Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Want to Smile?

As Hurricane Sandy ravages the northeast, I thought I would write down a few things that make me smile and hopefully make you smile as well…

1. Golf shoes

For those of you who do not know me, I love everything that has to do golf. Whether I am playing golf, watching golf, teaching golf, I am totally in love with the sport. The other day I walked into an athletic store in Fancy Bazaar, and found a nice pair of golf shoes. I squealed! (And the workers looked at me like I was crazy.) I was so happy that I almost bought them. It is the first thing related to golf that I have seen.

A couple blocks down the street from my apartment is a Chicken and Waffle restaurant. Unfortunately, it is not open for breakfast but they are open for dinner. Their waffles are really really delicious! You can get the waffles with anything on them (meat, chicken, anything), but I stick with the plain waffle and maple syrup. Although it is never crowded (I do not think waffles mix well with Indian palettes), it is a great treat for me. The owners are two women who are quite clever. There are comic strips about food, music, and other cute additions all around the restaurant.

The restaurant next to the waffle restaurant 

3. Guwahati sunsets

Guwahati (along with the Operation Smile center) is located on the Brahmaputra River. While at work, I sometimes look outside of the hospital and see beautiful sunsets. Here are a few pictures…

Not a sunset, but a beautiful view on my morning run. The fishing boats coming in from a busy morning. 

The other day, I went to a water park outside of Guwahati. I was quite skeptical of what this water park would be like but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it $2 (the water park in Nashville, Nashville Shores, costs $31.99 for one person), but the water and facilities were clean and well kept. It was so nice that I did not feel like I was in Guwahati. I have no idea what it is doing in Guwahati or who had this idea, but I will be definitely be going back. I was like a little kid in the wave pool and on the scary water slides. They also had small amusement park rides and there were no lines at all. Just a reminder, nobody wears bathing suits here as that is not part of the culture. So, I wore leggings and t-shirt. There are women swimming in traditional Indian clothing such as saris and salwares. It is hard not to laugh. 
Accoland entrance! 

Pirate Land

5. Bob Dylan Tribute

The other day, I went to a Bob Dylan tribute with my friends. The singers really did sound like Bob Dylan and everybody in the crowd knew every word to every song. I could not get past the fact that I was at a Bob Dylan tribute in Guwahati.  

Supposedly, this singer wears this outfit to every concert that he is performing.

The second singer rocking out to Bob Dylan. 
6. Election Time

The U.S. State department sends me e-mails when I should be warned about something happening in India, such as riots, etc. The other day, I got an e-mail that said the U.S. Embassy is having an election breakfast. Although I will not be in Delhi (I sure wish I was for this event), it is still fun to think about going. I thought it was worth sharing so that people know what others do around the world in celebration of this presidential election. The e-mail is below! 

I will instead be attending my "Presidential Election Skype Session Breakfast/Dinner in Guwahati and Nashville.” I am planning to skype with my family (early in the morning for me) and watch the election through my computer.

Double click this to make the photo larger and more clear. 

Thinking about all of those affected by the hurricane in the North East and I hope everyone is safe….

Sending Smiles and happy thoughts from India,

P.S. If you have a Facebook, please like the Pratyasha Foundation, which is the organization that helps the Lakhtokia slum! This way, you can be updated on our monthly projects.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Warm Welcomes

During Durga Puja, I spent lots of time at my Indian friends' houses. I had not been to any of my friends' houses yet and I was not sure what to expect.

I first went to Pinky’s house. Many posts back, I wrote about the famous Kamakhya Temple. The temple’s billboard, gateway and entrance is located at the bottom of a steep hill, and the temple is about a 10-15 minute drive from this entrance. Pinky lives across the street from the gateway and billboard. You cross a railroad track and begin to climb what feels like the Great Wall of China. She lives closer to the top of a steep hill and the only way to get to her house is by walking some trails. There are plenty of houses on this hill, so lots of people get their daily workout by hiking the hill.

Pinky kept warning me and warning me about how her house was a lot different from mine (she has never seen a picture of my house), and she stressed the fact that it was not very nice. I told her repeatedly that did not bother me at all (because it did not), and I was just so excited to meet her family. Pinky met me at my apartment and we took a motorcycle to her house. She told me that all day long her four siblings and parents kept asking what time I would come, and the answer was always the same: 5 P.M. On the motorcycle, they kept calling asking how far away from the house we were. Talk about pressure: they had been preparing food and been waiting for me all day. Half way up the hill, I was welcomed and greeted by her three brothers (ages 16, 10, and 6). Her mom and little sister (17) were outside of her house waiting to greet me with me big hugs and smiles. 

Below are pictures showing the house:

Behind the curtain is the kitchen/den
The porch and drying cothes area

Their temple
The bathroom

The den/living area 

The kitchen (I am sitting in the den while taking this photo)

My best friends, the cows
Their view (hard to see in the dark but it is beautiful)

The house is the size of my den in Nashville, which only goes to show that absolute joy can come wrapped in small packages. This family was the nicest family in the world. Before dinner, Pinky's sister painted my arms and hands in henna, and the whole time the brothers just sat watching talking to me a getting to know me. At dinner, the mother fed me so much food, and in the interest of being polite I stuffed my face until I seriously could not put one more thing in my mouth. (Serving huge meals is a common thing here for hostesses to do to guests in India. This evening included tiny fried fish in which you eat the heads, eyes, everything.) The sister did the most amazing henna ever; the mother cooked the most amazing food and told me she wanted me to move in; the brothers loved showing me their house, loved playing with my iPhone, and asked question after question about the USA. Meanwhile, Pinky was always asking if I needed anything. I felt totally spoiled.

