Friday, May 26, 2006
May 17, 2006 - 09:33 IND
It's a cloudy, cooler morning in Chaavadipudur. There's a slight breeze that's blowing the palm leaves outside now, and a metal fan sitting on a short wooden stool is the only thing keeping me company now in this room .
It's just like so many cloudy days I had on my mission in Brazil. I just want to go home.
And in writing that, even if my eyes are tearing up a little bit, even if there's a painful lump in my throat and I feel myself trying to suppress a couple of sobs that would like to come out, I don't feel like this is any kind of failure - though that concern certainly does exist. I mean, it's true that I'm wondering why in the world I feel so lonely, why this comes as such a surprise since I've gone through it all so intensely before on the mission. And I think back to what Ruth, one of my anthro professors this past semester who spent all her schooling years at Cambridge, said to me about anthropology grad work: "Anthropology, I think, is a very good undergraduate degree because it teaches you to think. But for graduate school, you may think about film instead. You see, fieldwork is so very lonely." And I thought to myself then that I could handle that loneliness, that I could even embrace it, learn from it, become stronger through it. What's more, I figured I was able to anticipate, even as she talked to me about those feelings of isolation and disorientation, how bad it could be and somehow through that anticipation reduce the effects of those feelings. I wasn't afraid, you see. I could be stronger than the feelings.
But I forget so often that emotions are felt - really felt! - and that that's what makes them so difficult to contain. Unlike thoughts, which (at least in my own experience) can be conjured and manipulated by the mind for consideration and analysis and still remain importantly in the realm of the Separate-from-Self, feelings for me appear in response to stimuli. I don't find in myself much - if any - ability to conjure feelings like I can thoughts, to manipulate them and experiment with them in the name of emotional knowledge. I think that's because I don't think of them as separate from me but rather as a part or facet of my persona that manifests itself in response to my environment - be it worry for the future, fear of a dog, or love for a girl.
And while I'm thinking about feelings like I was that day in Ruth's office, they sure do resemble thoughts. The fact that I'm thinking about these abstract, unsurfaced things rendered unreal by their non-appearance leads me to forget how difficult they'll prove to be when I find myself facing them - 'them' as a part of 'me' - in the future. And it's that 'them'-as-part-of-'me' bit that makes it most difficult, isn't it? How do you address something that's so linked to you, you the individual who feels drawn to change it?
I'm tempted to feel that all of this means that I've failed. Failed in my inability to anticipate how those emotions I was thinking about would feel, failed in my apparent ineptitude at toning these now-surfaced emotions down to the level of thoughts. But on the other hand (and I think this is closer to being a correct or healthy way of thinking of the thing), it doesn't really seem like those are realistic expectations for anyone. I don't think I mean that feelings can't or shouldn't be controlled (though in my case that kind of control has eluded me). But is there a way to at the very least not be so surprised at them when they appear - and appear to take me over? It seems like the work I'm in need of doing is in the direction of accepting and embracing these feelings; it hasn't proven as easy as I imagined it would be.
It makes me think that it might be nice to have someone with me when I'm doing work in the field later on - someone to share all of this with, and someone who can share with me these same feelings when she needs to. I guess I mean a wife. I may not include that thought on my blog.
May 22, 2006 - 09:46 IND
On a train headed for Delhi. I'm lying in the top, windowless bunk of a small side compartment, separated from the other passengers by a thick (though far from soundproof) curtain, a narrow aisle, and another curtain - one for each full-size compartment opposite my own. My berth now (consisting of a blue plastic mattress, a small light for reading, a blue mesh pocket in which I've stowed yesterday's edition of The Hindu, a chain for stopping the train, and a placard warning passengers what risks they run by pulling the chain needlessly) runs parallel to the aisle, but on the other side the comparments each have four beds (in sets of two bunks), a small table, and some space to move around in. And universal access to a window. Ben, Lily, Elizabeth, and I are all in these confining side berths, with Lily and Elizabeth in a single bunk and me and Ben in separate bunks further down the car - and there's a stream of what I think is Hindi coming from across the aisle and a little further down the coach, closer to the girls in the group.
Most of what I hear is, from all I can tell, a couple of mothers lecturing their children. Each of the two neighboring compartments from which I hear the most Hindi is housing a small family, one with two young boys and one with a very small daughter. Last night the two boys spent most of the evening wrestling before finally falling asleep, and the little girl in the last compartment down has had free reign of the aisle, the length of which she likes to run in very heavy shoes and, having done so, scream back to her "Pa-PA!" at the other end of the car. She also enjoys singing her ABCs - in English - something her mother seems quite proud of.
Across the aisle from me, in the large compartment, a man speaks more and more loudly into his cell phone so it'll work better. I think it's a business call. And an adolescent male voice sings on a pop melody some English-sounding words among which I can make out an occasional "Jeee-suuus...". Strange to know that American cultural trends transfer so seamlessly across continents.
