Snaps

Seva Mandir

Seva Mandir’s Education Department

The Jagdish Temple in Old City serves as a point of reference for stores and restaurants.

A day trip to Kumbhalgarh Fort (from Udaipur) is highly recommended.

Visit the pool at Udai Kothi for a much needed cool down.

and………

Evan finally getting his chicken fix at the German rooftop restaurant in Old City.

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The Return Home

“How was your stay in India?” asks the lady at the Virgin Atlantic ticket counter at the Delhi airport on Thursday. I find this question to be humorous considering the fact that Alice and I just spent the last 20 minutes trying to get in the airport after being turned down by various security guards for not already having our printed tickets (isn’t that what the ticket counter inside the airport is for?) *Note to travelers from Delhi airport: always have a printed copy of your flight confirmation.* After a brief panic episode of “oh my God, I am not able to leave this country”, Alice and I were on the plane to London facing another fear: turbulence. The moral of the story was that India wasn’t letting go of us easily (until the bitter end)!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for two months of my life back or anything like that. My true feelings are that India was a necessary pilgrimage for me. My main goals for my summer were to step outside of my comfort zone (i.e. Western Europe and Latin America) and observe how Seva Mandir, a development NGO with a capabilities focus, implements its programs. I achieved both of these goals; I concluded that Latin America (and Honduras) really IS the place for me, and my pursuit of development interventions with a capabilities focus was reinforced. I was also able to translate classroom skills (qualitative and quantitative methods and development theories) into current development projects- double yea for the Steinhardt International Education program and my resume! Looking back on my experience in India I have a sense of fulfillment as well as an acknowledgement of its role in the formation of my future career decisions. However, I won’t be moving to India anytime soon and a return trip requires several conditions: I don’t travel without my fiancé/husband and/or brother- a man that I can be with 24/7; it’s not during the hottest time of year (May-July).

I strongly suggest a stint in India to anyone considering entering the field of international development. While India is described as a developing country, I believe this only refers to a certain population/sector. The “developing” image ignores the realities of many Indians. I have never truly observed chronic poverty on such a large scale before. The subcontinent is home to the largest population concentration, which may be why its effects are witnessed everywhere and on a daily basis. Even though it is the largest democracy in the world, India continues to suffer from “social handicaps”, a term coined by the economist Amartya Sen. Development efforts pursued by both outsiders and Indians themselves continue to face the challenge of providing relevant interventions given India’s particular dynamics. While I do not feel that I have a place in the development of India, I do feel like I would have it elsewhere (perhaps back in Honduras).

In closing, it’s been a memorable summer, but for now I’m content with being back in NYC. Namaste!

Stephanie

The Umbrella of Wisdom

Oh My God This Is It!!! I am at the airport about to begin my long journey home. I feel like I have won an Oscar and should give an acceptance speech to all of the people that helped me make it this far, but instead I am sure you all are dying to here my final thoughts on India. If you are reading this post with the expectation of another tirade about the food here you will be disappointed. Let us instead watch as I try to make the title of this post make sense.

It is no secret that India and I have not got along as well as NYU, who set us up on a two month long blind date, would have liked. Between the heat, the diet, the gender relations, and the overaggressiveness of beggars, tok-tok drivers, and street venders (A few nights ago I found myself yelling at a group of Muslims and Hindus who were trying to cheat us out of 200 rupees for our bags, they didn’t get it, but at least I joined the two groups together in their anger at me. Just doing my part for peace). I am sure that If India had its own blog it would have complained about me too, so nobody’s fully at fault here. However, I am leaving India while wearing a Be Human t-shirt (a popular NGO based brand), listening to the Rowdy Rathore soundtrack (biggest movie in India right now), with nothing but good things to say. How is that possible? Let me tell you the story of my umbrella. 

