Saturday, August 22, 2009

A band of Bedouins delayed the post

So, it's been awhile since I've given an update on my expedition. At least it feels like awhile since everyday I have a new story to tell - so much happens here! Cliffnotes version (as far as I am capable):

Awhile ago we went to the Samachalam Temple with the chief physician and astrologer to the maharaja of Vizanagram. The maharaja is still the president of the temple so was able to make a nice little phone call and get us all the way inside to the deity and see all of the temple - something that would have been completely impossible or horrendously expensive for us Westerners otherwise. We were able to participate in a wonderful puja (ritual worship) service and experience a unique darshan (seeing the god as he sees you.) Questions arise here of worshiping false gods and not eating food offered to idols - both solid Old Testament rules, but I chalk it up under participant observation and respect for others' beliefs, and leave it at that.
We also got to embrace the Wishing Column and make a wish. Most couples come to ask for increased fertility. I did not.

The temple itself was built in the 14th century and I dare any European cathedral to compete with it for beauty or intricacy of detail. Pictures of same:

Indian Independence Day was on the 15th. We went to the school in the Jalaripet village for a short program and to watch some games. We got our hands henna'd for the occasion, too.

Monday-Wednesday we spent at JNTU - an engineering college about 4 hours from here. We toured classrooms, sang the only Telugu song we know 20 billion times, gave speeches, listened to speeches, and danced the Macarena and a cobbled-together EFY line dance in front of local dignitaries and the entire student body. And then to ice the cake as it were, yours truly was somehow wrangled to participate in an impromptu dance off on stage with another member of my group...okay, so it really wasn't that hard to convince me. I just kind of forgot that there was a news camera there as I jumped and jived and, yes, did the worm. I maybe got a little carried away...but does that surprise anyone? The next morning it was on the national news. 40 million+ people saw me. Dr. Nuckolls is still getting comments from people about it. I may be able to get away with saying a goddess possessed me and made me dance like that.

Tonight we were also privilaged to have the temple musicians come down from Samachalam and perform at the Krishna Temple just down the street. Dr. Nuckolls assures us that we have earned great merit in the next life for sponsoring this event. A video will be forthcoming.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Reptile Woman!* Vol. 32:5

We join our heroine on yet another of her adventures into uncharted territory in the Mysterious East. Followed by her loyal crew, she starts off on anthropological endeavors guaranteed to make her name in the academic world and bring added prestige to her already prestigious university. Unknown by the others on the trip, though, bookish, friendly Suzanne Powell moonlights at REPTILE WOMAN - the scaly savior of the down-trodden, excluded, and inconvenienced.

The expedition begins at the crowded Visakhapatanam railroad station where Suzanne and her university colleagues are being subject to curious stares from locals and requests for pictures. They graciously accept and pose, though Suzanne is saddened by all of the pleas for money she forces herself to ignore. Unfortunately the beggars do need to be ignored but, Suzanne vows, one day she will come back and right these wrongs!

The trains begins boarding and Suzanne notices a problem. There are way too many people that need to get on and not nearly enough seats. How are we ever going to fit? she asks herself. Problem solving mode!

Chikchika! Zing!

All of a sudden Suzanne and two of her companions are sitting on top of the luggage rack above the seats. A flash of her discolored ankle as she moves to cross her legs causes Suzanne to recall how she came to possess her unnaturally high I.Q., quick reflexes, and tendency to have more energy the hotter it gets.

It was a (social) science experiment gone horribly wrong. Suzanne, and independent university student, confident in her ability to handle anything that could come her way and headed off for parts unknown for some hands-on, real-world experience. Over the course of her travels she noticed a growing prickly heat rash on her legs and arms. Too busy to pay it any attention, she had foolishly believed that her body would be able to take care of itself. Little did she know, her body was already undergoing changes too big to deal with or fully understand.

Toweling off after a bucket shower one day, Suzanne noticed the rash was gone. In its place were scales! Panicking, she fled to the mirror and, sure enough, there were scales on her arms, on her back, and running all down her legs! She had mutated into a lizard! The next few weeks were a confused haze as SUzanne tried creams, tried powders, mets with doctors under fake names, all to no avail. In time, she had come to accept the changes, accept the ability to climb walls and trees with no available handholds, accept the strange cravings for insects. Only lately had she realized how this curse really was a blessing, a gift that enabled her to go further in her chosen profession and to help those around her.

The train swam back into view as Suzanne's memory-clouded eyes cleared. They were pulling into a station in a small town surrounded by luscious vegetation and anthropological oddities waiting to be researched.

Unloading, the corps of scientists and explorers tramp off along the now deserted train traacks into the jungle's depths. Before long, the warning call of a tribe of monkeys reaches their ears. The racket grows louder and louder crescendo-ing into a cacophony of panicked birds and screeching primates until, stepping into a clearing, Suzanne and her team see the mouth of an ancient, vine-covered cave, The surrounding trees suddenly become unnaturally still. Swallowing, glancing for confirmation from her fellow researchers, Suzanne moves cautiously towards and into the cave.

