Sunday, May 07, 2006
The following LONG entry coems from the journal I've been keeping on my laptop since I left Provo. Enjoy.
May 3, 2006 - 10:55 MDT
Well we're on our way. I spent the morning rushing to get everything finally ready - including a mad rush to the BYU Bookstore to pick up some earbuds/headphones, a big bottle of contact-lens solution, and some traveler's checks. Wait... where are my traveler's checks? Oh, here they are in the bag right next to me.
I'm sitting in the back bench seat of a silver minivan, listening to some local rock station and opening up this laptop for the Second-Time-Ever. The last time I used it (First-Time-Ever) I was in BYU's library running a bunch of Windows updates and installing Mozilla Firefox so I wouldn't have to succumb to Microsoft's insistance that I use its crappy browser. Still, I'm keeping this whole thing pretty minimalist: Firefox is the only software I'm planning on installing here, unless I end up throwing Microsoft Office (I know, I know - Microsoft) so I can take notes more effectively. (Word offers a number of formatting options that WordPad simply doesn't.)
I just found out the station we're listening to is KOHS, run by Orem High School students (OHS - get it?) almost completely by requests.
This Utah scenery is beautiful here along I-15. On my left are the majestic Rockies standing over a blanket of green fields polka-dotted with grazing cattle. On the right, some softer-looking mountains whose faces are made not of rocks and crags, but of gentle valleys and rolling peaks. An old brown barn, a rusty silo, an occasional field of dandelions bordered by a white fence, a sign reading ARABIAN HORSES. I watch the power lines bounce between poles along the highway.
Autumn, 25, is driving the van we've rented. We initially ordered an economy-class vehicle, but we got a 'free upgrade' because no economy cars were available when she and Lily went to pick it up. It's not exactly economy anymore, I think, since the minivan will be getting worse mileage than our original car would have - and what's more, gas in Provo is at $2.70. Who knows what it will be in Nevada... or worse, in California. I've heard rumors it's at $4.00.
Autumn's the only legal driver of the van as far as I know - solely due to age - but I've just checked and we'll all be sharing in the driving responsibilities on the way down, even though we're all 24. Autumn comes off as kind of an experienced traveler and has given us some really useful tips in preparation for India. Among the best is a back velcroed pocket cut out of a pair of pants with a long piece of cord run through holes in it so it can be worn as a belt. It goes underneath your pants so no one knows you're carrying hundreds and hundreds of American dollars down there. Autumn has recently spent a good amount of time in Spain and is one of the most excited about going to India. She was also excited to see that I bought Chaco sandals; I guess it puts me in a certain class of granola that I couldn't have belonged to before. In any case, I'm glad Autumn's in the India group because she seems so knowledgeable.
As far as excitement for India goes, I'm caught between a few feelings. I think the strongest are bewilderment and nervousness - bewilderment because this is the first time I'm doing any real traveling outside of the context of missionary, when just about everything is done for you and you just know you're going to be okay, and nervousness because I want to do really good work here but am just inexperienced when it comes to scientific research. Especially in the social sciences. I've been doing anthropology for about eight months now and serious documentary work for only about a year. I've felt that my work has been all right so far - even good at times - and I've seen myself progress as I've gotten deeper into the subject. Still, though, will eight months prove sufficient preparation for this intensive two-month period of fieldwork?
I suppose it will have to be. And if it isn't, from what I've heard no one's first experience in the field is perfect anyway. Not even their second, or third, or any of them for that matter. Field researchers learn every time - even when they're doing really good work already - so I might as well start somewhere. I feel like these months of experience collecting data, and then the analysis of that data, will supply me with a greater opportunity to learn in the classroom and in my readings later; I'll have a context to put all the book learning and classroom dicussion into, and that will in turn make me better prepared for my next research or film project.
That said, I think I'll close this laptop down, relax, and look around a little bit more. This Utah scenery's beautiful.
We've dropped Autumn off at LAX and are now on our way to Ali Warcup's house in San Diego. It's already been a long day, and it turns out I still have to finish doing a bit of Internet research before bed so we can know where to go tomorrow to pick up microphone and tape equipment. On top of that adventure (I think we have to go to Annaheim for that equipment) we need to stop and buy a couple of things like Ziploc baggies, a sheet for sleeping in, and an extra pair of pants. And we have to make it to LAX by 4pm so we can return the car and make it to the terminal by 5pm, two hours before we take off.
I've found a flaw or two in my laptop. Battery life seems to not be as good as I was hoping for - either that, or I've somehow left the machine running between this morning and now, when I took it out again. Also, there's a crack in the body by where the left side of the monitor meet the bottom portion. It flaps open and closed a little every time we hit a bump. I just hope I didn't do that to the machine by packing it into a backpack with my camera and everything else.
May 4, 2006 - 19:36 PDT
I'm currently on the airplane listening to regional Indian music and really taking advantage of this laptop. I'm going to try to stay awake through this whole flight - yes, all of it, right over the USA, the Atlantic Ocean, and much of the European Union - so I can sleep through the Frankfurt-Mumbai flight and be as close to being on an Indian-time sleep schedule as possible.
