Hannah DeLap
Hannah DeLap
India 2011-2012
Originally from Houston, TX, I currently live in Nashville, TN, where I just graduated from Belmont University with my BBA in Economics. I have a passion for other cultures, cuisine, and traveling. I have traveled to many countries including most of Europe and a backpacking trek by myself throughout Central America. Read More About Hannah →

Cultural Confusion

Most good travel stories are about discovering the unexpected. The traveler goes abroad with an illusion, the illusion is shattered, but then she learns something new, and after assorted challenges and humiliations, she achieves a satisfying epiphany. Where do we switch from illusion to satisfaction?

I seem to wake up every morning by 6 am with recent dreams plaguing my already fragile physique with senses of the things I have left behind. When I wake, I still feel the hot, dusty air brushing my cheeks and taste the salty sweat falling to my lips. In the dark room it’s easy to still find the bright colored saris of Rajasthani women standing out on the brown, stark landscape, and the aimlessly wandering cows stopping traffic and eating trash. My dreams are filled with colors, heat, and sorrow.

I arrived in Houston on Saturday afternoon, and even though I had felt like it was time for me to leave India, I had not wanted to come home so soon. I feel like I blinked my eyes and 8 months has come and gone. Although some tears escaped after leaving Delhi on my way to London, the feeling of sadness came full force when I arrived in Houston and knew that my time in India truly was finished. It was an absolute surreal experience standing in line waiting to go through customs, because it all looked so foreign to me, although it is the country I belong to and call home. It was strange to find everyone speaking English and not staring at me. As I stood there with my backpack on and a family behind me speaking with more than a hint of a southern twang, I couldn’t help thinking “why did I come back?” Of course I know the answer to that, but I couldn’t help thinking about it. India had beyond doubt forced its way into my heart like sunshine that forces its way through even the slightest cracks of a dark room. I have inevitably and wonderfully come to call India my home, at least one of them.

I actually started tearing up for second… Give me minute.

Okay, I’m good. Well, as good as I will get right now. Being that I have come to stay with my mother for a little while, and she lives in a small Texas town of 300 people, it makes the transition of moving back to the U.S. a bit harder than it would be around friends in Nashville. I will be there soon though, so for now I am just trying to keep busy and relax before going back to Nashville and start working at the restaurant for a while until I find a permanent position elsewhere in the country or world. My first day in Texas, however, proved to have an unknown surprise that would send me into an anxiety-ridden morning. My mother asked me to attend church with her in her small town southern Baptist church that I have attended many times before. I acquiesced even though I was still quite tired from the jetlag, but I did not know what was in store for me.

As I walked into the church, it seemed normal enough, although still a bit surreal being back in the U.S. and all, but as soon as the service began I started to feel a heavy cloud push down on me. After spending a long time in a country with a completely different culture, not to mention a strange and still incomprehensible religion, home seems very different. I have visited many different countries, but India is not just a different country, it is a different world. So anyways, as I sat on the pew near the back of the church that would not comfortably fit 100 people, I looked around and had the worst case of culture shock I have had in my entire life. From all the trips I have taken, and the 20 plus countries I have been to, a small town church in central Texas made me want to laugh, cry, and breath out of a paper bag from unexpected anxiety. Looking around at the people of Industry, Texas, and surrounding areas, I realized what a dissimilar world to which I had returned.

This episode and came and went rather fast, because if there is one thing that I learned in India that will stay with me forever, it’s the ability to get over something and move on. Now that I have been home a few days longer, I have been getting more accustomed to being back, and being in a small town is easier than expected, because lets face it, I lived in a village for 8 months. However, it is very different here and everyday I am reminded by the fact that I have been gone for quite a long time. Not only do I still find myself trying to do things that seem normal in India, such as going to the right side of the car to drive, thinking I need an adapter for every wall plug, seeing cows fenced in, and speaking English to anyone and everyone; but I have found nostalgia around every corner of my new everyday life to remind me of India. Oh India.

After all, traveling is never all bad; even in the worst circumstances, you are able to learn something new. Whether you choose to repeat the time you have spent there depends on the specific experiences one encounters. Traveling only spurs the need to travel more, see more of world, and the cultures that may be different from your own. It is a blessing to be able to have these experiences and get to learn. Living in a different country, especially one so different from your own, is also a great experience and even though it can be hard sometimes, the hard times only make the time spent there more of an unforgettable experience.

Hard Goodbyes

I never knew how hard it could be to say goodbye to people you don’t know if you will ever see again. I have spent eight months here working and living with the people of Chandelao, including my dear host grandmother and host father, and saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

When I left for India, I said goodbye to my life and friends in Nashville and my family in Texas, but I knew I would be back in both places after my time here was through. However, leaving Chandelao is a very difference experience because I don’t know if or when I will every return to this village and see the faces that I saw smile and stare at me every single day for the past eight months. Even though I have been living here for quite some time, and the children all know my name although I have no idea who they belong to, people still stare at me and have not gotten used to me wandering around the village. That seems strange to me, or maybe they have gotten used to me, but still find me an amusing alien to their lands.

Even last week, as Emily and I got on different buses, mine heading towards Jodhpur and hers towards Delhi, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness knowing our time here is over. I had to call her and talk it over with her to realize that although we will find a way to see each in other in the U.S. and stay friends, that our Indian families will no longer be in our lives and the time that we have spent here will stay with us forever. Neither of us wants to leave India, but we both knew it would have to happen.

