The Tradition of Nose Piercings in India

In Western countries, getting your nose pierced is generally done because you think it looks cool, is trendy or as a small sign of rebellion. Body jewelry in general is not something we typically associate with tradition or respect. Most piercings, in fact, (with the exception of earrings) are looked upon negatively in a professional setting. In India and many other Asian and African cultures,  however, that is not the case. Getting your nose pierced is seen as a symbol of traditional culture – it actually is semi-rebellious and modern to NOT get it done. When I came into work yesterday, one of the men laughed and said Indians are always trying to be more modern, and you come here from the USA to be more traditional! I laughed. The whole concept that I came to a foreign country without any family or friends is incomprehensible to some of them, and they look at me as a strange, friendly, little anomaly – but that is a story for another post.

Nose rings arrived in India from the Middle East at some point during the 16th century. They are generally associated with Hindu, but other religions pierce their nose as well. Most people get the left side of their nose pierced but some stricter beliefs get both sides done. According to an ancient traditional medicine god, the left side of the nose is associated with fertility and childbirth. Getting the left side pierced is said to make childbirth less painful for a woman. Girls generally got their nose pierced around the age of 16, which meant they were “of marriageable age.”

There are many different types of rings and studs adorned with gemstones and lavish decorations. The types which are the most popular depend on the region of India. The general rule of thumb (which stands for all jewelry) is the gaudier, the better. I was laughed at when I asked for the smallest stud they had. Silly little American. It turns out this idea originated hundreds of years ago for good reason. When a woman would marry a man, all of her positions would become his except for her jewelry. Families would by lavish jewelry for the bride as a type of private savings account. Pretty cool!

Nose piercings can typically be done at any little roadside jewelry stand; they pierce your nose by hand with a needle. I was looking for a slightly more Westernized (and sanitary) approach and asked around to find shops with a piercing gun. When I walked in, I saw the jeweler piercing a teenage girl’s ears with a gun and thought Whew. He even wore gloves and washed his hands. It was at this point when I subconsciously decided I’d investigated thoroughly and no longer needed to be on high alert. I immediately began chatting with other people in line. When it was my turn, I was still chatting and not paying too much attention to the jeweler – he hadn’t yet gotten out the gun so I figured he must not be ready. All of a sudden, he told me not to move and forced the pointy end on the back of the stud through the left side of my nose. He fumbled around to get the back on and laughed when I asked about the piercing gun. “You wanted gold,” he replied. “The gun doesn’t work with real gold. Only these,” which he showed me a box of plastic little rods. Oh well. It was an experience.

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image source

Jumpstart Your Monday

Here are some pretty interesting articles to check out while drinking your morning coffee.

  1. Have you listened to the Limetown podcast yet? It is similar to Serial, but is fictional. It leans a little closer to sci-fi than reality at times, but after just two episodes I’m hooked.
  2. Pope Francis is pretty awesome.
    • He used to be a bouncer at an Argentinian club
    • He is releasing a pop rock album
    • He turned down lunch with congress while visiting the USA to spend time with the homeless
    • He backs environmental plans to stop climate change. This isn’t popular among some climate change deniers – a few months ago Rick Santorum told Pope Francis “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality,” to which the pope replied: I studied chemistry. Drop mic.
    • See a longer list of awesome things here
  3. This awesome photography by Fabrice Monterio in Senegal displays some of the environmental issues faced by the small African nation (and Africa as a whole) which are very well done.
  4. Last week, US presidential candidate Ben Carson stated that he would not support a Muslim president of the US under any circumstances. His ignorant remark spurred this awesome response from a 12-year-old boy. A few days later, Carson defended himself by saying he would rethink his position if someone rewrote [the Quran,] the millennia-old religious text that serves as Islam’s foundation. Really?? Yes, just rewrite your entire belief system. That’s all.
  5. This video does an excellent job at describing the Syrian crisis. I highly recommend watching. Also related, HONY author Brandon Stanton is currently photographing the refugee crisis. His photographs and first-hand accounts really put my daily problems into perspective. If you don’t follow his posts already, you should.
  6. The Happy Birthday song was copyrighted?? Oh well…not anymore!
  7. Did you know selfies kill more people than shark attacks each year?

