Saturday, May 20, 2006


Dancing with Cricket...

Whether we are crashing a courtyard game of cricket, or spending an evening as the guests of a wonderful Delhi family, we have squandered no opportunities for friendship and fun here in India.

It’s hard to say who has made more friends: Bret, with his sackful of toys (including a 1986 Back to the Future car from McDonalds), or JT, who teaches Secret Handshakes and magic tricks to the children who scamper alongside us to practice their English skills and to maybe nab a coin or two if they’re lucky.

When in the Pahar Ganj, we discovered yesterday morning that it is far more preferable to travel by bicycle rickshaw. A gaggle of rickshaws delivered us to meet our bus and instead of clomping through the busy road avoiding auto rickshaws and sleeping dogs, it felt as though we were floating down a river, careening past the busy streets and over the cow patties and puddles that are characteristic of this busy neighborhood.

We had another full day today, going first to Humayunum’s tomb (sp.), an expansive monument built for a Mughal emperor by his wife in the 16th century. Derek told us that after the two designers deemed it complete, they were immediately executed.

We also met with officials from the United States Educational Foundation In India, (USEFI) to talk about study abroad programs and grant opportunities for future travel to India. They told us that 80,000 Indians go to American schools each year; but only 1500 come to India to study.

Our last stop was the Bahai temple, a lotus-shaped building with a luminous marble exterior. One must be silent inside of the temple, and aside from the sound of bodies shuffling in and out of seats, no noise could be heard. A docent for the temple told us that the building was in the shape of a lotus because the flower has high symbolic power for Hindus and Buddhists. “The lotus is the national flower of India. It grows in a dirty swamp. But it is not in the swamp; it is above the swamp,” our docent said. “The Baha’i faith gets rid of all social prejudices. If we can rise above the prejudices, world peace is in our path.”

We had a strange dust and rainstorm fall upon us as we walked from our bus back to the hotel. I learned just now it is the first winds of the monsoon. We arrived damp and covered in dust and other roadside debris, shaken and miserable. But happier times were ahead, and we spent the evening with Gaurav and his family (see earlier entries) at a beautiful social club in the embassy district of Delhi. We stuffed 17 people (no kidding) into two vehicles. Of course the “how many clowns” joke emerged and we had a rollicking good time as Gaurav drove us to the club. The grounds were beautiful, and families languished on the grass or in small clusters of tables. They had arranged for all of our group to have dinner with them. Gaurav’s mother, Manju, welcomed us warmly and ordered dinner and within a half an hour plate after plate of curry and chicken tikka and breads emerged from the open-air restaurant along the perimeter. We had a beautiful time, and the rain stayed away, although rumbles of thunder across the city could be heard from time to time. The best part about this evening is that we are all seeking many more like it when Gaurav, his wife Gunja and baby girl, return to Virginia in a few weeks. Bob’s cogs were already cranking along these lines and he has invited them (as I had) to come to Greenville later this summer. In discussing differences and similarities between India and America, Manju said that for her, strengthening ties with family and friends was what was most important to her. “Now, I have just widened my circle,” she said.
So have we, Manju. So have we.

We have just arrived in Agra by train. The trek from Delhi to Agra was easily one of the most easy and streamlined transitions this country has seen. Practically flawless. Thanks to Derek and our tour guide Chung-pa (sp.). We’ll visit the famed Taj Mahal tomorrow (no, not of the Donald Trump variety!)


Life in technicolor: a dispatch from Bob Ebendorf

May I first introduce myself. My name is Robert Ebendorf. I am a professor at ECU in the School of Art and Design. It was such a gift to have Dr. Derek Maher ask if I would like to join his group to be part of this odyssey to India. Many of us have never before had the opportunity to experience this cultural enrichment. Today in our global community, the world of communication and education are truly one of the ways not only to enrich oneself but to bring about understanding and harmony between people. Let me share with you a few of my first impressions and experiences upon arrival in New Delhi, India.

