10 Reasons It’s Time to Come Home From India

January 16th, 2008
  1. The heels of your feet are so dry and cracked that you are afraid that no amount of pedicures will ever heal them
  2. Your thighs are like muscular beams from squatting over the Indian toilet with bout after bout of explosive diarrhea
  3. You have learned to successfully haggle down prices from street venders in Hindi
  4. When people say something is spicy you wonder which item they are talking about, because everything tastes pretty bland to you
  5. After 5 months of taking a bucket bath with a plastic stool you realize there is a working shower in the bathroom that Akbar has known about all along
  6. You dream of crackers, cheese and your blue sweat pants
  7. You have shopped so much that you feel you already have something very similar to every piece of jewelry you come across
  8. You are fed up with your job and boss
  9. You have struggled to adjust to the heat, and then realize that summer is just starting, and what you have experienced so far cannot compare to what will happen over the next 5 months
  10. You have a ticket to return in 14 days!!!

January Hyderabad Update

January 16th, 2008

So another month has gone by bringing me to my sixth month in this culture swap living in Hyderabad, India. I wish I could say time has flown, but I think the combination of my need for constant reflection and evaluation of my time here has made me painfully aware of every single day.

December in the US is usually an exciting time for me- I love (I am realizing now) the holiday “cheer”, music, decorations, the crazed shopping, and the chocolates everywhere you look. December in India has no feel at all. We did have a holiday – bakrid – where we brought home two goats, slaughtered them in the driveway, cooked Biryani until 4, stuffed our faces and then slept the sleep of deep food coma… but that’s just not the same as Christmas and New Years at home, ya know?

The highlight of December was definitely the visit of Sarah and Lisa, two teachers from the school I worked at last year and have spent the greater part of this year recovering from. They were a breath of fresh American air. I forgot how American I am, and how much I really do fit in best with Americans. I never would have thought so, but in a recent conversation my friend Lynn commented that America has a way of making people feel less welcome and less like they fit in than they actually do. I think that is definitely the case for me.

So with these gals Akbar and I went on another holiday. We’ve been averaging one cool trip per month, and this month’s was a doozy. We showed them around Hyderabad, where all these raunchy guys asked to have their picture taken with them. Even though we said no we could see them taking cell phone snaps as we walked away. The girls got a lot of attention like that- because Indians LOVE white skin. It’s odd the way they worship it. The drugstores here are filled with aisles and aisles of products like Fair & Lovely and Lightening Tonic- creams, soaps and bleaches to lighten skin.

We were worried about how Akbar’s family would react to the Americans, but they were curious and delighted and excited to have them. His mother cooked up a feast – unable to speak English it’s how she communicates – with fresh shrimp and deep fried vegetables. We had to fight both food coma and jet lag to leave the house again to continue our adventures. We went on from Hyderabad to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. I would go into detail about those places here, but Akbar has been working for hours writing detailed blog posts about each day of our trip, so I’m going to let you guys read the details there: http://akbarpasha.wordpress.com/. But I will say that for me the highlight of the whole journey was seeing Gandhi’s memorial in Delhi. A solitary black tomb stone marks the spot where he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist, and an eternal flame commemorates the light Gandhi’s life and teachings continue to shine on this country today. Gandhi will always be one of the few people I respect and revere – so I felt it fitting to steel a great big rock to bring home with me.

There are many hilarious stories that came up on our trip, but I think the hero of this 10 day tour was definitely Akbar. A quiet guy who prefers browsing on his laptop to interaction with people, Akbar spent 10 solid days with 3 girls who never ran out of things to say. I’m not quite sure how he handled it. Around day 8 he looked at me in the morning and said- I think I’m going to get my period soon. Because India is still working on gender equality, it is a country that naturally separates men and women on many fronts. This means that when we got into an auto (a cab that’s actually an economical lawn mower with a bright yellow roof, no doors, and a greasy man driving in the front, equipped with seats to fit 3 people but typically seen with about 25 people jammed in) Akbar had to snuggle with the driver in the front. And because they’re not so weird about men touching here as in the US, the auto drivers had no problem snuggling back. In this way Akbar was molested and felt up by many men on our world tour – ask him about it, he loves to re-live it.

Perhaps the best story that came out of our segregation was our day-long Vipassana meditation in Rajasthan. Sarah really wanted to do some meditation or yoga in India. I understand the draw- when I was planning my trip here I too imagined doing those things, and then quickly abandoned them when I saw the third-world-style in which these classes are conducted. I had my doubts, but it was free and in a beautiful ashram on the hills, so we decided to go. When I called in the morning to confirm the directions and the time, the non-English speaking gentleman who answered shouted “Call back. 1 years.” I think he meant 1 hour. We were welcomed in typical Indian fashion – no information, no overview, no one to explain to us the expectations of the day… we were directed to sit in the meditation hall, so that’s where we went. After about an hour of sitting in a cold, dark room, a man came in to get things started. And by get things started, I mean he switched on a recording of a very old man who would be leading us via cassette for the next 8 hours of this day. Uh-oh. He (the tape-man) switched between an undecipherable Hindi and an even more unrecognizable English. After an hour I got fed up and went to sit outside in the sun- where peacocks, parrots and humming birds were having a field day. The rest of the group emerged hours later for the lunch break. I don’t know how much meditation everyone was doing. I know I napped and watched peacocks. We talked for a moment about leaving, but because the girls and guys are not allowed to interact (and we’re technically not supposed to talk either) we were strictly told to split up and shut up. So the comedy begins after lunch, and must be prefaced with the fact that Sarah was obsessed with taking pictures during our trip. So the scene is that I am napping by the peacocks by this time joined by Lisa. Sarah and Akbar are at it hard core in the cold dark room with the tape-man, and Sarah comes out in a few minutes with the message that she is ready to leave. She says she’ll try to get Akbar, but I tell them that Akbar is really hard core about meditation- I bet he’s in the sixth level of samadhi by now. She goes in, can’t get his attention and comes back out.

