Zach, outbound to India

You never know how glad you are for good breaks till your vehicle is a foot away from a donkey, a cow, a crowded rickshaw and a freight truck at once.

Hey everybody! What's up? Let me tell you what's been going on over here in my densely populated corner of the world.

As far as what I'm doing... with the exception of a few highlights (which I'll go over later) my days are usually like this:

Wake up at 5 to go to the gym with friends. Come back at 7:30ish.

Shower/eat/get into my UNIFORM (sadness) for school.

Go outside, hop on the back of my family's scooter or motorcycle and have someone drive me to school (also more on driving and my family later).

School goes from 8:30 to 1. Four hour long lectures and a half hour snack break. The class is sixty kids and a teacher in a room a little larger than a garage. We sit in very stiff wooden benches made for small Indians, not big Americans :D. We have two open doors, an open window, and a bunch of fans. If the power goes out, which happens often, it gets very hot very fast.

I'm in the Bachelor for Business Administration program, and our classes are: English, Economics (nothing new here), Accounting (It was hard at first, but then when I actually figured out how to do it, it was easier), Math (Blend of statistics and quantitative theory), and computer applications. I have friends and stuff, no problems there... An observation that I have is that they teach their kids to replicate, not innovate. They say, "Remember this, it'll be on the exam." whereas in USA we say, "Learn how to do this, you'll need it." I hope you understand what I mean, it's a very big difference and it permeates throughout a lot of Indian society, not just the schools.

I get an auto-rickshaw (basically a motorized tricycle that has room for three and sits anywhere from 5 to 10) to a railway station, cross over, and then take a rickshaw the rest of the way home. Once home I eat, rest like 1.5 hours, then hang out with my host family. I do Hindi classes at seven. Also since there was Navratri (a festival), I was going to a class with my fellow Bharuchi exchange students (two French girls and a Spanish girl) to learn Garba (traditional Navratri dance.) Come home, eat, sleep. That's my day.

Now for my family. We are the Raja family of the Thakkar subcaste. I have a dad, mom, younger brother, and sister who just left to exchange to upstate New York. We are very nicely established here, especially compared to some of the poor, and have our own bunglow (big house) with a six acre premises, gate, and walls. My host dad's business is on the property (a stonecutting business that's been in his family for several generations) as well as the shacks of his workers. My dad is cool, my host brother is crazy (as could be expected from an eleven year old), but my host mom is very concerned for me.

Now for some highlights.

My second weekend here, I went to hang out with a Parsi(Zoroastrian) family. Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian (hence the Parsi) religion that predates almost every other and involves the worship of fire. When the Muslims came to Persia, they kicked out the Zoroastrians and they settled in India. Now this family that I hung out with was EXTREMELY rich. Like, richer than anything I've ever seen. They had two houses, each of which was larger than any house I've ever seen before. The first was an old plantation house on the banks of the Narmada Nagri (river). It was four stories (each story about fifteen feet high), had at least forty rooms, as well as massive premises. Chloe, Caroline, and I (the two French) were completely blown away.... until we went to their second house, a few kilometers east, also on the river. It was an old Mughal fort, complete with walls with cannon slots, a well, and everything, that had been taken by the British and then given to this family's grandfather. It was more than 400 years old. I was standing there like... this place is older than my entire country. However, each time, there was crippling poverty right outside the gates of these rich people... I'll touch more on that later.

A month or so ago was Ganeshpati (birth of Ganesh, an idol with elephant head), and my family's driver (Sanjay, a friend of mine), his friends, and myself, walked around in the pouring rain for an hour and a half watching these dances and listening to crazy drums and seeing these massive idols. It was a lot of fun and so incredibly different than anything in USA. In some ways they're smarter than us... Example. It's hot in Florida and in India. In Florida when it rains people stay inside. In India they go out because it's cooler. Makes a lot of sense.

The weekend after that (as I was recovering from the cold I got from the rain! haha) was the Inbound Orientation. We went to Union Territory (not a state, it was south I think) near Vapi and stayed at a hotel for two days. All the exchange students were there. We have like five French, three Americans (with two more yet to come), a Mexican, some Brazilians, some Germans, a massive Dutch guy, and some others. We listened to a lot of lectures, hung out, and stayed up very late.

One thing I realize is that, while obviously having some outward differences, all exchange students are fundamentally very similar. We are willing to put ourselves in extremely uncomfortable situations just for the fun of it. We're all (reasonably) intelligent, willing to learn, and open to change. This program attracts a remarkable quality of people.

Anyway, It was awesome. We also learned about some trips we will be having... A three week trip to north India, three week trip to south India, and one week trip in Gujarat (my state). The first of these is in November. I'm so excited.

And of course, the biggest thing thus far has been Navratri. It's a festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, so I got into it. Basically what it entails is going to a cleared space and dancing in a circle with lots of other people from about 9 pm to around 1 in the morning. Now, as anyone who has ever seen me dance knows, it's not one of my strong suits. I was taught a couple different steps (there are over sixty different steps total, conservatively) and put them to use. However, about 90% of the dancing my fellow exchange students and I did was learned at the ground itself, in the midst of at least three thousand people dancing with us in very cramped space.

This is a very good analogy for the exchange experience, and India in particular. Go to a strange, exotic place, filled with more people that you can no more count than converse with, and attempt something that you are not very good at, whilst learning on the fly. It was, at various times, frustrating, saddening (especially my dance abilities), and even dangerous, but more than anything it was funny, exciting, and tons of fun.

Navratri lasts nine days and each night I got (in addition to some more foot blisters) a little faster, a little more confident, a little better. By the end of the festival, we had played garba at five different locations, I had won a prize for dancing (first time for everything), been to the largest garba ground in the world, in Baroda, (we danced with over FORTY THOUSAND PEOPLE), and just generally had an excellent time. It has been the highlight of my exchange thus far.

A few philosophical differences about India... Here people trust themselves rather than rules. An example of this is the driving. They don't have ANY rules. You can go on the sides of the road either direction, the sidewalks, as fast as you want, putting as many people on a scooter/car/bike/whatever as you want. Add in the animals on the street (and there are a LOT) and it's a party. In America people would be freaking out because there's no order, but here people are just like... "I don't wanna die, you don't wanna die. Let's not crash." You never know how glad you are for working breaks when your vehicle is a foot away from a donkey, a buffalo, an overloaded rickshaw, and a freight truck - at one time.

Here the tradition is everything. People will avoid leaving a bad job/home, talking to strangers, helping the poor, marrying their sweetheart, etc. just because of what people will think of them. The kids are rather childish, with eighteen year olds acting at times like freshmen in high school, but that's not a bad thing. It's very very different. I love it, it's awesome... and very very different.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to update this. My internet connection is poor at best here, but I'll try to be more dependable in the future. 

Ok that's enough for now. I'm attending a wedding tonight, food is gonna be ready shortly, and I'm off to continue my adventure. Love you guys. :)