Saying goodbye at the crafts center was really hard and I thought I would start crying as each of the women lined up to give me a hug the day I was leaving. Before that though, I had already given all the women their bangles and sweets that I had bought them, and had not intended on going to the center again, especially the day that I was leaving. I felt that they didn’t realize that I was actually leaving so soon the first goodbye and they didn’t know what to do. They had given me an embroidered bag, a scarf, and a heart with “From Sunder Rang” on it as a leaving gift, which was sweet of them to do. I said goodbye and left the center feeling a bit sad but since we had just taken a few photos and not hugged or had a proper goodbye, it was bearable. The next day, however, right before the car was leaving, I went to the center to say goodbye where my host grandmother was sitting, and all the women from the center and many more from the village had gathered there to say goodbye to me. I was very touched and after saying goodbye, they all gathered round an each gave me a double-sided hug and gave me snacks and jagery (a traditional celebratory sweet) in order to see me off properly.

I couldn’t help getting a bit choked up when leaving the center. The hardest part came when I had to give a goodbye hug to my host grandmother, Dadisa, and watch she waited next to the car for me to leave. I had my sunglasses on the whole time so no one could see the tears that were forming and slowly dripping from my eyes as I nonchalantly wiped them with my fingers when no one was looking. I am truly sad to have to leave my home here and realize that I will no longer have to hear the booming sounds of Marwari voices and delicate mornings of birds chirping, or pet little Kitty, my lap dog at the hotel, and probably not see some of the faces that I have gotten so used to ever again. I don’t know when or if I will make it back to Chandelao and while my head says yes, my heart is just sad thinking that I won’t.

Now I am in Delhi, abiding my time while I wait for my immanent return to the good ole United States of America. I leave in two days and I still have time to be a tourist here in Delhi since I have not seen any of the touristy sites around the city. However, this just makes it harder to leave because I realize how much of India I have not seen and the extent to which I will miss it when I am gone. I am excited to go home and see friends and family though and those are the thoughts that are keeping me going right now. Grocery stores, fresh vegetables, good beer, and a facial are things that will be in near future after arriving in Houston to find my loving family awaiting my arrival. Loud Marwari women, beautiful and colorful sarees on a stark landscape, the rich culture of Rajasthan, and so, so much more will be what I am leaving behind as the flight attendants ask me to put my seatbelt on and the plane makes its departure from the country that has beaten it’s way into my now unwavering heart.

Things I Learned in India

People travel to India in search of themselves and seeking spiritual enlightenment from the yogis, gurus, sadhus, and Buddha. More and more often women are trying and “Eat, Pray, Love”’ approach to travel as they search for these things while travel to far off lands and India especially. In fact before I left for India, almost every one I told that I was moving here assumed I was searching for an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience. Wrong…

India is a land of rich culture and poverty, spicy food and lack of choices. I came to India in order to help people, and while I was able to do that to some degree, I am leaving an expert in many areas I had no idea I would even encounter. Some things are learned after a certain amount of time spent in India, others are oddly acquired skills or understandings that no one could have warned me about or taught me.

I would say one of the most useful things that I learned was the ability to bargain extremely hard. Being a foreigner living in India, it becomes easy to understand when someone is trying to rip you off and how much the Indian price should be. While sometimes the Indian price is unlikely, hard-core bargaining is the only way to get a fair price being white and foreign. This is where an unattainable skill for most comes into play: fighting back. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my already feisty attitude, but I cannot recount how many times I had to fight with a rickshaw driver, bus driver, or shop keeper who is trying to take advantage of me or my fellow white folk. This just needs to happen sometimes because when they know they can take advantage of the unsuspecting, it will continue to happen, and the fact that I knew how much I should be charged, they got an unwelcomed return to their sleaziness.

I would have to say, in life in general for me, another hugely important aspect to learning to live in India was food and drinking. Delhi Belly continues to be a major fear of travelers to India and while, yes, I have had my fair share of food related illnesses since arriving here, some important lessons and skills have also been learned. First and foremost, eating with one’s hands in India is an essential lesson and skill that must be learned in order to live with an Indian family and enjoy one’s experience to the fullest. This specific technique that can be found in any Indian home has affectionately been dubbed the “food claw” and generally uses three fingers and the thumb to pick up the food with the chapatti (whole wheat flatbread) and shovel it into the mouth. If eating rice, it is more acceptable and easy to use all fingers and pick up the bite of rice and vegetable and while balancing the bite all four fingertips, push the rice with a thumb in order to drop it in the mouth without placing lips on the fingers. Of course a few things that travelers are told not to do can be adapted to after a long period of time spent in India: eating uncooked vegetables, dining at the infamous street vendors, and drinking the local water. All these and more have been attempted and conquered by your truly, much to my dismay on earlier occasions of course. One other thing that cannot be forgotten when it comes to drinking or eating is that when you find a small insect or hair in your food, just pick it out and keep eating; it’s not the end of the world. And when you see someone washing the glass you just had juice or chai out of, what you don’t see doesn’t hurt, and in reality more often than not it is being washed this way whether you like it or not.

