Author Archives: Anna Ralston

It’s The Final Countdown

1 week left. In exactly 1 week, I will be back on American soil. I can’t believe these 3 months have flown by so fast. I have learned an incredible amount and my mind might explode if I try to comprehend anymore. I feel like it’s the week before exams and I have been taking 20 credits of 500 level philosophy and gender studies courses. I have always enjoyed writing essays for exams but have really re-kindled a love for writing, especially on socially, controversial topics. I love hearing everyone’s thoughts even there are many disagreements because their arguments also steam from an experience or up bringing. I have added it onto my life bucket list to ‘have something published.’ It may be an article, a short story or research findings but most likely it could be about these sensitive topics of education, arranged marriage or gender differences.

This past week we had some time for holiday since it was Holi so I became even more cultured on many subjects. I have taken a western religions class but this week was my eastern religions class. Most conversations had, were centered around Hindu traditions and the stories behind every ritual or festival. Next were discussions about the origins of Buddhism. I got the chance to visit Bodgaya where the tree is, that’s said where Buddha received his enlightenment. Next came discussions on Islam. Two of my friends’ fellows joined for a boat ride on the Ganges and evening snacks. One is very passionate about his being a Muslim and will share his beliefs with anybody so we challenged him on the importance of religion and why Islam? In Patna there is a big population of both Muslims and Hindus so it makes for an interesting society. It used to be very dangerous in that area but in the past 5 years it has really settled down and progressed. The danger isn’t due to a war on religion but rather a competitvity for land and resources. Bihar is one of the oldest civilizations in the entire world so there are many, many people living there and everyone is fighting for their space and basic needs. The normal human being isn’t born a thief but rather it’s in times of need or desire where the mind set changes. This leads into another point of national pride and hope in the human race. Indians have so much national pride often displaying the flag, being honored to join scouts and guards and often singing the national anthem very proudly with fists at each side. However, the people don’t have hope in their own kind. Yes, it all stems from a history and experiences but still there is something missing. When I was headed off to travel everyone was very, very worried about me. Understandable that I am a white, American girl traveling in India but I had my mobile and steady head on my shoulders with vast travel experience packed along. As they would give my travel tips I would already have that knowledge plus more to add on to it. I’ve done my research and made sure I knew what I was getting in to. I didn’t run into even one problem in my 11 days of traveling. I found everyone only the kindest and most helpful along the way. Most people speak English so I could ask questions if I had any.

During my travels I got to experience many wonderful things! There’s an instant connection when traveling as a foreigner with other foreigners. There are perks such as special fast lines and tickets while at the same time the locals try and rip you off. For those of us who have been living here for a while we can read the scammers and smell a rotten deal from a mile away. Needless to say it was great meeting other travelers and crazies off exploring the world just like me.

Celebrating Holi

Celebrating Holi on the rooftop

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Everyone enjoying the day and staying safe from the colors up above

Sitting on the banks of the the Ganges

The banks of the the Ganges in Patna

80 ft. tall Buddha

80 ft. tall Buddha in Bodgaya

The tree where it's said, Buddha received is enlightenment

The tree where it’s said, Buddha received is enlightenment

The gate before entering into the Taj Mahal

The gate before entering into the Taj Mahal

No explanation needed

No explanation needed.

Outside the main Agra station

Outside the main Agra station

My holiday was wonderful but now I am ready to enter my last week with full force moving forward. I have hit that spot where I am excited to go home yet just finally am feeling the breakthrough in the culture, with the people and at work. I am constantly looking to expand my mind and learn more about life happening around me. As much as this was a vacation it was more of also a learning experience, about myself and how I handle different situations.

My time here in India has been nothing under amazing. I have been living once in a lifetime experiences and meeting the most amazing people. After 3 months of living here, everyday things still happen where I simply must smile and laugh. Living in India is a day to day learning experience and the only thing that gets you through is an open and flexible mind and a sense of humor. I am thankful to everyone who has taken me and made me a part of their family for they made my time here so special. Who knows where the wind will lead me next but as for now it’s back to America. Back to Oregon. Back to Portland, my good ol’ stomping grounds. The final countdown, of my last days here in India has begun so I’m making it count. Next time I write it will be from back in the USA. ~Anna

“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.”  ~ Elizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love

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Unexpected Journeys

Coming to India, I prepped myself for many things going wrong: probably losing my luggage, my bank card not working, getting terribly sick (like everyone does) or at least something small. Up until now, I had it free sailing and without problems. My ISAC (India Study Abroad Center) boss came to visit for a few days so that was great. We were counting weeks and days until I left and realized that the number of weeks from start to departure flight was 13 weeks, we had on record only 12 weeks and that’s what I had paid for. My IE3 coordinator, ISAC boss and I had all missed this somehow. An extra large sum of money was needed to stay until my departure flight  so the next step was to find an alternative. We weighed all my options and decided it was best to move up my departure date. 6 weeks sounds like, “Cool, I’ve got some time here still.” But, 5 weeks is like “I’m leaving so soon!” Now comes the realization to truly cherish every moment here and take it all in.