It has been interesting to experience the unfolding of the tapestry that Dr. Maher prepared for us in our initial meetings during the months before our departure. Perhaps some of the things that I would like to share with you at this moment come from my background of being a jeweler and working with small details, measurements, use of color, design and form along with problem solving. We all have spent many hours walking and exploring Pahar Ganj, the district where our hotel is located. It is truly a 24 hour circus of people, sounds, smells and motion. There are stalls and vendors on both sides of the narrow streets with a river of people, cows, bicycles, motorbikes, dogs and children coming and going. I have found it interesting to view the many shops and open air stalls along the walkways. The vendors might display a selection of padlocks and keys, not one example, but perhaps 50 of different sizes and various metals. The next woman will be sitting with a table of vegetables arranged in a unique design layout while the following will display a collection of wristwatches and pocket watches while another proves that the watches are waterproof by having them immersed in yellow plastic tubs with 5 inches of water. Then there will be a man and a young boy offering a selection of food that they are preparing using charcoal for heat. At the same time, if you are not careful you could very easily be run over by a Vespa or a three wheeled autorickshaw or run into a cow.

The way that I view all of this is from my personal visual perceptive, the multitude of colors, shapes and forms in the many stalls in many ways become a Jasper Johns painting or a contemporary textile weaving. If one were to look up and examine the electrical wires moving from pole to pole or building corner to building corner the craziness of the wires looping, being tied on, dangling, tied back on become a graphic line drawing. This mixture of humanity, energy and colors become a vortex that draws me in. It has truly been for me a gift to be here in the moment and experiencing India and her people with their many fascinating component parts. We have just begun and I am sure that there are many experiences yet to unfold that will enrich my life both creatively and spiritually.


Water politics... a dispatch from Geoff

Geoff’s blog entry #1
May 18, 2006
4:35 a.m.

I am lying in bed right now, anticipating my alarm in 2 hours. Maybe it’s the jet lag, or maybe it’s some mystical aura surrounding being in India, but I am not at all tired. I fell asleep around 12:30 and awoke pleasantly after a dream about Ween’s “Here there Fancypants” being strummed (or rather plucked) on a violin at an ECU Orchestra concert. I have not yet gotten sick in India although I feel it is inevitable. I am not the most careful of people when it comes to hygiene in the United States, often drinking tap water from outdoor spigots, swimming in the Tar and Neuse Rivers with impunity, and eating food fallen to the floor. I can only hope that my lack of hygiene in the U.S. will support my health in India, my body already being resistant to monera and protists in the food and water. It’s either that or the pool water I’ve been drinking here, the odor and flavor of which I’ve become incredibly appreciative. Though strong at first, the scent reminiscent of my days as a youth swimming in lightly chlorinated outdoor pools reassures me that the water is good to drink. I have not yet even used Bret’s ‘holy filter’ instead relying only on my decontamination tablets. The tablets are great. Each package contains a warning label urging the user to not touch the pill, that it’s corrosive, harmful if swallowed, if in eyes, if on skin, etc. One is also supposed to wait 4 hours after inserting a tablet into a liter of water. Either this is the reaction time for Cl to neutralize organisms or this is the half-life of the chemical. If the latter, then the 4 hours is to ensure that the pill won’t kill you as well as Pete the Paramecium and Allen the Amoeba.
Showering at night is a good idea. I smelled terrible a few hours ago. I suppose this is all for now.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Purity and pollution

