entering the land of the gods

a study abroad journey

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

1 Month Down

January 30th

A month ago today I landed in India to a crowd of staring eyes and now, this city feels like home! I can’t believe how much I have seen and experienced in this short amount of time. Yet, the journey is just beginning!

I finally feel like I am establishing daily routines but yet still have spontaneity! I have been able to meet amazing people here, both Indians and Internationals, while still maintaining relationships at home. While I have had nostalgia, I have not been truly homesick yet. Life flows at a nice pace here in Hyderabad!

Today was also a special day. “You know what would be the best,” Rachel said today after class. “If we got samosas at tea time today.” We all agreed, samosas sounded really great. We walked into the dining room to pour our tea and what do ya know…samosas! It is the little things in life that make one’s day 🙂

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A few updates of the week:

In Hindi class I am learning numbers! I can count to ten by memory- whoa 🙂 Check out this great Bollywood song that helped me memorize the numbers:

Tezaab- “Ek, Do, Tin” 

We are making great progress in Kuchipudi dance! We have almost finished three sets of movement. Once again, each movement has 5 speeds. Normally we work the first 3 speeds pretty hard and then attempt the last 2 for fun. We are definitely working our calves, thighs, and abdomens. Good thing I have yoga to stretch me out 🙂

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This weekend I am traveling to the city of Hampi, located about 400 km south east of Hyderabad.  While I hope to keep up to date with my blogging, finding internet may be a challenge. So- look forward to some great stories next week!

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India Fights Obesity

Fighting Fat at India Inc, One Dosa at a Time

Here is an article on how India is trying to fight obesity. It is interesting to read how much American data is helping them develop their own tools.

Rain!?

It rained today!!!!

Emily and I headed to Inorbit Mall today to get some things for our weekend trip. When we looked out the window after making our purchases we were amazing to see rain pouring from the sky! This is very odd for Hyderabad at this time. The monsoon season generally runs late June to early October.

I so wanted to run out into the rain and dance in the sweet droplets with Emily, but alas, it was not the right setting. Instead we made our way back into the mall and got introduced to real south indian coffee. The majority of the coffee here is Nescafe- yuck! But this was “filtered coffee,” as they call it, made with chicory grounds and milk. Yum, was that tasty, like a cafe au lait with a slight sweetness!

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Soon the rain stopped and we made our way out of the mall to call a rickshaw, making it back to Tagore just in time for Tandoori Tuesday 🙂

Now as I sit here, the night is full of thunder rolling and bursts of lightning. Emily and I keep hoping for more rainfall so we can run out onto the patio and dance!

1 hour later….

It sounds like it is raining cats and dogs outside by the way the rain sounds on the roof. I excitedly ran out onto the patio- big drops fell down but not too much. Ya know what though, I danced anyway! The puddles were huge and I splashed my feet in them like Gene Kelly in “Singin in the Rain” (which I finally will be able to see live in London when I return home)!

Ah, the smell. That humid, earthy smell of rain. There is really nothing like a summer rain. Who knew I could experience it in January!?

The American’s are Back!

Though it was great to have a “quiet” weekend, I love having everyone back at Tagore! There is nothing like a dining room full of friends telling travel stories. Meanwhile, we store all the advice in our brains for future travel to the same spots, hoping we can have as much fun 🙂

It was “burger” night at Tagore today. We had a choice of chicken or veggie patties on a soft white, chewy bun! Loaded with tomato, red onion, cabbage, and even a little cheese, this burger hit the spot!

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French fries also made it onto the buffet today. What?! These were the real deal folks, freshly cut and fried.

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But my favorite part of the meal….OKRA! (I’m so predictable) 🙂

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Motorcycle Ride!

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IMG_1110I rode a motorcycle for the first time today, ya’ll! I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous to get on the back of the cycle and ride through the streets of Hyderabad, but it was great. We didn’t go far and rode along
IMG_1112many side streets which made for a lot of bumps but very little traffic. Our cyclists were Ayush and Ankur. We met them at a gathering a few weeks ago and so today they invited us over for lunch at their apartment. 

