There’s A First Time For Everything!

Today was full of wonderful firsts. Our schedule was a bit different — a much needed change — and because of that I felt way more awake and excited than I have the past few days. Not that the last couple days have been bad, but it’s nice to shake things up! There were also some not-so-great firsts, but it was all part of the cultural experience.

"Minions" performing a traditional dance :)
“Minions” performing a traditional dance :)

This morning before classes started, I got a chance to watch part of the Grade 3 and Grade 4 assembly in the school’s central amphitheater. There was an adorable dance performance and all of the kids were so adorable! They look like little Minions in their uniforms. Other than that I was waiting in Sonal’s office until Salisa (the Thai student) arrived and we headed to art together.

All of our scarves hanging to dry!
All of our scarves hanging to dry!

Art today was so much fun. We untied our tie-and-dye scarves and the results are incredible! Each and every one is beautiful and unique. I can’t wait for mine to dry so I can take it home! The process included lots of touching wet, dyed fabric though, so my fingertips now resemble those of a Smurf. Oh well! I think we’re doing another one tomorrow using a new technique. Hopefully they turn out just as well!

Am I Indian yet? *says the tall, blond American*
Am I Indian yet? *says the tall, blond American*

Next up was the day’s main event. We got to wear sarees! This was the Indian experience I was most determined to have and it exceeded my expectations. Getting dressed in it was an extremely intricate process — luckily I had help! A wonderful Indian woman wrapped, pinned, and tucked it for me, all the while explaining the outfit’s history and significance. They also provided jewelry and bindis for us! As with everything else, the Indian people go above and beyond to ensure we have a good experience. They certainly succeeded! We all loved them, and everyone kept saying we looked beautiful! Like I said, Indian people are the nicest. But while I loved wearing a saree for a little while, I couldn’t imagine spending all day, every day in one! They aren’t exactly practical. IMG_9743

They had planned for us to play basketball with some students from the school next, but Mandy, Abby, Olivia, and I didn’t want to change so we did rangoli instead! Rangoli is an art form done using colored sand on the ground. It is typically done in front of homes during Deepavali, a festival of light. We had a fantastic teacher who drew a design for us and then told us which colors to put where. With her guidance it ended up looking pretty good! I filmed a time-lapse of the process which I will post either on Facebook or here later. Please know that the central symbol is a swastik, which is a holy symbol in Hinduism. The one used by the Nazis was is similar, but rotated and, obviously, carries a very different meaning. In Indian culture it brings luck and is often put outside of homes. It can be off-putting at first, but that’s what travel is all about — learning to see things from different perspectives. Anyway, rangoli was fascinating to watch and do. Plus it let us stay in our sarees longer — yay!

Next, it was time for dance. We’re still working on the garba piece for the end-of-stay performance so we just ran it a couple of times before having a break. It’s a great dance, but doing it every day is getting a bit tiresome. We have to practice though, so I understand.

After dance we had lunch. Once again, it was perfectly fine! I know that it’s not good quality Indian food, but it tastes good, is freshly made, and is relatively flavorful. 3 stars.

We were going to have music next, but none of us were really in the mood. We asked Jinal if we could just relax for a bit instead and, being the awesome teacher that she is, she agreed! We chilled for a while before playing some basketball. Sujata, Carlos, and I played against two teachers (I think they were teachers) for a while. I contributed essentially nothing to the team, but it was fun! Everyone was very patient with my lack of ability.

The mosque. Women weren't allowed past the pillars.
The mosque. Women weren’t allowed past the pillars.

Lots of plans changed today! We were supposed to go volunteer at the Blind People’s Association, but I guess we weren’t able to because of the rains earlier in the week. It was fine by me because we got to do more sight-seeing! Our first, and primary, stop was a Muslim mosque built in 1537. Apparently it is one of Ahmedabad’s most iconic sights. It was certainly beautiful, but this is where one of the not-so-good firsts comes in. Women weren’t allowed inside. The front of the mosque was open, so we could see in, but we were forbidden to enter. It was the first time in all of our lives that we were so blatantly faced with sexism and it was hard. Carlos went in and looked around, naturally we didn’t want him to miss out because of us, but it was strange to see one member of our group somewhere the rest of us weren’t allowed. As a result, we didn’t stay long. It was still a good experience, but I don’t think I would want to go back. The carvings were incredible though. IMG_9770

The bus hadn’t been able to find a parking spot, so while we visited the mosque it had been driving around. While waiting for it to return we wandered around a bit. We were in Old City Ahmedabad so there were lots of booths on the street selling sunglasses, bags, posters, etc. All of it seemed like it would fall apart in about a day. This is when the next not-so-good first occurred. As Americans, we attract a lot of attention and since most of us are female, some of that attention is a bit creepy. Everyone we passed, or who drove by, stared. Entire buses slowed down. It was very surreal and occasionally uncomfortable. I had been warned to expect that in India, but I still found it disconcerting.

Also we saw an elephant
Also we saw an elephant

Once the bus came, we realized that our next stop was actually right across the street. Oops! It was a beautiful old hotel which we wandered around in before having some drinks in the cafe next door. It was great to sit for a while and all of the others got iced coffee, which made them very happy. I also bought a Gujarati cookbook in the hotel’s gift shop! I can’t wait to share it with everyone back home. Be prepared for lots of poorly-made roti coming your way!

We finished our drinks and went back to school. We were met by our host families and an AFS volunteer named Maithilee. She has been with us nearly every day since we arrived, but yesterday she said we weren’t going to see her again. It was such a nice surprise and she brought us gifts! Completely unnecessary, but appreciated nonetheless! I got an adorable coin purse that looks like a cat with the sweetest note inside. We will definitely miss her.

Today I had one goal and one goal only — to go the gym. I got home and spent some time with Gaurvi before getting in my workout clothes and making a beeline for the elliptical. It felt SO good to workout again. I was there for about 45 minutes and then I took a cool-down walk around the society with Sonal. Hopefully I’ll be able to return at least a few more times. My body feels so much more awake! Plus the food here is really heavy so that + no workout = very low energy. Tomorrow should be better!

For dinner tonight we had tandoori chicken. It was delicious and was reminiscent of something I might have at home, so that was really nice. I’ve been craving salads and fresh fruit. Like I said yesterday, raw fruits and vegetables are impossible to find here! It was great to have a lighter and more familiar dinner that was still Indian. One can only eat so much roti and potatoes before needing a change of pace!

After dinner we sat at the table and talked for a long time. My family asked me about life at home and I, being the talker I am, overshared on everything. I love finding differences between cultures and there are so many here! It was a great conversation, but a lengthy one which is why the post is going up a bit late tonight. I hope I’m not too tired tomorrow!

The past few days I’d felt that the trip had gotten a bit stuck in a rut, but today turned it around completely. I’m so looking forward to see what the rest of my time here has in store! It will surely be phenomenal. Until next time, अलविदा!

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