This is the story of our wonderful five days in Gujarat Province, to the cities of Anand and Baroda. This blog is set up from each of our perspectives on the adventure.
Cecilia: it was AWESOME! it was GREAT! we took a few days to visit vinisha's family and see the kite festival. her family was wonderful! it was great to meet and hang out with all of them for a few days and have a real vacation! the kite festival was awesome! we hung out with her granma, cousins and aunts and uncles. really great family who were just wonderful and happy to have me join in their clan! i learned a good number of words in gujarati and hindi while being here (most important of which has been "muchar" - mosquitoes, "bus" - enough, "ha" - yes, "ney" - no, "bol" - speaks/ing, "sou" - what, "cha" - 4 or tea, "pani" - water, "conheh" - who is this?!). we went to see the movie "3 Idiots" - i've downloaded it to my computer (like a proper grad student) and you all HAVE to see it! i could understand it pretty well just through context, so i was REALLY pleased with myself with that. so i think that you all would be able to understand it too -- we shall see! but its a GREAT GREAT movie! i loved it so much and am looking forward to watching it again tonight with our Mumbai host family!
vinisha flew kites - i tried, but mine started to fall.... so it was quickly taken away from me. because the real idea with kite festival is yes, celebrate the end of winter, but also to eat sweets, and to fight kites. so the string - which was a total shocker to me - is run through dye and then run through some small pieces of glass (yes. glass. the whole weekend all i could think of was this) so people get their hands cut too -- which is why everyone has their hands all taped up. but i took tons of photos and it was a really really nice experience!
Vinisha’s: On a different side of the story, it was very entertaining to see Cecilia learn Gujarati, mostly by force. I was terrible at translating because there was just so much happening and so many people to see and sooo many things to talk about. The significant part of Cecilia being forced to learn Gujarati was that I started speaking to her in it. I would be speaking with a family member on one side of me in Gujarati, and would turn around the pose the question they were wondering about to her. Unfortunately my brain did not turn on the English switch, so I would still be asking the question in Gujarati until Cecilia would slightly annoyed, say “I don’t understand… you are not speaking English.” That was very frequently the line she used, but we got better! Also, in my family, there is a lot of pointing with your eyes or head happening, which is mixed with some standard question phrases. Cecilia soon picked up on them, and we had to quickly adapt to her understanding our conversations and include her in them.
Kite flying was also a great experience. I of course was dying to fly them, and I am a self proclaimed pro at kite flying and fighting. You see, I forgot to disclose a very important detail about Kite flying to Cecilia, it’s more than just happy, la la land, flying, IT’S A COMPETITION! You must eliminate your neighbor’s kite, or yours will be gone! I suffered a few cuts but also won a few fights. Cecilia managed to sneak some awesome action shots.
Now the tale of our bold and daring excursions:
To start, getting there was an adventure. We went to visit with the Tata Institute for Social Sciences and met with one of the professors who is also from the New School - Usha Nayar. She's GREAT! And she introduced us around to so many people in the campus, it was really really great! (See other blog posts for more information on the TISS meetings.) Then because of traffic, even though we were leaving TISS at 7:30pm, and our train was at 11pm, we left and went directly to the station. We had been told that we'd gotten tickets for AC 3 tier. So there's AC. check, and awesome. 3 tier? ok, so what we were told was that it was three beds in a compartment. sure. so the third person will just have to deal with us talking and then Cecilia possibly snoring through my cold.... so we got to the station (Cecilia took as many photos as she could without calling too much attention to myself... but really, Cecilia does not look like ANYONE in this country. so not calling attention to the two of us kind of goes out the window in reality). We found out at which platform our train was coming to and then sat. and sat. and sat some more. In this process to waiting we gathered a lot of stares, but no beggars- surprisingly. Cecilia’s nose was pretty runny so Vinisha went on a mission to find her some tissues while she watched our bags. After going to three tea stalls, Vinisha found some, but the young man running the stall made her purchase the whole pack for 40 rupees. Jerk! Vinisha was pretty sure he got them for free, because it was a branded stall with the brand on the napkins. Then finally two trains left and ours came in! We didn’t know what seat numbers we had (Cecilia’s ticket had only been confirmed a few hours before leaving the house that morning....... there had been a lot of freaking out between the two of us of what a plan B could possibly look like.... for a while, it was looking pretty grim) so when the train comes into the station one of the conductors of the train runs alongside of it and sticks pieces of paper to the doors saying the names of the passengers and what seat they're in. So there goes EVERYONE and