Update from Ellie Kaufman

Hello from New Delhi! My name is Ellie Kaufman, and I am currently a junior at Brandeis majoring in Art History and Anthropology with a minor in South Asian Studies. I decided to spend my Spring 2013 semester in India through the IES Delhi program. This program allows us to take a variety of liberal arts electives through our program center ranging from “Indian Women in Fiction and Film” to “Indian Classical Music Methodology and Practice”, as well as a few other options at local Indian universities. After our first two weeks of orientation, I decided that my semester course load would include a Survey of Indian Art class through the National Museum Institute in New Delhi and the following classes through the IES center: Yoga Philosophy and Practice, Cities of Delhi, Indian Socio-Economic Development, and Service Learning. One thing that I really liked about the IES program was the amount of experiential learning classes they offer- both my Cities of Delhi and Indian Socio-Economic Development classes include weekly field trips that range from archaeological sites within Delhi to rural village excursions within Northern India.

blogphoto2            For my Service Learning class, we are required to choose a specific NGO we are interested in volunteering with on a weekly basis for the course of the semester. For my service, I decided to volunteer at Prayas Juvenille Aid Center: an NGO in Delhi working with underprivileged children and women within the local communities. This center focuses specifically on issues such as juvenile justice, child labour, trafficking, abuse, and child protection, as well as provision of alternative education and economic empowerment. At this organization, I have done a combination of both hands-on volunteering- such as teaching math lessons and playing English learning games during recess with the children- and a variety of more technical work, such as making a new informational brochure and helping out with their new website.

Through this experience, I have learned so much about the importance of community development and participation in regards to social justice as well as the many ways in which NGOs in Delhi differ drastically than what one would expect back in the States. Something that I think has been the most challenging throughout this experience is the amount of cultural and language barriers that are so evidently present within service learning environments. While I have spent the past two months getting to know the children, teachers, and administrators at this center, I still at times feel disheartened by the amount of additional help I know I would be able to contribute if I was a native speaker of Hindi. Despite this challenge, I still aspire to continue helping these students to the best of my ability- through simple games of “Ellie Ketihe” (the Hindi version of “Simon Says”), English Pictionary, and daily conversations about our favorite hobbies, foods, and daily life experiences in Delhi.

blogphoto3            In addition to weekly hours dedicated to my service learning site, I have definitely found a routine of sorts within my new life in Delhi. Throughout the week, I go from my home-stay in Greater Kailash II, a relatively upper-class neighborhood in South Delhi, to our program center in New Friends Colony. Unfortunately neither my home stay nor our program center is located by a metro stop, which means that I commute every day by way of auto-rickshaw. This transportation, depending on the amount of haggling necessary until we settle on the price of 60 rs, usually takes a short twenty minutes before I make it to our program center. At my home stay, I live in a loft with Auntie Chopra and three other students from our program. My Auntie has lived in her loft for over thirty years, and has four daughters that are all married and living in their prospective homes, from right down the street to all the way in California. While it may seem a bit lonely, there is never a dull moment at the Chopra household. Auntie is always having her daughters, son-in-laws, and grandkids come and visit for weekly dinners and significant events (such as weddings, anniversaries, and religious holidays). Auntie Chopra treats us all as if we were her own Betas (the word for Daughters in Hindi) and eats dinner with us everyday after we return from our classes and daily excursions into the busy city.

For the majority of weekends this semester, I have participated in program-directed weekend excursions and/or planned a variety of independent travel plans around the surrounding areas of India with other students at our program. Within the first two weeks of India, the program was taken on an excursion to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan to see tigers, spotted deer, and a variety of other endangered species. Further into the semester, we also visited Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu cities located in Uttar Pradesh, and walked along the ghats of the river Ganges. During free weekends, we have planned trips to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur to shop in the Pink City and ride elephants up to the Amber Fort, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra to walk along strawberry fields, and Alleppey in Kerala to lounge on the beach and eat meals off of freshly picked banana leafs. Three other weekends have been dedicated to rural excursion field trips for our Indian Socio-Economic Development class, where we travel to rural villages and do community-based mapping exercises to analyze and observe the structure of villages in terms of education, public resources, job availability and quality, and caste dynamics in areas of socio-economic distress. For these trips, we have visited Tilonia, a rural village within the deserts of Rajasthan; Chamba, a village within the Himalayan mountains in Himachal Pradesh; and Bulandshahr, another larger village within the state the Uttar Pradesh. Through these class-based field trips, we were able to submerse ourselves into the experience of rural India while also hearing first-hand narratives from the villagers and NGO administrators that we met (thankfully we had our professors to help with the translating).

