Literary Lots Wrap-Up

Well, tonight is the final night of Literary Lots, and I am about to board a flight to Copenhagen. Literary Lots was an amazing project, and I am so proud to have been a part of it.  The following post is the one I wrote for the Literary Lots website’s blog about the importance of community, and I think it sums up my feelings about the project pretty well:

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1990s, YSU Penguins football was a huge part of my family’s life. Every Saturday in the fall we would load up our red GMC Safari van with our tent and food and head downtown to tailgate. However, once we made it up to the stands and the game began, I would pull a book from my purse and spend the majority of the game in the world of literature. I always loved how you could spend an entire day completely lost in a book, and any troubles you are having in the real world completely disappear because it could be worse – at least Lord Voldemort isn’t constantly after you, right?

The imaginary world of fiction provides an amazing escape for readers, especially children. While the world of a book is rarely a perfect utopia, it’s the perfect escape because you can worry about something that you know is completely different from where you are now. Spending the day worrying about the well-being of your favorite book character is a lot more enjoyable than spending the day worrying about problems that are happening in your own backyard. When we enter the fantasy world of literature, all of our real problems disappear – at least for the moment.

I recently attended a meeting with the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council where I learned a lot about vacancy and abandonment problems in Cleveland. I am from Youngstown, Oho, and as a fellow Rustbelt native I understand what it is like to drive past abandoned buildings on your way to work everyday, and I know that it is not ideal. But, I also know what it is like to love the city that is home to those abandoned buildings and the people that also drive past them everyday; and, I know what it is like to want to make that city the best that it can be. I spent many years being involved in the Youngstown community, and have learned that community is a vital part of our lives, especially in a world where things are not perfect all the time. With Literary Lots, I love that I get to help out a community that so clearly values their home and fellow community members — as well as a community that I have grown to love myself.

The combination of community and literature – two things that help us find happiness in an imperfect world – is why I think the Literary Lots project is so amazing. When a child reads a book, they enter the literary world and leave the real world behind. When a child enters the Literary Lot, the community and literary world combine and provide an escape while also maintaining real world engagement in the Ohio City community.

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Preparing for a Fulbright in Bulgaria

08/09/2013

Hello Wooster Community!

I leave this Saturday for a ten-month Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. I will be working with 8th, 9th, and 10th graders, teaching English and possibly other electives 20 hours a week. For those of you who might not know, the Fulbright ETA program gives grants for young people (under 30 I believe) to teach English in many countries. You apply directly for the country you want. Here is a link to the Fulbright website:

http://us.fulbrightonline.org/countries/selectedregion/21

It took me awhile to decide which country to choose. I was a Comparative Literature major who focused in French, but I wound up going with Bulgaria because I wanted to learn another language and what I’d seen of the culture from my Bulgarian friends I liked. Compared to other countries, Bulgaria has a lot of Fulbright ETAs (I think we have 27 now–they added more this year). A lot of countries only have a couple ETA positions. Bulgaria is also a great place to do a Fulbright because you can apply for a second year (it is my understanding that in most countries you cannot extend the grant).

 

Some facts about Bulgaria

Bulgarian is a slavic language, and I hear it’s easy to learn if you already know Russian.

Bulgaria is part of the EU, but the currency is the Lev.

Viktor Krum is Bulgarian (HP reference)

Bulgaria boarders Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia.

 

 

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How can it be goodbye?

Well, it’s been a few weeks, hasn’t it?  Sorry ‘bout that.  I got caught up in all the activity of my last days at VSSU, and before I knew it, I was leaving.  I’ll recap briefly, but I know I’m going to miss a lot of wonderful stories and moments.

 

Two days after the wedding that I mentioned, there was another wedding.  Apparently there are certain auspicious days for marriages, and since weddings are 3-day festivities in Bengal, I was able to attend the first day of one wedding, and the third day of another.  It was quite an interesting experience.  Once again, I got all wrapped up in my sari, this time thanks to Banani, and I drove with Mr. Mondal’s wife, daughter-in-law, sister, and niece to the groom’s house, which was about a 15-minute drive away.  The festivities of this evening were entirely different; the bride was sitting up on a stage, dressed elaborately, and was essentially on display.  At this point, the couple was officially married, and the rituals dictate that the groom invites his family and friends to his home to come see his new bride, and there is a huge dinner to celebrate.  And let me tell you, there was so much food.  Darpan met us there, and he told me that there wasn’t a dinner, so he kept feeding me all of these snacks, and then, as usual, he’d been joking, and there was a huge dinner. I thought my stomach was going to explode.  But seeing so many people and experiencing another aspect of a Bengali wedding was definitely a unique and fantastic experience.

 

The last week or so in the office was spent on two primary tasks: helping prepare Mr. Mondal for his visit to the US in September, and finishing up the VSSU book.  The book got very close to complete before I left, but not quite there.  All of the content was ready to go, but there was a lot of formatting left to do.  Regardless, Mr. Mondal is hopeful that he will finish it all up and have copies ready to go by the time he comes to the US next month.  As far as I can tell, Mr. Mondal is completely prepped for his upcoming trip, and all of his arrangements for visiting Wooster are set; I am really glad that I will get to see him again so soon!

