Sunday, June 26

cooking for dummies

Dummy=Me. For the first time in my life, I felt VERY clueless in the kitchen, but I guess that's to be expected when a) it's not your kitchen b) there's an extreme language barrier between you and the usual chef and c) you had to wing it with the ingredients. HOWEVER, once I got over all of this, it ended up being one of my favorite experiences so far (and I made a new friend).

So the plan was to make quesadillas. Easy right? HA! I have no idea how Bakkiam (the usual cook) does it every day. Besides being 100 degrees outside, add mincing vegetables and standing over a stove for two hours and you might as well have boiled yourself on that stove. Of course while I'm panting and perspiring, Bakkiam is completely calm and hasn't even broken a sweat. Embarrassing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We started the feast preparation at 5 p.m. I had every intention of doing this by myself, but now I REALLY have no idea how I'd have done it without my sous chef and new bestie, Bakkiam. First, Sister Gertrude came over and taught me out to make parota, probably the best thing ever, similar to a tortilla but much softer, completely homemade and slightly greasy (YUMS).
Making parota with Sister Gertrude... what a process! But I'm definitely bringing this recipe back to the U.S.!

After those we done, I began the chopping process, chopping peppers, mushrooms, onion and garlic. During this step, Bakkiam told me about her husband, who is sick and her two kids who are in college now. Polaih, who is the gardener here, also came by mid-quesadilla making and he talked at me and Tamil and I responded with some charades and sign language and lots of smiles and finally understood that Bakkiam and Polaih were siblings! I told Bakkiam that we should go sari shopping together because she was wearing a very beautiful one! Not sure if she understood, but we spoke the language of food and cooking, and that was enough to bond us together probably forever.

When the chopping was completed, we "shredded" the cheese and assembled the quesadillas. The nuns TOTALLY loved them and Bakkiam did too! I was a little disappointed in the cheese (it's just not that popular here!) but all in all, pretty darn good if I do say so myself. The nuns want a repeat of that dinner, so that's really all that matters!

Finished product. Not bad!!

Presenting the quesadillas...

The rest of the day, I watched TV... I felt bad just sitting around but the nuns insisted there was nothing for me to do. Thankfully, there was a Friends marathon on (scoreeee!) so I didn't mind. I brought a lot of colorful string from home and assemble and knotted them all together so that next Sunday, we could make bracelets with the kids! I'm hoping to come up with some other ideas and implement "Crafty Sundays"... I think the nuggets would like that.

Sister Hilda and I
Happy nuns, full bellies!

Disclaimer: Excuse my hair and face in these photos; I have decided that there is no possible way to look good in India with this heat. Although you can't tell, I tried.

'Tis all for now! Lots of love!

Saturday, June 25

it's gettin' hot in hurr

(and unfortunately, we can't do like Nelly and "take off all our clothes"... don't worry, Mom, it's a song!)

Today was another great day, although it is gettin' reallllyyy hot... just when I thought it really couldn't get any hotter. Hilda told me the heat was even "unbearable for the sisters," that's when you know it's bad. Apparently this time last year, there was much more rain, which alleviated some of the heat. No luck this year! But no worries, we will make it (although I might be living in the bucket bath for a while).

The school day was great; all of the kids seemed really happy to see me and Hilda said they had been talking about me and were really excited for my classes (you have no idea how great this made me feel... you should see me teaching; it's like a constant game of charades and me acting out words and giving absurd examples, quite humorous/to an outsider, I'd seem like a crazy person). Something I noticed in class... when I'm grading their in-class assignments, I put stars with my red pen (super offish) on the top of the pages. (I had to explain that a star=a check.) Once they knew that, they smiled SO BIG and SO PROUD at their "star" work. And really, almost all of them complete perfect work, it's really amazing, hardly anything to correct. I also assigned my first homework assignments! It felt really funny and kind of weird, but unlike American kids, these kids were eager and anxious for some homework, listening intently to the instructions and making notes in their notebooks, unlike in the U.S. where the entire classroom would have sighed. I'm currently trying to figure out how to make worksheets for the kids without a printer or copier... I need to find a copier in town, that is my next goal!

Also, apparently I have been unaware about a little (okay, not so little) roommate living with me. That's right, a lizard, about the size of my hand, and his little baby lizard friend have inhabited my room, or maybe I've inhabited their room, who knows. It's nice to have some company, I guess, even if they are just lizard friends. And lizards are harmless... right? What should I name him?
This was the best shot I could get... he goes into hiding every time I move! Smart little guy.

But anyways, after my first class, Hilda, Florence and I went to the grocery store to grab some groceries for my meal I'm making tomorrow! They don't believe me, because like I said, it's really hard for me to eat a lot between the extremely different food and the heat, but I told them I LOVED to cook and was the biggest foodie. So we decided Sunday (tomorrow) I would make dinner! I was going to try pizzas, but after last night, one of the nuns made these homemade tortilla-esque things (I had two and could have eaten 10) so that gave me the idea to make quesadillas. Unfortunately, cheese is a little hard to come by around here, but luckily I found some "pizza chesezza" at Reliance and after sauteeing some veggies in garlic (yum!) and throwing them on top of these fantastic tortillas (I forget their actual name, I'll update later), these quesadillas should be pretty bomb, methinks. I'll keep you posted.