blogphoto1            Throughout my past two and a half months in India, I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of meaningful- and at times entirely contradictory- experiences. I have learned so much regarding everyday life within the city of Delhi and through my travels around various states, and yet I still feel as though there are so many more places I want to visit and concepts I want to understand before my time in India is complete. What I have learned quite evidently is that India is a place of juxtaposition and uncertainty, sublimity and pollution, fortuity and misfortune, tradition and modernity, and astounding diversity. Through these past few months, I have learned that a little flexibility, determination, and openness has allowed me to experience the truly amazing, indescribable, and multifaceted country that is India.

Namaste, and until next time!


Yoga, McLeod Ganj, and more! – Jeremy #2

(Written March 27, 2013)

Greetings everyone!! I hope the snow has begun melting and some semblance of Spring is showing. I am still here in Delhi The heat has dramatically intensified, the festival of colors–Holi begins tomorrow, and preparations for my Independent Study Project have begun.

jeremy2 I just returned from a week long workshop up north in the state, Himachal Pradesh! HP is my favorite place I have seen so far in India. It is lush, green, hilly, and extremely beautiful. The weather is also much cooler, a perfect retreat from the heat of Delhi. Ten students from our program traveled by overnight train to Pathankot, a northern city in the state of Punjab. By now, I am coming to really enjoy overnight trains and learning to sleep relatively well while on-board. Once we arrived in the morning we took a three hour windy, steep car ride up to Palampur. We stayed in Kayakalp at the Himalayan Research Institute for Yoga and Naturopathy. With the grand snow-covered Himalayas in the background, this facility was an oasis for patients with chronic illness seeking a variety of treatments: Ayurvedic Panchkarma, Yoga and Accupressure, Naturopathy, and Physiotherapy. Technically classified as a hospital, it felt more like an alternative spa resort than anything.

Every morning at 5:30am a man wakes you up with hot water. After downing 2-4 glasses to encourage a “movement”, you make your way to the treatment center for Yoga. Now I am a fan of yoga in the states, but this is nothing remotely similar. We begin at 6am with Yogic Kriyas–methods for cleansing. This includes, washing your eyeballs, nedi-potting your sinuses, forced nasal exhalations, gargling, and if you are feeling super adventurous, quickly drinking a pitcher of salt water to force purging.  Not exactly the most pleasant activities first thing in the morning.

After the Kriyas, we go upstairs to the yoga studio for a series of meditation, chanting, postures, and breathing exercises. This yoga was very slow and deliberative, nothing like the aerobic classes I am familiar with in the states. I would say not necessarily better or worse, just different. The hour and a half session closes with laughing yoga. It sounds kind of strange but it is very fun. We do a series of hand movement and “forced” laughing, which eventually turns into more authentic laughter. I will try to describe my favorite exercise: we first pretend as if we are churning butter with our hands, making a “grrrr” sound, while swinging our arms back and forth. Next we pour the imaginary churned butter into an urn “ha, ha, ha” making a thumbs-down motion. After the butter has been prepared we pretend to feed it to each other, making eye contact with each other while pointing and laughing. I guess maybe you just had to be there–I swear it was really fun!

The facility is primarily focused on Ayurvedic practices and treatments, but also has more modern therapies such as physiotherapy and lab facilities. We met with Ayurvedic doctors, specializing in traditional cleansing methods, called panchkarma. They told us the history of Ayurveda, their diagnosis methods, and descriptions of various treatments that focus on balancing one’s doshas. Doshas correlate to different characteristics unique to each person, such as appearance, bodily functions, personality, behavior, and habits . Daily practices, such as exercise and diet aim to balance these doshas but when they are out of balance, disease occurs. They are Vitta, Pitta, and Kapha. With their recommended treatments, which date back to 2500 BCE, along with yoga, diet, and lifestyle changes, they aim to counter these imbalances and restore people’s health.

Based on my pulse and their observations they said I was a Pit-Kaph. Not sure exactly how accurate or what that actually means, but they did advise me to stay away from spicy and fried foods. Kayakalp was a really interesting place to spend a week learning about this very old, but still functional form of medicine. It made me wonder about the efficacy of these non-invasive, drug-free treatments. Are pharmaceuticals always necessary? Why is America one of the only places where Ayurveda is still seen as an  illegitimate form of medicine?

