Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Relaxation in Rishikesh (highlight the text; can't figure out how to fix it)

     Rishikesh is the cleanest and most peaceful city. The typical Faridabad smog isn't there, there's no garbage, the air smells fresh, the dogs and cows arent starved, and the view is amazing. It was better than I expected, though I should have figured it would be that way considering it is a holy city and the yoga capital of the world. There are multiple ashrams, multiple yogis, various yoga classes in the morning and evening, and a river ceremony every night that I will talk about momentarily. 
     Upon arriving at the Hardiwar train station late Saturday morning, we got a taxi to Rishikesh and made it to the hostel (it was 20km away; there isn't a train station in Rishikesh).  Normally, arriving at your hostel is a relaxing affair. And it probably would have been if not for the fact that this is India and Rishikesh is full of monkeys.  We walked upstairs then through a door to an outside corridor to get to our room, when we were surprised to see a seemingly-cute monkey eating peanuts on the ledge. We wanted a picture of him of course. Maybe he was camera shy, or maybe the peanuts were bad, but he was just not having it. As soon as Francisca walked near him, he got up, bared his large teeth (with big fangs!) and came towards us! We screamed and all fell over each other trying to get back through the door to safety in the stairwell.  The hostel worker heard us and came up with a stick to beat the monkey away so we could get to our room.  Otherwise, the hostel was great: big clean bed, accommodating owners, hot water showers, and wifi! We ate lunch at a nearby "Italian" cafe, where the pizza was alright but nothing special. I was sick so I particularly enjoyed my hot lemon ginger honey tea. We walked through the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, down to the Ganga (Ganges) river, then through a small market to look at the various jewelry and scarves. Rishikesh is known for gemstones as well as yoga, and Francisca was particularly interested in finding a turquoise ring. We passed by the large Ram Jhula suspension bridge and went down to a small beach where we were assaulted by kids doing EVERYTHING they could to get us to buy little offerings (whining, calling us their big sisters, tears....the whole dramatic show). Once I found out from a local that they were offerings, I did purchase one because I wanted to participate in the ceremony later. I, however, only gave them 10 rupees rather than the ridiculous 50 they first said (10 was even too much for how tiny and simple it was, but it was like 5 cents so I wasnt worried). We stopped back at the hostel then went down to the river for the ganga aarti ceremony. The ganga aarti is a holy ceremony done every night to give thanks and praise the river/river god. The boys of the ashram were all seated near the river, dressed in their traditional yellow and red, and singing songs and beating on drums. There was a fire in the middle at the river's edge, with more boys seated there, and then on the steps behind it leading toward the road were the ones singing and playing. The guru of the ashram came out after a little while and sang with them for a few minutes, then spoke about new exciting changes going on regarding making the state more green and reducing pollution. These gold things looking like glamorous incense burners but holding fire were then passed around. I lit the small wick on my offering at that point and set it in the river to flow away with the current. There was a little more singing, then the ceremony just ended and people began to leave. It was a very peaceful and nice experience that I was glad to have.

     Day 2 in rishikesh began with some disappointment. We wanted to do the yoga class offered by our hostel at 8:30am. We got up, were led to the yoga room through a series of stairs and doors, then waited....and waited....and waited. After 45 minutes we just decided to leave because it was apparent that the yogi was not showing up. We found out later that there aren't yoga classes anywhere on Sunday -_- We were a little put off by that though since the guy at the desk took all that trouble to lead us to the class rather than telling us there wouldn't be class. After showers, we walked down to another close restaurant and had delicious Nutella banana crepes for breakfast (not Indian, but oh well). Following breakfast was a stop at the ayurvedic spa to look into ayurvedic massages. We flipped through the booklet, made an appointment, then decided to make a quick walk through the market from the night before so we could cross over the Ram Jhula bridge and check out the other side of the river. Turns out, it's just another series of shops. These sold basically the same things, but I actually purchased a few souvenirs for friends this time. And I got something for myself: a handmade silver opal ring! I hadn't intended on getting it, but we happened to walk into a shop that sold rings and I commented on an opal one saying I wished they had them smaller (all the gemstone rings had very large bulky stones). The shopkeeper pulled out a package of opals of various sizes and color and said I could pick one out to be made into a ring. I found a gorgeous small one just under a carat, then picked out a pretty simple band from another ring that I wanted mine to look like. He sized my finger, put it all in a bag, then told me to come back the next evening and it would be done....all for the equivalent of $22! 
     We went and ate at our same breakfast cafe for an early dinner, then I went down to the ganga aarti while Anais and Francisca got their massages (only 2 could go at a time). The ganga aarti this night was shorter and the guru didnt come out at all. 
My massage was next, and it was a new experience since it was my first professional massage ever and quite an intimate affair. The masseuse first gave me a head massage with oil . I climbed up and laid on the table next, and she went body part by body part down each side massaging a scrub into my skin and putting acute pressure on specific parts of each section.  She did all the appendages first, then the whole blanket had to come off so she could do the torso area. I flipped over and she did the same thing to the other side. Then I was done. It was nice, but I do wish more time was spent on the back and neck with a deep tissue massage; this massage didnt leave those muscles any looser so I still have that tension.