Lesson #1: When you are invited to lunch in India, it becomes a full day event. Good thing we didn’t have much to rush home to!

Upon arriving at their apartment complex, I was intrigued by the building process. While half the building was residential, there was still construction going on. As each room is finished, it is immediately sold even though the rest of the building. Ayush and Ankur’s place is very nice for a bachelor pad. 🙂 It was clean and crisp but as Emily commented, “It needs a woman’s touch,” aka: pictures and artwork on the walls. Haha!

Our first event of the day was frying fish! Ayush explained that fresh fish is available every Sunday (after the fisherman are out for the weekend) so they go down to the market to buy fish almost every Sunday. The fish that we had was a salt water fish. Ankur made a mixture of mustard, garlic, ginger, salt, chili powder, and turmeric which we rubbed on the fish and then fried on a hot pan. It was very delicious; mild but meaty with just a few bones.

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In the meantime, Ankur had called the cook. Yes, they have a cook and a maid (I guess this is very common). Their cook comes Monday through Friday to make dinner for them and weekends if they call him. The maid comes to do their laundry and tidy up.

Well, the cook didn’t show up until around 2pm and when he walked in the door I laughed. I was totally expecting an older gentleman but the man who walked in was a young guy no older than 25. He got to work in the kitchen and I became a fly on the wall.

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First he started the daal by sautéing onions, spinach, tomatoes and spices in a pot. Then he added yellow lentils, water, and shut the lid to let it boil. Later he added cilantro. It was fantastic!

In preparing the okra, he again sautéed onions and spices in oil before adding the okra. Then they cooked down until “juicy and delicious,” as I like to say 🙂

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He even made fresh roti bread! The dough was simple: flour, water, and spices. He added a little turmeric and anise seeds. After forming little balls he rolled each one out on a marble circle. The rolled dough is cooked on a hot pan until firm and then held over the open flame until brown and bubbly!

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Oh and dessert! Ayush asked him to make kheer, an indian rice pudding. I have only had it once at Tagore but this was 10 times better! I didn’t see the whole process but the milk and rice were cooked down until thick, flavored with cardamom. It is only slightly sweet with small pieces of golden raisin and almonds mixed in. I really enjoyed it warm.

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(Cutting almonds with Ayush)

It was a perfect meal eaten picnic style on bean bag chairs 🙂

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We finally got back to Tagore around 5pm. It was a long afternoon of hanging around and I was definitely ready to leave for the day, but it was great to meet locals and get off campus. I hope to keep meeting great people like Ayush and Ankur who are so hospitable and willing to share their culture!

Rise of Private Universities and Liberal Arts Programs

In India, a Rise of Private Universities and Liberal Arts Programs

I am glad to read in this article from India Ink, that Liberal Arts Universities are on the rise in India! Here at the University of Hyderabad there is definitely a different feel on campus compared to my home at Nebraska Wesleyan. As an International student, I struggled to take courses out of multiple departments because of the overlapping schedules. Each department essentially runs on its own here, choosing the course timings and examination dates without discussing with other departments. Similarly, as I have chatting with other Indian students I have met, they tell me they only take courses out of one or maybe two departments. Therefore, in my Film and Lit course out of the English department, all of the other students in the class are studying English. It is very odd to me!

Another interesting fact from this article is the cost of these Universities. “Annual tuition [at a private institution] can run as high as 40,000 rupees compared with 360 rupees [at a public university].”

40,000 rupees is roughly $740! Wow! That is so cheap compared to American standards. I could only pay for one semester long course for that much at NWU. It makes me wonder what the other Indian students are paying here at UoH…

 

Living the Life

Weeks go by fast here at the University of Hyderabad! I definitely dig this four day week/three day weekend schedule. With classes beginning at NWU this week, I have missed the Nebraska campus and my sisters at Alpha Gam, but not so much the cold weather. 🙂