After Kayakalp we took the journey to McLeod Ganj, the place of settlement for Tibetans in refuge, as well as home to the Dalai Lama. We spent one night there, visiting the temple, eating delicious momos (Tibetan fried dumplings), hiking to a glacial river to bask in the beauty of Himachal Pradesh and the great Himalayan Mountains. It was a bit strange being a tourist for once–not knowing the local language and blending in among the many tourists, but had a very good time. We took another overnight train and arrived back in Delhi Saturday morning. I definitely would like to make my way back north.

jeremyI have only three weeks here before I leave my homestay and embark on my Independent Study Project. Where has the time gone?!?! I still cannot believe how quickly this semester has gone, I still cannot believe that it is already the end of March! Last night, the Jewish students from our program got together and went to a Passover Seder at the Chabad House in Delhi. Although many of the other guests were Israeli, so didn’t speak much english, it was comforting being together with other Jews to celebrate Pesach. We were even served brisket!! To explain, beef is extremely difficult to find in India, as the cow is worshipped as holy by Hindus. The Rabbi’s wife explained that they had brought over 20 kilos of Kosher beef from Israel. It was a great night. Happy Pesach!

jeremy5 jeremy3

Holi, the festival of colors begins today. We have no class scheduled today and tomorrow to celebrate. Holi marks the transition from winter into summer. There is a long Hindu story of the derivation of Holi including fires, magic powers, and wishes, but to avoid butchering it, I won’t attempt to explain it all—that’s what Google is for! Those willing to participate in Holi throw colored powder, or Gulal, at each other. Today, children throughout our block have begun throwing water balloons from their balconies at passersbys. The program leaders have warned us about how crazy it gets, but I am unsure how it will really be. We will see what happens tomorrow! Wish me luck! –Jeremy

 (Pictures courtesy of my peers, Emma Wise and Sophie Ohaus)

Beginning Thoughts – Hannah Diamond

(Originally posted February 16, 2013)

Hello from India!!!


Hi everyone!!! As you are all important members of my life, and communication in India can be a challenge, I thought that I would try and share my travels with you through a weekly update. When I started writing this post, it turned out to be quite long, so I am going to divide it into a few sections. The first one will discuss Indian culture, and my reactions. The following updates will discuss more about my program, what I am have been learning, and my adventures in Delhi. Stay tuned!

It was quite a long journey for me to arrive in India. Danny drove me for 4.5 hours to the Newark Airport from Boston, and then it was another 14 hours to Mumbai, a three hours layover, and then a 2 hour flight to Delhi. The plane left from New Jersey at 4:30 pm on January 30th and I arrived at 11:00 pm on the 31st in Delhi. I am not the biggest fan of flying, so to say the least, it was not the most pleasant experience.

When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by the smell and the smog. Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. The best description of the smell that I can give you is that of urine. The smog varies depending where you are in the city. I don’t really notice it anymore, but it was impossible to miss when I first got here.

For the first few days, we stayed in a hotel and had orientation. There are 27 kids on my program, 2 of which are boys. All of the students are from the United States, with the exception of Tobias, who is from Germany. Orientation last for four days, and consisted of lectures that discussed safety, how to stay healthy, how to concur culture shock, culturally appropriate behavior (such as what to wear and proper eating manners), home-stay tips, and activities that familiarized us with Delhi, such as taking the metro. After the four days, which we moved out of the hotel and in with our host families.

My host-family has been challenging. The first few days were very difficult, but it is getting easier with time. No family is perfect, and I am trying my best to work with the family as well as my program to help with the transition. Some of the problems stem from cultural differences, and some from issues within family. Let’s just say that I am so grateful to have grown up with some of the most incredible, nurturing parents in the world. I love you Mommy and Daddy!

This week was our first week of classes. Our schedule consists of an hour long lecture on Hindi grammar, followed by a 15 minute chai break. We then have an hour’s worth of Hindi drills, followed by a half hour break. This is followed by an hour and half lecture on a health based topic. This lecture tends to be more than an hour and a half because the Indian concept of time is very different from ours. At 1, we have lunch, followed by optional Hindi office hours from 2 until 4. Our initial lessons are very heavily focused on Hindi because we will be expected to conduct interviews in Hindi during our independent study just two months from now. It is also important because outside of Delhi, fewer people speak English. Often times, instead of Hindi office hours, we will have a day long excursion. A few days ago we visited a slum in south Delhi. I will talk in detail about that visit in a later post.