Not that I'm completely disliking this train thing. Or that I'm purely disliking the noises and the wrestling and such. Heck, I'm liking the Christian pop that's coming my way. A couple of things could make it more pleasant, of course - like if they'd let me open the car's doorway, for example, and watch the country roll by instead of effectively confining me to this cramped (though padded) sleeping cell. But I did read 100 pages yesterday, finishing Karen Armstrong's Buddha for my sociology of religion course. That many pages is really unheard of for me in a single day. And now you and I are getting a chance to catch up a little bit on each other, so that's useful too. And what's more, I really just like being on trains.
Plus I've had time for a really nice conversation with Ben about Buddhism, the Self, the self, and spiritual knowledge. One of the things that really struck me about Armstrong's book was her constant reminders that understanding the Buddha's dhamma could not ultimately be an exercise in intellectualism or metaphysical philosophy. Instead, she points out, true knowledge or understanding of Buddhism could only come after certain self-disciplinary action that would allow an individual to tap into his or her own deeper levels of consciousness; after that, meditation on the Four Noble Truths, for example, would place them firmly in the subconscious, make them a deeper part of what one's core instead of just what one does or thinks or feels on the surface.
May 25, 2006 - 23:25 IND
We arrived in McLeod Ganj (upper Dharamsala - where I'm doing my research) rather unscathed, except for missing glasses and a missing foam windscreen for my microphone. The missing glasses are also mine, but don't worry - I have enough contacts to make it all the way through the summer, so I'll be fine. (That was for Mom and Dad.)
This town's about as different as it gets from the other places I've seen in India. First of all, it's downright cool at night. As I type this up - I should really be in bed, but I got to my field notes a couple of hours too late - the stone floor I'm kneeling on is honest-to-goodness cold on my knees, and I'm considering buying a fleece Tibetan-style shirt (with metal buttons on the right side instead of in front) to keep warm. It also rained a lot this afternoon, which I think may have cooled us off even more.
As the rainclouds started rolling in (along with some scattered thunder) we were on our way back, on foot, from Bhagsu, a town just about a 15-minute from where we're staying just off McLeod Ganj's main roads. We had been looking at an alternative place to stay for the next six weeks where electricity wouldn't be a problem. Apparently Ben tried to use his computer here and tripped a breaker because the wiring has been weakened as wintertime tourists run space heaters in the rooms. I don't know how well that story flies, but we're going to see if other rooms' wires stand up better to our electrical demands so we can all stay here instead of finding another place. (By the way, we decided not to do the Bhagsu thing because we want to prevent any potential danger for anyone in the group - especially the girls - on the way back from doing interviews or other research as the sun goes down.)
Prices here at the Kailwood Guest House in McLeod Ganj are really reasonable, and there's a big balcony where we took breakfast and some light dinner today. That sounds touristy, I know, but I figure there are some tourist-types out there wanting to know about where to stay. I recommend this place. The rooms are comfortable for the most part, and the management shows themselves to be both competent and friendly. What's more, it's off of the town's three major tourist roads I've found, which means more Tibetans, fewer Westerners, and a quieter time.
McLeod Ganj's streets are lined by shops and beggars. And restaurants, with names like Chuki's (with a sizable Israeli section on their menu), Nick's Italian, and The Chocolate Log. All three (the shops, the beggars, and the restaurants) center on the tourist/backpacker population, and as this is major tourist season things are in full swing. We ate at Chuki's last night, drawn in by the reggae and blacklights (and the fact that it was about the only place left open), and today we had an incredibly tasty lunch at a little restaurant at the entrance to the Ladies' Venture Guest House. The Something-or-other Dragon was its name. I don't remember what the middle word was. But it's run by a couple of guys (brothers?) who left Tibet a few years back and just opened up the place in September of last year. We spent about 40 minutes there enjoying what Elizabeth seemed to think was the best lemon-ginger with honey she'd ever had, as well as veg. chow mein far better than what I'd had here until then.
As far as shops go, I admit I did venture into a few curio shops looking for a box this evening. In talking to Kirk, a BYU professor whose interests lie in South and Southeast Asia, I realized I needed to keep my videocassettes under lock and key until I destroy them; this is because my subjects are practically all political refugees, some of them former political prisoners, and they and their families (who for the most part have not left Tibet) could be in danger if they're identified. As a researcher I should have no part in anyone's capture, indictment, or punishment or anything of the sort, so I'm taking precautions to be sure this project puts no one in danger. So today I went to talk to a few Kashmiri shopkeepers about wooden and papier-mache boxes with locks that I might purchase. I know, I know - they sound about as tamper-proof as a wet paper bag. So tomorrow I'm also going down to lower Dharamsala (which I've only seen now in passing, on the bus from Pathankot yesterday) to see if I can find a metal lockable box somewhere in the town's shops.