A timeless scene of glass-calm pools, awe-inspiring stalactites and towering stalagmites meet their eyes as tthey slowly adjust to the gloom. Dripping water and the quiet scratching of bats overhead seemed to echo throughout the enormous cavity. They move further and further in, carefully training their electric torches pn the groun in front of them and then sweeping up to view the rocky walls. There seems to be no end to the cavernous depths. They folloe natural steps, down, down until they reach a dead-end and then, moving to make the ascent back up, Suzanne's reptilian eyes, glowing faintly with reflected light from the torches, catches sight of stairs, carefully blended in with the rest of the surrounding rock, but showing tell-tale signs of human craftsmanship.

Intrigued, she signals the rest of her team to wait for her as she climbs the steep, narrow steps. Higher and higher she foes, her scaly limbs giving her the endurance to keep going where normal, human legs would have been uncontrollably shaking from the exersion. A whiff of sandalwood on the still air grows stronfer, and Suzanne knows she is reaching the end of her climb, whatever the end may be. Noticing lights up ahead, she switches off her torch and finishes the last few steps in semidarkness. Rounding the corner, she halts in her tracks, surprised.
It's a shrine. A shrine in the middle of a mountain. A shrine which, after cursory examination, appears to be dedicated to Vishne and his consort Lakshmi. Removing her shoes out of respect, she moves closer. The votive candles are burning brightly and the incense was recently lit. But who had lit them? Suzanne glanced around for hidden alcoves and dust on the ground for another set of foot prints. Nothing. No clue as to who the mysterious devotee was. Checking once more and with one last look at the shrine, Suzanne turns and, replacing her shoes, begins the long descent.

Emerging from the cave with the rest of the group, Suzanne fills them in on everything she had seen. It was now late in the afternoon, so rendezvousing with the Jeeps they had arranges to meet at the check point, the team rumbles down a mountain path to the next village.
Once there, however, they receive word from their local contact, village gossip Kiliash Giri, that the train has been delayed for at least the next four hours. From his network all up and down the mountainside, Giri was also able to inform them that the Maoist Separatist guerillas were currently active in that part of the countryside, the local police having just foiled one of their plots the day before to blow up the local post office. It was imperative that the Americans leave the village that night, the sooner the better, since their presence put them and the rest of the village in great risk.

Stunned by this latest bit of news, Suzanne and her compatriots move to the bus depot hoping transportation will come by soon to take them and their guides back to safety. As dusk moves in, they begin darting furtive glances into the shadows and down alleyways. What would happen if they were caught by the red rebels?
Night comes and still no luck finding a ride. Suddenly, a set of headlights appears up the road winding towards them. A bus had found them! As it pulls up, the excitement and sighs of relief die unexpressed. The bus is packed. There is no way there will be room for all of them. Despite their protests, Suzanne and her team convince their guides and friends to get on board and head back to safety. As the bus pulls away, the gamely waving hands of Suzanne and her colleagues falter and fall. Gloom descends. What were they to do now? Well, thought Suzanne, if there was a time for Reptile WOman, it would be now. Problem solving mode!

Whiziwhizi! Bang!

By her reptilian sixth sense, Suzanne senses that one of the Indians waiting with them is from nearby. A quick bit of bargaining, and in a very short bit for the second time that night headlights cut through the dark, and the SUV belonging to them pull in front of the weary explorers. As they pile in and start off, loud, brash Indian dance music bursts from the dashboard. Unknowlingly, they had happened upon the fabled Indian Techno Dance Party of Awesomeness. And they jived and shimmied all the way home.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in which Reptile Woman braves student protests, the yellow press, and gets one step closer to publishing her thesis!

*Inspired by actual events

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yesterday I became an anthropologist

Courtney and I had the most amazing experience yesterday. After lunch we decided to take an auto rickshaw to Andhra University and explore the library in the Women's Studies Center. We had met with one of the heads of the center, Dr. Ratna Kumari, a few days earlier, and she had given us permission to come whenever we liked. She is an amazingly brilliant and passionate woman whom we initially met when she came to visit BYU last winter. Because of how successful that trip was, she is willing to be very helpful to us here - offering advice, willing to look over questionaires, suggesting contacts for us. It was a little surreal sitting in her office being plied with chilled water and pastries and soda and discussing world issues and our research.

We are learning the correct methods of introductions and procedures for networking while we here. Sitting in Ratna Kumari's office seemed informal on the surface, but there is definitely a code of conduct and social rules to follow as we start making connections. It's in the manner of complimenting and eating what's placed in front of you and addressing superiors and grandly thanking people for services offered and humbling yourself and correctly wording had better believe it's a code of social conduct as real and omnipresent as our own - and one we have to learn if we're going to be successful. Thank heavens we had Dr. Nuckolls with us to guide us along and take cues from.

