Sports Day

The school that I work at most often had their sports day today. It was fun to see the children channel their unbelievable energy into activity. The sports day was slightly different than the event I remember from childhood – mainly due to a lack of space and equipment here – but the general excitement was identical.

I enjoyed the day. I spent a good majority of the first few hours sitting on the ground covered with children. Literally. I usually had 1 kid on both sides of me, 2 kids in my lap, and another hugging my neck and leaning on my back. They are cuties!

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Merry Christmas from Matoshri!

Merry Christmas from Matoshri!

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The Daily Commute

When people ask me what I think of Pune, I can honestly say that it’s a lovely city and that it is very easy to live in. Especially after a summer in Dhaka, I am very comfortable here.

The only thing that Pune truly lacks is a decent public transportation system. There are buses, but thus far no one seems to know the routes and there is no real timetable. It’s supposedly a very unreliable method of transport.

So I am left with one option: rickshaws.

The view from the back of a rickshaw

The view from the back of a rickshaw

Riding rickshaws everyday is… an experience. City sights buzz by. You can hear the sounds of Pune waking up in the morning and spiral into rush hour madness in the evening. The strangled quack of a rickshaw horn never fails to make me grin. Occasionally I’ll get a nice driver; once I was treated to a Marathi lesson. These are the things that I focus on when the less than favorable aspects of using rickshaws start to grate on me.

It's hidden, but the small buildings (on the right hand side of the photo) is a community where some Akanksha students live.

It’s hidden, but the small buildings (on the right hand side of the photo) are the houses of a community where some Akanksha students live.

For one, using the rickshaws as I do is a rather costly endeavor. And to be frank, it’s probably the most physically uncomfortable method of traveling. Bouncing up and down on barely cushioned seats bruises my thighs and bum. One ride was particularly notable in its two near misses with other vehicles – within 5 minutes. I won’t even get into the hassle of getting the drivers to go by meter and go a normal route.

Still, my rickshaw rides are part of my Indian existence, and it’s a distinct feature of my life here. As such, I thought I’d share a few moments of my morning commute. In the videos you can see the Pune-Mumbai highway, the rivers that wind through the city, the tall skyscrapers and the lowly tin-roofed slums. It is a mere introduction to Pune and the video quality is low (it was taken on my Bangladeshi-turned-Indian phone), but it’s an introduction nonetheless.

 

Honoring Gandhi

With the insanity of moving to a new city/state/country calming down, I finally got to visit the Aga Khan Palace. It is a beautiful place, full of gardens and quiet corners to lie down in. I enjoyed spending a quiet afternoon relaxing and lounging on the grass. Lying in the grass and staring at the clouds pass by is reminiscent of childhood, and it was a wonderful start to my Pune adventures.

Built in 1892, Aga Khan Palace is notable as the internment site of Mahatma Gandhi, his wife, and his secretary from the period of August 9, 1942 – May 6, 1944. Both Gandhi’s wife and secretary died during this internment period, and their samadhis (sites to honor people regarded as saints or gurus) are located at the palace.

I’m glad that I started my explorations of Pune with this historical site, and I look forward to continuing to explore my new city in the weekends to come.

Without further ado, pictures:

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From inside the palace

From inside the palace

Statue of Gandhi and his wife

Statue of Gandhi and his wife

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On the left: aloo (potato) paratha On the right: paneer (cheese) paratha Yogurt and pickle in the small containers. YUM.

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Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there :)

Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there 🙂

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Highlights

As of today, I have been in Pune for a full week. I am moving into my own apartment tomorrow. My foreign registration saga is slowly but surely coming to an end. (I’m being optimistic here!) I have been invited to spend Monday at a school event. I have gone for 2 runs, 2 walks, and a yoga class.

There have been challenges as I transition to a new city, but given how nervous I was leaving Delhi and my fellow Fellows, my move to Pune has been wonderful. As such, I thought that it would be good to remember the highlights of my first week here. As I am constantly reminded, it is best to approach life with a sense of humor and patience in India.

1) Getting to know my amazing mentor and colleagues.

Everyone at Akanksha has been so welcoming. My mentor has been SO helpful with my foreign registration process. I seriously could not have done it without his help.

I’ve also been housed by another coworker and her roommates. They have taken me on apartment viewings, fed me, and made sure that I am 100% comfortable here. I’m sad to leave their place tomorrow, but it will be nice to unpack my suitcases after 20 days!

Even going to the Akanksha office is comfortable. Everyone greets me warmly, and it’s been fun to start talking with people. Everyone is incredibly friendly and dedicated. I have been offered more projects than I can realistically take on in 10 months, and I’ve also been extended the opportunity to create my own project(s) as ideas come to me. I have been offered a great deal of freedom in addition to the opportunity to do useful work. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement.

2) Visiting two of the Akanksha schools.