And, I have decided my favorite part of the day is around 5 p.m. where all of the children do their homework. A bunch of them sit (boys in one area, girls in the other) on the patio/courtyard of the convent, so focused and dedicated to their work. This is my favorite time to go outside (despite the extra bugs) and hangout or help the kids with their English homework. They run up to me "aunty aunty" (which after stalking Katelyn's blog I learned this means 'friend'), dying to show me that, alas! THEY HAVE ALREADY FINISHED THEIR HOMEWORK! WHAT?! I couldn't believe it, I had just assigned it a few hours before! And it was perfect as well! I looked over some of them to see if it needed to be corrected but, of course, no mistakes. I smile a lot and clap for them (they love the clapping) and I'm trying to teach them the thumbs up for approval (still hasn't quite caught on) and you can tell how much my approval and happiness in their work means to them, it's really adorable. CSC_0033
My little rockstar Santhosh front and center.

This is also a great time for some photo ops, and these kids LOVE to get their photo taken. It's too cute. And a good time to hangout with my best bud, Santhosh (spelled it wrong last time, oops!) Today, he said my name and I felt like a proud mother, haha. I wrote his name in bubble letters on his little mini chalkboard and he carried it around, so proud and smiley, showing his friends like it was a $100 toy, it was just TOO CUTE! I told him I was taking him back to the United States with me, but I don't think he liked that idea too much as he smiled shyly and shook his head.

I ended the day watching racey Indian music videos with the nuns, eating Twizzlers (THEY LIKE THEM TOO!), discovering a keyboard (all those piano lessons just might come in handy, Mom!) and discussing the nuns' first trip to the U.S. (for one of two occasions: my wedding or the opening of my restaurant... I told them they'd probably have to wait 10 years for either).
So all in all! A great day! Lilly and the Colombian sisters are off to Hyderabad until Monday so things are quiet around here. I'll definitely take lots of photos of my cooking experiment tomorrow; pray I don't scar the nuns with bad Mexican/American food!

One of my smartie pants students leading the other students in their daily spelling lesson...
...speaking of pants...

Jared from Subway?? Haha, no, just my new Indian pants, part of a set...just a tad too big. Thank god for the drawstring!


Friday, June 24

day one of teaching

The Good News: I've gotten REALLY good at killing bugs.
The Bad News: I still have 23 mosquito bites (yes, I'm counting/scratching).

Thanks for all of your positives vibes and energy! I definitely think they worked because I had an amazing first day teaching!! I was surprised how easily it came to me and afterwards how motivated and excited I was to try and elaborate on a lesson or plan something new. The kids are INCREDIBLY smart, it completely blows me away. And not just smart but internally motivated and excited about to learn something new and to try and perfect their pronunciation. They are eager and listen intently to everything that I say (although sometimes a nun has to step in and translate a little). I ended each class with a Simon Says sesh... but I changed it to Allie Says (heehee). THEY HAD SO MUCH FUN! I don't think they'd ever played it before! It was a little challenging explaining the rules, but as I said, these kids are crazy smart, and caught on after just one round. I hope to end every class with a game or something fun because then they leave smiling and laughing and that, to me, is the best part.

Afterwards, I spent some time with Lilly, drinking tea and teaching her a little bit more about email and some other tools online. Later, Natalia gave a presentation to the junior sisters (and I came along) about the importance of recycling. FINALLY! Brent said it best in a recent email, "the go green movement has yet to catch on in India." But Natalia showed videos of toys you can make with water bottles and newspapers and suggested we create bins (paper, plastic, bottles) and then teach the children the usefulness and necessity in such actions so that the future of India can be a cleaner one. I was super impressed and totally on that bandwagon, so I'm excited to see the progress we make here with recycling.

Then, silly me, took my malaria meds on a empty stomach (reason #13586 that I don't like taking medicine) and my stomach went nuts and the pains were unbearable. Just when I thought I was going to have to call it a night and skip dinner, I noticed the little boys doing their homework out on the patio outside of the convent, instead of near their building like they usually do. So I went outside to investigate and I met/FELL IN LOVE with the most adorable Nepalese boy, whose mother had died and father remarried to a woman not so keen on having a little boy. So now Santosh (I'm sure that's not how you spell it) stays here in the orphanage. This little boy, simultaneously broke and filled my heart, if that's even possible. He didn't even say a word to me, but his sweet and bashful demeanor and interest in something so simple as the alphabet (which we were going over on his chalkboard) completely swept me away. As he was leaving for the daily prayer, he gave me the most precious smile and I waved and told him I'd see him tomorrow. I absolutely cannot stop thinking about him and can't WAIT to see him again. These children have a way of doing that. Not just him but all of them.

Too cute.
Meet Santosh. Notice that his shirt says "just chillin." Too perfect. 