 

One of my last nights at VSSU, I cooked a big American dinner for the office as a thank-you for everything they have done for me throughout the summer.  I had asked several weeks before if I could do this before I left, so during one of my weekend trips to Kolkata I bought some of the western ingredients I would need that I knew I couldn’t get in the village.  On Friday afternoon, my second to last night at VSSU, Banani and I went to the market to get all of the produce I would need.  I’d walked through that market in Lakshmikantapur several times going back and forth between the train station and while doing branch visits, but I’d never actually done any shopping there- it was quite interesting.  The best/worst part was buying the chicken.  I told Banani I needed three chickens, and so we went to this little stand that had a bunch of live chickens in the back.  Banani told the shopkeeper I needed three, he picked up three by their feet and hung them from a scale on the ceiling of the shop so we could see the weight (and therefore the price), and then we left. About 10 minutes later, we came back to the shop and the man had butchered the chickens up completely, and he handed us a plastic grocery bag that was full of meat, guts, and blood… pretty much everything but the feathers, feet, and heads.  For those of you that have seen me in the kitchen, I am a little squeamish about raw meat, so sorting through that mess was quite something for me.

 

Anyway, once we made it back from the market, I immediately started cooking, knowing that it would take me a while to cook this meal for 12-15 people with only a two-burner gas stove, one pot, a wok, and a knife.  Sure enough, after about five hours of cooking, and sweating (the kitchen doesn’t have a fan…. even my pants were soaked through with sweat, it was terrible), I had finished.  Banani helped me a little bit along the way, but I did a vast majority of it myself, which was how I wanted it.  After ushering everyone that came upstairs to the dining room and carrying everything up, we all sat down to an American feast of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pasta salad, chopped vegetables, and no-bake cookies.  It was just a simple dinner, but I am so glad I was able to do it.  Mr. Mondal and Darpan’s wives both came, which was wonderful for me because they had both cooked me several meals; it was my turn to return the favor.  The best part was, though, that everyone tried everything, even though some of it was quite strange for someone accustomed to Bengali food.  I really appreciated it, and it was a great evening of Bengali-American fusion.  We were eating American style food, but still eating with our hands, and the atmosphere was undeniably Bengali.  It was a really great evening for me, and I can’t quite say how much it meant that everyone came back to work in the evening to try my American cooking, and I was thankful that I was given the opportunity to show my immense thanks for their help, hospitality, and guidance throughout the summer.  It really was the perfect way to spend one of my last nights in Ullon.

 

The last day itself was a blur.  I worked on the book in the morning, and in the afternoon I got brought into a meeting in Mr. Mondal’s office with several community members, a Harvard professor who was visiting for the day, and two volunteers from Kolkata.  The meeting had absolutely nothing to do with my work at VSSU, but at the same time, it was the perfect way to spend my last few hours in the office.  It was a reminder that VSSU is about a whole a lot more than the few aspects I had been able to explore in my internship.  Hearing a local girl and her father talk about their challenges and determination to overcome them was a reminder about how much is left to accomplish in the field of community economic development, and in this particular scenario, gender equality.  Sitting in on the meeting was bittersweet however, because it went from 4 until almost 8pm.  The workday ends at 6pm, which meant I was unable to say goodbye to pretty much everyone in the office.  I tried not to dwell too much on that, however, as I was swept off by Mr. Mondal and Darpan to one last lovely dinner at the Mondal residence.  After one more round of me offering to help in the kitchen, Mrs. Mondal refusing, and finally sitting down to a dinner of more food than I could possibly eat, I left their home, after many hugs, and “I’ll be backs.”

 

Before I went upstairs to start packing, I wrote a few short notes of goodbye and left them on the desks of the intended recipients for them to find on Monday morning.  Then, with my room looking like an explosion of some sort had occurred, I started packing.  It took me almost two hours, and I finally collapsed into bed at about 1am.  Sleep was short lived however, and I was up again at 5am to try and shower and finish packing before it was time to hit the road.  Unfortunately, the water was out, so the best I could do was brush my teeth with my bottled water and change clothes, still feeling completely gross.  I hauled my bag downstairs, was brought one last cup of chai, and then it was time to go.  Mr. Mondal had a meeting in Kolkata, so I drove with him, and as I brought my bag to the car, Mr. Mondal’s wife, Darpan’s wife, and Mr. Mondal’s sister and niece came to see me off.  After one more round of hugs, I climbed into the car, trying not to get too choked up.

 

About two hours later, I was dropped off in Kolkata at my hostel, and the internship was officially over.  I checked in, showered, and rested for a bit, and tried to process the fact that I was really done in Ullon, at least for now.  I really do hope that sometime in the future, even if it is many years away, I will get to visit again.  I have a feeling that many of the same people will be working there, and that their operations will be even more impressive than they already are.  With only one year left at Wooster, I have lots of other things to plan for and worry about at the moment, but hopefully in the years to come, I will get to plan a return trip.

