Wednesday, August 17, 2011

rubbin' lucky elephants

it's true. i've been rubbing my elephant raw. that is, the wooden elephant key chain i got for free at this awesome shop near MG road. i've been slinging my bag a certain way so i can keep it close to my left hand. whenever i get anxious i rub it and count its feet and even rub my thumb on its bell. i have a feeling ten years from now i'm going to look back at this last paragraph and think, "wow, 21 year old donelyn was reallyyy funnyy."

but it's true! i've been so scared here. one time the rickshaw wallah drove so crazy-- he beowulfed his body back and forth like his damn auto didn't have power steering, so i rubbed my elephant. today they said we'd be walking up the 1001 ish steps of chamundi hill so i rubbed my elephant in hopes that i could get over my fear of heights and going down stairs (we ended up driving up the hill!). once we were stopped at an atm when most shops were closed or closing up (around 9pm) and i rubbed my elephant and ticked the bell in hopes that we wouldn't get mugged (we didn't). and sometimes, i sit in my room and rub the elephant so that i'm not self conscious anymore, or so that i'm not homesick, or so that i'm not plagued with the self imposed obligations i get from meeting some people here.

this elephant key chain has been my proverbial rock in india, and yet, yesterday was the first day i saw wild elephants! we went on a 45 min safari in tamil nadu (yes, we left karnataka state to see animals! it was cheaper. Rs60 compared with the Rs1100 Karnataka Natl Park was trying to charge foreigners). i saw peacocks, deer, a warthog and ELEPHANTS! no tigers even though it was a frikin tiger reserve. even with all the mental ups and downs i've been going through i feel totally grateful and lucky to have been a part of this trip. for this last week i'm going to be rubbing the crap out of my elephant (you know, because i haven't gotten enough crap from walking the city streets)-- not only to get me through without any homesickness or physical sickness, but also in thanks-- thank you mr. free wooden elephant for being there for me on my trip of lifetime.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


this will probably one of the last times i get internet before i leave. there's so many things to talk about and not enough time/rupees to do it in!

the last couple of days have been both tiring and fantastic. we've been working with a feminist woman's rights group called HHS. friday we had the chance to visit a support group for the lgbtq community called sangama. that has been one of the most rare and incredible experiences thus far. those people are amazing. in a country where IPC Section 377, a law condemning anyone who goes against "nature" by participating in carnal intercourse that is not man-woman, was repealed only recently it is an amazing feat to be able to create and maintain a support group like this. the people were AMAZING. amazing. amazing. amazing.

one transgender started out as a radio jockey and now is an actress and working on a book. one hijra, a transgender male to females who are revered in some cultural practices like blessing children or weddings, wrote a book called the truth about me and another recently ran for political office as both a transgender and a dalit. these people face huge discrimination not only in a land that treats them as unnatural and even tries to beat the "demon" out of them, but also in a land where communication to the outside is sooooo minimal-- thus making their location in the world extremely lonely.

things i found interesting:
even though they didn't understand us, they smiled and nodded at everything we said
i felt both extreme pride and humility
they asked "simple" questions like: are there transgenders in the us? do they have places where the queer can hang out? these questions, we believe, were a way of placing themselves in the world community
they have categories of gay males, an effeminate gay male is kothi, the masculine gay male is panthi and the in between is called a double decker. we find this controversial. it seems to categorize and divide, but at the same time, here is the answer to those confused about what/who they are!

i felt that this is one of the times i finally found my voice to speak. i finally realized the immediacy and how unique this moment was in my life. i had my chance to tell them that it's one thing to fight for water and food and education like we've been learning, but to fight for an identity-- that is an incredibly brave thing to do. and again, i could only sum this up by saying they were an AMAZING group.

i know i should be writing about what i've done today and yesterday and blah blah, but i feel like those are things i might be able to do in the future. i might be able to go see the lalbagh flower show or shop in big bazaar and central bangalore mall again. but i may never meet the absolutely inspiring individuals i've met on this trip.