My selfie of the week – I got my nose pierced! Happy Monday!IMG_1921

Why I Love Living in India

My decision to move to India was made somewhat on a whim. I was working at a nonprofit in Boston, where I was content (other than the Boston winters) until we parted ways abruptly in June. Though I missed my coworkers, it didn’t take me long (seriously…about a day) to realize that I had an amazing opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do and go wherever I wanted to go. My lease was up in August and I needed to move so the landlord could renovate, and with no job tying me to the city I was free. I opened up Google maps to look at the possibilities across the globe, and immediately remembered how much I have always wanted to travel to India but have never quite made it. Due to my impulsive nature, I always require myself to wait one week when making big decisions (like buying a one-way ticket to India) and if at the end of the week, I still feel the same way, I am good to pull out the Visa. My India decision withstood the week-long test, and on the 8th day I purchased my one-way ticket to Bangalore while drinking coffee in my best friend’s kitchen in Pennsylvania.

It was the best decision I could have possibly made. First and foremost, the food is fantastic – which might be the most important element for me. Other than a few overly opportunistic vendors and rickshaw drivers who are always trying to overcharge me, everyone is quite friendly and helpful without being overly so. The climate is great – no more harsh winters! Bangalore is particularly great because it has all of the conveniences of a large, modern city without all of the tourists. It is known as the Silicon Valley of India and home to their tech boom, but generally gets missed on the tourist circuit. Yes, as a white girl with brown hair and blue eyes this means that I get stared at a lot, but its pretty mild.

I love being in a place where I can walk everywhere I need but call an Uber/hop in a rickshaw if I choose. Almost all of the shopping I need to do can be done from the sidewalk. Pyramids of fruits and vegetables piled on blankets, food trucks (I suppose food carts is a more accurate term here), shoes, clothes and jewelry line the roads. I can still order takeout from my phone and have it delivered to my apartment, or I can go out to eat, or sometimes I even cook. Especially in public, eating with your fingers the norm. I’m still working on mastering this one…have you ever tried eating rice with your fingers? A little tricky.

Everywhere you look is filled with colors. Buildings are painted vibrant colors and women are draped in beautiful saris. There are glossy fruits on every corner and brightly colored flowers line sidewalks, building awnings and braids of hair. The colors accentuate the intricate architecture, particularly of the temples and mosques.  Hand-carved decorations adorn most doors and entryways and are quite impressive. Women even cover themselves in artwork by getting mehndi tattoos across their hands, arms, legs and feet. Even the characters of the Kannada alphabet look like artwork.

Living here, I can be completely immersed in another culture with a foreign language and a completely different alphabet, but am still able to speak English if I need to. It’s pretty awesome. So to all of those people who were slightly stressed by my impulsivity, particularly you folks in Central PA, you can relax. I love it. Even if it is hard to find good coffee.

Here are some of my favorite photos since arriving in Bangalore. And if you’re reading this, wondering if you should move to India…DO IT!

Water lily in bloom after some rain in Coorg

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view from the main lobby at Honey Valley in Coorg (all of the greenery between the trees in the distance is coffee!)

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Seems appropriate as we move into October. Not sure what type of bird these were, but I like the photo.

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Ganesha idol with offerings for Ganesh Chatchurthi holiday (Sept 17th)

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Sweets and breath fresheners at a local bazaar

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Ceiling of a local bar. Pretty cool!

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I spy with my little eye…a white girl in a tree??

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View on top of the ridge in Coorg

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I ❤ solar

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My new favorite plant. How cool is this??

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Ganesha idols on sale for the holiday

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Fruit market – so many colors!

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Selling flowers in the market. The flowers are strung together and sold by the arm-length as decorations.

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View of the KR Market from above. Largest flower market in Asia! The market opens around 4am daily to sell tons of flowers to the good people of Bangalore

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View from my office. Not too shabby.

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Guavas for sale!

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Selling some flowers on the sidewalk

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My first mehndi tattoo!

