Thursday, March 30, 2006

Punctuated Equilibrium

Well, I think I may have proven the evolutionary theory of Punctuated Equilibrium (the idea that evolution doesn’t happen as a continuous action but is characterized by plateaus of non-change and then sudden leaps). How did I achieve this scientific marvel? Yoga, of course.

I’ve now been doing yoga classes three times a week—for a total of 5 hours—for a whole month. When I first started, I wasn’t super thrilled with the classes, in part because they just highlighted what a weenie I am. We always start with ab exercises and I suck at those. And I’m not as flexible as I imagined myself to be. My instructor said not to worry, that in a month I’d be much better. “Ha” I thought. And for the next three weeks I seemed to be right. I went regularly and worked as hard as I could but didn’t see much improvement.

And then—suddenly!—I became a Yoga Queen. Seriously. This Monday, everything just clicked and I am now about 10 times better than I was last week. I have no idea how or why but I can do more leg rotations and evil leg raises. I held my poses so perfectly that I got a “wow” from our reticent instructor. And my leg muscles finally decided to stretch. I am one of those people that is doing good to touch my toes. And yet Monday night, there I was, sitting on the floor, feet straight out in front of me, with my Head On My Knees. Yes, that is correct. Head On Knees. I felt like Gumby.

So there you have it. Punctuated Equilibrium. No longer just a scientific theory. Now an exercise fact.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I’ll be honest. I don’t like poetry. Never really have. And I’ve slowly stopped being embarrassed about it. But even I, tone-deaf to verse, can be touched by the truly great. Like Alice Walker.

facing the way

the fundamental question about revolution
as lorraine hansberry was not afraid to know
is not simply whether i am willing to give up my life
but if i am prepared to give up my comfort:
clean sheets on my bed
the speed of the dishwasher
and my gas stove
but still preferable to cooking out of doors
over a fire of smoldering roots
my eyes raking the skies for planes
the hills for army tanks.
paintings i have revered stick against my walls
as unconcerned as saints
their perfection alone sufficient for their defense.
yet not one lifeline thrown by the artist
beyond the frame
reaches the boy whose eyes were target
for a soldier’s careless aim
or the small girl whose body napalm
a hot bath after mass rape
transformed or the old women who starve on muscatel
on the streets of new york.

it is shameful how hard it is for me to give
them up!
to cease this cowardly addiction
to art that transcends time
beauty that nourishes a ravenous spirit
but drags on the mind
whose sale would patch a roof
heat the cold room of children, replace and eye.
feed a life.

it does not comfort me now to hear
(christ should have never said this:
it makes it harder than ever to change)
just as it failed to comfort me
when i was poor.

--Alice Walker

Starry Night

It was an amazingly clear and beautiful night last night. The lights of the Doon Valley were visible for miles and miles and seemed to twinkle as we admired them from our yard. And I got to see an old friend—the Big Dipper. I am very fond of the Big Dipper since that and Orion are the only two constellations I can ever locate with any degree of certainty. All of first semester, my star buddy wasn’t visible and I felt somewhat bereft. I have no idea if the Big Dipper is actually visible at all times in the US—I’m lucky to see the stars at all. But here there was something about seeing this amazing array of constellations every night and not seeing the one I like best that was distressing. I caught one brief glimpse when I happened to be up and outside at three a. m. (Activity Week – I was throwing up outside my tent. Ah, the memories). But now he’s back and for some reason this makes me happy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Unexpected Audience

I think that one of the most unexpected pleasures that I’ve gotten from blogging is the comments that people leave. When I started this blog, I was basically writing for my parents and my grandfather. He attended Woodstock School as a boy and I wanted to be able to give him regular updates on my experiences so he could see the Woodstock of Today through my eyes. It never really occurred to me that anyone else would read it!

And so it’s been lovely to learn that other people follow and enjoy what I write. And the “comment” phenomenon is great. My friend Emily shares her own experiences in London that correlate to mine (such as a very funny discussion of Al Fresco Peeing) as well as cooking tips and general humor. And my other friends drop a line every now and again.