Later we hear from Akbar that somewhere around lunch he too was fed up and frustrated with the tape-man, and decided he wanted to leave. He noticed Sarah outside with her camera, and mouthed my name to her- so she could come get me. Sarah obliviously took his picture, waved, and went on to her next shot. Immediately after she disappears, a stern-looking Indian man, clearly a Vipassana expert, snaps his fingers and summons Akbar. Then he basically cusses him out for trying to hit on a white chick, and yells at him for talking. Akbar tells him that he wants to leave, and the man tells him he cannot, because this is a full day meditation session. Akbar tells him that he is with a group and he needs to talk with them, and again the man refuses to help him out. So poor Akbar, scolded and insulted returns to the cold dark tape-man room. Poor guy. We cheered hip up with Pizza Hut at the end of the day- how else would you end a day of meditation in Rajasthan?

My RAS

January 16th, 2008

About 5 months ago when I was struggling to find some sanity here in India I came across an amazing article in a book about the Reticular Activating System, or RAS.

Our RAS is the part of our brain that acts as a filtering system for what attracts our attention- the example that sticks out for me is that when we are walking down a crowded street we are bombarded by thousands of stimuli- from the traffic passing, people walking past us, store windows, bill boards and signs… but if someone calls our name (or even says a word that sounds like our name) we are more likely than not to turn our heads. Our RAS acts as a filter that lets some stimuli in so that we can respond to it, and filters other stimuli out, deeming it unimportant.

But what’s interesting is how does the RAS know what stimuli is important and what isn’t? Well, it’s kind of working on what we feed it. We can consciously feed it messages through meditation or visualization, and if we aren’t engaging in this type of activity the RAS will work with whatever dominant thoughts are bouncing around our heads.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where once you start thinking about one thing you seem to notice it everywhere. Like if we are planning a wedding we may see bridal magazines and invitations and wedding dresses wherever we look. And if we are worried about gaining weight we will notice fat people and skinny people on the streets, books about diets or weight loss plans wherever we look.

The RAS is controlling this- our brain will attract whatever we program our RAS to notice. The book that I was reading talked about how we can consciously program our RAS through detailed visualizations. The clearer the images we feed in, the harder the RAS works to find those exact stimuli in the real world.

I’ve had 2 amazing experiences with this exercise. When I first came here I was coming off of my fourth major career change in about 4 years. I’ve definitely been flip flopping all over the place for a while, which I don’t mind- I think it’s been a healthy part of my life-exploration and curiosity to see what’s out there. But I was without any clue of what direction to head in now. And so through a series of visualizations I imagined my dream job- what it would look like, what I would wear to work, who I would work with, how I would get there… I imagined how it would feel during different parts of my day, how I would look, conversations I might have. .. I imagined it all in an Indian context, willing myself to see this ideal work environment here in India. I imagined all the time- in the morning when I first woke up, while we drove to the coffee shop, while I had my coffee, before I went to bed- anytime my mind was unengaged.

And it totally came true. Out of the blue I got a call from the one person I had spoken to about a job when I first got here, who had an opening in his own company. I pretty much walked into the exact job description I was imagining. (Of course the company wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined in my dreams, but most elements were pretty spot on.)

Boosted by the success of this incident I went to work on my comfort levels staying in my in-laws’ house. I was determined that we could make this situation work and keep everyone happy. I imagined every possible detail I could think of, in bright techni-color clarity, and finally it was done. Suddenly I woke up one morning and found I had acquired enough of a grasp on Urdu to communicate with my mother in law in small sentences. I stopped feeling like a fumbling foreign idiot and moved with confidence. And the people around me changed too. Everything went according to the script I had written and reviewed in my head.

So now I’m moving to the next project. I’m imagining another dream job, correcting for the flaws in this one and incorporating my living environment. I can’t decide if I want to live in India or the US for the next year, so I’m imagining two scenarios (but I think I’m working harder on the India one), and they are both manifesting right in front of my face. It is so unbelievable it is shocking. I’m actually feeling a little scared by it. If we have so much power within us to control the reality around us, imagine what we can do if we really believe in ourselves.

After the first job offer I got a little nervous about this process and stopped using. Then I felt foolish and started it up again, and once again felt nervous about the speed of results. If this next job manifests I think I will be a true convert- three time’s a charm!