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English Around the World

Every country which speaks English has their own interpretation of the language. This isn’t surprising where English is spoken as a second language – translating colloquialisms and grammar from one language to another can definitely create some interesting phrasing. This isn’t unique, however, where English isn’t the native language. Countries which share English as their national language have some issues as well. If a British man goes to America and asks for chips, he will expect french fries, but will be given what he knows as crisps. If an American goes to England and is asked if he would like some spag bol for dinner, he will likely be confused, not knowing that it’s just a nickname for spaghetti bolognese. American English and British English can sometimes leave native English speakers quite confused. Here are some of my favorites:

  • America = grilled cheese, Britain = cheese toasty
  • America = cupcake, Britain = fairy cake
  • America = period (.), Britain = full stop
  • America = sweatshirt, Britain = jumper
  • America = sneakers, Britain = tennies
  • America = dinner time, Britain = tea time (Americans…the question “What would you like for tea?” doesn’t mean what you think it does…)

In Kenya, both Swahili and English are the national languages. English is the language of education, so generally speaking, children who remain in school through middle school can speak English well. All business and official matters are conducted in English. They also have their own unique words and phrasing; my favorite was their use of I’m sorry. Here are some scenarios which caused people to apologize to me:

  • A friend and I were walking down the street in Nairobi. She accidentally stepped on my flip-flop causing me to step right out of it and my shoe to fly about 5 feet away. Before I even had the chance to be annoyed, 5 Kenyans came running over to me, trying to put my shoe on my foot and saying Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. It sounded a little like the seagulls in Nemo saying mine, mine, mine.
  • I stubbed my toe on the coffee table. Ohhh, sorry
  • I dropped my pencil. Ohhh, sorry
  • I sneezed. Ohhh, sorry
  • I spilled tea. Ohhh, sorry

The funny part is, they weren’t making fun of me for being klutzy, nor were they trying to help me clean up my mess. They just felt sorry that it happened to me in the first place, or maybe just were acknowledging that it happened. It was endearing. It was less endearing in the USA when I moved back and couldn’t stop apologizing. People thought I was crazy.

India is no exception to this rule. There are many English-medium schools which teach fluency in English at an early age. Fluency comes, however, in its own way with a specific pronunciation and particular words/phrases which aren’t really found anywhere else. Here are my favorites, some of which I have already built into my vocabulary (I’m sure my friends back in the US will be delighted).

  1. To reach – this is the first one I adopted – it is very common. To reach means to arrive at a place. Common uses include I’m reaching now or When will you reach? meaning either I’ve arrived, or When will you arrive.
  2. Even me – this means either me too, or me neither, depending on the context. Example:
    • Person 1: I think I will take a nap this afternoon.
    • Person 2: Even me, I will take a nap
    • Person 1: I don’t like this chicken.
    • Person 2: Even me, I don’t like.
  3. Coffee – as a person who is slightly addicted black, strong, bitter coffee, I sometimes struggle in India. Ordering coffee means instant coffee with milk and sugar. Proper coffee is called filter coffee and is hard to find. Black filter coffee is impossible to order – anyone knowing how to order a black coffee, please let me know, I would really appreciate it! Today I stopped at a fancy coffee place on my walk to work because I was craving an iced coffee and I was determined to walk away with a black, unsweetened, iced drink. After a couple of tries of explaining and continually being handed drinks with milk, I finally realized that all of their “coffee” drinks were really made with espresso – which explains the confusion. He was making me cappuccinos…to him this was “coffee.” The store didn’t actually make coffee. They made drinks with espresso OR instant coffee. I finally walked away with an iced Americano, which I considered a victory – close enough. It even came in a fancy bag with a little holder inside!IMG_1900

Five Stereotypes I Didn’t See Coming

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and I’ve encountered a fair amount of stereotypes about Americans and/or foreigners in general. Sometimes they’re true, sometimes I have no idea where they came from. Here are the five main stereotypes/perceptions I’ve encountered in India so far that completely took me by surprise and left me scratching my head:

  1. Vegetarians are quite, passive, mild-mannered – I learned this one when someone at work asked me if I was a vegetarian, because I “looked like one.” Of course my first question was “What does that mean?” I mean, I’m not a vegetarian, but I obviously needed to know what that meant! Once they told me why, IIMG_1786 started laughing. This really couldn’t be further from the truth, but I suppose I’ll take it as a compliment. It was only my first week there when they asked. This is me a few weeks later. I think they may have changed their opinion.
  2. Americans LOVE exercise – Whether its walking, running, or healthy eating, Americans love it. This topic comes up on a daily basis, because I walk to work in the mornings (about 5K) Everyone thinks I’m nuts. Every day I’m told “Indians hate walking. Indians are all diabetics and overweight.” Huh?? This basically goes against every other stereotype of Americans I have heard before. I don’t IMG_0393know that either aspect of this is actually true. This photo is failed jumping photo attempt #75…but I think it still looks pretty cool. I got some exercise in Coorg over the weekend and went on some really awesome treks. AND, this pic is a spoiler for #3 on the list, since I am wearing sunglasses!
  3. Only rich people wear sunglasses This one really surprised me and drives me crazy for a number of reasons.
    • I have blue eyes which are super sensitive to brightness. I can’t see if it is really bright. I never leave the house without my sunglasses.
    • Even if it isn’t sunny, there is so much dust and other little particles that I don’t want flying in my eyes.
    • Sunglasses only for the rich means no awesome, color Ray Ban knockoffs on every corner. I was looking forward to that.
  4. All foreigners smoke – I blame the French for this one. People are surprised when I turn down their offered cigarette. “Don’t all white people smoke,” they ask.
  5. Why learn Kannada when you already know English? – Kannada is the official language in the state of Karnataka where Bangalore is located. Most of the north speaks Hindi, but the southern states have diverse languages complete with different alphabets. I currently know about 20 words, but the reaction when I use one or two is complete shock. A white girl speaking Kannada? Why? Don’t you speak English? I generally smile and say “Because I want to.” Why wouldn’t you want to learn the local language?

Here is the Kannada alphabet I had hanging in my kitchen in Boston to learn the characters before my trip – my roommates loved it (mostly at hearing me try to pronounce the characters):

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Climate Change in Bangalore

This is part 2 of 3 in a series about the effects of climate change in parts of the developing world. In this article I’ll focus on the city of Bangalore and how climate change has affected the daily life of the people who live here. In addition, I’ve included some cool, new inventions from people all over the world which reduce our footprint as a civilization and prepare us for whatever the future holds. Be sure to click follow at the bottom of the screen to see all of the posts as they come out!

At first glance, you’d never know Bangalore is stricken by droughts. It’s nickname of the Garden City means it is filled with lush greenery everywhere you look – flowers, grass, palm trees, ferns, fruit trees, etc. This greenery helps to give the city its cool climate and to mute the noisy traffic passing by. Looking a little harder will likely show a store without lights on, generators on the sidewalk in front of businesses and a sign outside of the ATM saying “Out of Service.”

Scheduled power outages are the norm here in Bangalore. Most of the city’s electricity comes from hydropower (yay renewables!!) but with the lack of rain, there just isn’t enough water to generate the amount of electricity the city demands. This means that each day, everyone loses power for a total of 3 hours (1 hour in the morning, 1 in the afternoon, and 1 in the evening) and the timing varies depending on the municipality you’re in.

Droughts aren’t the only factor putting a strain on the power in Bangalore – the population of the city has exploded in recent years. According to the Indian census, in 2015 there are just over 10,800,000 people in the city. In the year 2001, there were 5,101,000 citizens. In 1981, there were 2,900,000.

It seems that everyone wants to be here. Bangalore is referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, teeming with new tech startups and established giants. To get Bangalored is a new verb created referring to getting outsourced to India, specifically to Bangalore. Also, its moderate climate, diverse population, and low cost of living attracts expats from all over the world (like me!) and infrastructure just couldn’t keep up with the population growth.