     Day 3 started at the early hour of 11am because we decided to sleep in. Lunch was consumed at our usual restaurant, then we decided to make our way to the Lakshman Jhula bridge and explore the rest of Rishikesh. We crossed the Ram Jhula, picked up my ring, then caught a tuk tuk. He dropped us off in the general area at the top of a hill, then we ended up walking past the side road to go to the bridge. It was still a pleasant walk though and we got to see some more ashrams and buildings. We asked around and found the side road, then made our way down through winding narrow streets and alley markets until finally finding the other bridge. Our plan was to cross the bridge then take a tuk tuk back to our hostel (completing a big circle), but we didnt pass any at all on the entire walk. This was walk even nicer: tons of green,  a lot of shade, and very little noise. We were all absolutely exhausted upon arriving to our room, making it just in time for yoga. Anais and Francisca went to the yoga class, but I was still feeling sick and dehydrated and having stomach cramps so I opted to sleep instead. Dinner followed yoga, then we all relaxed in the room until going to sleep since we had to be up at 3:15am to get to the train station for our 6am train.

   The train was agonizing. I didnt realize I had changed our tickets to AC Sleeper class. We originally had non-AC sleeper so I went to the travel agent and told him we wanted an AC compartment since those were safer (assuming all the ACs were chairs...apparently they aren't). 2 of the bunks were in one little area, and the 3rd was across the hall. Since the area we had 2 bunks in had the potential to be filled with 4 more strangers, all 3 of us just decided to pile on the one bunk across the aisle and sit rather than lay down and sleep the whole time with sketchy strangers. It was so uncomfortable though because we also had our luggage on it too.  Then to make things worse, the train ride that took 4 hours to get to Rishikesh ended up taking 7 hours to get back to Delhi! We finally made it, found our driver, and got to our respective homes....with me being last and finally arriving at 2:30pm. I promptly showered and napped then relaxed the rest of the day.
Tomorrow I go back to gynecology for a few weeks to hopefully learn from the doctor this time.

Much love,

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Today I saw a C-section

     This morning made up for all of the pointless sitting I did yesterday morning...because I got to watch a C-section!   We didn't get to help at all (obviously. Neither one of us are qualified for that) but we were able to see everything. It was also the first time I've ever been able to watch a surgery, so I was quite excited and it was very cool for me. After the mom-to-be had her catheter and IV in and was placed on the operating table, a long spinal needle was inserted into her spine and she was given an injection. The person giving it said it was not an epidural when we asked. The woman was rolled back over and draped properly with sterilized towels so that only a space on her lower abdomen was showing. One of the surgeons sliced across with a scalpel but the woman started making noise and her heartbeat sped up so they waited while anesthesia was given through a mask before continuing. After the initial slice, the surgeons got scissors out to cut through the membrane then got scalpels involved again to get through the womb. There was some digging involved but finally out came this wrinkly lavender thing that gave a small cry. The umbilical cord was cut and the baby was taken to a side table to be cleaned and tended to. The surgeons then sutured up the uterus and shoved it back in, brought the lining back together and sutured that, then sutured another layer before sewing the skin up. Embarrassingly, I didn't see the skin get sutured because I felt my vision going dark and had to walk out for a bit of air. No puking and no fainting luckily.  I came back in though in time to see the bandages put on and the catheter taken out. 
The surgery was not very long at all; I'd say the baby was out in 20 minutes or so then the rest was just closing up. The whole thing maybe took an hour at most. 
     The rest of the morning/early afternoon ended up like yesterday. The doctor doesn't teach at all. She sees her patients and we wait in the waiting room. It would be a much more enriching experience if we could come in too and if she would translate a summary of what is wrong then tell us what she is going to do about it and why. I CAN see where that would be mildly annoying to her. But in my opinion, if she is partnered with a volunteer health program, then she needs to actually be a part of the program by teaching the volunteers and letting them be a part of things. 
The other health volunteers here warned me that gynecology was a lot of boring waiting. I'm hoping that next week I will move to a different place like they did and be able to experience more in other fields. 
     In other blog worthy news, I navigated my way home by myself today. And simultaneously found out a girl in the health placement doesnt like me.  The first clue was her obvious lack of interest in talking to me yesterday when we were waiting.  But today topped it off. When we got to the office, she sat down first so I sat down next to her. Then she gets up, walks outside, walks back in, and sits across the office. I jokingly say "what, you dont like me anymore?" then she just responds with "I wanted to sit here."  The rest of the time, she didnt talk to me at all. After we watched the C-section, we were waiting in the waiting room again, sitting on opposite sides, when she all of a sudden walks out.  I assumed she had gone for a walk, but realized after 40 minutes that she went home.  So I left the office and caught a tuk-tuk, who dropped me off at a bus stop and told me the bus was coming and would take me there. I was like um, not taking the bus.  So I attempted to hail about 6 tuk-tuks who all wanted 100-200 rupees to take me back to the house-which is ridiculous.  I finally found one willing to charge 50 rupees, so I took it and made it back.  The girl who has the issue with me was just sitting at home, pretty as you please, like nothing was up.  When voicing my concern to another volunteer that she seemed very grumpy with my lately, the volunteer said that she told the group who went to Amritsar that she didnt like me and she wasnt happy with her trip here at all. Apparently she told them I was too annoying.  I am just going to ignore it. I'm hoping that as long as we keep a polite distance from each other, she wont explode in my face or ruin the next 2 weeks for me. She will be gone soon anyways. Its just weird for me though since I have no issue with her and nothing has happened between us at all. I generally get along with everyone, and most people at least are neutral with me if they dont necessarily really like me or want to be friends.  But oh well. 

