Anika, I love ya

This is a ***super special*** blog post that goes out to one of the few people who actually reads my blog—- the talented, beautiful, hilarious, generous and kind Anika Nagpal. When I first met her in an overcrowded Toyon dorm room, where we were both wearing ridiculous neon rally, and she gave me a suggestion for some cool philosophical book (Anika, if you’re reading this and remember it, please remind me of what it’s called), I never would have thought that one day I would be having a sleepover at her beautiful home in Bangalore, India and meeting her sweet parents, sister, and dog. But I did! Twice!

IMG_6034.JPGPic from phi psi bid night 2015–the night I met this wonder ^

Anika let us crash at her house for two nights as we flew in and out of Bangalore for our Goa trip, and it was definitely a highlight of this entire trip. First of all, after accidentally leaving a purse on the bus from Salem to Bangalore, her parents helped us track it down by talking to the bus driver for a good deal of time and then sending someone to go pick it up. We never would have found it without them, and considering that the purse contained Sam’s passport, we would have been pretty screwed. Even during all of that stress, Anika and her family made us feel so comfortable in their home, letting us chill and eat yummy north Indian food and watch Bollywood movies.

Anika’s mom is such a wonderful chef!! For one breakfast, she made us paneer and potato parathas and I ate about 10 of them. Everything was so fresh. We watched her roll the dough out to make them on the stove. Another day, we got to eat outside with a beautiful view of their backyard. Her mom defrosted some mangos that she had frozen during the fresh season to make us the most amazing mango lassi I’ve ever had. We had not one, not two, but three breakfast beverage options.

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Our last night in Bangalore with Anika was the last night of our mini-vacation, and she made sure we had a good time. We went to this place called City Bar for “Bollywood Night.” The drinks were delicious, we got our picture taken for the newspaper (unclear if we made it), and we had some fun with some straws (pic to come, hopefully)… When we got back home, we ate all of her mom’s leftover food (this fluffy buttered bread) and the Indian version of Ramen, which is much better in my opinion. A perfect end to our days of freedom. Anika, I’ve said it so many times now but THANK YOU! So lucky to have you as my friend.

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IMG_6032.JPGmy gorgeous friends feat. sweaty back

 

xoxoxooxoxoxoxoxoxooxoxoxooxoxoxoxooxoxoxooxoxoxooxoxooxoxoooxoxox

9/4/16-9/10/16: GOA

 

 

Goa is an absolutely gorgeous state on the coast of the Arabian Sea. We were so lucky to have the opportunity to spend the past week here. The beaches were beautiful, the seafood fresh and delicious, the hotel was modern and well-priced (with the comfiest beds!!), but the best part of all was the people. Everyone in Goa is happy. Happy to see you, happy to help you with directions, happy to give great suggestions, happy to let you play with their fluffy white puppy, happy to let three girls sing “Baby One More Time” at the top of their lungs in a very low-key karaoke restaurant, happy to dance until 4am and then watch the sunrise on the beach. Ok I think you get it. Goa = good vibes.

Take me backkkkkkk

8/19-8/22: Bangalore

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Bangalore literally translates to “the city of boiled beans,” which is fitting since the food that I ate during this trip will most likely be the star of this blog post.

This past weekend, we boarded a bus in Salem and took the 4 hour trip to “the Silicon Valley of India” for the weekend. We didn’t have many plans, just a dinner with friends and the determination to 1) drink green juice and 2) get massages. We are basic and we know it.

We had no idea what to expect from our hotel, and finding out that a room was available by text from the owner was a little sketch….

but it was FUCKING AMAZING

IMG_5336Hotel cafe complete with a chill hotel dog and one of those “take a book, leave a book” bookshelves

IMG_5338Our room!

14087246_1830238800592152_2077060751_oHella good banana dessert

IMG_5349When the owner sends you free chocolate mousse and you are on texting terms (and he is also really into yoga and self-awareness)

We did take advantage of the complementary yoga classes. Also we ate a ton of all-organic food, and drank lots of green juice. It was basically a basic girl’s heaven. Thank you, Yogi-sthaan.

14113836_1832494980366534_1944470849_oReading The Life of Pi not to far from where Piscine Molitor Patel lived (Puducherry)

Saturday night, we went to meet some friends at this restaurant/pub called the Black Rabbit. Bangalore is kinda like New Orleans in the fact that the legal drinking age is 21, yet no one seems to put in the effort to card.

