Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Charming Day, August 2

Snake charmers and an elephant ride were in store as we traveled to Amber Fort on the outskirts of Jaipur. The ride was an adrenalin rush. Vendors harrassed us the whole way up the hillside. The fort was quite a tribute to the King of Jaipur and his twenty wifes. The fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture was beautiful. The rivalry between wifes and offspring for succession made for a lot of drama in the life of the "poor" king. The wall surrounding the palace and fort snaked up, over and around a beautiful mountainous region. Referencing snakes.....I could swear the snake was watching me rather than its handlers. I was frozen as I flashed back to images on the Discovery Channel of the reach of their strike. A visit to a Blue Pottery manufacturer and a couple other heritage sites made for a great morning. It is Sunday so we had the afternoon off. Naturally, we all headed to the shopping district. I had fun looking at all the natural gem stones that Jaipur is famous for and then drooling over exquisite Kashmir carpets. If only I had some of the King's bangles!!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

High Alert!

Sunday, July 27. There is a high alert in the city with the nearby bombings so I have canceled my plans to go to a city market. White skinned people are VERY few and far between and I have no intention of inviting danger. A new local police commissioner has banned women wearing scarfs on their heads and faces. Originally, it became a practice because of the air pollution but then became a fashion statement. Many women here in this modern city have started to drive motorcycles. The police believe the scarfs which cover much of the face post a security risk with terrorists and criminals!! It is causing quite a stir...... The bombs that have been going off have been attached to bicycles - a common site to see abandoned as there are everywhere.

I had my palm read by a woman this morning - very interesting experience. There is a lot of interest in astrology and palm reading in India on top of many superstitions. Early this morning I attended a Thread Ceremony at the hotel. It is a boy's coming of age ceremony with family and friends. It was very touching although I could not understand the language I was moved by the ritual and the touching behavior of the family members. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity as it is related to my curriculum project - the role of school assemblies in building a culture of high performance. Allegedly, the daily morning ritual of prayer and motivational assemblies at every school in India is derived from the ancient Thread Ceremony rather than a British tradition as I had assumed.

It is drizzling outside now. The monsoon has been slow in coming to West and South India. There is a city proposal to start putting water meters on non residential places to curb usage by charging for water. Adequate water is a big issue. In the rural areas and urban slums running tap water is a rarity. Even at our five star hotel we do not drink water from the tap or even brush our teeth using the tap. The rivers are so polluted. The untouchables sweep the streets each morning. People just throw paper down with no regard. There also does not seem to be enough public toilets - men have it easy with just finding a wall!! India has so many social issues to solve. In ways it shines and in other ways it is drowning!!

Four legs or four wheels...what's the difference!

Saturday, July 26. Pune, India, a city of 6.5 million is known as the "Oxford of the East" with over 200 colleges but for me it will be equally memorable for my first camel ride. I jumped on a camel yesterday. A small herd was moving through the street as we parked the bus to visit a site. A member of the group asked if he could take a ride. A young boy agreed - for rupees of course! The camel was very intimidating - belching out horrible noises and barring its teeth as it did not seem to want to kneel. After a colleague did it, I just had to grab the opportunity - quite an experience - riding a camel alongside the crazy rickshaw, motorcycle, and auto traffic!! Nothing can ever describe the traffic here. I find myself getting braver to just start crossing a street despite the ongoing traffic and not acting intimidated. Traffic lights are near nonexistent and stop signs even rarer. The traffic flow never stops. The craziest is when your driver takes off in the opposite direction in the middle of ongoing traffic!! Lanes -- no one knows what that is here. Horns beep CONSTANTLY like a symphony just to say "I'm here". I had thought that nothing could beat the high drama of an auto rickshaw but the camel ride can not be matched.

Cultural sites were the focus of the day. The collection at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum was impressive. India has such a rich history to tap. It is sad to see how dismal the conditions are in the museums - no air-conditioning, no restrictions on flash photography, and many rare, priceless pieces accessible for touching. A visit to the Aga Khan Palace reminded us again of the tremendous influence that Gandhi had on the people of India. He and his wife were interned at the palace for nearly two years when he was creating a great deal of unrest in India. The palace had a simple memorial to him there on a beautiful site. The next stop was a cave temple. This is a rock cut excavation dedicated to Lord Shiva - one of the three main gods in India. There are shrines all over India. Ganesh - the elephant headed god - seems to be a favorite. He is the "remover of obstacles".

An evening concert of fusion music at a local "open sky" amphitheatre was a treat. A noted American saxophonist teamed up with a famous Indian keyboardist along with many other musicians at a concert called "Rain Raga". This was a wonderful evening experiencing another first - global music trends based on Indian music patterns. We got to mix with the musicians afterwards. The local conversations with people are often the richest part of the trip.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Biotechnology and Mangroves!

Tuesday, July 22 A visit to an agricultural research center gave me new appreciation for the mangroves so common in Florida. With little fresh water to maintain India's rice needs biotechnology research has isolated the gene in mangroves that make them salt tolerant. They have succeeded in injecting this gene into rice and wheat to increase production in water starved areas. An outreach program works to convince farmers of the importance in trying this new variety. Another key project involves getting the community to plant mangroves along their shoreline for coastal restoration. The tsunami in 2004 had minimal effect in an area where they had succesfully established a mangrove forest. The institute is attempting to use this example to convince people to plan mangroves trees.