The second category of comments come from people I don’t know but who happened upon my blog for some reason. Sometimes this is annoying—as when some rabid and ridiculous Indian men took offense at a posting. But more often, it’s lovely. I’ve particularly enjoyed receiving notes from two Ex-Woodstockers who share their own memories and experiences. Keep ‘em coming, Preya and Rhonda!

And sometimes, a blog can help you re-connect with people you’d lost track of. For example, I suddenly got a comment from my roommate on an archaeological dig in Israel during the summer of 2000. Wicked cool. I love it!

So despite feeling slightly self-conscious to actually have an audience for my ramblings, I do love to get “hellos” so Thank You!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Attempted Mugging

Okay, okay, I know everyone is probably sick of monkey stories but this one is short and way too important to skip. It fully illustrates and gives credence to the amount of fright I feel whenever I see one of the nasty creatures lurking in a tree or stalking along the side of the road.

Two evenings ago, my housemate Courtney was returning to Mt. Hermon after a brief shopping foray to the Bazaar. Her backpack was full so she had (albeit foolishly) tied a bag of grapes onto the outside of her bag. She noticed a crowd of monkeys around the gate at the entrance to our house, but vowed to walk firmly and confidently through them. This plan was going well right up until the moment when a large Rhesus monkey launched itself off the fence and onto her backpack. It was trying to get the grapes, not actually attacking her, but I’m sure that mental distinction is rather difficult to maintain when there is a huge, possibly rabid, monkey clinging to your back. Courtney screamed, shook from side to side (much like a wet dog), managed to dislodge her would-be mugger, and ran for it.

We are all very shaken by the experience.

As a related side-note, we received an e-mail today from the Assistant Principal informing us that a team of Monkey Catchers (his words) had arrived on campus to round up rogue monkeys and transfer them to another location elsewhere on the mountain. Whenever the beasts get too numerous, they undertake relocation schemes, none of which really work because the monkeys always come back. But at least we should have a few weeks of relative peace, safe from the Monkey Menace.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Never-Ending Weekend

I just had one of those glorious weekends that seems to stretch on forever because you’re luxuriating in a continuous stream of Things You Enjoy. It was warm, it was gorgeous, I had nothing pressing on my agenda and so I filled my weekend doing all the things I love. I did yoga, threw my first-ever pot on a wheel, played tennis, slept outside in the sun, read two novels cover to cover, hiked to the grocery store in shorts just to get an ice cream cone, talked to my parents and to Josh on the phone, and watched Pride and Prejudice. Fantastic.

Plus, my house was suffused with a sort of manic happy energy the whole weekend, produced by the fact that my housemates Jamie and Ethan got engaged Friday night. General rejoicing all around. We were bouncing off the walls all weekend and that just added to its goodness.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Holi!

Today is the Hindu festival of HOLI—the celebration of colors. As with many Hindu holidays, I’m a little fuzzy on the origins of the celebration but the story I’ve heard most often is thus:

Originally a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land, Holi is now a symbolic commemoration of a legend from Hindu Mythology. The story centers around an arrogant king who resents his son Prahlada worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time. Finally, the king's sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning, sits with the boy in a huge fire. However, the prince Prahlada emerges unscathed, while his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. (

The festival is celebrated right after the full moon in March. It starts in the evening (last night), with bonfires and general revelry and continues the next morning with the throwing of “color.” This takes several forms—there is colorful powder to be tossed about by the handful (it looks a lot like the sand used in sand-jar art and is really beautiful in big piles in bazaar) and then there is colored water to be dumped over one another. Apparently, the consumption of marijuana (sometimes in drink form itself) accompanies much of the boozing, and the whole affair is usually over by lunch time as the participants subside into much-needed rest.

While for the most part the holiday is all good fun, it can get out of hand and in some parts of the country, like Delhi, foreigners can be the targets of some nasty pranks. Some are harmless but annoying (like throwing color on people who have no interest in “playing Holi”) and some truly dangerous (like throwing acid and other chemicals on innocent passersby). In Mussoorie, any pranks would be of a harmless nature, but it is still advised that we avoid the Bazaar today.