 

And now, about 10 days after leaving VSSU, I am writing this entry from New Delhi after visiting Varanasi, and it is the night before I leave India.  It has been a crazy summer.  It has been filled with experiences that I will treasure, some that I hope I can forget (like the food poisoning I didn’t write about), but every single one of them was crucial to making this summer what it was.  I changed, my perspective on development evolved, and my goals for the future were solidified.  I can’t imagine a better way that I could have spent my summer, and although there were challenges along the way, it was completely, 100%, and undeniably worth it.  So now, I’m off to Nepal for a blissful week of being a tourist, and then its back to Wooster.  With only one year left, going back for the fourth fall in a row is exciting and terrifying, but I this year I am returning with a whole new set of experiences and beliefs, and a greater certainty that I can tackle whatever hurdles senior year will throw at me.

 

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Woman in Ullon in the rice fields

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Banani and I in Mr. Mondal’s office

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Finishing up a presentation for Mr. Mondal

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At the first wedding, the bride is in the center in all red

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Working in rice fields in Ullon

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Banani and I after the table is set for the American dinner!

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Homes in Ullon

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Road in Ullon, with election flags seen over the path

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Some of the people at the American dinner

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American dinner

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Ponds in Ullon

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Road in Ullon

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Home in Ullon

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Homes in Ullon

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Starting the cooking!

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The librarian at the VSSU Oceanic Library

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Oh thats right! A fellow Woosterite came to visit VSSU for the weekend! With Anders and Mr. Sur getting tea after visiting the Lakshmikantapur branch.

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VSSU main office

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Its blurry, but I don’t care.  This is my last night in Ullon with the Harvard professor in orange, and the volunteer couple from Kolkata next to me

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From the roof of the Oceanic Library, overlooking the rice fields of Ullon

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Ullon and surrounding area

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The nearest main road, about 1.5 miles from Ullon

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Sitting between a Harvard professor and a truly inspirational teenage cyclist from Ullon, who is facing sexual and economic discrimination in her effort to compete in a national competition.

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Mr. Purkait and I at his daughter’s wedding; this is the man I met in Ullon who so kindly invited me to the festivities.

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Mr. Mondal, Dr. Ghosh (Harvard prof) and I

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Talking about work as the American dinner wraps up

IMG_3490In front, Mr. Mondal and his wife, in the back, Darpan and his wife

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Connection

I love connections.  I love meeting people and finding that one thing that ties us together.  Maybe we both saw the same mediocre band in concert or maybe they went to high school with my second cousin or maybe we both hail from the Youngstown area.  Whatever it is, I love finding it and then being able to talk to them about the connection, and see the relationship that grows from it.   Additionally, I love the connections of ideas.  Maybe that’s why I chose to get a liberal arts education.  While I absolutely love psychology, I can’t really imagine studying nothing but psychology for four years.  That wouldn’t be very interesting to me, and moreover, I don’t think it would really fulfill my desire for an education.  To me, it’s the connection between psychology and economics or political science and literature that’s most fascinating, not the individual topics.

Therefore, the connection between education and community that I have experienced with Literary Lots has been my favorite part of the experience.  The connections I have made in the Ohio City community have been awesome.  Because of my internship experience, I feel like I could return to Ohio City after college and have a place in the community. My boss, Kauser Razvi, has put me in touch with connections in Copenhagen from her German Marshall Fellowship that I am going to meet up with while studying abroad.  Frank Lewis of Ohio City Writers has offered to work with my friends in Wooster’s slam poetry club to do some workshops together.  Julia Kuo, the project artist, has become a friend and connection in Chicago if I ever end up there.  J.T. Fraser built sets for Captain America and The Avengers, and worked with me on bringing the Literary Lot to life.  Last night, I had dinner with people from the Cleveland Salon, including the man who invented the Cash Mob idea.  Additionally, I met some awesome Wooster alumni who have given me great advice and helped me make even more connections.

I’m not sure that my internship with Literary Lots will really shape my future.  However, the connections I have made through it will most certainly have a huge influence on my life.  The interpersonal connections I made will surely extend far beyond my summer experience, and I can’t wait to see where they take me.

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Bringing Literary Lots to Life

This week has been exhausting. The Literary Lots events officially begin tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. Along with the Literary Lots creator, Kauser, the artist, Julia, Michael of Studio Mishaga, and the guys at Fraser Contracting company, I have spent this week building the Literary Lot in Ohio City. After hours spent painting and thrifting, I think we have created a bit of a masterpiece.

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From the people who brought you Captain America and The Avengers, we present Literary Lots!
But no, really. That’s Fraser of Fraser Contracting who built sets for Captain America and The Avengers.

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The “before” photo of the mural featuring Literary Lots artist, Julia Kuo!

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Volunteers helping us put up the fence on Thursday! They were much appreciated – Kauser and I tried to put it up ourselves Wednesday.. it didn’t end well.

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Fraser Contracting hard at work!

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Letting my inner child out to play in the pasta tunnel!

Letting my inner child out to play in the pasta tunnel

Alice in Wonderland's Tea Party!