their mom's and the porters and just general onlookers to the doors of the train to see what seat they have. Cecilia pulled the bags while Vinisha mozied up to the door and found our seat numbers. The mob of people wanting to read the names was a little terrifying, simply because it was a mob. We don’t do too well with crowds and try to avoid them if we can. Also, while Cecilia was pushing the bags and Vinisha was trying to find our “compartment” the train was still moving, at a very slow pace, but still moving, and so some more caution was added when seeking out the compartment. We had seat numbers (thank goodness! Cecilia was still a little worried..... but it was all alright!) So Cecilia climbed on first, then Vinisha shoved our bags into the door hopped in, opened the door to what Cecilia thought would be a corridor a la darjeeling express or hogwarts train (although not as nicely painted of course.... after all we weren't first class....) and doors to different compartments..... ONLY TO FIND that the "compartment" as defined by Indians is the whole car. yes. the whole car. and no, we did not have three beds in a whole car.... it was well - when you think of a compartment, there are the compartment sections, just no doors. so a three tier really means that you have three on one side of the compartment, three on the other side of the compartment and two facing your compartment (here we are using "compartment" as we had understood it previously to getting on the train). So really three tier means eight. oh, and again we found ourselves in a pretty much womanless section. We don’t have the faintest idea how we get ourselves in these predicaments. We looked around us, saw the amount of stuff we had, and then realized that this wasn’t fitting anywhere but on the bunks we were sleeping on. So Vinisha climbed up first, shoved the first bag up to the top bunk, then on to the bottom bunk. We had to negotiate with each other about the rest of the luggage so we could sleep in only a semi circle. Regardless, much giggling ensued...... and then quickly stopped and we fell asleep a bit crunched up. We had quite a bit of luggage (one bag, the largest of them all, was not ours! we are not crazy packers!!) so Cecilia was on the top most bunk with one luggage behind my head and vinisha was on the second bunk with another bag behind her head. Cecilia fell asleep very quickly (as she is known to do on modes of transportation...) and then woke up once and looked around and the car was full and sleeping. And then woke up again because vinisha told her we had arrived in Baroda - 5 hours later. Vinisha was not so fortunate. She is a bit lighter sleeper than Cecilia and was constantly woken up by the two men in their area discussing their medical schools, and then later having issues with their bunks. Much later, it was just to painful to sleep in such curled up position for sooo long, but it was better than just sitting. woohoo for sleeper cars! no matter how slightly creepy and misimagined they might have been! To be honest, when I was all over, we agreed that it wasn’t so bad at all. In fact, besides the initial irritation, the whole thing was great, and even a tale to be repeated over and over.
so we arrived and went to one of Vinisha's very close family friend's house and were fed (we're ALWAYS being fed here!) it was nice and relaxing but Cecilia quickly OH SO quickly realized that no one speaks gujaratlish (gujarati-english) like they speak hindi-english in mumbai.... so she sat in the room just being talked to and over and basically trying to stay awake and pick up on what might possibly be the conversation happening around her. But she was pretty good at picking up when she was being talked about and asked for explanations from Vinisha when she failed to translate. After a while we went to visit other family friends (the ones with the luggage that we were given to bring back from the states). We ate again (told you. always eating! i'm almost convinced that i'll need to be rolled back on the plane!) and hung out.
Then we went out with the nieces from the house and took a rickshaw in to the city and went shopping. oh what an experience that is. at least oh what a difficult experience that is for Cecilia in India and for the people helping her shop. “i will never in my life take for granted walking into a store with all the clothes hanging and easily visible for me to touch and feel and see all the varieties” she promises. She tweaked. As Vinisha has said multiple times. shopping in india at normal stores is terrifying for me. Not sure why, but Cecilia just basically loses it. The vendor starts bringing out shirts and she hate them. ALL. “So then I feel bad that I hate them and that I cant articulate why I hate them.... and then i start to have a minor panic attack.” The store is small... and then we basically have to rush ourselves out of the store with a trail of Vinisha and the nieces behind Cecilia. In the end she did buy some things in that trip - surprisingly. Actually, Vinisha used a trick to help, she told the shop keeper that her friend gets very flustered with too many options, and if they don’t stop pulling stuff out when Vinisha tells them to stop, she will freak out and leave without buying anything. So they better do only what we ask them and nothing more. It worked out. Things put in front of her were limited and manageable. She bought stuff. Then back to the house in a rickshaw for - you guessed it, dinner.
