Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I ambitiously decided to go all-out-Indian today and am wearing my first-ever sari. For those of you not entirely familiar with this fashion option, a sari is a very large bolt of fabric (approximately 5 meters) that you wrap around your body in a series of intricate pleats and tucks. Very intricate. Bewilderingly intricate, in my humble Western opinion. I had to have someone else dress me this morning, but that was fun too.

The sari ensemble consists of a very tight blouse which fastens up the front and a draw-string petticoat, over which the sari is swathed. You have to have the blouse for modesty, since the sari only goes over one shoulder, toga-style. And the petticoat is needed to tuck bits of the sari fabric into as you wrap yourself up like a large burrito. Mine is purple and teal and yellow and I’ve gotten lots of compliments on it. The blouse is super tight so you have to stand up really straight all the time and I’ve felt quite regal swishing about the campus. At least until I step on the trailing end of the sari and stumble about wildly trying to regain my balance. That diminishes the elegance slightly. I’ll try to take a picture today and post it tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


My new hobby is crazy quilting. Except it's not really a hobby anymore. It has progressed well past the "hobby" stage and is settled firmly in the "obsession" phase. Every spare minute I have, I sneak off to embroider another flower. I find myself not wanting to go to work because I'd rather sit at home and stitch ferns. I look at people's clothing with an eye for copying the stitch work along hems. Really, it's getting out of control. But on the plus side, I'm almost done with a really stunning pillow cover. So that makes it all okay.

The best part of quilting is Monday nights, when a group of staff women get together to eat dinner, stitch and -- of course -- bitch about school, husbands, weather, monkeys, or anything else that strikes our fancy. The food is great because it wasn't made by the cafeteria and the company is excellent. The women who come are not the same women I hang out with generally and so it's nice to see new faces and just get a change of scenery.

And have I mentioned how freakishly nice everyone is at this school? I'm used to pleasant people--I do my best not to associate with mean people, as a general rule -- but everyone at Woodstock goes above and beyond the call of nicety. For example, last night one of the women at sewing group volunteered to walk part way home with me, since her house is on the way to mine, to make sure I found the path okay. Only instead of dropping me off on the path, she continued right up the mountain with me, going an extra half hour (uphill!) to make sure I didn't get lost in the dark. And as we parted, she invited me to stay over at her house any time I didn't feel like making the trek home. I may need to buy her chocolate.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Dinner Party

I knew that it was only a matter of time before my plan to avoid cooking this year (since my meals in the cafeteria are all free) would go crashingly to pieces. I can't not cook. I just can't. And so, I had my first "dinner party" last night. My housemate Joanna and I co-hosted what was supposed to be a potluck, but we provided most of the food and I made most of that, so I think it counts more as a dinner party. I did have several moments of panic trying to think of what to make since I am utterly incapable of cooking without a recipe, but finally settled on corn-flake coated baked chicken, mashed potatoes with cheese, and stir-fried green beans and tomatoes. It was heaven. We had 5 people over for dinner itself and a few more turned up for tea and dessert. All in all lots of fun. I've posted some more pictures, including of the dinner, so check them out.

This seems like a good opportunity to also comment on grocery shopping. It is a whole different kind of production here, given the complete lack of anything even vaguely resembling a Giant Eagle. Instead you have a gazillion tiny stores that sell a variety of random crap, some of which is edible. Actually, that isn't fair. There are several actual grocers, though only one who sells both dry goods and produce. The fabulous thing, though, is that the grocers deliver, so I wander down to the store (or just call), give them a list, and it shows up the next day on the back of a coolie. Manpower is abundant and frighteningly cheap here, so the "coolie" charge is usually under a dollar. And for that, he hauls my food up the mountain instead of me. It really is decadent and I love it.

The only problem with this system is that you don't have the opportunity to really comparison shop, or even know what the bill will be until it arrives. I was a bit stunned by how expensive my diner party fixings turned out to be. Indian groceries would be cheap, but I still don't know quite what to make of the bewildering array of spices, grains, and unidentified condiments. "Imported" (i.e. Western) food, is rather expensive. But the cheap produce (20 cents a pound for bananas) almost makes up for it. All the grocers operate on credit--a simple system that consists of you telling them your name and where you live and them writing it down then adding what you owe them under that.

