Archive for the ‘festivals’ Category

Just a quick blog update before I head to bed – we have an early morning ahead of us since we will be leaving for Kerala tomorrow!

The past week has been pretty low key. We’ve barely had class – just 3 days last week and 3 days this week! We had Thursday and Friday off last week because of holidays, and this week we have Thursday and Friday off for Easter holidays (even though we would miss class anyway for traveling). Last Friday was Bengali New Year. It’s not a celebration like 1 January New Year’s, but a small family event. Our host family had relatives visiting at the time, who were great to talk to. We all dressed up in saris and had a traditional Bengali meal for lunch, served on banana leaves! There was green mango juice for a drink, rice, dal, fried fish, prawns and vegetables, fried potatoes, more fish, a potato preparation, and of course – many many sweets. We had mishti doi (sweetened thick yogurt – YUM) and a few others. Bengalis are known for their love of food, especially sweets! I spent most of the day just working on homework, and Kathryn and Kia came over for dinner before we all went out with our friends Haroon and Atif for some late-night coffee. We’re so lucky we have a program that allows us to meet and spend time with Indian students! :) Saturday was also pretty low key – lots of time spent on my research paper, and then Elizabeth, Danny, and I spent the night at Kathryn’s! It was a great night even though we didn’t do much – watching movies while snacking on popcorn :) We had the most amazing

our amazing breakfast - pancakes, eggs, and hot chocolate!

breakfast in the morning though…PANCAKES! :D Kathryn’s dad had brought along some just-add-water packets of Bisquick with him when he visited last month, so we whipped up some of those and had an American breakfast feast! It was wonderful to get a taste of home.  The next few days were also fairly unremarkable, since I spent a lot of time getting my research paper and other work done so I could completely relax in Kerala this upcoming week :)

Last night was our celebration of Bengali New Year as a group. It was a lot bigger deal than I had expected – I thought we were just performing a little dance in front of our host parents, but there were many more people there! Madhu explained to our guests that this celebration was a culmination of all our efforts and what we have learned through our Bengali folk arts course. Everyone performed a song or recited a poem, and they all were wonderful! The 4 of us recited a Bengali poem (in Bengali! The whole performance was in Bengali) that was a playful piece alluding to how much Bengalis love to eat. After the performances/recitations, we performed a dance as an entire group. We were taught this dance that told the story of a new bride being welcomed into her husband’s home/family. We were all dressed up in saris and assigned roles to enact the story -Elizabeth was the bride, Michael was the groom, Jennifer and Bekkah were the mothers, Haley the elder sister of the bride, Danny the elder brother of the groom, and the rest of us were dancers. In the song and through the dance we bless the bride, admire her jewelry, admire the groom’s attire, sweep a place for them to sit, and just bless and welcome them in general. The dance went off quite well! We didn’t make too many mistakes. We all had a great time – and our guests included host parents, teachers, and art workshop instructors. It was a wonderful celebration, and everyone admired our efforts – they even complimented our Bengali pronunciation!

reciting our poem

The whole group, with Madhu and 2 of our teachers from SXC - Sweta and Rajib

Tomorrow, we’re headed off to Kerala for a week long excursion. It’s going to be wonderful! Kerala is in the southern tip of India on the western side. It’s going to be a busy excursion – 6 nights in 6 different places! We’ll be on the beach, spend a night in a houseboat, see spice plantations and tea gardens, historical monuments, and more. I can’t wait!


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Last Saturday was Holi! It’s the Hindu festival of colors that celebrates spring/summer. It also has some ties to Hindu mythology – apparently there are references to the god Krishna playing with all his girlfriends, or gopis, throwing colors at them. Elizabeth and I went to a friend’s house – Bhaswati – on Friday night since it’s not always safe to travel on the morning of Holi with all the people out in the street, especially as a foreign woman. On Holi, many normal social restrictions are broken – you can come up to anyone on the street to shower them with the colors, touching their face, spraying passers-by with colored water, and many people take drugs on Holi. We didn’t want our host parents to worry about us, so we went on Friday night. Saturday morning was the celebration. Another friend, Raka, came over and we all went up to the terrace. First, Bhaswati did a small puja (ritual) by putting some of the red powdered color (gulal) on various idols and pictures of ancestors, as well as on her grandmother’s feet. We all went up to the terrace to play then – throwing gulal at each other or another powder that when mixed with water turned into a clothes and skin staining paint! We moved down to the street to get some passers-by, and some neighbors joined us. It was so much fun – and I wish we had this holiday at home!