Today has been a day absolutely full - of business, of fun, and even of some small miracles. Business Item #1: I just dropped so much money on video equipment in San Diego. Usually I feel really bad about that kind of frivolous thing, but let's face it - today's expenses were far from frivolous. This is graduate school and my career I'm talking about, and moreover my gut (which has never been wrong) never told me 'No'. In fact, I'm still going the direction I am with this doc-film career idea because it's felt so right in the past and because my gut still hasn't told me to stop. $o today $pend it wa$, and $pend I did.
Business Item #2: I'm just hoping that the money I'm supposed to get from my video job this past winter comes in soon. Spending so much money today really came close to wiping me out, and the $300 I'm expecting should keep me going in India for a considerable time.
Okay, Fun time. Fun Item #1: Besides spending money and catching our flight, we had some other pretty serious things on our to-do list today. Like finding an In-N-Out to eat at. So around Carlsbad we just decided to forego Making Good Time and just take a random exit and hope for the best. We ended up on a beautiful drive that ran along the beach, where we stopped a couple of people and asked, just like any good naïve tourist-types, where the nearest In-N-Out was. Their directions were clear, and even though we ended up backtracking to an exit on I-5 that we'd already passed, getting back on the highway and back up to LAX was easy.
Fun Item #2: Dude, I finally saw a beach in California. That happened at... I don't remember the name of the town, but it might have been Solana Beach. A really nice community, I think. Anyway, we all got out at a public parking lot, and after a quick bathroom break I grabbed the camera out of the rental van and got all set up to tape Ben and Lily down on the beach. It was nice to know that the mic and everything work, and even though I took a while to figure out why in the world my image wouldn't stop being so blue (I forgot that I had adjusted my white balance), I got some really nice footage. It ended up being kind of a nice confidence booster before we headed off to India. The whole time, by the way, I couldn't stop thinking about Robert Frost's 'A Record Stride' and getting "the United States stated."
I hope the folks who manage Frost's estate don't sue me over that. I hear anybody who manages estates is pretty uptight about even the smallest things.
So Miracles you ask? Miracle Item #1: We got to the airport in plenty of time for our flight. We had to go from Poway, CA, south into San Diego and then back north towards LA. Mixed in with all that were a bunch of those Business Items we talked about already, not to mention our having to deal with traffic, purchases made at Target, bathroom breaks, the time at the beach, and the all-important In-N-Out Experience. (The Double-Double meal with a vanilla shake really hit the spot.) So the fact that we handled all of that stuff and were spared the pains of serious traffic jams means a lot to me. When we pulled off the highway at the LAX exit all I could say was "Thank Heaven." And tonight I probably should.
Miracle Item #2: We managed to pack all of the video equipment into our bags. I say 'we' because this was only achieved with the help (and extra bag space) of my two wonderful friends Lily and Ben. On the shuttle from the car rental place to LAX we broke open everything we had bought that day and started stowing it in any empty spot we could find. Ben took some extra Ziploc bags, Lily grabbed my new mic equipment, and tape ended up dispersed all over the place. (Our last count was that Ben got 13, Lily got 5, and I got the remaining 32.)
Some other notes: There's a little cartoon character I keep seeing in Air India media, both video and print. He's sort of a Mr. Magoo-type character in that he's simply drawn, short, and kind of static. He'll stand there, then break into some sort of sudden action like opening a door for you or bowing low, his arm along his waist. And this is what really gets to me - he's 'at our service'. And he's dressed in what amount to apparently British Raj-era clothing but is wearing a turban and sports a long, thick, black moustache. And he's 'at our service'. It seems to me that Air India has decided to stick with a sort of self-sponsored colonialism here, played to the Orientalist in all of us, in an effort to create a sense of comfort in the fact that India is still around to serve us Westerners.
And what then about the many people I spot on board who I can reasonably guess are from India? First, do they consider it any kind of disconnect, the way I do, that this little guy is around even though the Raj isn't? Second, is the Raj still around - even if not in person, in culture? And third, if it isn't present in the Indian psyche, then what do the Indians on board think of being represented in such a colonial light?
It occurs to me that I need to maybe gather more data now and not interpret so much right off the bat. But is it that bad to think about things like that, even in the middle of fieldwork? I'm going to venture a no on that one. Thinking about what I've found so far can only help to guide me to further questions and gather more interesting, maybe more revealing data.
Well a couple of hours have gone by, and my battery has shot down from near 100% to about 8%. It's not the best battery. I'm just going to do my best to stay awake now and take in this Indian music.