The other source of sustenance worth mentioning is the "bread man." This is exactly what you might guess--a man who walks up and down the mountainside selling bread. He carries a big tin box on his back, full of his homemade carbohydrates of varying forms (bread, muffins, donuts) and knocks on your door. Unfortunately, he comes by Mt. Hermon after I've left for school, but I've solved the problem by bringing money and my bread tupperware with me and meeting him half-way down the hill. It's great! I'm hungry. Lucky for me, only half an hour till tea-time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Last night I walked home by myself after dark for the first time. Now, you might think that this is no big deal, but you would be very wrong. I am…uncomfortable in the dark. Oh all right, let’s be honest. I’m afraid of the dark. This is true under normal conditions, but the problem has been magnified by living in the jungle/mountains. Who knows what might be lurking in the darkness. Man-eating leopard? Pack of rabid monkeys? Big and scary snake? Hindi-speaking axe murderer? You just don’t know and even with a flashlight, visibility at night is minimal. (This is due in large part to the ever-present evening mist that renders one’s light virtually useless. I need to get a flashlight equipped with fog lights.)

I had been avoiding solo nighttime treks since I got here but finally last night it became unavoidable that I trudge home on my own. I had not gone more than about 100 yards when I heard footfalls behind me…and panting. Panting?

Because God likes me, my companion turned out to be White, a guardian angel masquerading as a dog. I had heard stories about White, the mid-sized yellow mutt that unofficially belongs to Woodstock. White is quite a gentleman and has a reputation for walking girls home at night. Only girls. He never graces the men-folk with his furry presence.

I must confess I was skeptical of the “I was walked home by White” stories, but darned if he didn’t do just that! He would scamper ahead for a bit, or drop back, but all the while kept roughly even with me. And when, on several occasions, we were approached by other night time pedestrians, he snugged in closer to my side. He escorted me halfway to my home, before veering off toward the houses that most regularly feed him. I think he sensed that my panic had abated and I would be okay on my own.

So, diamonds are officially no longer this girl’s best friend. That title belongs to chivalrous dogs that appear in the moonlight.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


This weekend was a whirlwind of fun. Friday night, most of my friends were busy so my housemate Joanna and I decided that the only course of action was to order pizza and ice cream and watch Sex and the City. Ah bliss.

Saturday I had my very first “real” hiking/camping experience. That is, one which involves a bit more than driving to a campsite and picking a spot not too far away from the bathrooms! 9 intrepid explorers from among the staff decided to tackle the nearby mountain ridge of Bennogg Tibba. The Himalayas in their entirety are considered sacred and so there are Hindu temples on many a peak and Bennogg Tibba is no exception. One of my friends had camped there before and he rallied the rest of us to join him on the outing.

The hike was deemed “easy” by the experienced in the group and “grueling” by yours truly. Well, perhaps not grueling but I was more than ready to be there by the time we arrived. It took us about an hour and a half to reach our destination and it was a fairly gradual but relentless incline. I took my designated spot—dead last—and trudged along focusing on breathing and not falling off the edge of the mountain. Not ideal for sight seeing, but I did stop every now and again to catch my breath and look around.

We had a bit of excitement along the way in the form of a brief confrontation with a herd of water buffalo. They were blocking the path and we (no, not "we" but rather Angie, a fearless biology teacher and veteran hiker) decided to go through them rather than around. They took offense and there were a few testy moments when one did a fake charge in our direction but the conflict was resolved peaceably and we continued on our way.

At the temple, four of us set up sleeping bags on the porch and the rest pitched tents. We had a campfire and toasted marshmallows (which you cannot actually buy in India—someone had brought them from the States. Very decadent) and told stories about man-eating leopards. I don’t know whose idea that last bit was, but I was not a big fan, especially not when I had to go wandering into the forest for a bathroom break at 2am. You feel so very vulnerable when peeing in the woods at night.

All in all it was a great trip and I experienced a very deep sense of pride at having managed to both hike and camp successfully. Sort of like that feeling when you first pat your head and rub your tummy simultaneously. Okay, maybe not like that. But it was good.

Much love!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Kate the Teacher

Well, I had my debut today as an archaeology instructor. I had agreed to run an “archaeology lab” in the elementary school sandbox for two classes of 7th grade social studies. My housemate is the teacher and we went to great lengths coming up with fun things to bury (such as: the sippy top to a Nalgene bottle, half a soap dish, a giant pencil, melted candle wax, a small metal tin, a scorpion candlestick holder, etc. Really random crap). Anyways, I got out there this morning and buried all the stuff in the sandbox then met with his kids to give them an overview of what archaeology is and why it’s important. They weren’t really paying all that much attention, as all were much more interested in playing in the dirt.

