Before I begin, I noticed that my photos don’t seem to be of the same quality as they were. I had some problems with computer and couldn’t open any of my photo reader software and had to save it through Internet Explorer. Hope they don’t look too bad.
FULBRIGHT CONFERENCE IN GOA
We had the opportunity to go back to Goa (and a different area there) for the Mid-Year Fulbright Conference. It wasn’t quite my mid point because I arrived later, but there were even people who had just arrived in India.
The Hotel Lobby
The pool and view of sea
At first I was not really in the mood to go because I had only been back in Bangalore for a bit and felt I wanted more time to build momentum and get some things accomplished. However, once I arrived there I was grateful for the opportunity to meet other Fulbrighters staying all over India. There is such a broad range of interests, ages, and backgrounds among the Fulbrighters. The group includes recent college grads all the way to veteran professors who are near or even in retirement (and everything in between). It is refreshing to meet people with such an enthusiasm for partaking in diverse experiences throughout the course of their lives. Many have also come with their families and delighted in exposing their children to other ways of living. I was especially impressed with the older individuals who were coming to India for the first time as it would probably be easier to just stay in an environment more comfortable to them.
The Fulbright group encompasses those who are focused on topics particular to South Asia and and those who came to learn more about the region, its issues and its wonders. A sampling of the abstracts of people’s projects reveals anything from the study of medieval Tamil Shaivite devotional poetry (If you are wondering what this means, have no fear--I didn’t know what the heck this was either before I got there. Very basic--it is poetry by the devout in Tamil Nadu (the state next to mine, which is along the southeast coast of India, and, hence, in the language ‘Tamil’) specifically related to the worship of the god Shiva (the Destroyer) written in medieval times. I am sure there is much more to it, but I think that is the general explanation. *Gardner—did I get that right?) to photographic imagery in the history of Indian women to psychopharmacology in a developing nation and health system to non-violence and Gandhianism to Aids and performance in South India to conservation of Indian miniature painting to filmaking in Bombay to the role of woman in the IT industry in India to Bhangra music in Punjab to, the one that got applause from the whole crowd, particle physics and using metaphor (I can’t actually remember the exact title for this, but I can assure you no one knew what this woman was talking about and ALL were impressed). So you had health, science, the arts, including dance, fine arts and modern art (we even saw som video of performance art or event staging), archeology, architecture, religion, literature, engineering, business, law, education, women’s issues, development and obviously I have said enough about this…I think you get my drift.
Some fellow Fulbrighters (the older crowd-hehe-29 and 30), Sandhya, Gardner and me
Staying up late talking about the program
It was a particularly interesting experience for me because I was one of the few people who had both never been to India before and also not studied about India or South Asia (that is, I was not an “India person” as I, not so articulately, call it). I have experienced this sort of feeling before because most of the foreigners I meet her are in the “India person” category. I was thinking how perhaps this could make me a bit self-conscious, that I don’t fit in or am a bit behind in my knowledge and understanding of this complex place. But it doesn’t. Instead, it makes me appreciate the fact that I am here despite those things. It makes me realize how many interesting experiences I have had that many of the others haven’t gotten the chance to have. And it made me feel sastisfied in what I have done—that is, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Now, I am sure that the others feel the same way about their own experiences. They probably don’t care that they haven’t had the chance to live in Europe or work at the Pentagon (or whatever else it is) because their focus is here. But once again it proves that I am a true generalist at heart. Jack of all trades…Master of none. Haha.
One other thing that I noted was how interesting so many people are. I mean, they weren’t so easily categorized. For example, there was this one guy getting his PhD whose official topic title was “Regionalism and Nationalism in Modern Maharashtra,” but he really was a magician (he did a show for us and was fabulous!). There was also a girl who I became friends with who just quit her job with Boston Consulting Group to come here and do research on dance sculptures and paintings in temples in Tamil Nadu. She also was contining to dance a traditional form of Indian dance called Bharata Natyam. And those are just two examples. I guess we are just used to saying this person does job “x” or is type of person “y” and then stereotyping him or her based on those categories. How nice to see that that is not always true.
Funny thing—the first day we were introducing ourselves (all 100 or so of us) and there were 3 Elizabeths (including me) all in a row and all of whom applied ‘at-large,’ meaning not through a university. Pretty random.
Well, the conference was good, but I have to admit that I did play hooky (sp?) from some of the sessions. How could you not? The beach and the sun and the ocean with its ceasless waves lapping the shores were calling. And I can’t forget “The Shack” (hey Shack, like that name??) just down the beach from our hotel that was a little, tiny place with only a thatched roof that served the most delicious fresh fish—caught by fisherman whose tiny, battered boats were lying on the shore beside the place. I went there with another Fulbrighter (the Tamil devotional poetry guy, mentioned above) during our lunch break, but we just could not bear to go back into the small, dark, musty, windowless room where the conference sessions were taking place. So instead, we acted like Goans- took it easy and enjoyed the peaceful view (while drinking Goan port wine—kind of reminded me of Maneschewitz for all of you Passover celebraters out there). It wasn’t long before others who had the same idea came along and joined us on my veranda overlooking the beach (somehow I scored big time with a room essentially on the beach. The only others who had rooms in that part of the resort were the professors. Lucky me.).