Food is not the last thing one must learn to cope with once arriving in India. Everyone has to face more pressing issues when the time arises. A new question for many more Westernized Indians continues to be: hand or toilet paper? This has not gone lost on any Westerner living in India and has been somewhere in a predicament that points to water and a hand since there is no toilet paper in the surrounding areas. I know it’s not pretty, but it’s a fact a life, and this is also why in India is inappropriate to use one’s left had anytime during a meal being that it is traditionally the hand one uses to clean oneself. Now that we are on the subject, another area that has to have some attention is bodily functions and getting used to talking about it with others around you. I mean, if you are sick in India, the doctor is not where you want to go but at a point, it may become necessary for others to know what it happening… It happens to everyone and should not be ashamed of at that point. Also, what someone who rides on public transportation or stand in close confines with the general public will notice is the likelihood of fingers digging in noses all around. This happens because in the desert it is dry and dusty and boogers just get stuck. There is only one way to do that and in public it is necessary and widely accepted to pick your nose.

Communication and timing has been a real problem for me being the typical straightforward, fast paced American. I had high hopes when coming here with plans to change the world, but I had forgotten how different cultures have differing understanding of time and efficiency. At a point, I realized that there was not much point in planning for something to happen at a particular time in a particular way because it won’t happen that way you want it to, so instead, a round about plan is best. After all, something I learned here that is a common sentiment is that “time is not of the essence, there is always tomorrow.” So when something like this happens, not just in India but most of the developing world, do not stress yourself out, it just won’t help. Communication is key in getting things done… But what happens when you can’t even communicate? You go with the flow and become a master at non-verbals and learn the important words to get you by, just like I did.

After all this time in India, and the strange and outlandish things I have learned about and to do, something else has emerged within me: a deep appreciation for the Western world. Being from a Westernized country, I have grown used to having choices in any avenue I feel compelled to desire. This is not the case in India and most non-industrialized Western countries. While, yes, Delhi and Mumbai and a few other cities are rapidly growing to expand their markets in more niche areas, I have not been subject to those niceties and have had to do with what ever is available. That goes for food, shopping, entertainment and more. This just makes me appreciate America and the availability of grocery stores especially but also clean toilets, commonly spoken English, and the availability of anything’s that your little heart desires.

I had thought I would look for a job in another country after this, but I am going to see how I feel once I am home and figure out if I would still like to be abroad for a job or start my career at home in America. These are now the things that will occupy my time once I arrive to the good ole U. S. of A.


Agra… A trashy city, but one of the most visited cities in the entire world. Placed in Agra are the most popular monuments and structures from the Moghul empire that was the ruling class of India from the 1400’s to the 1700’s. The Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are the most popular tourists attractions of this area, and of India in general.

Let me start from the beginning. After a week of freezing our little asses off in Leh, Emily and myself arrived in Delhi to part ways with Radhika and Nibha who were off to their respective homes. However, Emily and I were not off to our home in and around Jodhpur, we were going to make our mark on Indian history by visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra. Not only was that our plan, but also Emily’s brother, Ryan, had arrived the night before in Delhi and we had to pick him up at his hotel on the way to the train station to take us to our destination. This proved more difficult than expected.

After arriving to the station in New Delhi, we easily found our train, being the train-riding veterans that we are, but the problem was that there was a family that was in the same berth that we were assigned to when we got on the train. Well, after sitting down they asked for our ticket and while, yes, they were in the same berth we had been assigned to; our train tickets were booked for the wrong day! Thanks a lot to the travel agent who booked our tickets because the online retail site was not working… But thank the heavens that they were the nicest family and said we could share the berth with them for the 3 plus hour ride to Agra where we departing. It was quite fun as the family shared their snacks with us, and Ryan got his first taste of true Indian hospitality and culture with the family on the train.

After arriving in Agra, the first thing we did was take a cab to Fatehpur Sikri, a city founded by Emperor Akbar in the late 1500’s that was only lived in for 15 years and was abandoned after the emperor died due to lack of water availability. The biggest draw to Fatehpur Sikri for tourists is to see the city but also to see the different homes inside the city walls that were built specifically for each of Akbar’s wives. He had three wives: one Hindu from North India, one Muslim from Turkey, and one Christian from South India. The wives were apparently very important to Akbar and he built each one a specific and decorative home to show his adoration. It was apparent which was his favorite after touring through each of the wives homes… The Hindu wife was given an entire complex ornately decorated with imported turquoise and marble and had a giant courtyard in the middle while the others were given significantly smaller but more intricately decorated homes.

Of course when we decided to see the most visited part of the abandoned city is when the touts started to seek out our attention, most likely because it is the area that does not require a ticket fee and hold the mosque that is still visited by many passerby’s and locals alike. Once inside the area, a man who “claimed” he was not looking for any incentive, decided to talk to us about the area and take us around to the different areas of the mosque and outlying areas. After we walked around, and listened to his most likely only half correct account of the history, he took us to an area that houses an artisan that displayed his work of stone that looked undistinguishable from all the other vendors in the area. Well, our guide said it was his work and that he came from a family of stone workers and that they had personally made all of the products for sale. Yeah right, we know better than that, and after telling him that we did not ask him for his services and refusing his tout for business, we walked our way out of Fatehpur Sikri.

After spending the better part of the day wandering around the amazingly beautiful piece of Moghul architechural history that Fatehpur Sikri is, we made our way back to Agra to check into our hotel, enjoy a rest and cocktail, then make it to dinner for the night. The plan for the next day was to get up at the crack of dawn and make it to the Taj Mahal for when they first opened in order to see it in the soft morning hues that would lightly reflect the violets and saffron orange as the sun slowly rose from the eastern horizon. However, that never happened seeing as how we were so tired and didn’t feel like arising the to the non-existent smell of fresh roasted coffee and crackling bacon. Instead we slept in for a while and decided to wake up when we felt like it which was closer to 9 a.m. After breakfast we then decided it would be time to visit one of the most visited sites in the world.