After the intro I divided them into groups and set them loose on the sandbox. And watched the sand fly. “Organized” is perhaps not the first word that springs to mind when witnessing 20 7th graders pawing through a mid-sized container of wet sand. They were mainly able to resist the urge to fling sand at each other, though there were a few memorable lapses. My favorite was when one boy got over-zealous in his digging and flipped some sand into the hair of a nearby girl who mistook the source of the assault and in turn kicked dirt onto an innocent bystander. It nearly escalated into a full-scale riot, but order was eventually restored.

It was only at the end of the lab that I realized I had made a serious mistake. I had failed to record the location of each buried object, naively assuming that the kids would find everything. But of course, I ended up short several objects of varying importance. I stuck around half an hour later than the kids, slogging my way through several tons of sand and was still missing my soap dish. But never fear! All was not lost! In a momentary flash of brilliance, I taped a sign to the sandbox explaining the missing soap dish and offering a reward in the form of a chocolate bar if any kind soul were to find and return it. Enter the elementary school kids. Within about a half an hour, I got a call from a bewildered secretary down at the school explaining that there were several small boys in her office, dirty plastic object clutched in their equally dirty hands, demanding chocolate. Success! So I am once again in possession of the coveted soap dish and I’ll pay up on Monday. Kids are great.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Some Thoughts on Motorcycles

Transportation is, unsurprisingly, a whole different creature in India than in the States. Motorcycles outnumber cars by a significant margin and operate according to an unwritten, apparently completely arbitrary, set of traffic rules. They weave in and out of traffic, blaring their horns pretty much constantly and do not concern themselves with petty issues such as the location of pedestrian toes. Also, you may not have realized this, but a motorcycle is, in fact, a family vehicle. Oh yes. More than once I have witnesses a motorcycle, quite literally overflowing with people--dad in front, mom in the back often with a child in arms, and a little one or two wedged in between. It is amazing.

My housemate Ethan owns a motorcycle, a massive metal contraption that he assures me is the smallest size you can buy. I have had the "opportunity" to ride on this bike on three occasions so far. Now, going up the mountain to my home is actually quite fun. We follow a gentle but persistently inclining paved road for about 15 minutes and I sit on the back, rest a hand on a bar behind me for balance, and enjoy the scenery. We're usually only going up at night and I can look out over the lights of the valley. Quite lovely, really, and I've become rather fond of the experience. Going DOWN the mountain in monsoon season is another story entirely. We don't take the nice paved road down because apparently that would eat up any time we save by biking. Oh no, we ride down the same weenie windy dirt path that I walk each day. And said path is frequently covered with wet leaves. So yesterday, on my first (and LAST) trip down the mountain, I white-knuckled the bar, closed my eyes, and prayed incoherent mutterings that involved things like "I'm way too young to die!" as we careened downhill. And about 2 minutes later, we were down and tooling along the road up to school, unharmed. But I tell you, I will roll down that hill before I ride that thing down again. Good heavens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Independence Day and Hindi Lessons

Yesterday, August 15th, was Indian Independence Day, celebrating 58 years since the ousting of the British Raj. They take Independence Day quite seriously here, more so than we do in the States, I think. Perhaps its because the event is so much closer to the memories of the people. There are still plenty of people alive and well who remember the first Independence Day and the national spirit is very strong for this holiday! All the kids had to learn the national anthem, which is great, but they also had to learn to stand properly for it. Properly in this case means absolutely still with your hand ramrod straight at your sides. NO MOVING. The teachers were quite intense as they patrolled the assemblies making sure everyone was standing at attention! But the festivities themselves yesterday were fun. Everyone is encouraged to wear Indian national dress (a sari or salwar kameez for women) and so I had a very nice suit (salwar kameez) made that was in shades of teal. I took a picture and hope to post it soon. We all gathered in the morning for a flag raising ceremony that also involved some singing and performing of Indian music. Then there was a reception during which the staff performed a dance they'd been working on. In the evening there was a special dinner and a dance performance by a professional troupe that had been around all week. They did a number of traditional dances from various tribes around India. It was quite fascinating! There were no classes so between the morning and evening activities a number of us hung out at the closest apartment to the school (all being far too lazy to walk home) and ate snacks and played cards. Good times.
Then today, I had my FIRST EVER HINDI LESSON! YAY!!! I'm so excited to learn a new language. The lessons here are private so it's just the teacher and me for 40 minutes twice a week. It's pretty intense. But good. Today I learned basic greeting (namaste, or namaste ji if you want to be more respectful) and how to say "what is this/that" and then "this/that is a ____" I can fill the blank with: pencil, book, pen, paper, table, chair, hand, and pocket. I also learned a few basic imperatives like "come in" "sit down" and "look at" "listen to" etc. I did really well in the lesson but of course have forgotten how to say half those things already. I got myself some notecards though so I can drill myself in the off-lessons. The Hindi script is pretty complicated, so for now, I'm working from transliterations into Roman lettering. Hopefully I can pick up the script soon, though, as with Hebrew. This is much more complicated than Hebrew, though, in my humble opinion!
Okay I'm off. Much love!