At last we visited the prestigious India Institute of Technology (IIT) that we hear about at every secondary school we visit. This is the equivalent to our Harvard, Princeton or Yale Universities. There are currently seven IIT schools all of which specialize in engineering. There is an obsession about ITT. It is the ultimate ambition of every child and parent. Most of the graduates head to the US for jobs in Silicon Valley. It means lifetime prestiage. All bright students study incessantly for the exams. Over 300,000 take the exam for 6,500 seats. They have an affirmative action program mandated by the government that relaxes the cut scores for the Backward Caste applicants and the Scheduled Tribes. We got a sample of last years exam (six hours) and were blown away! It costs students about US $750. a semester!

An evening Ayurvedic message was a cultural experience. This oil massage has an ancient medicinal history. This was truly a Crisco experience that I can not do justice to in a blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Off to the Tropics

Saturday, July 19 How refreshing it is to see coconut trees as we exit the airport in Chennai, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. It appears much like Hyderabad – far more modern, cleaner, and a more organized infrastructure than Delhi or Kolkata. Its six million people still stun you. Much like Hyderabad this town is a driving force behind India’s new technology and software industries. Once unpacked we grabbed a couple rickshaws to head to the beach. It was not what we had imagined. After a long walk trudging through rust colored sand we found ourselves among the masses there enjoying their seashore – in regular street clothes. Only a few young boys were in the water. Of course, we had to kick off our shoes to step into the Indian Ocean. A long row of vendors sold a little bit of everything. We were the sight for those there.

The evening included a demonstration of native Tamil Nadu dancing with past Fulbright scholars in attendance. The dancing was impressive. The movement and facial expressions convey exaggerated emotions - truly an art form. The influence of religion is apparent in all forms of expression in India. The origins are in temple dancing but is now taught and performed across India as part of their nationalist movement. India is such a young country (1947) with a rich heritage.

Sunday at the Basilica, the beach and a temple in Chennai

Sunday, July 20 Mass in English a St. Thomas Basilica will be a highlight of the trip. The Basilica is built over the Tomb of St. Thomas. Chennai has a large Christian population. It is one of three basilicas in the world that sit at the site of an apostle’s tomb. We felt so fortunate to have stumbled upon an English mass as six services are held. The primary language here in South India is Tamil so a Hindi phrasebook won’t get you far. English is still the official government language.

The auto rickshaw took us next to Marina Beach where over 200 people were killed in the 2004 tsunami. We were drawn to a section where the fishermen pull their boats ashore to empty their nets while their wives’ take the catch to the adjoining market to display and sell. This part of India lies within the steamy Tropic of Cancer. It feels very much like Florida. The sand is a rusty color with the strange absence of sea gulls. The families live in one room hovels that sit across the street from their make shift display of prawns and fish. These pitiful hovels are stacked atop one another in a close knit community. We ambled through their village – building trust with a personal introduction and friendly conversation. A colleague brought postcards of his home state with an introductory message on a label adhered to the back. It was a great ice-breaker that opened the door for photos to be comfortably taken. They loved to view themselves in the photos afterwards. Attempts to draw the globe in the sand to show where we live relative to India bewildered them. The poverty was extreme yet they were among the fortunate with a livelihood to feed the family.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Sunday, July 13 Namaste is both hello and goodbye with the palms of both hands held together at chest height - getting alot of practice using it! At last we have a free day. It is a monsoon kind of day - perfect to stay in and catch up on "stuff". I am wearing one of two salwar kameez outfits that I bought in the market yesterday. They cost about $8.00 each. The tunic top and pants are fine but getting accustomed to the long draping scarf is evades me. It is either falling into my food or on the sidewalk.

India is teaching me much about humanity. So much can not be translated into words or captured by pictures. The images that have captured the world's attention of India as the pinnacle of information technology and offshore call centers defies the reality of a country of stark contrasts. The represents perhaps 10% of the country. The remainder is very 3rd world.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

School Visit of 4,000

Tuesday, July 08. After staying in bed nearly all day I awoke this morning determined to get my 6:30 am taxi to visit the school of my collaborating educator in India. The school has 4,000 students in grades 1-12. They were awaiting me to address an assembly at 7am!! Wow, two thousand (secondary students only) stood at attention in a courtyard in neat rows and welcomed me with great ceremony and singing. I spoke to them (slowly) for about ten minutes. They all wear uniforms. The boys wear white shirts and ties and the girls white shirts and skirts with upper class students able to wear pants. All girls must wear red ribbons or head bands. Nearly all had braided hair. It was very impressive. I will try to load some photos. I visited many classrooms and had tea twice (the British custom is still very strong) with the principal. He only has two assistant principals for a school of 4,000. Teachers each have one period of the day to fulfill administrative responsibilities. The Teacher Unions in the US would never permit this. I am out of Internet time for now. Miss everyone!