Last year Holi was on a sunny warm weekend and there was much fun to be had at Woodstock—I’ve seen pictures of laughing, color-soaked staff and students frolicking together. This year, it’s 40 degrees, raining and a school day so celebration is somewhat subdued. I think the kids are throwing color down at dorms after school but I’m not dressed for it so I may hide. There is talk of a belated Holi part at Mt. Hermon this weekend if we can get our hands on some color after the fact. If so, I promise to post pictures.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Corbett Foundation

Since the Corbett trip was ostensibly an educational foray and not just a chance to look for pretty tigers, one of our stops was the Corbett Foundation (, an NGO started by the owners of one of the big resorts near the park. The foundation’s work is focused around the (totally correct!) theory that, unless the villagers who live in and around the reserve support the park and its goals, it will never be ultimately successful as a protected area.

To this end, the Corbett Foundation directs its efforts in three major areas. Medicine, Animal-Human Conflict Management, and Awareness. I don’t completely grasp the direct connection between medicine and the park, but it is definitely true that many of the villagers in Uttaranchal (and all over India) have very little access to fundamental medical care. The foundation started out small—providing first aid kits and a Hindi translation of a well-known first aid manual to 50 villages around the park. Since then, they’ve expanded to provide medical care camps situated in several of the outlying villages. They’re also working on a TB eradication program.

Animal-human conflict may be the largest area of difficulty. Since the park isn’t fenced or blocked off in any way, there’s nothing to keep the animals from wandering through the villages scattered around the periphery. So elephants come through and destroy crops, tigers and leopards raid the livestock, and occasionally a villager is injured or even killed in an encounter with a park animal. All of these events naturally breed animosity on the park of the local inhabitants and their response is frequently to kill the offending animal, particularly the carnivores. And who can blame them? That’s their livelihood and their family members the tigers are eating.

So the foundation makes an effort to mediate that tension as much as possible. They’ve started putting up solar-powered electric fences (how’s that for cool?) around some of the villages and cropland to keep out both the predators and the overly hungry herbivores. And they run a compensation program for when a tiger kills livestock. The government will reimburse villagers for that but it often takes up to a year which is way too long for them to wait. So the foundation pays them immediately and then collects the money from the government. There’s not a lot that can be done in the case of human attacks, but they do their best by providing medical care to victims and what compensation there is to families. It sounds like they’re really having a lot of success, too. Hurrah!

And of course awareness is a big part of any conservation effort. The foundation runs educational programming for both children and adults to inform them of the park’s goals and purposes. And it’s a good thing, too. They did a survey when the foundation was first started to see what the villagers thought the park was there for. The answer? The majority believed it to be a picnic spot for foreigners. So there you go, time to start educating.

It’s very hard for me to imagine what I’ll be doing in the future. It’s pretty cloudy right now. But every now and again, the mists part and I have a view of what I could be doing. Not necessarily what I will be doing, or should be doing—just that I could. And our visit to Corbett was one of those moments. When your heart taps you on the shoulder and says: “Hey, we could be happy doing that. And good at it. What do you say?” And I say: “Maybe. We’ll see.”

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Corbett Highlights

The tiger was obviously the best part of the trip to Corbett, but there were other memorable moments as well. Our second day, after staying the night in the heart of the park and listening to the tigers call each other in the darkness, we were up before dawn again for an early-morning safari. We were slightly delayed by a rainstorm, but it quickly cleared and we piled into our jeeps, eager for glimpses of wildlife.

Most of the jeeps headed for water, hoping to catch deer (or tigers!) coming down for a dawn drink. We took a road that paralleled the park’s major river and we were not disappointed. A whole herd of wild elephants came marching through the grass across the river. There were probably about a dozen of them, including several wee elephants. Or at least as wee as an elephant ever gets. They paraded along the banks for a while, and we kept pace across the river. Then they turned towards the water and so we parked the jeep and just watched as they lumbered into the river, drank and splashed for a few minutes, and then proceeded the rest of the way across and trudged across the road not far in front of us. It was fun to watch them disappear into the forest since they cause quite a disturbance with trees and bushes swayed and rustling and being knocked down right and left.