Santosh internet is being ungodly slow, so I'll upload more photos of the kids tomorrow! 

Thursday, June 23

daily life

FINALLY! I have a schedule for my days! Something I've struggled with so far is definitely the lack of planning here in India. I love having a plan, I love planning for myself, for others and I love having everything figured out in advance; but in India, plans don't exist, which is probably why the people are far less stressed and just go with the flow... something I can definitely learn from. But finally, I was able to pin down the head master and Lilly and we came up with a schedule. My day looks like so (in case you were wondering):

8-9 a.m. English with my fave Colombian nuns
9:15-10 a.m. 2nd Grade English
12:30 LUNCH
1-1:40 p.m. 4th Grade English
2-2:40 p.m. 1st Grade English
5:30-6:30 p.m. Computer For Nuns

Thrilled for this progress! Today, I spent some time with Lilly, teaching her Powerpoint and setting up her very own Skype account! Then, I went to the school to observe classes for the second day in a row. Teaching is very different here, and I'm not a teacher anyways so this is definitely something I'm concerned about. For example, there is no raising hands to answer questions; all of the children answer in unison, which is a little overwhelming at first, but also in a sense much easier (especially when their names are going to be quite hard for me to learn). I watched Berna (the current teacher) and was given a 1st grade book to flip through. I feel better after day two of observing, but I'm still really really nervous to start tomorrow!
Everyone is super reassuring, though. I guess I'm scared of failing, but aren't we all. And thinking rationally, how badly can I fail? Yesterday was a tough day, but today is much better. Every day I gain more confidence in myself, whether it be through a positive remark from a nun or an encouraging Facebook message or comment on my blog... so thank YOU for that and thank you for following my story and believing in this cause.

We went into town so I could use the ATM (rickshaw-style, LESS THAN $1 TO GET ABOUT 10 MINUTES INTO TOWN... tell me that's not a bargain), and I finally got to snap a photo of this house/business (I'm not sure) that I've been admiring since I first saw it. This is a perfect example of sort of a theme I've noticed in India: beauty amongst the filth. Riding into town, I can never understand where I am. Between the lack of street signs, the uniform stands and shops and the Telagu language, I feel instantly lost (thank goodness for the nuns and the crafty rickshaw drivers). Plus, India is probably one of the dirtiest countries I have ever been to, but strangely it is not bothersome, because you see amongst the filth, something beautiful everywhere that you go.

For example: the rickshaws, a go-cart meets bumper car mobile, rickety on the outside but often there is beautiful fabric covering the interior. Or the beautiful women in BEAUTIFUL sarees, amidst the drab, brown homes and poor landscaping. And something I've seen several times, run down buildings, almost visibly deteriorating before your eyes, yet inside awaits the most beautiful tiling with incredible detail and colors. Or, finally, this house. Bright and cheery, sitting amongst dilapidated stores and businesses. It's the contrast that makes this country so beautiful.


Changing the subject, heehee, I also snapped a picture of maybe my favorite meal so far: white rice, boiled carrots and fried cabbage (I have been dying for veggies, so this was great)!


This evening was a lot of fun too! The nuns and I plucked leaves and basically dissected their stems (they call them simply "greens") off of these pre-picked branches and apparently they are made into some kind of dish to eat? I'm interested to see, we'll probably be eating those tomorrow. And I watched my first Indian soap opera. Even though I clearly don't speak Telagu, it seemed like a similar plot to the American soap operas: girl cheats on guy, guy finds out, has evidence, girl cries, guy is angry blah blah blah. Even more ridiculous and hilarious in Telagu/with an Indian setting. I enjoyed it!

Wish me luck on my first actual day on the job (tomorrow)!

Wednesday, June 22

electricity, where you at?

Unfortunately, I've gotten myself into this habit of going to sleep around 8 or 9 p.m. and then waking up around 4 a.m. Last night, I was awakened by my own sweat which was producing at an astonishing rate. The power outages here are really something else. Like I said on one of my first days, the power and water went out all day, which is apparently uncommon. But today, we have had 11 power outages (for no longer than 45 minutes) in just 12 hours! Crazy!

But besides the power and the obvious culture shock, I think I am adjusting very well. Every day I'm learning something new. For example, yesterday when we went grocery shopping, Romi and I were looking for chai tea, we'd both heard it was amazing and were dying to try it. Hilda, one of the nuns, tried to explain something to us but we weren't really understanding, so we brushed it off. Today, Lilly told me we'd be going back into town to get me some new Indian duds (more trying to fit in/I have a creepy obsession with all things, clothes and jewelry mostly, Indian) and I asked if we could find some chai tea. She laughed and explained to me that the word, chai, MEANS tea in Hindi and that was what Hilda was trying to explain to us yesterday. Oh did I feel dumb, and a little confused, how am I supposed to try this tea if all teas are called chai? What is everyone talking about? Leave me a comment if you know of any other way to describe this so-called "chai tea."

