Which continent, exactly?

This blog's title isn't in reference to actual continents (I've now been to four), but is rather drawn from "The Third and Final Continent," a stunning short story by Jhumpa Lahiri, from her collection, The Interpreter of Maladies. In particular, I'm inspired by the following quote that summarizes the attitude I try to carry with me through life and on my travels

I am not the only person to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

I love this. It calls on us to consider the tiny details of our experiences, both one-by-one, and in the aggregate, and to maintain a sense of wonder even about the seemingly mundane things that are the building blocks of our lives, and often, the glue that binds us to our traveling companions.

This blog began as a chronicle of my study abroad experience in Cairo in Spring 2008, and continued last year while volunteering in Geneva, and South Sudan with a wonderful organization, VIDES.

Now in graduate school, I'm returning to the Continent this summer while interning in New Delhi, India.

Please enjoy, inquire, and learn.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fauna-Tastic: Stone Animals of India Edition

I think it's pretty safe to say I've pushed this series as far (and further) than it should really go.  Still, there are all these exquisite, and painstaking carvings that deserve some recognition for being carved. by hand. from stone. before dynamite.


Ellora Caves, circa 756-774 AD

Jaipur, 1700s


Jaipur, 1700s, (and me, carved out of stone circa 1987)

Ellora Caves, ~700


Qutb Minar complex, ~1300


Actually, not 100% sure this is stone, but close enough. I love the picture, wanted to put some color here. And  I can do whatever I want. It's my blog.  

COW (+ Goddess)

Ellora Caves again. 

Summer Reading

The slowness and erratic nature of my Internet at home, combined with the lack of easy access to entertainment on Netflix and Hulu has helped me to catch up on reading literature. It's been wonderful.

I'm posting this list for accountability on my remaining to-read list, and just to show what I do on my down time when not running around taking pictures of random animals. 

Coming Up

In progress:

  • Ulysses... A good read but kind of an uphill battle. I reward myself with chocolate every time I get through 100 pages of this beast 

Still to read: 

  • The Dark Tower VII
  • Reread Faulkner's Light in August
  • Reread The God of Small Things, (probably my favorite novel) which I'll start when I viisit Kerala, where it's set
  • I would love to discover some more Indian novels. Suggestions welcome. 

My Conquests

New Favorites

  • Slaughterhouse 5
  • Cat's Cradle
  • The Dubliners
  • The Illicit Happiness of Other People:  The second novel of Manu Joseph, an Indian author. One of the best new books I've read in a while. I randomly picked it up at a local bookstore, and when recovering from my cold, I couldn't put it down.  Here's a great quote that highlights his writing style. 
Thoma....stares at the open textbook for hours and is distracted by the pain of the parallelogram, which is slanted forever. his nails scratch the page to straighten its tired limbs.  It affects him, the great arrogance of the Equilateral Triangle, the failed aspiration of the octagon to be a circle, the eternal suffocation of the denominator that has to bear the weight of the unjust numerator, the loneliness of Pluto. And the smallness of Mercury, always a mere dot next to a yellow sun. In this world, there is no respect for Mercury.
 Great, right? 


  • Manuscript Found in Accra...great quotes but found it to be a mediocre version of Gibran's The Prophet

Beloved Rereads

  • The Dark Tower, Books I-VII

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fauna-tastic: Small Animals of India Edition

(Many not exclusive to India. Just an excuse to throw up all my cool animal pictures.)

What I've taken to calling squirrelmunks hanging around the Qutb Minar in New Delhi. They have the stripes of a chipmunk, and the tail of a squirrel, hence the name. In reality, I think they're just a local species of squirrel.

Lucky shot of a pigeon emerging from a very, very deep well in a Maharashtra village I was helping to survey.

A Whitebreasted Kingfisher (say my powers of observation, and a Google image search), hanging out among a bunch of tombs in Jaipur. Rajasthan.

Monkeys! Taken while sightseeing in Maharashtra

Bird family near Jantar Mantar in Jaipur. The baby was precious, though it took me a good while to spot it.

Puppies!  Spotted at the center in Maharashtra where Data Camp was held

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Entry I Wish I Hadn't Had to Write (Adventures in Indian Medicine)

While I was packing for this trip and putting my first aid kit together, I envisioned all the ailments that could befall me in India that I should be prepared for.  The common cold didn't really cross my mind.   Nor did my newest nemesis, what I'll call my uncommon cold, or other, less polite things, in my head.

This bug has a life of its own. Originally gifted by one of my roommates, it has gone away for 2-3 days at a time and come back twice, each time with more firepower than the first time. It has put me on my back for longer than any ailment I've had in a while.  And this time I'm staying on my back, because if it returns again, it might do so as the Plague.  

And it got me to the doctor, which is the entire point of me airing my frailty here.  I was finally convinced to go to see  one that came recommended by another American I know here.  I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but my other roommate told me I had to, and what the hell, I was pretty miserable.

I went to her office at a medical center nearby, primarily serving wealthy Indians and expats.  Going in, I was uncertain of what it was going to cost. I got my answer pretty quickly, since they, surprisingly, had me pay up front.  550 rupees, of which 150 was for registration.  That's a little more than $9.  Not as a copay.  In total. As evidence, I submit a redacted version of my bill. Which, for some reason, includes my age calculated to the day. 

She was very nice and straightforward. She took my vitals and description of my symptoms, saw that I pretty clearly had a cold, prescribed me some remedies, told me to drink more warm fluids and rehydrate.  I'm supposed to stay away from chilis, which is hard to do in India, and ice, which is easy. It took under 15 minutes.  

