30 May 2011


May 28
Right now, I'm having a hard time even understanding what happened on Thursday (partially because I am trying to erase it from my memory), so it's more difficult to combine it with the themes and ideas from The Canterbury Tales, Kipling's poetry, and A Passage to India.

Maybe what I should do is describe people I've met here, somewhat like Chaucer does. After all, it is complexity that creates humanity and, by the same token, ambiguity. People are rarely so thoroughly corrupt as the monarch in "The Ballad of the King's Mercy." We are more like Dr. Aziz or Mr. Heaslop: good parts and bad parts.

Administrators at the TCV are all graciousness and hospitality. They are as good as anyone I've met. Today, the headmaster, who is an intimidating man due to his intelligence (but who minimizes intimidation by being an extremely courteous host), invited me to sit down, offered me refreshment, introduced me to a computer teacher and gave me a timetable of the remaining computer classes. His polite smile and respect for me calmed my nerves. He was dressed in clothing that was both professional and weather-appropriate--slacks and a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

28 May 2011

Library and Cyber Cafe

Project update!

I have done some observations and interviews at the TCV and I've found some amazing things! For example, today I spoke to the headmaster for the high school but I wasn't able to get permission to observe classrooms yet. Instead, I found the library! It exceeded all my expectations--there were at least ten computers around the perimeter of the room, and the librarian informed me that they have free internet access for students for an hour after school and for four hours on Sundays. During school hours they have E Granary, a program that allows students to conduct research offline. The library was exactly what I needed, and I have a feeling that I'll be spending a fair amount of time there over the next ten weeks.

After speaking to the librarian I went to the cyber cafe on campus. The internet there is available to students after school and on weekends and holidays. The cost is 5 rupees for 5-10 minutes, 10 rupees for 10-30 minutes, and 15 rupees for 30-60 minutes (which, when compared to the 30 rupees/minute cost in McLeod, is a great deal). I asked the employee if the students have Facebook profiles, and he told me that virtually every student has a Facebook profile, but I'm not sure if he meant all of the TCV students or all of the students who frequent the cyber cafe. I asked him what students most often do in the cyber cafe, and he said that they chat on Facebook or on Yahoo messenger. He also told me that they check their email accounts--frequently gmail--and said that a few students maintain blogs. I had to leave before the students came, but I am sure I'll be spending time in the cyber cafe, too.

The limited internet in the library and the 15 rs/hr charge for the cyber cafe are the result of the expense of maintaining an internet connection. I realized, though, that because students will have to pay for their time in the cyber cafe they'll use the internet for shorter time periods. Therefore, more of the 2,000 students will have access to the limited number of computers.

The survey is still pending. The TCV goes on summer break for 1.5 weeks beginning next Wednesday, and I'm hoping to have the survey ready to go by the time they return. Transportation to the school is still an issue, though I think I have a solid way of getting back to McLeod. Altogether I think the project is going well!

25 May 2011


On Sunday evening, after our pancake-and-mineral-water sacrament meeting at the Dalai Lama's temple and after walking to the top of an extraordinarily beautiful waterfall, Rachel, Matt, Julia, Bonnie, Megan, Elizabeth and I walked clockwise along the path around the temple, a route called the kora. We stopped in the middle, beneath a pavilion that protected us from the fickle rain, spoke, prayed together, and indulged in three sleeves of America's, and milk's, favorite cookie. (It's really too bad we didn't have any milk.) The flavors: regular, strawberry cream, and chocolate peanut butter. At 49 rupees a pack, oreos are certainly a luxury, but this time the benefits outweighed the cost: eating an oreo is almost like being in America.

Homesickness is one of the symptoms of culture shock that also continues in the absence of culture shock. Ulysses, in The Odyssey, notes that "there is nothing dearer to a man than his own country and parents, [no matter how] splendid a home he may have in a foreign country." If we reduce homesickness to simply longing for familiar foods, then it's easy to see its effect on our group: the most frequently ordered menu item in any restaurant is french fries (or "finger chips," as the case may be). Homesickness is more than food, though: A cold bucket shower immediately reminds us of shower heads and water heaters. A faulty internet connection and failed skype conversation pours fresh salt on the parts of our hearts we have left after leaving half of them in America (or something :).

