Lisa Austill
2006-07 Outbound to India

Hometown: Macclenny, FL
School: Baker County High School
Sponsor: Baker County Rotary Club
Host: Umbergaon Rotary Club
District 3060, India

Lisa's Bio

Hello everyone, my name is Lisa. I am eighteen years old and in my senior year of high school. I live in the small town of Macclenny, which is about a thirty minute drive west of Jacksonville. I work at the local grocery store, where I am a cashier.

When not at school or working I am usually found hanging out with my best friends Whittney and Kendall. I enjoy playing tennis, the beach, jogging, driving, watching movies, listening to music, and going to concerts. I love to sing, I have been singing since I was a wee, little tyke. I really like soccer and volleyball, but I've never really played. I am a vegetarian, and have been for about seven months.

I am seriously looking forward to my year abroad in India. I have done some research and found that I will be living in the area of Gujarat. I think, no, I know that this trip will be sensational.

November 4 Journal 

Well, I have now been in India for three months. Yeah, I know that so many of you could wring my neck for a journal. So, without delay, here is what has been going on over here in the Asia subcontinent.

I arrived in Mumbai on the 29 of July at 11:30 pm. I was greeted by a warm and humid night, and a large group of people including my first host family, aunts, cousins, uncles, Rotarians, and others that I am still not sure who they are today. From the airport we drove to a restaurant to get a bite to eat. Here I got my first taste of India. I had an egg omelet with chutney (a green sauce made from mint, coconut, and green chilies), then Kulfi (Indian ice cream), and was stared at the entire time. After we ate my host mom asked me if I would like to ‘fresh’, not knowing what this was I followed her to a bathroom. The restroom was a public one (and I later found out it would not be one of the worst ones that I would enter.) I entered the stall and found a hole with two foot pads in the floor complimented by a faucet and bucket beside. I did have to pee, so I sucked it up and made it quick. Then, the whole party departed for the four hour drive to Vapi. We arrived at Vapi at 5:30 in the morning; I was given the traditional Indian welcome, some gifts, and then took leave to have some much needed rest.

The following morning I awoke at 10 am. without feeling the least bit tired and had no problem making the 10.5 hour time adjustment. When I came downstairs I found that the party that had been there earlier that morning had left and it was my host mom, Ba (grandma), and I. In the next few days I came to learn that I was living in an interesting situation. My host family lives in Mumbai, my host dad has a factory in Umbergaon, and so that is where he participates in Rotary. Umbergaon is an industrial town of one hundred thousand people (mainly factory workers) and there are no schools that go past tenth grade. Subsequently, my host dad has rented a house in the closest city with decent schools, which is Vapi. Vapi is a larger industrial town with a population of almost two million, which is located forty-five minutes from Umbergaon. So, my parents don’t really know anything about Vapi, they are almost as new to the place as I am. It gets confusing sometimes but it is cool. I also found out that my twelve year old host sister doesn’t live with us. She lives in a hostel, as she goes to a boarding school. This I must say was definitely a bummer.

During, the first two weeks I did numerous things. I made really good friends with my next door neighbor, Dhvani; she attends the same school as me and is in ninth grade. Together we explored some of Vapi and Daman, and she helped me get my school uniforms and such. I went to Umbergaon and visited some Rotarians and a good amount of factories. (Let me just inform that my host parents asked me to call them as mom and dad. I cannot bring myself to say these names so I call Malay ‘papa’ and Parul ‘mama’. I had the worst time of calling them anything like this in the first month, but it is now getting better/easier.) I went to my Papa’s soap factory, my Dadaji’s pencil and crayon factories, a timber factory, and a battery cell top factory. (Dadaji means grandpa. He is a Rotarian that came to the airport along with everyone else. At the restaurant he teased my papa by saying I should call Malay Dadaji because his hair is white, so I asked who was older and he now has this endearing nickname.) I also visited a school there on my fourth day in India. This was a pretty interesting experience as I planted a tree, gave a speech to a few hundred little kids, and as I was leaving I was literally swarmed by over twenty little kids asking me for my autograph!

During the second week my papa, mama and I went to Mumbai for the second time. This was really cool because I got to go to my cousin, Anutch’s, birthday dinner and spend time with him, his older brother, and their two friends. This was the first time I got to spend with people of my own age (they range from 17 to 22). The next day my papa had business out of town so all three us drove through Pune to Aurangabad where we stayed the night. The next day my mama, the driver and I went this place called Ellora. I don’t think I have ever been more in love. At Ellora, there are over 30 Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves beautifully carved out of mountains in a lush forest setting. Some of the Buddhist caves date back to over five thousand years. That day we then drove back to Pune where we stayed the night, had an authentic Maharashtran meal, and met one of my papa’s good friends. My papa had a meeting here the next day so my mama and I went and picked up my host sister, Pruthvi, en route to Vapi. I must say, I really enjoy her company. It is nice to see the regular banter between the children and adults, to hear them speak in their language about conversations I can relate to, and just to be able to have someone in the house that I can joke around with more easily. (Srushti, you are definitely lucky.) She was only at home for the next day, but that was good enough.

