On April 2nd we woke up early to the sound of banging pots and pans as a gang of crew members shouted and drummed and stomped their way around the ship at 7 am. They were dressed in warrior garb and told us that all Scallywags needed to report to the deck.
Once we all gathered, our captain, painted completely in green body paint and wearing only shorts and a grass skirt, announced that in order to become a Shellback and stop being a Scallywag we needed to complete one of three tasks. Kiss a fish, be showered in fish guts or shave our heads.
I spent the rest of the morning videotaping and taking pictures of Lauren getting her head shaved, as well as several other friends.
Later in the day, my Indian Singing class performed a concert. We sang our Hindustani songs and sat cross-legged in our Saris and Indian regalia. After an hour of singing and sitting on the floor cross-legged, my legs were completely asleep, so when my teacher asked us to stand at the end of the concert to bow, my jello-legs bent awkwardly and slipped on my silk sari causing me to land directly on my butt, on the stage, in front of everyone. It was a ridiculous end to a crazy day.
The first day in India, I was already enamored. Jamie, Mari, Lauren and I took a rickshaw to go shopping, and as Raja (our driver’s name) took us out Mari and I sang some Hindu songs. We whizzed by the strange smells- some nice, like jasmine and curry, and some awful- like garbage and pee. There are old, broken down buildings next to modern ones, destruction with creation. There are women in brightly colored saris everywhere, because a colorful wardrobe leads to a colorful life. The traffic is outrageous and no one follows the road signs or lines and basically you have to be an Indian to drive in India. The shopping is incredible- you ask for a scarf and they bring out at least 30, different colors, hand stitched, and display them all on the counter. They try to charge you 3,000 rupees for a scarf and then give you a discount to bring it down to 2,900 rupees. You have to bargain it down to 1,800 rupees and then re-think the item causing them to bring the price down again. Yes, shopping in India is very, very fun.
On day two, Lauren and I went off for our home stay, along with Alyssa. We met our mother and sister, Priyanka, on the street. We headed to their car, a silver mini-van, and their driver helped us with our bags. Its not uncommon in India for people to hire drivers, especially since driving is so difficult. We immediately began talking about what to do with the rest of our night and we decided that we should start with lunch at our “dad’s” restaurant. On the way, we picked up our little “sister”, Juwaala from school.
Our “dad’s” restaurant was a super nice place, and we got to sit in the private room in the back so we could all talk and get to know one another. Our new family ordered us more food than the table could hold, because Indian hospitality is so much that its better for your guest’s stomach to explode from fullness than to ever let their plate empty. We ate incredible chicken and mutton biryanis (rice) and dishes of prawn and curd and baskets and baskets of naan (bread). We had a yogurt drink, a bottle of water, a bottle of orange soda and Pepsi for each one of us. It was ridiculous and at the same time incredible. We learned to eat with our right hands, and although we began as typical American novices, forgetting that left hands DO NOT belong on your food (right hands are for eating, left hands are for the “other end”), but over the next few days we became experts at right-handed eating. By the end of the meal I felt pregnant with an alien I was so full.
After eating I used the restroom and to my surprise, I came face to, well, not face, (but you get the idea) with a hole in the floor. It wasn’t a Western-style toilet, but a HOLE in the FLOOR. Yep. With no toilet paper. It was a new experience for sure.
After we left the restaurant and said goodbye to our “dad”, our “mother” and “sisters” took us to a nearby Tamil Nadu cultural Artist village. We explored with our “sisters” and saw the lifestyle of ancient India.
That night we went to a meeting with all the other SAS home-stay students and Rotarian members and got to watch a performance of folk dances. The dancers were great and super energetic, so when they had finished their dance, and we got up to dance with them, they danced in circles around us. They also had a full buffet, which I could not fit into my stomach, although I did manage a few bites so no one would be insulted.
After we got home our little family held a concert. Our “mother” was a classically trained dancer and did a dance for us. Next, Juwaala did a “Western-style” dance to Mambo No. 5. I sang a song I had learned in my Indian singing class and then Alyssa did a Chinese song. We learned our “dad” liked to race. And when asked to perform their talents, both Priyanka and Lauren claimed to have a talent in background stuff and watching us perform.
The next morning we headed out with the rest of the SASers and Priyanka to Mamalapuram, where giant ancient cave temples stand, fully decorated with carvings. We went from site to site seeing some beautiful and intricate cave walls. Our friend Candace, an awesome black girl, shared with me that her host family seemed to be ignoring her and paying more attention to her white roommate. We talked about racism in India and asked Priyanka about how Indian’s view Africans, concluding that amongst some people there is still a large amount of racism mostly created, or at least enforced, by British colonialism in both India and South Africa. Priyanka, being the awesome girl she is, offered to take Candace into her house and add her to our family, which we quickly made happen with the people in charge.