The kids are so cute. And smart. And energetic. Seriously, they have more energy in one classroom than I ever saw in my entire school in Korea! The antics they get into… I am going to have so many stories once I start going regularly. The last school I visited I had to promise that I would come back. And even then I had to give 5+ minutes of hugs before I could escape.

My favorite student comment of the week: “Didi, your hair is like maggi noodles. I like maggi noodles.” And then I had about 6 girls playing with my hair. (Maggi noodles are a specific type of Indian ramen.)

3) Eating lots of delicious Indian food.

Masalas. Dosas. Chapati. Paneer. Enough said.

On that note – palak paneer is so much better here than in the States. Seriously.

4) Finding an apartment.

I am so happy that I found a furnished place that’s within my budget and in the area that was recommended to me. Plus, my new roommates have a cat. So by default I get a pet for my Fellowship year! And apparently there’s a jogging trail nearby…

5) Running.

It’s so nice to run outside again. I’m taking it slow and making sure that I work up to my normal milage again, but the ability to wake up and go for a run has truly been a great normalizer in my transition. I feel like me when I can run.

6) Trees.

Pune is a green city. It’s unlike any other South Asian city I’ve seen yet. And I love it. Can’t wait to sit outside my new balcony, stare out into the greenery, and read. (I’m pretending as though I’ll have time.)

7) Riding on motorcycles.

Motorcycles, or as they are called here, two-wheelers, are the way to travel in Pune. The public transportation system is more or less nonexistent, traffic is busy enough that cars are inefficient, and auto-rickshaws are expensive. So what’s a Pune-ite to do? Jump on a two-wheeler with one or two friends, and off they go!

I never imagined that I would be a regular backseat motorcyclist, but it’s a blast. I still grip the back of the bike with both hands and won’t let go unless we’re at a dead stop, and my heart still pounds like crazy when we hit a clear swath of road and the speed increases, but it is a blast. Although how women sit sidesaddle on the bike WHILE HOLDING THEIR INFANT CHILDREN is besides me. I cringe every time I see that. Just… just no. That can’t be safe…

It’s been a fun week here in Pune. I can’t wait to get my new place looking like home so that I can go explore Pune’s sights! My place is 2 kilometers from a palace – YES.

Discarding Pride

I don’t like asking for help.

It is not that I believe my own knowledge to be greater than those around me. Quite contrary: at Fletcher, most of my colleagues have a great deal to teach me and I love learning from them.

Rather, I dislike asking for help in situations when I feel helpless. I dislike the feeling of losing control. I dislike being a burden on those around me and those I trust. Even when I know that if the situation were reversed, I would be happy to help – even then, it grates me to rely on others for help in simple tasks that I am used to doing independently.

I am relearning humility here in Pune.

By no means, please do not misunderstand my words for harsh feelings against my new home. Although I have only been here for four days, I already love Pune. If any Indian city were to be crafted with me in mind, it is Pune. The city is green. Trees offer shade along sidewalks that are mostly well kept. Early mornings are cool enough for a nice run and the sight of a foreigner jogging has attracted almost no attention yet. Twice now I have taken off, running along the paths and enjoying a taste of normalcy.

I cannot wait to truly take off and explore my new city in earnest.

My frustrations lie in official registration business and apartment hunting. I am continuously relying on the help of friends and coworkers as I fruitlessly search for accommodation and a way to formalize my stay in the city. With each helper comes another opinion, another voice, another set of ideas. Normally the more the merrier. But right now, confused as I am with so much, each new thought brings more confusion into the mix. All of this makes it hard for me to keep accepting help. But yet I must.

I am staying with a lovely coworker and her two wonderful roommates. I struggle to remain as quiet and inconspicuous as possible while being friendly. I rely on coworkers for rides. I rely on friends for hours of apartment searching. And through it all I still don’t know if my actions are useful or just a waste of energy.

But it takes a lot of my pride to keep asking questions. How do I make coffee? May I make some tea? Where is the washing machine? Can I please help with the dishes?

I am incredibly lucky to be with such wonderful people here in Pune. I have been fed, housed, and befriended in such a short time. If I were able to help, perhaps that would alleviate some of the hesitations I feel at the moment. In a normal context – that is to say, in my normal American life – I try to do so much on my own. Because in my mind, that is what grown ups do. They take care of themselves. Here I cannot do that yet. I fight against the feeling of regression, of becoming younger and reliant. And so I must surrender my pride. I must relearn humility. And I must learn to differentiate between the situations in which I should ask for help and the situations where I need to act for myself.

India is simultaneously forcing me to my knees and lifting me to my feet. I am both a child and an adult. I came to serve and yet all I do now is rely on others for help. India teaches me, in every moment, to relax the white knuckled grasp I have on life and let it flow as it will.

I must discard my pride and remember humility.