Alice in Wonderland’s Tea Party

Sandwich boats!

Sandwich boats!

Enjoy the photos! I will be posting more soon now that the events are starting. For now, I’m going to get some sleep before I return to the lot bright and early tomorrow morning!

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An End to the Summer

I have just a few more days in Washington, D.C. This Saturday, I’m heading home to Oregon to enjoy some time with my family after 11 full weeks of excitement here in the capitol. I am wrapping things up at WETA, packing up my dorm, and getting ready for the next stage of my life. It sure has been fun!

I have learned so much during my time in D.C. both relating to my internship and career goals but also just about myself as a person! Just living on my own, navigating public transportation, and finding my own way in a big city has taught me so much. I don’t know if I will ever return to D.C. or voluntarily live in a large city again, but the experience was one I wouldn’t trade for anything. (I have a feeling I will settle down in the country or suburbs though) My internship was a lot of fun, very rewarding, and an experience I know will benefit me in the long run. I’m very thankful for the opportunities and experiences I had this summer.

Today I published my final blog post! It’s a look back at Washington in 1850, as seen and described by a man named Byron Sunderland. I have written a few others that will be published later in the year, but this one is my last while I am here in D.C.

Thanks for reading! Cheers.

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Rustbelt Camaraderie

Last week, I went to the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council meeting with a Tom Fitzpatrick, a Wooster alumnus who sits on the council.  We had met up for coffee, and since a component of the Literary Lots project is to provide purpose for an underutilized lot, he invited me to join him when he went to the meeting. At the meeting, he introduced me to a woman who said, “Why did you bring her here? You’re going to scare her away once she hears us all talking about all of Cleveland’s vacant and abandoned properties!” Tom laughed and replied, “Nah, she’s from Youngstown. She’s heard it all before.”

Tom grew up in New England and had lived many places, but when he came to Cleveland, he was shocked at the vast expanse of vacancy.  Sure, he had seen poverty all over the country, but the vacancy of the Rustbelt is something he had never seen, and he became really interested in the problem and much of his work has dealt with how to combat vacancy and abandonment.  I, however, grew up in a small town just east of Youngstown, Ohio on the Pennsylvania state line.  In many ways, Youngstown epitomizes the Rustbelt.  Formerly the home of the steel industry and a multitude of immigrants from Italy, eastern Europe and Ireland, Youngstown is now a quickly shrinking city with not much to it, but it has an incredible amount of character and is truly a community.  For example, there are many cultural quirks that are uniquely Youngstown. One of my personal favorites is the tradition that we have giant cookie tables at weddings. The cookie table is a tradition that dates back to when the immigrant working class had all of their friends and neighbors bake a batch of cookies each for the wedding because they could not afford to buy cake for all the guests. There is something about traditions formed in times of hardship that makes them carry on for years.

The Youngstown community has played a huge role in my life. Until I went off to college, I had attended every single home YSU football game. I event went to preschool at YSU and had a little cheerleader outfit that I would wear to the games and go down to the sidelines and cheer with the YSU cheerleaders.  As I got older, I continued my community involvement, but in different ways.  With my Youth Ministry club, I volunteered at the soup kitchen, a holiday giving tree gift exchange, and taught vacation bible school for children in the community. In college, I got involved with Circle K and did some service in the Wooster community, and my involvement in the College of Wooster community is extensive.  When I lead the “Community of Learners” session at ARCH, the summer orientation and registration session for incoming first-years, we talk to them about the importance of the Wooster ethic when living in a community where we all live and work together. We talk about it specifically in reference to college, but the importance of respect in a community is applicable in any situation.

I am very new to the Ohio City community, which is the neighborhood where the Literary Lots project is taking place.  However, after a mere month, I already feel connected to it.  For me, the Literary Lots project cannot fail because even if it makes a difference for just a few families by giving them a fun day out, a little extra educational enrichment, or even tacos for dinner on a Tuesday night, it was worth it because it’s about helping out the community, and giving people a chance to experience something great so close to home.  I think about all of the times my mom took my siblings and I to the library or drove an hour to take us to the Pittsburgh Zoo or Children’s Museum, and how much that inspired my love of learning at a young age.  So many children were not lucky enough to have those experiences, but Literary Lots is creating those experiences for children in Ohio City right in their own backyard. (Disclaimer: The former analogy was general – Literary Lots is not creating the Pittsburgh Zoo experience in Ohio City by any means.)

As a fellow Rustbelt native, I understand what it is like to drive past abandoned buildings on your way to work everyday, and I know that it is not ideal.  But I also know what it is like to love the city that is home to those abandoned buildings and the people that also drive past them everyday, and I love that I get to help out a community that so clearly values their home and fellow community members – and a community that I have grown to love myself.

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Walks and Weddings

Yet another week, gone.

Overall, the last week was pretty routine. I’m spending my last couple of weeks working on compiling a book about VSSU and its last 25 years, which will double as the annual report for this year. So most days I come down and sit at my desk, write for a couple of hours, go and check in with Mr. Mondal about my progress, come back, edit, and keep writing. It’s not the most thrilling thing I’ve done while I’ve been here, but I do think it will be beneficial to VSSU if I am able to complete it and it is high quality.