After a fun girly-sleepover style night, with mats on the floor and 5 of us in one room, we woke up to eat a huge Indian style breakfast and head out to go shopping. We went to a gigantic store, Saravana, that was 7 stories high and seemed to me like Walmart on crack with an Indian flavor. We started at the top to work our way down. You could barely cut through the crowd in some parts of the store and about half of the people seemed to be working there. One teenage girl followed us around to carry our bags and help us pick out the right size. In each isle there were 2-4 more shop girls there to help, although it seemed like they spent their time pointing and laughing at customers, especially our little group. Picking out a top required shoving past the giggling shop girls, digging around for the style you like and hoping the size was right and then holding it up, evoking further laughter from the girls. It was hard to tell if they were laughing at us in our faces, or just really amused that we were different.
When my sisters and I went to look at bags, four shop girls came over to help. They pulled them out to show me and then our girl would hold the ones I liked until we went through them all. One woman came over and started holding up bags too. She asked which I liked better. Lauren said, “I think she’s trying to help too.” I pointed to the bag she held up that I liked better and she said “Okay” and proceeded to take the bag over to the counter to buy it for herself. As I stared after her, our “sister” Priyanka explained that a lot of Indian women only ask for your opinion when they want to buy it just to make you jealous, even if they don’t like it themselves. I decided to keep my future opinions to myself.
We spent the rest of the day shopping, got henna on our hand on the street and spending the day with our “family”. When they came to drop us off at the ship at the end of the day, we got to bring them on to show them our “home”. They saw our rooms and classrooms and cafeterias and we took pictures everywhere. Finally it came time to say goodbye. We all hugged and said our goodbyes and our “mom” began to cry. It was sad for them to leave, but if we ever went back to Chennai, we’d have a “family” to go see.
Our final day in India, Mari, Lauren and I decided to go to Spencer’s plaza, a gigantic mall filled with vendors that had moved up in the world, but were still willing to bargain and haggle for goods. We bought lots of little things and ate our last Indian meal and stopped at Sri Krishna Sweets for a few baked treats and desserts.
Overall India was an incredible place, that I’d so love to go back to. There is so much to see, so much to buy, to eat, and to smell that a week is just not enough time to do it all.
In case you’ve been waiting with baited breath to know that I’ve survived, I am alive.
Clearly its been months since I’ve posted… and at this point I’ve returned home, gone back to school and began to miss my trip. I started looking at my blog and realized I just stopped posting in the middle of the adventures…
In my journal, I had a few entries that I just never posted and I can try to remember everything else, probably piecing things together with the help of my hundreds of pictures and wonderful traveling buddies.
Let me promise right now that I will not fall of the face of the earth again anytime soon and I will safely bring this all home…
a little update of pictures considering Facebook is blocked in Vietnam because they are very strict about self-expression
The ballots are in and officially- We’re going to Taiwan!
I’m excited, but I have no knowledge of Taiwan and have no clue what I’m going to do there… If you have ideas or suggestions please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to the aftereffects of the tsunami and earthquake Japan recently experienced, the Semester at Sea program has decided to cancel going to Japan and is deciding what to do instead.
The message we received: March 14, 2011: The Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), in consultation with our shipboard administration, has resolved to cancel the Spring 2011 Semester at Sea voyage’s call to Kobe and Yokohama, Japan on April 4 and April 7 respectively. This decision follows our careful assessment of the conditions in Japan which raise serious concerns about health and safety as well as concerns that our visit would impede relief efforts currently underway. Our assessment also takes into consideration a recent travel warning for Japan issued by the U.S. State Department. Currently, ISE and senior voyage officials are evaluating alternative ports in consideration of safety, logistics, and maximum value to the academic and field programs. Thank you for your patience during this complex process. A revised voyage itinerary will be announced on the SAS website in the next 48-72 hours. Participants who have signed up for ISE-sponsored field trips in Japan will be reimbursed.
The current plan is that the administration is looking in to either staying longer in China or Hawaii or trying to spend the same time frame in South Korea, Taiwan or the Philippines. As soon as I know, I’ll post, but if you’d like more minute to minute information feel free to check the website at Semesteratsea.org.
We barely got a chance to see Mauritius, as we were only there for a day. Lauren and I went out with and SAS trip to visit the Jummah Mosque. It was a gorgeous building with intricate wood carving in every doorway. We listened to the Imam talk about the Muslim faith and how it relates to Christianity very closely. It was cool to hear the Imam chant a section of the Quran in Sanskrit.