The nuns are so funny, I think they're a little protective of me because they didn't want me riding into the city using "public transportation," aka the rickshaw... but I'm trying to fit in here. I'm not going to be that snobby American who only takes the Jeep they have here on site. No, the only real way to experience anything is to fully immerse yourself into it. So six nuns, myself and a driver all fit into this small, nuggety rickshaw and headed to town. "Downtown Nellore" is such a site to see! Cows sitting in between clothing shops, women asking to take pictures with me (WHAT?!)... it's all very interesting. While downtown, I smelled a scent that I hadn't smelled in a while: cigarettes. And then it dawned on me that I've seen absolutely no one smoking here! An interesting change from the U.S. and Madrid, the only two places I've ever lived long-ish term. Speaking of smelling, the things you smell on the street just blow my mind, or should I say nose. From incense to curry to body oder to urine to bad cologne... the list never ends!

But I guess I should cut to the chase. Today I made a few purchases, that I justified by telling myself "I need to fit in," but really India has the most beautiful things, things you'd pay so much for in the U.S. but are ridiculously cheap here (don't worry, I'm bringing back souvenirs for everyone)!

Incense, dress, bangles

Also! Finally I have some pictures of my "living quarters," which I'm hoping to spiff up soon with some curtains perhaps (okay... fabric hanging by the window) and maybe a rug. Extreme Makeover: India Edition, here I come!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 21

everyday occurences (round one)

  • The "Kids' Menu" on the room service menu at the hotel in Chennai is referred to as "Future Adults."
  • There are no trash cans. Anywhere. 
  • Men hold hands or walk with their arms around each other but and a man and a woman do not.
  • Motto of the Police Department here: "We don't sit like a rock, we work like a clock!"
  • When you ask a question, if the answer is yes, Indians will nod their head like this (SO confusing at first!)
I am considered "others" (obviously). This was the cost of entrance to one of the temples in Chennai... that's basically $0.21 if you're Indian and $5.43 is you're anything else.

On a tour, I learned that this chalk-like substance made out of rice is used to draw pictures on the roads. It's purpose? To feed the ants. I LOVE it.

Halleluja! (TG)
"There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be."
          John Lennon 

Monday, June 20

going to town

Today, some of the nuns and I ventured to the grocery store, Reliance Fresh. I was shocked (okay not really shocked... I guess it's to be expected) at the amount of bugs flying around that place... especially near the vegetables, which I was hoping to purchase. Unfortunately, there's not really any way to get around it, so I sucked it up, got in there and bought some red peppers, mushrooms and a cucumber (I figure I'll sanitize them before consuming them anyways). But the whole thing was a little nauseating. I guess it's just one of the many things I'll need to get used to... plus I am craving good vegetables, so you gotta do whatcha gotta do, right?! At the store, something veryyy exciting, we found plantains! And I told Romi and Natalia in my very VERY broken Espanol que "AHHH a mi me gusta platanos fritos!" Then they made a motion as if to smash the plantains first, then fry then and I got VERY excited... one of my mom's specialties AND my favorite thing at Sol Food. Needless to say, we bought a few. And garbanzos, too!

I've really started to bond with Natalia and Romi. They have only been here for four months, so they completely understand my situation and how hard it is to adjust. They are so reassuring and who'd of thought I'd be speaking more Spanish than English in India?! Nevertheless, I am thrilled for this opportunity to try and get back all of the Spanish I've lost since Madrid. We were joking today how we speak fluent Spanglish... I try to speak in Spanish and then they respond in English and then we correct each other, how perfect is that? Later in the day, though, I found out they will be gone the entire month of July :-(

For lunch, we had biryani, a type of rice with a bunch of really delicious spices and seasonings (although I'm not quite sure what kinds). Rested a little, then went and hung out with some of the nuns. They made the garbanzos we bought at the grocery store for a snack, boiled and seasoned them with a pepper and they were sooo good! They taught me that in Telagu (the native language in this state), garbanzos are called chanadrum. Good to know! I then discovered that it is in fact the "filtered" water that is making me feel so sick. I did a little experiment and only drank Coke for the morning and early afternoon. I was feeling great... until I had water with my snack. I think maybe I'll stick to bottled water for a while.

Then, we went to visit the kids, mainly the really young ones (some are as young as four but are so tiny they look much younger). Seriously, though, so in love. It's amazing how well-behaved they are. They all sit peacefully after class and do their homework with no problems or trouble at all. I do think they're a little confused, though, since they keep calling me "sister," to which I say "oh no no no, just Allie." I'm not sure they get it yet, but they will! And I can't even explain how unbelievably cute they are! I might be turning a little maternal on myself, which is kind of terrifying, but really, they are precious. Hopefully I'll get some good pictures soon and learn how to spell the names of the nuggets I've met so I can show everyone.

Exciting news of the day: I reworked my "AC" and I now no longer sweat while I'm sleeping! And to make things even better, I discovered a shower head in my bathroom! No buckets for me (except the spiders still like to hangout there and the water smells... those will be my next things to conquer)! Now, if only those mosquitos would find some new friends to bite, I'd be all set!