So around three weeks ago when the Monsoon finally hit, I began bringing my umbrella around with me. One random day, I decided to walk to Celebration Mall to get a cup of coffee. I was listening to my music, trying to mind my own business, when some middle-aged man on a bicycle stops next to me and begins yelling pointing at my waist. Instinctively, I don’t even turn my head or take my headphones off. I simply say, “Nahi, Nahi” (NO, NO), and continue walking. Despite my rudeness, the man continued to pedal next to me. This time I turned and more forceable yelled, “NAHI, NAHI!” But the man continued to point at my bag and the ground. I took off my headphones and turned around to finally see what the man was pointing at. It was my umbrella laying on the ground around 15 feet back. 

The same thing happened a few days later. I found myself sitting in some small shop while Mike and Sarah were buying some “Hip” bags to wear around Brooklyn, and 10 minutes later as we were walking to go home, I realized that my umbrella had fallen out of my bag again (I don’t know why I can’t work a zipper either). I was going to just leave it behind for two reasons. First, I bought it from a homeless man for 4$ in NYC; and second, if the shop owner found it he would certainty lie or try to charge me for it. But, remembering my prior experience, and not wanting to get wet, I walked back. As I approached the store the man saw me, and instantly ran inside. I thought, “great he’s going to make me chase him to get my umbrella back,” but instead he came running out with my umbrella in hand, trying to explain in his broken English that he tried looking for me but couldn’t find me. I thanked him and thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve been a ****” (Fill it in for yourself, I thought of 6). 

This got me thinking, how do we really measure our experiences in life? I can rate India on a political, developmental, and economic scale; talk about the things that were different and the things that were the same; show you pictures of the things I loved; or tell you stories of the things I hated; but in then end, none of that has as much impact on our experiences as the relationships we formed, those precious one-on-one interactions that we get to share together. Mike’s host family let 5 random white people destroy their kitchen to cook a gigantic 3 course Italian dinner from scratch, and just laughed while watching. Shalendra (I am definitely misspelling his name) was my translator and guide who literally made the difference between me interviewing 48 people or 3. I got to spend the summer with 4 of the most amazing people I have ever met: Alice, Steph, Sarah, and Mike, sharing our victories and defeats together, but always finding a way to laugh no matter which.

What I’ll remember about India won’t be me wanting a hamburger or a faster internet connection; it will be the times at the Pokemon bar with my co-interns, and interviewing a village woman who keeps laughing out of embarrassment while trying to hide her face, and shooting pool with the locals hoping I don’t cost anyone their paycheck, and finally learning how to haggle for a fair ride home, and the children running up to me so they can tell their friends they met Brad Pitt.

Our first date may not have had fireworks like we secretly expected, but I’ll give you a call for a second sometime in the future. 

Unless Sarah makes me write another post this will be my last one, thank you for reading and take care!

(Also, I am going to check into my flight and don’t have time to proof read, so if there are more gramatical mistakes than the usual 200 I apologize, but I’m a writer, not an editor!)

– Evan George

Time’s Up!

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It’s my last day in India, as we get ready to leave from Delhi. The past two months have passed by much faster than expected, as has our trip from Udaipur to Jaipur and Delhi via train and now it’s almost time to go. I was hoping to write an epic or insightful post, but the internet has been wonky and already erased 3 posts, so I’ll just write a short post, and go back to listening to Rowdy Rathore tracks (an incredibly Bollywood movie that Evan and I have seen twice in theatres).

It’s been a challenging but rewarding experience gaining field research skills working with Seva Mandir, interviewing families, sipping chai and chatting, and learning about Rajasthani culture. The kindness, compassion, and determination of those we’ve met with Seva Mandir, FSD, and our host families has been incredible and won’t be soon forgotten. I’ve learned so much about various education initiatives and strategies, basic math in Hindi and hindi songs about elephants (Hathi), and how to eat a mango without a knife. Other new skills include passive-aggressive bartering, chapati/parantha/bati cooking, and keeping curious goats at bay; all skills will be put to good use in NY I’m sure…

Below: Interviewees in Kotra

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Provided I’m not delayed too much by weather, track trouble or sheep, by Thursday I’ll be in Nepal for a mini-project/vacation. A friend of a friend of a friend runs a community based school north of Kathmandu with her organization called Saprinu. I’ve offered to help out however I can, so that may mean collecting baseline surveys and data collection, or manual labor working on new construction or gardening all of which I’m excited for. Maybe I’ll post some comparisons between my experiences in India and Nepal, but no guarantees~ I have a paper due 6 days after I get to JFK!