Much love, 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend in Jaipur

Such a GREAT weekend! I love Jaipur!! It’s my favorite city in India so far (not that I’ve been to many, but still).  Delhi and Faridabad are so dirty; there is garbage, animals, and feces everywhere, and the air is all polluted and smoggy. Jaipur didnt have any of that! The smell was not bad at all, trash did not line the streets, and the whole city just looked and felt nice!
     We arrived at the bus station at 10:45am then caught a tuk-tuk to the hostel (he got lost).  The hostel was very good: it was clean, had western toilets, wifi, and sufficient blankets on the bed all for a cheap price.  
We got settled in, then the tuk-tuk from Elefantastic came and picked us up to go on our elephant adventure! It was quite a far ride, but we made it before too long.  Upon arrival, the owner Rahul talked to us a bit about him and his farm.  He is a 4th generation elephant owner and trainer, and his ancestors took care of the elephants for the royal family.  He told us how they care for the elephants: each of the 24 elephants has its own apartment, and a family lives in an adjacent house where they care for the elephant 24/7 for their whole lives.  The elephants are not ever chained or beaten, get regular baths, and are well fed.  He had our elephants out for us already, so we got to go up and meet “our” elephant for the day. There were 2 of us to each elephant, and I was paired up with Francisca on a very pretty and well-mannered one.  We spent about 45 minutes just petting her and talking to her and feeding her to get her used to us.  Then we got to climb up! I won the most graceful climber award haha.  We didnt use a platform but instead climbed up their head! I put my foot on her lower trunk with my hands grabbing on her ears, then she raised me up with her trunk and i let go of her ears and walked up on to her head then back! We didnt have a saddle either, just a blanket secured with some ropes to sit on.  We all climbed on our respective elephants, then a rider guided our train on the ground by walking next to us and issuing commands to the elephants whenever they started drifting from the route.  It was super cool, but elephants arent the most comfortable thing to ride for too long.  After the ride finished, we were taken to Rahul’s parent’s house and fed lunch. Rajhastani food is the best Indian food I’ve eaten yet! It was basically the same stuff I have all the time here in Faridabad, but the spices were in different proportions which gave it such a different and better taste.  From lunch we went back to the elephant farm and got to paint our elephants! The paint was all natural and non-toxic for the elephants skin, made by combining the powders used for Holi with water.  The elephants were so good about standing still and letting us just paint all over them.  We also got to give them water by running a hose over their trunk and letting them suck the water up then bring their trunks up to deposit the water into their mouths. 

     After our Elefantastic adventure, we went down to Jahari Bazaar to do some shopping. It was one of the most stressful and chaotic things ever! We werent even out of the tuk-tuk when 5 shopkeepers swarmed us trying to make us come to their shops. Whether we seemed interested or not, at every shop people came out and tried to get us to walk in so they could sell us things. Some would even follow us down the road and we would ahve to say no at least 6 times! Saying no after looking in the shop was even worse, since they would insist you name a price you were willing to pay and didnt understand when I you said you just didnt want to buy it no matter what the price! I was so overwhelmed and got a huge headache.  I did find and purchase the red elephant pants i wanted, and got a gorgeous long skirt. 
     Dinner was at a nice rooftop restaurant on top of a hotel.  The tuk-tuk driver got lost getting us there (surprise, surprise)  but we finally made it.  I got palak paneer since it was recommended, but I wasnt a fan of it.  Maybe its just the way this restaurant made it, but it tasted and had the texture of spinach baby food with the paneer cubes in it.  3 of us also split a bottle of Indian white wine, which I also didnt care too much for haha.

