Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It gets intense in India.

I learned a lot lately, and want to share some of my thoughts.
I’m eavesdropping on a conversation, where information on the crew’s daily life aboard the MV Explorer is being revealed. They work 14 hours every day, with no days off unless we are in port, when they can have up to 2 days on land. Also, we are now set on a route that doesn’t need to follow minimum wage laws and their pay is lowered for this reason. They do not work for tips like the service industry in the states (though we tip them anyway after the voyage). This is why we don’t fly the American flag anywhere on the ship, which is very bothersome.  At this point, I’m feeling overly catered to and very spoiled. I guess they knew what they were getting into when they took the job.
        On a different note, we watched a documentary video in our Global Studies class, which is required for everyone on the ship. The video was about how Indians learn to speak with English, American or Australian accents to be hired by outsourcing agencies in each country. They said the youth culture in India is mesmerized by the “American Dream,” which is ironic because it often doesn’t even exist in America. They are taught about baseball and common slang. It’s hard to imagine people wanting to try so hard to be a part of another culture. Often times, Indians rebel against their work personalities by accentuating their Indian attributes, like dress and jewelry, and try to speak in their native Indian language. They choose standard American names to use over the phone so customers cannot recognize that they are from a foreign place.
        People here have been talking about India INCESSANTLY. This is cool because we’ve been learning a lot about where we’re going, but I wish that people on the ship would just unleash us when we arrive in Chennai and let us experience everything the country is on its own. We’ve heard a lot of the same stories, descriptions, warnings.. it’s becoming too much. One good thing, though, is that there are two Indian inter-port students who performed for us tonight. Sunila sang while Bahaji (sp?) played the violin and it was beautiful. We haven’t even had our logistical pre-port yet. Sigh.
        I have, however, found the cultural and religious things we’ve learned about to be extremely interesting. Much of it is centered around the Ganges River. Indians brush their teeth in the river, use it as a bathroom, clean their clothes, send floating prayers across the water in small paper boats until the river accepts them... There are so many uses for the Ganges.  It is said in the Hindu religion that one’s soul undergoes reincarnation, and the only way that a soul can be released back into the original energy of the universe is to spread one’s remains or ashes in the Ganges (or “Ganga”) River. It is for this reason that people go on pilgrimage to Varanasi, which sits on the river, to die. There are “houses of death” along the river for these people to stay. This way they can be cremated and have their ashes spread to release their souls. When a child dies, their soul is still considered pure and they are not cremated. Instead, they are wrapped and attached to a weight to pull their bodies to the bottom of the river to rest and become a part of the earth. The same goes for cows, which are sacred, and explains why beef is extremely uncommon throughout the entire country. From what I hear, it is not uncommon for a cow or child to detach from their weight, making them visible as they float down the Ganges. It is for this reason that I can honestly say I am happy not to be going to Varanasi – I don’t think these are things I could handle.
        The river is said to have dripped from the hair of Shiva after prayers went to him to cure a drought. Shiva accepted water onto his head as hair and allowed it to drip down to the top of the Himalayas and continue to form the Ganges. This is why the river is such a religious symbol and seen as a place that can absolve anyone of their sins. It is also for this reason that people bathe in the Ganges. 
        We have been told to use our right hands only, since left hands are used for “cleaning activities.” People in India eat with their hands a lot, so I’m excited for that. I’m really scared of getting extremely ill the way I did after Morocco...  About 45 Indian Rupees is equal to $1USD. I have a shopping list of all the things I want to buy and am pretty excited about it!

I have a stellar itinerary. The first day is a trip to Mamallapuram, where some Hindu temples we’ve studied in my Asian Art class are built. The next day I leave for an overnight home-stay with an Indian family to get to know the real culture in the south. I will be with my family that day and return to the ship to explore Chennai at night. I leave early the next morning with Alexa and some friends to go to New Delhi by plane (weird!). Upon arrival, we’ll take a 4-hour taxi from there to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and stay there for the night. We’ll return the next day to New Delhi to spend the day there until our flight leaves at night, putting us back on the ship by 2 am. If this trip to the north doesn’t work out, I’m going to explore about 6 different cities in the south with my friend Evie. Alexa and I signed up for Bala Mandir orphanage visit through SAS on the last day. I have some independent trips and some that are organized. Regardless, I think just being in India will be cool no matter what I do. I’ve been anticipating this country (and Vietnam and Japan) the most, and can’t wait to get off the ship!
India has the largest train network in the world. Their food is incredibly spicy, so I’ve been putting Tabasco sauce on everything at meals to condition myself. Have been watching Indian movies all week to learn about the culture, and reading the Lonely Planet books in the library. I think that no matter how much I prepare, nothing will get me truly ready.
Tomorrow is Sea Olympics! I’m in the Aegean Sea, which is purple, so I bought a purple SAS shirt. We bought purple fabric in Ghana for our deck to wear as bandanas, and I have a purple snow hat with me. I signed up for crab-crawling soccer, an orange necking pass, the hula-hoop tourney and sustainable sculpting (with trash). Our team is making a sculpture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu! I just need to remember sunscreen this time because my nose is still red from before Mauritius, and so are my ears… :( I’m also not very happy that I can’t capture videos because I lost my point-and-shoot camera, and left my journal in Mauritius. It had everything in it.. contact info for people in Ghana, places I ate, cities I visited, stickers I bought.. everything. Hopefully I’ll find a way to get it back, but as of right now it’s not looking so good. At least a camera is replaceable.

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