The Taj Mahal; very impressive but not all it cracked up to be. Granted being able to build an architectural beauty that has no flaws in the building using marble and whitewashed sandstone is an amazing feat in the 1400’s but so are so many of the fort and palaces of Rajasthan… I thought it was an amazing shrine that was built for one person, especially a wife of a Moghul emperor whose society said a woman was not worth more than a child-bearer, but it was not the first or last marvelous building to be seen in India. However, I had a real problem when walking around inside the shrine built for the favorite wife of Emperor whatever when we were cowering in a small hallway from the huge crowd surrounding us and we noticed a defamation of the edifice. Indian teens and youngsters had written all over the walls with “I love so-and-so” and “Me plus Him” and what ever else they decided would be worthy to WRITE and SCRATCH into the walls of a UNESCO and astonishing world heritage site. Why on earth wouldn’t these young people understand the value of the freaking Taj Mahal? That is because most of the people in India are no longer taught the value of beauty and understanding of their culture and are slowly loosing site of whom and what their country once was.

I have found that most Indians feel that what is not theirs does not matter. It is only education that can reverse that into a mentality that will once again restore grandeur and reverence this wonderful country once held. Other than that though, the city itself was one of the worst cities I have visited in the country due to the influx of tourists, which causes people to only care about what they can get from the tourists and not how the experiences are for those people. Agra… Not the best experience in India but definitely a must when visiting this imperial empire of one time.

Julay in Leh!

It has been a while since I have had time to write a blog since I have been running around getting ready for my immanent departure. But due to some down town, some friends and myself ventured to Leh, Ladakh, in Kashmir, India for a little adventure that turned out to be quite a surprise in many ways.
Before setting off from Delhi, where Emily, Radhika, Nibha, and myself all met up a day before setting off on our early morning flight, Emily and I realized that we may or may not have packed appropriately… Considering we had only brought a few warm clothing items to our desert home of Rajasthan, our bags had been filled with our warm weather kurtas and leggings as well as one sweater each and a long sleeve shirt. Well, after check online, we had a rude awakening that it was going to be quite cold still even though the cold months had gone. Both Emily and myself had to borrow some woolen clothes from Radhika’s cousin who graciously allowed us to pack some of her warm clothing.
Finally on our way and awaiting our arrival into the not so thriving metropolis of Leh, we flew over the tops of the Himalayas before landing in the valley that housed the trekking and adventure capital of Ladakh- Leh. Since Leh sits at a height of 11,500 ft. the best option in order to acclimatize was to take it easy and find a guesthouse to rest in for two days before venturing out into the mountains. This proved harder than expected because most of the city’s guesthouses were closed along with the restaurants and shops as well. The cab driver took us to one of the only guesthouses that he knew to be open, which ended up being a gem and we stayed there for five out of the six nights we had in the area. Our new host mother, more so host mother than hotel owner, arrived with chai every morning, afternoon, and evening, and even brought us hot water and bowls every night for our soup. We actually ate packaged soup and bread for dinner every night because there were only a few restaurants open and they would only have one to two dishes available, which usually ended up being matar mushroom (peas and mushrooms…) UGH! That got really tiring, really fast!
Well, after acclimatizing for the first two days and some convincing of a travel agency, the four of us were on our way to Nubra Valley. In order to travel away from Leh and into most areas, one must apply and receive a permit due to the close proximity of China and Tibet. Our trip to Nubra lasted for over 6 hours and was quite eventful for a day full of driving. First off, neither Radhika nor Nibha had ever seen snow before, so while driving up the rocky mountains of the Himalayas we had multiple “ooos” and “ahhs” along with a few pit stops for picture opts. Somewhere around 17,000 feet, we all started to feel the lack of oxygen with a headache and my hands even turned blue at the tips… That was not a fun experience when I thought my hands wouldn’t possibly ever feel the warmth of the Rajasthan desert again. But, alas, that was a false fear, as we all know where I am now.
The drive to Nubra Valley and back were much more about the drive than the destination, even though once we arrived in the small town of Diskit, we enjoyed our night by meeting some double-humped camels in the surprising sand dunes that speckled the terrain in between the giant peaks of the Himalayas. Who would have thought that we would see rocky mountains, snowy peaks, and sand dunes all in the same day? We sure didn’t know what to expect. The next day, the same drive had to be complete to go back through the snowy mountain pass but we managed to fit in two monasteries on the way back. Ladakh is known as “Little Tibet” being that it borders the troubled occupied area of Tibet and has as many Tibetan refugees as it does indigenous peoples. The Buddhism is a unique mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism that originated in Kashmir, was transported to Tibet, and found refuge again in Kashmir after it had been transformed, much like the people of Tibet. Vajrayana Buddhism, with its depictions of Buddhas, Hindu gods, and Bodhisattvas, can seem quite mystical or demonic, and even erotic, when glancing over the murals painted around the monasteries.
After arriving in Leh, we had our normal dinner of soup and bread coupled with a few biscuits (cookies…) bought from the local bakery, we decided the best option was to get a good nights sleep since we would be driving 5 hours to and fro Pangong Lake the next day. And that is exactly what we did. Since the novelty of seeing the snowy paths had worn off the day before as we almost fell to our death multiple times from the icy one-car paths that possessed no guardrails, the drive was quite a lengthy process. I decided to pull the back seats down to lounge on instead of the uncomfortable middle seat in the row before me. This proved to be a decent idea, except for having no leg room, but when we started to slide around, knowing I would not be able to jump out of the car fast enough if we started to slide over the deathly high cliff, really kept it’s firm grip on the tip of my mind. But, finally to the release of my nervousness, we reached Pangong Lake to find it completely frozen over. Thinking that it would be somewhat warm in Ladakh was obviously a joke by this point, due to the frigid winds and frost on the grounds still, but one of the world’s largest lakes was still frozen over! What the hell were we thinking only bringing pull over’s to the Himalayas? Oh well, at this point we made it this far, we could do a few more days. The lake was beautiful even though we didn’t get to see the changing colors in the water that it is known for in the summer, and instead, we all walked on the frozen lake and pretended to skate around for a while.

