Monday, August 2, 2010

Dying My Hair Blond

About 2-3 weeks ago, I had my hair dyed blond at the Evergreen Salon in Jaipur. "What, Jessica?! Why would you want to dye your hair blond again?" Well, my dear Americans, in India my natural color (medium brunette) is considered light blond. I was sick of standing on the bus and having women and girls snicker at my blond/pink/orange-and-brunette-roots mess that was my hair. I may not be able to understand what they were saying in Hindi, but a girl can tell when someone is insulting her hair.

So I asked for my hair to be dyed blond, and then they placed me in a chair and began to color my hair with over the counter Loreal brand dye. The head hair dresser put on gloves that appeared already used, and then began applying the dye. Her assistant held section of my hair out of the way. He was basically acting like a human hair clip. I'm pretty sure it would be cheaper to buy some hair clips than to pay this man to hold my hair.

After they were finished applying all the dye, the hairdresser wrapped my head in plastic wrap because they couldn't find a shower cap.

After my hair was finished cooking, the hairdresser rinsed out the dye feverishly. I'm used to being pampered and treated delicately at a salon. Not here! This lady was trying to rub off my scalp. Then they (hairdresser and assistant) proceeded to blow dry my hair together. Really?! I mean I could certainly use an assistant to blow dry my hair, for sure, but she's supposed to be a professional. It was very funny to watch her correct him.

I must say it looked good when everything was said and done until I paid 1800 rupees (~$40). I realized later as my color began to fade and blond and pink strands began showing through that I had been gypped once again. But for a week or two, I was happy to be blond again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Commute to Work

Below is a short video I made of my commute to/from work on Bus #5. Amber Amber Amber!

The Trainee House: Babylon House

Want to see where I live in Jaipur?

I live like an Indian princess. I didn't show the roof upstairs though. Many people sleep on the roof because it is cooler. Our house had a party there last night. It was very relaxed, but no one wanted to listen to my American music:( For some reason everyone really likes Bob Marley. I'm sick of listening to reggae music and crappy Euro-techno. Give me some hip-hop and rock anytime!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Agra: Day 2

Our plan was to go to Agra early in the morning before the crowds and the heat could affect us. Unfortunately, I was feeling very ill in the morning and had to go back to bed. I figured out my antibiotic (doxycycline) that I take as an anti-malarial precaution makes me nauseous if I don't first have a full stomach and sit for 30 minutes. So, we ended leaving for the Taj Mahal at noon (which is exactly what we were trying to avoid on Saturday) after a delicious lunch of roti stuffed with potatoes, I think.

During that weekend, there was some sort of Muslim festival or holiday so it was packed, but free to get in! Usually, it is 750 rupees to get in for foreigners. But it was so damn hot! You have to remove your shoes when standing at the Taj Mahal. Himanshu stashed his shoes in a corner, and I put my shoes in my purse. As we were waiting in line, it started pouring. It must have rained for at least 45 minutes. I was squeezed between Himanshu and the guy in front of me. If you leave a gap, people will cut in front of you. I must have pushed so many people out of the way who tried to skip in line. Even worse, mothers with babies and children would use them as a wedge to cut in line. You don't use your baby as a tool to cut in line! There were police men with giant sticks patrolling the queues. When people tried to cut, I would start yelling in English and the hooligans in front of me would start shouting too. They became very affectionate towards me. They would invite other Indians to cut in line behind them and then say 'Don't skip! There are plenty of foreigners in the back of the line!' I love Indian humor.

We finally arrived at the level with the tomb after 2 hours, and there was another line! We waited there for probably another 2 hours. When we finally got in line to see the actually tomb underground (only open for this festival), people were shoving and pushing. It was quite humid, and with my bum knee, I was getting nervous going down the stairs. Himanshu said that we could see the grave from above so we turned around. However, they blocked off the section that allowed you to normally view the grave. We tried to go back down the stairs, but the police stopped us. So we waited in line for 4-5 hours, and we didn't even get to see the grave!!!