Food in Baroda is awesome! its all salty-sweet, lots of sweet. For Vinisha, it was comfortable and pretty amazing as she had her favorite food- Gujju food.
We started to fall asleep at the house of the first family friends, so it was decided that this was closer to beds, and so we slept there. OOH I forgot! At this house they have a mosquito racket! Its actually pretty sadistic - its an electric racket that you swat the mosquitoes with and then they die. Sometimes they explode. but OOOH MAN after two weeks of being eaten alive, it was nice to get back at those awful little bugs for once! Vinisha walked around with it in her hands, and sought out the mosquitos, and attacked them while they napped. The were lots of oohs and aaahs, the uncle, aunty, and their son Chirayu were thoroughly amused by the girls pleasure in killing all the bugs. Then Vinisha felt bad for killing them. It was rather cruel.
So the next day we went with the second family and we went to the village of the nieces (they study in baroda because their village doesn’t have as good universities). it was great! and also an adventure.
it was finally kite festival! Getting there was a bit scrunched up, but come on- this is India, we like to be tight. It was actually super fun. So we were there, met the family, had some tea and then headed to the roof. the roof. This could have been ok if it was like EVERY OTHER ROOF IN THE COUNTRY THAT I HAVE SEEN, but no. its like American roofs. they slant down. but this one was made of corrugated steel. slanting. but since the family and the kids were convinced that we couldn’t make it.... we did it to spite them. Cecilia was surprisingly way more chill with it than Vinisha. Again, we broke into hysterical laughter. So we slinked our way up the roof holding tight to the concrete molding and then Cecilia sat herself down and didn’t move for a good long while. Vinisha got her sea legs (roof legs?) and was able to move around a bit better and fly kites. Although it took a long time for them to stop shaking. She announced to Cecilia that this reminds her of the times she climbed on her roof in the US to clean the rain gutters, but to be safe dad would tie a long dog leash on her. Cecilia took photos. LOTS of photos. and then she was joined on the molding by a three year old (yes 3.....) and they sat and actually had a lot of fun sitting and for the first few hours, he was mostly staring at Cecilia trying to figure out who she was and what she was doing there. then he took some photos with the camera and we were soon great friends! yes, friends with a three year old. he was the only one at Cecilia’s vocab level. The two of them were also the talk for the family for the rest of the day. The family kept on asking the little boy what they were talking about. So then we flew kites for a while more and then went back downstairs (at this point we were a bit more comfortable on the roof --Cecilia still always sitting though.... but she did walk over to other side where there was more shade and everyone else from our group hanging out). we went downstairs and then headed out to the farm that the family owns. It was really nice - full of cotton, castor seeds, mustard seeds, lentils, squash, flowers. more photos and little understanding of what was being said, but it was nice nonetheless. Then we headed for Anand.
anand is a smaller town about 45 minutes from Baroda where Vinisha's mom’s family lives. Her granma lives with her uncle, aunt and two cousins and not too far away are three more cousins with another aunt and uncle. It was great! Her family was sooooo welcoming, and Vinisha again snapped right back to getting caught up with people! And Cecilia started to catch on to stories and things while she was just hanging out - so now she claims to be at the level of maybe a 5 year old..... but a slow 5 year old. Cecilia had lots of conversations and made good friends with all Vinisha’s cousins and family - it was SO SO nice!
So we had, more food. OH! water! I forgot about the water! When you come into a house in Gujarat they give you a glass of water to drink (they all gave us purified water -- they were REALLY great about it! Vinisha's granma made sure to boil the water and then cooled it for us to drink -- She was sooooo nice to go through the extra effort!) but apparently Cecilia drinks really slow, which Vinisha didn’t notice because both ways were common for her. The custom is that the person who brings you and everyone else the tray with waters waits for everyone to finish.... everyone else would finish in a flash and then the person with the tray would hang around waiting for Cecilia’s.... it was awkward to say the least until she caught on or vinisha would grab her glass- absentmindedly of course. Cecilia couldn’t get the drinking fast down.... but everyone else just finally understood that she drank slow and let me keep my water.
when we arrived to the house we hung out and then Vinisha's cousins came over and all of us crowded in the kitchen for dinner. Cecilia learned that the tradition is that you eat on the floor - OH also, did you know that traditionally in India you eat with your hands -- RIGHT hand in particular. i've learned LOTS.