     We were up the next morning pretty early to do some sightseeing of the historical parts.  We wanted a nice coffee shop for breakfast, so the hostel owner recommended we go to Indian Coffee House. After finally finding it, we go in and get seated in the "Ladies and Family" room off to the side, then promptly forgotten about. We got up and moved to the middle section of the cafe to try and increase our chances of being served, and the waiter finally came over so we could order.  After more waiting, our food comes out....before the coffee! We didnt want it to get cold so went ahead and ate it, except I couldnt eat my egg and cheese omelette due to it being full of onions (not mentioned at all in the menu). We were so aggravated we still hadnt received our coffee, so decided to leave and just pay for the food. But right as we were walking out of the restaurant, the waiter came in with the coffee. So we drank it, then left.    
     I was so excited for the next part though, and it met my expectations.  We started at the Amber Fort (Amber Palace) and got a guide to lead us around and give us some history.  We got to see the chambers of the Maharaja’s 12 wives, the Hall of Pleasure where the Queen would bathe and be cooled by a natural cooling system, gardens, the audience hall, and the absolutely gorgeous Hall of Mirrors! The hall of mirrors is said to be better than that of Versaille, and has thousands of small mirrored metal pieces in beautiful designs.  They would bring a large oil lamp to middle of a domed aprt, and it would create the vision of little stars in the night sky the way it reflected off the small mirrors.  We also got to go into a temple in the palace dedicated to the goddess Kali.  A goat is sacrificed and cooked every morning and given as an offering to Kali along with other food and whiskey.  We rang the bell, were given water by the priest, and a blessing on our foreheads (those red dots you see but never know what they're all about).   The Amber Palace was the seat of power for the Rajputana Kingdom, and for those of you who have seen the movie Jodhaa Akbar, the palace was Jodhaa Bai’s home before she was married to Akbar the Great when her father was Maharaja. Her brother took the throne next.  It was super cool to actually see this piece of history I had watched a movie about.

     We took a tuk-tuk from the Amber Fort to the Albert Hall Museum, which also used to be a small palace. It was a gorgeous building, with great pieces in it. Some were Indian,and some were international.  The weapons room was my favorite. 

     Late lunch/early dinner was at a fancy schmancy place called Niros, where I tried Kadai paneer. I liked this one much better than palak even though it was pretty spicy. 
     The hostel was our next stop to gather our things, then we made it to the bus station for the ride home.  The bus ride took almost 7 hours!! It was crazy. Jaipur is way closer than a 7-hour trip but apaprently that’s normal.  Since everyone had to be dropped off at home, I didnt get into bed until 3am.  My host family was so nice and let us sleep in rather than going to our palcements since the girls who were in Dharamsala didnt get home until almost 7am from the bus and we were all tired.  
    But despite the long bus ride, the tuk-tuk drivers who had no idea how to get anywhere, and the chaotic bazaar, I absolutely loved my weekend and would recommend Jaipur to anyone.

Much love,


Week 2: Slum Clinic Summary

I wrote about the first day, but figured I would wait and sum up the week since we did basically the same thing every day.
     The clinic idea was great, and the fact we were able to help people was great.  We saw 72 patients Monday, 65 on Tuesday, about 27 Wednesday, somewhere in the teens on Thursday, and like 20 again on Friday.  It got colder as the week went on, which probably made people not want to venture out into the weather. We were quite cold ourselves, even in layers. We had a theory, too, that the clinic wasnt very publicized so people who didnt live in the immediate area wouldnt know they could travel to it.  Also contributing to the smaller numbers is the fact we only spent 3 hours every day running the clinic! This was incredibly frustrating to me.  On my past 2 medical mission trip to Haiti and Peru, we were out there Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm, were busy all day, and it was so fulfilling.  This past week, we were out Monday-Friday from 10am-12:30/1pm.  So 15 hours of clinic, and 40 hours of free time total.  I was not a happy camper.  Maybe IVHQ has their reasons for the short hours.  Perhaps Dr. Prabhat has to spend the rest of the day with his patients, or they know that people are busy and will only come out at those times, or maybe the translators were only available then.  But to me it just seems like a waste of resources.  There were 8 volunteers, some with experience, and all wanting to get out there and help run the clinic.  You would think that would be taken advantage of, and there would be a bigger event while the manpower was available.  Instead, we had to play cards or go to the market, or some way amuse ourselves from lunch until like 9pm when dinner was served. 
     Incredibly frustrating. I’m here to help doctors, not get good at card games.
     Dr. Prabhat did tell me, though, that my placement will be different since I am here so long.  I am hoping that means I will be somewhere where I can learn and be of help rather than simply watch.  The other volunteers who are only staying a few weeks are quite disappointed with the experience they have had and feel useless and bored.
I’ll give it a chance though. Maybe it will be great.

Much love,


Monday, January 13, 2014

Week 2, Day 1: Slum Clinic and The Great Tuk-Tuk Adventure

     Our "real jobs" started today with the beginning of a new week.  Since there were enough Health Program volunteers, IVHQ was able to hold a clinic in the slums where we provided free healthcare to the people in the area that wanted to see the doctor.
THIS is what I love doing and where I am the happiest. 
     We had different stations set up with different people at each station: 2 with a translator filling out the top part of the form with the patient's name and age and chief complaint, 1 person taking blood pressure, 2 people doing blood sugar and pulse oximetry, 2 people doing the physical examination, and 1 person helping get the medications from the pharmacy table. The doctor was seen at the end after the patient was examined and he let us make a probable diagnosis. Dr. Probhat would correct our probable diagnosis when needed, tell us what was actually wrong and why, and also give us some more information on what to look for with the issue.  He would also call us over to look at patients with more unusual diseases.  It was a great day of serving and learning.