Interesting things about India!
The bathrooms: Indians do not use toilet paper. Instead, they use a small nozzle that shoots water or a bucket of water. To wipe, they use their left hand. It is socially unacceptable to use your left hand during meals because it is considered dirty (for good reason). I’m a lefty, and I try my best to remember, but often times I still wind up using my left hand. It is something that I hope will come with time. Also, I use toilet paper. I can’t really get use to the whole hand wiping thing. My home-stay and program center both have western toilets, adding to my level of comfort. I will be experiencing non-western toilets for the first time next week during my excursion to Aligarh. These toilets are basically holes in the ground. I’ll let you know how that goes. Keep your fingers crossed.

The showers: I use a bucket. We are lucky enough to have a water heater. Even then, the water is often lukewarm at best. I have successfully learned to wash my hair with a bucket. With the amount of hair I have, I consider this to be quite an accomplishment!

The traffic: Driving here is impossible to compare to anything in the states. The roads are shared by cars, trucks, lots of motorcycles that weave in and out, cows, dogs, pigs, people, bicycles, and rickshaws. Basically, there are no rules when it comes to driving. Speed limits do not exist. Everyone honks their horn constantly. And the horn sounds are all different. Its sounds like an opera of blaring horns all day long (the horns stop at night because no one travels after a reasonable hour). The smell of exhaust is a constant. When I am not walking, I take either a bicycle or auto rickshaw to get to and from the metro to my destination. After flagging one down, you negotiate a price. There is something called skin tax here. I am charged almost triple the amount that an Indian would pay. After I have negotiated a price and they agree to take me, the ride itself is quite an adventure. On one of my rickshaw rides, the driver went on the opposite side of the road. To say the least, there is never a dull moment!

The dress: In India, it is said that you dress to other people’s liking as opposed to your own. The style of dress is extremely flashy and colorful. The woman’s outfit consists of a kurta (long top), pajamas (bottoms), and a dupata (scarf). The more traditional women also wear sarees. The men also wear long kurtas and loose fitting pants. More traditional people tend to wear the Indian garb, but the modern generation is often found in jeans and a long sleeve sweater (its the winter here). Married women wear a bindi and a nose ring. Most importantly, the dress is influenced by a level of conservatism. The women are always covered. Although it is acceptable to show your midsection, showing leg is an absolute no no. Additionally, India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world, the first largest being Indonesia. This adds to the level of conservative dress. I have bought some beautiful clothing items that I cannot wait to share with you all at home!

The food: The diet is different from what I had expected. They eat a tremendous amount of carbs, butter, milk, and sugar. Every meal, yes, sometimes that includes breakfast, consists of either rice, roti / chopati (tortilla), da (lentils), a vegetable dish (so far it has been mostly potato because we are in the winter season), chai tea, and a few raw vegetables (normally either onion, tomato, or red carrot). The majority of people are vegetarians. The Indian version of vegetarian also eliminates eggs. My family happens to eat meat, but the way that they eat meat in India is very different from the states. Meat is a small addition to the meal, rather than the focus. And it is very very rare. I would say that wealthier families, if they do eat meat, they eat it about twice a month. Beef is never eaten because the cow is considered to be sacred. The punishment for hurting a cow is imprisonment. Cows have free reign of this city.

Also, everything that I eat has to be prepared in a special way so that I don’t get sick. Each item is carefully washed in water that has been treated with bleach. The program center has a cooking staff that cooks lunch for us every day, and then I have dinner with my host-family around 8:30 every night. The food is delicious, but its starting to get a little tiresome. I have a long way to go, so for now, I will be dreaming about a hamburger with blue cheese and caramelized onions and a beer, Chicago deap dish pizza, my Nonny’s spaghetti, my Grandma’s chocolate cake, my mom’s green meat stew….

The noise: I mentioned that people are constantly honking their horns. That’s just the beginning. Indians do not have volume control. They yell instead of talking to one another. When they watch TV, the volume is turned up so loud, it sounds like they are hard of hearing. Occasionally, people will blast pop music and play Indian drums as we are trying to fall asleep. The other day, I went to go and do some work at Cafe Coffee Day, the equivalent of Starbucks in the states. It was impossible to concentrate because the cafe was blaring pop music so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think. At least in Delhi, people appear to be less sensitive to sound than we are in the states.

The Metro: The Delhi metro is the nicest form of public transportation I have ever used. It’s brand new, above ground, and provides a great view of the city. Each time we enter the metro, our bags are scanned and we go through a security check.

The animals! There are dogs, cows, and pigs everywhere! And even the occasional monkey!

Continue reading and view more pictures on Hannah’s Blog: http://hdiamondblog.wordpress.com/