Part of enjoying all these little moments are my morning runs. At first, I was nervous to go running because it’s just not something you see here. Everyone reassured me it was fine, and besides, it was just another silly thing the foreigner in town does. Running gives me time to not have to think about what somebody is saying to me in a different language or what kind of custom I am breaking. I go at 7am before the sun gets too hot so it’s just me, my running shoes and the pavement (and the peacocks/parrots). Lately, it’s turned into the original Olympic Marathon. As I run through the villages, people cheer and barefooted children run alongside or try to race. It’s always a challenge dodging cows, herds of dogs, the huge vegetable carts or the zooming motorcycles. One thing I find very funny is that for about 1/4 of a mile of the road, there is a cobblestone sidewalk. Normally, I associate cobblestone streets with my city in Germany or parts of Europe, but they use bricks for many things here so, I guess why not? Right?!

I’m glad that through my weird and foreign ways I bring joy and laughs to those around me. My manager always says that I am so expressive and passionate about things. #1. I find that Americans are generally more expressive through emotions and body language than Indians and #2. My personality is more outgoing than most Americans so it’s like a double dose of excitement over here.

These are the faithful students while everyone else was at the fair

These were the few faithful students while everyone else was at the fair

In a Team Balika Training, this girl next to me is already planing to gain political power, and is well on her way. What a girl!

In a Team Balika Training. The girl standing next to me is already planing to gain political power, and is well on her way. What a girl!

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Some are just too precious

The street to main market

One of the main streets into market

Even though I’m headed home a week earlier than expected, I’m glad everything worked out and if that’s the worst of my troubles, I’ll take it! In a month, I’m headed back and I’m excited to get back to real life but I still have lots to do here ie. vacation and meet a few more little smiling faces. ~ Anna

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Laozi

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Keep Rollin’ With The Tides

Officially crossed that mid-time marker and what a journey it’s been. I like to think I’m well established here and know how to get around and navigate the back alleys which are streets and the bustling traffic along the high way of huge trucks constantly honking and motorcycles swerving in and out. I know what to order and what and how to eat properly. I’m in a way a baby to life, having to re-learn all my basic skills along with language. Overall it’s great though.

This past week I got a new, lovely experience. Teacher’s are always looking for ways to improve the class and move forward in the styles of teaching. Having Educate Girls facilitate the training, the focus is really about teaching through play. I taught them a few English songs, with correlating hand motions, about the body parts and days of the week. They were very excited to teach them to their students.

At trainings, teachers are always very excited to talk to discuss the American school system. The want to know about a teacher’s salary and if they work in higher education if they’ll get paid more. The most surprising fact I tell them is that Doctor’s are more well respected and paid way more than teacher’s. This appalling to them and hard to believe.

From being at Western and chatting with almost everybody who walks by to knowing about 2% of what’s being said, it opens up alot of time to think and ponder life.  I have much time to observe everything and everyone going on around me. This has helped in discovering more about myself and the culture around me.

This is the equivalent of Hwy 99

This is the equivalent of Hwy 99

The God of Education with song prayers written on both sides

The God of Education with song prayers written on both sides

My favorite Master Trainer's granddaughter, her name is also Annie

My favorite Master Trainer’s granddaughter, her name is also Annie

With every passing week,  I realize more goals and dreams I have. I came to India in hope to find where my true passions lie and to test out others. I am happy to say I have realized alot about myself and in which direction I want my future to go. I have learned to channel all my passions into one collaborative group but it has been discovered. With great peace and metta ~ Anna

″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

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Shattered Preceptions

One month down, two more to go! Any thoughts I’ve had about this wonderfully, diverse country have all been challenged, changed, redirected and shattered. I knew the western perspective had some misconceptions about India but I’m now realizing just how many. This week I had the chance to get to know two girls who came from Mumbai who just joined as part of the communications team. We spoke on many things together regarding Indian traditions, customs and the not so simple ways of life. From an outsider’s view women staying at home and working; cooking and cleaning and watching after the children is simple. Yes, the acts in and of itself may be simple but take a deeper look and there are many rules and customs to abide by. For example, when there are two bothers the oldest brother and the youngest brother’s wife aren’t allowed to have a relationship, at all. They can’t talk or see each other. When he enters the house he either coughs or calls to someone in order to warn her of his entrance so she’ll leave the room. In family pictures he’ll stand in the back and she’ll be brought in at the end, veiled and be ushered out first thing. The reason for this is to keep order in the joint family. If they don’t have a relationship it’s easier to give and take orders.