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Great Mouse Adventure

So, how many some-what outdoorsy adults does it take to capture one small renegade mouse? Well, I'm not sure yet. Apparently more than four....
The Great Mouse Adventure:
My friend Ann (choir teacher) and I were sitting in my living room chatting and waiting for my housemates to show up and be sociable. Suddenly, a small brown mouse darted across the threshold and began stealthily sneaking along the wall. We both leaped up to investigate. At this point, enter Ethan (housemate) and Joe (art teacher). They took immediate interest in the mouse proceedings and the three of them engaged in a mad cap attempt to capture the little bugger. Ann was wielding a small tupperware container and trying to scoop it up. Ethan appeared with a big plastic bowl and a frying pan that he was trying to trap the mouse between. Joe was going for the "stomp on it" method of pest control (ewwww). And me? Well, I was sitting on a chair with my feet tucked up, shouting words of encouragement and pointing out the mouse's whereabouts when it escaped them. Which is did repeatedly. At one point we thought it might have crawled into the underside of the couch so Joe lifted it up from one end and shook it while the other two stood at the ready. We're not sure if it was in there, but it did reappear shortly thereafter, streaking across the room. It finally managed to escape into my bathroom and out through a crack in the door leading to the courtyard. Throughout the adventure, there was much shrieking and the occasional curse but at the end of the whole affair the four of us admitted defeat and went back to our various tasks. Mouse 1, Humans 0...stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Staying Busy

Hello there! Today I have been here two whole weeks! Feels more like two years. I think I'm settling in well and, no surprise, I'm keeping busy. I work from 9 - 6, but often have meetings or school assemblies before that so I'm usually at school around 8. There' s a nice tea/coffee break at 10:30 for all the high school staff and we trade off bringing treats -- anything from fresh samosas to oreo cookies! There's more tea at 4:10, just as school gets out. It's all very British. We show up at the all-staff lounge and the school's cook staff has made tea and put out little snacks and we all sit around on the "tea terrace" sipping genteelly for a bit. I have to go back to work after that, which is sad, since most of the others are done for the day. Oh well. Monday evenings I go to a sort of stitch and bitch party at one woman's house. I'm learning to crazy quilt, and others bring knitting, sewing, crochet, whatever. So we sit around and work and chat for a couple hours and it's wonderful. Very relaxing. Tuesday nights are Book Group with about 15 people. We're reading something called "Being Indian" which should be interesting.

Let's see, weekends are generally pretty busy too. Saturdays I go into the "Bazaar" to do my shopping. Now, the word bazaar brings to my mind quaint shops and stalls, preferably with home-made crafty objects from the region. Not at all what the bazaar really is. It is several miles of road JAM PACKED with tiny little store-fronts selling a crazy mishmash of everything from groceries to fabric to televisions. There are no major/chain stores, all individual retailers, and you wander from store to store collecting everything you need. It's actually kinda fun, but it takes several hours to do all your shopping, once you factor in how long it takes to walk down and back up. Plus, I have to get used to the fact that what you see is NOT what you get in these stores. They have very little display room, so you have to ask for most things. And since they tend to have very eclectic inventories, you're never sure if you're asking at the right "type" of store for what you need. For example, on Saturday, I bought a pack of candles from a man running a game booth where you shot balloons with a bb gun. Go figure.

Speaking of candles, they're very much a necessity as we lose power at least 4 evenings a week. Not usually for very long, may be half an hour, but it still makes alternate power options important! My housemates tend to hang out together when the power goes out to conserve candles, and it's kinda fun to sit around in the quasi-dark and play cards or just talk. We share a sunroom on the back of the house, three walls of which are windows. We're making a joint trip to the bazaar this weekend to pick up some pillows and throws and whatnot to make the place a bit more homey. Good times!

