The speaker arrived and we adjourned to the auditorium. The director began by introducing the speaker and listing his accomplishments as his support staff began to take pictures and set up. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment as the speaker began his talk in Gujarati. For two hours I endured this presentation, snapping out of my daydream every 10 minutes or so to recognizable words “blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah black hole blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah big bang.” It was awful. I was running my own mental marathon of trying to stay awake and appearing attentive. I felt like Oddie from Garfield when John is talking to him. I also realized how someone very interested in what the speaker is saying could be in the same room with somebody who is bored out of their gourd. I wondered if I ever sound like this.

So why did I stay you ask? I had placed myself near to the door as a contingency plan for this exact scenario. Realizing that this could happen I had a plan in place, I decided that if the presentation were in one of the hundreds of languages that I do not understand I would wait for that instant of darkness between slides and bolt for the door, Houdini!

So what happened…oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the director introduced me before the keynote speaker. Again in a language I do not speak, but with a hand extended in my direction he mentioned my name said something about America, physicist, teacher, and welcome. This was followed by a round of applause and I was unsure if I should clap along or stand up with a couple of peace signs, safer to just sit and blush. So what were they taking pictures of in the beginning of the presentation? Me, of course, should look great in the new Rajkot community center flyer. When the lights came on my neighbor made the great escape and has been avoiding me ever since. I wasn’t that far behind her. Good grief.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I’m back. I said I wouldn’t forget about you and I haven’t. I did however forget about this blog for a while. If I were to give a few excuses as to why I haven’t been writing they would sound something like this. 1, I have been unable to write because I have been traveling and internet access isn’t that readily available. 2, I’ve been in Rajkot and internet access is not that readily available. And 3, I have found that the less I try to do (like blog entries) the less that can go wrong.

I spent two wonderful weeks traveling with first my father and then my girlfriend Meghan. This pan-Indian trip allowed me to see, taste, and experience many of the different flavors of India that cannot be found in Rajkot. You can read all about our recent travels at Meghan’s blog, It was great to see Meghan’s and my Father’s reaction (positive and otherwise) to strange new things that I have grown familiar with was over time.

If you ask most teenagers, “so how do you like East Haven, Warren, or whatever town you live in” you will most likely get the same response, “It’s lame, there is absolutely nothing to do here.” The first experience I had with this mindset from a Rajkotian was on my two hour flight from Mumbai to Rajkot back in August. He offered his thoughts on Rajkot without my prodding after I told him that I would be spending the next five months here. “Why are you going to Rajkot, there is absolutely nothing to do there.” ‘What does he know’, I thought and I resolved to make my own decision about my new home. During my travels I ran into many people that would ask what I was doing in India. Without fail many of them would give me the oh-you-poor-thing look when I told them that I was living in Rajkot. I was during this trip that I fully came to terms with the idea that I had been suspecting and feared since that first flight. I had drawn the short straw when I ended up in Rajkot. I have been placed in an industrial city where the consumption of ‘nonveg’ is unacceptable, prohibition is alive and well, and anything worth seeing is impossibly far away. Ask any of the amazing, wonderful people I have met here in Rajkot and they will most likely confirm this.

So be it. Bloom where you’re planted, loved the one you’re with, make lemonade any of these ideas would be beneficial for me to subscribe to and I do most of the time. The idea that our lives are 10% situational and 90% how we react to them is one of my favorite and I constantly try to remind myself of this, it’s just that sometimes that 10% REALLY SUCKS. Take this week for example. On Sunday the trusty crux left me stranded. No big deal, I wasn’t in a hurry, didn’t need to be anywhere, I was safe and healthy, and besides I could use the exercise of pushing a motorcycle a kilometer or two. Next day the bike was returned to my door washed and waxed running like a high mileage top and all it cost me was $11. The 10/90 idea applies itself well here. Monday morning greets me with a flat tire, the second in three months. Again no big deal, I didn’t have a class 1st period so I enjoyed the extra time, exercised my bike pushing muscles once again, got to know my mechanic that much better, saw the parts of my commute that can only be noticed on foot, and again I was safe and healthy. The 10/90 principle is a cinch. Tuesday I find it impossible to watch a movie, but I relished in the small victory of being able to purchase crackers. Wednesday, I noticed how all of my clothes were becoming destroyed, but they are still really, really nice clothes relatively speaking and I feel lucky to have them. You can find the good in almost everything when you want to. Thursday is when the fit hit the shan. And I had difficulty finding the good in all the fit.