I have learned so incredibly much through these wonderful ladies and through conducting interviews with Team Balika members. This week I got to visit a couple more schools where the students adorably sang and danced for us and went to a temple opening festival. At the festival, was mass amounts of food for the whole village to be fed but still there were dividers set up for the division of the different castes to eat behind. In some ways there is so much progress and in other areas the old traditions have such a tight hold still. Traditions are great in order to not lose the base culture but some traditions are very harsh in discrimination and dividing the people.

Chatting with the leader of the village at the temple ceremony

Chatting with the leader of the village at the temple ceremony

Happy face waving goodbye

Happy faces waving goodbye at a girl’s hostel

The quote on the bottom says, "Woman today don't know how to pray but the speak English." We pulled him over because are proud of this fact!

The quote on the bottom says, “Woman today don’t know how to pray but the speak English.” We pulled him over because are proud of this fact!

The more people I meet, the more my mind is filled with knowledge and history. Watching the young girls in the hostel sing and dance, with an extra shimmer in their eyes because they don’t have to go back to a home where they may have to work lots or abuse takes place was remarkable. Hearing them giggle and call after me “Didi, Didi,” (Big Sister) is why I’m here; to help make this whole world attainable to them. If Educate Girls can enroll just one more girl or convince one more father to let his daughter study past the age of 15 then our work here is done. Fighting for the cause. ~Anna

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Pure Joy and Hair Flying

Meetings, meetings and more meetings. Not only is it the end of the month so monthly review and planning was happening but the District Manager from Pali came down to discuss the past years goals and set new targets. 7-hour meetings ended up in passing notes and drawing pictures in our notebooks so I could understand the discussion. Amongst the discussions were things such as proper drinking, separate restrooms or electricity in the schools. It’s times like these where I find myself just listening and realizing this is still truly an issue.

This week we also said goodbye to our friend and co-worker as she is taking another position up in Pali. One tradition that’s held at going away parties is you feed each other cake, just like at a wedding. Everyone took turns feeding and receiving cake from our departing one. So many fun traditions I’m constantly being exposed to and learning about.

IMG_0268 Big City!!!!! I took my first vacation to Udaipur this weekend, also known as the City of Lakes, which is about 2.5 hours by bus. Often it’s called “The Venice of the East” since everything’s built around the lakes and canals. During the day it’s bustling with tourists and making their way around to the gorgeous temples, the City Palace, nature reserves and markets. There are structures in the middle of the lake you can boat out to and just sit and relax. At night the city is illuminated by colors on the hills, immaculate hotel lights and the little structures along the lake side with changing colors. One of my good friend’s fellows lives near by so he came to hang out for Sunday. We went for lunch at this wonderful restaurant where two different sets of tourists came in. They would look at me sitting with two Indians, wearing a Kurta and just look so puzzled. One couple flipped through an ‘Indian Lonley Planet’ guidebook as they ate. I laughed to myself for I felt like this time, I was the tourist! So great!

During the day it was hilarious to watch other foreign tourists’ reactions as we drove by on the fellows motorcycle. I can only imagine their thoughts, “Oh no! A foreign girl on the back of an Indian man’s motorcycle I hope she’s okay,” or other foreign couples would stare as they wondered around trying to navigate or hoping their rickshaw was headed in the right direction.  It’s been a dream of mine to ride one and with pure joy and hair flying that dream was fulfilled. That night I also had some cold coffee that tasted just like my caramel frappaccinos, ahhhh!!!! :D How lovely it was to get a little break and …. to see foreigners! One sight I will ever forget was a party in the slums. As we drove past the small houses and tents you could hear music playing and cheering. A break in the hut’s walls revealed many, many children gathered around an orange glow from a fire and two children dancing their little hearts out on a stage. What a cool sight to be seen. I’m going to try and paint it so I never forget that moment.

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The lake view of the city

The lake view of the city

Curry and Chocolate Banana Pancakes!

