Saturday, April 14, 2007

Guess who's back?!?!

I'm in america yall. I've been travelling for over a day, but because of time zones and stuff, I left india last night and am in America today. I feel like a zombie. My phone is on, and it looks like I wont be able to use it from tomorrow afternoon onwards. I don't get alot of service here, but call me if u want! I love America! It's hella cold here compared to India's summer, and I'm exhuasted. We get tomorrow to rest. I think i need sleep and tea. I have to work on my 60 minute presentation for LEAP tomorrow. I'm tired, did i say that? Alex is making me stay up so I wont be jetlagged. ITs getting dark now though.. so soon. Very soon. I will sleep on a real American mattress with strings, no more foam mattresses on wooden boards for me!!! WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!
It's cold. IT's cold. IT's cold. I'm tired. I'm going now!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My second to last day in India

I just confirmed my flight for tomorrow evening. I'm flying out of Hyderabad, stopping in Singapore for three hours and then flying for 17 hours to San Francisco.
I can't believe over 2 1/2 months have passed since I left the States, and it's been 3 1/2 months since I was home in CT. Time flies and yet doesn't ever feel like it's moving. My Hyderabad time has passed me by in a flurry of family meetings, dinners, wedding preperations and functions, events of suspect religious value and sitting at home, comatose from the increasing heat. I have grown very close to my Hyderabadi family- they are my 3rd home in a world that seems to be only getting more full of love and welcome. I feel so blessed to have had this crazy, life changing world bending experience. Over a year ago when I was struggling to get my application to LEAPYear finished and submitted while I was awfully sick and had to plan my Leadership Development Days (my day long workshops on social issues that I put together and ran for around 50 of my peers in City Year Washington DC)I could not have imagined where I would end up. This experience has been worth every stressor, fight, drama, anxiety, expense, loan, debt, insecurity, uncertainty, angry moment, and any other negative I might have failed to include.
Last night I attended my first true Hyderabadi shaadi, or wedding. I was not looking forward to it, especially based on the disaster of a sanchuk that I had been to two nights before. A sanchuk is an event before the shaadi where the groom's family presents the gifts they have bought for the bride to the bride and her family. I went to one before for my cousin in Houston, TX a few years before. It was sooooo boring and stupid, and with the added insult of a broken A/C in the function hall in mid July in TX, it was torture. This sanchuk was not much better. This particular function was supposed to be a mega event that encompassed a sanchuk, a mendhi (which I believed was a party to apply mendhi to the bridal party but now I have been informed it is a time for the both sides to playfully insult each other and apply mendhi to the groom in order to cement the reality of the always there extended family) and a manje, which I still have no idea about. It has been raining in Hyderabad for the last few days, which has been very strange. Hyderabad is on the Deccan Plateau, a well known dry area in India that doesn't get much rain outside of the monsoon seasons. This city, which prides itself on being the most Hi-Tech and modern in India (I'm not kidding, there's actually a section of the city called Hi-Tech City)loses power as soon as it starts raining. My uncle lives in Banjara Hills, one of the poshest areas of Hyderabad, and even we were subject to the humiliating inconvenience of long power losses. On the day of the sanchuk, I went to check my email, did some school work and then hurried back to sit for 3 hours in a very warm house to have mendhi applied. (Mendhi, in case you don't know, is a paste made from the henna plant that is used to dye hair and create beautiful intricate designs on the arms, hands, legs and feet to celebrate weddings and religious holidays, but is applied now-a-days for parties, birthdays and pretty much anything one wants.) While sitting in the incredibly hot house, the power went out, and the little relief that the ceiling fan or the air cooler provided were null and void. I started to feel terribly ill and was forced to use one of the grossest indian toilets i have ever seen. After sitting around waiting for my mendhi to dry and the color to set, my aunt got some designs on the back of her hands. I reached home after battling dust storm winds where i wrapped the end of my aunt's dupatta over my face as we braved the way back. We were pushing our way against a wall of wind and sand amid children screaming from the onslaught as small raindrops intermittenly hit us. It was nutz.
We arrive home and I lay down, exhuasted and ready for a nap. My clothes for the sanchuk are ironed and ready to wear but i have mendhi all over me and can't touch water. i can't wash my face, take a refreshing body shower or anything. Just as i think of the face wipes i have upstairs, the power goes. It stays off for hours and I am forced to then get ready by candlelight. Mind you, I am already handicapped by the drying mendhi all over both hands and arms, and on top of this, i have to contend with the dark. A giant black scarab beetle tries to attack me in the shadows of the bathroom and I become convinced of my impending death. I struggle into my mint green shilwar with silver embroidery and proceed to apply make up by candle light. Yeah. Luckily I'm very familiar with my beloved MAC makeup and was able to make it look decent and not like the clown face I was fearing I would end up with. Have you ever tried applying light eyeshadow or eyeliner with the shadows of your hand covering your eye?!?! It's quite an adventure, I tell ya. But i have to say, I think candlelight makes me look even more lovely, lol.
(More about the beauty adventures I've had here in India in another post.)

