Rules to live by in India
Sorry that it has taken a bit for me to post again…Internet here is always questionable. Over the past few days I have had some great adventures. I have learned a lot about the banks, government, and how finances are done here. This past Saturday I met with a chairman of a large Indian bank that works with most of the agriculture loans in the area. This was truly an amazing experience…he had forty years experience and is revolutionizing the banking world in the cities and villages of the Palaghat district. At this same meeting I met the president of another bank who helped me to obtain contact information for twenty six widows. We are currently trying to see if anyone we know knows them and if they would be willing to let me interview them. This is very exciting!! Along these same lines we went to the government offices yesterday and I was amazed to see lots of people waiting in line…of course I had to ask what they were there for. Those people that don’t have money to pay off officials for what they want have to wait for hours. After passing what seemed to be 200 people, we went into a government official’s office ( people were not waiting in line for this office so we were able to walk right in) to obtain some information about the widows and he refused to give anything to me because I was an American and might give it to our government. We no sooner went next door to an official that did the same job who told us how to write a letter requesting that information. We also had the help of an office clerk who thinks he may be able to expedite the information in two weeks or so. Though this may seem corrupt and inefficient by American standards, it is just how it works here. Today we plan to go to a local bank to search out more widows in the area who may be willing to meet with me. Things are really coming together!
Other than work we have backed over a motorcycle, eaten from a street shack, bought Sarees, eaten at an American restaurant, played some cricket, etc. I guess I should explain the motorcycle thing…here driving is crazy, all the horns and people. We were parked at the phone store for the third day in a row trying to get my phone and internet working properly, when we went to back out there were about 50 people waiting at the “bus stop” (spot in the street) so of course we honked at them to move and began backing up. As we backed up we didn’t see the parked motorcycle and went right over it. No worries though it was rented so the man didn’t care, haha! I am beginning to realize small accidents are pretty normal around here. What is even more alarming about the motorcycles is that it is totally legal to have dad driving, mom sitting side saddle with a baby in her arms, and a toddler in front of dad on the handle bars! This was very alarming at first but everyone does it. The street shack has been my most risky experience since coming here. Yesterday after meeting with government officials we stopped to get this fried bean patty (it has corn, chilies, and lots of other veggies in it) and some tea. The patty was amazing for something cooked over an open flame from a wood shack the size of a lemonade stand. The tea worried me a bit as I was told by everyone not to drink anything but bottled water but not to worry it seems to be fine. After this we went to the Saree shop, WOW! There were two stories of cloth floor to ceiling in the most beautiful colors I have ever seen. The girls in the store were so helpful…they draped me in too many sarees to count until I found what I wanted (a green one and a pink one) . One girl even gave me her Bindi (dot on the forehead that Hindus wear) telling me “now you are Indian.” They proceeded to help me find a Churidad (a tunic with very loose pants), shirt material for my Sarees, and under skirts. Who knew all this stuff went into something that looks like a wrapped sheet! I will be wearing this Sunday after I learn how to wrap it. There are different ways to wrap Sarees for North and South India, both very involved. The American restaurant we ate at a few days ago after meeting with the bank chairman was hilarious. They were blaring N’Sync and Backstreet Boys. They served traditional Indian food and American food such as hamburgers, eggs and toast, and salads. There were pictures of cowboys branding cows all over…it was truly hilarious. Upon returning home like any other day, I watch the orphan boys play cricket everyday and still have no clue how it works. I plan to Google it and go out there and play one day if I get up enough guts. Those balls hurt…I have been hit by more than a few since I have gotten here, haha!
Now I will try to answer some of the many questions I have been asked since I got here…and give some travel tips of my own for anyone who may want to venture here. First of all you will get over your fear of all bugs and animals in a “trial by fire” fashion. I have had tree frogs in my bathroom, lizards in my bedroom, cockroaches in my shower, and seen centipedes! You kind of just live with them and make deals with them that if they don’t jump on you while you shower we will both be alive afterwards, haha! Pets here are a different concept…no one seems to own the animals. One morning you may have a chicken or a donkey in your yard and for that time it’s yours. Dogs and cats are all over the place, I guess kids are lucky because they can pick any animal they want for a short time! The animals also stand in the middle of the road all the time. The roads are not for car sick people… Most are paved but have huge potholes or animals laying in them. You will often be driving past a tractor or a cart with oxen pulling it. The houses are shacks…some are made of poured cement and some are literally woven palm fronds around four wood beams. The people here are very poor so most houses are not decorated, may not have been painted since they were first built many years ago, and have no flooring besides dirt or cement. Sheets hang in the windows for drapes and most use plastic chairs Iike those we put in our backyards for furniture. Most people are barefoot here within their villages and only wear shoes to walk into town or for work. Flooring would not last a day with the mud that would be tracked in. Most cars are either those very compact little things or big SUVs (nothing like the U.S. of course but about the size of a Toyota 4Runner). They can only buy a certain amount of gas at the gas stations here in town and you are not allowed to pump your own gas. We eat on plates like those in the U.S. but you do not use silverware of course. They always offer it to me but this is the first time in my life my mom can’t say “stop playing with your food,” so I take every change I can get. You wash your hands before and after every meal. They cook over open flame…I have yet to see a stove besides in the nice restaurants in town. Most travelers eat the street food because you can see it cooked and make sure it is hot. This is definitely the best way to go! The weather here is in the 80s during the day and the 70s during the night, it is beautiful! This is because it is monsoon season. Many people cautioned me about coming during the rainy season but I am so happy I did! The rain is beautiful! While I am here I dress modestly…I wear gauchos and t-shirts. I do not wear any tank tops or any tight fitting clothes; this is more comfortable in the humidity anyways. As far as toilet amenities…I am so spoiled! We have “western style” toilets here but only Americans use toilet paper. It took me a few days to figure out why there is a bucket of water next to the toilet which has great water pressure….just remember no toilet paper, icky! Also bodily noises are not rude i.e. burping, blowing your nose without a tissue, among other things… You just go with the flow and don’t put American standards on anything