I have been terrible about blogging lately, although I have been busy. To prove this to you, oh faithful reader, I present to you this catchup. Here's what you've missed, it's been a lot, so I will try to be brief. Stay with me…
- SAW TWO LEOPARDS: (well this happened within the first two days of my arrival, but I forgot to tell you). I doubled my leopard sighting quota set during my fellowship tenure AND gave me bragging rights over current fellow Charlie whose main goal this year has been to fight a leopard and has yet to see one. To make matters worse for Charlie, the day he left for good, there was a leopard sighting by our room. Poor Charlie.
- Saw Many Whities: APV has been flooded with foreigners as of late, fellows Charlie and Samir invited four other AIF fellows to the ashram, the non-native population ballooning to 7, an all time record. What do you do with so many foreigners? Take em on a difficult hike to an abandoned 100 year old temple to eat watermelons on the roof and look at massive dams.
- Forest Fires: It has been quite dry, a quality monsoon hasn't reached our foothills for two years. For this reason, forest fires have become a fixture, stringing the hills at night like fiery light on a Christmas tree. And with a lack of fire fighting infrastructure, the onus is on the villagers to tame the flames. So that is what we did with the help of a dozen village pals and some large branches to bat out the flames. We would lunge at the flames, hit them as violently as we could, then try to dig a trench around the flames. The most fun I've had in years, seriously.
- Midnight Log Chopping: Oh, should I divulge my culpability? Why not. I did something illegal with Charlie, Samir, Mohan, and Dheeraj bhai. So in the hills, it is illegal to both cut down trees and possess saws. We used the latter to do the former under the darkness and stillness of night, the perfect crime. Mind you, the tree was completely dead and of little use to our Mother Earth. It has come to great use in helping us cook chapati and heat chilly water.
- New Favorite Kiddus - I am so over Babitu. Now it is all about Sageera, who won all of hearts over after visiting her village. She was so excited to see us while also shy, she hit this sort of paralysis where she could keep her mouth closed or look anybody in the eye.
Close second goes to Sanya, who also won us over while visiting her village. Take as evidence this photograph: Charlie was holding her when she swung her right arm around my shoulder and chriped, 'Dosti, dosti,' or 'friendship, friendship.' Break my heart.
Have to give a shout out to Neha as well. The youngest of one of our cutest lineage, I have recently discovered her charms, which include a slight chubbiness and inability to keep her pants from falling down (two traits she's inherited from her brother Golu), and adorable and impressively coherent Hindi, mind you she is 2 and a half. Her gaffs are even more adorable: she can't pronounce her teacher's name (Jyoti), instead calling her moti, which means essentially fat girl.
Enough with the shameless cute kiddie pictures, back to radder things:
- International Rural Couple and Darling Offspring: So we are looking to start a new school in the Anand ji's ancestral village, Prabekh. I recently visited Prabekh to stay with Anand ji's brother, Poorna and his Dutch wife, Nina, who have produced what quite possibly could be the most adorable, precious child in the whole world, Deena (what a suitably cute name!). Deena speaks mostly Dutch with her mother, Hindi with her father, English when both of her parents are together, and Garhwali with her grandmother and other villagers. She is fluent in all, meaning she can melt the hearts in four languages, on five different continents, and a large majority of the worlds population. What power she wields!
Nina is a sweetheart, who made delicious breads daily and introduced me to all sorts of different Dutch spreads and delicacies. Their home is quaint and quite interesting: a sort of fusion of traditional Garhwali and Dutch aesthetics. I also got to spend time with Poorna, who like his older brother, is one of the most interesting charismatic people that I've meet in my journeys. We had a great time carrying water up and down to the house chatting. Oh! And I got to meet Anand ji's mother! She is in her nineties, I gave her the traditional hand-folded 'pranaam' and foot touch of reverence. I had to scream into her ear (she is almost deaf) how thankful I was of her inspiring sons. She said thank you, then something along the lines of, 'And tell my gawddam son to come and see me more often, I am going to die soon.' Eeee. Upon relaying the message to Anand ji, he confirmed to me that she had been saying this for the past 25 years and counting.
- Chad and Erin's Excellent Adventures: Ms. Erin Willig came for a month long stint in India. Although she spent most of her time in the ashram, we got out a bit right before she left. In this time, we received blessings at the mouths of two of the (arguably) most religious rivers in the world, Yamuna and Ganga, spent approximately seven thousand hours too long on mountain buses and shared taxis where Erin was vomited on three times (I was spared, suffering only collateral damage), stayed in the beautiful village of Sangeeta and Sanjay, two former APV teachers and gawked at the abundance of breathtaking completely wooden houses with intricate carvings, surveyed remote Himalayan valleys in the greenest place that I've seen in India (it actually looked quite like Scotland), shared a taxi filled with Gujjars(!), a caste of migratory Muslims that the Indian government has unsuccessfully tried to domestic over the past 60 years, discovered that the holy town of Haridwar (literally the doorway of the gods), was more like a doorway to roaches, 8 billion people, the garbage of 8 billion people, open sewers of 8 billion people, dysentery, and one dirty, dirty holy river (interesting to see how the Ganga get so dirty once it hits where it's worshippers live!), and covered 300 years of interesting Muslim history in 5 hours. Good, good times.
- The Hills are Alive: Ever since I returned from dropping Erin off at the airport, there has been a steady flow music, from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep. Take for example right now: Ram Lila, a performance of the Ramayana is going on in the village below, while the Imam screeches his call to prayer out on speakers turned up full blast. The speakers on full blast seems to be a common theme here, the two weddings that are going on both in the village above and below us are pumping the hottest Garhwali dance jams. The two vyas wallas also got the message as they chant out the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit and sing their prayers in the evening in different villages below the ashram. Essentially, these vyas wallas are Sanskrit pandits that have mastered the Gita and recite it verbatim to families that want to commemorate dead relatives in a procession known as Saptaah.
Alright getting a bit more banal. I shall retire and shower you with much praise for making it through this mammoth post. I will try to keep you posted more regularly for my final two months, perhaps I might even throw in a couple of intellectually stimulating, at least more so than cute kids and getting vomited on. I apologize.
Oh yes! One more thing. Looks like I am going to be a teacher. I have been accepted into WWU and Marylhurst University, so depending on who is willing to offer me a better scholarship package, I will spend the next two years studying education in either Bellingham or Portland, really excited. So, just think, one of these days, I just might be teaching your kids world history or helping them improve their English skills for all of the migrants that follow my blog. I caught the teaching bug in the ashram two years ago, so how fitting that I received the news here. These days, I also have the space in the ashram to get some time in the classroom and ponder over what it is that makes a great teacher, how to design effective, child centered curriculum, and how to engage kids to become self learners. I have a long way to go, but I hope that my experiences here coupled with a more formal education will yield good results. Will keep you posted.