It’s been a privilege to work in India, and a pleasure writing. Thanks for reading!

-Mike

We Can’t Stop Dancing, part 1.

Sometimes when you’re exhausted from being in the village all day the only thing you want to do is dance. And learn Bollywood moves, even if it means you look like a fool while you do it. Here are 3 videos of our first attempt at Bollywood dancing. Keep an eye on our Indian friends–they put us all to shame.

Arranged Marriages or Love Marriages?

I’m going to tell you a secret. Before coming to Udaipur I did not have enough time to really read up on India. Let’s just say that ending the semester and an internship and hosting 6 different guests in my humble Brooklyn apartment before I boarded the plane kept me busy. One topic I sort of knew about but didn’t have time to research was the topic of arranged marriages. I knew that arranged marriages happened in this part of the world but only in the past—or so I thought. After being here for over a month, however, I can assure you that arranged marriages occur nowadays all across India—from the poor rural villages to the urban middle and high classes.

So how does the process work? Is there a famous matchmaker in town?

Well, no. Actually, parents are the matchmakers. Once they want to start the process for their child they spread the word through family and friends that their recent college grad is available. (Middle class girls usually get married right out of college and boys usually are a few years older and are working.) From what I understand the parents create some sort of resume, or a profile that describes in detail their child’s physical attributes, personality, education level, etc.

After a few months there usually is a marriage proposal, which means that the boy’s family has sent his profile to the girl’s family to see if they approve. My Indian family, for instance, is very picky and so there is a list of requirements that must be met in order for them to approve a proposal. First, he must be of the same caste and social class. Second, the boy must be someone in the family’s network of friends and family, he cannot be unknown. Third, he must have a good job so that he can provide for her and a family. Fourth, their horoscopes have to match up. I think you’re starting to get the idea.

If the girl’s family approves then there is a wedding…a big, expeeeeensive, colorful, 5-day wedding. Can the bride and groom meet each other before they tie the knot? Well, in the past they did not talk, see each other or meet for the first time until the day of the wedding. Nowadays the bride and the groom can look at each other’s Facebook page or talk on the phone, but usually they are not allowed to see each other in person until the wedding.

Things are changing, though. The couples that do not have arranged marriages marry, as the saying goes, “for love” and this is called a “love marriage.” Someone told me here that around 10 to 15% of marriages in India are love marriages. I’m not sure if that’s true but I’m too tired to look up the statistic. I’m sure there are more love marriages in cities like Mumbai and more arranged marriages in states like Rajasthan, which is known for upholding tradition.

Anyway, all of this is very intriguing to me. I find myself constantly asking my fellow interns if they know if  “so-and-so” had a love marriage or an arranged marriage. And if they did have a love marriage, how did they do it? How did their parents react? Love marriages definitely intrigue me the most, not because I come from a culture where “love marriage” is a no-brainer, but because those who have fallen in love and decided to have a love marriage are making a drastic cut between what their ancestors have always done and what they wish to do now. They are going against the flow and by so doing they usually (in Udaipur at least) make their parents and family members very angry by having a love marriage, especially if it’s someone from a different caste.

My host family is just as adamant about arranged marriages as I am about love marriages. I keep having to remind myself that for them it is just how things are, it’s the cultural framework in which they were born. So to get a better idea of their point of view I interviewed my host sister and her friend about their thoughts on arranged marriages and love marriages.  Here’s the video:

So, what do you think? Tell me your thoughts! Do you think that arranged marriages are slowly on their way out? Would you trust your parents and your network of friends and family to find your life partner? I mean after all, doesn’t family know us best?

-Sarah