That's about it from here. I start Hindi lessons on Tuesday which will be very cool! I get private lessons twice a week. Feels wildly decadent, but they cost about $2 a lesson so I thought, why not? Then I'll be able to tell when the people in the bazaar are talking about the crazy Americans. :-)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Correction: the web address previously given was wrong. The one below is now right.

At long last, I have some pictures for your perusal. It's a pain to put them directly on the blog, so I'll post most on yahoo photos. The web address is

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Local Wildlife

One of the problems with showing up late here is that I missed New Staff Orientation. Now, mostly this was a lot of boring meetings, however they did impart some important information that I have been slowly picking up over the week. One such tidbit: Don't Look At the Monkeys...They Are Mean. Who knew that the cute, cuddly brown monkeys (Rhesus, I've learned) are in fact nasty vicious animals intent on swiping anything and everything they can get their greedy little paws on? For example, when in the market, you cannot (well, at least should not) carry anything in a plastic bag. You should put everything in your backpack, because if you carry it in your hands, the monkeys assume there is fruit in there and take it from you. You wouldn't necessarily think that a monkey the size of a cat could forcibly remove something in your possession, but you'd be wrong. They're wiley. My friend Tara had a face-off with one in the market, prodded it a few times with her umbrella, and continued walking...thinking she'd won. About a minute later, the same monkey came racing up behind her and stole her bag! But in addition to being thieves, they're actually quite aggressive and they don't like eye contact. So you're not supposed to look at them, which is really difficult, given that you want to keep tabs on their movements, in case they're thinking of biting your leg. Which is exactly what one did to another staff member several days ago. Just came up and started gnawing on her calf! Once again, umbrella to the rescue, but the darn things travel in gangs and so his buddies chased her down the path a ways. Apparently there are also grey monkeys that are quite docile, but I have yet to meet any of them!
The marauding monkeys are the most common form of woodland creature around, but I've been told there are leopards in the mountains as well. I thought this was a joke--I mean, LEOPARDS, but no, they actually do live in these here parts. They're not interested in humans though, greatly preferring stray dogs for a late-night snack. I'd like to see one, though!
Last but not least in my catalog of creatures are the rodents. Ah yes, my apartment is currently harboring a mouse and my house-mate swears there was a rat in his room. Now, the mouse, while not welcome per se, is not a cause for huge concern. He's quite small and almost cute, provided he stays out of my bed. A rat, on the other hand, IS in fact cause for great concern in my world, as they are much larger and infinitely nastier. By keeping the door to my bedroom firmly closed at all times, I am maintaining the illusion that the rat cannot get in. No one is allowed to disabuse me of this notion. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Whatcha Doing?

So, the most popular question I've gotten so far is: "now, what exactly are you doing in India, again?" And now that I've been here a few days, I am actually able to answer that question, I think. I'm officially working for both the Admissions Office and the high school Library this year. Since the start of school is a slow time for Admissions, right now I'm working full-time in the library and then, starting in September, I'll add hours in Admissions until, by the end of the year, I"ll probably be full-time in Admissions. In the library, I'm doing a lot of data entry and general record-keeping cleanup. For example, my first task was to "process" a bunch of books that had been pulled out and ear-marked to be tossed (like the Guinness Book of World Records from the late 80s...yikes). Anyways, I had to go through and do all the appropriate stamping, sorting, data base updating, etc. It's a redundant system so everything takes a long time, and it doesn't require much brain power, but that's okay. After that, I get to tackle the archive room. A bunch of books were moved down for storage, but they didn't take the time to actually shelve them--they just piled books haphazardly around the room in no particular order. So I'm sorting and shelving and then making sure all the books are in the computer data base. They're only just now going computerized so everything has to get entered in. Which is where I come in. My ipod and I hang out in the basement and wile away the hours.
So yeah, that's what I'm doing. Plus a few extra curriculars. I've started playing the piano again and the music director has been making noises about recruiting me to teach some lessons. I'm not so sure about that--I'm SUPER rusty, but we'll see. I've also signed on to chaperone a high school hike this weekend. I don't really know what it entails other than that I get to march along at the back of the pack carrying a first aid kit and salt for the leeches (ewwwwwwww). I've been promised that it is an "easy" hike and that I won't embarrass myself utterly in front of the kids. We'll see. I would just really prefer not to come back covered in leeches. That's one of the downsides to living in a tropical monsoon climate.
That's it for now. Dinner is calling my name.