I picked up some prescriptions, including cough syrup, a mild antibiotic, a cold remedy that is acetaminophen+decongestant for another 300+ rupees.  Which brings the total to less than $15. 

As someone who doesn't necessarily need a personal relationship with a doctor, who just wants treatments for what needs treating and can be treated, I thought it was great. Efficient, capable, and CHEAP. Suddenly, medical tourism (which the nicer hospitals and clinics market blatantly) makes a lot more sense.  I'm suddenly looking into visiting an Indian dentist.....

[UPDATE] I went back yesterday for a follow-up and didn't have to pay for a the visit, which lasted all of about 7 minutes and got me a couple more days of medicine to finish this bug off.   In all this, I have a feeling I was getting a little bit of special treatment as a foreigner, but not a lot. 

Fun fact: Acetiminophen is called paracetemol in much of the world, including here. When described in Africa, it sounded like a mysteriously strong magical remedy that could cure all ills. Then I did a quick web search and realized it was Tylenol. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Data Camp!

During the past week, I have had the opportunity to travel and participate in ASER Centre’s annual national training workshop outside Aurangabad, Maharashtra.  The workshop will kick off this year’s nationwide data collection process to assess the literacy and basic math levels of children in the rural parts of each and every Indian state. I will be headed back to the US right around the time this gets seriously underway, so won’t actually help to put the training into action.  Instead, I just get to spend a week in my own special version of nerdvana, running through data the fine points of organizing and implementing a field data collection process at the grassroots level.

At first I thought it would be like my two “workations,” back when I was a real person with a real job and real responsibilities, but then I realized that, since I am responsible for managing 0% of the activities this particular experience is actually great because has everything I used to love about going to nerd camp as a kid.

1)      A welcome (and beautiful) change of scenery

2)      Fun, yet dorky icebreakers, not to exclude singalongs.

3)      New friends

4)      Roommates

5)      Field trips of both the fun ....

....and educational varieties

6)      Tests and quizzes, here complete with roll call and an intimidating teacher-type (head of the statistics office)

7)      Extremely unhealthy all-you-can-eat cafeteria food.

Please note that in the following image, the vegetables are dusted with hot pepper, and the apples have been coated in sugar and deep fried.

See it’s exactly the same, except this time I’m over a decade too old for camp, and in India. So the friends and the food were all Indian.

Breakfast was Indian. Lunch was Indian. Dinner was Indian. It was almost all pure vegetarian (no eggs) There was no coffee.  I was grateful to have enough to eat and good company and scenery to eat it in, but thanks to the whole decade-older thing, my stomach became  somewhat less grateful just about halfway in.

Like my camp days, I know that any letters home have to put away all the minor complaints and end on a positive note: it was a really unique experience that I was fortunate to have as a lowly intern.  I loved meeting people from all over the country. And I especially appreciated the opportunity to visit a village and get a small peek at (+ hundreds of pictures of) rural life while also getting some valuable field research experience. 

Aaaand let's not forget one of the most quintissential camp experiences/souvenirs:  the group photo.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fauna-tastic: Large mammals of India edition

Continuing my Fauna-tastic series from Africa, wanted to post some of my favorite pictures of some of the cool and unusual creatures I've gotten to see and get close to during my travels

We got to ride up the hill Amber Fort, in the city of Jaipur, state of Rajasthan. It is harder than it looks to stay balanced on one of these guys, but it is exhilarating. 

As previously discussed, they are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. This rather adorable baby was found hanging out behind a village school I visited in Maharashtra.  

 Found and used throughout rural India, commonly with painted horns. You can't leave the city without seeing a couple of these yoked together and pulling a cart plow.  I'd been seeing and recognizing examples of my favorite 2-letter Scrabble word everywhere, but wasn't quite sure what, biologically, they were without the help of Wikipedia. 
[An ox is bovine trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle]  

Large, intimidating, somewhat ugly creatures, and common source of milk in rural areas. Occasionally also used as draft animals.  
  • Fun fact 1: Almost all the limited "beef" served in India is, in fact, buffalo.
  • Fun fact 2: My recent field work involved me passing over and around the rump of this creature at least 5 times.
  • Fun fact 3: The word buffalo correctly refers to these creatures.  We call the American Bison, buffalo, but that is somewhat of a misnomer.  

Only a mama buffalo could love a face like that. 

A special note to one of my readers...you know who you are.  I cannot bring you a water buffalo. Here, I put my foot down.

Friday, July 18, 2014

One Side of the Coin: The Taj Mahal

This past weekend, we visited the Taj Mahal.  Of all the adjectives I’ve ever heard to describe it, “underwhelming,” as far as I’m aware, has never been one of them, and it shall not added to the list on my account.  It is incredible. It is stunning.  Every minute detail is lovely, if not perfect, while the grand design integrates it all into one, breathtaking whole. It’s been described as the world’s greatest monument to love, and while the poor craftsmen who made it (see part 2)  who were tasked with its creation may have not felt the same love for its  honored inhabitant Mumtaz Mahal as its patron, Shah Jahan when you truly try to take it in, you can almost believe that they did.

I’m going to quit dumping out words from my mental thesaurus in an attempt to capture what it is to view the Taj, I’m just going to conduct an annotated photo dump of my favorites of the hundreds of pictures I took over two days of sincere admiration.

Some of the details.....

....that together make for a breathtaking whole.