After the mosque, Lauren and I walked around for an hour or two and then headed back to the boat. Mauritius was a very nice little island, and it would’ve been nice to see more of it.
I’ve really been sucking at posting updates… but back in February, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. Its such an interesting place- with the effects of post-colonialism and post-apartheid still very apparent.
The first day, when we should’ve arrived, we were stuck in a windstorm and couldn’t dock all day. We spent the day lounging around the ship, catching up on homework and sleep, and looking at South Africa from our windows.
When we finally arrived the next day, around noon, Jamie, Mari, Lauren, Rachel and I decided to find a seafood restaurant immediately. We sat near the dock, watching the sea lions play, the people pass by and we had an amazing view of Table Mountain and the city. We sat and ordered grilled calamari to share, a bottle of white wine, and our entrees and proceeded to spend 2 hours just eating and looking around. After eating we walked around the gigantic mall and shopping areas for the rest of the night.
The next morning we got up early to head to Robben Island, an island off the coast of Cape Town that, like San Francisco’s Alcatraz, is a jail for political prisoners and that Nelson Mandela was sent to. We got to the ticket stand in time to stand in a long line, eventually to be informed that tickets were sold out. We decided the next best thing would be to head to “Two Oceans Aquarium” and see all the cool sea life they have. It was especially awesome to see because Cape Town is the point where the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean meet, so there is more sea life there than anywhere in the world.
After the Aquarium, we decided not to waste the last few hours of the day, so we hopped on one of those ridiculously touristy city tours. It was a giant double-decker bus, and we all got headphones so we could follow along. We were told we were taking the last bus of the day and we were thankful to get on. They told us we would have 15 minutes at each stop to walk around. At the first stop Mari and I got off to use the restroom and Lauren and Jamie stayed on the bus with Mari’s bag. Mari and I went quickly into the mall they had taken us to, and as we came out of the mall less than 5 minutes later the bus was gone! Mari and I tried to ask this man on a nearby bench, but his response was “I am from Germany. I do not know.” in a thick German accent. We stood there for a few more minutes, and another bus pulled up from the same company. We hopped on hoping that Lauren and Jamie would have the good sense to wait for us at the next stop. Mari and I predicted that Jamie would just laugh at the circumstances, but Lauren would freak out and worry about us. As we pulled up to the next stop, they were waiting for us anxiously. We found out that Lauren had indeed freaked out and Jamie had laughed and then they got off the bus to wait.
Once back on the bus, we toured the city. We passed district 6, an area of Cape Town that used to be a “black neighborhood” until the forced evacuation of blacks and the demolition of the former neighborhood. There are fields and fields of rubble from the old buildings that the government still hasn’t done anything with. We passed the old forts, the clock tower where Nelson Mandela made his first speech after being elected into office, the church where Bishop Desmond Tutu preached, Table Mountain, and a bunch of other sites. We decided to conclude our tour at Camps Bay, a ritzy beach area, and had another delicious seafood meal there.
That night Mari, Lauren and I went out to Long Street, the place to be for great South African nightlife. We walked up an down the street, stopping in a few bars and clubs, eventually finding a great pizza joint and watching the drunk people stumble down the street in search of food. We made friends with a local named Jeremy who was out celebrating his best friend’s bachelor party and saw some other SASers on the street as well.
The next day we headed out to a street market to look at local crafts. We just wandered around checking out what cool African crafts they had. That night Jamie, Lauren and I hit up the Cuban bar and the gay bars. At one point Lauren and Jamie were dancing on the stage. It was a wild night and so much fun.
The last full day Lauren and I went out with the Amy Biehl Foundation group to a township just outside Cape Town. We got to visit 3 different elementary schools to see the extremely poor school systems that apartheid has left much of the blacks with. The education in the white areas is well funded and taught by educated teachers, while in the townships the black schools are taught by teachers who were kept from an education by apartheid and so poorly funded that some children can’t even afford a pen, and often use that as an excuse to drop out of school. We played with the kids and I taught a kindergarten class the “itsy bitsy spider”. It was an incredible day getting to spend time with adorable children, just starved for attention and lessons.
All in all Cape Town seemed a lot like home, and although South Africa had deep undercurrents of racism and post-colonial problems much worse than what we experience in the US, Cape Town didn’t seem so different. It’s a beautiful place, appropriately named the Rainbow Nation, for the array of colors of the people. It often felt like being in Florida or something, so if you like nice beaches, great seafood and wine, and crazy nightlife- Cape Town is the place for you!