Sunday, December 11, 2005

Last full day in Mysore

It is Sunday, December 11th, my last full day in Mysore. Yesterday, I printed off the final report and picked up the bus/train tickets to Gokarna.

These last few weeks have been intensive writing, though we did have some time for a little funny. To the left is a picture of me with Yetti (teacher for the Japanese students) prior to clocking the second fastest time in Mysore for a female at the go-cart race. If no one beats me by today, it goes into the record books!
Last night, we went out for a final bash with the whole student group. They took us to a local movie - three hours of melodrama, with a side of singing and dancing. It was in the local language (Kanada) but really there was no need to understand what was being said - the huge changes in music (dum dum dum!) and uber-expressive faces was enough to convey the feelings and basic storyline. Final scene - the girl (who found out she had a brain tumor) slowing dies in the arms of her lover, on a bench in front of the Taj Mahal. Oh yeah.
Tomorrow we make our final presentation, have a quick lunch with faculty, finish up packing and saying goodbyes - then off to the bus station. Next stop the beach!
Getting a little sad to leave this contained mini-universe behind. Good times, great friends.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jittery in Mysore

Well, I am going a little stir crazy! We are spending the bulk of our time at the JSS guesthouse, writing away. The report is coming along. Hopefully we have the first draft of the main report finished by tomorrow. Spending so much time in the same building, same room, sitting in the same chair - a stark contrast to the last few months here. I guess we are just paying dues - at least until we go on one last vacation.

Well, looks like my plan to stay here for Christmas and see the north has not panned out. So as far as I know I will be back in Saint John at midnight on the 23rd - I am still awaiting the final confirmation from the travel agent back in Halifax. I have mixed feelings about it - I wanted to stay and see the drastically different northern towns, but it just didn't make sense in terms of time (too short) or money (too much). Ah, I take it as a sign that I should come back sometime.

My trips to the pool have been great, and quite entertaining. The young women (15-25ys) come with a member of their family, usually the mothers, who wait on the step. My sense is that they are chaperones, but maybe I am looking too much into it. Maybe not. : ). The swimsuits they wear here are pretty interesting - a fair comparison are those worn in the 1940's and 50's. Bloomers with ruffles, tops with sleeves on them, old-fashion bathing caps that button under the chin. Perhaps the clothes are a sign of the gender dynamic. No wonder the mothers glare at me - I am a bad influence with my speedo and therefore modern feminist ideas (wonder what the reaction would be to a bikini?). They are generally quite bad swimmers, but it is likely due to the weight of extensive bathing suits. They also swim both across the eight lanes and also the more standard lengthwise sticking to one lane. It seems so typically Indian - chaotic, a little inconvenient and inefficient, but everyone knows the system so it works out alright.

Okay, back to work.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Report writing in the winter time

We have been told it is winter time here. Many people on the streets wearing wollen hats and jackets. We did have to suffer through a cold snap last week, when it wasn't very sunny and the temperature dipped below 24 degrees (I think it hit 21 degrees). I joined the Mysore University Pool for the month and it is totally deserted - on Sunday I was literally the only person there. I was told by the staff that the locals don't swim in the winter. Hard to believe it is winter when you are swimming in the blazing sunshine, surrounded by palm trees. I have no trouble paying Rs.15 (50 cents) for an hour in an 8-lane private pool.

Kinda funny, but lots of people here put cotton balls in their ears to stay warm - it still makes me giggle a bit (how culturally insensitive of me). We keep seeing all these people young and old with cotton in their ears; eventually worked up the nerve to ask someone and had the mystery solved- maybe it works like an inner hat?

We are deep into the reporting writing phase, trying to reconcil three different writing styles and three different points of view with one major report. We will get through it. We have functioned pretty well as a group thus far - really hope it continues to the end as everyones nerves get frazzled. We are holding fast to a final report date of December 12th, then off to the coast. I am still trying to get my ticket changed and am waiting to hear from the travel agent - as time passes, I am thinking it is less and less likely. Life is good when the alternative situation is having to spend christmas on the Atlantic coast with friends and family. Is there christmas music playing in the malls yet? Nothing here, besides the holiday tunes I brought on my mp3 player.