Curry and Chocolate Banana Pancakes!

At Jagdish Temple in Udaipur

At Jagdish Temple in Udaipur

With certain hotels not allowing foreigners, little begging children and the incredible beauty of the lakes and palaces, this city had it all. I’m excited to go back and explore more later.  Essentially I am here for work though, so back to the grind. ~Anna

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” -Seneca

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Calling All Paparazzi, We’ve Found Some Lucky Blues!

Week two interning with Educate Girls was much less busy but I have still learned just as much. My task for the week was to develop an English teaching model that will start at the beginner level and progress through more advanced lessons. I’ll continue to develop it during my time here and eventually be able to use it on Team Balika volunteers. I have also started English lessons with our Communication’s Officer, Meena. Her English is already very good, so week one was finding what needs help yet and reviewing the basics of grammar.

My other task for the week was to paint signs and posters that we used for the Republic Day parade that took place on Sunday, January 26th. Educate Girls was involved in a rally and to present during the big parade that happened in the afternoon on Republic Day. On Saturday we all worked into the night painting, working out costumes and reviewing dance steps. Having a vast dance background, I was excited to get my first official lessons in bollywood dance. I had 20 plus people stay at the guest house with me Saturday night and we all were awake by 6:30am getting ready for the parade.

The Parade was alot of fun but at the same time very overwhelming. I now know what it’s like to be Justin Timberlake or Kate Middleton being bombarded by paparazzi. There was  constantly a camera on me even if I was simply standing there doing absolutely nothing. A friend was pretending to interview me about the situation and instantly a swarm of 30+ people surrounded me. I was ushered out of the circle by another friend. Another time my director had to step in and help usher the people away. So, I have my own body guards. They all tell me that only the luckiest people are blessed with blue eyes (Sweden must be on whole different level then). ;) The experience was great and all the hard work paid off for we won FIRST out of all the floats and displays in Sirohi.

There's a popular cereal that's called "foreign bride" in Hindi. This was my name for the night.

There’s a popular cereal that’s called “foreign bride” in Hindi. This was my name for the night.

EG's display for the parade

EG’s display for the parade filled with dancers, posters and Team Balika following behind

Educate Girls Wins First!

Educate Girls Wins First!

Akanksha and I with our trophy. The master behind the whole plan.

Akanksha and I with our trophy. The master behind the whole plan.

This week was filled with learning more about Indian traditions and customs. From getting to experience a wedding processional through the city with the groom on a horse, to the parade and various costumes and regional dress my mind has once again been filled with wonderful, first hand knowledge and experiences. Constantly living, learning and living that lucky, superstar lifestyle! ~Anna

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” ~Mark Twain
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Camels and Elephants and Monkeys, Oh my!

What a whirl wind of a first week. Sirohi has greeted me already with exotic animal sightings, festivals, parades, field visits and teacher’s trainings. I have already been involved in so many things and I have been here only one week. My week has been filled with getting to know colleagues, the town and simply how to live. It’s a whole new way of living from customs, food and how to get around. I have 3 meals a day prepared for me and my room cleaned by my caretaker.  I am interning with a Non-Government Organization called Educate Girls. They strive to bridge the gender gap in education and learning. They have created a structure of teaching called the Creative Learning Technique that introduces Math, Hindi and English is a way of hands-on learning using flash cards, charts and the like. It is a 15 minute walk to work in the morning but it’s acceptable to show up between 9:30 and 10:00am. Time is not of true importance for this relaxed lifestyle. It’s quiet nice to not be rushed and ruled by the ticking hands of a clock.

This week I went on a field visit to a school in Pindwara and got to see CLT in action. That afternoon we visited a small begger community to continue in the negotiation of sending their girls to school. Since the daughter’s are already engaged (even at age 6) the father’s see no need in educating the girls.We have a long ways to go in the relationship but progress has already been had. I also got the chance to attend 3 days of teacher’s training. The trainings were required by government and were put on by Educate Girls in order to introduce CLT in the schools. On the third day I found myself sitting in the middle of the circle at lunch time and being peppered with questions about American culture and the education system. It turned into a time of singing and dancing even though I had no idea what I was doing. They brought me candies and sweets to enjoy while in the meeting, they knew the way straight to my heart.

The parades were amazing. 3 festivals of different religions fell on the same day and it stayed peaceful amidst the pride.

The parades were amazing. 3 festivals of different religions fell on the same day and it stayed peaceful amidst the pride.

