When I finished my last post, I proceeded to pack for my trip to India the next morning! I spent the whole next day (Monday) traveling, although only about 5 hours of it was actually spent in planes. Rather, Ali and I spent around 9 hours chilling in the Bankok airport. This might sound like a terrible prospect, but we actually enjoyed ourselves quite fully and managed to never get bored. The highlights included eating pizza and long-anticipated Dairy Queen blizzards (yum!), and spending hours people watching. We finally did arrive in Bangalore, India, around midnight and to our final destination, the Vishtar Compound.
Ali and I are here as guests/observers of the School of Peace (SOP), an annual inter-faith, inter-ethnic course for young people from Asia and Southeast Asia who are dedicated to working toward peace and justice in their communities and countries. SOP is actually wrapping up after a couple months of training, but is busy preparing for the Festival of Just Peace that will take place this weekend.
I really had no idea what to expect before coming here, but so far my experience in India has been a drastic change from my normal life in Hanoi. This might be best summed up in the words of the SOP participants who, on the first morning informed Ali and me, "Here, we speak SOP English." In answer to my question about what that entailed, they responded, "SOP English no grammar." As the school is conducted in English, applicants are required to speak it, but students' levels definitely vary. However, after a couple months living together, they really have found a way of communicating with each other, and have formed a tight-knit community. And while some of the English here is not much different from that which I read and edit at work in Hanoi, here, unlike there, it is not my responsibility to "fix" it. Rather, I listen and observe.
The first day, when Ali and I started working alongside the SOP students, clearing up the grounds in preparation for the festival, one of them apologized to me, saying, "Sorry you have to work so hard!" But I said, "It's no problem! It is a nice change because usually I would be sitting in front of a computer." And it's so true. I am enjoying the physical labor and being outside. Vishtar is a beautiful, quiet compound--quite refreshing after Hanoi. I have even learned a new skill--weaving mats out of palm leaves. Probably not something I can put on my resume, but fun anyways. The mats are used to make the walls and roofs of the stalls for the booths that various organizations will set up.
Otherwise, we attended a human rights rally at a Bangalore University (unfortunately, the speakers spoke in Hindi, so I could not understand much except that they were very passionate about their issues), have eaten lots of Indian food, have listened to a lot of stories, and have provided a feast for the resident mosquitos. The weather has been delightful. We heard horror stories of the 45 degree Celcius + heat wave that had hit India, but fortunately it is a big place and we are in a different area of the country. It is hot, but quite dry, and it cools down considerably at night. I am learning a lot, and will get to continue doing so for longer than anticipated, because we get to stay in India for a couple extra days to go on the SOP fieldtrip to Mysore on Monday!