Judy is leaving tomorrow on the morning train - we will be sad to see her go. Her presence made a positive difference with us, giving us more credibility with the faculty and supporting our efforts. Last night we went upscale for a goodbye supper at the swankified summer palace - very beautiful, and very expensive. Supper was serenaded by musicians sitting on a big pillow,one playing a lap drum and the other a sittar. There was a stuffed lion at the base of the huge swooping granite staircase, with a stuffed tiger on the landing. High ornate ceilings, large columns, chandeliers, with a view of the main Mysore Palace from the second floor balcony. One night stay is 140$ US - compared to the beautiful place in Varkala at 6$ CAN.

I can hear the ticking away of the last few weeks, as the time zooms by.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pictures of nature

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the flora and fauna.
The top photo is ofsugar cane flowers- they look like fields of feathers. The middle picture is of a dragonfly I saw in the coffee field - he just sat and waited for me to take the picture. The bottom picture is of some flowers I saw during a morning walk - you can make out some of the dew on the petals.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

BR Hills

This past week, I have been in BR hills, up in the mountains in southern Karnataka. Our final village was Sanneri Colony, a previously-nomadic tribal community experiencing the long, slow process of resettlement. Lots of similarities as First Nations in Canada, except that the resettlement is now considered to be an embarassement in Canada, whereas here they still think they are helping these ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’ societies advance in life. I guess seeing the worth of some other way of life is a process of shifting ideology – they are still in an earlier stage maybe. It is rather tragic they can’t learn from our mistake. Lots of challenges for these people, pretty poor living conditions on top of loss of culture. We did meet some really great people who are dedicating their lives to protecting the people and their way of life, which is heartening.

Gorgeous setting. Coffee country – the village was covered in coffee plants, heavy with round little green and red coffee beans. I was up to my elbows in java and smiling ear to ear. Funny, the locals sell the coffee beans, but buy ground coffee from elsewhere to drink. We helped a local guy map some land he wants to development for community work – as payment we got a pocket full of unprocessed coffee beans awaiting slow roasting and brewing. Fun fun. We got a chance to play aroung with a GPS machine, run a short census, and do some questionaires. Judy Guernsey from Dalhousie University arrived in time to join us in BR Hills and really helped us try some new things and give us some needed support. We got a chance to expose the Indian students to the joys of campfires – and got to see how fast and intensely coconut shells burn – it seemed like they had been soaked in lighter fluid. I also got to indulge in the best lime pickle I‘ve had yet – delicious tender lime rinds dripping with red spices.

It really was a jungle out there. We went on a hike on the final day, but had to turn around because there was a herd of irate elephants blocking the way. On drives home, we saw acrobatic displays by monkeys, families of elephants crashing through the brush, wild boar trotting off into the woods, and enormous bison grazing along the roadside.

Before we arrived in BR Hills, we had some tough days with the JSS faculty and the project. By the time we left, the energy of the group was much more serene and happy.

And so our field work is complete. What an unforgettable adventure.

Bedara Pura

I have not been able to post for a while - very limited access to the internet and a hectic schedule.

Our second village was Bedara Pura. Much more poverty than in Suttur. In the community meetings with the lower castes, no one in the room would have gone to school. There is government school so the children can get some education until they are needed in the field.

Bedara Pura was a very bumpy two hour drive away so we had early mornings and returned late at night. Got a little weary but learned some pretty interesting things from the people. We came to depend on one of the young men in the community to help co-ordinate things. We got invited into his house and got served warm sweet milk - risky thing to serve a group of sleep-deprived researchers. Yet again, the people in the community were lovely and welcoming, especially the children. We did some one-on-one interviews and found some very despondent - wanted things to stay the same but with probbing found out that is because they don't think things can ever improve. During the door-to-door interviews, we also got a chance to see more of thier daily rituals - women brushing and braiding hair, cooking, etc. interesting.