-- something that also pertains to this. there's violence and corruption and just bad and ugly stuff everywhere in this city and nation, and that is what the news fixates on. if you read this and believe that the type of change i mentioned above is just sooo unlike india, i ask that you go to and change your mind. we met with the founders (two engineers!) and learnt that it's only them and 10 journalists doing this part time-- amazing! honestly, take some time &change your perception of india.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

if you dig a hole in the us, you'll get to china (india). if you dig a hole in india, you get a bore well.

wow! internet!

lovely jp nagar (nagar = hood) allows me to get to an internet cafe in no more than ten minutes. i just have to cross a bustling and possibly fatal two way street-- nothing new. and, the path to getting here does not require passing under rail way tracks that smell like the urine of every animal on noah's boat.

what's special about today's trip is that i walked here by myself. literally the first time i've walked further than ten feet without accompaniment. why, might you ask? because my teacher told me so. yeah, i'm going to be writing a paper on this. the assignment:

Spend some time (15-30min) on your own in the city. What happens? What's different or the same? How do people view you? How do you see things?

My response may or may not contain the following:

  • people like to stare. regardless of the fact that i kinda look like some of the locals, i'm so out of place.
  • 2 guys my aged followed me for quite a bit.. giggling... i'm not even that pretty! (have you seen indian women? hawt)
  • i was super aware of the fact that there were only a handful of women on the street. 99% of them auntie status.
  • i looked lost, confused, on the verge of tears, high... i kept looking at the sky to avoid people from staring, but that isn't exactly what most people do here. if you're not people watching you're sidewalk watching so you don't fall into the side walk.
  • i feel safe in this internet cafe.

it's downpouring and dark outside. like seattle in the summer at eleven oclock. the streets are unfamiliar and the buildings look fake like a hollywood scene.

on the subject of rain and water. this city is definitely lacking in management-- more specifically water management. at least that's what i've been learning for the last 2 weeks. bangalore used to be a geographically perfect rain catcher. now with all the "development," i.e. new neighborhoods and landfill filling up previous tanks (lakes) water is totally lacking. any that does find it's way into bore wells (wells that tap into the underground water tables) are tainted from the pollution. there's more access to soda here than drinkable water! not bad for me (considering i can buy bottled water), but how crazy does that sound?

some things you can do with water but probably wouldn't want to do with soda:
take a bath
water your plants
wash yourself after using the toilet
wash your clothes
boil veggies
wash your car

it's sad. what's even sadder is that the water that is drinkable is being privatized. imagine that! private h20?! wtf!? exactly! i could go on for a couple of hours on the logistics of water that i learned in class but i could talk to you for days about the people and villages i visited who've been affected and even displaced by the water "crisis" here. it's really unimaginable until you see it. and it's really ironic that as tourists we're picky about our water so as to not hurt our tummies, when the locals don't even have access to enough water to thrive.

the rain is dying (ish) and i need to get home in 8 minutes or my auntie and khoi will worry (i told them to call the cops if i'm not home by 7:30). h20 is the issue for now. as i walk the streets home i'll be drenched in the life of this city and thinking about other things, like soda and hotdogs, to keep me sane. love ya seattle!

from the seattle of india,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the ugly india(n)

"india has too much culture! you can't go around saving every monument and temple. the history is in our culture."

that was the answer to my question on whether or not india had laws protecting historical monuments. there's a thing here in blore called "road widening". it happens for a variety of reasons, to put in a metro, to make way for the bloating population and because the government can. because the city of blore never really had great urban planning-- store and house fronts just popped up in organic lines, making straight or orderly roads requires the demolishing of establishments. this... depressing reality is subtly distinguished by red marks you'll see on the posts of buildings with an arrow and a + some number of meters. that's how far in they're going to tear down whatever to make room for roads. the aforementioned question stemmed from me seeing a historical monument on a walking tour of MG Road with the marks ^+10m. how can you just rip a "historical" monument in two!?

