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let the oppressed go free

I must say, it’s strange to look out my sitting room window and see my manager’s underwear hanging out to dry. I’m working from home today, hence the view from my sitting room. I am reading through Dalit Freedom by Joseph D’souza. Understanding the background, atrocities, and threats of Dalit exploitation helps me focus on the assessment RTDC hopes to complete on the Dalit population within Himachal Pradesh. I just finished an appended article by Udit Raj, “The U.S. Should Stop Caste Virus.” The article outlines how this deep-rooted disease has infiltrated America and I wanted to share a bit with ya’ll.

A few years ago, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a 501(c)3 Hindu extremist organization, held a rally to encourage orthodox practices among American secular Hindus. No one objected. This same organization raises funds in the West to support their activities within India such as the 1998 mass murder of minorities, specifically Christians, in Gujarat. One day-to-day example from Raj’s article also serves to bring this into focus and closer to home. Two Vancouver, Canada taxi drivers of Indian origin got into an argument. The upper caste driver assaulted and defamed the Dalit driver, requesting that the Dalit driver be suspended from his job by management. While there are no simple or quick solutions to this virus, your awareness provides a starting point. I encourage you to read Dalit Freedom to learn more. The book contains articles by leaders of the Dalit Movement.

On a lighter note, my landlord just arrived and I shared my ongoing toilet leakage problem. He’s going to fix it, hopefully. He also chastised me for not watering a plant he left for me. Hmm, watering plants was never an area of giftedness for me.

i waited patiently

I can't always get on-line to post, so here are a bunch of posts all at once. Enjoy!

Things I miss:
-A mgr who speaks my language and is disciplined in his approach to work.
-A landlord that ensures everything is clean and properly functioning.
-Heat available at the turn of a knob.
-A “getaway vehicle” that enables me to get out & explore expediently.
-Knowing when to be where with the confidence that scheduled events normally occur as planned.
-The food that suits me best.
-Clothes for every occasion.
-My mobile.
-Available internet connectivity on my laptop.
-Seeing dear faces everyday in person.
Things I enjoy:
-The most amazing view.
-Evening walks through the field.
-Running at a higher elevation.
-Practicing simplicity of wardrobe, food, language, travel, scheduling.
-Short commute to work.
-Encouraging e-mails.
-Conversations about family and life purpose (in English, no less!)

Let me tell you about the road from Dharamsala yesterday evening. I wish you could have seen it so I will do my best to recreate it in your mind’s eye. But first I have to tell you about the 5-1/2 hours I had just spent at the Foreign Registration Office so you can understand why that drive was so welcome.
First, the registration official told me it’s illegal for my landlord to rent to a foreigner. So Sukhdev and I tramped across the street to a cybercaf√© and composed another letter to outline how I was staying with RTDC for the duration of my fellowship. When questioned whether I was single or double, I tentatively answered, “double?” Once I had filled out the registration form in quadruplet, my file status became “under consideration.” Sukhdev and I went to lunch and returned – my file was still “under consideration.” The Police Superintendent was in a meeting all day and the Assistant Superintendent was at lunch. We then met up with an RTDC Advisory Board member and returned - my file was still “under consideration.” 5-1/2 hours after entering the building, I was finally a proud holder of official foreigner registration papers.
Now, back to the drive. The Dhauladar Mountains pierced through misty shrouds to our north as we drove east from Dharamsala. Driving past hillsides covered in tea bushes and pines, the sun sank behind us into golden waves. Ascending the hill to Palampur, the cotton candy pink clouds contrasted with the baby blue sky and the low-hanging purple clouds turned gray. The voluminous clouds swathed the sky from mighty mountains to the left to tea plantations to the right. Tuning out the Hindi from the front seat, I marveled at creation, captivated by the natural wonders I am privileged to witness.

here are some random musings:
-I’m growing out my eyebrows. Mom would be so proud – no more checkerboards. I figure that I’m enough of a spectacle already, no one will notice if my eyebrows are not properly groomed.
-I skipped a surprise party tonight to write a concept note on a watershed assessment and pilot project in palampur. plus I got to write it with a really cool lady who’s doing phd research in the area.
-I hosted a dance party Saturday night complete with ballet AND bangra!
-I’m teaching ballet lessons in exchange for bangra lessons, starting today.
-I went on a site visit yesterday to the watershed area mentioned previously. I got to rock climb a tiny bit, too. better than a day at the office! we ate samosas between white bread at a goddess temple atop a hill overlooking the palampur valley.

kindness

I just finished a lovely, romantic, candlelit dinner. “Do tell,” I hear you saying. Well, my electricity has been out since this morning. Men from the electric company/department (I’m not sure how electricity is managed here) came tonight at 7:45 PM, pulled some wires, and determined the pole holding up my electrical wire is faulty. It was too late at that point for them to do anything, so they will return tomorrow morning to fix it. I went to the market today to buy a torch (aka flashlight) because I had a feeling this might be the outcome.