Quote of the day: "Where do you live?" (To which I respond, "California," since I've been there four years and will probably be there for many more years.) "Ohhh, California...the government is Schwarzenegger. His poor wife...what a pity." (Enough said.)

Fun fact of the day: Natalia told me that today that since I switched rooms and buildings, I'm actually living in a convent now. This makes me laugh. Apparently you can't live in a convent unless your a nun (duh) but they made a special exception for me. And my room's right next to the chapel. So now I feel slightly awkward/unholy watching movies like The Hangover before I go to sleep. Oh well!

Saturday, June 18

the beginning

Friday night was my last night in Chennai. I wish I would've had more than one day to explore a little more, but it's only four hours away, I'm sure I will be back! Saturday morning, Rajkumar came to the hotel to bid me farewell and make sure I got off okay (I'm telling you, ABOVE AND BEYOND kindness!) and I ate more than I've been eating, thank goodness. The hotel food was pretty good and a little Americanized which made it a nice transition.

Four pieces of toast and some chickpeas later, Amanda from National Instruments and her husband Brent came to pick me up in by far the nicest car I've been in so far (with blasting AC! What more could I have asked for). Amanda's company sent her to India to bring this computer game/education tool made by Lego to India. She and Brent had spent 10 days traveling India and going into the slums to teach this really great software to the children. The software, which I still have yet to really play with, is geared towards kids to teach them basic engineering skills. It's really cool because on the software, you learn how to build an alligator or a soccer goal out of the legos that are provided. Then, with a few sensors and a USB cord, the legos are synced with the computer game and through the computer game, you can instruct the creation to perform things. For example, when we build the alligator, through the computer we could tell the alligator to open and close its mouth, for how long and how many times etc etc. It's a pretty pricey software, but Amanda and her big heart are dedicated to trying to get more of these programs donated. I think the kids will really like this because it's hands on and not merely a lecture. Plus, I was quite the avid Lego fan as a kid (remember, Mom, all of those Star Wars sets?!) 

Anyways, the car ride was really great. Amanda and Brent are from Austin, Texas (LOVE all of the Texas connections) and they were pretty much the cutest couple ever. We bonded over being very confused when we saw an entire family (infant and all) riding on the back of a motorcycle through the busy streets of Chennai. I felt very attached to them even though I only met them for a few hours and definitely shed a few tears when they left later that afternoon.

Upon arrival to the orphanage, Lilly, the "head nun" was waiting for us outside of the gates. Immediately, I was shown to my room but currently, we are moving me into the main house where the nuns are. I felt bad because the last thing I want to be is high maintenance, but they offered and insisted, since its less isolated and this house has fans that work even when the power goes out (like how the power is out now, a very common happening in India!) But my new room is similar, just a little older. I'll take pictures soon. Then, we had lunch, which was very good! But unfortunately, I haven't been able to eat a lot between my fatigue, the heat and the overall adjusting. They also did an adorable welcoming ceremony where they all sang to us and presented us with beautiful silk scarves and even a manly one for Brent!

The school

Lunch was fun and then we toured the school and learned a little bit more about the orphanage. Apparently in India, the term orphan can mean that you have one parent. So a lot of the children have a parent and might go home for a night or a month when school is not in session (they also go to school on Saturday, ahh!) and on Sundays, many of the parents come visit the school/home. In addition, a lot of children from outside of the orphanage come to the school just during the day. Lilly also told me that many of the children come straight off the street and no matter what, she will never ever turn down a child. It's funny, just the few days I've been here, I feel so comfortable with the nuns and it seems like each of them reminds me of someone. Lilly reminds me of my host mom from Madrid, Concha, which is extremely comforting since I became so close with her and will be visiting her after this trip. Two of the nuns are from Colombia, and they are SO MUCH FUN. Natalia and Romi. Romi has the most contagious laugh ever, and they love that I [try] to speak Spanish to them and then they speak English back to me so we can practice. Romi almost looks like she could be part of my mom's side of the family! She has a lot of the same features as my grandfather and some of my aunts. Maybe a distant cousin or something, heehee. 
Me and some of the nuggets! 

Brent teaching the kids to pound it! BOOM!

All in all, there were no surprises coming here. If anything, I'm completely blown away by the hospitality and the constant, "you don't need to worry, Allie, this is your home, be free," comments that keep coming my way because I'm not going to lie, this is and will be a difficult adjustment. Like I've told many of my friends and family, I knew exactly what to expect and like I said before, nothing has come as a surprise to me. But there's really no real way to prepare for something like this and you don't actually know what it's like until you're living it. But truth be told, this is the best possible place I could be.