<-a picture of the silk worms I saw - silk is a big industry here. The people get paid RS. 100 (3$)per pound of the silk worms - regulating some of the industries would do wonders I think. Anywhoo, within each bundle is a little white grub - they cut one open for me so I could see.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Vacation in Kerala

Wistfully back from vacation.

We left on Sunday for Calicut, on the west coast of Kerala. We had planned on taking the noon bus - ended up squeezing onto a wooden bench on the 2pm bus with much hustling of our friend Anil. Buses were all full as it is holiday season and the locals are also on vacation - guess we should have thought of that. The bus was a little crowded and rustic but we were happy to be off on an adventure. About 2 hours in, we heard a huge bang. The back tire of the bus blew - usually they are double-tired but the second one was already flat. So off of the bus we go. We are now waiting by the side of the road in a gorgeous hilly region, cool moist air, clumps of tall bamboo all around. After twenty minutes we were now on another random bus with help from our fellow passangers - Not totally sure where it is going but it's okay. Then the bus stops, and we are shuffled onto yet another bus. Then to the most crazy bus ride of my life - pitch black, racing down the side of a mountain, sitting beside the huge opening (otherwise known as the backdoor with no door), sliding all over the place. It got to be funny after a while, like a ride at Universal Studios. We crashed that night at Calicut, a fishing village, and took the overnight train the following night to Varkala.

Varkala was gorgeous. Covered in palm trees, with a sea breeze blowing, big crashing waves in warm water. We spent three days there lazing about - swimming in the waves, eating tons of seafood and drinking beer out of teapots. There are very strong restrictions on serving alcohol in Kerala so most places just serve beer in teapots - I don't think the cops are fooled but makes for funny surroundings. Its 10pm at night and everyone has teapots and mugs on their tables, beaded with moisture. Must be cold tea :). Also got an ayurvedic massage which was quite an experience - lots of slapping and punching with a big dose of oil.

Our final time was spent in Kochi, attending a Kathakali show (ritualized dance - I found it kinda funny, like some modern art is kinda funny) and the next morning we went on a relaxing tour of the backwaters. Lots of little canals abound with vegetation, a few kingfishes flying in the air, hybiscus trees in bloom, being pushed in a long boat by a man with a piece of bamboo. Then off that night at 7:30pm on an all-night bus back to Mysore. We arrived back early this morning flithy, tired, but satisfied with our adventure.

Now back to work :). Tomorrow we start up in a new village.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

We survived our week in Suttur - had a fantastic time. The village of Suttur is about an hour's drive away from Mysore (and is only 30km away - less than perfect roads). The guest house where we stayed was close to some beautiful rice fields and sugarcane crops - the picture to the left is of the sugarcane collected that day. Right hand picture is of the rice fields - hard to capture how beautiful they are - there is a huge expanse of green, gentle breeze.

We spent time with womens groups, mens groups, youth groups - we had to split them up by major caste so actually had many more meeting than we had thought necessary. So much tension here around caste. People are divided into neighbourhoods by caste and each has it's own community centre. There are still untouchables that are not allowed to be in most places. The lower castes are called Schedule Tribe and Schedule Caste - SC/ST - they have trouble making money becuase no one will hire them, and the upper castes will not buy what they make - hard for them to eak out a living.

Many of them say they would like a factory to come to town to provide work - if a product comes from a factory the uppercastes won't know who (or what caste) made the product Hard to get a community plan or create community enpowerment and civic sense when they are so very divided. Even within broad caste divisions there are further subcastes - In one of the meetings with the womens group (which was already of a certain caste), some of the ladies would not join our circle because they didn't want to sit beside the ladies of lower sub-caste within their caste- so they sat off to the side. Argh. Here is a picture of one of the meetings with the women - we asked for around 20 people - many more showed up.