Thursday morning found me on a still shiny crux now moving under its own power and complete with two air filed tires; I was off to a good start. I had noticed the curie stains on my pants earlier that morning and was now thinking of various ways to remove them when it happened. It started out like most text book physics problems and ended with a little girl crying and me wanting to throw up. As I was about to pass her from behind, she turned sharply and began to cross the road without looking, without signaling, without a helmet. I hit the brakes hard, the horn blared and I tried as best I could to swerve around her. That was close I thought as my body and the front half of the motorcycle past her. That was too close I thought as I felt her wheel and my rear turn signal connect. By the time I pulled over and ran to her a small crowd had gathered to dust her off and help her pick up her things. She was crying and I was almost crying and the crowd held me at arm’s length as I tried to help, you’ve done enough already they might have been saying, who knows really. I felt horrible.

The girl gathered her things as I tried to gather my thoughts and the crowd basically told me to get lost. We did not exchange contact numbers, the police hadn’t been called and we both went on our ways. I tried to control the 90% I could, by thinking of all the ways it could have turned out worse. I was about two hours into my work day before I was able to explain to my mentor and good friend what had happened. “Is she alright?” “Did a mob develop?” “Did the police come?” “Did the crowd try to extort money from you?” “Yes, a small one, no, no” I had answered all of the questions correctly. “Then don’t worry about it, these types of things happen all the time in India.” This somehow made me feel better, not for her or the children of India but it eased my guilty conscience some. I realized that somewhere in Rajkot a little girl was probably busy blogging about how she is becoming tired of always getting hit by motorcycles on her way to school. Love it or leave it, I think I am starting to get the real insider’s experience of India.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Haven't forgotten about you guys....

I'm busy tearing up the countryside for the next week. Check back after that for a complete update on life in India.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ahh, the open road...well kind of.

The last few weeks have been very busy, but I’ve managed to find a few minutes to write a quick story before my next hiatus. The Diwali Holiday and the Hindu New Year are fast approaching so our school gives the students and some staff two weeks off to celebrate the Diwali festival season. I leave in a few hours for Mumbai where I will travel with my Dad for a few days and later my girlfriend Meghan for the rest of the holiday. I’m so excited to spend time with the both of them and be able to experience other parts of India. My city is by no means small, but I have felt its walls closing in on me as of late. I came to India to teach and to experience life somewhere else but also to travel. I feel like I have seen everything in this city (which of course is not true) and I’m so anxious to see the Himalayas, the Taj, caves, heritage sights wildlife, beaches, people, eat different foods, hear different dialects and languages, view festivals, museums, and if I’m feeling really crazy maybe eat an egg or some chicken and wash it down with a beer. I’m a squirrel in a cage that can’t wait until my train arrives and I can really cut loose.

It’s a crime but I have been here two months and have only left town twice. The day I met my roommate he told me that “everything is possible, nothing is impossible all that matters is your interests, enthusiasm, and dedication to the cause.” I don’t think he was referring to traveling anywhere because as it turns out, it is actually impossible. The stars have to be perfectly aligned for you to go anywhere. Working Saturdays blows most travel considerations out of the water immediately. Two, there needs to be a road or railroad tracks between where you are and where you want to go. And three, that road must be somewhat passable. Navigating these roads makes you feel like you are taking part in a defensive driving course. On a major highway it is common to find all types of vehicles; two, three, four or more wheeled vehicles passing you, parked, overturned, beeping, coming AT YOU , and sometimes driving reasonably. Several times I have come across large car swallowing holes in the middle of the road probably a result of sinkholes and less likely the result of highway improvement construction but never less they are usually marked by placing a radiator sized rock on the road right in front of it, I guess the guy going the wrong way down the road is on his own. I read a sad article the other day about a three wheeled vehicle that overturned outside of Rajkot killing two of its occupants. The article said that the tricycle was carrying twelve people from gondola to Rajkot when the accident happened and that investigations were currently underway. I wondered what there was to investigate, I’m not a crash scene reconstruction expert but I knew the cause it was a dangerously overloaded thing on something that by definition is technically a road. It’s so frustrating to read things like this. Six people on one motorcycle is the most efficient use of a motorcycle or the most negligent use of a motorcycle (depending on what country you’re in) that I have seen so far, three adults, two toddlers, and a baby. I remember hearing myself that first day in Delhi, “shouldn’t that child be in a car seat?” I read or see things like this daily. I suppose most of this goes unnoticed here. You can call it blissful ignorance but with one death every 9 seconds traveling here can be hazardous to your health.