Finally, beggars. I think they know to come to McLeod Ganj because of all the Western travellers here, and the influx of these visitors is probably constant enough that many of the panhandlers probably do okay. After wrestling with the beggar question for a few weeks I've decided, thanks to Ben our local Great Mind, that I'm going to give to one beggar a day. And today I had already given when two adolescent boys, Indians, approached me and held out very dirty hands. Now this is always a very uncomfortable situation, but I knew that I meant the very best in telling myself I would make it a point to give to someone each and every day, and I felt at ease telling these kids that I was sorry, but I couldn't today. Tomorrow was a possibility, but not today. They wouldn't take no for an answer, as is the practice among Indians (and not just beggars, I've found - it's something cultural), and came up to sit next to me on the steps where I was taking some notes on my observations. They watched me write for a while and periodically pressed me to give them some money, meeting my refusal each time. There was some obvious disagreement between them as to what they should do next, and one of them just stayed seated next to me while I wrote as the other went back into the narrow street in front of us to continue begging. He did so for a while, to no avail until the monotony was broken by a tourist-looking guy who gave the boy two sticks of gum, one for him and one for his friend whom the tourist saw sitting next to me. The kid came from the street already popping his share of the booty into his mouth and handed my companion the other piece. I looked at the kid and said, "Don't chew that." He was puzzled. I put my fingers together to my lips (meaning 'food' or 'eating' in India) and then shook a slightly raised hand, palm showing, meaning 'no'. "Don't chew that." He didn't. He sat there and pondered over his earnings, toying with the wrapper. I continued. "You can sell it. Sell. Give gum to someone for money," and I pointed to the dozen-or-so people passing by. "Sell it." He looked confused, maybe understanding but hesitating nonetheless. I reached into my pocket and just hoped as hard as I could that there would be a rupee in there. There was. I pulled the coin out and showed it to him. "Here," I said. "I'll buy it." He understood immediately and quickly put the gum into my hand, taking the money from my fingers.
When he did that I saw, just for a second, a real life in his eyes that hadn't been there before. They got really wide and just lit up. Maybe he was seeing this situation in a way he'd never seen it before. Or maybe he was just excited to have some money. Either way, I think begging - when done with the mentality that I, the beggar, am purely a victim with no chioce or agency or ownership or responsibility in what I do about this situation - can really deaden the humanity inside a person. Something about this interaction between the boy and me had was felt like an awakening effect on the kid - I could actually see it happen, just in a flash like that. (Most of the Tibetans I've seen begging, by the way, have somehow escaped that. They seem awfully at peace with what's going on in their lives - something that's surprised and puzzled and relieved me a bit these past two days.)
I don't think I'm any kind of hero for doing this, but it felt like it was at least a creative and potentially productive alternative to just saying 'no', which is all I had been able to do before. And seeing that kid's eyes widen and light up like they did... I wonder what could come out of this. Something really good, maybe - like maybe he learned something important. Or maybe even something really bad, like that they should steal stuff now and try to sell it themselves. In any case, I hope you'll agree that it was worth a shot.
A quick update on how research is starting, and then I'll get to bed. I think I'm a bit in the honeymoon stage of culture shock again, but it's been good to have a couple days to sit back and just observe a bit of how this place works, at least on a superficial level. I'll be doing much of the same in the next few days, as well as finishing up a consent form for any research subjects and getting that translated and back-translated. I've been meeting a number of Elizabeth's friends, and they're just great folks; I've enjoyed spending time with them and have already learned a lot from (and about) them sitting with them in their shops and walking with them to Bhagsu today. Right now my research is taking the form of really laid-back observations and meeting and getting to know people with whom I might be able to work later as the research develops in the next two weeks. This approach to research feels right to me - making sincere friends and learning through them and about them, doing my best to give back to them when and where I can, mixing all that darn academia stuff with good old-fashioned interaction. I'm having a really great time here.
Of course, this stage of research will end soon enough. I'll keep you posted on how it all goes. Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
This entry's a little different. We've spent the past couple of days in Chaavadipudur, just outside of Coimbatore, and I'm a little self conscious about pulling out the laptop because I don't really want to call attention or waste our host family's electricity (and money). Of course, I had no problem pulling out the video camera yesterday to work on color settings since I messed them up in California (see the photo below), so maybe I'll just forget it and do the regular laptop thing again. For now, you'll have to live with my recollections of a couple of memories that I didn't type down the day they happened. Bear with me.
We've been sleeping at the branch president's house, though he's been away at work practically the whole time. He rides his motorcycle to his workplace on Monday mornings and back on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings - my dad did the same thing for a few months during my senior year of high school, so I know how hard that can be on a family. But it ended up being a big blessing to us as well, as he had the chance to think a lot during those long trips across Indiana, and one weekend he came home and announced he was going to take the discussions Saturday and be baptized Sunday.