"who are you to tell others what they should save? it's not your temple. they're the ones worshipping it!"

the man giving me the answers is part of a group called TUI (the ugly indian). A small group of mostly upper class individuals who believe in beautifying the streets of what most think is a highly polluted, urine filled area. they believe that by fixing up, planting plants, painting public areas of "abuse" locals will have a change of mentality and treat that place with respect. they choose their places wisely and work in anonymously. when people ask what they're doing their only responses are: just painting or would you like to join? i feel this action holds some heavy stuff and the fact that a group of 24 blatant foreigners helping them twisted the actions a bit.

anyway, because i have to go (Rs15/hour here!) i just want to sum it up by saying that india has definitely been changing my views. as upsetting as that sounds and sometimes feels, i say, hell, that's why i came here right? to confirm or turn my world upside down... or around.

"i didn't get turned on, i just got turned."
-- atmosphere, not the bald mustachioed man who gave the previous quotes.

miss yall so much!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

how do you say plus size in india?

go figure, all you say is "oohh.... really big!"

I feel like in this city people are distinguished largely by the caste system. If you were born a brahmin you're set to go to school, go to waterworld and have luxury cars outfitted with a driver. If you're an untouchable you're chained to the streets as a sweeper or beggar. the way tourists are seen is of a different nature. tourists are categorized into a class of their own, and within that they're distinguished by the color of their skin, the culture of their features AND shape of their bodies. here i'm not looked at like the white or blonde people in the group. i garner less attention and less attempts of getting ripped off. for all the locals know i could just be a funny asian looking local from the north. but i am separate from most in our group by my body. i'll admit (to hopefully a reader following of 2) that my body has changed dramatically in the last two years, and whether or not i love it, it's something i have to live with now. i'm not going to magically lose 20 pounds in the next day (though the spicy food has been "relieving" me of most of the stuff laying in my digestive tract). my body is going to generally stay this way for the entire trip. and that, is what i've been learning to take in stride.

the first rickshaw ride in the city our "wala" (spell check, rickshaw driver) was teaching us some words in hindi. ik is one, baarish is rain. then he saw a pretty rotund wala and said, "mottu." "Mottu?" we asked. "Yeah," pointing at my fellow rider, "she skinny (in hindi)," then pointing at me, "you, mottu!" Awkward silence... me, "ohhh! i'm fat! wow! well... there goes your tip! ha.. ha.."

last week in a fantastically large clothing store called "hello hello can i help you?" "nahh just looking... " "no, no maam i can find you clothes, here, here! big stuff yeah!" why don't they make pretty stuff for big people? this stuff looked like maternity clothing. ay... so i checked out some plain cotton "balloon" pants. the man ran to my side, took the band of the pants and stretched them as far as his arms could go. "loook maam! see how far they stretch?! they will fit you!" at this point i realized all the sales people have been watching this little man throw large shirts in front of me, call me big several times and stretch random pairs of pants and skirts until the band could go no more. there was no use escaping the embarrassment, and really no use in being embarrassed. so i sucked up my pride, toughened up my skin and said, "stretchy? THANK GOD!"

space, privacy-- those are words with different meaning here. it's not taboo to comment on someone's weight. in the usa there's ads everywhere, there's diets to and fro. it's okay to write a book about how you should lose weight, it's okay to give advice, but it's never okay to say, 'you've gained weight'. maybe i've been desensitized to my weight. maybe i'm too sensitive. i don't know. all i know is that when the first rickshaw driver told me i'm fat i was offended. i wanted to die. sometimes, when i see everyone else buying clothes left and right i still want to just kinda... crawl into a hole (or in my case a large cavern) and let the dreariness and emotion wear away my fatty rolls. but i have to suck it up. i cannot and will not let my weight get in the way of my experience. sure, i will let it in and recognize how i'm treated differently because of it! but it'll be my goal and my fight, to take all-- of--- this-- (gesturing to mahhh body) and handle it with grace.

from india with fat,


Monday, August 1, 2011

namaskara, the eagle has landed!

blogging has been terribly difficult to do here. you'd think that the country famous for tech support, that the city nicknamed the silicon frikin valley of india would have unbeatable internet connection. it doesn't. i'm only paying 10 rupees/hour (~$0.25) but i'm sitting in a small stall... on a plastic chair... on a computer dirty with porn history. and it's hot! and breakfast is in less than an hour. so... some things so far:

we've been learning a great deal about the state of this city. not in terms of the state karnataka, but how the city runs (or limps...). the sidewalks are deadly, but as soon as you set foot on the paved road you risk your life. cars don't stop here, they just swerve. after crossing the street on the first day, i swore i would never come to this country again. i hated it. now i'm slightly used to it and have been having better luck with rickshaw drivers. anyway, this city, as bustling as it is seems like everything needs to be repaired. the environmental support group we're working with says that in 20 yrs 40% of the pop will have moved out because of the lack of drinking water. coca cola is more accessible than that! can you believe that?!