Our closest wildlife encounter actually came on the grounds of the Dikala camp itself. A large Sambar deer had entered the compound and the guards hadn’t bothered to chase him out, so he just hung around the Canteen, hoping for handouts. It was impressive to be spitting distance to something that big with huge horns. Several of the kids, feeling bold, staged pictures where they were standing near the beast. This ended quickly, though, as the Sambar got too friendly and started nudging people with his horns. Boy, you know it when you are snuggled by a Sambar deer!

We also got a far-away view of a tiger kill. The tiger had brought down a Sambar deer, but the wounded creature had dragged itself into a bog area where the ground was much like slightly-firm quicksand. It didn’t sink completely, but the tiger couldn’t safely go out to consume its meal. So the body just lay there until the carrion birds started visiting. It had been there several days by the time we were there but the vultures were still there en-masse. We were far enough away that we couldn’t see much of the carcass (which was really fine by me), but it was still eerie to see these huge black birds circling over a lump on the ground.

The weather itself made the trip memorable. There were several rain storms over the three days we were in and around the park and while they caused minor inconveniences (like very wet elephant rides) they also made for some breathtaking views of the jungle. The sky would darken but there would still be patches of sunlight that lit up the greenery in that vivid shade that only exists when it’s storming. Everything was sort of electric—you could feel the storm on the air, hear the wind moving through the grass and the trees, and smell the rain on the way. And we were out in it! A little scary but exhilarating.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Return to the Jungle

So there I was, drenched and shivering, clinging to my elephant’s saddle, and crashing through the Indian jungle in pursuit of a tiger…

This weekend I got to return to Corbett Tiger Reserve, as a chaperone for a 12th grade Environmental Science fieldtrip. They’d been studying national parks and conservation efforts and there was unused money in the fieldtrip budget. And since the teacher of the class is a man and 24 of the 28 students are girls, a female chaperone was required. My job consisted primarily of waking the girls up in the morning, herding them to the bus, and accompanying them on elephants and jeep safaris. I know, I know—it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Corbett is a 7+ hour bus ride from Mussoorie so we left at the absolute crack of dawn Thursday morning. I had to get up at 3:30 am to make the bus. Arg! But that meant that everyone slept most of the way, which was good. We spent our first night at a Center for Eco-Tourism just outside of Ramnagar (the town on the outskirts of the park). They gave us a briefing on the park itself and took us to Choti Haldwani, a village that Jim Corbett owned during (and after) his lifetime. He purchased a large tract of land, then brought in families from the area and allowed them to live on plots, completely free of charge. Very cool.

The next morning we headed for the park and spent the day safari-ing around in jeeps and on elephants. We spent the night deep inside the park itself at a station called Dikala. Then the next day it was more safaris at dawn and then we headed back to the Eco-Tourism center and finally came home on Sunday.

There were 30 of us total, so we broke into five jeeps for the actual safaris. Being in a jeep with a bunch of 12th graders is hysterical. Half of them were on permanent excitement highs, and had to be reminded constantly that if they squealed at every deer they saw, no self-respecting tiger would come anywhere near. The other half were too tired from the trip and kept dozing off and hitting their heads on the jeep’s side-bars.

But back to the tiger. In the afternoon of the first day in the park, we had a chance to go on elephant safaris. We had to split the group into several smaller groups because there weren’t enough elephants at Dikala to go around. So I took 9 kids with me and we headed to another area where we mounted up on two elephants and struck out into the jungle. The fun thing about elephants is that they don’t have to stick to the established trails the way the jeeps do. We just meandered through the brush along the river, admiring Sambar deer and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over peacocks.

Then, with no warning whatsoever, we came through a patch of grass and there, in a small clearing, was a tiger, just lounging on the ground. WOAH! TIGER! Our elephant was in the lead and though we motioned frantically for the other to catch up, our feline vanished almost instantly into the underbrush. I was too awestruck to get off a picture, but one of the kids was quick on the draw and actually caught it on video. I’m hoping to procure a copy.