    After eating a late lunch after the clinic, we all went to Sector 15 market to book train and bus tickets for various weekend trips.  We had to take 2 tuk-tuks since there were so many of us, and that's where the fun started. I call this paragraph of my blog "The Great Tuk-Tuk Adventure."  We hailed one and managed to make the driver understand that we wanted to get to Sector 15.  He said a bunch of Hindi words then told us the price was 50 rupees.  This was a steal (we normally pay 100-150 rupees to get that far) so we all hopped in.  We are bouncing down the road, smelling the pigs, looking at the scenery of scattered trash, when suddenly he pulls over and motions us to get out! We gather that he wants us to take another tuk-tuk, which makes us rather annoyed. We hail another one, then he starts motioning for us to pay him.  Now, when a driver cant take you to where you need to go, you dont pay him.  So we try and tell him no because this isnt the market, but he just isnt understanding.  We get in another tuk-tuk, since at this point there are multiple tuk-tuks that have pulled off near us wanting our business, but our former driving starts ranting to him so we cant leave.  The new driver seems torn on what to do, so we get out and walk a few feet until 2 more tuk-tuks pull over.  We get in a new tuk-tuk, but before we can pull away, the former angry driver and 4 of his fellow tuk-tuk friends pull over and block us in! He gets out and keeps yelling at us, and all the other drivers get out too! We try yelling back that he didnt take us where we wanted to go, but none of them spoke English so it was a giant chaotic mess of English and Hindi and no one understanding.  We walk away again, try a new tuk-tuk, and get blocked in again!! Finally we are so flustered and aggravated that we just pay him what he thought we owed him so we could move on with our trip to the market.  We did finally make it after an uneventful ride with the new driver.
a tuk tuk in New Delhi

     After getting our tickets at the market, we stopped by Sarita's house so I could get my now-dry laundry and my sari blouse that Sarita's mother finished sewing. I now have a complete sari! We walked down to the Crown Plaza Mall from there, where a few people wanted to get McDonalds.  I was tempted to get a McSpicy Paneer since it was amusing, but opted instead to get food from a vendor outside the mall.  There are these delicious things called "momos" that I am now a huge fan of. They are essentially vegetarian dumplings, and another volunteer and I later discovered even better ones at the small market closest to our homestay family. 
     I showered tonight, which wouldn't normally be worth mentioning except for the fact I had to learn how to use buckets and a heating coil.  There is no hot water, so 15 minutes before you want to shower you have to stick this hot coil in the bucket and let it heat the water up.  Then you can come in and use a smaller bucket to scoop out the warm water and pour it on yourself.  Its actually a quite efficient and less wasteful way to shower.  It is, however, slightly inconvenient to shave due to the goosebumps.

     Tomorrow we go back to the slum camp, then who knows what the afternoon will hold.

Much love, 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 5, 6, 7 combined post. At my host family

These 3 days werent too busy or eventful, so rather than boring y'all I decided to combine them.
    On day 5, we had Hindi lessons then a free afternoon. All of us girls decided we would do an afternoon and evening out! We went to the Crown Plaza Mall, which is a nicer area than the other markets and has many restaurants.  We went to this restaurant called Masala Lounge that also had a bar. We came a bit early to get started in on a few drinks.  We had to look at all of the beer and read the labels before determining that Kingfisher was indeed an Indian beer (the waiter told us all the beer was Indian when clearly it was not).  Kingfisher is actually made in the Haryana region, which is where Faridabad is! It wasn't too bad, but not one I would order regularly in the States. For my meal I got paneer tikka masala with a side of naan. Paneer is soft cheese cubes, and the tikka masala was very spicy. Naan is a kind of flatbread. 
     Day 6 was pretty slow for me since the rest of the girls went to the Taj Mahal.  I opted out of that since it was an additional $100 and I can go for much less at a later date.  But since they were all gone, there wasnt much for me to do.  I ended up playing games with our host's 6-year-old daughter for a little while, then the host Sarita and I went to her mother's shop for facials and manicures :) It was my first salon facial and it was quite nice.  Afterwards we came back home and I watched TV with the same young girl and her brother, then we all had dinner.  Eventually the other girls got back and we could talk and get ready for bed.
     Day 7 was our last Hindi lesson, then it was off to our placements!  I am staying at the house of Dr. Probhat with his wife, twin boys, and 7 other Health volunteers. The house is in the Sainik colony in Sector 49 of Faridabad.   After getting settled into my room with Mae (another volunteer who did orientation with me), we all piled on our bed and played Cards Against Humanity for about an hour.  Then we took a tuk-tuk to Crown Plaza mall to eat at another restaurant.  I had the same Kingfisher beer because it was half off, but this time for the meal I ordered mutter paneer.  It was a lot less spicy than the tikka, and had more flavor.  I loved it. Paneer is pretty fantastic.
     Dr. Probhat just came in and explained to us how the camp will work next week. Since there are enough volunteers, we will be running a clinic in the slums to provide free healthcare.  There will be 4 stations with 2 of us at each station checking blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, oxygen, examination of the upper body and lower body, taking down past history, then makign a probable diagnosis.  Dr. Probhat will see the patient last and correct/add anything we didnt do before making the final diagnosis and prescribing what they need.  I am both nervous and excited.  I'll write more tomorrow about how it goes.