But back to the library. When Courtney and I went in, there were 5-6 women already who of course stopped what they were doing, made introductions, and sat and talked with us for almost an hour. Indians make a big deal about networking and expanding social contacts. It's important to make strong relationships and ties in everyday life as well as in the business world. But it was amazing! These women were intelligent and friendly and helpful and were asking us questions, and we were asking them questions and everyone was laughing, and then it struck: We were doing anthropology! We were sitting and taking notes and talking about the demographics of women entrepreneurs and writing down phone numbers and planning interviews for next week. We had follow up questions, we were giving correct affirmative cues and pausing in the right places to silently ask them to elaborate - we had arrived. It was thrilling. It was empowering. It was fascinating. We couldn't get over it and kept replaying it while we drove back. Yesterday I woke up a student and went to bed an anthropologist.

And now for pictures of what I've been up to:


Michelle, Tiffany and I enjoying the monsoon on our roof.

How we eat all of our meals. So good! I'm still getting used to be waited on...

Putting up Amber's mosquito net for her. I had to get a little creative...

The small shops in Lawson's Bay right around the corner from us.

Seven of the eventual nine we fit into the auto rickshaw. I ended up putting my head out of the window.

Fabric shopping!!! I didn't want to leave...

Monday, August 3, 2009

I no longer have ankles

The mosquitoes of Vizag have launched an all-out war upon my legs. True to my history, no one else seems to be as bothered by them as I am, and I swear I put on way more repellent than they do. And I'm taking B1 which supposedly helps keep them away. Supposedly. Right now one of my ankles is so swollen from bites, you can no longer seen the ankle bone. What do I do to get them to go away?

On a happier note, I am posting pictures of my new home.

The view from our roof.

My bed. I love my mosquito net! I'm protected during the night at least.

Our shower. I can bathe using only a bucket's worth of water. Surprisingly refreshing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Things I've Experienced Traveling Internationally or how efy prepared me for 2+ days of flying

This was written during my 10-hour stopover in Hyderabad.

1. Indians serve ketchup with cucumber and tomato sandwiches and chicken pastries. At EFY I occasionally ate at the Cannon Center.

2. Over the past two days and four nights (I'm pretty sure the sun set four times...) I have slept for about 1-3 hour intervals whenever I could. Once I was asleep on the plane before we even took off. I have no idea how much sleep I am running on, what day it is, or what time my body thinks it is. Just before this, I was an EFY counselor where I slept in about 4-5 hour intervals whenever I could. Once I was asleep on my knees before I even finished praying. I didn't bother counting how much sleep I was running on, what day of the month it was, and my body said it was always nap time.

3. Saudi Arabinas all wear Doc Martens or Keens with socks. At EFY there were no Saudi Arabians.

4. I have no qualms about sleeping where people can see me. At EFY the hallway and any chair was fair game for a bed.

5. In India I am a celebrity. Parents bring their children up to give me a high five, young girls stare, Muslim women smile, men glance over their shoulders, and college-age guys sit on the floor with Michelle and I and talk for 2 hours at the end of which they ask for our phone numbers and invite us to visit them in Bangalore. We did not give them our numbers, and I'm pretty sure I won't be in Bangalore anytime soon. But they were very nice and and curious and funny and shared with us their views on the dowry system and protecting their sisters - and no, I wasn't the one to bring the subject up. They shared that information on the own. At EFY I was a rock star. 15 year-old boys flirted outrageous with me. You know who you are. They also did not get my number.

6. I'm pretty sure I heard an Indian instrumental version of o! Christmas Tree in the airport in Hyderabad. Michelle swears she listened to a version of Take My Breath Away while I was sleeping in a chair. At EFY any song is up for reprise, parody, or included as part of a readiness activity. I occasionally got Christmas songs stuck in my head. One week I personally remedied what I considered a glaring gap in my youths' education by teaching them the Song That Never Ends which, like O! Christmas tree is always appropriate.

7. In India all bright colors match and look good on everyone, and many people wear very baggy shirts. At EFY, all bright colors match and "look good" on everyone, and many people wear very baggy shirts.

8. Indians don't "queue" very well or follow explicit instructions. They kind of just hear the information they need and ignore the rest. It's a form of organized chaos that drove the O'Hare workers crazy, but works just fine in India. Everything gets done in more or less the same time as everyone makes sure their own needs are taken care of. Adam Smith would be in tears seeing everyone looking our for their own self interest and it actually working. 1000 teenagers also do not line up well or follow explicit instructions unless it is told them several times and a counselor is there to make sure it gets done. They do not hear the information they need snd ask you later for the times and locations that were announced 10 minutes ago. There is nothing organized about the chaos just before the variety show.

9. Indians are very happy and incredibly helpful....Except the big guards carrying assault rifles. EFY counselors are very happy and helpful except the big guards carrying rifles during Friday night lock down.

With all of these similarities and my time spent with both, I think I am ready to implement my friend Dan's suggestion and become the first EFY sessnion director in India. India Area Session 1A has a great ring to it. ANd the techno music playing over the loud speaker would be perfect at a youth dance. Well, I'm off to go teach them the EFY cheer...