I can't be too upset though because I actually enjoyed yelling at people in line and staying with Bhavna's family. The Taj Mahal was beautiful, yes, but honestly, this one woman (and her husband) has the best grave site in the world. I don't even know her personally.

After our disappointing waste of time, we traveled back to Bhavna's house for my computer bag. It was late, and the family insisted we stay the night and not drive back in the dark. I was more than happy to oblige. So what if I skipped another day of work? I'm not getting paid, and no one is productive at GBS. Cultural experience or Facebooking on the job...ummmm, the first one, please. So I spent the night again and had of a delicious meal of who knows what with mangoes (my favorite).

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank the family who so graciously took Himanshu and me into their home. Bhavna, I appreciate that you trusted me enough to confide in me after only just meeting me, and I hope I gave you advice that will help you in your future. I'd also like to thank my mom for allowing me to be open and honest with her. I value our relationship and my ability to express my thoughts and feelings to you.

My Indian Family

Agra: Day 1

Last weekend, July 10th-11th, I went to Agra, Uttar Pradesh, home of the Taj Mahal. Himanshu drove me on Saturday morning, and it took us about 3.5 hours to get there. By American standards, he's a crazy driver, but I'm getting more accustomed to how aggressively people drive here. Maybe it will encourage me to not be such a pansy when I'm driving in the States.

When we arrived to Agra in the afternoon, we visited Himanshu's friend, Bhavna, and her family. It was suggested that we save the Taj Mahal until Saturday since it was so hot, and the sites close at 5 PM. Instead, we visited Sikandra, the tomb of Akbar the Great.

Me at the front entrance, as is Muslim architectural custom preceding the tomb, at Sikandra.

Bhavna, Himanshu, and Me in front of the tomb.

As we were leaving, we saw some monkeys and a bunch of bananas lying around. So I took a banana to feed the monkeys (below).

The gray monkeys (I think they may be another kind of primate) are supposed to be well trained, but the orange-brown one that approached me are apparently wilder and more dangerous.

That evening Bhavna's parents invited us to dinner and to spend the night. The food was so delicious, and they were always concerned that it would be too spicy to me. Every time I finished something, they would put more on my plate. When I would motion that I didn't want anymore, they would ask if it was too spicy or if I didn't like it. I loved it, but I don't have an endless stomach.

Their house was beautiful with marble floors, modern kitchen, and two stories. They were very well off. Her father owned a shoe manufacturing and distribution company, I believe. I slept with Bhavna, and I was actually cold at night because she had an air conditioner in her room.

Her family was great company and very friendly. They were very interested in what I majored in and how much Hindi I had learned. They were extremely generous to Himanshu and me, feeding us and trying to keep us comfortable. It was nice to be with a family again. I felt very welcomed, and it took the edge off my homesickness.


Sorry! I know I'm behind in my updates. Marathon blogging starting right now.

One of the projects at my NGO involves reforestation of the rural country side. GBS has purchased a plot of land from the government and initiated the wasteland development on World Environment Day, June 5th, in 1991. It has created access to water resources through its check dam, protected against soil erosion through gully plugging, continued to reclaim the semi-arid land through plantations and sapling nurseries, and the employ and encourage the participation of handicapped and local people.

Typical wasteland with lack of beneficial vegetation.

Rehabiliated land. Locals are allowed to collect and consume the fruit that is produced in Gandhivan (Gandhi's Forest). In exchange, they help care for the forest.

Since our crew arrived during a thunderstorm. There were all these tiny, velvety mites. Oil from the mite can increase sexual libido and is referred to as the Indian Viagra according to Wikipedia. No wonder I had such a weird sensation in my pants. I just thought it was my diaper rash (What?! It is hot here, and I sweat a lot).

Also called Scarlet Fly or Lady Fly.