Then we hung out with all the cousins in the bedroom for a while until the cousins who didn’t live in the house were sent home and we all went to sleep. But just before we parted our youngest cousin cranked out the details of the next day’s kite flying plans.
In the morning there was chai and some puri (spicy cereals) and other dry grains/goods. then we slowly got ready to continue flying kites at the other cousins' house. the kite festival is only really on the 14th, but everyone loves it so much that no one goes back to work and just keeps flying kites the next day too. There really wasn’t much to do but to fly the kites because the whole town was pretty much closed. Now, to get to the other cousins house we tried to get a rickshaw.... which didnt work out. Vinisha and my stealth had to be challenged - we had to take a two wheeler, a scooter. Not something that Cecilia was looking forward to, and Vinisha just continued to live by the slogan everything is possible in India. So we went three of us on one two wheeler - so if anything happened, we were very well packed onto it. Luckily it was a very close ride! It ended up being just fine. this is a good thing because really, its the ONLY mode of transportation that's good for anything there. no walking (really no one walks anywhere in this country from what I've seen....) and buses just don’t make sense for where we're going, rickshaws were taking too long or were flying kites themselves, and there was no car - just scooters. so away we went! Scooters are pretty functional mode of transport also because they are cheap and require little fuel and also, since you can’t walk a lot due to heat, anti-pedestrian friendly roads, and the overall dirt that we would have had to walk through had we walked. Two wheelers it is! With scarves tied around our faces like burkhas to stave off any loose kite strings (covered in glass remember?) and the dust we rode our strange procession to kite flying.
We were there for a while and then just were generally hanging out. It was a nice relaxing day. Lunch was served by Vinisha’s other aunty. She had especially prepared Vinisha’s special dish, gulab jamun (a sweet dessert that you can typically get in Indian restaurants in the US – the brown doughy balls covered in sugar and syrup). Yuummmm. Even typing about it makes her mouth water. Then we went to Vinisha’s third uncle’s house, who isn’t an uncle, but rather an adopted member of the family. We flew A LOT of kites there too. Cut a few and lost a few. Mostly, tore a lot of them in the air. Not sure how that happened but it did. Trees here were dotted with kites, which is sad but pretty bold symbol of how much people love the kites. From here, we returned to my younger uncle’s house where we were flying earlier that morning. The little cousin had made us promise to come back to fly some more at night (he was trying to attached LEDs to the kites!), but it didn’t happen. Technical difficulties. So after much more hanging out we went back to gramma and eldest uncle’s house, where we were staying. There for dinner was CHAAT! mmmm best food ever! ok, not ever - mostly since I’ve had amazing foods since being here... but its WAY up there with delicious things I’ve eaten! We decided kind of late that we wanted to go see a movie. None of us had seen the movie "3 idiots" which has been the talk of India every single day we've been here. It was totally completely worth it! Again all seven us hopped on two wheelers (not all of us on the same one - we're not completely crazy!) and headed off to the 9:30pm show. Which we left the house for at 9:30, of course. Because really, everything is on indian time – well, it just makes sense! then we arrived at the theater and Cecilia kept her scarf covering up to try to fit in a bit more... we were in a lower class area in which the seven of us stuck out a lot. And again, our group was mostly women (5 to 2) and the audience of course was mostly men (because that’s how we roll). We went into the theater and here you buy tickets for specific seats and rows. We had bought the tickets pretty late so we had slim pickings for the seats - we got fifth row from the front. So one of the cousins tried to negotiate with the person who takes you to your seat to get us other seats - but being as we're 7 that was a bit difficult. My next request was made- “where should we sit?” The person working was really annoyed, he said “well, wherever you are assigned, of course!” in a “who do you think you are?” tone. So we told him, well show us to our seats then! Defeated, we accepted and marched to our lousy seats to watch the much recommended film. Unfortunately when we got there, there were people sitting in our seats already. Who had the look of shock on their faces when the theatre employee demanded them to move. They looked at the worker and then us who obviously didn’t fit in, a slightly uncomfortable posse of seven, then annoyed, moved to their assigned row- a row before ours. We took our seats, and immediately heads began to turn. This was a group. 5 girls, one of them white, and a 13 year old boy, and then a 20 year old male. there were two shows that evening in the theater: (1) 3 idiots (2) 7 idiots, 7 people who were obviously not part of the usual crowd in the theater. it was a fun time had by all (seriously -- it was great! and a REALLY REALLY good movie -- again, Cecilia has it on her computer and she will make you watch it. its AWESOME) do NOT be deceived by the name - its not a 3 stooges type film, its typical bollywood with random songs at odd moments- minus the overly romantic love story, but its SO SO GOOD! we totally got what the hype was about!