more memories: while waiting to enter a hindu cave temple i told this woman that she had a beautiful child, she didn't understand me so i mumbled that i wish i could just say that, then this girl next to me translated it to the woman and all three of us just... smiled (forgive the lack of eloquence but this "cafe" is super loud and not meant for the intent blogger). another baby moment, i was looking at postcards in this fantastic bookshop on mg road called gangarams when the owner came up to me with a child in his hands. i was cooing at the babe and so the owner faced him toward me and scooted him close until our foreheads touched :] yesterday we went to this place called city market (like pike place for locals x 1 crore). a vendor asked us to take a picture of him and his wife. he put his arms around her and dawwww i melted. it was gorgeous. couples here are so infuriating. there's no snogging or ass grabbing. there's straight up puppy love everywhere! every age.

also at city market. i was looking at shoes. the owner of the stall said, here let me, let me! and so i let him put the shoe on my calloused mosquito bitten foot. as i was admiring the pair i heard someone singing "baby, baby, baby ohhh" and it was mr. shoe man! i looked him straight in the eye and asked "is that justin beiber?!" he laughed, nodded and asked me, "are you brazillian?"

there's a bridge i have to cross under everyday to get anywhere from our hostel. it smells like piss and poo. why? because people piss and poo everytime they pass by. like they're making an offering to a piss poo spirit. they bulldozed through that area, but you can still smell the shit. ugh.

yesterday we went to a hardrock cafe esque, anglicized italian/tea shop called infinitea. the waiter was cracking up at everything we did (i.e. ordering a small two person pot of tea for five, staring at the check trying to figure out tip). as we were leaving my duputta (scarf) (spell check on eight before this) got stuck on a woman's chair, i got flung a little back and had to untangle myself. the waiters were dying of laughter.

i bought a pomegrante for ten rupees. apparently i looked like i was struggling so the vendor took it from me. opened it up more, pulled out a handful of seeds, said see? and gave the fruit back to me. i looked at the seeds, to his hand and then back at the seeds again.... then i ate them. hell, his hands can't be that dirty.

got icecream at a place called the cool joint. some flavors: madonna and black male.

got ripped off by buying a small wooden portable chess set for Rs 600. went to an expensive looking store. a bigger wooden portable chess set was there. the man who was so interested in me being filipino said he would give it to me for Rs 400. i told him that if he bought the other one from me i would buy it. he said no, but would give me a filipino discount on anything else.

was having a disastrous time trying to use my damn phone card. the receptionist saw me and tried to help me. another worker came over and offered his own phone to me. they must be great dads.

bought some cheese called happy cow.. then i realized the american version is laughing cow..

that's enough memories for now. i gotta brave the bridge of death to get to dinner. i miss home more than i ever did before. ayy yi. i hope i don't get burnt out so soon.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

today is the day

that i am off to... well, chicago! i won't get into bangalore until july 23rd.. 20 hours of flight time = 2 days??? time zones! ain't they a funny thing?

sad, here begins one of the biggest trips of my life and here i am shortening the three hour period i have to sleep. ahh but i guess that's what airplanes are for? i can't yet decide whether i want the window seat so i can fall asleep and not worry about my adjacent passengers going to the restroom or if i want the aisle seat so i can roam til my heart's content. oh, woe, what heavy decisions we have to make at 4 in the morn!

speaking of heart's content, as excited as i am (or should be) i'm feeling really homesick already. ugh this always happens. this gorgeous seattle summer has just now started to kick off and i'm leaving! but what's life if you dont' leave the cave, right? says bangalore will be in the high 70s, thunderstormy & ~70% humidity. but how accurate are weather seers anyway? i ask too many questions at this hour. one more: what is the last letter of the alphabet?