A photo of the sunset from my room.
On my veranda
The second night of the conference we watched performances by the Fulbrighters—puppeteer (you don’t meet one of those everyday, do you?), dancers, and magician. I got to learn what some of the movements in the dance numbers mean. Often they are a story of the gods that most likely many Indians know. However, I would have been oblivious to the references. Here are some photos.
The last night of the conference we had a special treat. The State Department coordinated their conference of the Public Affairs Officers for the embassies and consulates in the region with our conference so that there was a day of overlap. We had a big dinner where the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia spoke to us (have to say not very inspiringly) and we got to meet Foreign Service Officers (people who work in embassies across the globe—many of you know that I passed the exam to do maybe do this in the future). I talked to one who is in Kabul and also met some of the State Department staff based in DC who are responsible for the Fulbright program. I guess this was supposed to be something special, but I found that no one was too impressed by Assistant Secretary. It is impossible to ignore, however, that the majority of Fulbrighters (from what I could tell) are pretty far to the left and are strongly against U.S. foreign policy at the moment. Obviously, the Asst. Sec. was towing the party line (is that the correct phrase? That is one of those phrases that I feel like could easily get screwed up. You know, you always thought it was a different word in there and just reiterated time and again. When I was younger I always thought it was ‘for all intensive purposes’ instead of ‘for all intents and purposes.’) (By the way, are you getting sick of my overactive use of parentheses for side notes or explanations???) Sorry, can’t help myself.
We also got to see performances of traditional Goan culture, but really the best thing of all was the music we had after dinner. You will never believe this, but we were listening to “The Old Country Band” made up of all Indians playing Willie Nelson songs and, and this is the most hilarious part, Havah Nagilah (okay, I have no idea how to spell it)!!!! Hahaha. I thought about rounding everyone up to do a quick horah. Hahaha.
When it was time to leave I was glad to be getting back to Bangalore to try and get some things done, but I was also sad to leave the relaxing calm of Goa. I do so love the beach (I guess that is what happens when you grow up 5 minutes away from the water) and hate to know it is so far away. Of course, I somehow missed the bus to the airport. I got to the reception area and watched it drive away. Hahaha. There was another girl who missed it so they put us on another one.
I was in Bangalore and got a chance to work more on my project. I went with Lizzy to this kadi (sp?) fair. Kadi is home spun fabric (what Gandhi supported so that everyone could be self-supported and not rely on or support the colonial power). We bought lots of fabric and, drum roll please,…I also got to buy my first saree!!!!! I didn’t put it on, but here is me holding it.
We also had some of the Fulbrighters we met in Goa stay with us while they were travelling in the South. During that time, I did my first sight seeing in Bangalore. We went to eat at a famous Bangalore tradition, called MTR. They now also have opened fast food places and have microwavable food in packets that are sold in the supermarkets, but the original is something else. We had to wait an hour till the first seating finished and then a whole rush of people crowded the rooms, pushing through to show the ‘gatekeeper’ their designated number which proved it was finally their time to eat. We then got moved from one room to the next until we got directed to a table and were each given large metal tray with dents in them to separate all of the different foods we would be served. Then, for the next hour, we were served (from big tin buckets) all different south Indian delights, all with their own distinctive MTR flair. We were sooo full. It was heavenly—and quite an experience.
One of the sights (and believe me, it is slim pickins in Bangalore) we went to is the “Bull Temple.” There is a HUGE, lying bull statue in the middle of the temple. Even better than seeing the bull, before entering, I got to see this sight…
So, a nun, a rabbi and a guru go into a bar…
Pretty amazing to see this. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You can see the huge bull in the background.
I also got to spend some time with Sowmya. She is moving to Switzerland this week for a new job. I am so sad to see her go. We went out with Mitali and a group of Sowmya’s friends to this cool restaurant/bar/lounge/danceclub called Hypnos. It has Middle Eastern/Turkish food and was damn good. We joked about how when we first got here we wouldn’t eat raw foods and were hyper about anything that might have been washed in water. Now we were happily eating hummus with chopped tomatoes and onions on top. Hahaha.
While out, we decided to get artistic and take some photos by candlelight. Thought I would share…
I like this one because it captures the movement of our laughter
Now Lizzy, Mitali and I are off to Rajasthan. We will be in the north for Holi—a festival where everyone throws colored paint and powder on each other. I will stay with Meg in Delhi for a bit and meet with some people working on CSR issues during my time there. Then I will get to see the Taj Mahal, go to Varanasi and on to Calcutta. In Calcutta, I will also meet with some CSR people. That will be a very long update!!!!