Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Weddings and Popcorn and Peanuts

As I walked home at the end of my journey from playing basketball tonight, I came upon a marching band. There must have been at least 10 members and in front of them was a man standing with a well-dressed horse. Next to the band were a number of decorative chandeliers powered by a motor. I had put myself in the middle of another wedding, 9:15 PM, a Wednesday, the astrological charts were at the right point for the young couple standing in the midst of this, matter of fact kind of thing for India. As I took a few movies, just to let the folks back home know that I was telling the truth, people smiled knowingly at me.

The band started moving and so did I to my next usual stop on Wednesday nights, my man who provides me with fresh popcorn and hot roasted nuts. The man clasps his hands together and says Namaste and say this back. He always seems happy to see me, like somehow by spending 20 rupees, 10 on the nuts and 10 on the popcorn I might bring him some kind of good fortune. I watch as the man throws popcorn kernels into the bottom of his wok which is filled with sand. The kernels start to pop and by using a screen none escape to the street beside me. He finishes popping, strains the sand out of the popcorn and puts it into a bag. He always gives me more than any other of these popcorn/nut guys. I walk away satisfied once again to have this delicacy.

A young man is walking besides me and asks the obligatory question, “where are you from?” I say, “America” and he says, “Canada”, I say, “no United States” and he says, “USA”. I turn left to walk to my house and as I approach the entrance I hear my little three year old Galoo crying, yet again at the top of her lungs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Camel Festival

October 24, 2009

Can’t believe that it’s been a month since I’ve last written. Another month in India and I’ve been here for seven now. My first visitors from the US, Cindy and Melissa are here and they brought me quite a stash of items from home, lots of home baked goodies from friends, a video message from Daniel, candy bars and even some art work from my cousins to hang in my apartment. Of course my dad sent me a Lakers World Championship t-shirt which now is part of the fabric of my bedroom. India continues to feel more like home everday.

My work is going so very well and I’m so very busy, hopefully contributing to making the world a better place. I’m also very involved with VSO, serving on a number of committees, always working to make the volunteer experience better. There of course is also the piece about building capacity at the Programme Office. During the past month I conducted my first four day capacity building/organizational development workshop. It went very well and thanks to a translator, a young Indian woman, with a lovely smile, I was able to, I think get across the messages that I was trying to convey. I’m will be in Southern India for the entire month of January with my lovely girlfriend Len, conducting three different workshops in three different states and I just can’t wait.

I’ve also spent so much time on Badhte Kadam, moving forward, an awareness raising campaign across India that is due for flag off on November 14. This has been a major effort and thanks to especially one NT volunteer, Chitra, this effort is proceeding, 24 volunteers, 4 routes-north, south, east and west, 8 vehicles, 22,000 kilometers of driving distance, 60 Citizen’s Organisations, and I don’t know how many e-mails and phone calls. It is truly amazing and I can’t wait for the flag off and the return of the volunteers.

Overall, after seven months, I feel very good about India. Today I walked out of my apartment and there was a Bihari holiday taking place, a temporary market, beautiful saris, the continue amazing magic that is India. The more I see the more I love.

I continue to have my moments of wanting to train everyone in “proper” manners, but of course it is all just a temporary thing.

November 4, 2009

On the train to Agra. I was last there in February 2006, but now I’m with my friends Cindy and Melissa. We’ve had a wonderful visit and it is so much fun to show my friends the world in which I live.

We spent this past weekend in Pushkar at the Camel Fair. It was very unworldly to me as I stood in the middle of many camels last Friday during twilight. As I said to Melissa, “which planet are we on?” and she responded with “Camelot”. Oh my!

Pushkar is a lovely town, everything that I would have imagined India to be. Markets galore, women dressed in so many colorful saris, men with turbans and everywhere shopkeepers asking me to come in. I was surprised to see so many signs in Hebrew as apparently many Israelis come to Pushkar for a vacation. I even found a Chabad house which I went into and wrapped the Tefelin around myself and read Hebrew. I remember even after all of these years. It was very special for me to connect with some of my roots.

The food was wonderful and we had pancakes, the Indian kind, falafel, a great pizza which we all devoured. Other friends also accompanied us-Joe and Sophia and Mark who rode in on his motorcycle from an incredible tour of the mountains in India. It’s was so special to be not only with my friends, but also with my very good VSO mates.

We stayed at a place called Cha-cha’s Garden, which didn’t have much of a garden but did have a tortoise. The Garden was operated by a young English woman named Rani and her husband, Cha-Cha (uncle). Rani is the daughter of some of Mark’s friends and he had never met her before, so this connection was quite interesting. The Garden wasn’t much to speak of, but it provide a near-by place to walk through the town of Pushkar to the camels.

In getting into the town one had to walk for about five minutes down some narrow streets and when one arose from this it opened up into this splash of colors, sites, sounds, smells and so many people. I couldn’t wait to get to this place which took me back, I felt in history. It’s difficult to describe the scene but I took many pictures to allow me to retrace this for years to come.

The colors are so amazing to me, mostly in women’s saris and everyone was dressed in their best for doing praying in the mostly dried up lake. The Indian culture offers so many examples of religion and how it is celebrated. That is mostly what it is about, the celebrations, with young children and adults also looking like Krishna and Hunaman.

The markets continue to offer me the kind of thing that doesn’t happen in the developed world, i.e. a way of shopping that is in no way contrived. It is just the way in which fruits and vegetables are purchased, that is it, very simple, but in fact woven with relationships, the fabric of which makes the so called developing world so wonderful to be a part of. It started for me with the woman who didn’t want me to take her picture while she sold her veggies and even picked up a weight as if she would throw it at me. As the days went on she smiled at me, but didn’t allow me to take her picture.

The camels were just beautiful. I’ve never been so close to so many camels and they are beautiful creatures, definitely reminding me of the, I think second Star Wars movie with those big white things that the Empire guys operated. The camels are important to the many herders in and around Pushkar, but unfortunately many of the camel owners can no longer afford these “beasts of burden” and so they are just abandoned. This is the vicious cycle that farmers get into and can never get out, except through in many cases, suicide.

There were also the gypsies who grabbed our hands and wanted to put henna on them and would not let go until we gave them rupies. We all caught onto this very quickly and refused to give our hands. The gypsy women were just beautiful and their dancing was full of lots of writhing about, but they were dangerous like some of the baskets which held cobras.

I feel so very blessed to have made it to Pushkar to see India. I know that it is all changing, there are many shops that appeal to westerners, but the city maintained much of its more traditional charm. Incredible India.