It may be for the best that we cling to oreos and french fries, though, because if we were to eat of the lotus (in this case, fried momos and sweet bali and lemon ginger honey tea) then we might never be able to leave Dharamsala!

23 May 2011

Skyping the Family

In our group meetings lately we've talked about our support system back home, including the field studies office, our family, and our friends. I just spent about an hour talking to my family over skype, so I thought I'd share the text messages that went on with my little brothers, aged 8 and 6. (The word "napa" is part of our Finnish heritage, and it means belly button. My mother's father was an immigrant from Finland.)

[8:06:24 PM] Cardon Family: i iove you
Cardon Family: hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi

Kristen Nicole: hi kids
Kristen Nicole: yeah, you're made of cheese

Cardon Family: cheese napa
Cardon Family: your a cheese napa
Cardon Family: your a cheese napa
Cardon Family: do you like mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Cardon Family: you nnnnnnnnnnnniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiccccccccccccceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Cardon Family: I
Cardon Family:  I
Cardon Family: I
Cardon Family: I .................miss.
Cardon Family: I miss you

Kristen Nicole: i miss you, too :)
Kristen Nicole: yes, I like you n stuff

Cardon Family: I miss you
Cardon Family: I miss you
Cardon Family: i wish that you did not leave us
Cardon Family: .  from Dallin

Kristen Nicole: adorable :)

The Maiden and the Red Beard

Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a young woman, who was good and happy, and an old man-witch. Every day when the girl walked by to fetch water the angry man-witch watched her. "Why does she have youth and happiness when I have nothing but this red beard to comfort me in my old age?" said the man-witch, "I must put an end to her pleasure or I cannot bear her existence." Stroking his red beard, the man-witch muttered a curse on the girl for he had learned dark magic from his mother's knee.

Thou who has been bless'd,
Thou must take this test.
Each time I twist my long red beard
The worst will pass, just as thou fear'd.

When he had finished the wicked curse, the maiden was just passing in front of his hut. She stumbled and spilled her water, then looked around in surprise. She had never before fallen on those steps. From the foul-smelling hut next to the path she heard a wicked little laugh and saw the man-witch pointing at her. "Wicked man, why do you mock a fallen girl?" The man-witch did not reply but twisted his red beard. Frightened, she hurried away.

19 May 2011

The Tapestry

I've now begun the meat of my travel writing course work for my time here in McLeod. Twice every week I'll write short pieces reflecting on what I've read and experienced so far. I've decided to post these on my blog instead of emailing them to my professor, so what you'll see are rough drafts of creative non-fiction (personal essays) about my time in India. Here is the first installment:

May 18 
There seem to be many aspects of my life intersecting here as I sit in the red bean cafe in McLeod.  The life experiences, thoughts, and experiences of any one person are complex and, I've often thought of my own, incomprehensible.  It is both a battle and a quest to achieve coherence among the countless threads that compose the fabric of our lives.

How is it done? How do I weave my past with my present with my future, my cultural identity with my experiences abroad? I left the passions of childhood when I became a responsible, practical, frugal adult.  It is impractical, when there is so much to be done, to read or write for pleasure, or indeed to pursue anything solely for pleasure.  The dishes must be washed, so it is better to convince yourself that you thoroughly enjoy washing dishes (which I have successfully done). In an attempt to avoid the illusion of the greener grass, I will note that both of my personalities (habits? lifestyles?) I've just described have positive and negative components.  It is ambiguous rather than white and black. However, as any anthologist has learned, there is a finite amount of space in the canon (or time in a day, or paper in a notebook), and we must choose and exclude in filling our days and canons and reflective writing assignments.  It therefore stands to reason that in becoming the practical woman that I am I no longer have room for the passionate child.

