Due to popular demand, I’ve decided to reign in the New Year with my only update since my return to the U.S.!
When I flew back to California this past September, I couldn’t help wonder if and when I’d leave the states again. For much of the time I spent suspended in the sky between New Delhi and LAX, I pondered whether my adventures really had come to an end?
And I hit the landing with a running start. I’ve really performed a balancing act these past few months with an incredibly full schedule. But now, with a fleeting break here in my lovely hometown of Santa Barbara, I’ve finally caught myself up on the latest in the finer things in life: the world of cinema (I forgot how seriously people take their film here!).
My first weekend began with a pre-release screening of Django Unchained followed by a Q & A panel with director Quentin Tarantino himself, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Film Society. While I’m very sad I will not be able to attend the film festival in February AGAIN (that makes five consecutive years!), I’m happy to redeem some of SB’s film obsession:)
This past fall I considered a research position that struck me as the coolest thing ever. It was for an NGO that was initializing a project designing a device for vaccine cooler temperature control. One of the critiques explained by the CEO was the current lack of innovative solutions, as she described her own experiences in rural India where the currently existing technology (re: an ice block), failed to adequately protect the vaccines. The ice melted before they could be distributed or froze the vaccines beyond recognition. In either case, the absence of such important technology resulted in a lot of wasted medicine, which this mission aimed to fix.
I assumed that this incredible niche of the pharmaceutical process in international medicine was destined to be lost in the black hole of missed opportunities forever. Fortunately, I recently received the go ahead to join an advanced seminar this spring semester, working closely with a professor with tremendous experience in the clinical development of new medicine in the developing world(!!)
Anyways, I ended up taking a different position, researching and writing web content for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government that pays nearly twice as well (really interesting stuff-see some existing projects here).
Ironically, when I finished my last general education requirement in the sciences in college, I celebrated by promptly selling my graphing calculator on ebay. Now with my 24th birthday only months away, I finally feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. And sure enough, China helped me get here. It’s refreshing to really feel like a part of something that could actually work.
And to answer my earlier question: I’ve received an amazing opportunity to work with the WHO this summer! See you in Geneva :D.
With my five hour yoga practical and written examination complete, my homecoming is finally eminent.
I just want to say what a pleasure it has been writing and managing this blog. It has always first and foremost, been to update my friends and family, in an effort to avoid those long form emails where you just change the name of the recipient (that is so obvious).
At first I was surprised that anyone read this blog who isn’t my mother. Starting as an overview of my Peace Corps service, and then becoming a full blown account of my travels, I’ve found it to be really enjoyable.
And now my adventures have already made me late. Over the summer I’ve been working with an amazing team of professors and future colleagues alike to ensure I have everything in order for starting my postgraduate studies late to accommodate my ridiculous schedule. I now have exactly five(!) days to spend back home with my friends and loved ones before packing up and moving to the dynamic city of Boston!
While It feels so final to promise a definitive ending to this blog, I will say that it is certainly the end of it as I created it. It feels like the pomp to my circumstance, as I graduate from spanish sahara..and continue on to bigger and better things :D
To everyone who has ever stumbled upon spanish sahara, accidentally or otherwise, I thank you for your support and wish you all the best as I continue my adventures back home.
Enter the world of…biostatistics! (我的天啊!)
It’s been an amazing ride but real life is calling.
With my YTTC winding down to a close – already submitted the 25 page paper, and now preparing for the written and practical exam, it’s time to share just what it’s like here in this amazing little venue in the heart of Kerala.
I didn’t want to study yoga because I’m good at it. In fact, before coming to India, I had only ever (consistently) taken one course. It was in China, in my first semester at my Peace Corps site, and things weren’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped. I found a really good yoga class, though I didn’t understand a word. The teacher was incredible despite this, and went to great effort to make sure I understood the directions, giving me extra attention to overcome our language barrier.
As time went on, and things became easier, my schedule changed, and I could no longer make the class often enough for a membership to be worth the expense. I never did go back to that class, to see how much more I’d understand, but yoga has become really important to me, and I’m absolutely loving this opportunity.
With only four main people in our ‘batch,’ for the international certification (the national certification valid only in India is a bit uh, more popular), we’ve become rather tight nit. Here are some our triumphs, wins, and epic epic fails。
attempting simultaneous headstands..
I met this really engaging Indian-American girl in the UK. I’ll call her Rishma. She was a career driven liberal feminist from California, who decided to study abroad for a year in France before her final year of University.
The Indian American acquaintances I’d made up to that point had seemed pretty ‘normal’ to me – standardized in the way that most people of a non-western ethnicity become culturally whitewashed.
The next day, when a group of us met at Chocolate Soup for lunch, she warned that she cannot be tagged in any photos online, because it might dishonor her family and affect the arrangements of her and her sister’s marriages.