Classes are finally beginning to roll. In Kuchipudi Dance class we are learning “sets” of dance movement. It has been really basic so far, but it is the foundational movement. Each class begins with a prayer to Shiva, the Lord of dance. Our professor, Aruna, will sing a phrase of the chant and we repeat it back. We sound completely ridiculous since we have no idea what the Sanskrit words are but it is neat to have that kind of ritual behind the dance. Then we move on to our warm up sequences. It is basically like doing plies in ballet. However, in Kuchipudi you have five speeds of movement. Aruna beats a wooden block to keep the beat moving faster and faster. How exhilarating! I have not been in a formal dance class in since high school. Next we move on to a similar sequence where we kick our butt with one foot and then plie. We have also learned how to move forward, backward, and side to side. I am excited to learn more of the hand gestures next! They are so expressive! In the meantime, we are also learning about the origins of Kuchipudi dance during each class period.

Last week in my Film & Literature class we watched Slumdog Millionaire after reading Q&A, the movie it was based off of. This week we began discussing the two in comparison, however, our classtime keeps getting interrupted! On Monday, we were cut off halfway through the period to attend a lecture from a poet on campus. Today we didn’t even start class, we were just ushered into the lecture all for another conference. Our teacher, Sirisha is very frustrated and I am too! I am ready to start discussing and interacting with my classmates. Better luck next week….

In the meantime, there is an International Film Festival taking place on campus! There is a movie showing almost every Tuesday and Thursday in the Humanities Department! The first film on Tuesday was a french film, La Doublure. I arrived just before 5pm for the start of the movie. Ten minutes later, a professor finally made some opening remarks and then introduced the Dean of the department. I have realized that introductions are very important here. Every lecture or event is opened by a presiding professor who introduced the Dean of the particular department. The Dean of Humanities is full of smiles and full of words. Ten minutes later, speeches were done and I was ready to get the movie rolling. But the Dean continued, “So, without further ado, I invite you for tea in the lobby and we will start the film shortly.” Haha- I should have known! We all made our way into the hallway where tea and biscuits were being served. In chatting with some other students they asked me why I wasn’t drinking tea. I explained that I had some at Tagore before I arrived and they responded, “You must learn to take tea and biscuits whenever they are offered because you never know when the event will be over!” Ha- that’s India for ya! Anyway, I was a great movie–romantic comedy.

Today, the movie was a Japanese thriller called Death Note. It was rather interesting; a student finds a book called “Death Note” that the Reaper dropped. When the name of a person is written in the book, they will die within 40 seconds. It turns out that the storyline is based on Japanese anime comic books. There was no tea time before the movie this time, but instead the movie was stopped halfway through, in the middle of the action, for teatime. 🙂

It should be another relaxing weekend. There are lots of International Students out of town so it is nice and quiet. I have my first test in Hindi on Monday so I have some studying to do!

 

Sunset Friendships

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Words cannot describe how blessed I am to be in India.

Words cannot describe the power of the friendships that are being established.

It has barely been a month since I stepped off the airplane and I have met people that I feel more connected to than people I see everyday on campus at NWU.

Tonight I took an after tea time walk with some fabulous women. In exploring we found paths leading into the “wilderness” of campus and made it to some gorgeous rock formations and just in time for the sunset.

In the midwest, the sky is usually adorned with clouds.  Purple, orange, and peach rays bounce off the texture of the clouds. A cotton-candy sunset. Here in India, no clouds are to be seen. Instead the colors gradually change as the sun slowly fades into a fog sometimes not even making it to the horizon before it disappears.

As we sat on the top of the rock watching the sun sink into the horizon, conversation was so natural between us; six women sharing stories about our lives, laughing about similar moments, offering differing opinions. There was an air of respect and openness all around.

Sunsets are like friendships. Words cannot describe how beautiful they are or what colors will burst forth on any given day. There are many more sunsets to experience here in India and, similarly, friendships that will continue to grow and develop.

Words cannot describe how content I feel. God is working. God is here. 

I will let the sunset speak for itself.

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A Wedding Experience

It all started as a joke one day…

I was sitting with Mr.Das when a man came up and handed him an envelope…a wedding invitation! I jokingly asked if I could attend the wedding with him. “Yes, probably.” he said. “Really?” I replied, totally serious now. It was on my bucket-list to try to attend an Indian wedding. It turns out that the father of the bride, Mr. Koshy, used to work in SIP! Mr. Das confirmed that he had chatted with him and confirmed that we were welcome to attend the celebration!