Number two on my list of things I don’t like about transportation in India is convenience. Two weekends ago I was given a Saturday off and I was determined to take advantage of this time and get the heck out of dodge (it’s a neighborhood in Rajkot). I got on a train at 2:00am that night that rocked me to sleep. 5 hours later I woke up 75% of the way to my final destination. From there, a rickshaw to the bus station where I would try to arrange the rest of my journey. I asked the guy in the information booth which bus would take me to Diu. He pointed over my shoulder and said “number two bus”. I looked where he was gesturing and stopped myself from saying, “you mean the one with wheels on it.” You can’t make this stuff up. Finally the bus with wheels loaded up. We immediately pulled into a garage where they put an additional wheel on top of the bus for good measure; I figure it was to keep the roof on. This bus was a Frankenstein, the bus cemeteries at each bus station let me know that these busses were continually recycled. Seats, wheels, bodies, engines, windows, transmissions, brakes (I hope) are all interchangeable, whatever it takes to keep them on the road. I figure parts of the bus I was riding on dated back to the bronze age. We stopped once to switch busses, something had broken on ours, and three short hours later I was there. All in all it took a little over twelve hours do go the equivalent of Connecticut to Boston. My buddy Eric told me yesterday that the pleasure is in the journey, but I’m still looking. Diu was amazing, I spent more time traveling than I actually spent there but the payoff was worth it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who says you can't wear white after labor day?

Labor Day weekend was spent in a manner befitting the name. I labored Saturday, and I labored again on Monday. As an American I was not that excited about the prospects of spending my weekend in this manner but it wasn’t all that bad. Saturday Sept, 5th was the birthday of Dr Radhakhrishnan the first vice president of India. He declared that his birthday should be recognized as teacher’s day across India. This is a day akin to teacher appreciation day in the States but taken seriously. Throughout the day students would approach me and say, “Namaste. Happy teacher’s day Mr. James (or sir). May we take your blessing?” Sure why not, I’ve got lots of them. So each student would then bend down and touch the mandals, stand up, and then anoint their heads with one of the blessings, pretty much just like any other day back in the states.

That evening my colleagues and I attended a Teacher’s day celebration where veteran teachers were given special recognition for completing 10 and 25 years of teaching. The event was only two hours long and filled with dance, song, and celebration; a perfect time to try out my new kurta. I think this Kurta says “look at me” and “what are you looking at” all at the same time. You may have trouble believing this but despite all my efforts to assimilate into society I still manage to stick out.

Upon arriving here I needed to register with the foreign registry office to inform them of my stay. If you go there today you will find that I have my very own manila folder. In a rather large city I am the first American not of Indian origin to register with their office. I’m kind of a big deal. For many people I expect I am the first westerner they have seen unless they stop what they are doing and physically turn around to stare at everyone as they walk by. Less gaulking and more walking, please. There was even a dog for a little while that I am sure recognized me as not from around these parts and wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. For three consecutive mornings I would watch him let three or four locals by and then I would try and pass myself. It would bark, snap and chase me down the street, almost as fast as the crux could manage. I varied my route and my time schedule and was able to outsmart him over the course of a few days.

