Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Even More Mileage from My India Blog...

Well, well, here I am, back once again in the blogosphere to bother you with my random mutterings from abroad. If you haven't talked to me for awhile, you might be thinking, 'Is he in America? He must be back in America, right?' BOOM. I'm in Lucknow, smack dab in the middle of the subcontinent that I hold so dear to my heart.

So, as you can see from above, I spent about 5 months back at our school in the Himalayas, Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya. The last week of my stint in the hills, I found out about this incredible opportunity to do research for Digital Study Hall, a project which utilizes video technology to improve teaching quality in semi-rural schools. Due to India's new ridiculous visa regulations, I had to come State-side for two months until I could start the position. This yielded the most emotional months of my life, having to tearful goodbyes in the ashram, then tearful goodbyes in the States. Let me tell you, it's not easy have two feet firmly planted in different countries across the globe. For my own mental health, and for that of my family and friends, I need to pick a continent and stick with it.

But after a 50 plus hour journey to get to the Lucknow from America, landing down right in the middle of Uttar Pradesh, the sewage belt of India (a name I coined on a bus trip across the state where, I kid you not, the twelve hour bus trip, there was no reprieve from the stench of human feces). Lucknow is the capital of UP, one of the densely populated areas in the world; UP's population is half of America in a third of the landmass). In this seething mass of humanity you can find such things as… child marriage, high illiteracy rate, alarmingly skewed gender ratios, honor killings, dengue, caste-ism; name any social ill associated with India and you will find it here…amplified. (As a side, I also much mention Lucknow has historically been held as the bastion for the highest levels of sophistication in india during the Nawabi era, a distinction that is still present although rapidly eroding with onslaught of modernity. A blog to come).

But within this mess, there is a lot of beauty, namely those inspiring individual who have oriented their lives to changing the status quo. And I am surrounded by dozens of such people working on a project that could have a dramatic impact on not only education, but all of the collateral benefits that come with a quality, critical education, taking steps towards gender and caste equality, women empowerment, health, improved livelihoods and the like. It is hard to be in India, yet estranged from my loved ones in the Himalayas and the beautiful community we have created, but I am doing necessary work, and for now that feels right.

In the blogs to come, I will unfold our work and hope to introduce you to the amazing people that have become part of my life.

For now, I am trying to adjust to the Indian city life and living on my own for the first time (strange I've made it so long). The area I live in is called Gomti nagar, gathering it's namesake from the river that flows just down the road from my place. I have take up a little marble cave, the floor below our office at DSH. While I envisioned my own flat with a little balcony overlooking a park, my cave ain't too shabby. And starting to settling down now beats the prescribed methods of DSH in finding me an apartment to my liking (which was hours and hours of riding around the surrounding neighborhoods on the back of our nice, but reckless driving tech dude, Pratyush's motorcycle asking random people if they knew of any rooms for rent. Not one lead). Despite the downsides (the room is probably 80 sf and I share a bathroom with Ram Dev, who I have to let in the building at 6am everyday), there are bountiful pluses: free wireless internet, a bed, furniture, a nice kitchen, a short commute. PLUS I have a FRIDGE, sweet lawrd, I thought that I would without a cool storage for my time here, so I make sure to do my daily fridge pooja to venerate the machine that we so often take for granted.

The location is great too. We have two huge public parks down the road (one of which is one of the most ridiculous monstrosities that I have ever seen. Blog to come #4). Across the street is a mini mall, where I have already made friends with the grocery and underwear shopkeeps. Down the street is the Prerna school, where I will be volunteering at (Blog to come #5).

Our spot is also located in a really interesting area in that is the epicenter of bourgeoisie, but those bourgies need elaborate homes and the cheap labor that comes with them. Add that to the major public park project down the street, there are shanties in every conceivable unoccupied space around here. I love the contrast and spend my mornings sipping chai in the workers chai stalls. At night farmers come in with their produce, some of the freshest most beautiful vegetables I have seen. I am getting excited for my gas cylinder to come so I can start experimenting with my Indian kitchen.

Uck, this is getting mundane. I'll rap at you when I have something a little more substantial or hilarious to say.

Hope you all are well.

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