While the last work week didn’t have any especially noteworthy aspects to it, there were three other fun, enjoyable, and surprising things about the last week or so.

The first was at the end of last week. Mr. Mondal had told me about a month ago that he is planning a trip to the US in early September, and he mentioned that he would be visiting Chicago, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. A couple of days later, he asked me to show him where Wooster is on Google Earth, and with a little careful navigation, I was actually able to pinpoint campus. As I was showing him Wooster and Ohio, he realized that our campus is right between Chicago and New York, both places he was planning to visit. So the planning for his visit to Wooster began. Over the last several weeks, and with many emails sent back and forth, the Political Science department at Wooster has generously agreed to sponsor Mr. Mondal’s two-day visit to Wooster where he will give a talk about community economic development. As most of you probably know, because Wooster is kind of in the middle of nowhere, we don’t get too many international visitors. I’m really excited that this visit has been planned, both so Mr. Mondal can see what rural areas in the US are like (he’s only been to large cities in the past), and so our students can be exposed to his wonderful work and outlook on development. So that was the first exciting part of the week!!

The second thing wasn’t so much exciting, as enjoyable. Last Sunday was the first Sunday I’d spent here in Ullon in a couple of weeks because of my trips to Kolkata, so I decided to sleep in, and then I mapped out a big loop that I wanted to walk. I had either walked or driven nearly every part of the route, so I was fairly confident I wouldn’t get lost. I got up, showered, grabbed my camera, and was walking out of the VSSU gate at about 10am. While I do really enjoy seeing people out and about when I go on my evening walks, the morning walk was a nice change of pace because there was hardly anyone out, which meant I didn’t feel quite as awkward taking pictures. The walk was wonderful, and I got several pictures of the village that I feel capture what it is like here, which I hadn’t been able to do before. After about an hour and a half I had completed about 75% of my loop, and Mr. Mondal drove by in the car. People here think it is very strange that I just go for walks, and he really doesn’t understand it either. So while I tried to explain that I was enjoying just walking around, eventually I gave into his request to drive me back to the office, laughed, and climbed in the car. I didn’t quite get to finish my planned route, but it was pretty close to it at least, and it was a very peaceful morning that resulted in some great photos.

Now for the third interesting thing that happened in the last week. I think when I wrote that my interactions with people on my walks couldn’t go past smiles and hellos, someone read that and thought, “oh really? Well let’s see if we can mess with her a little bit, then.” The man that I have met and talked to several times on when I’m walking around is named Pradip Purkait. This week, he walked into the office and up to me and said, “I would like you to come to my daughters wedding.” The wedding was right around the corner, and I thanked him very much for the invitation saying I would try to attend. It didn’t seem that he’d invited anyone else in the office, and indeed many people didn’t know who he was and asked me how I knew him. Moreover, I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear to a wedding, so I kind of figured I wouldn’t attend. However, at 5pm, Mr. Mondal called me into his office and said, “so you will go to wedding too??” He and Mr. Sur, the VSSU program manager, had also been invited. I said that I would like to, but that I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear. He said “oh, ok, I will take you to buy sari.” Oh boy. So sure enough, at 7pm after work was over, we left for Lakshmikantapur to try and find me a sari before the wedding started at 8:30. Yes, we had an hour and a half to make the 30-minute roundtrip drive to Lakshmikantapur, pick out and buy a sari, and attempt to get me dressed properly. We went into a shop and Mr. Mondal narrowed it down to an, ummm, “interesting” green sari, and a very similar one in purple. I chose the purple, we grabbed a pre-stitched blouse and underskirt, and drove back. Priyanka had kindly agreed to come help me wrap the sari, but before she even came to help the problems started. The underskirt was too small and the blouse was too big. I didn’t have any other skirt that I could use to substitute for the underskirt, so I just ripped the seam down the side a bit so I could get it on, and left it at that. The way the blouses fit is that there are small clasps in the front, but after several minutes of searching, I couldn’t find the holes for the clasps to fit into. So naturally, I took out my pocket knife and started jabbing holes about where I thought they should be. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest choice to take a knife and repeatedly poke it directly at my chest (I had the blouse on while doing this) but oh well. I was in a hurry. The blouse still kept falling off my shoulders, so when Priyanka came in to help, the first thing she did was pin it in several places so it would actually stay on.

Then the fun really began. It took us about 30 minutes of wrapping, unwrapping, rewrapping, pinning, unpinning, and repinning before we got it right. I have worn a sari before, but Priyanka wrapped this one slightly differently, so then she had to spend a couple of minutes giving me instructions about how to carry it properly. Then, although I thought I was ready to go, Priyanka told me I had to redo my makeup- it wasn’t dramatic enough. Only having eyeliner and concealer with me, it was tough to make it too dramatic, but eventually she said it looked better, she picked out a pair of earrings for me to wear, and then I was actually ready to go. Phew. I walked out and met Mr. Mondal and Mr. Sur, who had been waiting, and we walked the mile or so to the wedding. The sari was tied just a tiny bit too long, so I ended up waddling like a duck so I wouldn’t step on it and unravel the whole skirt… that would have been SO bad. Eventually we made it.

