Monday, February 27, 2006

Yoga Master

The newest thing in my life is that I have started yoga classes! Well, officially it is just a “stretching” class. Here in the home of “yoga as a religious practice” there are those at the school who are uncomfortable with the staff learning yoga, since it could be a way of Hindu religion making its way on campus. Oh, the horror! However, my group, all Americans, is interested only in the “yoga as healthy thing to do” aspect, so we disregard the frowns and call our class by code names.

In any case, my friends had been learning all last semester and raving about how fabulous the experience was so this semester I took the plunge and signed up. We meet three times a week: two hours on Monday and Wednesday evenings and an hour Saturday morning. And let me tell you, it takes some serious will-power to make it to an 8am yoga session on a Saturday morning when the classes take place 40 minutes from your house and you’re on foot. Bleah.

My mental image of yoga, created largely from movies, was of lots of deep breathing and graceful poses with interesting names, like “downward facing dog” and “warrior one.” We would glide from pose to pose, much like a ballet, and end the session refreshed and relaxed.

Ha! The reality of yoga involved a serious ab workout, lots of sweating, and a general suspicion that I might die before we finished. We started with a grueling series of pilates-style “trunk strengthening” exercises like leg lifts and bicycle leg movements and I was unprepared for this nasty surprise. Our instructor is big on not over-doing it, which is nice, but when he came by me for about the zillionth time to say “don’t push it—if you can’t do it, don’t,” I began to have self-confidence issues. Of course, the truth was, I couldn’t do it. I don’t have abs apparently. Or arm muscles. I am flexible, which is a plus, but it didn’t help me quite as much as I had hoped.

The only part of the session that was more like I was expecting was the “final relaxation” where we all lay on our mats with our eyes closed while Ravi (our instructor) talked us through some deep breathing and relaxation techniques. That was very peaceful, although I very nearly disgraced myself with a fit a giggles when he solemnly intoned: “relax your pancreas….relax your spleen…” My spleen? I don’t even know where it is. How am I supposed to relax it?

But despite the altered expectations and the sore muscles, I think yoga will be a good experience. If I survive. Our next session is tomorrow and I’m a bit nervous because I have the athlete’s sure knowledge that it will be harder than yesterday’s. My muscles will not have magically toned over night—they’ll just still be sore from the first class. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Work Report

Lest you think that I spend all my time baking, playing with my friends, and fighting with the local wildlife, I thought I’d better give a Work Report just to prove I’m earning my keep here.

This semester I’ve been working mainly under the direction of the Admissions Office. As always happens, two big projects came up simultaneously after months of very little work and I’ve been crazy busy for the past two weeks. The first project was the creation and launch of a student-led tour program. For years, the Admissions Office has wanted to get current students more involved with the admissions process but it just never got off the ground. Enter Me. Since I had experience in student admissions programs from college, I was given the task of making the program happen.

And it’s been a blast. I asked teachers for recommendations on some of their most out-going, sociable and eloquent students then invited those students to join. We invited 40 and got 30 at our first meeting. Not bad! The numbers dropped sharply after that, because the tours have to take place during “free periods.” But we still ended up with a dozen interested kids. They went through training last week—roll-playing workshops, shadowing tours given by Admissions staff, practice tours of their own, etc.—and we have 7 trained and ready to go.

This week they’re giving their first “real tours” with parents and kids and so far the response has been very positive. The families love getting to ask questions of a current student who really knows what it’s like to live here. The students enjoy being able to show off the school. The Admissions staff don't have to spend all their time showing people around. Everyone is happy. Hurrah!

The second big project has been a revamping of our application forms. The current application process is a bit haphazard with a lot of overlapping and extraneous information. Plus, no one has updated the forms in so long that they aren’t even on a computer anywhere. All we had were the originals to copy from. Yikes. Enter Me Again.

Despite the fact that I had no experience in this area, I was assigned to renovating our ancient forms. And I found I loved it! I met with all the members of the Admissions Committee to get their feedback on what was lacking and what could be cut. I looked up the applications for other international schools to see what they were doing. And above all, I organized the forms into a logical order and computerized them. I haven’t shown my work to my boss yet. I’m a little bit nervous because I have proposed some major changes but with luck, she’ll approve. Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Financial Paradox

I have breaking news. My Apartment is Clean. Repeat: My Apartment is Clean. Now, this may not be breaking news for your average, tidy person. But I am not known for my tidiness and living in a somewhat dirty country has made for a super dirty living space. My shower has been growing mold since the monsoon but I just couldn’t bring myself to clean it. It’s a hassle.

But now my Dirt Days are behind me because I hired an ayah this weekend. Ayahs are basically all-purpose house-keepers. They do anything from cleaning to cooking to child-care, depending on the needs of their family. My ayah, Raji, will be coming once a week to do basic household tasks. She started on Saturday, while I was gone, and when I returned, my room was swept, my bed made, my bathroom scrubbed, my dishes washed and my laundry done. It was astounding. But you want to know the really amazing part? For all of the above, I will be paying about $7 per month.