P1060046The invitation gave us some preliminary information:

Bindu Koshy and Jay Thomas

Bindu grew up in Hyderabad but Thomas grew up in Texas. Both now live (and met?) in Kerala.

The wedding would take place at St. Gregorious Orthodox Cathedral with a reception at a hotel to follow.

With this information we were not sure what to expect- was Jay indian or American? Were both families Christian? Would this be a traditional Christian wedding or a fusion wedding? What do we where? Where do we sit? Do we bring a gift? Any other wedding etiquette?! We bombarded Mr.Das with questions. He told us to wear our nicest kurtas and that a gift would not be necessary. But other than that, he was as blind as we were.

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So we spiffed up, did our hair, and even put on a little make-up. A cab picked us up and drove us to the cathedral. We made it by 5:15 with the ceremony to start at 5:30pm. However, when we pulled up, the wedding party was standing right there. I felt so awkward that I didn’t even make eye contact. We found a side doorway, removed our shoes, and entered the cathedral. It was a bare-bones place, and alter at the front with a long walkway down the middle marked with white flower bouquets. The cement pillars were covered in gold fabric and draped colored fabric lined the ceilings. No one was sitting in the back pews yet so we slid into the back row.

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Before we knew it, a crowd of people was moving down the aisle along with a mob of camera crew. They are just taking pictures, we thought. But then the priest said, “We will now begin the matrimony ceremony,” and it started. No walk down the aisle, no fanfare, no music. And, the service started early! So much for India Time. 🙂 We were handed and order of service that was 36 pages long! This was gonna be a traditional eastern orthodox service.

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As is typical in the orthodox tradition, the entire service was chanted either by the priest or the congregation. Up front was a “worship team” of 4 who led the people in the hymns. Instead of greek, the service was split between Hindi and English language. It was neat to read the English words of the hymns printed along with the Hindi script. But sometimes the printed words were in English and the priest said the Hindi. The songs cracked me up a bit because an instrumental soundtrack played along with the tunes that sounded like a very outdated 90s beat!

The service was split up into two portions: The Blessing of the Rings and The Blessing of the Crowns. My favorite part of the service was the Blessing of the Crowns. The priest blessed both the bride and groom with a gold chain and cross, before placing it around their neck. This signifies the special grace the couple receives from the Holy Spirit before they establish a family. This was followed by the tying of the “Thali” or “Minnu” (a Southern Indian tradition). The Minnu is a small gold pendant of a heart with a cross on it placed on silk thread made by interweaving seven thread thaken out of the “Manthrakodi” (red bridal sari), which is given by the grooms family. The “Minnu” is tied around the brides next by the groom as a symbolic act of accepting her as his own. The “Manthrakodi” is then placed on the bride’s head by the priest as an act of humility, chastity, and devotion to her life-long partner. Instead of a kiss at the end of the service, the priest joins the hands of the two and declares them husband and wife!

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As the service carried on, more an more people showed up, but not a ton. By the end of the service there were maybe 50 people total, men on the left and women on the right. There was standing room at the front with seating in pews at the back.

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But the weirdest part of the entire wedding was the excessive amount of photographers who hovered around the alter the entire service. This was like intense paparazzi action, complete with large photography lights set up and video cameras. It  made it very difficult to see the action up front. At one point, one of the deacons was getting pretty crabby about it too, trying to get them to turn off the blaring lights.

Following the service loads of pictures were taken before the bride and groom walked back down the aisle. Finally, I could see the beautiful couple. Bindu was wearing a silky golden sari, Jay in a classic black suit. I made eye contact with Bindu as family adorned her with flowers. “She has no idea who I am,” I thought to myself. This was awkward, but so amazing to witness!! It was neat to see a blended service- traditional orthodox with Indian traditions mixed in.