The local government has been trying to move towards solar and requires new buildings to have a Solar-Passive design. This means the building must provide the maximum amount of shade to itself, have natural ventilation, and utilize other strategies of achieving thermal and visual comfort such as vegetation and optimizing daylight indoors to reduce the amount of artificial light needed. There are many diagrams as to the types of ventilation which is best and the different types of natural cooling. There are also requirements on the types of materials used for walls and for roofing to absorb as little heat as possible. I have heard many times that 20 years ago you didn’t even need a fan in Bangalore…let alone AC. With more people and a warmer planet, a fans and AC units abound, putting even more pressure on  already scarce power sources.

Solar energy is gaining momentum but is still slightly cost-prohibitive for many, especially in India. Fortunately, in India and around the world, people are creating new ways to make solar energy more accessible to everyone. Here are some of my favorites which were recently in the news:

  • Project Sunroof, a new Google spinoff, lets you use Google Maps to look at the roof of your house and see how many solar panels you could put, what it would cost, and how much electricity you could generate. Currently only in Fresno, San Francisco and Boston, but more cities to come!
  • A university student in the Philippines is developing electricity generated by saltwater.
  • Solar Sister brings renewable electricity to women in Africa who otherwise would not have access. One solar lantern replaces approx. 60 liters of kerosene!
  • Two guys from Switzerland made a solar powered airplane which can fly for 5 days and nights without using any fuel.
  • A group of students in India chttp://innovatedevelopment.org/2015/01/12/solar-panels-that-can-self-cleanreated a solar powered conduction dryer which allows farmers to dry their crops and save them for up to a year.
  • Canada makes its first geothermal power plant.
  • Students at Boston University created self-cleaning solar panels, particularly useful in dry, dusty climates.
  • An interesting article by One on how providing electricity to rural communities can help people get out of poverty.
  • A man in Vietnam developed a small, portable, resilient solar powered generator to bring power where there currently is none.

The final part in the series will be out next week! Click follow to make sure you don’t miss it! Here is some of the greenery that makes Bangalore so awesome.

View from my office

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Community Park in Jayanagar, 3rd block

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Five Reasons to Smile on a Monday Morning

  1. This girl from the UK is purchasing and handing out train tickets in Budapest, Hungary to Syrian refugees trying to travel onwards. She created a crowdfunding page – it costs about $15 for a train ticket.
  2. This letter from Jerry Brown to Ben Carson made my day.
  3. This billboard put up for Kim Davis in her hometown.
  4. This podcast – if you haven’t listened to this series yet, you should. It’s hilarious.
  5. And finally, check out this picture of the little folder used to bring us our brunch bill at a restaurant in Bangalore. Sometimes English doesn’t translate quite the way you intended:

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    Part two of Climate Change Around the World will be posted later in the week. Stay tuned! Happy Monday!

Climate Change Around the World

This is part 1 of 3 in a series about the effects of climate change in parts of the developing world. In the coming articles I’ll focus on India and the city of Bangalore where everyday people will talk about the effects that climate change on their lives. In addition, each post has some cool, new inventions from people all over the world which reduce our footprint as a civilization and prepare us for whatever the future holds. Be sure to click follow at the bottom of the screen to see all of the posts as they come out! Continue reading “Climate Change Around the World”

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Short little shout out to one of my favorite things about being an American.

Nope. Not Christmas. FOOTBALL SEASON! American football, that is. Regular season games kicked off today, and unfortunately, my Steelers are off to a rocky start losing by 21-28 to the Patriots. Not a great way to start off my Friday morning. One aspect of the time difference that I did not consider is what it does to football games. Kickoff for the opening game started at 6am on Friday morning here in India. This presents a little bit of a problem for my Sunday plans. I guess I’ll have Monday morning football?

I’ll figure it out. Luckily, I’ve found a friend to watch the oddly timed games with me. She’s a Green Bay fan, which is tolerable. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to buy us the NFL International package to share, since she is letting me crash at her place for a whole month. Thanks, Veena! Now we can watch all of the games at any time we want. Phew! Crisis averted.

Good luck to your teams in their opening games, unless your team is Dallas. Then I hope you lose.

P.S. – anyone in Bangalore wanting to get together to watch some games should write a comment!