On Sunday morning, my roommates and I went with our friends Haroon, Atif, and Adil to Atif’s farmhouse just outside the city. It’s not really a farm – but more like a countryside small cottage with a fenced in area. There’s a lovely vegetable garden, and a variety of tropical plants. It was nice to get out of the city and I had a lot of fun playing soccer and relaxing in the hammocks :)

The rest of this week hasn’t been too eventful. Classes are…still pretty lame and frustrating. It’s so hard that our educational systems are so different – here the students just take down the notes dictated to them and it’s so hard to deal with that when we come from a system where we are allowed to speak our minds and learn as much from our peers as we do our professors. At home, the professor is a facilitator of discussion – the students make the class into what they want it to be – whereas here, the teacher is the ultimate head of authority and knowledge. I am reallly looking forward to getting back to my CSB/SJU classes. We’re actually having a meeting with the administration tomorrow to go over some of our concerns. Though we knew it is the first program and very little was going to be sorted out before we arrived, we thought there would SOME more continuity than this. It’s just frustrating that it seems there is a serious lack of communication between the administration and the teachers and between our school and St. Xavier’s. For example, one of us went in to talk to one of the admins about something in her class, and he made a comment like, “oh, are you taking this course for credit?” The admins apparently don’t even know that we are here as real students who are taking courses for credit and will get grades that will be going back to our college at home as real grades.  And it’s also hard that student expectations are not very clear – at home we get a syllabus that lays out your assignments, what you’re supposed to do, when it’s due, and what you can do to succeed in the class. Here, it seems like the teachers make up assignments on the spot in a kind of offhand comment, and we really don’t know if that’s serious or what they want us to actually do for the assignment or when it’s due. It’s just very frustrating. And at this point, it’s too late for there to be many changes for our group (since we only have another month of classes, in which I’m sure about half of them will be canceled) so we just hope this can be better sorted out for the next group.

Yesterday, some of us went to the Park Hotel – a very fancy hotel here – since Kathryn’s family is visiting and are staying there. We went over to enjoy the pool and I was surprised to realize how much my standards/expectations have changed. This was a very nice hotel by American standards even, and I felt like I was not India. The bed was so soft and wonderful – such a contrast to my rather lumpy bed here at home. It was weird to be in a place so incredibly clean – not a spot of dirt anywhere. I never wear shorts and a tank top outside of my bedroom, and I felt practically naked going down to the pool in just shorts and a tank top. Small glimpses like this of the reverse culture shock I will experience when I go home makes me think I will have a hard time adjusting back to life in the US.

I can’t believe it’s the end of March…I will be home May 9th, so I have about 6.5 more weeks left. I have less than 50 days til I’ll be home! WOW. I’m not entirely happy or entirely sad about this – I will be glad to be home finally, to get some stability and normal back to my life. I’m not sure yet if India is a place I will visit again or if I’ll be “done” with it. I’m pretty sure I would like to visit again, but not for a long time. I would need a good break from India for a while,  and to be honest I’m not entirely sure if I’ll make it back here since it’s so far away. I will definitely go back to France though – I love France for so many reasons, and I really do love India too (for completely different reasons) but it’s definitely more of a love/hate relationship here.

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Another week in India, another week of adventures.