The majority of the times, the people I meet go out of their way to make me feel welcome. Everyday complete strangers approach me at any time with questions, when I’m shopping, when I’m eating, when I’m trying not to die on my motorcycle. Where are you from? What are you doing here? What is your good name? How do you like the food? How do you like India? The last seems to be the most popular question so far. Everyone is anxious to know how I am finding India.

Even uncomfortable situations have turned around for the best. Most recently, about 30 minutes ago, I was racially profiled by two traffic cops. Here I am driving along obeying all of traffic laws I think should exist and I am pulled over by a whistle and a bamboo pole. For an instant I thought about playing dumb and ignoring them as they were on foot and I was on the crux. Fight or flight? I pulled over. I immediately thought of the warning I had received about having to someday provide a police officer with a grease payment, and I desperately tried to remember how I had done this the last time in Mexico. He asked to see my license and I told him I didn’t have it with me. This is partially true; I did not take the time to explain to him how I never got one. I handed him a photocopy of my passport and he looked it over for a minute or two while I babbled about what I was doing here. He stuck out his hand pointing slightly upward, I took a chance and slipped my hand into his and shook it up and down a couple of times. He smiled showing me his golden front tooth, and told me I had a strong hand shake. I almost started cracking up. He handed back my “license” and I was out of there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sometimes you've just got to dance!

Put yourself in the shoes of a high school student and ask yourself this. What are you to do when you are given a 20 minute break in the middle of the day? If you said avoid social contact by plugging into your iPod or texting a remote person instead of talking to those people right next to you than you need to visit India. Navratri is right around the corner, it literally means nine nights. It’s a festival that last for I forget how many nights and you can be sure to hear more about it in a couple of weeks. This was recorded this morning when the entire school joined together in an unprompted celebration of the traditional Navratri Garba dance. It looks like fun. Now the students don’t dance every day at this time, but there is always a celebration of some kind or another. I mean the way they do things is a celebration, a cricket match, a game of tug-o-war, a musical performance, just kids or young adults having a blast, enjoying each other’s company, not being too embarrassed to dance, and living passionately in the moment. These students do have stresses in their lives as well, huge stresses, just like anywhere, but during my stay here I have not heard a student once use these stresses as an explanation for why their life sucks so much or why nobody ‘gets’ them. I remember being in high school and loving it, I miss the energy and the enthusiasm I use to have for life, I was invincible the world was mine and nobody could tell me that something was out of reach. So what has changed in the last ten years of my life to make me feel differently? Financial responsibility? Pressure to excel professionally? Keeping up with the Jonsers? Whatever it is I felt like in some way I got a little bit of me back today. Wherever you are it is never too late to change your outlook on life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


In one of my earlier videos you can see the beginning stages of ganesh chaturthi. The observation of this holiday just ended after ten nights. I had hoped to visit the final festivities of ganesh chaturthi and capture it in pictures and video, as it turned out I was not able to do so. A series of events and circumstances delayed my journey to the reservoir where I was hoping to see people immersing their ganesh idols in Rajkot’s water supply. As I approached the reservoir on what is normally a quiet dirt road I passes many cars filled with people leaving the reservoir. When I finally got there it was dark and there were a couple of large tour busses who had brought observers from great distances to participate. I was rather annoyed at this point because it wasn’t light enough to capture this event on camera.

I would like to pause here to give you an idea of how my perception and attitude has changed in the three weeks that I have been here. A past Fulbrighter told me “There is nothing like that first walk through a new place that you will get to know well. I love the first impression of a new city and how it can never be recaptured. She was right, by now the once strange and exciting sights are becoming commonplace. If you were to graph the number of pictures of cows in the middle of the road that I have taken over time, you would see a marked decrease. Now days I won’t even take my camera out of my pocket unless there are at least 15 cows in the road. I would say I am becoming accustomed to but still not comfortable with my surroundings. When I first arrived I was amazed and even amused by the amount of horns being blown, the ever present divine bovine, and the treasure hunt that was involved in finding even the simplest items. Now, only three short weeks later these same things are beginning to wear on me. Yesterday while driving someone was beeping off of my 4 o’clock, just beeping and beeping and beeping. I finally slowed down and he pulled next to me, an older gent with his wife sitting side saddle (both of them staring at me) beeping. I yelled, “What?” like what on earth could be so important that you insist on beeping 200 times a minute. That was a stupid question; because the answer was nothing. There was nothing to beep at, just muscle memory I suppose. I’m upset with myself for getting annoyed this past week my patience has grown short several times. I still do not have internet in my apartment and I am not sure if I ever will. Things are often times more complicated than they need to be, but the problem is not India it’s me. I’m the one who needs to change my attitude, so what if I don’t have internet, neither do most people. Someone in my cohort said that an Indian Woman she works with told her “you can’t be rational in India” I liked my friend’s saying better, “India happens”.