Culture Shock, Part 2

Okay, so I thought I was transitioning into the irritation/hostility phase of culture shock a few days ago, and I was proud of myself because it was so mild.  This morning, though, was the point of no return, and I am overwhelmed by its intensity. The reason for the suddenness and intensity was, of course, a triggor--in this case, my shoes were stolen. They weren't just regular shoes, though, they were the most expensive shoes I've ever owned--chacos, the shoe-of-choice for study abroad students, those amazing shoes that are supposed to last for years without wearing out (though I will never find out if that's true), those shoes that I should have paid for but I allowed my parents to buy for me, one more straw of guilt on the camel of my finances. You have to know that everyone and their dog told me these shoes would be indispensable for my field study, you have to know that they were growing on me to the point that I actually liked them, you have to know that they were perfect for protecting me from rocky roads and unidentifiable liquid substances and whatever other horror I see on the road, you have to know about all my cultural sensitivity training in my prep class, where I learned to do as the locals do and always be considerate of my host family, you have to know that on the very first day I came to my host family's house I was directed to leave my shoes outside, like they all did, to keep the house clean, you have to know that I would never ever ever consciously do something that would offend my host family, especially bringing my shoes inside when I'd been specifically instructed not to, you must know that I have only two pairs of shoes to wear in McLeod--my chacos and some cheap plastic shoes for which a street vendor ripped me off, purchased to wear in the shower as my host family does, you have to understand that I was really liking McLeod and feeling confident in my plans for this day when I opened the door to go to the city, and you have to know that the very last thing I expected at that moment was to not see my shoes sitting by the door, and then maybe you'd understand how my culture shock went quickly from honeymoon to anger, why I glared at the people I saw on the street and couldn't decide if I wanted to yell or cry or slap anyone who tried to speak to me, how the rocks beneath my feet on the path to the city, the rocks that I could feel for the first time today, added one by one to the mounting fury that encompassed me while I walked, why I sought out the familiarity of a computer screen and keyboard to get away from everything that makes me mad, and why I've been crying why I write this post.  Anyway, I am feeling less furious by now, it took me about an hour to cool, and fortunately Norbu was very kind:

[10:46:35 AM] Kristen Nicole: hi Norbu, I was planning to come to the school today but I was robbed this morning and I'm really upset
Kristen Nicole: so I don't know if I'll make it today

Norbu: o hhhh
Norbu: wat happened
Norbu: u robbed means like wat

Kristen Nicole: well, someone stole my shoes
Kristen Nicole: they were $100, which is about 5,000 rupees
Kristen Nicole: and now I don't have any shoes to wear for three months
Kristen Nicole: so I'm really upset

Norbu: ohhh thats bad
Norbu: well cheers gal
Norbu: its not great deal...obstacles are the means to make u stronger...all u got to do is over come it...
Norbu: thats like you got to more cautious when watever u do next time...coz u are in different world out here
Norbu: there is a saying " when u know u can't get back things lost or can't undo the past...
Norbu: there's no use worrying or being upset of that
Norbu: but if something can be done or there's any hope...you could do any thing to make it happen...
Norbu: so anyways relax and breathe and jsut get over with it...

15 May 2011

McLeod Ganj . . . Or is it Dharamsala?

As the title suggests, I'm not exactly sure if the locals refer to their hometown as McLeod Ganj or Dharamsala.  I've seen and heard both all over.  Ah well, small potatoes. 

I haven't started up my project yet, but here are some of the potential problems I'm noticing:
  1. Location of TCV.  I think it might be far-ish away, and I can't easily afford daily transportation.  I am planning to take a rickshaw there tomorrow and see if it will be feasible
  2. Language barriers.  These I definitely underestimated--I was confident because of Norbu, Phuntsok, and some other contacts that English wouldn't usually be a problem, but I've had some communication problems with my host uncle who speaks English really well.  The best course of action may be to read through my interview question with a bilingual, like my host uncle or Norbu, and see if they would make sense to the average TCV employee.  Or maybe I'll just pilot an interview with Nobu and test both the time it takes and the clarity of the questions.  (I don't want to overburden Norbu, either--I think I'll do a pilot interview with him and then give him some time off from heavy-duty helping me)
  3. Survey language barriers.  I was always planning to translate the survey into Tibetan, backtranslate, and then distribute (which could be a really time-consuming process, especially considering that the survey is still incomplete), but I'm now concerned about translating the answers the students write.  That's something I hadn't thought of before, oddly enough
  4. Having time for everything.  It's my second day in McLeod and I'm already feeling pressed for time.  It probably has to do with the Honors thesis proposal, which I should have had ready by now, and the fact that my course work is entirely independent from my project. 
I'm a bit unsure as to what my next blog posts will be, I think I will be using this blog for both project purposes and classwork purposes. Personal stories and insights are mainly for my emails home and my journal, but when you add field notes, jottings, and analysis and reflection for my literature and writing classes, the writing piles up and looks quite daunting.  We'll see where this goes soon enough :)