The trips that we took to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake took almost all of our time in Ladakh, but knowing what we found out in Leh, it was a good thing that we something to occupy our time. Being some of the few tourists in the area had its perks but it also meant that almost nothing and didn’t leave hardly any options for food or shopping. Our last day, however, we managed to find the items that we had been searching for in order to get some shopping done before leaving Ladakh. Personally, the most important buy at that moment in time was a spice that is used in all the homes and restaurants in the area to make extremely spicy chutney when mixed with mint, cumin, and either water or oil. I bought enough to take home and enjoy as well as gift to those spice lovers like myself. The others all bought a few other items that could show the adventure that we had while traveling in a barren area that seemed more like an old Soviet country rather than northern India.
I swear, since arriving in Leh, I thought I entered the Soviet Union… Every grocery was barren except a few items on random shelves, no one was around on a daily basis, every shop and restaurant was boarded up, and when entering an establishment the question we had to ask was “what you have” instead of the opposite when they ask what you want. It was a great trip, but in the end, I think it would be a great spot to travel to in the summer when things are open and the greenery has started to sprout and bring about the vegetables in the gardens so people can once again have fresh meals.

Working Near the End

Now that my time is almost up here in India, the task of completing my work and training the new manager is under way. I am thankful that we have found someone to take my place since I was beginning to lose hope.

The new manager is coming from Jodhpur and is fluent in Hindi and Marwari, which makes her a huge asset in the crafts center, but she also has a background in design. The choice was between two women who have previously worked for a craft project in Jodhpur, one that is hired and another that had sales, computer, and teaching experience. My first opinion was to hire both part-time since they both had skills that would better the crafts center, but the Norwegian donor said “no” and the designer was chosen.

She has just arrived to the village this week and I have been showing her around the center and the village. Her English is not perfect but that is perfectly fine since she is a value to the center. The only concern I have with her English is the proficiency in which she will be able to send emails and continue on the business side of the center. In this case though, I hope and believe that Praduman will be available to help whenever is necessary. The other woman we wanted to hire may be hired for the non-profit that Praduman heads for the village development projects that the interns will be placed with this summer. I don’t think there is a need for short-term summer interns, but with so many coming to Jodhpur this summer, FSD just needed somewhere to put them. I have conversed on the issue with Praduman and recommended the interns being put to use by conducting training sessions in the village for cleanliness of the village and basic health care that may not be presented to the families. We will see how that works out, but I will be gone by that time.

Back to the manager, Reena, I have put together a long list of duties and suppliers so that she can have a hard copy in case I am not around while she is still learning. The hardest part for me was learning where to get materials needed for the center, but being that she is both Indian and a local of Jodhpur, she will not have near a difficult time as I did. The women have taken a liking to her already since her family comes from a small village not far from Chandelao and she speaks the local language. This is important for her so she can establish a relationship with the women before becoming immersed in the manager duties and having to over see them in a superior mode.
At the center, I went through the different products that the women make and together we picked out the products that we felt did not need to be made anymore or were not up to par with the quality that they women should be producing. I have done this before, but they do not seem to understand why I picked out things and would continue to relocate the items in the shop or keep making products that were not quality. I have explained my communication barriers to Reena and told her about the problems that I was not able to effectively communicate to the women and hopefully she will be able to use her skills and common language to better the production and knowledge of the women.

As for the rest of work, I have yet to complete the website that I have been trying to get uploaded since arriving in India. Most of the website is already designed and I have one more page to write about, but the issue has been the non-existent password for the Sunder Rang website domain that had to be found. I received and email from the president of Basecamp with the password on it and have not been able to get on the Norwegian domain page in order to see if the password works. I have just sent it to Sandy, a past volunteer who was here working for 6 weeks, to see if he can upload it from a better internet connection than what I get in the village with my data card. I have also been working on contacting and following up with the buyers from the trade show I attended with Praduman to work on marketing the hotel and get more business. This has been just diligently sending out emails for Praduman to the buyers who expressed interest and make sure to keep the hotel on their minds as they work on the next tourist season to unfold in the fall. Otherwise, most of my work just revolves around getting Reena ready to take over managerial duties for the crafts center.

