Bryan in India

Bryan, a senior engineering student, is traveling to India for a tsunami reconstruction project on the southeast coast. He is working with Engineers Without Borders-USA on building sanitary water facilities for a village of about 35 families for six weeks.

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The first day in the city

It started with a massage, which makes sense due to this weekend being about R&R. The massage was nice, I’m more of a deep tissue massage kind of person, and this was just oily and awkward, but at 14$ (700 Rupees) it is hard to say “No!” But that’s not the point of what we experienced during our first day in the city. I would like to take this time for all my readers out there that have no clue what life is like in India to sit down, because this might be shocking.

So, it turns out, the city I have been living in the past 3 weeks, Ongole, is roughly the way about 50% of Indians live, give or take some points of error because these were numbers thrown out by Ram. About 30% live like the villagers and the rest in the big city life. I have explained the villages with the very limited resources, and I have explained the “City life” of Ongole. Now it is time to explain how the wealthier people live in India, wealth of course referring to monetary value.

Driving up and down any feeder street, you will see small shops and buildings from anything to a barbershop (more to come on that) to a fruit stand. There is construction everywhere, which is pretty cool because the beams used to hold most of the walls up are just long poles cut from trees. Then, on the main streets there are sections with end-to-end department stores from Adidas to Lees. These stores have the large signs and big open-walled windows for the average window shopper. The sights from the big city can only be described as being on Broadway in NYC with the main difference being the color of one’s skin.

After the massage I took a nap, a much needed nap in an air conditioned room :) Ram, AnneMarie and I then went to the Mall to check and see if Die Hard 4.0 (different name because the American name would not make complete sense in this culture) but it was sold out. So, true to the American lifestyle, we went shopping in the 5-story mall. A little different than an American mall, this mall didn’t have stores with walls, it just had sections, some with security scanners and some without. I bought a couple of the sweet shirts (don’t worry, I’ll wear them around for everyone to see), and we ate at the ‘food court.’ This was a little different as everyone ordered at one line with just a huge menu to choose from, no Chick-fil-a or Sabarro’s Pizzeria, it probably didn’t even have a name, just a bunch of food to choose from. It is also interesting that the only size drink they had was the equivalent of a child’s size Pepsi (apparently Coca-Cola had some issues with what was put in their drinks in India, so it is near impossible to find an Original Coke). After the food court experience, and a slight wardrobe change, off we went back to the condo and watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith, since I had never seen it.

The next day

So as it turns out as I am writing this, I realized everything previously stated actually happened on the Saturday we were in Hyderabad and everything I will explain next happened on Friday, which does have some importance to the story. AnneMarie suggested we go to Charminar Market, which is the equivalent of China-town in NYC. So, once we get to the market and find a parking spot in the parking lot of one of Ram’s friends, we go shopping…er…we walk around and ended up shopping. It started off with freshly squeezed sugar cane. Btw, I’m going to start growing sugar cane, I hope my roommate doesn’t mind :) It was soo good we drank two glasses, which I think got my mind racing with the pure sugar I just drank and I went on a spending spree.

Well, first we had a little encounter with the law, as I will explain now. About a month ago, I think June 15th, some radical terrorist set off a bomb in a mosque in Hyderabad, India; however, I knew this coming on the trip but still felt safe. What I didn’t know was once we were in the Charminar Market, around 2 pm, which is about prayer time, there were Police Officers EVERYWHERE! No joke, there were probably about 100 or so just in plain view; the reason? Well, as we are taking pictures of the center building of Charminar Square, Ram points to the roof about a mile away where there was the roof of a mosque sticking up. “That’s where the explosion happened,” said Ram, “and it happened on a Friday, during this time.” That’s when I realized why all the police were out in full force, and once this was realized, it was 2 pm(ish), prayer time.

So we are all blocked by the newly stretched piece of barbed-wire coil and told to take an alternate route. Making sure Ram had AnneMarie and I close by his side, we walked over to a jewelry shop. One thing I forgot to tell you is that Hyderabad is nicknamed “The City of Pearls.” So this jewelry shop was not just jewels, but pearls, everywhere. After about an hour of decisions and help from Ram and AnneMarie, I bought sets of pearl earrings and one set of earrings with a matching necklace. I know, I went pearl crazy, and I don’t even have a girlfriend! It was just so tempting at those prices. What prices? How about the fact that I bought everything for, well, a VERY good price, and they are ALL REAL PEARLS!

By that time, we were…well, I was tired of shopping, so we met with a local non-profit agency and called it a day, at least for shopping. After our midday nap, which I can really get used to, Ram had friends come over for dinner and drinks. So, we spent the night discussing American Politics, Indian Politics, Bollywood movies (One of Ram’s friend’s family owns a movie company) and the fine products of a friend named Johnny Walker, namely Red and Gold (don’t worry, I’m of age). Then off it was to another great sleep in a 49 square foot bed with a fan and air conditioning.

The next, next day

Sunday was the day AnneMarie and I decided to leave and take a train back to Ongole for no more R&R. Thankfully, our train was not until 9 pm, so we got to enjoy some of the last few hours in the big city. As we were walking out to the garage, Ram saw a man walking by with a caged parrot and called him over. Ram said to us “You want your future read by a bird?” Now I know all I wanted to see on this trip was a monkey, and I did, but after Ram’s statement, this parrot fortune teller was definitely on the top of my to-do list.

So, the man asked Ram for my name, since he could tell I didn’t speak Telugu, and the man started with his little song and dance of opening the cage, saying something I didn’t understand with my name thrown in there somewhere. Then, after packets of tarot cards were placed next to the cage, the parrot slowly walked out, looked all around him, put his beak on a packet of cards, and quickly walked back into the cage to be shut. The man pulled out four cards from the packet and talked about each one, then Ram interpreted for me.

Ram’s words were “The first card was the monkey god which shows strength, then he spoke about how you care about poor people and you want to help them. Also, this is your first time in India, but it will not be your last. You are also going to be a traveler, and you will not depend on money from your parents.” Wow! I immediately thought. That guy can read me like a book.

Of course there is a perfectly logical explanation for his ‘fortune-telling’ based on the style of my clothes, I could not understand a single word he said, I looked very happy to be in India, and that I look like I’m 30 years old which can explain why I would support myself. Or it turns out the parrot is all-knowing and all-powerful and still doing parlor tricks while trapped in a cage; but hey, it doesn’t hurt to believe that anything is possible.

After the “self revealing spiritual quest” we headed off to Pizza Hut, one of the finest Pizza Restaurants I have ever seen! We walked into the two story, extremely clean pizzeria, and to my surprise, the pizza was good. It was also served with garlic bread with special sauces and Chicken Ticka. A fine feast for a fine restaurant, all for about $15, which was not bad for being served everything by a waiter. Then we just went back to the apartment for some more relaxation and a nice meal to end the weekend. Nevertheless, Ram treated us with great hospitality, and I found out what a bird thinks of me!

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