So I witnessed the tail end of the event (pun intended) when in the waning daylight I was able to watch a group of forty or so people submerse there elephant headed idol in the reservoir. There was loud song and prayers, people covered in colorful powders, truck beds full of speakers, and of course, fireworks. It was great to witness this first hand, sorry about the lack of photos. When you get a chance Google images of ganesh chaturthi, wild!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sept 1st

transmission: 3 speeds; 1st, 2nd, and fast
starter: kick start
engine size: 106cc
shoes: mandals

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aug 25th

The humidity and heat has robbed me of my super powers, I use to excel at falling asleep. I could drift off on command and sleep the whole night. Despite the fact that I am physically tired and mentally exhausted sleep seems to be impossible. My mattress feels like a warm, suffocating pad; my sheets a tangled mess of sticky cotton; my cold shower a tepid trickle; and my doors and windows a gateway for possible malaria bearing mosquitoes. The one relief I have found for the humidity is the evaporative cooling of a quick shower and a good stand underneath my ceiling fan, to bad I can’t sleep this way. I keep reminding myself of the pleasant weather that is promised to come after the monsoon season. For now the nights provide me with plenty of time to think; time to think about home and the people I love and miss and about my tenure here and how to make the most of it.

On the bright side I’ve had many opportunities to watch the stars and planets move across the sky until it’s no longer night. Jupiter isn’t where I expected, it’s much higher in the sky, and the North Star is so low that I haven’t spotted it yet. 400 years after Galileo first aimed a telescope at the heavens I would like to think that I was missing sleep for the sake of science and not from insomnia. Either way it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Venus is now the last thing to be seen in the early morning sky and with a little imagination you can sometimes convince yourself that you can see it as a crescent with its round edge aimed at the brightening spot on the horizon. A few days ago the moon was in a similar position in the sky at the same time in the shape of the letter C. In the not-so-great picture above you can see last night’s moon shortly after sunset in the shape of a D. My mother a second grade teacher tells her children (including me) that a Coy moon shrinks each night and a Daring moon will get larger and larger until full. Between these two nights was a moonless night with a sky slightly obscured by haze and the minor light pollution of Rajkot. For all the power outages we have had this week during school hours (about four or so) the power hasn’t once gone out during the night. It seems that I am not the only one watching the skies of India. The Hindu population follows a calendar synchronized with each new moon.

The latest lunar month started with the observation of ganesh chaturthi. In the last video I tried to capture this celebration as we passed by on the bike. This celebration caught me by surprise. The day of the new moon, or last Sunday as I like to call it, found me on the bike exploring Rajkot. While traveling down the road I heard a loud blast and thought it must a car back firing or maybe some other type of unimaginable car-thing. I didn’t pay it much attention and continued down the road another half a kilometer or so to the clockwise rotary. When I got there I found it occupied by a 10 foot tall ganesh and a wild band of drummers. I proceeded with my usual caution amidst all the distraction when it hit me, a blinding flash and a concussion that hits you right in the stomach, similar to the ones my grandfather used to wake the neighbors with on the 4th of July. I must have been 75 feet or so when it went off, I guess someone thought the roads of Rajkot weren’t exciting enough. More likely there is some religious significance to it. How ganesh came to have a pachyderm head is an interesting story in itself but not crucial to appreciating the celebrations that are taking place now.

