Where to Begin? So Much has happened...
Trip Start Aug 14, 2008
32Trip End Dec 21, 2008
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We arrived at our homestays yesterday evening. Kate and I are staying with our homestays sister (Zu Xin and Lexie's host mother) for a while because our homestay sister is visiting from the US. We live in a fairly large apartment above our fathers parents (this setup is very common in India). The first evening was a blur of getting settled in and going to sleep. The next day was a holiday and I was still very jetlagged so Zu Xin and I decided to go to bed early. We both woke up wide awake and ready to start the day at 3 am and could not fall alseep. We stayed in our room talking and passing the time until everyone else woke up at 6. It is really interesting to hear her thoughts and perspectives on this culture because it is very different from the american point of view. Her english isnt always amazing and there are many things she doesnt understand so I have to explain a lot to her
The Puja ceremony began at 7am. Our homestay mother Savitri, one of her sisters, her neighbor, her neighbors adorable 3 year old daughter and a few other women gathered in our living room in front of the shrine to ganesh, the elephant god whom the holiday was celebrating. Some families go to temple, but most create the temple in their houses. The shrine is a neon colored ganesh doll that sits on a high pedestal with beautiful flowers, offerings around it . The shrine is amazing, i wish I had the vocabulary (I do not speak Kannada) to describe it. For the cermony everyone sat on the floor. Our homestay's brother in law led the prayr wearing an a lond skirt like thing and nothing else. He rang a bell and chanted many prayers while the women echoed him and did all of the other religious actions such as give Ganesh the offerings and twirl in circles. There are so many intricate details yet everyone knows when and how to do each one, it is amazing. They praise each young women seperatly and wrap and flower braclet on her wrist. At many times throughout the ceremony they light something on what resembles spoon and pass it around while using their hands to "waft" the fire to their eyes. It is hard to explain, but when they do it they put their hands through the fire in the way that does not hurt. When it was my turn to do this I was convinced that I would be the one who did it wrong and burt my whole hand, but I did it correctly! After this was completed they placed the fire on they floor yet their sarees, nor the foor caught on fire miraculously.
While the movements and objects are foreign, the prayers seemed quite familiar. I am used to chanting in a language I cannot understand and the tones reminded me of hebrew trope
The whole service was over by 9 am and having woken up at 3 am, i felt like i had already had a full day Little did I know (but Obviously I did) the day had only begun. We relaxed and had some chai at home then the 4 of us went to the internet cafe. In the afternoon we went over to Savitri's other sister Sudha's house. Sudhas daughter is visiting them from the US right now but once she leaves, Kate and I will live there and Lexi and Zu Xin will stay with Savitri. Sudha and the rest of the family seemed very nice and our future house is very nice. We thought we were going there for lunch but when we got there there was more ceremonies going on. We did the ceremony 3 more times at Sudhas house because there were so many women to bless. The family is so big. There were so many people croweded into this tiny house and more and more kept coming. At this ceremony we were able to participate a bit more. We were given flowers and instructed where to place them on the intricate Ganesh shrine.
Hours later we were finally served lunch. They served us Americans before all of the other guests, and no one esle could eat till we were completly done. We ate on the floor with large plantain leaves serving as our plate. We were served many different curries and rice dishes. Like every other meal, we ate everything with our hands as the elders watched and made sure we had enough food. I am starting to really like eating with my hands. As long as you wash your hands before a meal, it is very fun to be able to feel teh textures of the food you are about to eat. I still have yet to master exactly how to eat the more liquidy items though
Their homestay mom served us more chai then we all piled into her TATA and went to the market. I was very excited to finally get to ride in a TATA after all I had heard about them. At the store we tried on all sorts of indian clothing in preparation for the wedding we are going to this weekend. I (very practically) bought a red shirt that I think I would wear in the US too. I really want to buy a saree as well though.
The evening was a blur because I was so tired. I fought to keep my eyes open to stay awake for dinner (at 9 pm) and was relieved that everyone goes to sleep immediatly after dinner. I went to sleep and prepared for the celebration to continue tomorrow