I am really starting to feel the end of my time here although I still have a few weeks. Earlier on in my time, I would have laughed if someone said I would miss the village and miss India, but now I really don’t want to leave. I love my little life here, although I do want to leave the village. India, and Rajasthan especially, has become my new home and I can’t imagine leaving it so soon. But for now, I am not trying to think of goodbyes, because they will be very hard; I’m sure of it. Emily, my fellow intern, has finished her time up with FSD but is staying a bit longer in the country and I have decided to travel a bit with her since I have yet to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal, which must be done whilst in India. Praduman has expressed that the crafts center might be closed for part of the month since it will get very hot and there will be no orders or sales from tourists. This depends on the new manager as well though, so we will see how the next, and my last, few weeks go.

Great Indian Travel Bazaar

Along with working for an NGO and managing a women’s empowerment crafts center for the past seven months, I have also learned quite a lot about tourism. Not only have I been living at a heritage hotel for this time, but I have also been helping manage the property and help in ways that have enabled me to become quite proficient in the Indian tourism industry.

As a conclusion for my learning process in tourism and my time here at the hotel, I helped my host father prepare and market the property at the Great Indian Travel Bazaar 2012. Being that my background is not in tourism, I had no idea what to expect nor did I expect the trade show to be that big of a deal. But oh was I wrong… After arriving in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan where the show was being held, we went to the auditorium where it was held and saw the monstrosities that other travel companies, hotel groups, and other tourism related business where building. And I am not putting “building” lightly because they actually had carpenters building their booths to resemble Indian architecture. Within ten minutes of arriving, I was already feeling like I should have been more informed and ready for this show that was going to be quite an ordeal.

Since I had no idea what I was doing, the only things I did to prepare for the trade show were print some posters that I designed and made sure everything made it to Jaipur, including Praduman (my host father) and myself. After walking in and seeing the other booths, I was starting to get worried, but it all worked out, and after all, most of the others are large companies and Chandelao Garh (Praduman’s hotel) is a small family run heritage hotel.

Other than the fact that I did almost all the marketing at the show, while Praduman and his son walked around and talked with their fellow Rajput friends, I learned more about the society that I have been living in for the past seven months. My host family, along with the majority of Indians I know, are Rajputs, the warrior caste. I have noticed some camaraderie between the Rajput men and families that I encounter, but the trade show shone a whole new light on the degree of connection that the Rajput society holds to one another. As I walked around the trade show and the events that coincided, Praduman and Veer, his son, were constantly finding someone they knew. At first, I was confused, but then it dawned on me why they knew everyone. The Rajputs were at one time the ruling caste of India and they continue to hold on to the palaces and forts that have been converted into heritage hotels and other tourist destinations. It all started to come together after that, and what a Rajput-fest the trade show ended up being. I can’t recall how many people I was introduced to with the last name Singh or Rathore (the prominent Rajput surnames).

On the first day, the realization came to me about the Rajput society being so tight knit due to them all being the landowners from before India gained Independence. This happened as Praduman and myself were invited to lunch at the Ashok Club which was a colonial style gentlemen’s club close to the auditorium where the trade show was being held. Well, if it was awkward enough being the only female and the only white person in the entire establishment, no one would even bother talking to me. That is the problem with Rajput men, once they get around each other, women are forgotten about and it’s all about the men. In their society, the men and women are separated in many situations and carry on the strictest gender separating traditions here in India. While the Rajputs tend to be the most educated because of being the wealthiest not too long ago, they also tend to be the most chauvinistic.

Even though I have gotten used to being ignored around Indian men, because I am put in the situation quite often at the hotel, it still annoys me very much. However, I have been able to see a part of society that women in India are not generally privy to such as the men’s club, socialization between men, and being allowed to drink alcohol if I want. I call this the “Golden Ticket.” It has gotten the gals and myself quite a few things that are not common for Indian women to receive. It is a curse and a blessing. Sometimes it is good because the people around you accept you and allow you to see a part of society that Indian women are not allowed to be involved in, while other times it is a burden because people can be quite demanding of fair-skinned foreigners and treat them badly because they are assumed to be tourists.

Anyways, back to the GITB travel show. I believe we were able to market the hotel quite well and there were many foreign “buyers” that seemed very interested in using Chandelao Garh as a property for their tours and travelers. Even though our booth seemed to be the most modest of those around us, many people still made it a point to contact the hotel in the past week. I suppose my marketing skills are better than my decorating skills. I have learned that at least.

My last thought on the matter though was that there was so much paper being wasted. I don’t understand why people (mainly Indians) had to go around and literally take every single brochure and business card off of every table. I assume the foreigners were not taking as much because they all had to travel afterward. But come on, doesn’t anyone see the amount of trash around the country right now and realize that they are just going to end up throwing away all of those brochures? It was just very, very frustrating. It is going to take a long time and a lot of education for people in developing and underdeveloped countries to understand how to cut down on trash and for their governments to take the initiative to establish ways of cutting it down. After all, the U.S. and Europe are just now realizing the need for these movements.

Solar Powered and Improving Village Life

So the past week has been very busy and at the moment I am writing from Jaipur where I have traveled with my host father/supervisor in order to attend a tourism trade show. I will update on that after it is over, but for now I am going to write about the news from the village in the past week.

The most exciting thing that has happened in a while is that the hotel has been equipped with solar power for all electric uses except for the AC. This is such a great improvement for the hotel since it usually has to use a generator in order to have any power between the hours of 10 am and 8 pm. This was starting to get quite unbearable as the temperatures were starting to rise in the upper 90’s or reaching above 100 in some afternoons. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference it the daytime since I sit outside in the crafts center, but as soon as I get done with work, my room is scorching hot and there is nowhere to relieve myself from the heat. I understand this is a part of village living and there is nothing I can do about it, nor should I complain, but it really is nice to be able to sit under a fan after sweating all day long outside.