It's 9:30 PM at this piont, and in the dark, we trudge thrugh the mud and up the hill in search of a rickshaw to take us across town to Old City to the wedding hall. My uncle pulls up in the Mercedes just in time. We climb in and as we drive away, the power returns. He drives us halfway there and puts us into a rickshaw. The traffic was too bad to drive all the way there in a car and he (lucky for him) wasn't attending the event. We get there around 10:30 and no one seems to be there. Turns out everyone is eating. Let me describe the newly renovated Simla Gardens for you fine folks. It is a huge room done in a Baroque style with various colored molding patterns, columns, chandeliers, bright colors and no A/C. It was seperated into sections for the men and women and beyond the front area where the event took place were the dining areas. Many tables were set up with less than appetizing food that was cooked in connected, open cavernous spaces that were used as kitchens. The staff their was constantly moving, rushing to feed us and push us out to accomodate the next shift of eaters. after dinner, it is nearly midnight. The power blows. I curse, children scream and the generators kick in. It is now officially April 10th, no longer the 9th the invitation claimed the even would happen on.

The event hasnt even begun. Despite the rain, the hall is stifling hot. The Hyderabadis around me are incredibly uncomfortable and children are droppping like flies, sleeping in the arms of aunties, on the stage where the bride is sitting, being gawked at or on various unused chairs or sofas. I am crabby, and wishing that I could go home. The event begins its boring path and I talk to my super cool 21 year old cousin Asma about the lack of attention Indians pay to the earliest stages of a child's life. I try and convince my great aunt to leave with me in the cars that are (supposedly) waiting. My aunt has already left with the two sleeping children and is at her mother's house nearby. There is no music, no band, no tabla players, no fun. The groom arrives. He is quite chubby (bodering on fat) and pale and is regarded as exceedingly handsome by all the women there. I gag. The minutes crawl by. The power blows again. It seems that since the generators only bring the lights back on, they have stopped the ceremony of handing over lots and lots of gold jewelry and indian outfits with matching accessories becuase the cameramen have no power. I want to scream at this point. My great aunt finally gets fed up after having to use the terrible bathroom and agrees to leave with me. We walk outside only to find the "car" that was going to take us back to Banjara Hills has left to drop someone else off and no one knows when it will return. We try at length (via my 10 year old cousin Arsulan)to get a rickshaw at 2AM. After much haggling with a profiteering rickshaw wallah, we finally go pick up my aunt and the kids. we then squish into the rickshaw, three grown women and two sleeping children and go back home.

I spent the next day compiling (that means hand writing in tiny letters) my journal to turn in at Maacama since I've been writing it in many different notebooks and blogging. It is tedious work that leaves my neck and shoulders stiff and paining, as we say here, and since it began raining in the afternoon, writing by candlelight for hours on end. The long power outtages have messed up our sattelite cable service and mean that no reception is coming. I am horribly dissapointed, b/c every tuesday and wednesday around midnight i get to watch Huff on HBO. It is the highlight of my week b/c it's time I get to enjoy good tv, alone, and pretend I'm in america. I go to sleep after my hand cramps beyond usage.