While I was there, many women were working on preparing the soil for saplings. They were very interested in having me around and talking to me. Of course, I couldn't understand anything they were saying. They would just keep repeating themselves as if I would understand the second or third time. These women did not speak Hindi but their village language. There are hundreds of languages and dialects in India so even if I learn Hindi it won't help in the villages. I have been practicing Hindi, however. My accent is terrible, and most native Indians have no idea what I'm trying to say. It usually helps when I speak louder. Indians are always yelling at each other. At first I thought they were mad, but I would notice them laughing and smiling. They don't seem to laugh loudly though. Americans have large guffaws and chuckles. Here, people giggle or just smile, but loud laughter is often considered rude. People have made fun of my laughing here.

The women are dancing, and you can hear my stupid laughter. I was very shy, and my dancing style is a bit raunchier. They dance when they are harvesting and also I believe during their wedding. They told me I should learn this dance to impress my husband.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pink City Bazaar Shopping

Saturday I woke up and did my laundry for the first time. There is no washing machine. It is all done in a bucket with powder detergent. Then you hang dry the clothes. There is a lady who will wash your clothes for 7 rupees a piece, but I haven't been able to do that yet.

At noon, Anna, Alena (another Russian woman), Martin, and I went to the Pink City to shop. I planned to buy some scarves to cover my shoulders. We were bombarded by gawkers, beggar children, and store owners. Learning how to saw "no" is something I had to learn quickly. In the first store we entered, I was easily swindled into paying 180 rupees for a 50 rupee scarf. It is a beautiful scarf, however, but I guess it is the principle that bothers me more.

Lining the streets were jewelry, spice, shoe, fabric and clothes, and appliance stores. We spent about 7 hours in the markets. In that time, I bought two pairs of shoes and two scarfs. Each time, I paid way too much. Initially they would quote 850 rupees, and I would try to bargain down from there. In the end, I still ended up paying too much. The store keepers would say, "How can I do that? It is impossible," to any reasonable price I asked for. I visited so many different shops to find what I wanted. The salesmen would try to sell me their crappiest designs or materials for the most amount of money. Smart for them. Bad for me. I spent about 1000 rupees (~$20). I was ripped off, yes, but it was a small loss for me and a great learning experience.

First Task at Work, the Mall, and Scandal in India

After recovering from heat sickness, I was able to go to work on Friday. We normally work from 10 AM- 5 PM. Jenni, Sebastian, and I were joined by Martin, a French boy who has such a vibrant character, the Babylone House favorite, who just got back from a trip to Nepal. Bhawani gave me my first assignment: proofread the 2009-2010 Annual Report. I was glad to oblige since the other reports had awkward wording or incorrect grammar and spelling. That task took me the whole day, and I was proud of what I turned in at the end of the day.

It was Jenni's last day. She had a special ceremony in which she got a tika, a garland of flowers, candies, and a present. She and Sebastian said that the associates at GBS didn't like her, and her recycled plastic flower gift may have been an indication of this. She will be missed by myself and the other interns. She has such a light sense of humor and is very level-headed and kind.

When we returned home, I begged Sebastian to take me shopping so I could buy some Indian style tunics called kurtis. Luckily, another group of girls (Divya, a Canadian; Julia, a Russian woman with long hair; and Ksenia, another Russian who lives in France) was going to the mall so I joined their party. Now realize that only the rich Indians get to visit malls. Everything is much more expensive. You have to pay for quality. We girls were so relieved to finally be in air conditioning, however. I bought a pink tunic for 400 rupees (~$8.50). After shopping, Divya, and I went to eat at the cafe in the mall and then went upstairs to their food court. The mall had a hot dog stand, but instead of beef or pork they serve vegetarian or chicken "hog dogs". The food is delicious here mostly because it is fried, rich with cream and butter, and served with delicious blend of spices.

After returning from a successful shopping trip, Anna, a Russian girl from Kazakhstan, and Martin invited me to go to the swimming pool at a 5 star hotel. I took a shower, shaved, and wore my new bikini from Victoria Secret under a sarong. Since I was in a rush (apparently I take forever to get ready), I didn't pay attention to the snicker and laughter that followed me as I left the house. As I walked through the streets, people kept staring at me or honking or making comments in Hindi. After walking for quite sometime, we finally got to the hotel only to find out that the pool party was not that night. Since the guards were acting in a sketchy manner, we decided not to stay.