One week ago was Vinayak’s (our host brother) birthday! He turned 13 – big day. We had a family dinner on Friday, and got to meet his aunt and uncle. We had tons of food – and we had made a birthday card for him (just construction paper and crayon) and he hung it up on his wall! So cute. He got the presents he wanted too – new cricket clothes, a new stamp book, and some valuable stamps (he’s really into stamp collecting! If anyone sends me mail, I’m obligated to give the stamps to him). On Saturday, we went to his favorite restaurant for lunch, Bar-B-Q, and had some of the most amazing Chinese food I’ve ever had! We had soup, wontons, some vegetable and pork heavenly mixtures. I even tried eating with chopsticks, and didn’t do too bad. It was nice to have a family lunch. Afterward, Brynn and I went out to meet some Indian friends afterward, and we just went to a shopping center (seems like some of the friends we made just really like to shop in their free time). It’s nearby our house and has lots of crafts – I think I’ll go back and pick up a few things that caught my eye. On Saturday night, we went to the only place we’ve heard of that serves beef! It’s a bar called Olympia, but it’s called OlyBar for short. Everyone really wanted to try it to see what it would be like – and I quickly changed my mind about getting it once we got there. This bar was really gross. It was a grimy  dingy hole-in-the-wall place with a funky smell that will make you lose your appetite. Plastic chairs for seating, and a cat hanging out on the second floor…which is fairly typical for some places in India, but combined with the gross smell and the wripped up carpet and water served in old whiskey bottles…I was not inclined to eat anything. I just had a beer and some French fries – and I was really glad I didn’t order the “steak.” I had a bite of someone else’s and it was gross – definitely not the right texture and not tasting good. Some people thought it was okay…but I’m glad I didn’t order it. UGH.

We went to this big music festival on Sunday, the Sufi music festival. There were artists from all over India and other countries. It was nice that there were big screens out in the field, which meant I could sit farther away (with my very sensitive hearing…if I sit too close, I will get sick with an awful migraine) and still see the singers. Nearly everyone in our group went, which was a lot of fun – and we all ended up staying over at Danny and Michael’s house! Since the music festival was in Salt Lake (about an hour or more away with traffic), we were not so inclined to have to leave the festival early to get home. I think the original idea was for it to be a Super Bowl sleepover, but that idea faded as soon as we realized it would be at 3am for us and we didn’t have a reliable way to watch it. Instead, we had a little rooftop party and it was a lot of fun!

Monday was a low-key day. We were tired from our sleepover, so we were glad we just had 2 periods of class. Class was not very interesting. The lecture style is just not engaging. And Elizabeth got called out by the teacher in class for eating a little bit of her sandwich. The teacher was surprised to learn we are able to have snacks at CSB/SJU, but just wanted to inform us it’s not acceptable here. The students are really not treated like adults here, and it’s very hard to get used to. After class, we relaxed by watching Mulan – which was great! I spent the rest of the night filling out applications for on-campus jobs for next year (what?? how am I already applying for stuff for next year, my SENIOR year??).

Tuesday was a Hindu festival called Saraswati Puja, so we didn’t have school. It’s a festival that celebrates learning and the arts, though you are not allowed to study and classes are cancelled (oh, India…). There are huge celebrations with worship of an idol of the goddess Saraswati. This day also marks the beginning of spring, and yellow is a very auspicious color. Arundhati brought us to a family friend’s house, and we got to wear a sari!! :) It’s really fun to wear one – but they are so complicated to wrap and wear! I definitely wouldn’t know how to put one on by myself. I uploaded a video onto Facebook to show everyone how it’s done! You wear a short lightweight skirt underneath, called a petticoat, and the fabric is folded, tucked, and pleated into this petticoat and arond the body. One of the servants, Bijoli (we love her!) helped us, and she pinned it in a few spots, which helped a LOT. I would like to buy a sari at some point, but I would need to practice a LOT before I would be able to put it on without help. Brynn went to a ceremony with a friend, and Elizabeth, Ashley and I went with Arundhati and Vinayak to their friend’s house. The house is unique – they have converted the whole first floor to a big studio that can be used for music and dance and other arts (the family is really into the arts). There was an idol of Saraswati made out of paper (atypical of idols) and we were able to watch/participate in the puja. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but Arundhati explained some of it to us. There was a lot of chanting and offering flowers (marigolds are always used in religious ceremonies here). They also burned incense and used the smoke to bless themselves. We ate food afterward, and drank some of the holy water. It was very interesting to see, and I really don’t have anything to compare it to in my religious background. After that, it was a bit boring but I chatted with Vinayak. We didn’t do much after we came home, just relaxing and reading – and I am really loving The Omnivore’s Dilemma!