So it's nice to live with a family. The mother, Jiva, is quite the matriarch (we refer to her on any domestic question), and she has just taken her young daughter Priya to pick up her son (whose name escapes me) from boarding school. I think they took a train, and they stayed overnight, having left yesterday and planned to return today.
There was a blessing and naming of a baby Sunday - I think they had spent what normally would have been Fast Sunday watching DVDs of General Conference. This is one of the oldest LDS Church buildings - maybe the first? - in India, just a modest, pleasant hall with a nice garden outside, all surrounded by a shortish painted cinder block wall. The whole place was filled just yesterday (Monday) with members of the family's baby who, though not LDS, were holding a lunch celebration and family reunion at the chapel, where the baby's mother is a member. We ate with them, sitting cross-legged on folded-up sleeping mats eating from banana leaves on the floor. The food was excellent and far more than anyone could have finished off. Afterwards the family members gathered around the neighboring house (all three structures - our house, the other house, and the church - are next to each other), and we kids from BYU went home and read or napped. Over the din from the festivities next door I read Karen Armstrong's Buddha.
I've actually spent probably 90% of my time in Chaavadipudur there at Matthew and Jiva's house. It's a much quieter lifestyle than here in the city, and I'm content just sitting on the veranda - the shallow, wide, covered front porch - and reading or watching the family's chickens or trying to sound out the names of Tamil-speaking kids who walk by and introduce themselves in broken English. I've been piecing together some Tamil these past couple days too, and I've actually had successful communication once or twice using words beyond the "Onga peeru" and "En peeru" (Your name/My name, respectively). One time was yesterday, when I was attracting a bunch of little kids on the road just outside of the church building. The next structure is a thatched-palm open-front house, and there was a woman sleeping inside. She looked like she really wanted to be sleeping, too. I couldn't keep the kids quiet to save my life, but on the way back the words for 'she' and 'sleep' came to me - 'ava' and 'takkum' - and they all said that yes, she was sleeping. So I put my finger to my closed lips, and they all did whatever was appropriate to mean the same thing here in their culture (I think the syllable they kept using was 'bosh!'), and they actually hushed up as we passed her! Of course, once we'd gone only a foot or two past the hut they were all excitedly shouting again anyway, so I don't know if my efforts did any good in the end, but it was nice to know I'd gotten through.
Before we ever came to Coimbatore and Chavadi (Chaavadi?), you know from my last entry that I spent some time talking with a man we've called Ali. The day before we left Madurai I sat with Ali again, and we talked about Islam for upwards of an hour. I had discovered that the backstreets were much more palatable (spelling?) than those in-your-face, touristy main roads, so I took these narrow alleys to his downtown shop by the temple. Ali was a very energetic, charismatic thirty- or forty-something young man who was very excited about his religion, and we sat on two cushioned stools and had an intimate discussion about his beliefs. The stories were endless, it seemed, and it took great effort to write them down as he dictated, being careful to take verbatim the phrases I found interesting or important. (Incidentally, he refused to be photographed due to religion.) His English was very expressive, and from time to time he would get so into a story that he would grab my knee to really make a point. Don't worry - it's completely appropriate given the cultural context. This was easily the dearest experience I've had yet in India.
Afterwards, as we BYU kids were going out from the hotel to have dinner a motorcycle came close and started honking. Nothing new - the vehicles warn you when they're approaching all the time. I kind of like that about traffic here. But this time the rider was waving enthusiastically. In the dark I could just barely make out that it was Ali! What in the world?
He stopped and said, "My friend, I have come here twice looking for you." (I think my group, which had given him a lot of business in the days before, had told him which hotel was ours.) "Here is this," he continued, and he reached out his right hand. In it he was holding a black journal - the one I had taken to his shop for our interview before. I couldn't believe it. If I had had any doubts - any doubts at all - about whether this man had been sincere in his willingness to sit down and do an interview, or whether he was just interested in keeping our business (and in a tourist town like Madurai, you never know), this seemed like proof that I could let them all go. This guy was for real, and I felt a real human bond then. He took off before I hardly had time to thank him for his thoughtfulness.
But now I'm staying in Chaavadi, and that's how life's been the past couple days - slow, personable, and pleasant, if a bit hot. Things are good, and Saturday we board a train for Delhi. From Delhi we head for Dharamsala.
The first two photos were taken in Chennai, the last one in Chaavadipudur last night.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Here's the latest from my journal. Sorry it hasn't been kept up like I wanted. But there's some good stuff in here.