14081236_10206901202313976_227370736_n Trancos Love

14111828_10206901202393978_282420660_nJoy is dancing in confetti with Richa to DJ Wolfpack’s early 2000 hits halfway around the world

Bangalore was a wonderful experience, and though we experienced some reverse culture shock  (“HOLY SHIT THERE’S A CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN HERE!” “DO YOU SEE THAT GIRL WEARING SHORT-SHORTS?!” “BOYS!”) , it was really nice to take a break from our normal routine at the AGN school in tiny Konganapuram (which no one in Bangalore has heard of, apparently). For the first time in a while, we didn’t have anyone controlling our schedule, signing us out when we need to go somewhere, asking if we’ve eaten breakfast. I was feeling so proud of us for travelling to Bangalore alone and having a great trip without any issues.

But then we had to get on the bus home. We showed our Uber driver the name of the bus stop and the location printed on our tickets, but somehow we ended up at the completely wrong bus station. It was packed with what looked like fifty extremely dirty busses, and they were all trying to get around each other in this tiny space. At one point, Cate and I got separated from Sam and found ourselves placed between two buses, one going forward, the other inching backwards, the space between them gradually growing smaller. We were hot and confused and carrying all of our luggage. After frantically running around asking people where our bus stand was and getting a bunch of different fingers pointed in a bunch of different directions, and after jogging for what felt like a mile from where we originally got dropped off, we finally made it, two minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave. I spent the entire 4 hour ride in a state of shock that we were on it.

8/10/16- RELIANCE

We are in the middle of our second week of leading classes here. We mostly teach English, working on pronunciation and grammar through activities and songs, but we also got the chance to teach a 10th grade Biology class on Genetics, Heredity, and Evolution, which was fun to revisit and think of interesting ways to approach it. We ended up making a minion baby and having a paper plane competition (see below). I was surprised to find out that the kids go to school 6 days a week, including Saturday, but after receiving the schedule of our work days, I think I understand why: there is at least one holiday every week. People here love to celebrate. Today is Wednesday, and there is a festival going on in nearby Salem, so the kids stayed home, and we got to take the day off. It’s really nice to get some rest in the middle of the week, I kinda wish the US operated on a schedule like this.

 

how minion babies are made
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Teaching “Natural Selection” through a paper airplane competitionFullSizeRender.jpg

After the whole food poisoning situation, the head of the school surprised us by buying us a microwave! I have never been so excited to see a microwave in my entire life. We also went on a trip to a supermarket called Reliance about an hour away to buy some mild comfort food. We were looking forward to this trip so much, we had already stalked the Reliance Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and looked at all of their products online.

Driving up to Reliance was kinda like that scene in The Looney Tunes: Back in Action movie where they are stranded in the desert, and in the middle of the barren land in the distance they see a Walmart, and the background music is a choir chanting “Walmart, Walmart, Walmart…” (I haven’t seen this movie since I was 7, but this part stuck with me, I thought it was the funniest thing ever). Though smushed together in the back of a tiny car with no AC, we were almost jumping for joy at the sight of the red letters forming the word RELIANCE in the middle of the crowded city.

We got apples and pomegranates and carrots and cereal (knock-off Coco Puffs!) and oatmeal and frozen french fries and frozen potato bites and ramen noodles and nuts and peanut butter and jelly and chocolate and dish soap and dish scrubbers and we were just in heaven. We felt very American as we squished our giant bags of groceries into the already-too-small-for-us car, with Sam sitting on my lap to make space, but we were so happy.

I am grateful for the holiday today because our days have recently fallen into a nice but exhausting routine. I wake up around 8:00, eat cereal and fruit for breakfast (thanks to the magical Reliance), go to the morning assembly at 9:00 where we sing silly camp songs for a sea of smiling faces (they LOVE “The Banana Song”), go to our classes for the day, rest for a bit, play volleyball (our beach ball was a huge hit, but it got popped by the crazy dog), run around the track, eat dinner, hang out with the hostel girls (teaching them the “Cup Song” or making friendship bracelets), and then go back to the room and read or watch a movie. Last night we watched the One Direction movie, ate popcorn (I love you, Reliance), and argued over who was objectively the best 1D member (I love you, Liam). So yeah, things are pretty busy but also a ton of fun.

 

“can we take a selfie?”IMG_5045.JPGIMG_5044.JPGIMG_5037.JPG

 

The view from the roofIMG_5018-1.JPG

 

8/2/16- Erode, Goat, and the Vavil Ori Festival

2016-07-31 11.41.54.jpgOn Sunday, we took a car into the town of Erode to buy some necessary items: soap, school supplies, and-of course-clothes.