Mid-day meal at the school where I got to engage in some very good discussion with teachers

Mid-day meal at the school where I got to engage in some very good discussion with teachers

The teachers also wanted their picture taken :)

The teachers also wanted their picture taken :)

Meeta, a Team Balika member, engaging in the Creative Learning Technique with young students

Meeta, a Team Balika member, engaging in the Creative Learning Technique with young students

Each village gets to choose their own slogan with Educate Girls

Each village gets to choose their own slogan with Educate Girls. This is the EG symbol.

Teacher's training with the best Master trainer in the world

Teacher’s training with the best Master trainer in the world

This is my guest house where I have it all to myself!

This is my guest house where I have it all to myself!

My companions at the guest house

My companions at the guest house

My first day at the office this guy was working right outside

My first day at the office this guy was working right outside

What a welcome to India, I couldn’t have asked for a better first week of my internship! Packed with excitement and joy, amazing food and people, unusual wild animals and sights but this is my life now and I choose to embrace it. ~Anna

“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgivness, selfishness and fears.” ~Ceaser Pavese

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Houston, the plane has landed

Safe and Sound. Finally to the guest house after a very long but successful journey! My itinerary consisted of some pretty long flights doubled with being bused around the airport having no idea what’s happening, but moved along with the flow of everyone else. When I saw my baggage come through in Udaipur my heart was at ease and I was left with just one hurdle to jump, finding my contact in the crowd of people who was supposed to be wearing a yellow shirt. I walked out the main doors and standing there was my India Study Abroad Center Contact and the director of my internship site. We handed me a goodie bag and we were off!

At that moment started my introduction into India with the famous driving/ road situation. Zooming along were huge trucks painted with little tunes for horns that are constantly playing, autotrickshaws piled with people to the point they are sitting on top and hanging off the back, motorcycles and taxis swerving in and out of traffic and then add in the stream of camels walking along the highway. It’s the biggest game of “chicken” you’d ever seen and the bigger car doesn’t always win.

The market in town where all the shopping is done

The market in town where all the shopping is done

The top word says, Sirohi. That's where I was standing. It made me giggle :)

The top word says, Sirohi. That’s where I was standing. It made me giggle :)

Learning to navigate through lots of people and cows crowding the market

Learning to navigate through lots of people and cows crowding the market

It’s already a lovely place and my guest house is wonderful. Today many people already came by the guesthouse to meet me. Tomorrow morning I start off to my first day of work with Educate girls. Thankfully my ISAC contact is still here with me so I don’t get lost walking to work. Goodnight for now and till next time!

Open minds and open hearts make room for growth and change. Striving to live by this day to day. ~Anna

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”~Gandhi

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I’m leavin’ on a jet plane!

Tomorrow I take off for an adventure of a lifetime. I will be interning with an organization called Educate Girls for three months in Sirohi, Rajasthan, India. I’m told that I will be shadowing the director for the first couple weeks and then moving on from there. Starting with behind the scenes and then looking at the front side of the organization will give me a better idea how NGO’s function and are stabilized. I don’t truly know what’s in store and it will probably all change once I get there so I will have an open mind and am excited to simply just be there. My travel time is about 32 hours arriving in Udaipur at 6am then a 3 hour car ride to my guest house and start work and 9am the next morning. I am staying up all night tonight in hopes to sleep the entire time on the plane so the time goes by faster. The past 3 months have been spent in great anticipation for this moment and in the morning I head out. I am told I’ll have WIFI and all my meals prepared for me.  This does not sound like the stereotypical India everyone thinks about. Preconceived notions can’t be helped so I’m excited to see how these compare and to break down others. I know only very basic phrases in Hindi so this will be a fun adventure to communicate in everyday life. I studied abroad in Germany last year but I was there solely for the purpose of increasing my German language skills. Although this isn’t my first time abroad or traveling on my own, there are naturally butterflies in my stomach and I can’t wait to just get there already. Enough for now and next time I write will be from wonderful India!

Sirohi is in southern Rajasthan closer to the border of Gujarat. Rajasthan is also one of the most touristy areas of India. Famous for the great desert in Jaisalmer where you can ride camels, the lake palaces of Udaipur or the mountain range containing Mt. Abu.

My Bucket List for India:

~Ride a Camel
~Ride an Elephant
~Be involved in a festival
~Attend a wedding
~Learn enough Hindi to engage in small talk
~Master the art of not using utensils
~Learn 5 Bollywood dances
~See the Taj Mahal
~Have a successful internship
~Simply Enjoy Life!

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Saint Augustine
Onto the next chapter. ~Anna

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