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A little bit about the cool things i do ... in college.

So "school" here is a little bit more awesome than regular college. In some ways, I feel like I've regressed back to high school or even elementary school. We have class all day, 9:30 to between 4-6pm. But we get snack time! And we go on Field Trips!! Field Trips Rock!!! Wdnesday we went to visit a Dargah, a shrine to a Sufi saint. We had been talking about the different religious traditions in India, from Hinduism to Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. Sufism is a branch of devotional Islam that became a point of coalescence between Muslims and Hindus. Visitors to the shrine were both Hindu and Muslim, and no distinction was made between them. Sufism appears to serve as an additional mode of spiritual expression.
The shrine itself was bright green, with Islamic style arches and designs. The inside of the shrine was a visual explosion - natural motifs of flours intersected with disco-esque mosaics in mirrored glass. The inner sanctum of the shrine, in which the sufi's body was entombed, was incircled by a walkway. Worshippers walked clockwise around the sanctum, and were only able to look into the sanctum through barred windows. Women are limited to this area of the shrine, only men are allowed into the sanctum, where they can touch the tomb itself.
Worshippers come to the shrine with a wish, and many tie a string or attach a lock to the bars of the sanctum windows in order to giver their wish some kind of permanent connection to the sufi. Tradition details that once your wish comes true, as 90+% do, according to some study, you should come back, remove your string or lock and give thanks to the sufi. There is also a sufi priest, who will purify your energy and give blessing to babies and those who need help. He blessed all of us, waving a wand of peacock feathers and dabbing our foreheads with the ashes of ceremonial flowers. A woman walked around giving us rose petals, that we were to eat as a sign of blessing. It was a pretty interesting experience - I did feel a certain energy in the building. It's hard to know if it was real, or just a reflection of me wanting to believe along with all the other worshippers, but I guess that's not really what's important.

The next day we had a lecture from a lake activist named Mansi. Bangalore is known as the city of Lakes, because in the medieval times, the residents created man made lakes to promote their agriculture. Over the years, these lakes have developed their own ecology and behave more like natural lakes then man made lakes. As the city has developed, the lakes have taken on more roles in society. Fisherman and clotheswashes make their livelihood on the lakes, while city dweller look for peace and relaxation at the lakes. The city has also looked to the lakes for a means of lucrative development. We visited Hebba lake, which dramatically showed the class separation involved in lake development. First we saw the area of the lake that had not been developed at all. Itinerant fishermen had set up shacks on the banks, cows grazed on islands and trash was strewn everywhere. Due to bad government protection of the lakes, fish were no longer even living in the lake, so the fishermen had bought fish from the market and were reselling them at the lake. Apparently, this area of Hebba lake is prone to accidental and intentional drownings.

The next area we visited was a manicured park on the lakeside. This charged admission and marketed itself as a somewhat westernized location for relaxation. The final park looked like what I imagine a New Jersey or Atlantic City boardwalk would be - the entire lake front was concrete, with fast food stalls - including the Corn Hut, Indians are obsessed with all varieties and creations of corn-and amusement rides. The only signs of natural life in this park were the rat poop in the bathroom and the huge, mutant cat fish swimming on the edge of the lake, hoping for leftovers. It was an interesting comparison between the different types of recreation and how "public space" can be divided up among the classes.

I spent the weekend with Alex, hanging around and exploring our neighborhood. Every day I see something new, within walking distance from our apartment. Our neighbors have started to recognize us, so when we walk by a certain banana lady she says "Hi" and waves, and all our friends at Hotel Swastik, our favorite restaurant, wave whenever we walk by. It's nice to not feel so separate from the people we live near. Saturday, Alex, Ana, and I saw a Bollywood movie in theatres. It was a very interesting experience - our tickets cost more than I usually pay for dinner and rickshaws all day. The movie was over three hours long, with a popcorn break in the middle. There weren't any english subtitles, but it was fairly easy to figure out what was going on, mainly because the film had no depth. The star was incredibly handsome, and also very in touch with his emotions, as his character cried at least 18 time throughout the film. The story was about this guy who wanted to be a superstar, but then discovered that there already was a super star who looked EXACTLY like him! Ain't that the shits? So he becomes the super star's body double, and when he dies in a tragic drunk driving accident, actually pretends to be the super star. He allows his whole family and the girl of his dreams to believe he is dead, until the night of his film's premiere when he reveals his true identity, gets forgiven and gets the girl. WOW good lesson, Bollywood.

This week we've had a pretty normal academic week. However, normal academics are nothing like Davidson. People show up sometime between 9 and 10 for our 9:30 class. We had two papers due, minimum word count 500wds - which feels more like a diary entry than a paper to me, and it seems impossible, and almost unexpected, for anyone to turn them in on time. It's definitely an adjustment to this causal style of academics. The teachers always get, whether they ask for it our not, constructive criticism on their classes. I cringe a lot, but it seems like, most of the time, the teachers are really interested in student feed back and want to incorporate our ideas and interests into their lectures.

The only really interesting thing we did this week was go on a day-long field trip to a village where one of the local universities and the Indian government are working together to promote sustainable agriculture and improve farmers' quality of life, to stop them from migrating into cities that can't support them. Overall, it was a really cool experience. I have a little trouble, however, dealing with the fact that NOTHING is ever on time here. We had to show up at school at 8;15 but we didn't even leave until sometime near 9. We also spent a lot of the day driving from farm to farm in our bumpy, crammed land rovers. By the afternoon, I was pretty stir crazy and a couple of us just bursted out with hysterical laughing for a good ten minutes on a particularly bumpy patch of road.
It was really great to be out in the country though, and the work this group is doing is really amazing. The farmers have improved their profits and also adopted more sustainable practices. People who would have once been struggling to survive by farming or would have moved to the already over crowded cities now are making good money and can even afford to higher others. The group also organizes community teams, including womens group, that support the initiatives and further enhance the community's viability. I got a little peeved at some of my classmates who were giving the scientists a hard time for not exclusively using organic fertilizers (on some farms they supplement the organic fertilizer with about 20 percent inorganic fertilizer) and local seeds, but in my view, these small problems are hugely outweighed by the importance of improving these peoples' lives. They are on an extremely good path and when they are able, they use organic means over inorganic ones.
While in the village, we met with the farmers council and discussed the differences between American and Indian farming. The town leader discussed how impressed he was with western countries and how much harder westerners work than "lazy" Indians. It was kind of awkward, but when they asked what we were learning by being there, I said that it was really nice to see development that took into consideration issues other th an just profit, and concerned itself with environmental and social issues. Several of us stressed that there was a lot of value in Indian methods and that American ways should not always be emmulated.
We met with one old farmer who had converted hi farm into a fully organic farm. He reminded me a lot of my grandpa, and I thought about how much he would have enjoyed this field trip. The villagers asked that if ever we were ab le, we should invited one or two of them over to our village to see how things work. I think that would be an awesome thing to do.
This weekend I'm staying in the city and doing errands because on tuesday we leave for three weeks of travelling! First we are going to the state of Orissa, and then for our mid term break we are travelling to Varanassi and Calcutta! So, stay tuned!

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