In an effort to prepare us for the glorious chaos of India, Derek discussed during our first few organizational meetings how purity and pollution manifests in Indian life and culture. We see pollution in many neighborhoods, scraps of trash and waste, cows and dogs and chickens roaming the dusty streets, the haze that hovers over Delhi in the morning. We also see evidence of purity, perfection in the structured spaces of the Red Fort and the design of that Jantar Mantar sundial. There are streetside shop vendors who, in spite of the dusty chaos around them, offer perfectly stacked hands of bananas and melons and cloth. Others walk through traffic with a platter of diamond-shaped slices of coconut arranged in the shape of a curved wreath perched on one hand. In our group, we seek out filtered water, tablets, and bottled mineral water. We drink, at minimum, three litres a day to avoid dehydration and general fatigue. Yet sometimes the elements, no matter how much water one drinks, no matter how much protection we seek from sunblock and repellant, will trump us and our sensibilities. It was a hot day, and many of us toted two litre bottles of water. We made our way, via tourist bus, to the Red Fort, built by Shah Jahan from 1628 to 1638, just after the completion of the Taj Mahal when the Mughal emperor decided to move the capital north from Agra to Delhi. Beyond the brick red stone walls of the fort are clusters of marble buildings offering detailed inlay. 32 gardens and many open spaces. Given the hot day and the buildings’ marbled floors, it was easy to see how the Mughals managed to keep cool in weather like this. In its heyday, canals of scented water channeled through the fort. Before we toured the Red Fort, we found a cool space under a tree and Derek offered a brief lecture about the history of the Red Fort. A few men and some families, drawn by the small crowd that our group (by definition) makes, sat and stood among us as Derek continued his lecture about Shah Jahan and the creation of the Red Fort. He told us that the idea of creating a place like the Red Fort embodied Muslims ideas of what heaven or paradise might be like. “These beautiful gardens and flowing waters offered a beautiful vocabulary of describing life after death for many people,” Derek said. “Many of them lived in the desert, and so the words they used to describe heaven are water and lush gardens.” While we were nearly the only western tourists visiting the Red Fort that day (we saw perhaps two or three other westerners), there was no shortage of Indian tourists and school groups of children. Everyone was there on holiday and our time there had this sense of playful leisure that hasn’t quite yet manifested among people we’ve met in the street. Many of us were approached by children and young men, wanting to have their picture taken. There were many giggles and exchanges of: “Where are you from?” We readily complied. From the Red Fort, we walked on the sidewalk amid what felt like a small circus, to the Jama Masjid (an Islamic mosque). There were vendors who sold fake beards and fans and postcards. One man napped, with a scale before him, as he waited for someone who would pay him a few rupees to be weighed. Another sold fresh slices of peeled cucumber, which looked tempting and refreshing in spite of the dusty street and lack of refrigeration. We saw a pair of elephants on the street, and one of them sprayed their nose-jazz on JT. We dodged through traffic to make it to the mosque, walked through a marketplace and climbed the steps to India’s largest mosque. The afternoon prayers were about to begin, however, and the guards did not want to let us in, even for a moment, to view its interior. Our shoes were already off. Lynda, Danielle and Ashley had bought head scarves. I had mine on, too. Nabeel, who is Muslim, was allowed to enter. We all waited outside as the conversation continued somewhere else about whether we would be allowed in. We were not. People moved in and out of the great metal doors of the mosque. And just above us, three loudspeakers carried a sonic version of the activities within the great building. A man sang the call for prayers. It enveloped every molecule around us. Stunning. Nabeel emerged from the mosque and we walked to the bus, which was parked on the other side of the building. To get to the other side, we walked down the hundreds of steps through a beggar’s alley (so it seemed) for there was no shortage of women and children who sought out photos from us, who wanted rupees, etc. In spite of being shut out of the mosque, many of us felt buoyed after having heard the call to prayer. The reality of the poverty in India emerged too soon for some of us. We found the bus and had lunch at the YMCA in Delhi. The YMCA here houses travelers, offers aryuvedic services, and has a fine restaurant. In spite of the sustenance, somewhere between the heat of the afternoon, the mosque-to-beggar’s alley dynamic, and the last few resonances of jet lag, exhaustion had set in for many of us. Rather than going outside to see the ghat where Ghandi was cremated, we visited the mostly air conditioned National Museum. There was an exhibit of Buddhist sculptures and thangka paintings, and the lone remnant of the historic Buddha’s bone. It was enshrined in a tiered wedding-cake shaped pillar of gold and sealed in a protective see-through case. We made it back to Pahar Ganj, where naps never felt so good, where rice pullao was a phone call away, and where the Internet provided slow but steady access to the world outside. We leave Saturday (super-early) for Agra… not sure how reliable the Internet will be in the next couple weeks, but I’ll send dispatches when I can! -Erica