Although it is very very hot and the power is not consistent, the energy here is unbeatable and I can't imagine myself in any other place or job right now. The children, although so poor, are so amazingly happy, polite, eager to learn and interested in this new white person floating around their campus (crying a lot of the time, I don't know why the tears just keep coming!) You can almost feel their pulse and excitement which is exciting for me! It's truly incredible how peaceful and content they can be with little to no possessions and some, not even a family. I think that's an important lesson I will learn/am already learning. I knew that this journey would not be easy; that I'd struggle for at least a few days, but I know once I'm acclimated to the heat and am able to eat a little more and start teaching, things will start to fall into place. Today, like I said, the power went out, and they never know for how long. I'm thankful for the breeze that's blowing, though, which definitely makes the heat more manageable, and for the cute little boys who helped me trek my stuff across the campus. Goal for tomorrow: conquer the bucket bath... wish me luck! 

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 17

opening my eyes to chennai

After a refreshing one hour nap/sleep, I woke up at 6 a.m., ready to begin my day. A colleague of my dad's who lives in Chennai and is coincidentally moving to Los Colina, Texas (just 15 minutes from Colleyville, where I grew up) in two weeks, his name is Rajkumar, offered to give me the grand tour of the city of Chennai. First of all, thank god, because I'm not sure how keen I was on taking another cab alone. And second, how incredibly kind, seeing as how neither my father nor I had ever met the guy. But because we had 'mutual friends,' there were no questions asked, I would be given the tour of a lifetime! We started the morning early and headed 40 minutes outside of Chennai to a town called Mamallapuram, famous for its ancient rock cut caves and shrines/temples in the making. On the way, we stopped on the side of the road for some coconut water. It's funny because those little juice boxes of coconut water are sold at Whole Foods and are not only expensive but seem to be almost trendy these days. But this was more than authentic. The woman merely took a coconut, right off the tree, hacked off the top and put a straw in for me. Talk about fresh! When I was finished, she took the coconut from me and carved out some of the coconut meat, snack time! Rajkumar explained to me that the coconut water would help me with the heat and the bumpy drive we were in the middle of.
When we got to Mamallapuram, we went on a small rock climbing adventure in order to view some of the temples. The temples, which are now ruins, were created and detailed by hand out of a single, gigantic rock using only water and wood. The carvings told stories about the Hindi gods and depicted some of the famous conflicts that had occurred. After seeing about six temples, we headed to the beach, the Bay of Bengal. Although an overcast day, the water looked warm and the natives seemed to be enjoying its vistas (fun to see the beach, but don't worry it has nothing on San Diego).
In front of Dharmaraja Ratha (one of the structures), posing with King Narasimha, the patron of the entire area. The name of the town, Mamallapuram, is named for his title, Mamalla.

Next we departed to Dakshina Chitra, a non-profit service project dedicated to preserving the cultures of the people in India. There, I was able to see some of the traditional crafts (FAVE!) and learn a little about the different states and topography in India, Tamil Nadu (the state I'm in) in particular. There, I got mehndi (henna) on one of my hands, obviously the first step in trying to fit in India and one of my all-time favorite things.
Now, it's almost a dark brown color! How detailed is that? If you look carefully on my wrist, you can see a peacock that the woman drew within the other swirls and such. Peacocks seem to be a popular thing around here since it's one of the national birds of the country.

After this, we went to the home of another one of my dad's coworkers where I got to meet one of the most precious children ever (I'm not quite sure how to spell their names, and I'm definitely not going to guess, so I'll update that later). From there, I had my first real Indian meal! Although still brutally jet-lagged and definitely too tired to function, I have to say I enjoyed the samba the best (it's spicy, kind of like masala, I think?) The coconut milk dish was my least favorite and picture below with some "Indian donuts."
Not my fave, but I had to document the FIRST supper.

At the end of the meal, everyone is given a little dish of saunf, which are the Indian version of mints, but more like a little herb coated in a mint-like substance. This is to help with digestion and to cleanse the palate.

(Yes, people were looking at my funny when I was taking pictures of the food. But they were looking at me funny since the moment I stepped off the plane, so I didn't really have a lot to lose! Indians in Chennai seem to be fascinated with me, as an American. And it's strange, even though I was only here for 48 hours, I probably only saw two other Westerners the entire time!!)

Also, as a side note, I really like how, so far, it seems that everything in India has a purpose, or a job. Like the saunf, to help with digestion, the henna, to cool the body and the coconut water, to cool the body as well and help with nausea and jet-lag. I like knowing the meaning and history behind all of these traditions so it was really fun to have such great tour guides who were not only natives but so passionate and proud of their hometown and could perfectly explain everything to me.
After the long day filled with history and fun, Rajkumar took me home in an auto rickshaw, which are all over the city and basically nugget cars that can more easily weave through traffic, scare the crap out of you and get you to your destination quicker. I LOVED IT!

In just an hour, I will be heading four hours outside of Chennai to my new home. I'm so so SOOO excited to see my new home and meet everyone! I'll write again soon!

Thursday, June 16

(almost) great success!

