I’ve decided that since I’ve been in Mysore for 13 days I had better write a new blog post =) The main issue with me not being able to write has been school and just spending so much time with the group (although I’ve loved both of those things!). Mysore is still in S. India in the province of Karnataka – and their state language is Kanada funnily enough. Mysore is a very nice city and it’s been nice to settle down for a while and get to know one place. This is actually the first city where there have been minimal streetlights, crosswalks, and roundabouts! It’s all very exciting, and rules of the road are even followed on a pretty regular basis. This contrasts heavily with most of the places we’ve been to so far such as Chennai and Pondicherry. Mysore still seems to have a balance of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam – although there is a greater significance on city influence on the later. This is probably the first city we’ve been to that has had this many mosques and Muslims. Historically, the Muslim invasions in India came from the north, so that’s why N. India has a great Islamic influence – and the south is mostly Hindu with some Christianity (Jainism and Buddhism as well). But Mysore has a really nice city vibe to it and has a bit of a European feel to it.
This section of the semester is when we are completing our first session of school and we’re staying in the Organization for the Development of People which is a Catholic Mission. We are in a very Islamic neighbourhood, even though the mission is connected to the hospital, elementary school, and the boy’s college right next door. Staying in a Catholic Mission has been great so far. The rooms are pretty basic but we managed to make it home pretty fast. It is a gated compound and they have a pretty strict curfew of 9:30pm and there’s a pretty scary night dog that prowls the premises at night (which I am very careful to avoid – German Sheppard attack dogs no thank you).
Right across the street is a Muslim neighbourhood, which I really like walking around in. They have a very reliable ATM, and the homes are so beautiful and unique =) We totally stand out, being white and uncovered and walking around but I love passing homes and seeing women with their children watching from the balconies. Most, if not all the women in my neighbourhood wear either veils or burkas (completely covered). Mysore is really the first city where we’ve come across this in abundance and it’s completely normal to me now. I find in the West where it seems to be uncommon for Muslim women to wear completely black veils and burkas that there is this self-imposed perception of women in the east that wear them. I absolutely love it when I see a woman wearing a burka with beautiful embroidery or wearing a black burka with strappy high heels shoes. It’s the best. When you actually look closely and pay attention, it’s clear that these women love fashion just as much as women from back home – it just plays out in a different way.
Once when we were walking around in the Muslim neighbourhood across the street we saw the equivalent of a Muslim gossip girl. She was wearing a black hijab and it was clear that she had such a love for up-to-date fashion and she had such a presence of a social elite as she talked on her cell phone, getting out of her rickshaw and going into her beautiful, gated house. Those little things that I see everyday just make me smile – I love them.
It’s great when we go to the Islamic department store down the street and see women in burkas buying hair dye. All the girls are like, “what’s the point? you can’t even see their hair.” But at home you can – and they like to dye their hair just as much as the next woman. I’ve loved realizing that the girls in our group have a lot more in common with these Muslim girls than they ever thought – since their lives sometimes seem so vastly different from ours. Maybe we just get caught in a western perspective on life, and my favourite part of travelling is letting go of all those media-imposed cultural perceptions.
Another aspect of living in an Islamic residential neighbourhood are all of the mosques. I think in a 5km radius there are about 6 mosques surrounding us. At the top of every mosque are speakers to project the call to prayer which happens 5 times a day – the first one is at 5am. I think all of us just naturally wake up at 5am now waiting for it =) And each mosque has a different sound (it’s actually someone singing into this speaker system). And not all of the mosques have their calls to prayer at exactly the same time, so sometimes it seems like a continuous call to prayer. I actually love the call to prayers – they are hauntingly beautiful. And I have such a love for the Islamic world. I’m sensing a trip to the Arab world soon – maybe spring project 2013? =) And at some point I would love to visit Mecca and see the Kaba (I’m such a history student – I just love visiting such historically significant places!).
So I’ve finished my second week of school and I have one more to go before my finals! We study in 2, three week sections. One half in the south and one in the north. For the first term my classes are: women and gender studies in India, Indian culture and civilization, science and technology, natural chemicals in the environment, and independent study. I love all my classes. We take all of our classes here in ODP – not directly at the university. We aren’t directly affiliated with the University of Mysore but we have contracts with certain people. That means that sometimes our professors are actual professors and sometimes they are professionals in their field which is pretty amazing! For instance, in my science and tech class, we were learning about India’s political history with Pakistan from a retired Military General. It’s true, some bias did come through – I believe the phrase, “we punched Pakistan in the face,” was used =) But being in an academic setting for so long (and especially ID studies), we are able to see straight through these biases.
But studying subjects from an Indian point of view is fascinating. Women’s studies in particular is riveting and pretty haunting. I may do a separate blog post just pertaining to Indian issues around women and gender. My culture and civ class is taught by a spiritual leader in Mysore – so learning about the Hindu epics from him and about the varying religions here was amazing (I love the story of Rama and Seetha!!) And we have an archaeologist teaching us about the Indus Valley civilization and ancient architecture. It’s so great. I’m completely in my element here =) Science took some adjusting but most of the microbiology we’re learning has come back to me from gr. 12 bio. I just have so much studying to do before my exams and I usually spend 5-6 hours in class everyday. When I’m not in class I’m studying, or doing our yoga classes or sleeping =) We have yoga classes 3 mornings a week up on the rooftop of our building (to the sunrise), and one night a week (to the sunset).
I’ve had so many adventures in Mysore so far downtown, at the zoo, at the market, and at our NGO visits. I’ll have to write again soon! But right now I’m pretty exhausted and LOTR Return of the King is playing next door. I might need to go watch one of my fav movies of all time =). I miss all of you and thanks for reading and loving my blog posts! It’s very encouraging. xoxox