Now that there is solar electricity powering the hotel though, I am able to retreat to my room and enjoy a few minutes after work drying off from midday heat. That is exactly what I do as well. I literally have to dry off under the fan before I feel I can pull myself together enough to do anything outside of pouring a bucket of cold water on my body. I end up trying to do that sometimes, but it never works out because the water has always been solar heated so in the afternoon it is scorching hot as well. The solar electricity now makes life a lot easier for everyone and it is not only environmentally conscious but it also saves the hotel money so they don’t have to run the generator when guests are at the hotel.

Another exciting thing for the village, separate from the solar electricity that was established for the hotel, but still along the same lines, is that there are three more women in training to become solar engineers for the village. In Tilonia, a village close to Ajmer in Rajasthan, there is a non-profit called Barefoot College, where they train rural women from all over the world how to be solar engineer on basic equipment that can be set up in the rural villages. Previously, there had been two women already trained but the Barefoot College said in order to supply the equipment for the solar lights in the village there had to be more women trained. This proved very difficult and took almost 6 months to supply more women to attend the seminar. The classes are for 6 months and they are required to stay at Barefoot College for that time. In the village, women are not allowed out without men or if they are it is for very short times, like less than a day. So getting men to allow their wives or daughters, wives are a better choice because they are staying in the village, it is near to impossible to persuade them. After much time and effort, 3 more women are being trained though and shortly after they return, the solar equipment should be delivered and installed for the homes in the village to secure solar lighting as well.

On a different subject, and for me just as exciting, I believe we have found the manager for the center, well managers. There are two women from a women’s empowerment project in Jodhpur who have expressed interest in joining Sunder Rang as manager. They have different expertise but would be both be assets to the project since one is a teacher with sales background and the other is a designer with a degree in fashion design and craft making. We have asked them to both work part time as managers for the center and work together on different areas of the project. I hope this works out and it happens before I leave because I would love to be able to train someone before my time is completed.

The other night was quite exciting for both my fellow intern, Emily, and myself. Her time as an intern has come to an end and her brother is visiting her from the U.S. We had been invited to a wedding of her host mother’s cousin and decided it would be fun to take her brother along to experience a Rajput wedding. First, I should explain the dynamics at a Rajput wedding. Rajputs are a caste here in India that consist of the upper echelons of society whose ancestors and parents were the ruling class of India before the Independence of India was established. The Maharajas and rulers were almost always Rajputs and both Emily’s host family as well as mine are both Rajput families as well. So, at a Rajput wedding there is screen set up and the men and women are strictly separated so that the men can drink and be merry and the women have to sit around in the women’s area or house and get the bride ready or perform the ceremonies. Let me just say, being in the women’s side gets really, really boring after a while.

Well, the bride-groom was entering the wedding festivities on an elephant on this particular occasion- it is always a horse or an elephant at Indian weddings- and all the weddings I have been to in India so far all had the groom entering on a horse. It was quite funny when the groom had to dethrone from the elephant because it was too large to fit through the traditional gate that is built in front of all wedding parties. Anyways, after the groom entered the women’s home, he was being prepared for the ceremonies while the elephant was being fed bananas and jagori, a traditional sweet here in India. I was able to feed the elephant and stuck my hand to its mouth to throw the food in when it engulfed my hand inside its mouth in order to take the food before I could toss it in. I quickly pulled it out but the mouth was not at all like you might expect. As I saw the mouth before feeding it, I was remarking how narrow the mouth was, much like that of a fish, and as the beast chomped down on my hand to discover the food, I was equally surprised to not encounter any teeth in my short experience inside the elephants mouth. I am sure without a doubt the teeth are definitely in there, but as the beast took my hand in its mouth, it made sure to not knick me or take a bite of unnecessary skin.

The feeding was an experience, but the real fun came when everyone was crowding inside to watch the groom be prepared by the priest for the ceremonies. Emily and I decided to go pet the elephant that was being led back to the truck that it was driven to the destination in. As soon as we got there, and the elephant was starting to search me for more food with it’s trunk, the mahout- elephant driver- told us to climb up for a ride! Um… OKAY! So in the sarees that we were wearing, we climbed up a rickety ladder to the top of the elephant and sat in the howdah as the elephant was led around the area for a few minutes. It was a blast although it didn’t last long enough and neither one of us had brought a camera that night, so we ended up without any pictures of us riding the wedding elephant. Oh well, there is always next time…

Donor Development

This past weekend, the major donor of the large-scale projects, that had been done and are in progress, came to check up on the projects. Coming with her was a famous photographer and a journalist of a high-living magazine in Norway, where they are all from. When I first met the group, I was surprised at how unfriendly they seemed and did not care to include me so I took the hint and left shortly after eating my lunch. As the time went on, the conversations began to close in on the social projects in the village and the Sunder Rang crafts center that she initially supported. The conversations were unfortunately unsuccessful in the sense of development and ended up being more about what she wanted done in the village rather than how things should be done.