May 7, 2006 - 20:17 IND
Defeated by the city. After spending 30 minutes sending out emails and updating the blog (I really feel like such a nerd saying things like "Oh, just updating the ol' blog" so off-handedly like that), Ben and I took a moment to relax in the rather dimly lit hotel lobby. There were English- and Tamil-language newspapers there, so Ben grabbed the English paper and started reading about some of India's hot topics. Election day is tomorrow, so I think many buildings and facilities that would normally open will be closed. There were stories about several political parties and about restrictions placed on exit pollers, and once we made it through those we browsed on to sports, entertainment, and opinion sections. Two older men stood transfixed watching (what I assume was) a Tamil-language Bollywood film, a fan blew air down from the low ceiling. City life continued its tulmult outside.
After this time we decided to take a walk. I realized that I had left the key in the room (Kem had said "Lock the door" but not "Take the key"! I should have understood...), so the walk sounded like a good enough idea. We passed the shops lining the walkway that led us out to the gated complex out front. Through the low gates and into the street we went, careful to avoid the cars, busses, and bikes that were making their way through the narrow way. It was a flood of flashes in the early evening's darkness, an overload of stimulus as the sights and sounds and smells of the street all competed for my attention. We came to the corner, where countless vendors had set up shop and been at it at least since we returned from church early this afternoon. Their one-word calls to come look over their wares ("Buy! Buy!") only added to the confusion, and I was suddenly not in any mood to be out and about in the city. Still, we walked a block towards where we had been dropped off by the public bus after church, and Chennai kept at it. Small clothing and electronics stores, fruit and shoe vendors' stands, trash and children in the streets. At the next corner, where we stopped, I watched a man who was sitting in the middle of the traffic circle there, on the grass beneath a tall statue, showing no sign that he for any reason would seem out of place.
And I realized that my likely problem was that my sense of space was being violated, undermined, ignored. On the way back I noticed a man closer to my hotel whom I had seen before, but this time I realized that what he was doing had the same effect on me: he was wearing little clothing and a long gray beard and was perched on a broken cement fixture just off of a wall to our left. The clothing and the beard didn't bother me at all, just his position. I was becoming keenly aware of the fact that I didn't know where people belonged in this place - or if there was any sense of 'belonging' and 'not belonging' at all among it residents. Back home these were the kinds of places you sat when you wanted attention. Or if you didn't want the attention you were bothered when you inadvertantly got it. The two men in question seemed too comfortable where they were to suggest that they expected the same kind of attention one would gather at home, and I found myself thrown as to why in the world this behavior wasn't abnormal. And that disorientation, on top of the flood of sensory stimulus I was getting, was too much. We returned to the hotel, asked for a spare key at the front room, and came upstairs.
It occurs to me that this feeling of defeat and the retreat into my air-conditioned room to type in my journal is probably a sign of some culture shock. Maybe some major culture shock. I can admit that - though, believe it or not, a few years back I would have considered culture shock sort of a shameful thing to be going through, as if somebody experiencing it were somehow weak, shallow, or closed-minded. Well, either that's not true - people who go through culture shock can actually be strong, profound, open individuals - or to some extent I myself possess those 'negative' characteristics I saw in other people, and now I'm just big enough to admit those traits.
May 9, 2006 - 02:45 IND
On today's tour of a couple of Chennai city sites, I felt less despair in the face of the city. I think being aware of culture shock is greatly helping prevent it from festering. What's more, Ben and I took a short walk to locate an ATM today, and as we got further from the street where our hotel is located, which is right in front of a major train station, the number of cars and vendors dropped by probably 90%. Suddenly the city became manageable, and I saw that this was not a neverending flow of humanity. There was plenty of that to be had, of course, but at least there was some place I could let my mind feel at ease for a while.
Also on that walk, I discovered a topic that really interested me here in Chennai. I'll have to see if this phenomenon occurs in other towns and cities as well here in India. There was a tall gold statue, marked as representing a mayor (former or past, I'm not sure), and while that in itself was not uncommon - there are gold statues on pedestals in a number of public places throughout the city - here I noticed something strange to my eyes. There was a narrow, walled metal platform that ran in front of the statue, parallel to the street the statue faced, and leading up to the platform was an open staircase. Anyone who wanted could approach this statue of a mayor and do anything to it. I had seen flowers around some other public statues' necks (as well as around Hindu images, hanging both from paintings' frames and around statues' necks), but I did not know how they had gotten there. Ben pointed out that if anyone wanted to they could go and break an egg right on top of his head, and he was right. I did see that something now dry had dripped down his head, but I didn't seen any other possible sign of vandalism. I wasn't even sure that that's what this was.
So were these stairs and platforms for political or religious purpose? Or some other purpose? I don't know what they're used for, who uses them, or how often. But this is interesting stuff with potentially interesting theoretical significance - for example the question of public access in general, and more specifically of public access to religions, political, and/or mythical figures. Is this something to make up for a lack of popular access to public works? Or perhaps a reflection of the public's involvement in politics or religion? Perhaps (or probably) none of these. But an interesting question nonetheless.