It was such a wake up call – a slap in the face – that all our beliefs make up only a tiny facet of the world order, hearing that is bright young woman from California would willingly adhere to such restrictive cultural norms just to appease her family. Nobody could believe it. A debate ensued.
Rishma’s main point was that she could have it all without even having to worry about the biggest thing: companionship. Every woman wants to have the holy trifecta of the perfect husband, career, and family, right? Well, she rationalized, with an arranged marriage, one part of that is aleady settled. She doesn’t have to worry about it, and all her energy can be spent on furthering her career and starting a family.
My friend Vigit puts things into a clearer perspective. At age 25 , he is expecting to get married within the next two years. His parents will choose, and the bride to be must be a) younger than he is, b) in the same caste, and c) Hindu. He says the issues of “love marriages” vs. Arranged, and marriages between castes generally aren’t so much a problem as intermarrying between religions, particularly a non-Muslim marrying into a Muslim family.
Another contributor Edward, insists that the system has changed to coincide with modernity, but that it still has it’s weaknesses. “The more modern introduction process has its drawbacks. A friend of mine was rejected for her looks, and in the old days you didn’t have that and you learned to adjust – something a lot of western marriages lack. A worse deal now for the ladies perhaps.”
Vigit insists that the process has indeed liberalized, and that if the case is such that two people are a couple at the time an arrangement is to be made, they can lobby to marry each other.
However, some do not get the chance to refuse. One source shared the story of his former worker whose father arranged his marriage to the first daughter of one of his friends before he was born. There was an age difference of nine years between them, and when asked about his predicament, the worker regretted that his father had not died of alcoholism before he set it up.
Think about every book, movie, TV show, magazine (men’s and women’s), and plethora of additional material all reflecting the energy society puts on attracting potential mates. Think of all those first date jitters, time spent wondering if he/she likes you too, doodling your crush’s name on your Jr. high notebook, to asking Jenny out to the prom: the constant reinforcement of the bottom line search for that special someone.
Now remove all that from your life’s equation。
What do you have left?
People from the United States are widely panned as being amongst the most annoying travelers. Thought of as loud, oil minded lovers of firearms and all things fried, it’s encouraging when people tell me I’m the first they’ve ever met, and that they’re surprised in a positive capacity.
While traveling solo really forces you to master yourself, it also opens the plexus of being targeted by other lonely souls who cannot comprehend the conscientious decision of mine to take to the road without some kind of companion close at hand.
Despite several people semi meeting the theoretical idea of an American as outlined above, my worst traveling encounters actually haven’t typically been with people from the New World, North America or South.
In a surprising twist of fate (considering my past two years), one nationality overwhelmingly tops my list of awful travelers who I’ve met abroad. Here are some of their stories:
At an otherwise sleepy night at my hostel in Shanghai, an incredibly loud group of eight girls proceed to set up a beer pong tournament, all while screeching in French at what must have been excruciating registers..which continued all night long. People’s constant assuming they were French left a young French girl with no other choice. “They are not from France!” She cried out indignantly. (Canada) [Quebec]
A young couple, at first glance seeming so happy together on their honeymoon in the Phililpines, before a ‘friendly’ game of pool reveals some er.. control issues that can only be classified as major on the part of the new bride. From criticising everything from his salary, pool technique, and stomach, she won her husband all of our condolences on his new life of hell. (China)
A new MBA graduate sets to make his mark on the world. ..starting with Xinjiang, China. However he didn’t get very far. Between complaining about how he’d never encountered such abject poverty as Gansu Province (my home at the time), and refusing to even walk down certain streets in Urumqi because they “weren’t developed enough,” I didn’t take up his offer to continue onward together. (USA)
A young woman and her son sit next to me on a plane bound for Chennai, India. She has never eaten Indian food and does not understand what is in the lunch we are served. I try to explain Dahl. She repeats Dole, Dale. Then she decides it isn’t sanitary, and takes it from her son as well. I spend the remainder of the flight wondering what on earth she is doing on a plane to India. (China)
These awful travelers came in an incredibly cute form: Three friends travel together, enjoying a quiet meal on their rooftop veranda overlooking the beautiful Sri Lankan Hillside. We talked, and they liked that I spoke in their tongue. They immediately had me pull up a chair. They offered to let me stay in the extra bed in their room, they proposed the idea of splitting a cab back to the capital, they complimented my clothing, my face, my hair. However closer inspection reveals the girls are snapping to get the waiter’s attention, collectively pissed at having to wait over fifteen minutes for their food. One of them stands up in a fit of hunger(?) rage(?) loudly declaring how cheap(!) the country is (in English – meaning the whole staff not to mention restaurant understood), and proceeded to loudly mock it and it’s people..all while incorrectly wearing a sari. I found myself apologizing to the waitstaff on their behalf the next day. (China)
Sometimes we travel alone because we don’t want to be found。
Throughout my travels I’ve encountered all sorts of awful tourists.