Oddly enough, this actually IS romantic (e.g.; idyllic) to me! Akin to my bus experience in coming to Palampur, I enjoy a bit of unexpected adventure. Let me tell you about my bus experience while I’m at it. I was meant to take a luxury overnight bus from Delhi to Palampur. Little did I know that my bus ticket had NOT been purchased in advance and, much to my chagrin, there were no tickets available when we arrived at the bus depot. Intense discussion Hindi m√© (i.e.; in Hindi) ensued and I ended up on the government bus. This was definitely not a luxury liner: the minimally padded seats came up to the base of my neck and did not recline. Jonathan kindly bought three seats or one row for me so I could have my baggage next to me. That meant I had 1-1/2 seats left for me. Once we set out, I quickly ascertained that my seat was directly below the horn, positioned on the side of the bus, which the driver used liberally. But I liked the adventure in setting out in that way. I felt badly to be taking up three seats when there were people crammed in other parts of the bus and I was glad to be arriving by the local means of transportation. (All that being said, I’ll opt for the luxury liner next time!) AIF’s trusty employee, Sirjit, ensured that a couple ladies on the bus would look after me and they did – standing guard outside the toilets at rest stops and inviting me to eat dinner with them.

I sat through a meeting in Hindi today and was grateful for the Indian Canadian sitting next to me that translated the general gist of the conversation into English. We discussed a proposal for clean drinking water in Palampur. The water here is unpotable and too dirty to write about. In fact, I’m concerned my boiling and filtering plan may be ill-conceived. I’m not sure I want that water anywhere near my lips after what I heard today! I might get involved in developing a business plan for an ecotourism outfit to provide funds to maintain the water improvement project.

Well, my candle is dwindling so I think it’s time for bed.

peace


Some in my readership are clamoring for details. No, I won’t name them slave drivers, simply motivators to ramble a bit and satiate your curiosity. And, truly, the following blog entry follows more of a stream of conscious than any nice & neat format so here it goes.

I went running Tuesday because I simply HAD to get out & move at more than a walking pace. I ran up the road with Prerna (my 8-year old neighbor pictured above with her mom, Bimla) and her friends the previous night & realized how much I missed getting out to stretch my legs. When I returned home, Bimla and her friends suggested I run with them the next day at 6AM. I balked at the time and they said 6AM is really not so early. I guess I am a lazy American, after all! They do not seem to run regularly, but perhaps I’m providing some motivation. I think they also want to show me a nicer, safer place to run.

I planned to go to Dharamsala to register as a foreigner today BUT I do yet have proof of residence (required to register), so I wandered about the Palampur market by myself for the first time and getting out independently felt great. Hmm, I’m sensing a trend here. I suppose I’m also the independent American, too. I almost got a SIM card for my phone on my outing, but proof of residency (& ultimately foreigner registration) is required for that, too. The SIM card was actually in my phone & the store owner was writing in a local person’s name & address so if authorities checked, the card would appear registered to a legitimate person. It pained me to put a stop to it, but I couldn’t (& didn’t want to) quench the feeling that I ought not go that route. Alas (& I use that in the true sense of the word), I am still without a phone number.

I made a glass of chai tea tonight after dinner. This process resulted in the dirtying and washing of three glasses, two spoons, a pot, and a strainer. I have a long way to go to perfect the art, but in my defense, I “decaffeinated” the tea first which accounted for an extra glass.

I caught a gecko in my flat last night. I had seen it the previous night in my bedroom, high up near the ceiling and just hoped it wouldn’t crawl into my mouth in the middle of the night. Last night it visited me in my kitchen and I used my mad Crocodile Hunter skills to trap it under a bowl, slide a pot lid underneath, and safely transport the lil’ guy outside. I saw him again today on the stairs outside my flat. He’s intent upon keeping me company – rather endearing.

My mentor/manager has been sharing his ideologies with me. At his mention of Communism and Marxist philosophy, all sorts of barriers rose in my mind. Yet again, the capitalist American rose to the occasion. Wasn’t Marx ultimately oppressive rather than liberating for the common man? Please, history buffs, help me out!

I am typing from my sitting room that is currently empty save for my table and chair. My flat has all marble floors, windows lining every wall, a Western-style toilet, a fridge, a stove range, a double bed, more storage space than I can fill, balconies outside my bedroom and front door, and that most incredible of views I described in a previous entry. Please, do live vicariously through me on this point as I am living in the nicest place short of good Ol’ Highway (at a monthly rate of ~$70!). But just so you know it hasn’t gone to my head, I do not have hot tap water so I heat water in a bucket for my showers. Also, the toilet flushing mechanism is broken so I have to turn on the toilet tap, wait for the water level to rise, open the back of the toilet, pull up the plunger, and, voila, my toilet flushes. Oh, and then I have to turn off the toilet tap or water leaks all over the bathroom floor. I also have to open the gas line from the gas container every time I want to use the stove AND remember to turn it off after use. I haven’t forgotten yet but I’m only on Day 3. Closing and opening my front door requires more effort than opening the Hiney’s refrigerator. Since I have such a large, empty sitting room, I turned on some sweet tunes tonight & danced, at my sis’ suggestion. (Thanks, Li!)