Much love,

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day 4: Historical Sites, Markets, and Sweet Treats

I slept until 5am today! Yay? And I was able to sleep some more after that too.
     Today was full of more sightseeing in Old Delhi, which is very different from New Delhi.  We were going to stop first at the India Gate, which is a giant arch built in memorial of those who lost their lives in one of the wars.  We couldnt park and get out, though, because it was closed so preparations could be made for Republic Day. We did get to drive by and see it and take pictures.

    The first actual stop was at the Red Fort.  The Red Fort was built by the Moghuls after they took over India, and was the seat of the emperor.  The British took it over a few hundred years ago and made a few additions but it is still largely preserved.  ****If my history is not 100% accurate, I am sorry; I'm trying to remember to the best of my ability what I was told****  The Red Fort was huge, and there was a lot to walk around and look at. There was even a museum at one end with artifacts such as clothing and weapons and hookah pipes.

      From the Red Fort, we walked through the crazy Old Delhi market to the Jama Mosque.  Foreigners had to pay to get in (a common thing here. example: 10 rupees for an Indian to go in Rajghat, but 250 for us).  I did not go in, but I sat outside with some of the girls who also didnt want to pay. Apparently we are celebrities in India, because EVERYONE wanted to take pictures of us and with us. There was a ridiculous swarm, and we finally had to say no because more and more people kept walking over.  Inside the mosque, the 3 girls that went in said it was even worse for them; as soon as they entered, a lot of people who were praying got up and swarmed them too.

      We left the mosque and walked through more crazy Delhi markets.  Let me paint you a picture of Old Delhi: Imagine New York City. Now double the amount of people. Add in a ton of dogs, some cows, and some goats.  Take away most traffic rules. Honk at everything. Add some pretty terrible smells. And try not to question the various substances you're walking on.  There you go.  We almost died trying to cross this crazy intersection, but we made it.

    We got back to the cars through the market and were driven to Raj Ghat.  Raj Ghat is the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi.  A flame burns there always, and the actual site is roped off as holy ground. We had to remove our shoes before walking into the courtyard.  I think the cremation sites of Prime Mininster Indira Gandhi and 2 others are also somewhere near.

     Upon returning to the hostel, our female host Sarita took us down to a new market.  Before the market, though, we stopped at a Hindu temple so she could pray.  She took us through the steps with her: Shoes are removed before entering the temple. You first ring a bell, then kneel and pray at the altar of Hanuman. You walk to the left around the statue then follow the little path to a larger altar containing statues of multiple gods where you also kneel and pray.  Then you walk back to the large Hanuman statue to kneel and pray one last time.  You then go to the right of the statue where a man dips out water into your hands.  You drink the water and wipe the rest on your head. Then you ring all 4 bells and walk out the exit.  You dont have to do the next part, but we walked down to the pool behind the temple to look at the fish.  Sarita told us that fish take on your troubles; when something bad is happening, you go feed the fish at the temple and all your worries and troubles will be put on the fish so you no longer have to bear them.
 From the temple we went to the market to the shop where her mother works. Her mother's shop sells saris, punjabis, and does alterations and sewing work.  I brought my sari so she could take my measurements and sew my blouse.  Then we walked around the new market for a few minutes.  We came across a bakery/dessert shop so bought a mixture of treats that looked good to try later.  Outside the shop was a food vendor making what we would soon discover is one of the most delicious things ever: jalebi.
The vendor said it was 150 rupees for a kilogram, so we naively bought a whole kilo. FYI: a kilo is A LOT of jalebi! Jalebi is dough piped out in swirly shapes into hot frying oil (like funnel cake), then after it gets golden brown it is dropped into a vat of simple syrup where the crispy dough soaks it up.  Soooooo good.
I also bought some kiwi, apples, and a pineapple from a fruit stand.  Sarita picked us up from this market then took us down to another market so some of the girls could buy Hindi music like we hear on the radio.  This market was nicer than some of the others we had been to.
     Dinner was served when we got back to the house, then we dove into the box of sweets! They were all very different from American treats, but some of them were pretty good. There was one of all coconut, 2 with cardamom and nutmeg and spices, 2 were soaked in another kind of syrup, and one looked like fudge but kind of tasted like shortbread and was more dry.  We have no idea what any of it is called of course.
    Now it is time for bed

Much love,

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Day 3: Bollywood and Henna

I was actually able to sleep straight through until 4am!  Improvement! No acid reflux either.
     Today began with Hindi lessons for a few hours.  We learned more adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and began piecing together basic sentences.  I still don't have enough memorized to use it while out, but I feel it will be useful.  I never had a desire to learn Hindi, but it has been fun so far and hopefully I will get better with it in the next 5 months.
     After lessons, we all went and saw a Bollywood film: Dhoom 3.  It was interesting lol I was so lost at the beginning at the first story change because it was so opposite and seemed like a ridiculous preview for another movie. But after they went back to the original character's story, I was good.  It got better as it went on, but started with some crazy and silly stuff.  The movie theater food was way more affordable than in the states, and they had similar items: caramel popcorn, cheese popcorn, salted popcorn, nachos, burgers, veggie burgers, soda, and candy.  Ariel and I split a cheese popcorn.
     We hurried to the market after the movie so we could get fruit juice and water from the grocery store, and I was also able to get an adapter for my electronics. Also at the market, we discovered a Subway!! I was SO happy to get some vegetables! The food is good here, but its basically all carbohydrates and I needed something fresh and green.