Sleep patterns are getting strange since I went with Brandon and Kem to pick up Chelsea at the airport yesterday morning at 2:30. We didn't come home until around 5:00 or 5:30, and I just wasn't tired. So I didn't sleep. I stayed up and read my scriptures, then showered and laid down while the sun came up and lit our room bit by bit. Marc stepped into the bathroom for a shower and Ben woke up. I asked if he'd like to go get some breakfast, and he agreed. We invited Marc as well, and he accepted. Kem was still asleep.
Kem slept for a long while, and during the beginning of the trip I was a little concerned. He had gotten suddenly quiet on the way back from the airport that morning when I interrupted him in the middle of a story to point out a line of motorickshaws to Chelsea. Since then he hadn't really talked, and I wondered if our interaction hadn't triggered some fit of depression. When I was working through some emotional stuff after my LDS mission the strangest things would trigger a depression episode - usually dealing with wanting to do multiple things to help or be with multiple people, especially when they suddenly came up one after the other, and all seemed important. Little things that triggered a huge emotional response.
So I was worried about Kem, but as I had done so many times before, he seemed to come out of it quite a bit as he got out, moving around and interacting with people and with the world around him. Jokes didn't help, offers of emotional support didn't help, showing interest didn't help. Only his own self-motivated (to some degree - there was some indirect social pressure that initially got him out I think) locomotion and social interaction led him out of whatever funk he was in. I was really glad.
(Later he went with Autumn and Marc to pick up a camera for Autumn. I fell asleep before they returned, but I remember waking up to Marc talking about the beach too, so I imagine they had a good time.)
During our group tour today I got really frustrated with being around so many people, becoming terribly conspicuous and very uncomfortable interacting with any locals for fear of drawing a Western crowd around me. On the street, in the Gandhi park we visited, or on St. Thomas Mount where a church and monuments have been constructed to memorialized the spot where Thomas the Apostle is said to have been martyred, I only wanted to be in (at the very least) a smaller group. Maybe even by myself.
I wasn't unhappy, you have to understand. I did get really quiet - as a reaction to the group dynamic thing, I think - and that could be taken as depression. I think Brandon got a bit worried, and he came up and asked how I was doing. I think my "I'm actually doing really well" convinced him, and that's good. I hope I didn't bring the group down emotionally, though I think part of my internal motivation for separation and quiet was in part to somehow pull a little of the 'edge' off of the group - to reduce the level of noise coming from a big white group of Westerners.
That, and I was tired from being up since 2:30. I'll try to maintain a more normal sleep pattern.
I'm on a train with the whole group. It's a sleeper car - 2nd class Air Conditioned - and I'm in a lower sleeper underneath Ben, who's asleep on a bed up top from where I've tried to hang a sheet to hide the fact that I'm using a laptop. By now, though, most of the lights in the car are out and I think most of the folks around are probably aware that the computer's here. I just didn't want to show it off. Maybe I should have just used it to avoid more attention-getting. What's funny is that the car's attendant man, who was in the middle of bringing out sheets and blankets and small pillows, laughed as he came by in the middle of my efforts to hang this sheet up. What's more, he stopped the next time by and put it up the rest of the way for me. I was kind of embarrassed to have caused such a disturbance, but it was probably worth it for this trial run.
Today we were coming back from purchasing Coimbatore-Delhi train tickets at the Chennai Central Station (you have to buy them way in advance) and I noticed that everyone was really giving to each other. I bought Ashley and Brandon's tickets from Egmore Station (right down the road from our hotel) to Central Station, as well as the return tickets - something I wouldn't have done before but thought would be nice. And standing with the group waiting for our return train I realized that maybe one of the reasons I don't like this group dynamic thing is really just that I don't know how to function well in it. I mean, yes, there is definitely still the issue of making noise and drawing attention, things that I think can really hinder the efficacy of our interactions with local residents. But maybe - no, proably - I don't actually know how to 'play well with others'. I don't know that I ever learned to just really give, to think of what folks around me might need or want. And that must make all the difference in being happy within a group. It made me think that, sometime here in the next couple of months, I might have to learn these kinds of lessons about how to really help out a bunch of people in need.
For example, tonight we were looking for our train to Madurai at Egmore station. We really didn't know where we were going, but I knew I could help figure it out. So I set off in the lead, talked to people around us, and tried to locate our train platform. We got there relatively quickly, and I think I was able to contribute significantly to that effort.
Maybe I can learn these lessons sooner rather than later.
Right now it's getting pretty late - almost 10 pm - and I've been falling asleep as I've typed up my field notes and this journal entry. I'm going to pack up this laptop, my camera, and all the 20+ mini DV tapes I pulled out of my backpack. Then I need to sleep so I can be awake when we go looking for Madurai-Coimbatore tickets when we arrive at the Madurai Station at 4am.