May 7, 2006 - 00:32 IND
Marc, Kem, Ben and I are in our hotel room. I've plugged in to hotel power via Ben's adaptor, and I'm really glad to see that my computer isn't getting fried. Marc, who just checked in at the hotel after being picked up at MAA by Brandon and Kem, has just stepped out of the shower, and I'm getting ready to use the restroom and get to bed. These have (understandably) been the fastest four days of my life, from Wednesday morning to Saturday night, all under the umbrella-label of 'travel'. Especially Friday, which zipped by as Ben, Lily, and I were flying East practically the whole day. I should get to bed, really - we're going to church at 9 am, and I'm tired as it is. But I decided to start the field notes process tonight, and Ben and I have been chatting and laughing with Ashley while her husband (that's Brandon) went for Marc.
I've noticed that being in India has reminded me a lot of being in Brazil. This hasn't been a naïve impression (I'll get to that in a minute), but it has been, surprisingly, a sort of relief. In the taxi (reminiscent of the ones in Born Into Brothels) from the airport, I was struck by the proximity of foot and automoblie traffic, by the maneuvers of the cars and motorcycles on the highway, by the venders on the sidewalks, by the trash in the streets. The colors, the layout, the shops - all of it was in some very strong ways reminiscent of Manaus's streets. I could buy coconut still in its green shell, citrus fruits by the handful, the thin-skinned banana maçã that I loved so well on my mission. It was bright and loud and confusing. And suddenly I realized - and I told Autumn, who was in the taxi with me - that I was enjoying it. This was much more free of pressure than was Manaus. I didn't carry the weight that came with being Elder Henry, just the easier pleasure of being with people and witnessing how they live. I suddenly realized that my stomach had been tensing up like it always had seemed to do in Brazil, and I relaxed. Chennai was beautiful.
Then something else hit me. This wouldn't be exactly the same as being-in-Brazil-except-hey-cool-now-I'm-not-a-missionary. In fact, this would be different in one very important, sort of all-encompassing way. This wasn't Brazil. No samba, no arroz e feijão (but plenty of arroz!), no Portuguese... no really Western way of life, I guess. This was South Asia, the Subcontinent, and this would take a completely different set of experiences while I get accustomed to the whole thing. I think back now to earlier today, taking off from Mumbai and landing in Chennai - more especially the second of these - and how I saw hundreds of rooftops and imagined hundreds of Brazilian-style houses with Brazilian-style culture going on inside them. I saw a bigger, white house with clothes drying in the wind on the painted cement roof, a large white sheet blowing between pants and shirts. I imagined o pessoal lá em cima, listening to pagode and samba music and drinking their Antarctica-brand beer and talking futebol. I pictured a cheap TV and hundreds of metal folding chairs filled around it while the green and yellow played in the World Cup.
But none of that would happen here. It just wouldn't. This was India.
Fortunately, I have something good to report out of this. Yes, I miss Brazil - even to the point of wishing I could do fieldwork there sometime, just to be able to justify going back. But so much stress is still tied to that place because I felt it so strongly there, and I think that made me not be able to deal with and understand the culture there as well as I could have. And while returning there under less stressful conditions will doubtless prove beneficial to me, these four months give me a chance to sort of redeem myself from what I understand was a grossly imperfect culture-learning experience. I have a chance to practice fitting in with much less pressure, and that can make me much happier.
On a less profound but equally important note, I have forgotten to send an email to my parents. Even though it's Sunday, that's going to have to be a priority. I think that right now they need to know I'm doing okay more than I need to worry about Setting an Example. I'll be sure to avoid situations like this in the future.
We've been to Church now in Chennai. We stayed for all three meetings plus a baptismal service afterwards, and the sacrament meeting, which was held first, was among the most uplifting that I've had in months. Probably in years. Today was fast Sunday - meaning that the entire Church is asked to fast on this day, and to use that opportunity to fast in order to draw closer to God. Moreover, we give what we would have eaten (or the money equivalent - or even more than that) to the Church to be redistributed to the poor in our congregation. The lessons I taught as a missionary describe these Sundays as a great opportunity for tremendous spiritual experiences, and today was one of those. I sat down, surrounded by scores of people - probably at least a hundren - just so pleased to be there that day. There was a piano player (something rare for many branches in Brazil), and when the first notes of the opening hymn sounded I couldn't help but tear up. I was amazed at how peaceful this room was despite the mass of humanity outside, how true the feelings of brotherhood in the room were, how sincerely the congregation smiled, how respectfully the sacrament had been prepared. The hymn, "How Gentle God's Commands", made me understand that Zion is being built in the hearts of God's children across the globe because of their willingness to love and care for each other, and to obey those commandments out of love for their Heavenly Father. I felt united with the members of the congregation throughout that hymn and during the prayers and sacrament service that followed. That feeling only grew stronger while the branch president announced the arrival that week of two newly released missionaries. I thought back to my own missionary experience and could understand their visible enthusiasm as they spoke of their own time in the mission field. And when the branch's members - including those recently returned elders - bore testimony, intermingled with the testimonies of members of my own group from BYU, I couldn't help but marvel at how gentle God's command really was, and at the kindly manner in which he guides us safely home. All of us.
This is a photo of me and my friend Kem, from the BYU group, eating on my first full day here. Eating with the right hand like we are in the picture is a very common practice here.