With the new moon, observers bring an idol into their homes for ten days and offer daily offerings to their god of prosperity. Now days most people purchase a plaster of paris idol, but recently there has been a return to the old diy ways of making the idol from readily available natural clays. At the end of ten days the families immerse the idols in a nearby body of water where it dissolves if it is clay and kind of melts if it is of the parisian variety, the later covered in modern paints, has a terrible impact on the aquatic life around it, not to mention the people who drink from these reservoirs. The cyclical nature of life is represented in the clay returning to the place it was harvested from. Still others use metal idols and just take them for a quick dip.

Perhaps I will document this firsthand next week, hopefully without the pyrotechnics.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another clip from the road.

There are two camels in this one I swear. It also happens to be ganesh chaturthi.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aug 24th

The video I just posted shows the majority of my commute from school to home. After the goat you proceed another kilometer or so bang a left at the rotary, and then you’re home sweet home. Although nothing remotely close to my commute back in the states this drive is very tame compared to most journeys I’ve been on here. It was not rush hour and I work on the outskirts of town and I live even further from town. I will try and get some more lively videos when someone else is driving. As someone once told me the roads are only a suggestion. There are no lanes or stripes and people use every part of the road which can sometimes be the part that you happen to be in. Horns are used for overtaking and at any given time you are being passed or are passing someone else so there are always a hundred or so horns going off. My trusty steed has a broken horn so I’m easy to spot; I’m the overly cautious guy with white knuckles yelling “beep”.

Driving here is not completely different from the states. Back in Connecticut I have come around a corner and found a cow in my lane of the road…once! Here I slalom my way through dozens of them in the 2 miles between work and home. All types of cows; brown ones, bonny ones, horned ones, little ones, cows lying down, cows standing up, ones that are sleeping, some that I hope are just sleeping. Whatever kind they are, they are everywhere and fearless, “this looks like a good spot; I think I’ll lay down right here in the street for a few days and make the humans drive around me.” The majority of them are also much larger than my 150cc Yamaha crux, and public opinion gives cows the right of way, and exonerates them of any fault in cow people traffic accidents, they are impervious to my existence.

Besides cows I share the road with goats, water buffaloes, camels, donkeys, dogs, the occasional pig, and humans; lots of humans. I will have to grab a few pictures of some of these vehicles the next time I am out but rest assured, they are numerous and various in nature. The majority of people ride scooters or small motorcycles, there are so many that the first day at school I came out at the end of school and couldn’t find my bike right away. I’ve seen as many as four people on a single motorcycle, but I am most impressed with the women who ride on back side saddle. One great thing I have seen are electric scooters, about five or so, which is five more than I’ve seen in the states. Bicycles are pretty standard it looks like there is one manufacture that makes one style and offers the same color scheme as the model T; some even look to be that old. I saw one today that had solid rubber tires. There are also many different types of three wheeled vehicles (auto rickshaws) that go by various names. Yesterday my roommate suggested that I take a gypsy into town, “a what…?” I still have no idea what that is. There are also a large number of very large tricycles that rule the rode carrying building supplies, goods, half a dozen people, whatever. This larger variety seems to be the cooperation of the front half of an old Enfield motorcycle (a very cool bike when still in one piece) and the back half of a pickup truck. Any other available room on the road is filled with fruit carts, wagons, large tractors, buses, trucks, pedestrians, and even some cars. The Tata Nano (the cheapest car in the world) is just being released here and will be manufactured not all that far from here. Hopefully I might be able to arrange a class trip to the manufacturing site once it is operational. An affordable car capable of holding five or so people would be a great thing for the roads here if everyone carpooled. Otherwise I would not be able to imagine the congestion on the streets that an additional half a million cars a year will make.

My brief stay in Delhi makes me thankful that I do not have to travel those streets regularly. On the streets of Delhi you would see the same usual suspects described on the streets of Rajkot only increased by some large factor. On the trip from the hotel to the airport our taxi had a very brief yet thorough encounter with a guy on a scooter. We were leaving the rotary at the same time this other guy was entering the rotary and we side swiped each other, THUD! I thought immediately we should pull over, call the police, and exchange insurance information, right? The vehicles never stopped, the scooter pulled alongside our taxi as we drove down the road and there was a brief exchange in Hindi. As best I could tell they both agreed that it was the other guys fault and then we split ways, that’s conflict resolution. Get in a traffic accident in Delhi…check.

