Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Life in Lucknow

A lot of you might be thinking that I must have encountered culture shock or the infamous Delhi Belly or some other sort of extreme experience of adjustment since I got here. But it really is remarkable how quickly the human mind and body can adapt to a new place. Things that caught my attention when I first got here, like stray goats and dogs and monkeys and cows on the road, people peeing and showering outside in clear sight of the street, incessant staring wherever I go, and the mixture of thrill and caution when riding a rickshaw, as well as many other things, have simply become facts of my new life here in Lucknow. And there are many beautiful aspects too. Stunning imambaras with beautiful Indo-Islamic architecture, the bright colors of people's saris and kurtas, the sound of drums down a street lined with mango wallahs, the delicious smell of spices rising up from food stalls and out of kitchens... I am not immune or indifferent to these details, but I am definitely more intrigued than shocked. It is the country of contrasts that I had always imagined it would be. It often strikes me as a mixture of my memories of Cambodia and of Jordan, as well as of a flavor all its own, with a heady scent of fruit, spice, and sweat.

It has been so busy since I got here and I have so much I want to show you! Here are some photos of life in Lucknow and accompanying explanations, with a poem thrown in. 

Here is the outside of the institute, where we take our Urdu classes.

They have flung me into the deep dark waters of advanced Urdu, but in such an intensive program, I feel that this is the level where I will learn the most. Although I spend more like 4-6 hrs on average on homework, rather than the 2 hours they suggest, it is extremely gratifying to already be able to hold basic conversations in a language I had never formally studied before merely a week and a half ago.

Today I tried to speak Arabic and I was already mixing it up with Urdu! This prompted me to write a poem about the mixture of frustration, excitement, and confusion with learning a new language and in the process forgetting the one you previously learned. 

Tongues and lips
Blink and flutter
With new values
Of another world I sink into
Like a sea of someone else's memories

My pen is my sword
In the battle against my childhood logic
Of languages I once thought I knew

For to remember something new
You need to let go of everything
And recognize that with each memory lost
You grew.

All my classes are very small and individualized and run from 9am to 1pm every day. In most of my classes it is just me and one other girl, who also has a background in Arabic, and in other classes we aren't more than 4 people. All the teachers are so kind and helpful, and encourage us to learn from our mistakes rather than feel ashamed of them. Chai in the morning, late-morning, and afternoon, as well as lunch with fresh mango often offered as dessert, help keep our minds alert throughout the day. I'm so happy to finally be in the land of chai and mangoes, two of my favorite things in the world!Every Wednesday a monolingual speaker comes to speak to the intermediate and advanced level students. Last week a descendant of the Nawabs for which Lucknow is famous visited us to speak about the history of Awadh, what this region was called before independence. It was especially exciting to meet him since he was featured in the documentary about Lucknow that we are watching in listening comprehension class. Apparently he is a bit of a local celebrity!

After class we either have a cultural class (I do cooking on Mondays and will post a recipe in another blog post), meet with our language partner (I'm paired up with a really sweet and patient 19-year old Muslim girl named Nusrat), explore (which can mean finding the perfect chikan dupatta shop or stumbling upon the crumbling British Residency), or finally making our way home with the trusty old yellow and green auto-rickshaws. Along the way, mountains of mangoes piled high by street salesmen have become a common sight, as well as baby monkeys eating stolen mangoes (they are so cute!).

It isn't strange to see cattle in the middle of the road. These urbanite cows chewing on trash in over 40 degrees Celsius would probably envy the Swedish cows I grew up near, who munch on lush green grass in cool, silent pastures.


Outside our house there is a beautiful little garden with a swing. They water it every day and yet the grass still gets too dry - that is how hot it is right now!

Meet John, my host family's parrot. He sits outside of my shower window and once in a while says "Kya hua?" (What happened?) or "Hello!" in between squawking. It is so funny!

During one of my first days here I headed to the old part of Lucknow, called Aminabad, to buy some cheap kurtas. You wear kurtas either with pajama type pants or leggings, and you can get them for less than $2 in any print or design, including one that can match your macbook computer!

These are some of the lovely ladies I traveled to Aminabad with. They are just a small selection of the amazingly caring, friendly, goal-oriented and easy-going people I've met thanks to this program.

 Apparently our visit to Aminabad only skimmed the surface of the place, but it was beautiful nonetheless in my eyes. 

Aminabad is where you are most likely to see Urdu signs, which are otherwise rare in Lucknow (and India in general). I caught a photo of one below though! Urdu is the third and lowest script you see. 

And alas wherever we go we attract a LOT of stares. Here staring wasn't enough -- we were caught on film! I love how the two rickshaw drivers on either side are also staring at us. It can be unsettling at first, but after experience with this sort of attention in the mediterranean and the Middle East, the Indian reaction to my pale skin and blonde hair doesn't come as a surprise.

I will have to share photos of the imambaras we visited last Thursday later this week. I will also have more posts after this weekend, since I am going to Ambedkar Park on Friday with meri zabaan dost (my language partner) and a field trip on Saturday that will take us to a shrine and a mango orchard, which I will also want to post about. Until then, khuda hafiz!

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