then we had another first - the seven of us were the ONLY people on the road. india with no traffic and no people. it was another universe. Unlike Mumbai Anand shuts down at 8pm. On a different note, to get on the road we had to get to where our two wheelers were parked. We unfortunately exited the theatre on the absolute other side from where they were. Also since no matter where in India, space is always scarce, so we ended up walking through a totally jam packed parking lot to the opposite side, again our group getting plenty of annoyed and curious looks. So we rode away on the deserted Anand streets to my uncle’s house where we were staying, dropped the first batch of children there, including Cecilia, and Vinisha rode with the older cousin to escort the other cousins to their home. After all the streets were eerily quiet and we couldn’t let the little ones go on there own so late. It was also a REALLY cold night.
Then too sleep! and then again we woke up with chai and some dry cereals for breakfast. During the trip, Cecilia was eating foods that were much spicier than she’s used to in the States, but having no problems at all with the heat. That was a total and good surprise! And good because she culd eat it spicy the way that everyone else in the house does and then fit in more and the families have been even happier with me. which is AWESOME! In some cases Cecilia’s spice tolerance was even higher than Vinisha’s, who usually downs 3 glasses of water at each meal.
The next day was set for shopping - this time we had a car for the whole day because we traveled from anand to baroda. we went first to get some saris for vinisha which was an event - but much easier than the last time that we tried it. hint: dont go sari shopping if you only have 15 minutes. and also, be prepared for a variation on the definition of "simple." at the first place we went (in mumbai -- sorry this is going back to another day in our trip...) for these fifteen minutes of sari shopping with our two aunties and vinisha kept saying "simple!!!!! SIMPLE!" our favorite moment was when a guy showed Vinisha this really nice simple sari (simple - our definition) and said, "look so simple! look! very nice" and then all of a sudden we were BLINDED BY THE UNGODLY AMOUNT OF SEQUINS HIDING INSIDE! oh simple. vinisha learned from this time and in the second attempt at sari shopping she was successful. what was her trick? being as aggressive as the vendor. she got three beautiful saris - two for her and her sister and one for one of the aunty's here in mumbai.
from there we went to the crafts fair with the aunty of the luggage. We were really looking forward to the crafts fair but were pretty disappointed unfortunately. it was all the same stuff that we had seen in all the stores... nothing that was "crafts fair" like. but it was nice to see anyway.
at some point during this day we had some tea (of course) at the house of another family friend of vinisha's. it was a top notch display like high tea! so. much. food. the most interesting part of the tea was the wedding photo. singular. they had one photo of the younger daughter printed earlier than all the others so that her mom could show it to potential in-laws.
then finally back home to anand and had dinner and then hanging out some more with the family and then sleep.