On one hand, you have your ignorant travelers: Often Americans or Brits, they help perpetuate the fantastic reputation we’ve accumulated abroad by loudly questioning the sanitation of local foods and ignorantly trouncing around India wearing only the choli (the midriff baring shirt that goes under the sari – the cultural equivalent of being rather half dressed).
Then there are the better intending, yet equally annoying tourists who try too hard: They overcompensate their behavior to adhere to what they believe is the local custom, such as absolutely insisting on using chopsticks, somehow failing to notice that every local in a Malaysian restaurant is using a spoon, and hotly chastising fellow travelers who dare to take a meal at a fast-food chain, forgetting that it is their vacation, and they are in fact allowed to eat at non local restaurants.
(I’ll later include some more specific anecdotes of my favorite awful tourists.)
If I walked into an Indian restaurant back in my hometown and insisted on eating with my hands, I’d probably fall into the latter category of the awful tourist who tries too hard, based on it not being the local custom in the Americanized equivalent of the original.
However, the custom when actually in India is to eat with your hands, and it certainly isn’t because they don’t know how to use, or don’t have access to silverware. In short, it is hygiene related, as it means one must wash their hands before and after each meal, and no silverware is recycled, but the rationale transcends these basic observations. The reasoning is actually quite scientific.
The theory begins with three different classifications of foods: Satvvic (good/unaltered), Rajistic (hyper-energy stimulating), and Tamasic (the worst/lethargy inducing).
Then there is the correlation of the five senses, and the idea that food does not only feed the stomach, but your sense of smell, touch, sight, and ears.
Touch • Air
Taste • Water
Sight • Fire
Smell • Earth
Sound • Space (Ether)
Different beliefs consider specific parameters: That there should be variety in our food, and diversity in the color. Red is believed to yield the highest metabolic rate (attracting the eye first), while white yields the lowest (Satvvic). Additionally, the color green helps to abolish acidity, making the ideal backdrop for food on a green surface. Our ashram wholly embodies this particular parameter, and serves us our lunch everyday on a traditional banana leaf.
Furthermore, the use of your hands involves the most contact with your food, stimulating your sense of touch, and therefore intuiting a better sense of the consistency: dry, hard, wet, which is also said to improve metabolic rate and lead to higher satisfaction after eating.
A wide variety in every meal, it spans the entire banana leaf in an assortment of curries and chutneys to be consumed in tandem with rice to the eater’s personal discretion.
There are still many mysteries when it comes to this fascinating new world of Indian medicine and health practices, but my stomach is certainly going to miss the satvvic food!。
What made me decide to enroll in an intensive month long yoga course in Kerala, India’s beautiful southwest peninsular state?
If only I knew.
Six days a week, eight hours a day, while following a completely satvvic-vegetarian lifestyle, my efforts will yield an internationally recognized yoga instructor’s certification.
I do not, and never have entertained any aspirations of teaching yoga. The only context in which I see it happening is when I’m a broke-ass grad student, I may add gyms and yoga studios in addition to my usual haunts of restaurants and law offices when seeking part time employment. So why am I going through the trouble?
It’s just one of those things I decided to do for myself. I got a hold of Eat Pray Love a few months ago, and didn’t love it. My quest isn’t so much spiritual as it is fulfilling a long harbored curiosity about an ancient culture I’ve only seen through text books and the likes of Bend it Like Beckham and Slumdog Millionaire. Maybe I’ve been on the constant move for so long I was just ready for my last stop.
While it isn’t exactly Utopia, India has come a long way considering the Sati Ritual and untouchability were still in practice under 100 years ago.
As the world’s largest democracy, India has it’s share of problems. I got a firsthand look into some of them, when the second day of classes were cancelled when a citywide strike incited by the Communist Party shut down the local businesses and life as we know it. Crowds gathered by the capital building in protest of electrical shortages and unsanitary food conditions, which ended in a fatality as a member of the Communist Party was killed in a scuffle with suspected Muslim League workers, all while we huddled in our home stay.
Staying in a historic Indian home, the decadence of which inspires an attitude that makes me want to say something along the lines of “retreat to my chambers,” opposed to “go to my room,” the challenge has begun. With only one other westerner in the course, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to help bridge the communication gap by learning Malayalam, the local language, though several of our classmates actually demonstrate impressive English skills. Here’s one circumstance where Mandarin is not useful!
So far its been an incredibly exhausting (both mentally and physically), absolutely riveting (especially our theory sessions with renowned doctors on the satvic diet, and philosophy of yoga), completely worthwhile experience. With our second week starting tomorrow, the nature of our development as ‘yogis’ is anyone’s guess。
Updates to follow!
(pics from a recent venture out to the very well known Kovalam Beach)