     Back at the host house, the other girls who didnt go to the market were getting henna done.  I got it on my hand too, of course.  It looks really cool, and should get darker tomorrow.


Today was not as busy as yesterday, and tomorrow should be very busy with more sightseeing and going to another market.
     Crossing my fingers to sleep through tonight!

Much love,

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Day 2: Temples and Tombs and Towers...Oh My!

     This jet lag thing is getting a bit annoying.  I was up again at 3am attempting to fall back asleep. I finally got another hour in before waking up at 6:30am to live stream the BCS Championship game! GO NOLES! Sadly, all I got to watch was the first half. But I have an amazing cousin who live-texted me over iMessage and Facebook so I would know what was going on <3  Last night I also had my first stomach issue. Luckily, it was only acid reflux from spicy soup and I was able to quell it with pepto bismol.
     Today was such a great day! The sun was shining, I felt awake and happy, and I got to experience so much! The first stop of the day was the Qutub Minar.  It is a tall tower structure built by the Moghuls in celebration of their victory in conquering India.  The Qutub Minar is part of the Qutub Minar Complex consisting of a few tombs and various other ruins.  Indians at the complex kept asking to take pictures with us, so it was really funny and we felt popular haha.  We all get stared at constantly of course for being white and dressed in Western fashion.


The second stop of the day was the Lotus Ba'hai Temple.  We had to remove our shoes while walking up to the temple, then wait in line to get in.  The temple is huge, white, and shaped like a lotus.  Even though the temple was built by those of the Ba'hai faith, their religion teaches unity and spirituality through shared prayer from all other beliefs, so they encourage everyone to come in and pray to whatever God(s) they believe in.  A religious leader outside gave us a brief lesson on Ba'hai, which was very interesting and appealing to me.

    The next stop was at a high class market in New Delhi.  There were areas for saris, punjabis, scarves, shoes, spices, art, sculptures, figurines, and I'm sure much more that I didn't discover! I purchased a tunic to wear with leggings or jeans, some chai masala tea, and....I got a sari! My sari is so beautiful, and I absolutely love it! I will post pictures on facebook when I wear it to see the Bollywood movie tomorrow.  
     The last stop on our sightseeing journey was Humayan's Tomb.  The tomb is the structure that the design of the Taj Mahal is based on.  Ironically, Humayan's tomb was built by a wife for her husband, and the Taj Mahal was built by a husband for his wife. It is also a Muslim structure.  The actual tomb of Humayan is in the middle under the large rotunda, then there are 3 different tombs in rooms in the 4 cardinal directions of other relatives.


We went back to the hostel after the Tomb, then walked to the Faridabad market for water and fruit juice from the grocery store. For dinner, I chose to stick with only rice, bread, and cucumbers rather than trying more soup.  Hopefully my stomach wont act up tonight. 
     I am settled into bed after a shower with plans to read and stay awake as late as possible in the hopes of sleeping through the night. 