HELLO EVERYONE! I have made it to India! And what an adventure it's been already. I got to Delhi around 5:30 p.m. and was surprised to find the airport absolutely spotless, modern and not the least bit hectic. After picking up my bag, rechecking it, confusingly finding my way through security and to the gate, I got on my second flight to Chennai, where for the first time I was able to nap a little. At this point in my journey, everything had been very low stress, low key and my nerves were calm, not bad for over 20 hours of travel. Unfortunately, when I reached Chennai to head for the hotel, things changed. The car from the hotel neglected to pick me up (almost midnight, India time, at this point), so I waited around to see if they'd show, sweating profusely in the meantime, but no luck! I opted for a cab, run by the government, and one that you pay ahead of time (seemingly safe, right?!) and found myself in a bug-esque, black and yellow (black and yellow) car with a Tamil-speaking native. I showed him my hotel's information and he muttered something I didn't understand and we were off! Although past midnight at this point, the roads were still terrifying, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off large trucks and driving on the wrong side of the road (which would technically be the side of the road we're used to) towards oncoming traffic. All of this was tolerable, but then the driver realized he had no idea where he was going. This led to an hour of driving around, through the slums and pulling over almost 10 times to ask for directions. At this point, I was hungry and tired and getting a little bit scared, though I tried to tell myself everything was fine, which of course it was. But between the language barrier (with him trying to talk to me in Tamil and me not understanding a word) and my realization that I WAS IN INDIA!!!!!!! (alone...), led to a few tears, a few more stops for directions and FINALLY, to our final destination: the hotel, where I IMMEDIATELY showered and checked out the room service/internet situation.

Although I didn't see much of India tonight, I have a lot of thoughts and first impressions running through my mind. I can't wait to explore a little more tomorrow and hopefully be able to paint a better picture of Chennai and my experience in general. I'm REALLY looking forward to Saturday, where I will finally get to meet all of my little nuggets and the nuns I'll be living with for the next six months. So much to look forward to! More thoughts and hopefully photos later; thanks for all of the emails and messages, keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, June 15

"how does she feel about it and what is she thinking about how she feels?"

(A quote from probably one of the best YouTube videos of all time: Boys Will Be Girls, which has little to do with my current state of emotion but is guaranteed to make you laugh!)

Welp! The day has finally come. TOMORROW I leave for India. I've been waiting for this for literally years and I honestly cannot believe it's here. For the past year, I've been researching programs, non-profits and jobs in India. I've been let down more than a few times, gotten my hopes up and almost given up. But alas! It was not a hopeless cause because in the end, even though it was hard and tedious work, I found the perfect non-profit that has already given me more than I could have asked for (and I haven't even arrived in India yet) and I have a sneaky feeling I'll be able to return the favor to them.

For those of you who haven't heard the logistics of my journey, I'll give you a brief summary. I will be teaching English and a computer course to about 94 children in an orphanage in the south of India (in order to protect the children's identities and safety, I can't publicly disclose my specific whereabouts... but I'll tell you one thing, it's going to be HOT). I will be living with nuns in the orphanage and I will likely be the only American in the entire town. This sounds scary on paper but to be honest, I'm most nervous about the 14 hour plane ride (EEK!!)

This venture is something I'm extremely passionate about and something I've dreamed of doing my entire life. To everyone who has donated to my campaign, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! This trip also would not have been possible without you. Also a big thank you to my beautiful friends and family for being supportive, not thinking I'm a crazy person and constantly telling me "you'll be fine" (those words strangely comfort me a lot). Without that mental support, I may not have had the courage to take this trip and volunteer opportunity.

I wish money wasn't so important, but unfortunately it is! If you're interested in making a donation, click here to donate to my cause and also help support the Miracle Foundation, a small non-profit in Austin, Texas that believes in giving children that stereotypically have no chance for success, the opportunity for education and higher standards of living and who are sending me to India to help make this happen.

NAMASTE TUMBLR WORLD! Stay tuned for lots and lots of updates!

And India, I shall see you soon!

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
                   Martin Buber 

Tuesday, June 14

classically comforting

2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda,
1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 sticks of butter,
3/4 cup white sugar, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar,
2 teaspoons vanilla extract,
2 eggs & 1 bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine butter, both sugars, eggs and vanilla extract. Slowly, add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Finally, stir in entire bag of chocolate chips. Arrange on cooking sheet and bake on 350 degrees for about 7-9 minutes.

{This photo unfortunately doesn't do them justice but they are TO. DIE. FOR}

Monday, June 13

double fried spuds

As I mentioned in a previous post, potatoes are kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. No really, it's almost an unhealthy addiction. With all the time on my hands I had while visiting my parents, I decided to make some homemade fries. Usually, we try to be healthy and bake them in the ovan, but since I've officially been on an eating binge, assuming greasy American food will be scarce in India and I'll lose some lbs., I decided to live a little and fry those babies up! And let me tell you, they were worlds better than the baked ones and totally worth the calories (thanks for the idea, Guy!)

peel potatoes and leave the skin on the ends.

soak in water for at least 30 minutes.

pat dry. fry in canola oil. remove. repeat. remove and top with salt.

{Too easy. Yum dood.}

Friday, June 10

'shroom sando

On a whim, I took some random stuff from the refrigerator and combined it to create one hell of a sandwich... I call it, the 'Shroom Sando. If you prefer more protein, add some grilled chicken to that sucker... it's quick and easy and will leave you a very happy camper.

Mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, olive oil,
dijon mustard, gouda cheese,
avocado, pesto & artisan bread

Marinate sliced mushrooms with 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of dijon mustard [in a ziplock bag] and refrigerate for at least an hour. Sautee mushrooms with marinade until soft. Spread pesto on your bread, add mushrooms, smashed avocado and top with a slice of gouda. Bake in the oven, open-face, until cheese is melted.

Thursday, June 9

the best-o pest-o

Pesto. I would put it on everything if I could... and I kind of do: toast, chicken, pasta, empanadas, a sandwich... you name it. Although Trader Joe's carries a decent packaged pesto and some of my favorite Italian restaurants make it pretty well in house, nothing beats the pesto my mom makes from scratch. It's garlicy, fresh and the prettiest shade of green, how could you not want this on every piece of your food?



3 cloves of garlic, handful of parsley,3 to 4 cups basil leaves, 
3/4 cup parmesan cheese & 1/2 cup walnuts

Throw walnuts and garlic into the food processor. Add parsley and basil and grind down. Keep food processor going and drizzle olive oil until it's the right consistency for you.

I bought some gnocchi from Whole Foods made by The Pasta Shop, which were very soft and handmade. I highly recommend serving the pesto as a sauce with either gnocchi or pasta with grilled chicken.

Wednesday, June 8

"When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too."
                    Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist) 

Friday, June 3

food for my sol


If I had to pick one place to eat for the rest of my life... well, I could never do that. But Sol Food in San Rafael, Calif. would definitely be a possibility. Besides that, they will undoubtedly be catering my wedding (sorry, future husband, where ever you are, you don't have a say in this). This restaurant is incredible and their food is something I always look forward to eating when heading back to the Bay Area. Although technically Puerto Rican cuisine, many of the menu items reflect some of my Cuban family favorites, which is another reason I like this place so much. As you can see from the photo above, Sol Food has an obnoxious yet endearing bright green exterior. Inside, photos of the owner's family members and other iconic Puerto Ricans cover the walls and are featured on the numbers you receive after placing your order.

Almost every day of the week, Sol Food has a line out the door of faithful patrons trying to get their fix of arguably some of the best food in Marin County. If you don't feel like waiting, recently relocated next door to the restaurant, Sol Food offers a to go shop called La Bodega, where you can get the full menu to go without waiting in line. As if things couldn't get any better, if you live close enough to their Lincoln Avenue location, THEY DELIVER.



One of Sol Food's specialty's is their Pollo al Horno, made with farm raised, organic chicken and coated in garlic and a plethora of herbs and served with salad, beans, rice and a platano (tostones if you're into the more savory platano or maduras if you prefer the sweet strain).


Although they don't serve alcohol, Sol Food has homemade, fresh squeezed juices (limeade shown above) that they serve in a mason jar.


Since I am very much a creature of habit, I always order the same thing: the vegetarian platter, served with black beans (so good they give my mom's homemade beans that marinate for 24 hours a run for their money), Sol Food's delicious and buttery rice, salad and a platano, I always choose the garlicy tostones.

But the last time I was at Sol Food, I decided to branch out and try something new, so I got the veggie deluxe sandwich with tostones instead of bread. Although there was just a tad too much mayo, the sandwich was absolutely delicious and I loved how they used the platanos instead of bread, super creative and tasty! (It was devoured too soon to snap a photo...)

Wednesday, June 1

college educated, she graduated

[The Thrill- Wiz Khalifa]

Some might call it cliche, but I think this song is more than appropriate for our current state. College graduation, an event that's supposed to make you feel accomplished and grown up has left me feeling depressed and confused these past couple of days. Our entire lives, up until this point, have been spent in a classroom: learning, taking tests and completing homework assignments or busy work. But although our time in the classroom has ended (at least for now), the learning has not. This time, however, the learning is done in the real world, where mistakes are not just a lower grade on the report card, but can lead to major consequences, which is, for lack of better words, SCARY AS HELL. But even though I've been the queen of the "my life is over, I have nothing to look forward to now that college is over" mindset, our lives are just beginning. In the week and three days I've been graduated, I have probably spent half of that time sobbing, convincing myself that my life really is over, and the other half of that time drinking and partying the tears away (not to sound like an alcoholic or anything). But now that I've calmed down a little and taken the time to actually feel like a college graduate, it feels kind of good, refreshing, even. I've started to think about all the things I want to do with my life: projects I want to start, jobs I want to have, businesses I want to create and trips I want to take, all of which are now possible with a college degree. As everyone has been telling me, there is a life after college, and that life is good! I could sit here and make a list of everything that I'll miss (the beach and my friends, to name a few), but it's important to concentrate on the things that will be gained after college. Thinking ahead two weeks to my six month adventure to India, I know I will be gaining tons of perspective and knowledge that no college professor could have ever taught me, and that is not only exciting, but just one thing out of a million I have to look forward to.