At this time, my leg (which is still recovering from ACL reconstructive surgery) and my back were hurting terribly so Martin gave me a piggy back ride. BIG MISTAKE! We were laughed at and ridiculed during our stroll back to Babylone. One pair of men on a motorcycle screamed at us, "Not allowed in India!" In India, it is frowned upon from people of the opposite sex to touch or show affection despite what might be advertised in India commercials or film. Interestingly, men are allowed to show their affection to other men by holding hands and riding on the same bike together. Indians also don't seem to protest against public urination, but a girl touching a boy, *GASP*. Ironically, this conservative land has also produced the Kama Sutra and has paintings of sexual positions in its palaces. To make matters worse, I was showing too much skin for Indian standards. My shoulders and legs below the knee were visible, and in the United States, I would have been modestly covered by the sarong. In another point of irony, stomachs are socially acceptable but shoulders are very erotic here.

When we finally arrived at the house, I got chided by Himanshu and his Indian friend for my inappropriate clothing. Himanshu said that he would finally take me shopping which I had asked him to do earlier. I got pissed off at that point. As if I couldn't tell from the reactions of all the other Jaipurians that my dress and actions were not acceptable. As an active (versus passive) woman and stubborn American, I am starting to reject completely acclimating. No matter if I do cover my shoulders, I am still white. I will still be stared at, judged, and gipped by storekeepers. GRRRRRRRR!!!

Amber Fort

After work, we trekked to Amber Fort, the old capital of Rajasthan before they moved due to water shortage. We paid 150 rupees, and I think it cost Indians 15 rupees for entrance. You always face this sort of discrepancy if you are a foreigner. We were also approached by a "tour guide". We totally fell for it. He hardly knew anything more about the Fort than we could have found out ourselves. He did help us take pictures, but he also got in the way of some great shots. According to Jenni, he was also groping himself. He was very creepy, and I would caution anyone against falling for such tourist trap. However, it only cost me 100 rupees so in the long run I didn't lose more than my pride and $2.

In the temple inside Amber Fort, we were given the gold garland of flowers (mostly dying flowers) and a tika (the red dot) mostly because we were tourists. Usually the flowers are an offering so the tour guide probably gave us someone else's offering.

Hall of Mirrors

The religious temple we visited.

Our creepy tour guide "explaining" the female statues on the temple to us.

After running us all through the Fort and the temple, our guide tried to make us enter a large jewelry and goods shop, but when we made it clear we were not interested, our tour abruptly stopped. Sebastian said he probably got commission from each place he led us. By this time, I was feeling overheated and sick. Sebastian took care of me though by splashing water on my face and feet and encouraging me to drink more water. I ate salty food to replenish the electrolytes I had lost. The rickshaw and bus ride only made my sickness worse.

When we got home, the other students helped feed me and put me to bed. I slept in Monty and Gautam's room (two young Indian men) since they have an air cooler. That morning, Monty had walked in on me taking a shower (since I couldn't figure out how to lock the door) and now we were sharing a bed. He was so embarrased. I was amused.

The next day I still felt sick so I could not go to work. I was myself by the late morning, however. Thankfully, I have not felt sick from anything I have eaten. My bowels are working properly, Mom.

First Day of Work

The night of my first day, a group of us from the house and an Indian AIESEC student named Himanshu went to a hookah or shisha bar and restaurant. It was my first time trying hookah, and let's just say I suck at it (or suck poorly as the case may be). Not really my cup of Darjeeling tea. Since shisha originated in India, it only seemed fitting to try it. Would I normally do it in the states? Nah. It always seems unauthentic and forced to me as if the act makes tokers, usually students or young people, more cultural. It was fun though! The company was good. The food was good. And we got a free hookah because some of us were white and foreign.