on our last day in gujarat we were stressed and pulled in a variety of directions. the beginning of the day was nice and relaxing, hanging out at the house while family shuffled in and out and talked with us. then we headed out with vinisha's aunt and uncle to baroda. thank goodness for them being there! they were a beacon of patience and zen in our chaos and stress. it all started when we left and headed to the friend's of the family's house that we had stayed with, as we had left some papers there. they said that they would be home... we drove all the way there and for a nice start to the trip, there was traffic. so it took a long time to get there. they had originally said that they would meet us wherever we were... but then changed their minds and asked us to meet them. when we got to their house, they weren't there. they were not at their home where they said they would meet us! so we started calling, and turns out they had stopped at a place in town ... with more traffic... to get a bite to eat of some street food...... we just needed our papers!!! and we had to goose chase around the city to find them! finally we met them.... and headed off to get more stuff (we tend to be like teenagers apparently who walk into a house and leave shoes at the door, coat on the floor, and various other belongings in random places all over the house. just that we do it in an entire city.) the next thing we needed was this luggage that we were bringing back to the states for family friends..... and some other things that we had bought during the stay in the city. We were fed (again of course! -- oh i forgot that the first night we were in baroda we were fed two dinners...... tip: NOT A GOOD IDEA! not at all! even to keep up appearances..... its painful.) after dinner Cecilia was starting to get antsy that we weren’t really moving to the door to leave and catch our train.... there as still a little packing that had to happen. we got to the train station in time. the thing that freaks Cecilia out about this is (1) She is a nervous person right before travel and prefers to be at the train station or airport MUCH earlier than might be necessary... and (2) trains run on time in india! they actually run on time!!!!!!! so we got to the train station and vinisha's friend and her parents (the friend's parents) met us there too. The whole reason we left Anand early and took the back road into the city was to see them, which went out the door between chasing down our papers around the city, and waiting to pack the bags. We saw them, and Vinisha started us crying. vinisha started crying because her friend had made such a great effort to meet her before she left the city, and Cecilia started crying because vinisha was crying... she couldn’t help it. It was just all out waterworks! they gave us some sweets (more food! HA!) and then we got on the train. it was pretty empty this time around AND it was just as we had originally imagined (or sort of) what the train would be like!
we got AC 2 tier this time and what a difference this made! we had much more room in each bunk (Cecilia took the top bunk again) and there were two bunks facing us. but THERE WAS A "DOOR!" a curtain that separated these four bunks from the rest of the car! it was awesome!! we digested the last few hours of our day in the hour ride from the baroda station to the next stop, there was some photos taken and Cecilia used her swim team quick changing skills for getting into her pjs in pseudo public before that first stop when more people were getting on the train. and then we went to sleep. it was a bit more sleepless than the first train ride - Cecilia woke up to people on the other two bunks talking (its ok if its us.... but it wasnt....) and she shushed them. we had a LONG day ahead of us and we wanted to sleep as much as possible!
we arrived in mumbai at 4:45am and took a taxi to a guest house that was very very VERY nicely provided by the couple for whom we’re bringing back and forth the luggage. its a guest house used for the company that the uncle works at (the same company that vinisha's dad used to work for). its a place where company representatives can stay in while having meetings in mumbai. it was GREAT. a five minute drive from the TAJ HOTEL!! yes! Cecilia and Vinisha were invited to meetings at The Taj!!!! wow did we not expect that! so we took a quick nap - then we were woken up by a variety of mom's (vinisha's mom in the US and our aunty here in mumbai) to make sure we made it to our meetings on time. we got ready and then headed out to the taj for a full day of meetings and touring around slums. A lot of learning happened, but we will get in to in a blog post later. we ended up staying in the guest house for two days because the first day of the conference ran late and with traffic (oh the traffic!) it didn’t make sense to go and come back from one end of the city the other extreme.
back to baroda/anand for a moment with some things that we should highlight: it was SO cold!! we never would have thought that it actually would be cold...but its a big country so yes, the northern parts get really cold - but we weren’t very far north in the least. but it was COLD! and then in the day it was HOT! The perks of living in a semi-desert, very schizophrenic…but livable and nice to not have all the mosquitoes ALL the time.
On a nice random note, which has nothing to do with our trip, but we found it interesting and we wanted to share it with you: There's a great ad that was showing on tv that she really liked and says a lot about the culture. it was an ad from a jewelry company (in english... she cheated). it was the story of a couple, told from the point of view of the woman. "ours was an arranged marriage" and there are images of them being really tentative and unsure with each other and him on the phone and her not sure what's going on or what to do. and then they're at a train station and she's looking around. "then two years 11 months and two days later, we found love." and then she realizes that he's not on the train and he realizes that she's not on the train, and they find each other in the crowd (ooh aah) and look at each other and smile and run to each other (ooh aah). and the voice over says, "for your platinum day of love." so its a ring that the couple "should" buy when they realize that they really love each other. it was a really cool ad.
if you made it this far we hope it was entertaining at least - thanks for reading!! and we give you major props. That was 9 pages, single spaced.