May 12, 2006 - 02:29 IND
I've just woken up in the middle of the night and figured that since my computer was on the bed I should get to the old journal. Sorry you haven't heard from me since I was leaving Chennai. The past two days in Madurai have proven to be busier than I expected, and for some strange reason I can feel myself succumbing to this city's pandering to the tourist crowd. The huge temple here (worth Googling!) attracts tremendous numbers of people (though this, being the hottest time of the year in Madurai, lands us right in the middle of the offseason for tourism in the city), and all around the hotel where we are staying there are all sorts of vendors who have been 'well seasoned' - as my friend Ben has put it - to the presence of tourists. We find ourselves describing Madurai's residents as 'pushier' than those in Chennai, 'more relentless', and simply more concentrated. I've gotten very good at avoiding eye contact with just about anyone, and at raising an uplifted hand and blurting out a quick "No, no thank you" at the first hint of a sales pitch. Still, periodically an especially bold or desperate vendor will prove to be more relentless than what we're used to even here in Madurai, and it takes some real fortitude to just keep your path and let them wear themselves down or see that you're just not going to be interested. It's worse for the women when they are in groups by themselves without a man: for some reason many vendors respond immediately to a man's 'No' and will persists even at a woman's repeated refusal. I have been in groups with girls where, several times in the same walk, they were being hounded by vendors and all it took was for me to turn, look the man in the eye, and give my firm "No, no thank you" routine - and they walked away. On a number of occasions we have been offered drugs - it's happened more in these last two days than it did throughout all of high school. I mean easily more times. Like by a margin of 100 to 200 percent.
Still, many of the people I have met have been awfully endearing. Even - I should say especially - one of the shopkeepers, a charismatic man whom I'll call Ali. Ali is a family man with a wife and a child who came to Madurai from up north in Ladakh, where he also ran a store geared toward tourists. Three other members of the BYU group and I discovered his shop while looking to enter the Hindu temple here. We had already started to enter through a different gate but felt strange about it when a woman insisted that we needed to take our shoes off and leave them outside before we come in. By outside I mean right by the wall of the temple, next to the gate forming the fourth part of a four-way intersection with two very busy streets. Though there was indeed a pile of shoes there, I didn't feel at all comfortable with leaving ours in such a heavily trafficked place, and all the more when she insisted (and you just stop trusting people here in Madurai) that this was the main gate to the temple. So many random people have attached themselves to vendors here and try to guide tourists to their patron-vendors' shops that I just don't trust anyone to lead me, disinterested, to do anything while I'm here. Plus I trust my gut. So we told the woman we just wanted to see the outside of the temple and walked along the outside wall, which spanned a couple of city blocks both ways. Rounding a corner to the right we continued on and eventually came from the western gate to the northern, where once again we were told to remove our shoes. But this time a man led us across the street to an enclosed shop to leave them, and we felt much better about that. Plus two of us - Ali (whom I know originally from church at BYU) and I - stayed behind to watch all four students' shoes while two others went in to look at the temple's interior. We would switch later. This shop proved to be run by the man who would quickly become our new friend Ali.
Ali reports (in very clear English even) that he came to Madurai because whereas the tourist season here lasts around 9 months out of the year, only three peak months attract tourists to Ladakh. More money was to be had here. Not that the move didn't come with some (substantial) sacrifice: with a smile Ali tells me that here it far too hot. And so he relishes his return visits to Ladakh, where in fact his family is now waiting for him to join them for a holiday. (I have to admit that it really would be far too hot for many of the folks back home to take - I'm thinking of Dad especially here. Sorry if pointing you out specifically embarrasses you, Dad.)
He also uses those two weeks in the North to seek out more wares for his curio (is that the right word?) shop, where we found ourselves looking through an extensive and beautiful collection of statuettes in bronze and rosewood, jade and silver jewelry, painted boxes of paper mâché, and throws and scarves in endless piles. The wide variety and beauty of the wares took us aback, and Ali's knowledge and visible genuine excitement for each piece were evident. Periodically he would beckon us back to the far end of the shop, where he would crouch down and retrieve a piece from a lower shelf, where several more scattered pieces seemed to be hidden. "This piece," he would say, "is very special piece," and then he would go on to show us how fine the handiwork was, how beautifully an artisan had put together a certain inlay, what kind of care had gone into a certain carving. He really carried a deeply felt fondness for his work.
It was while Ali showed off his collection the first night that I happened to look above the shop door and see a placard in Arabic and a photo of the Prophet's grave in Saudi Arabia. "You are Muslim, sir?" I asked, and he gave a quick nod of his head. We continued looking through the various items for sale, and before long Shauna and Lily returned and I left with Ali for the temple. (I've just realized that A-li and a-LI look the same in writing. I hope you can tell them apart from context. Best of luck to you.)
