So, I didn’t post yesterday. I know you all are terribly disappointed. Just kidding. Basically, yesterday was the stressful/tedious part of the orientation. We registered online with the police department in Hyderabad (or Cyberabad), then we got our cellphones. Basically, tons of paperwork. I’m not completely sure how to work the cellphone yet, even though, as you all know, I’m a genius with technology. But we all have the same phone, so I’m sure I can get help. What I do know is that we can get super cool Indian pop music ring tones. Email me if you want the number. If you call me, then it’s free (for me anyway, muahahaha). But please call at reasonable hours; I do not want to be awoken at odd hours by loud Bollywood music, no matter how awesome.
Oh, also yesterday, we moved into the new gigantic guesthouse. It’s cavernous, and still smells and looks very new, and unfinished. Part of the unfinishedness is the absence of internet, so my apologies if this blog entry goes up late. The house is REALLY nice though, almost uncomfortably so, especially since our beautiful common room overlooks a shantytown made of garbage. It’s a very strange situation to be in. We’re pretty far away from the rest of campus too (a 25 minute walk—the walk from HCA truly is nothing). Right now I really wish I’d requested a home stay; some of the houses are barely further from campus than the new guesthouse, and it’d definitely be a less sheltered experience. But I’m sure this will still be good.
This morning we woke up to the sounds of construction, and to new international students moving in. I’ll be happy to have this place more populated; it seems so cavernous now. The group that came today is from Miami University (the one in Ohio). There are about 15 of them plus there professor/India program director and his wife who are originally from Andhra Pradesh. I talked to the professor; turns out he’s really good friends with the one and only Professor Gangadean! Small world I guess.
Some of you may remember me wondering what an Indian breakfast consists of. Well, so far the buffet has consisted of muesli or choco cornflakes, bananas (really really good ones!), yogurt, toast, hard boiled eggs, and pancakes, French toast, or oatmeal. Fine, but fairly uninteresting. This morning was different though. They had the regular stuff, but they also offered a couscous-like dish with spices and vegetables, and a kind of sauce which tasted very cumin-y, and as though it contained ground chickpeas or lentils. These along with yogurt were quite good. Seriously, who needs toast or cereal when you’ve got that?
After breakfast a group of us went on a walk. The second we stepped out of the guesthouse we were met by a herd of cows foraging, which was kind of exciting. They look pretty different from the cows I’m used to though. They’re much smaller, which I suppose makes sense given the fact that they don’t have access to unlimited feed and pastures. They seem much more nimble too.
Our scheduled lecture on human rights issues in India was cancelled, which is sad, but it’ll be rescheduled apparently. We did get to hear a really interesting talk on women issues in India. It’s interesting to hear how things are changing. It’s really complex; many Indians, both men and women, often find it hard to strike a balance between feminism and tradition. At what point does one cross the line between helping the situation and just succumbing to Western influences? The speaker (Dr. Rama Melkote, retired prof from Osmania University) seemed to feel very strongly that feminism is not a western idea; it just caught on faster in the west. Women’s rights issues in India are unique, and while western feminist thought is certainly applicable, the two cannot simply map out onto one another. I think this makes sense, but clearly it’s controversial, and there are many different opinions on the issue. Something else that was interesting was her views on the portrayal of women in the media in India. As we had all noticed, the billboards around Hyderabad show women in fairly revealing clothing in suggestive poses. However, we also know that actual women around Hyderabad dress quite conservatively. Dr. Melkote felt that the billboards did not speak so much to sexual liberation, but rather to consumerism, and to the reconstruction of the woman as an object of consumption. Obviously, the talk was long and included a lot more interesting stuff, but I can’t do it justice, so…moving on.
In the afternoon we got on a bus and drove off to Banjara Hills to go shopping for Indian clothes. It’s really nice; CIEE is allotting us 3000 rupees to spend on clothes, so we can “blend in,” though honestly I don’t think anything would be able to prevent us from majorly sticking out. I’ve concluded that Banjara Hills is the Beverly Hills of Hyderabad. That part of the city even looks like LA. At one point the bus drove up a long winding road on a hill, and we could look out over the valley and see the beautiful ritzy white blockish houses veiled in smog. It was uncanny.
Shopping was a little stressful (anyone who’s gone shopping with me can imagine) but it was fun. The guys were shopping for kurta pajama (long shirts and loose pants—I think that’s where “pajamas” came from) and the girls were shopping for salwaar kameze (long shirts, pants which could either tight and close to the leg or poofy genie balloon pants, and scarves). Salwaar Kameze are not sold as outfits—you have to mix and match. The variety was incredible, and everything was beautiful, so naturally it was really hard to make decisions. One decision I made early on was to get the poofy pants: I attempted to try on a pair of the tighter ones and they didn’t make it up over my calves! I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, but whatever. The people working at the store were expert matchers however, so that was a big help. Still, there was some conflict though, which was pretty funny. Madhuri, one of our program coordinators sometimes disagreed with the store workers “No no you can’t wear those together!” The store workers were thrilled I’m sure. Twas amusing.
After buying our clothes (and changing into them!) we drove off to a really fancy restaurant, also in Banjara Hills called Southern Spice, where we got to have our first non guesthouse eating experience. It was really really good. We got to eat off of banana leaves (used for auspicious occasions). Hung around the dining room were banana leaves and marigold garlands—also auspicious. And, I managed to get through the whole meal using only my right hand! Well, I scooped the yogurt with a spoon, but I feel like that shouldn’t count. Some of the food was familiar from Indian restaurants back home, like dal, naan, roti, and stuff like that, but other stuff was pretty different. It was spicy, but good. I cleaned my plate, or rather, banana leaf. Oh, also, we tried pan, which is anise, coconut and crushed betel nut wrapped in a banana leaf. That was pretty gross honestly. You know how potpourri smells? Well that’s how it tasted. Like spraying cheap perfume into your mouth. Blech. Anyway, I’m feeling fine after my first “authentic Indian meal”. Well, so far. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Alright, talk to you all later. I’ve got to go ring in the new year!