But the story doesn’t end there! We scoured the area for a bit, looking for the tiger, and then we heard it roaring across the river. I have no idea how it got to the other side without our noticing—you would think something bright orange would stand out in the greenery but you’d be wrong. In any case, our guide told us that it was mating season and our male tiger was calling for a mate. Which made him track-able. So, since we were on elephants, we just followed the sound of his calls. We splashed through the river and charged through the underbrush. By this point, it had started raining and we were all soaked and freezing but no one wanted to turn back.

Our elephant had previously been attacked by a tiger and he was none too keen on repeating the experience, so we could tell when we got close again because he got very agitated and our Mahut had to keep forcing him to go on. It was all very exciting. In the end, our elephant returned to the river bank, while the other ploughed deeper into the jungle, hoping to flush the tiger out and back across the river. The plan failed and we never caught sight of him again, but the second elephant happened upon him, giving the other group a glimpse.

So we all returned chilled but ecstatic to gloat about our trip to the other, less-fortunate, groups.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I’ve never given up anything for Lent. It just wasn’t a tradition that my family ever practiced. But this year, I’m giving it a shot. I take part in a weekly book group and our latest read has been a church publication called “Just Eating?” which deals with the connection between food and faith. It’s really well done and we’ve had some good conversations about everything from nutrition, to food as a sacrament, to hunger, to the environmental impact of food consumption. And through it all, the question being asked is: as a Christian, what should your attitude toward food be?

So when Lent rolled around this year, I figured it was time to participate. I decided to give up eating meat (except fish), largely due to the horrifying statistics about how much grain it takes to produce meat. Something appalling like 50 grams of vegetable grain go into producing 1 gram of beef. Of course, we don’t eat beef here—the articles are mainly aimed at Americans—but still, I was struck by the waste.

And I also felt that the year I’m living in a country where people are literally starving just down the road from me would be an appropriate year to make some kind of food-related sacrifice. So far it hasn’t been hard. Of course, I’ve only been meat-free for a week and 3 days of that I spent in an entirely vegetarian city. But I’m still proud of myself. The school cafeteria always provides veg options (though they’re often not great) so I won’t go hungry at work. And I’ve been looking up some good veg meals on the internet—things like potato enchiladas, veggie pot pie, and how to make good humus.

And it feels good. I like the awareness that being vegetarian brings to my eating. The discipline involved in knowing that I am not just free to chow down on anything I want. I may feel differently on day 35 when I’m having dreams about chicken wings, but for now I’m happy.

A-Hiking We Will Go

I love the idea of hiking. Healthy. Wholesome. Invigorating. In my mind, I’m out there in the woods with my friends, pack on back, stick in hand, tromping merrily through the underbrush, fording the occasional stream, and stopping now and again to admire the wildlife.

Of course, in reality, I hate hiking. I don’t pick up my feet very high and tend to trip over roots, stones and large leaves. I’m not in very good shape and pant and wheeze my way up the slightest incline (Josh, darn him, showed no sign of wheezing at all, ever, despite being unused to the altitude). For me “getting there” is not half the fun. “Being there,” reading your book and eating your tuna sandwich is all the fun.

However, Josh loves to hike and because I try to be a good fiancé (and because my mythical happy hike refuses to be banished from my brain) I agreed to a small hike/picnic while he was here. Our destination was Flag Hill, so-named for an abundance of Tibetan prayer flags and said to be a great place to picnic and admire the Snows.

I dutifully packed (well, okay—overpacked) lunch for two, my book, his book, water, the camera and two shawls to use as blankets. The hike to the hill and up wasn’t bad, actually, even by my standards. The problems began when, the minute we arrived at the summit, the weather dropped 10 degrees and the wind picked up.

This didn’t deter Josh from stomping about some more, while I huddled under my shawl and tried to read my book with gloves on. Then it started to thunder. Then it started to sprinkle. And about the time we decided to call it quits and go home, the skies opened up with a lovely round of hail. Or maybe it was sleet. I’m not totally sure. It didn’t sting the way hail does, but it definitely consisted of little balls of semi-solid material that shattered when they hit the ground.

