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.