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Day 2: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in an Auto Rickshaw

James remarked earlier today (May 17) that he felt like he had been here for about a week. I concur. This day has been so full, so varied, that each hour feels like a 24hour period. At 11 a.m., after the flurry of dollars-for-rupees exchange at the money changer down the street, and spending a good hour in the communications store next door, reading email and making arrangements to meet for lunch with Gaurav, a friend of my friend Nancy, we walked to the entrance of the Delhi Railroad Station. The ever-capable Derek arranged on the spot for each of us to travel in groups of three by auto-rickshaw to the famed Connaught Place. Some call it the Connaught Circus. Geoff, wedged between Danielle and Erica, noted excitedly that the rickshaw reminded him of an unpredictable version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. I found out later from Gaurav that the rickshaws (actually nicknamed “autos”) as well as the public buses run on natural gas. It occurred to me that the distinct scent and haze of diesel fumes did not hang in the air, as they had in Nepal so long ago.

Our driver was a bit surly at times, and would attempt to drop us off not at the American Express bank location as we had requested, but at any old money-changing station. “No; we said. “No money to change; we meet friends at American Express.” Eventually, we found our friends and were charged, well, a bit too much for our auto ride.
“Fifty Rupees,” the driver said. “Each.” We balked as he insisted on 150 rupees from us. Danielle gave him 100 Rupees (about 2 USD) and I gave him 20 rupees. We found out later everyone else paid 30 Rupees for the entire group. We were stewed about being soaked, but hey, it happens to everyone. We arrived at Connaught Circus and broke up into small groups and walked around the shopping district. We came across Rikhi Ram, Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co., est. 1920. This, as I learned from the Jeremy Priven Travel Channel show, was where the Beatles encountered sitars for the first time. I even recognized the owner sitting in the back room, among employees and other men. The store was rather narrow, the sitars were mostly behind glass and six Americans filled it up pretty quickly. Since we were not in the market for a sitar (not that I know of, anyway) we moved on and discovered another instrument shop. JT, Geoff and Jamie bought these snake-charmer horns that, when blown, sound like a traffic jam. I’m going to try to get a photo of them playing these things later. Maybe even an audio podcast. The shopkeeper, a woman with close cropped dark hair and a beautiful pink sari, made the best-worse face as the boys attempted to play the horn.
“It sounds lovely,” she said, and we all burst out laughing.

At 1:30, after talking with touts, buying stamps and postcards and making friends with Sanjeen, 11, and Raj, 12, we reconvened for lunch at the Kwality Restaurant. Do not be fooled by the “Kw” of Kwality. This was a fine, classy establishment with incredible service and quite fancy from what we had seen to date. Our tables were long and were soon filled with bottles of water, and later, plates of naan bread, shahi paneer curry; chicken seekh kabob, navaratan vegetable curry, mutton chops, vindaloo, rice and more rice. I ordered my first of many lassis (a refreshing yogurt drink), and awaited the arrival of Gaurav.

Gaurav arrived and, thanks to Nancy, who had emailed us photos of each other and who was instrumental in bringing us together, we recognized one another immediately. Gaurav was such a pleasure to be around; unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable about Delhi. He has lived for the past three years in Fredericksburg, Virginia, expanding his family’s furniture manufacturing company, but has lived most of his life in Delhi.

After lunch, we all went to the Jantar Mantar, a sculptural sundial of sorts that is supposed to tell the time within 20 seconds of accuracy. In a gated park area, the sundial was plastered in a matte red, with white plastered staircases and these curved geometric spires and ramps. It did have the feel of a skateboard park, and it was virtually impossible to take a bad photo, what with the beautiful symmetry of the lines and the contrast of the red edifice against the blue sky.