Her favorite line in the duration of her visit was “I am not paying for it to be done that way, so I will just stop giving money.” Donor development tends to be the hardest and most unsuccessful development because in most cases the donor feels it is about how to do things their way instead of realizing the culture and actually spending the time to develop relationships and understand the mentality of the people. After one day in the village, the donor and the journalist came to the crafts center for one hour then visited a few homes of the women who are working there, after which they seemed to have a more thorough understanding of the village than I do after living here for 6 months. Not really, just exaggerating, but the donor then started telling both my supervisor and myself the way things should be ran. Other than her thoughts, through a translator, she told the women they could have a raise, which was then refuted by my supervisor, so tomorrow when I pay the women I have a strong feeling I will be getting an earful on how they did not make enough money. Oh the woes of managing a crafts center when I cannot speak the local language…

The donor did go shopping to the block printer with my supervisor and myself in order to buy more material for the center. This was very generous indeed, except that we only use regular cotton block print to make bags and garments so when she spent nearly $1000 on silk sarees and asked me to cut them up to make something out of them, I nearly fell on the floor. Some of the most beautiful sarees were bought and I have tagged them today with how much each costs and will let the impending manager know what they are for and where they came from. I just can’t muster up the courage to cut up a beautifully hand-painted or silk saree and make a shirt or bag out of it. Maybe the next person can.

The good and promising time came with the president of Basecamp Foundation, the NGO that opened the project and supports the social projects in Chandelao. As someone who has been in development organizations for many, many years now, we had quite a lot to talk about and agreed on many opinions that come to play in the developing world. Per the donor, he said that she gave a large sum of money and that is it, she is not the person who can say exactly how to use it, because the culturally respectful and sustainability could get compromised. Of course this is what both Praduman and myself where trying to explain to her and knew to be true, but it was too difficult to change her mind.

The president has assured me that before I leave he will help me get a hold of the login and password for the Sunder Rang website that I have been emailing about for nearly 6 months now. That would be a huge feat considering it was the first task on my to do list for Sunder Rang and it has yet to get done since the password and login seem to be lost. The website is almost completed on a site for building webpages but I am just hoping to be able to upload it before I leave India.

Other than that, the Basecamp president said he would love to talk with me about coming to Kenya and working with their major project there and helping to combine the two Basecamp projects smoothly. This is an idea, but I am unsure if he is offering a job or an unpaid volunteer position… Because after this, the goal is to find a paid position somewhere in the wide world of development or development consultiThis past week has been a bit hectic since both the major donor for the project and the president of the foundation were both visiting Chandelao Village at different times. I figured this would be a great time to charm the bosses and let them know of the few problems that have yet to be solved… This turned out to be both difficult and prong.

Day By Day

Living in a rural village in Rajasthan, India can be rewarding as well as monotonous. Most days tend to be the same without any change of scenery. That being said, I don’t know where all my time goes. I came here with a list of things that have been on my bucket list to get done, and none of them have happened.
I knew I would have an expansive amount of time once I got settled into my life in Chandelao Village, and because of that, I thought I would have all the time in the world to do things like write a book and write a script to pitch for a TV series, both things I would like to mark off my bucket list. However, I have not started either of these tasks and have not even been as diligent about writing my blogs as I started out doing when I arrived.

At first, the time seemed to consume me and I would spend most of my off time conversing with the tourists who were trickling in from around the world. I enjoyed this very much at the beginning and I was as interested in them and their cultures as they were about me and why I am living in the village. I also had not become good friends with the other interns since I hardly saw them, so I had no reason to go to Jodhpur on the weekends unless I had to go shopping for the crafts center or myself. That soon changed and after a few months; I was close with the other interns and wanted to escape to the city on the weekends for a day away from the village, and I could only talk to tourists for a certain amount of time without getting burnt out.
That time has changed and now while I still act very personable during dinner and at the center when guests come by to visit, I have grown tired of explaining the center to guests and what I am doing here. It is just very monotonous and I have gotten tired of saying the same thing over and over again. Now my daily routine is the same on most working days:
• Wake up and read or do Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation yoga) and emerge from my room around 9 to 9:30.
• Once I have dressed and prepared myself for the daily routine, I make it to the kitchen or dining area and eat breakfast by myself, unless there are late rising guests.
• At 10 o’clock everyday I go to work at the center until 4:00 with a one-hour lunch break at 1:00 for everyone.
• After 4, I used to go for runs, but now that it is getting hot, I end up reading for an hour then exercising in my room for another hour afterward.
• By 6:30 or so I come out of my room and either read or chat with guests if they are English speaking until dinner at 7:30 or 8:00.
• Once dinner has commenced and the talking has come to a standstill, I usually go to my room and finish some pending work or read, unless that night I have a call on Skype or my phone.
This is the normal day for me, and I have no idea where the time has gone. I would have thought for sure that at some point or another I would have time to just sit down and start writing things that seemed important at one point or another. The fact is that I work most of the time and even when I am not working at the center I end up helping with managerial duties at the hotel in which I live.
The end of this week and the upcoming week will be very busy though because the initial donor and funding organization are both due to visit the village to check up on projects and see the return of their contributions. This is actually good news for me since I have been trying to get a hold of them since coming here to Chandelao to help with setting up the website and have yet to receive and help. I will be able to express the need and desire for the center to have an updated website to feature the project and it’s products. It is quite difficult to get anything done when the project is somewhat forgotten about and my supervisors are based in Kenya working for a Norwegian organization. Hopefully by this time next week I will be updating the website- something I have trying to since week one of my time in Chandelao