On my second day, Sebastian, a German who studies in Great Britain; Jenni, a woman from Finland; and I, an excited and eager American, make our trek to Amber where our NGO (non-govermental organization), Gram Bharati Samiti (GBS,, is located. Both Sebastian and Jenni live in my house. So after I dressed as appropriately as possible, we left the house, caught a rickshaw for 40 rupees (less than $1), and took a bus from within the Pink City walls to Amber. We got off the bus a stop earlier so that we could see the elephants. These elephants are treated so poorly. Their skin is dry. They walk on hot, black asphalt, and their driver forces them to walk with a large metal hook in the back of their neck. Currently, Mumbai (Bombay) has banned the presence of elephants in the city in order to discourage keeping the animals in captivity and spreading diseases.

At GBS, I met Bhawani, the secretary and one of the original founders, and several other associates including Kusum, the joint secretary who is focused on women's empowerment and HIV/AIDS. The first day, I mostly read their annual reports from the last three years and socialized with Sebastian and Jenni. The activities of GBS seem very important and exciting. They are promoting projects that align with causes that I find the most important in our current world.

We eat lunch everyday at GBS. It is always vegetarian and is often spicy. You must always eat with your right hand since the left hand is supposed to be reserved for restroom use. People do not use toilet paper here.

Jenni, Sebastian, and I all left an hour early so that we could visit Amber Fort.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My First Day in Jaipur

I left Houston Sunday afternoon, and I am now here in Jaipur on Tuesday morning after 24 hours of flying and lay-overs. Before my travels I had just graduated from Northwestern University, sold my furniture, co-signed an auto loan for a 2010 Prius III, purchased auto insurance, prepared for my full time employment, and packed and unpacked my life from college. These past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster as I attempted to figure out which pieces of my past I would bring into my adult, "real world" future. Every thing from my relationships to my class peers, sorority friends, boyfriend and more mundane items like silverware and alarm clocks had to be confronted, compartmentalized, and prioritized. With each meeting, I felt this sense of loss and also a feeling of excitement. I will be making new contacts, visiting my family, dancing with my salsa buds in Beaumont, using my houseware items in my own condo/townhouse, and developing my bond to Tim and my close friends in a unique and challenging way .

Nothing has been more abrupt then my arrival to Jaipur, however. My escort, Krishan, meets me at the airport. Almost immediately as I exit the airport, I am mobbed by beggar women. Krishan advises me not to give them anything. I ride in an auto rickshaw while he drives beside on his motorbike. I watch with amazement and fear as I sit in the back and look at this new world around me. A mixture of bicycles, motorbikes, taxi cabs, mule and cart, and automobiles all share the road. Also, I am sure we are going to run over Krishan. As I ride, I notice the ruin and marvel all within yards (or meters) of each other. Beautiful buildings next to rubble, litter along the well paved streets, gorgeous parks next to slums.

Thankfully we made it to a multi-story house called the Babylone House. About 10-12 AISEC students (the organization that arranges international traineeships) and Indian residents live here. Many students are leaving for home or another opportunity abroad this week, but more students should be arriving in July. By that time, I'll be a veteran. I am partially settled in as I sit in the shade of the patio to avoid roasting in the Indian sun. The house is in a nice neighborhood albeit a block away from the slums. My rent is 3000 rupees a month (about $65 USD). Thank god we have internet! They are very focused on conserving water, electricity, and gas here because resources are scarce in this semi-arid and developing area. Every one (especially Americans) who think(s) conservation and preserving the environment are useless and trivial need to visit India.

My landlord took me to the grocery store today, and there was so much good Indian food there. I didn't buy it, though, because I have no idea how to cook it. I got crackers and cheese, juice, bananas, yogurt, rice, cereal, and instant noodles. I'll probably be eating out a lot which will help the local economy and give me a richer cultural experience. My internship with Gram Bharati Samiti, an NGO that focuses on women's empowerment, the environment, and AIDS, will begin tomorrow. Several of the other interns also work for GBS. I am excited about the opportunity for field work. I hope my short stay will leave a positive impact on the area. I am truly fortunate to have the resources available to me in the States.

I hope to get a new camera soon so that I can post pictures, and I can hopefully cut down on my rambling.