The bride, Ria, was in the bedroom of her uncles house, dressed in a red sari and completely decked out with jewelry, flowers, elaborate makeup, and as many sparkly things as could possibly be tacked onto one person. But she looked beautiful. She sat on the bed in the room where she received gifts and took photos with family members and friends. We visited her for a few minutes, and luckily, Mr. Mondal had given me flowers to give to her. Apparently Ria is only 19, so since I am older, it is customary to give a gift as a blessing. I gave her the flowers, and then, inevitably, I was asked to be in a bunch of pictures. But luckily, I also got a chance to speak with the bride and her sister and other relatives too; they were all very sweet and lovely to talk to. I saw Mr. Purkait, and visited with him for a moment as well. After giving our regards and saying goodbye, we left the bride and went and had dinner.

At the dinner, this small little boy, about 8-years old, came and tried to talk to me. He only spoke Bengali, so Mr. Mondal would tell him what to say in English, he would say it to me, and then Mr. Mondal would tell him what my response was. At first, he was helping serve the dinner, so he was asking if I wanted more rice, or if I would take chicken. But eventually he introduced himself as Anoop and we talked just for a moment, he was very cute. About the time he walked away, a small girl who’s name I can’t remember came in; I’d met her at the VSSU International School. Her eyes kind of bugged out when she saw me there, but we had a nice conversation, it was really fun to talk to her when there weren’t 20 other kids around all trying to talk too. I really enjoyed the fact that the two people I spent the most time talking to were kids! Anyway, after dinner and washing up, we gave our thanks to Mr. Purkait for the invitation, and we walked back to VSSU. The festivities were still going on, but I’m not really sure of the customs, it might have just been for family beyond the point when we left. I asked Mr. Mondal and Mr. Sur about what the rest of the ceremony entailed, but there were some communication issues, so I never really found out. When we got back to the office, Priyanka helped me undress because she had put a bunch of pins in and I didn’t want to miss one and tear anything. When I unwrapped the sari, my skin was completely purple. COMPLETELY. The combination of the unwashed and freshly dyed fabric and my sweat was enough to cause the color to stick quite well to my skin; 3 showers later and my stomach and back are still quite vivid. Anyway, it was quite a night, that’s for sure. And I stand corrected about not having in-depth interactions with people I meet on my walks.

And now, unbelievably, I only have 9 days of my internship left! This weekend another current Wooster student who is in Kolkata is coming to visit, which should be fun, and then I’m sure next week is going to be a whirlwind of finishing up work and saying my goodbyes. I don’t want to think about that just yet, I’ll put it off until next week.

 

IMG_3357All of the photos below were taken during my walk on Sunday, and show the village of Ullon.

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IMG_3425Right after getting back from the wedding… and right before I discovered my skin is seemingly permanently stained purple.

 

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Getting to know & love Ohio City

Hello Scots! Well, it’s week three of my APEX Fellowship in Cleveland, and I must say that my parallel parking skills have improved drastically. I even managed to parallel park downtown this morning – in my Chevy Venture minivan, believe it or not. So I would say things are going pretty well with me! Beyond that, my past week and a half working on the Literary Lots project have been really interesting. I have successfully gotten us some sponsors for our community events! For one, Rising Star Coffee Roasters, which supplies the coffee for many of the restaurants and cafes in Ohio City, will be donating brewed coffee for our breakfast event based off of the children’s novel, The Cold Cereal Saga. Additionally, Dave’s Market offered to donate supplies we need in general for the events, and Campbell’s Sweets Factory will be donating popcorn for our community movie nights.

Now, I have spent a lot of time these past few weeks calling and visiting businesses in the Ohio City area of Cleveland, and you know what the biggest challenge I have faced is? Resisting the temptation of buying something at every single business I enter. As you can see, I failed at Ohio City Ice Cream.IMG_1876At Campbell’s today they had cupcakes that had cookie dough where the icing usually is! Just a huge scoop of cookie dough on top of a vanilla cupcake. It was beautiful. Also, if you are ever in the West Side Market, I highly recommend stopping at Campbell’s stand and at least trying a few free samples. Go for the flavor called “Dichotomy” and you won’t be disappointed.

Also, one of the coolest things about my position being so autonomous is that if I encounter something worth exploring, I can stop and explore, and then just work more later on in the day. So here are a few of my best finds (so far) that I have discovered both before and after work hours.