I cooked dinner for myself for the first time last night & rather enjoyed some alone time. While eating, I began reading Dalit Freedom to educate myself on the issues facing this population within India. I didn’t realize until RTDC Orientation a couple days ago that my organization is now focusing a majority of its time on Dalit issues within Himachal Pradesh. No time like the present for me to become more knowledgeable.

I practiced Hindi while sipping my labor-intensive chai tea. Some friends urged me to learn the Sanskrit script in addition to learning to speak, so I made flash cards of the vowels. Then I experienced the sugar crash after my sweetened chai and stopped for the evening.

You may know that cars drive on the left side of the road in India. What you might not have pondered is the fact that pedestrians also walk on the left side of the road. I pondered this while running with traffic yesterday. Granted there was limited traffic on the country roads I treaded, but the pedestrian “oppose traffic” rule doesn’t apply here. Then again, cars here are not guaranteed to stay on their respective sides of the road, either.

I got to listen to a traveling musician play this afternoon. He played a guitar & drum at the same time.

how lovely on the mountains


Take a look at the view out my front door! Yes, I have arrived at my post and am relishing evening walks with Prerna, my mentor's daughter, in the shadows of the Dhauladar Mountain range. My mentor, his wife, Bimla, & Prerna live downstairs from me and they have been my hosts at mealtimes, navigating my way through the market yesterday to outfit my flat, and sharing their lives with me. I have heard much about Kirstin, a former volunteer, who became fast friends with Prerna, also. Prerna has been a lifeline of sorts to me since I do not speak much Hindi and my hosts do not speak much English.
I have been here two days now and am adjusting to a slower pace where meeting times are merely a nicety, where I have to register as a foreigner before I can get my mobile working, where any trip to the market seems an enormous affair. Even getting drinkable water is an ordeal (thankfully I have purification drops just in case - thanks, Jason!).
Despite the beauty of this place, I miss home. My hosts decided it would be helpful for me to have someone clean my flat once a week. Mina came yesterday to clean but I also cleaned this morning for 2+ hours. Perhaps I AM my mother's daughter - I sorely missed Mom's company and refreshing cleaning presence. Thankfully, Prerna weathered the cleaning storm with me and proved quite stringent in her standards. While cleaning, we uncovered what I considered a large spider. It was about 5 inches across with a medium sized body and it JUMPED! Though I am usually the one to come to the rescue when arachnids encroach, trepidation filled me while Prerna cheered from the sidelines. Her father laughed when we retold the story. Apparently that was a small spider compared to what we might have found! Hmm, Aidan, this might not be the best place for you.

but these


Hmm, I'm about to embark on my adventure to Himachal Pradesh, to the mountains, to a semi-familiar place, to a place where beauty surrounds me, captivates me, and motivates me to live wholeheartedly. My next blogs will be about that, but for now let me tell you about a study in contrasts.
We took a trip to Rajasthan to see a rural microfinancing group of women pictured here. They were blessed to be visited and to have their stories heard. They fine their husbands if they attend the meetings!
On the other side, we had a private audience with the Ambassador yesterday. I was decked out in a business pantsuit, sitting around a solid wood table on a top floor overlooking an enormous water fountain. Hmm, this country needs agricultural reform, the Ambassador says, and making way for more big business. I seem to remember some words about the least of these, but I have been guarding against a critical spirit that so easily entangles.

one for another

Hmm, Sarah's added a picture - why, yes, she has. Fancy that! Yes, my friends, I have re-entered the world of the cyber-savvy in a cafe with free wi-fi (just not between 1-4pm, & I'm not sure why). And guess who's in the above shot. Yep, that's my dear friend, Capt. Plush whom I happened upon in a shop in Delhi. How strange to find this SoCal native halfway around the world. Yes, we were both amazed and simply stared at one another, marveling throughout dinner. I ALSO was blessed to meet Renee, who participated in Jefe's Himalayan Escapade this year. Capt. Plush & I bonded in the Indian Himalayas last year and he returned for another excellent adventure.
Also captured in this shot is my trusty sidekick, Monk. You might see him from time to time as he makes cameo appearances throughout the year. And I'm sure he will be one of the world's most widely traveled monkeys cum finger puppets by the end of this year.

press on #2

I took my first auto rickshaw ride in Delhi this evening to arrive at the internet cafe. After a tour down the road, around the barricade, past the police department, by the hotels, into two off-line internet cafes, our group of 15 or so Americans arrived. One of my fellow Fellows is haggling with the internet cafe proprietor sitting behind me, who's reading over my shoulder and asking for a copy of my license for his records. Hmm . . . We enjoyed an afternoon of Bollywood dance instruction and will have a group performance at the end. It felt good to laugh at ourselves looking ridiculous. Off to supper now.