The next day was Rakshabandan, a celebration where the sister ties a ‘raki’ (bracelet) on her brother’s wrist, they feed each other sweets, and he gives her a gift and his protection. For this celebration my cousin Som and his family came from Mumbai. So, Pruthvi, Dhvani, and I all tied rakis on Som’s wrist. (I also did this a few days before with my cousin Anutch, it is quite a funny thing to do if you’re new to it; putting the bindi (dot), feeding each other, not knowing what step is next, etc. all lots of fun. Oh, and for Anutch’s birthday I was informed that the proper way of celebrating and showing your love is to feed each other the cake. Yeah, there was a lot of cake on the faces and fingers.) At the end of the day Som’s family left and we took Pruthvi back to school.

The next day was my first day at school. I am studying in eleventh because they thought that the students in 12th would be studying too much and didn’t want me to mess up scores. I am studying in their humanities courses for reasons; 1 I have already completed almost all of their subjects, and 2 I can learn about their economy, history, and government, and how it differs from my own. I do wear a uniform to school. It is a fawn colored pinafore that comes down to my calves, where my white socks begin and continues to my black Mary janes! Yay! All the students are really nice. All the time I have kids in the younger grades coming up and asking my name, home country, and height.

While this was going on, there was a major flood in a city called Surat, three hours away from me. There are seven other exchange students in the district of Gujarat, six of these are in Surat. So, to take these people out of risk of disease, and to allow their families to recuperate, they decided to move them to Baroda for a week or two. One student already stays at Baroda, and since they would be doing a lot of group activities they decided to bring me along.

November 17 Journal

 Continuing on ...

Let me start this part by telling about the other seven exchange students in my district. Ron is from New York, 18. Miho is from Tokyo, Japan, 16. Colleen is from Yakima, Washington, 18. Michel is from Brasil, 18. Samantha is from Syracuse, New York, 18. Kaydin is from Revelstoke, Canada, 18. All of these students are staying in the city of Surat. Emilie is from the south of France, 16, staying in Baroda. We came to Baroda by train and were split up among different families. Miho and I were put together with a family known as the Chhabras. The parents are the owners of a pharmaceutical company, so, we went to see their factory once. We saw the full process of how they make all types of medicines. We also had a hilarious 15 year old host sister named Amrit. Also, during these two weeks all us got together to learn some Gujarati songs, visit some pretty sweet looking temples, go shopping, actually went to a palace, visited a school, and learned about ten or more dance steps to get us ready for navratri. Miho and I got really close with our host family and each other as well. She was really self-conscious about her English when we met and by the end we could barely stop talking to each other. Miho even made some really good potato soup for us one day, but three days later we were both in the hospital for food poisoning. My body wound up not taking in liquid for well over 24 hours. This was the first time since I was born that I have stayed overnight in a hospital and the first time that I can remember having an I.V. put in me. It sucked to be sick, but the Rotarians and doctors visited all the time and made sure we had everything we needed. We were in the hospital for a day, and a few days later I went back to Vapi.

In September, went to Umbergaon a few times, but for the most part I stayed in Vapi and attended school and my mehendi class. I also took exams at school which were kind of interesting. Apparently, you don’t really have too much knowledge of what will be on the exam, so, you wind up memorizing all the chapters that you have studied. I got hand it to them; they are great about focusing on their studies. I settled into school a bit more and really enjoyed. I also found out that I’m pretty good at mehendi!

On the 23rd of September the festival of nine nights began, Navratri. It is a festival celebrating the defeat of Ravana by Lord Ram and Hanuman. Ravana had ten heads and had kidnapped Lord Ram’s wife Sita. Every night of the nine people go and dance in huge circles wearing dresses like the one I am wearing in the picture. It is called a lehanga. They will dance for half the night and the other half they play dandiya, which is a dance with wooden sticks that you strike upon your partners’ sticks. It was so much fun. I was able to attend one night in Vapi; the program there was run by the Rotaract Club and had about four thousand people. I also attended one night in Mumbai with my cousin and his friends. I was a bit more confident this time in my playing; in Mumbai there were around 40,000 people. The night I played in Mumbai was my 19th birthday. Yay! In the morning we had breakfast of Jelaby and Gattia. For lunch my entire family and some friends of the family went to a restaurant, then we went to a mall to buy my host sister clothes. Then, I completed the day with a night of dancing.

On the 4th of October I left my family in Mumbai, and joined my Dadaji and the other exchange students for a tour of Gujarat. Our first destination was Bhuj; to there from Vapi I took a 16 hour train ride. (I really like trains here. Everyone uses them all the time and you meet the most interesting people!) We stayed in a desert in Kutch two hours from Bhuj for two nights. We, along with 38 Rotary students from two districts in Maharashtra, were invited by the Gujarat government to take part in a huge cultural festival there. Let me report on this tour in date form, it will be easier for the both of us.