A question soon arose that I felt I should somehow address with Ali: he being Muslim, how did he feel selling images supposed to represent Deity? Islam prescribes to its faithful (as I have come to understand it) a rejection of the applying of physical features to God, who in ultimate and magnificent superiority remains formless. To give God any physical attribute is to bring God down from Heaven, is to pinpoint God and therefore is to deny God's infinite and eternal nature. You can see how any image of God would represent an atrocity in the Muslim's view. And yet here were the statues of Ganesh, of Vishnu and Shiva and Krishna and Kali. I would have to make a return trip to discuss the question with our new friend.
This we did - Ali, Shauna, and I, along with Sara. We went to shop as well - Ali picked up some gifts for her little sisters and Sara fell in love with some jewelry she found there. But as the girls made their selections I sat down in the narrow walkway between the jewelry case and the rack of statuettes and started to ask my question. Ali, I was pleased (and a bit surprised) to find out, was happy to answer. "That, sir," he began, "that is my big blunder. That is my only blunder. I go to God now, I have to tell Him, 'Yes, I sell those things.' I am not proud of this thing. A man came in here the other day, a Muslim man, and he wanted to start his own shop. He asked about the shop, about the figures. I tell him, 'Sir, I sell these now because I started so long ago. I cannot now stop. Sir, do not start.' And he left. 'Sell all this, the jewels, the scarves, the other things. But do not start to sell these things.' Now, whether he do or whether he don't, I don't know. But I tell him, 'Sir, do not start.' This man was older, yes. I have longer to live, yes, but this man, this man should be in mosque."
I had anticipated this answer, though one other possibility - that these were not the One True God and therefore didn't matter - had entered my mind as well. Still I was taken by how fervently Ali had answered, and I could see that this was not an answer given just to be playing to my expectations. This was a sincere answer, the right one for him, and he had shared a piece of himself in giving it. I'll be going back for a third time now tomorrow, and perhaps I can find a way to share somehow a piece of myself too.
One more item before finishing this entry - it's just after 04:00 IND now. I hope I haven't betrayed Ali by sharing some of his feelings here. Please understand that this is an individual, a really nice and caring man with real feelings and a real family and business and life to take care of. And a spirituality as well. I thought that sharing something of this conflict between religious belief and practice might be enlightening for all of us, and I appreciate Ali's willingness to share with me. I am far too often too willing to open myself up to the world, to wear my heart on my sleeve, and sometimes that ends up revealing information about others that needn't be shared. I hope you understand that I've done my best to treat Ali - whose name I have changed here - with the greatest respect, as religious practice is a deeply personal thing that has raised conflict in my own life as it has in his. Please take this not as an opportunity to learn about the strange Other people Out There, but take a moment to find out what Ali's situation might mean in your own life as well. I think you might find something worthwhile.
Just a couple images from Madurai, by Jed's request. Kind of touristy stuff.
Monday, May 08, 2006
We're leaving for Madurai by train tonight, and I'll try to update the blog there. Before we leave I'm planning on visiting a couple of mosques, one of which is right next door to our hotel.
I'm keeping up on my journal really well, so don't worry - you'll have plenty to read soon. I think I'll have a picture or two as well. Thanks for reading.
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.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Today's May 2, and that means tomorrow's May 3. And that means tomorrow's the day I leave Provo for LA. (Four or five of us are flying out of LAX.) I finally moved all my stuff out of my house and put it in the storage unit I'm sharing with two of the girls going to India with me - and many thanks to Ben (also going to India) for the use of his truck while we go.
It felt like I had a lot more stuff than I ended up actually having. I guess that's what happens when you share a small little room with somebody who's got a bunch of stuff to store as well. But I'm leaving a lot of my excess stuff with Deseret Industries (we tend to just refer to it as DI), a place that will remind a lot of Eastern folks of just a really big Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift store. So that reduced my load a good amount.
So now I'm up on campus returning some books to the library and one to an anthro professor. I wish I'd had time to get more into this literature, but coursework just kept me too busy this semester, and I think I missed out on what could have been important theoretical stuff for the research project. What I think I'll do is run off some of what I see as being the most important sections so that I can access them in India, and then just destroy/recycle all that stuff when I get back. My backpack's pretty full already, so I'm not sure how much paper product I'm going to be able to fit.
I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get my microphone equipment and tape in time to leave, and I brought that up with my sister a couple days ago while I was talking to her on the phone. "But you're going to be in LA!" she said. Oh, yeah! I'm going to be in a place that's just full of video equipment! So I'll be bopping on in to some video-equipment store Thursday to pick up the microphone, cable, boom, tape, and extra battery I need.
I guess things are really winding down. Or, since soon I'm heading out to do something I think of as big and maybe even important, maybe we're just getting started. In any case, the next time you hear from me I'll probably be in India.