Yesterday was teh shaadi. You can excuse me for dreading it, given my past two days, my impending return to America and more school work to finish. It is cloudy since morning, so we know that rain and power cuts are coming. My aunt gets the kids ready, bathes them, irons the clothes and gets the candles out. My great aunt is sick in bed and unsure if she'll join us. I run to the internet cafe after confirming that they have generators and the power loss wont affect their computers. My clothes are ironed and ready to wear, I only need to shower and get dressed when I return. Since we're going with my uncle tonight, we aren't leaving until 10pm so i have loads of time. I submit my paper to LEAP, check my emails and begin chatting with some of my best friends who all happen to be signed into gmail at the same time! What good fortune! Even Shakeel, my long lost hellian from London sends me an email as well! The power blows but sure enough the computers are still on. I'm sitting in the dark internet cafe surrounded by strangers hunched infront of glowing screens. I feel slightly seedy and VERY geeky and am sure i've seen this in a movie somewhere. Shakeel signs on and I find out that once again our ill fated paths are crossing. I find out he's coming to India very soon but we'll miss each other. I also find out that one of my best friends will be living in CT this summer while working at Yale! I'm ecstatic. This news cushions the blow of missing Shakeel (seriously for like the 5th time) and having more work to do than I anticipated before I returned to Maacama. I am just about to find out when Shakeel is arriving in india when the power blows for good. I curse loudly. I am now in a pitch black cafe with a bunch of strangers, mostly men. I rush to get out to the street once I pay and am surrounded by darkness. The only light I can see is from the fast moving traffic. I stand on the street for 15 minutes trying to flag down a rickshaw. No one who stop agrees and the only guy who does agree wants triple teh rate. I have no chioce and go along. I get home just in time for the power to return. I bathe quickly, but the rain starts again and i'm stuck in the pitch black bathroom, scared of scarab beetles waiting in teh dark. I sit around in the candle light and talk on the phone. 45 minutes later the power returns and I am able to get ready normally, even getting to make toast. I apply my make up and am ready to roll. We arrive in style in the Benz and go into the crowded hall. There are supposedly 2000 people at this wedding event, and they have been eating in shifts since 8:30. It's 10:30 when we arrive and I start to make the rounds. There are many aunties for me to salaam and speak to. I catch up with my adorable cousin Asma and get rushed to dinner. I miss the ceremony where the knuut, the giant nose ring, is put on the bride to signify her new status as the wife. I take pictures of people i don't know standing with the bride. I take pictures of my family and avoid getting shoved on stage with the bride I have yet to meet. I talk with my awesome aunts, get squished into hugs, have my face lovingly smooshed, get kissed, pulled, tripped and smothered with love. Before I know it, we're leaving. I hurriedly try to say my goodbyes and realize for the first time that I am really leaving. I am given messages for my family in the states, more hugs, love, and tears upon my departure. I really need a 30 minute heads up so I can get all the goodbyes said. I inevitably miss some folks and looks back on the hall full of colorfully clad women, many of whom love me inside and out. This kind of unsolicited love is overwhelming, heart swelling and hard to walk away from. Even though I know that we wouldn't see eye to eye on many things, these family members love me, no question. Just me being a part of their family makes me a piece of their heart. I can't describe this love. It's amazing. I'll miss it. I hope to be back soon.

I find out today that Shakeel is scheduled to fly to india on saturday, while i'm flying away from it. He's finished medical school and will be working in a hospital in bandra for 6 weeks in bombay! Now i'm jealous and upset. He is exactly the kind of partner in crime in needed during my five weeks there! I'll never understand why we can never end up in the same place.

It's 5 pm now and I have to run home to go meet another uncle, last minute. Crazy. Love you all.


HEY!!!! I'm on YouTube!!!!!

Check me out!!!!!
Anyone remember two years ago, around this time actually, in the spring of 2005 when I was chosen to give a testimonial about my service experience with City Year Washington DC, the Americorps organization I dedicated two years of my life to? I was chosen, I suspect, because I'm Brown, Muslim, American and articulate. Great way to capitalize on the moment and give an embattled corps member (me) a chance to shine. And shine I did! (Although Mariko is totally correct in pointing out that I was hella nervous for the first 2 minutes and that I looked cute!:)So here is the 10 minute speech for all of you folks out there who haven't gotten a chance to see the 3 copies that previously existed in the world. According to Sian, my lovely former CYDC colleague, the speech has been posted to try and help generate interest in the option of national service. Now the whole world can watch me give my testimonial to the impact of idealism and by extent City Year on my life. Great. Hope you enjoy!

P.S. A real post will soon follow, I promise. I'd love to hear what you lovely people all over the world think of my speech.

P.P.S. I'll be in America in 2 days!!!