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Now time for the reception! The cab drove us through the heavy Secunderabad traffic to the Sweet Heart Hotel. Walking through an outdoor archway, a food buffet enticed our stomachs to the right and sheltered seating area to the left. Everyone was sitting in those seats facing a stage area. Seeing some other SIP employees, we sat down behind them and made ourselves comfortable as we waited for the wedding party. The stage area had me puzzled; two golden chairs and colored lighting. Vegas meets India?

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P1060050In the meantime, the Backstreet Boys soundtrack played in the background…yes the entire soundtrack! Haha! An hour later our stomachs were growling and the bride and groom finally took their places. There were just a couple speeches by family members, the cutting of the cake, and a prayer for dinner.

Then everyone stood up and formed a line to meet and greet the couple. We were happy we had forgotten our box of chocolates at home, very few people brought gifts. As the line continued, we decided to check out the food!

Veg and Non-Veg options lined the room…rice, paneer, daal, and beans along with all the roti in the world!

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Check out these guys making the bread right there! The dough is rolled out into large circles and placed on those hot round “skillets” to bake. Similarly, all the food was stewing in enormous copper pots next door.

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It was a neat night. I felt privileged to have received the opportunity to experience it. When we left around 9:45, the happy couple was still greeting guests. I felt a little bad that we were never able to introduce ourselves to Mr. Koshy and thank him for this opportunity, so for now, my heartfelt prayers will do!

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Cooking Class #1

After being on major kitchen withdrawal the last week, I finally got into a kitchen to learn some Indian techniques! As a part of my Hindi language class our professor, Bhavani offers three cooking classes at her home! To make it even better, it turns out only 4 out of our class of 14 showed up! This provided personal attention and a chance to ask Bhavani lots of questions

Lesson #1: Snacks–Chai and Onion Pakodas (चाय और प्याज़ पकोड़े)

As I note on my Street Food page, pakodas are vegetable fritters. They can be made with any type of vegetable dipped in batter and fried. They are commonly served as a snack on the street. Bhavani said that she likes to make them in the monsoon season when it is raining hard outside. Nothing like a warm snack on a cold day.

The batter is very simple:

  • chickpea flour
  • chili powder
  • coriander powder
  • salt
  • garlic/ginger paste (made fresh on a monthly basis by crushing fresh garlic, ginger, and salt together)
  • thinly sliced red onion (pyaz- प्याज़)

All the ingredients are “to taste” and water is added until thick and sticky. Here is what the batter looks like before frying it.

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Then Bhavani heated the oil (a combination of sunflower and peanut oils) and “crumbled” the batter into the hot oil.

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As the onions sizzled and browned in the hot oil, the smell of onion rings filled the room. The end result is little fried onion clumps. We decided that we could have added more chili powder for more spice.

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Next we moved on to the chai tea. Bhavani added milk (doodh-दूध) and water (pani- पानी) to a sauce pan. The ratios, she said, are up to you, whether you like it more milky or not. I found it funny that the milk here comes in these little baggies.IMG_0987

To the liquid she added:

  • Loose leaf tea–about 1/2 Tablespoon per cup. (The tea she used was a blend of southern indian leaves. Any type of course black tea can be used.)
  • Raw sugar–about 1 teaspoon per cup (or to taste)
  • Ground cinnamon (dalcini-दालचीनी)
  • Fresh smashed ginger or dried ginger peel (adrak- अदरक) *this is the key ingredient!

The mixture is simmered until the desired strength. The longer you let it simmer, the stronger the tea will be. Bhavani said that in the north they call it “black chai” because it is so dark. Here is the difference in colors:

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(Pre-simmer)                                                         (Post-simmer)

Classic marsala chai contains cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom but other combinations are created. For example, you can add crushed fresh mint or basil for a brighter blend.

The tea is strained into individual cups and consumed with joy 🙂 Literally, the best chai I have ever had! The smells fill your nostrils and tickle your tongue. I will definitely be making chai back at home!

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As we enjoyed our afternoon snacks we met Bhavani’s daughter, Tavni. Tavni is 5 or 6 and a social butterfly. She was eager to meet these visitors at her home!

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