We hid under some scrawny trees for 10 minutes until a break in the storm allowed us to make for home. However, the good thing about coming home from a hike cold and wet is that you can take a nice hot shower, drink some hot chocolate and burrow under the blankets while you watch a movie.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


My housemates and Josh and I spent the weekend down the mountain in Rishikesh and it occurred to me that Rishikesh isn’t India. Not really. It’s a yoga center, pilgrimage site and hippie magnet and everywhere you turn there are young hippies with dreadlocks and flowy clothing; ageing flower children with sun-leathered faces dressed casually but stylishly in linen; sexy Israelis in cool sunglasses riding well-polished motorcycles, and lots and lots of skin. The dress code of India doesn’t apply in Rishikesh and I saw women in shorts, spaghetti-strap tops, and even (gasp!) a bikini or two. It was amazing.

Rishikesh is set right on the banks of the Ganges where the river first emerges from the mountains. It is divided into neighborhoods of sorts—The High Banks, Swarg Ashram, Lakshman Juhla, Downtown. The Ashram areas host religious devotees from around the world who have come to improve their holiness and flexibility by practicing yoga. Here you get a lot of the Sadus—religious asthetics who wander around in bright orange-yellow robes and never trim their facial hair.

The High Banks area, where we stayed, caters more to the Western hippies and features stores selling hackie-sacks, yoga mats, hemp jewelry and, of course, the “hippie uniform.” That’s our name for the ubiquitous loose, mismatched, and homespun apparel worn by hippies the world over. One of the most common outfits are wide-legged linen pants that tie low around the waist. There’s extra material above the tie that you then fold down, creating a lovely pouch of fabric right at your midsection. They were all the rage in Israel, too, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy something that unattractive.

My friends, however, were insistent that we all acquire hippie uniforms so we could blend with the locals so we spend several hours happily browsing through mounds of striped skirts, plaid pants, floaty tops, sarongs, sundresses, and cheesy t-shirts with pictures of Ganesh. The concept of “matching” doesn’t really apply to the hippie uniform—if you like it, wear it. If you can’t decide between those cute pants and the funky skirt, wear them both. Wrap a scarf in your hair and another around your waist. The more layers the merrier.

The food in Rishikesh is great as well. As a holy city, all of Rishikesh is vegetarian and with the steady-stream of world-tourists, the restaurants have come up with fabulous veg. menus from around the world. Throughout the course of the weekend I munched happily on veggie burgers, chocolate-banana crepes, falafel and hummus. We didn’t have much of an agenda so we spend many hours lounging about in the outside café at the hotel and eating steadily until we couldn’t move.

PS: And for those of you betting at home, we did in fact weenie out and take a cab, and considering that I still almost hurled, I think it was money well spent.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Where everyone knows your name...

My fiancé, Josh, is here visiting for a week! This was The Big Christmas Surprise and he and my parents had apparently started plotting the second I said I was coming to India. Somehow they managed to keep it a secret until Christmas, despite the fact that everyone and their brother knew about it. I kept trying to tell people and they’d all smile and say “I know!”

In any case, he arrived yesterday after eons of travel. It really is rough getting here. He flew to Chicago from Pittsburgh and stayed with my parents for a day, then took a direct flight from Chicago to Delhi (14 + hours). From there, it’s a 7 hour cab ride up to Mussoorie. He got in at about 7am, unsure of what day it was, but he seems to be recovering nicely.

But the poor boy—he’s been meeting all the inhabitants of Woodstock and that can be quite an overwhelming experience. It’s not a big school and given the remoteness, it is BIG NEWS whenever someone comes to visit, especially someone of fiancé-level importance. My friends and co-workers have been looking forward to meeting him for weeks (if not months) and he tends to get pounced upon wherever he goes, with shrieks of “oh you must be the fiancé!!” He’s trying valiantly to learn names, and I love him for the effort. It took me about 3 months to get them all.

My boss has sweetly allowed me to take several days off while he’s here so we’re planning a hike/picnic tomorrow and then we’re heading down the mountain to Rishikesh—a Ganges pilgrimage site and general hippie center—for the weekend with a number of my housemates and friends. It should be fun! The big question is: will I brave the Indian bus system and possible disgraceful vomiting out the window as we careen down the mountain? Or will I weenie out and pay for a cab? Stay tuned.