2016-07-31 15.10.31 HDR.jpgThe teacher who traveled with us brought us to her aunt’s house, and the whole neighborhood stopped by to say hi! People here don’t consider it attractive to show smiling teeth in pictures, but I caught a couple before they were ready 🙂

 

 

On Sunday night when we got back to campus, the girls in the hostel wanted us to come over to try the food that their moms made for them. Apparently on Sundays, it is a special treat for them to eat meat (the school food is completely vegetarian). I was really excited because this was the longest I had ever gone without eating meat (lol 2 days). So excited that when I found out it was goat meat, I wasn’t discouraged. We all tried it, and it actually tasted great!  

Monday morning: we all had food poisoning. 

Yeah I think I’m just gonna be a vegetarian for the rest of the trip. 

 

 

Today (Tuesday):

Luckily, I was feeling well enough this morning to go visit some temples to celebrate the Vavil Ori festival. This festival happens every August 2nd, marking the end of a war between two ruling powers in Tamil Nadu around 200 CE. People go to temples to worship the gods, play music, dance, and then swim in the river. 2016-08-02 10.46.02 HDR.jpg2016-08-02 11.15.18.jpgSri Kailasanathar Temple

 

 

2016-08-02 11.49.40.jpgNext, our driver stopped at a roadside stand to buy chai tea and make a new friend (who was placed inside the car with us a few seconds after this picture was taken)

 

 

At our final stop of the day, we followed a drum line down a dirt path to a hill where a festival was taking place. It reminded me of Mardi Gras: the drums, the colors, the smiles, the flowing crowd, the roadside stands selling plastic toys and sweet treats, the kids running around with painted faces. It’s just another celebration of life–9,000 miles away.

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7/30/2016- AGN Family

DSC02839.JPGThe kids here are so sweet and smart!

We arrived in Salem yesterday around noon. The train ride from Chennai to Salem was so great. We got rice cakes, dosas, chai tea, and mango juice, and we got to watch the bustling city of Chennai transform into the mountainous, palm-tree filled countryside of India. Shoutout to our helper sent by the AGN school, Rajendran, for picking us up at the hotel at 6:00 am, taking us to the train station, finding our platform and our seats, and lifting our 50lb suitcases onto the luggage rack. We literally wouldn’t have been able to do that last part without him.

In Salem, we were met by the smiling face of one of the teachers at the school with a sign that said AGN School and a cute yellow school bus. It took about 30 minutes to get to the small village of Konganapuram. We were told that the children were waiting for us to arrive, but we had no idea how amazing the welcome ceremony would be.

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Well, they were pretty close on my last name 🙂

Walking in between rows of children clapping, we were greeted by the teachers and leaders of the school with palm syrup candy and beautiful red-powder bindis. Some of the kids handed us handmade flower pots with flowers picked at the school, and welcomed us with rehearsed speeches. I couldn’t help but smile. It was an overwhelming moment of joy for me. I was so nervous to come here, so worried that I would not feel at home or at ease in this place. The moment I stepped off of the bus and was greeted by so many smiling faces, I felt completely welcomed.

We met with the head of the school, Ayee Goundan, and then proceeded to eat lunch. Lunch was rice with vegetables and a bean curry sauce, served on banana leaves. We were instructed how to eat with our fingers. Later, when I Skyped with my little sister Julia and told her that it is actually polite to eat with our hands, she said, “Cool! I want to go to India!!”

Our guest house is so nice! We have a kitchen, common area, and our own beds in one room. It’s like a sleepover! But for 8 weeks (lol). There’s no AC, but the fans are powerful. The only difficult thing I’ve really had to do here in terms of the living situation is take a cold shower, and that honestly wasn’t too bad, I just closed my eyes and pretended like I was under one of my favorite North Carolina waterfalls (Yeah for real, this was the only way I could trick myself into taking a cold shower).

DSC04195 Morning Assembly.JPG

After our first night’s sleep, and a 5:30am jet-lag induced excursion to the roof of our guest house to watch the sun rise, we went to the Morning Assembly where we got to listen to a beautiful rendition of “Who Says” by Selena Gomez, performed by a 13-year-old boy who wanted to sing an American song to make us feel welcomed, and then go on stage in front of the 2,000+ students at the school to introduce ourselves. We learned about the history of this Stanford/AGN connection, and I found out that this is the 10th year that Stanford students have come to this school to help teach classes and learn about Indian culture. The whole assembly made me feel like I was a really a part of the “AGN family” that the warm atmosphere of the school creates.

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Proud to have taught them the meaning of the phrase “silly picture”

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The storm brought cool breezes, a huge relief from the normal heat and humidity.