  • The Glass Bubble Project: The Glass Bubble Project is a garage turned into glass blowing studio located down the street from the West Side Market. They make the glass right there in front of you in the studio, have their art on sale, and offer classes for everyday people! Also, there was casually a chicken walking around the shop, conveniently next to a metal art sculpture of a chicken.
  • Edgewater Running Route: As a casual runner, I have found my go-to half hour loop in Cleveland! My route takes me through a neighborhood of beautiful, ginormous houses and ends at the Edgewater Park beach. It’s really cool to have Lake Erie to your left, a lovely neighborhood to your right, and the Cleveland skyline ahead of you!
  • The West Side Market in general: Can I tell you how cheap the produce is at West Side Market? So much cheaper than the grocery store! I paid 99 cents for a box of strawberries. So few things cost only “cents” anymore that there isn’t even a keyboard button for it!
  • Playhouse Square: A few weeks ago, my mom, sister and cousin came up for the evening and we went to the travelling Broadway production of The Book of Mormon at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square. It was a great night out on the town, and we managed to get very inexpensive tickets! I swear, the view from literally the back row of the top balcony box is not as bad as one would think. You could still hear the music, see every part of the show, and my nose even stopped bleeding after a while!
  • Bunbury Music Festival: Okay, so this is not in Cleveland, but it’s in Ohio so I thought I would include it. The Bunbury Music Festival is a weekend festival that takes place in Cincinnati the second full weekend in July each year. This year was only the second year of the festival, and it was awesome. The music was great, the venue was perfect and the ticket prices were much cheaper than any other music festival I have looked into. I highly recommend it!
  • Literary Lots: It’s this really cool pop-up project happening in Ohio City next month.. Have you heard of it?

Anyways, I hope any Ohioans reading this check out some of these attractions! Also, if anyone is interested in learning more about Literary Lots, you can go to literarylots.org. The website has a program schedule, so I highly encourage you to check it out and see if any events look like something you or any children you know may enjoy!

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The Bag Lady

I’ve reached a state of total exhaustion.

 

Between the heat, days that are frequently containing at least 10 or 11 hours of work, two consecutive whirlwind trips to Kolkata, and late night meetings with my boss, I am pretty much wiped out.

 

Sunday night I went to bed at 10pm or so, and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 7:30. Not only is nearly 10 hours of sleep, but most mornings I wake up around 6 because the sun is up and it is too hot to sleep anymore. Not the case on Monday morning. Anyway. Life will go on whether or not I am a little extra tired.

 

 

This last week or so has brought several interesting new developments.

 

Last Friday Darpan announced, “You are no longer a microfinance intern.” Hmmm. Ok, that was news to me… He went on to explain that for most of the rest of my time here at VSSU, I will be helping to compile a book that commemorates VSSU’s history and activities, which will also double as the annual report for this year. I met with Mr. Mondal on Friday and Saturday to discuss the book. He had created an outline of what sections he wanted the book to contain, but pretty much told me I am writing the whole thing. His target is for it to be about 60 pages long and to be 100% finished by the time I leave including cover designs, content, graphics… everything.

 

So I got to work. However, Saturday I only worked a half-day, so I didn’t get very far. But I finished at least one section, and then closed my computer and left the rest for Monday. On Saturday, I took the one o’clock train into Kolkata, which had me arriving at just about 3pm. Amit had organized an alumni event which he had invited all of the Wooster people in Kolkata to attend. This was going to be a little bit of a bigger gathering and more organized than the first couple of times we met, which were just for dinner. I went from the train station to my hotel (my usual hostel was booked up so I actually had quite a fancy room for the night… one night of luxury was pretty nice!), showered, and got dressed. The shower was spectacular. For one, it was the first hot shower I had had in 5 weeks (and the room had AC, so a hot shower was actually nice!). But more than that, the water and power had been out at VSSU for 24 hours which meant I had just been sitting around and sweating with no functioning fans, and then unable to bathe. So the shower at the hotel was excellent.

 

At about 6pm I got in a taxi and was quite proud of myself that I was able to find Amit’s club without too much of a problem. The gathering was low key but really nice. There were several current students in attendance- both students who are from Kolkata and a couple of us who are in the area for summer internships- several alumni, one incoming-freshman, and one prospective student. And of course, all of the family members. It is so easy for me to forget when I am away from campus, but this night was a great reminder for me about why I love Wooster so much. Sometimes during the semester I’ll call home and announce to my parents, “I had an I love Wooster moment today!” These moments usually revolve around an exceptional interaction with a professor, a random act of kindness from a fellow student, or some special opportunity that I have been provided just because I am a member of the Wooster network. This gathering in Kolkata was definitely an “I love Wooster moment”. Even though Amit was the only alum in attendance that I had met before, and I didn’t even know two of the current Wooster students that were there, there is just something about people who are affiliated with Wooster; they are fantastic and the friendliest group of people I have ever known. I 100% believe that Wooster people- past, present, and future- are a family. And it is a family that I am incredibly proud and humbled to be a part of.