This being our group’s first full day in India, we had some free time available to us to relax, or to return back to Pahar Ganj. Gaurav had suggested that I bring a few friends to join us for a drink. So, Lynda, Geoff and I accompanied Gaurav to the Sheraton in Delhi. It was a stunning facility, far too fancy for our dress of sturdy walking shoes and hot-weather travel clothes, but we were greeted warmly by everyone (who knew Gaurav). We went to the restaurant and had drinks. I had a strong Turkish coffee with boiled milk (the teapot of scalded milk was hotter, I believe, than the coffee itself), and a lime soda water. An odd combination, but I wanted, and enjoyed, both. Gaurav had said earlier that it was important to see all strata of Indian society, and our time at the Sheraton certainly offered a stunning contrast to the people and streets and scenarios we had encountered earlier in the day. We stopped by the Indian Habitat Center, a performing arts facility, to see whether there were any cultural performances scheduled for the next few evenings. Then Gaurav drove us back to Pahar Ganj, and ventured with his minivan onto the narrow street closest to our hotel. He observed that it seems where we are staying is more “Indian” than how most Indians live. It is my hope I will be able to see him, and to meet his family (parents, wife and daughter) before we leave Delhi. Gaurav’s hospitality and was outstanding, and I only hope I can return his generosity when he visits Greenville, NC.

In the evening, we had a group meeting on the roof and then traveled en masse to a bakery/eatery. There, we celebrated Josh’s birthday. We never learned how old he was… perhaps he’ll tell all later. The cakes (one chocolate, one yellow/orange flavored) were gorgeous and had “Happy Birthday Josh” written in Hindi. Josh was more than happy to pantomime blowing out his candles. Then he cut the cake and our festivities began. An hour or so later, we returned to our hotel (the air conditioner in our room simply needed a hidden switch to be turned on). Indeed, one day’s worth of activity was enough to fill a week. I wonder if each day will be this full. Tomorrow, we are visiting the Red Fort (designed by Mughal Sultan Shah Jahan) and after that a masjid (Islamic temple). More photos and dispatches to follow… as technology allows!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Arrival to Delhi

First dispatch... from Lynda and Erica:

OUr journey started in the corner lobby at RDU INternational Airport. We were all on time and giddy and ready for travel. We hit Chicago and met JT, who had flown standby the night before. There were 15 of us from ECU scattered around the Boeing 777 (?) and arrived in Delhi 14 hours later into the welcoming arms of Derek.

Delhi hit us with a blast of hot air and dozens of men who wanted to 'help' us with our luggage in exchange for a fee. We somehow made it into a reserved bus and off we sped (and I do mean sped) to the Pahar Ganj district. The bus was unable to pass easily into our neighborhood and since the hotel was 'just around the corner' we unloaded and walked a good half mile through traffic and street vendors and more people demanding that they provide us service. We're talking bicycle rickshaw drivers, auto rickshaw drivers, bus drivers, baggage handlers, you name it. We were Very American. A single file line of Americans fresh off the airplane and taking in our new, but temporary, home.

This morning we (Lynda and ERica) ventured out early. IT was just about 7 a.m. and we encountered yet again men who wanted to drive us places, sell us okra, and offer us guided tours through the "Charming and quiet" gardens nearby. We refused all offers. There were dozens of cows and dogs, women selling garlands of marigolds and men selling produce and sugar cane drinks [we passed].

We walked a couple of blocks, then backtracked once we discovered our imagined "Shortcut" was not a shortcut. After taking breakfast on the rooftop back at the hotel, we met a mechanical engineer from CHennai, who was obtaining a certification in Delhi. JT came along, the first of our group to surface after nearly 24 hours of travel. Then Derek arose and directed us here, to the ancient communications store with these orange and white bubble cubicles. There is no AC here, althought most of the rooms do have it (not ours; we'll have it fixed today).

FIrst day in INdia. We're still figuring out the photograph dispatch situation... more later. With photos, hopefully! We are all happy and safe. Please write!

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