Much love,


Monday, January 6, 2014

Orientation: Day 1

     I'm not sure if this is what jet lag is, but sleeping was an adventure last night. We were all exhausted so went to bed at 8pm, thinking that we would have no trouble sleeping. Wrong. I found myself wide awake at 12:30am. I forced myself to try and sleep more, but ended up dozing on and off until around 4am. I gave up at that point and read more of The Hobbit and messaged Ralph for a while (finally). I did manage to go to sleep a bit again around 7am until about 8:30, upon which it was acceptable to start the day.
     Breakfast was small crustless sandwiches of tomatoes and cucumbers. I loved them but had to eat quite a few since they were so small. Tea was made too, of course.
     After breakfast it was time to start orientation. It took a while for everyone to get settled and for waivers to be signed, but eventually the lessons started. The IVHQ director went through a brief history of India, clothing, safety, rules of conduct to stay safe, marriage traditions, transportation, and religion.  Tea was then served so we had a little break. After tea, we got a short Hindi lesson of basic phrases and words, were given our placement information,  then it was time for lunch.
     Lunch consisted of rice, Indian tortillas (not naan, thinner), lentil soup, and a curry mixture of potatoes and cauliflower.
     After lunch, the people doing the half-day orientation left for their projects.  A few of us staying the week for orientation walked down to the market with a staff member to get SIM cards and phones and other items (like toilet paper!!) from a grocery store. The shopping center market doesn't look like much, but it turns out there is a store for almost everything so it's quite convenient.  Prices are inexpensive too: a bottle of water cost 18 rupees (1 US dollar = 62 rupees, so do the math). I purchased a 4 pack of toilet paper, a package of 82 baby wipes, some lychee juice, and a bottle of water for the equivalent of $5.60.  Why toilet paper and baby wipes? Well, they don't use toilet paper here or in other parts of Southeast Asia. The process is to use water on your hands and wipe around until things are sufficiently cleaned then wash your hands at the sink. I may eventually adapt to this since I will be here for so long, but I'm not ready yet lol One step at a time.
     I have a phone that can text and call, and it's prepaid so just deducts rupees per minute or message. I shouldn't have to use it too often though because....THERE IS FREE WIFI! I wasn't expecting it at the hostel, but figured we would only have it here since it was in a nicer part. It turns out that not only does the volunteer house have wifi, but all of the project placement host families also have it! There was a collective cheer from off of us volunteers when they told us lol
     Speaking of volunteers, it wasnt just us few in the hostel. There were about 25 of us at orientation this morning. Some arrived during the night from the airport, and a group arrived during the night from a weekend trip out and about. There are volunteers here from various cities in Australia (Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, and Sydney), various part of the US (California, Oregon, Iowa, Florida), Ireland, and Canada. We all speak english so it is convenient. 6 of us are doing the Health placement and will be staying with the same host family. The father is a doctor and has twin boys apparently. Once we get to our host house, we will be placed in a hospital with duties based on interest and qualifications. The director said the first week will be in the hospital then the next week will be set up in a camp at a mobile clinic. I believe the hospital week is this week, so I will be coming on to my project for the camp week. We did mobile clinics in Peru, so it will be interesting to compare the two.
     At the moment, I am sitting in my room waiting for dinner to finish. We had tea not long ago, and I do not have much of an appetite for dinner again. But as far as tea goes: it is served multiple times a day, is sweet, has milk in it, and is about the same shade of brown as coffee with creamer. I'm pretty sure it is chai tea, but it has less spices in it than the chai tea I'm used to in the US. I don't know if that is due to them making it milder for us, or if that is the normal way. I could taste a lot more of the spice, though, in the last cup I had this afternoon. In any case, it is delicious. The food is also not very spicy but apparently that is normal. The director told us that restaurant food is what is spicy but food in the home is mild and simple. So far, no stomach issues! Yay! It's also all vegetarian in the homes that IVHQ works with, with the majority of the food being carbohydrates.
     Tomorrow we go sightseeing at various places in New Delhi, which will be fun and interesting. I will update y'all on that adventure tomorrow.

Much love,

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Namaste from Faridabad

I have arrived safe and sound!
     My flight landed around 10:30am.  I was greeted at the gate by an IVHQ staff member then had to wait about an hour for 2 more girls to show up.  5 of us arrived around the same time so were transported together back to the hostel.  I am staying in the town of Faridabad, which is in the National Capital Region.  The NCR includes Delhi, New Delhi, Faridabad, and other small towns to make one giant area.  It was a bit of a drive to get out here, which makes me wonder how easy it will be to get to New Delhi for weekend sightseeing.  The air is very dusty, and there's some pollution in it as well.  Driving to Faridabad reminded me a lot of the slums of Peru and Haiti with the small markets, crumbling structures, shacks, and trash lining the streets.
     Oh, and cows really do just chill on the side of the road! Dogs run around everywhere, and a donkey followed us down the street for a while! We even saw a camel being led by a man, but I dont think that is a common sight...
     After being fed a late lunch by our hostel hosts, we walked down to the small local market.  There seems to be a small shop for most basic needs:  drug store, various food places, pharmacy, fruit stand, etc.  Everyone stared at us.  Some smiled, some said hi, and some just stared.  No awkward male advances yet.
     Orientation week starts tomorrow with Hindi language classes.  I should have free wifi for the duration of this week, but after that it will not be as regular (unless my host family has it, but I am pretty sure they wont).

     Much love,

Saturday, January 4, 2014

London Layover

Hello friends!
I am sitting at the London Heathrow Airport after quite an eventful day.
The flight from Atlanta to London was super long, but they fed us a few times and I was able to watch Man of Steel, a few episodes of Big Bang Theory, and nap to pass the time.
It was raining when we landed, but that did not deter me at all! My first action was to get a day pass for the subway (the Underground, or also the Tube),  and my first stop was the one near Buckingham Palace. I made my way down the road and took some pics there before hopping back on the subway and heading to Kings Cross Station. Obviously, I didn't have a ticket to catch a train at Kings Cross; the Harry Potter nerd in me just wanted to see it and take pics at platform 9 3/4! I hopped back on the subway and made my next stop at Picadilly Street. I didn't do much there other than look around as I walked, but my walking led me to Trafalgar Square. There is a really neat fountain, giant lion statues, and a big blue rooster statue whose purpose I am unsure of. I wandered on from Trafalgar Square and spotted Big Ben and the spires of Westminster, but by then it was dark, I was a bit tired, and I would have an even longer trek back to the metro. So I stopped at a pub to eat fish and chips and drink a pint. It started raining a bit again as I walked to the subway to travel back to the airport.
And now here I am, sitting here at the airport, with a few hours until my flight leaves for Delhi!
 This next flight should be just as long, but I am prepared with The Hobbit, The Host, and my game boy color with various Pokemon games! I'm actually looking forward to getting a bit of reading done.
Hope you are all well back in the states!

Much love,