Pinky's sister, an incredible henna artist

In the middle of my massive meal: rice, dal, chicken, veggies and fish (notice the fried fish on the top of my plate). 
This night really affected me. Their warmth and generosity was beyond all. Since this night, I have had dinner at her house two more times. Pinky’s mom is worried about me being away from my family so she wants me to live at their house. The whole family embodies the meaning of kindness. Although they do not have much, they have an incredibly kind spirit and really that is all that matters.

Manika, Me, Pinki (to put some faces to the names)
Also this week, I went to my friend Manika’s house for a Durga Puja celebration. The parents were so happy to have me and got me all ready to go out on the town to see Puja. Thank you Manika for having me over!

The view from Manika's house
Living room
Manika's room
Manika's room
Some delicious Puja food- rice, dal, potatoes/cauliflower, a veggie salad, chicken
Manika's beautiful mom
Finally, I went to Rihna’s house for another Puja celebration the same day I went to Manika’s house. We ate some Puja snacks before going to see more Puja at night. Thank you also Rihna for your hospitality!
Rihna (to a put a face to the name)
Puja snacks- samosas, and Indian sweets
Rihna's living room
More of Rihna's living room
Sending smiles and warm welcomes from India,

ALSO, Please check out www.tennyc.blogspot.com. My friend Abby Horrell so kindly gave me a shout out on her blog, so I’ll do the same. Her blog, although quite different from mine, takes my mind off the hardships that are sometimes faced here. Go read the posts and feel like you are living in New York City as a musical theatre college student who knows how to dress better than anyone out there. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy Durga Puja!

Durga Puja is quite the celebration!
To explain Durga Puja as best I can, I will start by saying that Guwahati at 8:30 p.m. is usually empty. Everyone is usually at home, enjoying family, and preparing dinner. During Durga Puja, the streets are packed with stand-still traffic at midnight. Last night, I thought I was in a completely different world for a second. I mean, stand-still traffic in the roads at midnight in Guwahati? Wait, what?
Traffic at midnight. 
You see families with wide awake 4-year-old kids sitting on motorcycles in traditional Assamese clothing enjoying Puja late into the night. You see people cooking food everywhere along the sides of the streets. You see a vast ocean of women dressed in beautiful, brightly colored clothing (during Durga Puja, you are supposed to wear new clothes), and everyone shouting and yelling and making noise.The most amazing thing about the festival is just the sheer numbers of people, even in a place that seems totally packed anyway. People have come to Guwahati from throughout the region and neighboring countryside to celebrate. I have been totally amazed.
So, what do I mean by enjoying Puja? What do I mean by seeing Puja? Statues like these are located all around Guwahati under tents. The statues depict the story of Durga, who is the Hindu God that is celebrated this week. You know a Durga Puja scene is coming up on you when you see colorful lights You also know a Durga Puja scene is coming up when the traffic comes to a complete stand still. There are competitions all around Guwahati for "the best Puja."
The lights showing that their is a Puja tent coming!
Welcome to Paris... in Guwahati.
Lights, lights, lights
What everyone is celebrating, all over northern India, is Durga's slaying of the wicked Mahishausura, who was considered a buffalo demon. Essentially, it is a story of good over evil. No kidding, there are some religious ceremonies here in Guwahati where a live buffalo is sacrificed in front of everyone. Sometimes they don't use buffaloes. Sometimes they use goats, or pigeons. 
Anyway to get as close to the artwork as possible, you follow the mass crowd and wait to be given flowers and have a red dot placed on your forehead. Then, you throw the flowers to Durga. Before you know it, the mass crowd has swept you away.
Durga Puja

Puja statue with gifts to the Gods in front.

The Puja next to my house.
Some areas are major puja areas, with loads of booths set up selling toys and food. There are even Ferris wheels (yes, I did ride one) and merry go rounds, DJs and singers with people dancing and drummers playing the Durga Puja drums.
The final day of Puja, which is today (Wednesday, Oct 24), marks the day that all of the statues are thrown into the Brahmaputra River. Everyone loads the statues onto trucks, turns up the music and dances their way to the river. In a sense, it is like Mardi Gras. All of these people are on trucks with the statues (like floats), throwing rice at you (like beads), and dancing away to the beat of the drums. They believe that the longer they celebrate and dance into the night, the more they are praising the gods. Thousands of people gather around the river to watch the beautiful and ornate statues get thrown into the river. 
Parading down to the river! 

Off to the river it goes! 

The statue is about to be unloaded and carried to the water.

As we were walking to the river, I saw a shop that had 10 Puja statues against the wall. My friend told me those statues are for next year, meaning the artists have already started working on Durga Puja 2013. Wow! Can you believe all of their hard work gets thrown into the river and sinks to the bottom? However, they believe that the water symbolizes the departure of Durga to her home.  
Everyone is so faithful and energetic about their religion and this holiday. I have been swept up in this energy, fully immersing myself in everything the Hindus do during the week. Most truly believe in having a good time while praising Durga. Off to celebrate some more!
Sending smiles and “Happy Durga Pujas” from India,

P.S. Below, are some photos from the week...

My friend's sister doing my henna in preparation for Puja!

She is absolutely incredible at henna. This would usually cost $60.

I love henna!!

First night of Durga Puja! 
Rafi and Pinki 
Me, Pinki, Manika, Rihna, Maromi

Manika, me, Pinki, Anuwara (Second night of Durga Puja)!

A yummy Puja meal! 

The morning after the second night of Puja

The morning after the second night of Puja