So the roads are crazy but I love it, I will never complain about traffic again.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My commute Aug 23rd

You should see this place at rush hour.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Aug 20th

I’m finally here! You will have to excuse me for not being prompt with posting to this site I’ve been in India for four days now and am finally getting around to making an update. As it turns the world-wide-web is not always worldwide, hopefully I will resolve these issues soon. These last four days have been a whirlwind of activity filled with sensory overload and the normal fascinations and confusions that come with being dropped in unfamiliar surroundings. Needless to say I am exhausted. It could be the extreme heat and humidity or could be the 9 ½ hour time difference, who knew they even had ½ hour time zones. I’ve heard it is for political reasons, but who knows. Curiously the time zones do not change once you have traversed 15 degrees east or west, they never change, there is one time zone for the whole entire country. As best I can figure people in Bangladesh to the far east either wake up and start there day with the sun at 2:00 in the morning or they wake up at a more reasonable 6:00 am and watch the sun set as they eat lunch.

It would be impossible to accurately describe the last four days in a way that would give a complete account of my experiences. Instead I will mention just a few of my experiences here.

I arrived at 12:30 Monday morning in Delhi after a surprisingly comfortable and accommodating 18 hours of travel. I love Lufthansa, three or four decent meals, a Bollywood movie, free beer (I only had one mom), and good conversation. I ended up meeting my friend Greg, another exchange teacher, in Frankfurt and we sat next to each other for the second leg of the flight. My arrival in Delhi was not what I expected, an empty airport and all of my luggage present; off to a good start. One neat thing they had at the airport was a thermal imaging camera operated by a masked doctor. With the threat of Swine flu dominating headlines and conversations this served as a way to identify flu victims by their body temperature alone. It was a great spectral display that showed me how little blood was flowing through my nose region and how although it felt like it was hotter than anything, my body was still at a cool 97 degrees.

The next morning my 2 day in country orientation began, it was an opportunity to meet with the five American exchange teachers I met earlier in Washington and a chance to meet the 40 or so other Fulbright grant recipients (mostly students) and learn of their research they were conducting. These Fulbright scholars have designed many diverse projects from preserving dying arts and crafts, to organizing after school activities for the children of street walkers, to analyzing the socio-economic impacts surrounding a new roadway, to determining the affects of Bollywood music on street children in Mumbai (this last project is being funded in collaboration with Mtv).

The highlight of my 30 hours in Delhi had to be our visit to the Capitol building. The Indian government opened there doors and rolled out the red carpets to host members from the US embassy and of the jet-lagged visitors. At this point it is important to realize my state of mind, I’m tired, disoriented and in constant disbelief that this was all actually happening it seems like it had always been something that I was talking about doing sometime in the future but couldn’t possibly be happening now. We were first greeted by guards with AK-47s, and then once inside a monkey, I don’t know how he got past the guard’s Kalashnikovs. Did you know that the handles on those things are orange plastic with synthetic wood grain? It was like the time I first realized that Station wagons are not really made out of wood. The real pleasure was being received by the Madam Foreign Secretary. She received us for about two hours and showered us with gifts as we engaged in a dialogue about the aim of this endeavor and the relations between our countries and the people of the world. It was during this meeting that the immense weight and responsibility of the Fulbright program became tactile. This high level political figure sat down with us and spoke coolly as though we had all know each other for years about our individual goals and expectation during our tenure here. She impressed upon us the necessity of success in each of our roles as ambassadors between nations and that this far outweighed the millions of dollars her country and ours had supplied. The overall aim of the program is to improve understandings across cultural, geographic, and political lines where change starts with an individual and has the potential to spread without end. Pretty heavy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This unstaged picture of Piyush and I was taken shortly after our meeting.

Fulbright orientation Aug 3 2009

This video was taken on my first day at Fulbright orientation in Washington DC.