5th Oct. Arrived in Bhuj at 10 a.m. Drove two hours into the desert and got settled in our tents. (The tents had beds, electricity, a/c, and a bathroom with plumbing.) Then this guy from Washington state and I went on a twenty minute camel ride!! It is so… different. It was so peaceful to just be going though the desert on a camel. In the afternoon we saw a classic horse race and met the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. At evening we went to a huge bazaar they had set up and saw a performance of the story of Kutch. At eleven we drove two more hours into the desert. Here there was nothing but sand. We all rode on carts pulled by camels for twenty minutes and they brought us to these three stages were people were playing classical music, Garba, and dandiya. This night is considered auspicious because it is the first full moon after the monsoon season and before Diwali. Apparently, you can only travel by night there because it is too hot during the day, and the full moon enables you to see. I’m not sure I could explain the beauty of this night.

6th Oct. We arrived at camp at 5 am. and at 6 am. we left on the six hour drive to Doliveara. These are the remains of a five thousand year old city 45 km from the Pakistani border. The city had irrigation, planned roads and buildings, and many other civilized traits. In the afternoon we drove back to Bhuj where we attended a carnival with the Chief Minister.

7th Oct. Left Kutch in the morning, and the eight of us from Gujarat continued on with Dadaji to Saurashtra. We arrived at Morvi in the afternoon. Relaxed and looked at palaces and different sites at night.

8th Oct. Visited a school in the morning then left for Surendranagar. Settled in with families, visited a Nestle factory, and went to Rotary meeting.

9th Oct. Departed to Rajkot where we spent two nights. Here we visited a doll factory, Rotary meeting, a few temples, a Rotary library, a Rajasthan themed restaurant, and numerous schools, including that of M. K. Gandhi.

12th Oct. On the way to Junagadh we visited Gondal. Here we visited two old palaces and one current palace of the king. At his current home we viewed his collection of cars. Had lunch with the Rotary club, and then continued on our way. Before Junagadh we stopped by Jetpur where we met with the Rotary club, conversed, and had a snack. We reached Junagadh at nine, split up into different houses, and slept.

13th Oct. We stayed in Junagadh for two nights. Here we visited a few temples, a zoo, and a Rotary meeting.

15th Oct. Left Junagadh in the morning. We had lunch in Porbander and visited the birthplace of Gandhiji and his wife. From there we moved onto Mithapur. The Rotary club of Mithapur arranged for us to have a casual Rotary meeting on the beach with a bonfire and dinner. Ron had brought his guitar and we shared American music and the Hindi and Gujarati songs that we had learned. I don’t believe that any of us had ever seen more stars in our life than on that night. The sky had more than you see when you attend a planetarium. It was gorgeous.

16th Oct. Went to a temple in Dwarka, had lunch, then departed Mithapur for Jamnagar. Our district governor is from Jamnagar so we attended a meeting with him on the first night. The next day toured a two temples, an auyer vedic college, a museum, and got visit with the families we were staying with.

18th Oct. We went to Bhavnagar and celebrated the start of Diwali with a Rotary school for working children and then attended a Rotary meeting. The next day they took us to Palitana where we had a look at some amazing Jain temples. After returning to Bhavnagar we had dinner with our families then boarded the train back home. (Note to reader: this tour was provided by our district for us to learn about the culture of Gujarat. Except for Kutch we stayed with different Rotarian families the entire trip. Their generosity was amazing. I don’t think I can thank them enough.)

20th Oct. Arrived in Mumbai and went to Matheran, a hill station, with my parents, sister, Ba, and uncle. We spent the Diwali vacation here, hiking, horseback riding, watching monkeys, and overall enjoying ourselves. Diwali is the celebration of the homecoming of Lord Ram and Sita. It is celebrated just before the Hindu new year with lights and fireworks.

We returned to Mumbai for a couple of days; and I spent plenty of time with my sister, family, and friends. I went to see Open Season with my family one night and that is the first time I felt truly homesick. I found I would be the only poerson laughing at a joke sometimes, because I was the only one that understood the American reference. I wound up tearing up in the theatre to such a simple movie. Thankfully it subsided over night. A few days later Pruthvi (my sister), Ba, and I attended an ashram at Lonavala, another hill station. Learned some shloks (prayers) and helped take care or 30 odd little youngsters that were also attending it. We stayed here for two nights and then returned to Mumbai.

I have been staying here for the past two weeks exploring the city, and visiting with friends and relatives. I have decided to take up the sitar. I’ve attended the theatre here a few times (saw a play in Marathi and another on the riots of Gujarat), seen a few Bollywood actors around town, went to a revolving restaurant, saw the Gateway of India and the Queen’s Necklace, and really enjoyed. In a week or two I will be leaving my first host family to go to my second. I am a pretty nervous, but I know it will be just as great as the first.