And that really got me to thinking about what a paradoxical country I live in. India has one of the world’s largest discrepancies between rich and poor and this reality manifests itself in small ways all the time. The ayah thing is just one of them. Woodstock School does not pay well. Its teachers make virtually nothing by American standards—my friends make on average about $300 per month.

And yet, everything else is so cheap too that most of the Woodstock staff have ayahs and cooks and gardeners. We have a gardener at Mt. Hermon that we pay about $10 a month and she does beautiful work. But it’s just so strange to me that in a place where no one has any money, everyone has servants. It’s this bizarre tension between luxury and poverty and I don’t know quite what to make of it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Last night, I had my first official run-in with Indian electrical wiring and may I just say for the record that an electrical fire is the worst stench I have ever encountered in my life. EVER.

But let’s back up. All my housemates were out for the evening. I was cheerfully enjoying a night alone, eating corn chowder and watching Season 6 of Sex and the City (fabulous!). After I while, I noticed a slight smell of hot plastic but thought nothing of it because my heater sometimes gets a little too warm and smells like that. Okay, no problem.

Then, I heard some popping noises—sort of like the sound of big moths hitting the window. This was slightly alarming and when the sounds progressed into crackling, I got really concerned. I had just gotten up to shut off the power when clouds of noxious smoke started billowing from the voltage regulator we use with the TV. And all the power in the room went out.

I literally could not go into the room for several minutes because it smelled too bad. However, little damage was actually done as the fuses blew before the TV or DVD player could be fried. Thank goodness. But the whole house still smells funny today and we’re down one voltage regulator. Alas.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ugly Shirts

My housemate Joanna turned 24 on Sunday and in honor of the event we had a party Saturday night. She was responsible for the theme and picked: The Ugliest Shirt You Can Buy in the Bazaar for 100 Rupees. She’s brilliant, I tell you.

We all took our mission quite seriously and headed to the Buz Saturday afternoon in search of tasteless clothing. It actually proved to be slightly more difficult than we had expected, as many of the shop-keepers had an elevated opinion of their wares. We found multiple perfect shirts—truly hideous and cheaply made—that for inexplicable reasons were priced in the 300-400 rupee range. It was somewhat alarming. But, in the end, we prevailed.

Several of the best outfits were sported by my own dear housemates. Jamie (who is tiny) found a child’s dress and wore that as a shirt. It was a tank-dress with two different polk-a-dot patterns (red and white on the straps and black and white on the main part) with a lovely ruffle at the bottom and a frightening doll/child appliquéd on the front. Complete with yellow braid hair. Courtney’s was a lime-green over-sized t-shirt with polk-a-dots and a pair of Dalmatians inside a large heart. Joanna herself settled on a striped button-up in a bewildering array of colors. Though in the end she managed to look cute. Some people can just do that.

I will confess, though, that I secretly believe my outfit was one of the best. I couldn’t find a shirt that I liked enough (or hated enough) so I bought a nightie. The Bazaar in Mussoorie is filled with ugly nighties. Usually polyester, stretchy and beyond unattractive. We can’t figure out who buys them—we hope it isn’t erstwhile Indian men looking to surprise their wives on Valentine’s Day. In any case, I found a stunning green, yellow, and orange check one with a bit of green lace at the neck. I then artfully cut it to shirt-length, with one side coming to a point at about my thigh. Fab.

We ate, drank, danced, and handed out prizes for the worst dressed and a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Welcome Back From the Monkeys

**Real Time Report**

I am very displeased to report that, due to the unnaturally warm weather, the Mussoorie population of Rhesus monkeys has not migrated down the mountain for the winter as they are supposed to do. Additionally, they appear to have taken some sort of Assertiveness Training Course over the winter holidays.

I was sitting in the tea garden after lunch, minding my own business and talking with a friend. I could see a large monkey on the roof out of the corner of my eye but we were ignoring each other and this was fine. Then he got up and started ambling in our direction. I stood up and said firmly, but without any particular hostility, “Shoo!” and waved my arm at him. Did he turn and head back to where he was coming from like a good monkey? No.

Instead, he bared his teeth, arched his back, and lunged at me! Nasty bugger. It was only a feint, but I screamed and ran away nonetheless.

Monkey : 1 Kate : 0


Monday, February 06, 2006


**Back to Trip Stories**

"Excuse me ma'am!" Hello!" "Yes, hello!" "Would you like...?" "Hello!" "Excuse me!" "No charge for looking!" "Hello!" "Hello!" "Hello!"

Traveling in India is exhausting because you must constantly have your guard up against the never-ending tidal wave of human interaction. Between the street-side touts selling their trinkets and the heart-breaking beggars looking for charity, any trip outside brings with it an inevitable barrage of people. And it wears you out.