 

Anyway, after a really enjoyable evening, Amit dropped me back at my hotel, I watched a movie on my laptop, and I passed out in my incredibly comfortable bed. In the morning I slept in a little bit since it was Sunday, and I knew nothing would be open before 11am or so anyway. After I ate breakfast, checked out of my room, and left my backpack in the luggage storage room, I got in a taxi headed for South City Mall. The people in my office jokingly asked me about 2 weeks ago if I would cook them an American dinner. I was completely serious and I said I would love to. One problem… the only things VSSU’s kitchen has are a gas stove, a wok, and a knife. Other than plates, that’s literally it. Challenge accepted. I emailed my mom asking what I could make with nothing but the stove, wok, and knife, and we came up with a decent menu. So, in the basement of South City Mall, home to a Marks and Spencers, I set out looking for the ingredients I would need to make fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pasta salad, and no-bake cookies. Amazingly, I found everything I needed. It did kind of crack me up though because several of the things I needed were found in the “gourmet” section of store. These items included Kraft Italian Dressing, peanut butter, corkscrew pasta, and poultry seasoning. Oh well, I found them!

 

That little outing took a while, so with my big bulky bag of groceries, I took a taxi back to my hotel, had a quick lunch, grabbed my backpack, and headed back to the train station.

 

The train ride that came next was the best I’ve had so far. The ladies compartment was PACKED. I feel like I say that every time I write about riding the train between Kolkata and Lakshmikantapur, but this time trumped them all. I really don’t even know how to explain it. For whatever reason, I was lucky enough to get a seat and be able to store my backpack up on the luggage rack. There was another row of seats facing mine, and at least a dozen women stood between these two rows of seats, stepping on our toes, and just trying desperately to stay standing despite the lack of hand-holds. After about 30 minutes, there was some shuffling. It took me a minute, but I finally realized that all the women that had been lucky enough to get seats were standing up to give some other women the chance to sit for a little bit. Of course, I also stood up, letting the woman who had been standing directly in front of me sit down.

 

Thankfully, when I stood up, I was the person standing closest to the luggage rack which was over my head, but that I was still able to use as a hand-hold as the train jerked along the tracks. Those of you that know me understand how important this was. I am clumsy to say the least; I am known for spilling all sorts of food and beverages on myself, falling up stairs, and generally injuring myself in ways that can be considered both remarkable and extremely embarrassing. So the hand-hold was a must-have. However, the poor women beside me then used me as a support. Oh lord. Two women had their hands on my shoulder, so whenever I would lean a little bit, they would nearly fall over. I felt terrible, but they seemed to be ok.

 

 

Then the really funny part started. One of the women behind me had to get off the train, and her luggage was on the rack right above my head. She pointed to a bag, and I grabbed it for her. A look of amazement struck all the women that watched this happen. I was tall enough to reach the luggage rack without standing on my tiptoes, or really having to reach too far at all. All the women around me were so short they had to stand on the seats to retrieve their bags. And therefore, for the rest of the trip, I was the bag lady. I really didn’t mind it at all, and the ladies around me got these huge smiles on their face when I would help someone get their luggage down. It was pretty funny, and when we finally arrived in Lakshmikantapur, one of the women who had been next to me the whole time patted me on the back and smiled at me as she walked away. Not a bad trip.

 

 

Sunday evening, I was back at the guesthouse, unpacked, with the laundry I had just washed drying in my room. I looked down at my feet and noticed that on my left foot I had two giant blisters, with red rings around them. Ugh. I don’t know what it is, but there is one type of bug bite here that is extremely itchy and turns to a blister when you scratch it. I can recognize them now, although they look remarkably similar to mosquito bites. I try to avoid touching them so they never reach the blister stage, but sometimes in my sleep I scratch them. Apparently that is what happened with the two on my feet. I cautiously popped the blisters and put some rubbing alcohol on them, and was very careful to not let anything touch them that night. Monday morning, I woke up and they were clearly infected. Goody. It has been especially hot and so my feet and ankles were swollen anyway, but with the infected blister/bug bites, my feet were so swollen I couldn’t get my shoes on… not even my flip flops. Today marks the third day in a row that I’ve been running around the village without shoes on, but I think they’re finally starting to get better. With a careful regimen of popping the blisters several times a day when they refill with the disgusting yellow/green fluid, treating that with rubbing alcohol, and then letting them air dry, I think tomorrow I might actually be able to fit some shoes on my feet. Hallelujah. But if this is the biggest medical problem I encounter while here (well, other than the heat rash that has been all over my legs since my first week here), I’ll consider this summer a success.

 

I’ve spent this week so far sitting at my desk and working on the book for Mr. Mondal. So yesterday, when I was sitting and writing the history of VSSU, I was quite surprised when a large group of fully armed members of the Indian military marched into the office. After asking a few questions, I learned that district elections are this Friday, and there are often “spats”. I didn’t see it in the news, but apparently in a nearby village three people were shot and killed a few days ago because of tensions related to the elections. So, VSSU is housing these military men in the guesthouse upstairs while they provide security in Ullon this week. Each time I see them walk by, it still surprises me because this is such a peaceful village, that the sight of so many armed men seems markedly out of place. It will be really interesting to see how everything goes on Friday.

 

Other than that, not much is going on!! I’ve been working on this book a lot, and while the initial writing is going relatively quickly, I am sure the editing will be a lengthy process, so I’m bracing myself for that. I attached just one picture below… the lovely current, prospective, incoming, and past students of Wooster!

 

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This isn’t everyone, but at least a few of us from the Wooster gathering!

 

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