On Wednesday, we also didn’t have class. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it was part of Saraswati celebrations. We got up early for a small excursion Madhu had planned – a boat cruise down the Hooghly river. It was pretty nice – the river wasn’t as polluted as I was expecting, as it’s a tributary of the Ganges, but it’s still incredibly polluted. It was pretty relaxing – I even dozed off a little bit. We pulled over after a few hours and got off at Belur Math, the headquarter of the Ramakrishna Mission. It was founded by Swami Vivekananda, who practiced a number of religions and came to the conclusion that all religions are true and there is no one path to get to God. We saw a few temples before getting back on the boat. There was nothing planned after the boat ride, so a few of us walked to the nearby Eden Gardens and played cards for a little while before heading home.

Yesterday, we decided to take advantage of our free morning before our classes at 1pm, and went to Loreto. We were told we can just go to Loreto whenever now, but the staff was not expecting us to come. We were told we could go upstairs to the Rainbow room where the Rainbows were being tutored – and so far I have not enjoyed that experience so much. Some of the older students come and tutor the Rainbows, who don’t speak very much English. I only know a couple words in Bangla, so I can’t participate in the tutoring so much…so I end up sitting there and watching. It’s not very fulfilling to me – I would prefer to do something that would actually help. I ended up sitting next to 3 little girls who didn’t have a tutor – and they were being pretty rowdy. They were okay at first, but got rowdy to the point of hitting each other. I know no Bangla to tell them to stop and behave, so all I could do was say “nah” (no) in a stern voice with stern looks. It was not all that effective, and the time passed very slowly and I was getting frustrated, but I knew these children really needed attention. Soon after, they were all asked to assemble and went off to other classes, and we were left with nothing to do. We finally found Sangeeta, our coordinator, who was flustered as always but finaly found a job for us – to watch a class of 6-yr-olds. Apparently the teacher (and others) was not there, for whatever reason, so several classrooms were there unsupervised. When we came in, they were all working more or less quietly on a worksheet about numbers. They all called us “Miss” – “Miss, may I use the toilet?” “Miss, may I drink water?” It was going well, up until break time, when they had a 20-minute break to eat and play and they came back very rowdy. They wouldn’t sit down, it was difficult to get their attention, and they knew we didn’t know what we were supposed to do with them anyway. We tried teaching them “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with some success before we had to leave. I hope they don’t have many days very often that teachers are missing.

After Loreto, we had another unengaging sociology class and Madhu’s class was more asking questions about logistical things. After class, we had to go renew our internet data card, and it was an ordeal. We had gone the day before, but the man didn’t really understand and told us to come back the next day. When we came back the second day, they said we couldn’t recharge our card there but had to go to another store nearby, and once we arrived there he said he could only recharge one! It’s always something here. After a bit of confusion, we finally got them recharged. Hopefully next month will be easier. Today was just a bit of our society and history class – talking about the ideology of “the West” versus “the Rest,” and how India made modern Britain. It was very interesting to hear “the West” from the other side – the perspective we are not taught or exposed to. It makes for some very interesting discussion, and I’m glad to be challenged in my views of the world. I’m starting to learn how much of an impact India’s history of colonization still has today.

This weekend, we are going to Shantinikaten! It’s a village community outside of Kolkata, and our family is coming along with us. It’s a huge cultural center, and is known for being the place of Rabindranath Tagore – India’s most quoted author. This man was incredible – a poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, composer, and painter – who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. He wrote the national anthem, and also Bangladesh’s national anthem. I honestly think I hear someone quote him or talk about him every day – they are very proud of him. I haven’t read any of his works yet, but it’s only a short matter of time.

And, my newest piece for the Lost Girls is up! Check it out: What to Wear in India: 5 Tips for Travelers.

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