The touts are mainly annoying. I come from a world where, for the most part, "No" means "No." (After all, we've all had middle school sex-ed talks). Here, "No" means anything from "Perhaps later" to "Why yes, please show me more of your worthless crap, and while you're at it, please ask your friends to show me their junk too." Postcards. "Genuine" garnet necklaces. Chess sets. Wallets. Paintings. Bracelets. Carved elephants.

You name it, they sell it, and they give new meaning to the word "persistent." Being polite is futile. Being anything but a stone wall is futile. So much as a careless glance in the direction of the merchandise is taken as a sign of intense interest and the level of hassling increases exponentially. Grrrr.

While the street vendors drive you crazy, the beggars shred your soul a thousand times a day. Dirty mothers with dirtier children tap at the window of the taxis, holding their hands out in supplication or touching their fingers to their lips, repeating "bread." They all wear matching expressions of weary resolve and have all mastered the exact same vocal inflection for their requests, so that one slides into another in a seamless flow.

Then there are the cripples. Missing arms and legs, or possessing them but disfigured beyond recognition. They hobble and crawl along the side of the road, sometimes with a cup, sometimes simply with hands upraised. They don't say much. They don't have to. And there's nothing you can do. Rationally, your mind knows that--you can't help everyone; your money might not even be a help; if you give to one tortured face, there will be fifty more when you turn around. The only way to avoid going catatonic when the press of helpless suffering gets too much is to steel yourself against it. Look past it and keep moving, ignoring the hands grasping at your sleeve. Eventually you break away, but you are left with a deep feeling of sadness, mingled with shame.

Superbowl Monday

** Go Steelers! **

Answering an undeniable urge to show some Pittsburgh Spirit here on the Subcontinent, I joined several friends in watching the Superbowl live this morning. And for those of you unsure of the time difference that means that, yes, I got up at 4am on a work day to watch a sport I don't even like that much. But it was fun. About 10 of us showed up bleary-eyed at a friend's apartment, greeted by tea and zucchini-walnut bread and we happily munched until half-time at which point the "real breakfast" of pancakes and eggs commenced.

And I learned that Ben Roethlisberger has the distinction of being the player with the longest last name ever to start in a Superbowl game. Where do commentators come up with this stuff??

**Go Steelers!**

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


During our trip, we were fortunate enough to encounter a variety of fun and exciting animals. The list stands as such:

1 Tiger

3 Rock Pythons
(from a distance of not more than 3 feet. Mom was very into the snakes. I am less fond of them, though once I realized that pythons aren’t poisonous, I relaxed somewhat, feeling that I could probably avoid standing still long enough to be squeezed to death.)

Wild Boars (woah, I would NOT want to meet one of those suckers in a dark alley.)

Langur Monkeys (yay!)

Rhesus Monkeys (boo!)

2 Varieties of Crocodiles (one which was fish eating and one even more carnivorous. We viewed from a safe distance. Ugly buggers.)

1 Flock of Wild Peacocks

Gazillions of Other Birds That Often Looked Similar But Were Allegedly Different

4 Kinds of Deer (Spotted, Barking, Sambar, and a fourth I can’t remember but which was utterly unafraid of our jeep and came up and licked my hand.)

2 Mongoose (Mongeese? Mongooses? Anyways, they scuttled across the road in front of our taxi.)

Several Jackals (cute little fox-like beasties that my mom consistently referred to as "hyenas.” Let me assure you all that there were no, I repeat no, hyena sightings on this trip. Thank goodness.)

1 Herd of Wild Elephants (which caused me to have the elephant march song from The Jungle Book movie in my head for hours.)

Many Cute Puppies (too bad they grow up to be so mangy and hideous here.)

1 Cockroach (ewwww—note to self: avoid the Hotel Amar Yatri Niwas in Agra in the future…)

0 Rats (Hooray!)

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

January 22nd, 2006

Dear Diary,

HOLY SHIT! I saw a tiger today! I real one. Not in a zoo. An honest-to-goodness, live, wild, could-eat-you-if-she-wanted-to, TIGER. (Or rather, Tigress. Our guide informed us that she was a female, about 3 years old). Way cool. We went on a jeep safari into the jungle at Corbett National Park and managed to get a glimpse of one of their famous beasties. This is not all that common given that there are only about 140 of them in a park that is 1,200 square kilometers. We had a good guide, though, and nearly killed ourselves flying down a dirt road in the jeep, in pursuit of a sighting. I was standing up looking when the guide hollered that he's just seen a tiger cross the road ahead of us and told our driver to floor it. Which he did. I darn near fell out and got the wind knocked out of me by a roll-bar, but it was worth it. She was so incredibly beautiful. She stood there, preening in the sunlight, surrounded by greenery and it was amazing.