I am currently sitting in the grass with Carole, Jen, Zubin, a student in the program, and three others and all Carole can speak about is the grass in India. She says it is different here than in good old Wisconsin. She holds it up in her hand and stares at it attentively. Carole describes some like shrubs or little bushes. “It’s like they are their own little colony,” Carole said. “In Wisconsin they are like shrubs!” I think we have been working too hard, if Carole is hallucinating its a bad sign. 
We were paid a nice visit by Malti the rat tonight at the Spyhouse and it was early this time, 12:00 a.m.. Both Jen and I were up working on blog posts and internship applications and all of a sudden a brown ball of fur with a gross skinny tail speeds across the boarder of our room and behind our T.V. armoire. We scream and he runs back to where he came from. 

Here is the “Ah-ha!” moment: He comes from outside through a hole in the window and cement walls and his fat body widens the already loose trim on the wood of the windows, making it easier and easier for him and his amigos to come in more often. 

Solution: Since there is no rattrap, as was promised, we have stuffed a pink towel in the hole and taped the wooden trim of the window to the cement wall. How long this will last? We have no idea. We do know that smacking our shoes together and blaring music keeps him away while we create temporary fixes, but since I know you all are so worried I will have you know that we WILL be updating the Jesuits and let them know the other window is starting to look like Malti’s current entrance to our luxury bachelorette pad. 

Malti must go. I said it once and I’ll say it again, he is not welcome as a third roommate, we are content with the current number of occupants. Hopefully Malti won’t hate us forever. 

To finish this post I will add the modified lyrics of “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel: 

“Cecilia, you're breaking my heart 
You're shaking my confidence daily 
Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees 
I'm begging you please LEAVE OUR HOME.”
The Layer, The Spy House, Cecilia, call Jen and my apartment what you would like, but this place has something against us. First we have a squirrel in the spare bathroom, then we have Malti the rat, and just now I flooded the bathroom and the bedrooms while taking a shower that I kid you not, was two minutes long before I realized what was happening. I swear this has to be a trend of mine. It happens at home when it drips down to the floor below the shower and it happens in India where our bathroom is always wet for some reason. BUT don’t worry, by some fate the water didn’t touch our belongings, it just made a nice two or three inch puddle around it all.

Unfortunately we have no photos to prove this as I was freaking out and trying to get ahold of my fellow team with a phone that I realized is broken which we all just received yesterday. Oh jeepers do I have luck. Jim came after exchanging phone calls in which I could not hear anything from his end and he ran off to tell the rest of the gang. Soon the Rev. Daniel and Jim arrived back with mops, brooms, plungers and towels to clean up the room. The drain had been clogged, according to the Rev. Daniel, and no more floods should occur. Cross your fingers that this is the last flood this spy house sees, maybe Cecilia will have a change of heart too. 

Team Susan's Army: (Left to right) Shiamak, Harveen, Falak and Farheen learning about video storytelling
Photo taken by Shiamak during the photo exercise
Most students arrive on time to classes and take the five-minute breaks seriously but the students do have trouble understanding that an assignment is due at the given time, not five minutes after, or the next day, but at the stated time. Father Vinayak told the TAs to be just as harsh as the other staff to make sure they understand that the real world, especially the field of communication, has deadlines and they are strict.

On the first day the students were given a photo assignment. Each student was to go around campus with their team, sharing the camera, and take photos and then choose their top five. Some teams did this together and some split the time up so they could go off alone, the bottom line was that no matter how they did it, they had to have the top five per person chosen and on the external hard drive by 12:30 p.m. This did not happen.

Per instruction to my teams I told them to come to the room by 12:15 to choose their photos and submit them. Zero out of the eight students showed. I called at 12:20 to each team and they said they were all on their way. Five minutes later part of a team approaches and they say they don’t know where one of their teammates is; she never came to get the camera. I tell them, don’t worry about her, and choose each of your five photos because you are all late.  This scares them and each team dashes to their designated computers.

More teams come in and the room became a jumbled mess of voices and worried faces. Deadline was thirty minutes ago and only three out of six teams had finished. One of my teams, The Clocks, was done and off to the classroom upstairs, the other team, Susan’s Army (named after a popular St. Xavier’s faculty member) was one person shy of completion. Then all H-E-Double hockey sticks broke out and Carole said, “Out!” The remaining teams had to take what they had and bring it up to the classroom for critiques and grading. The lone member of Susan’s Army had chosen her five photos just in time after coming in at 1:00.

Time is not a concern in the Indian culture or for the students, but slowly and surely they are learning that being punctual is a form of a first impression and when you’re late it sheds bad light on you. The remaining video interview exercises have all been completed and shown on time, a sign of progress. We hope this keeps up.

Besides us American’s teaching the importance of time, the Indian students are teaching us the importance of simplicity and relaxation. Each day after classes they ask us if we want to go out for coffee or simply hang out for the evening until we have to be back for dinner. In the back of my head I’m thinking, No, no Andrea you can’t. You have internship applications, you have e-mails to send, blogs to write, yoga to do and time to yourself to keep up on. And then Arpita, a student says, “Come on, let’s go and have fun!” and all I can say in return is, “When in India!”

Everyday after classes the students hangout with each other at local hotspots like the Zen Café or little shops. They say it’s important to relax and have fun, not to always be on the go. Ummm…. Where were these intellectual people my whole life? The worry-wart I am finally said, forget the list of things you have to do. You know you will get them done, just enjoy the moments you have with the friends around you. Indians think simple. When you think simply you relieve your life of complexity and stress. The students here are always smiling and having fun. They play wall ball and strum on their guitars. They have classes outside where their professors sit on a lawn chair and go through their daily lesson. Why is college not like this in the U.S. is what I think half the time. I would be much less stressed but receive a great education at the same time. I am definitely taking the lessons on free time with friends and living simply and applying them to my personal and professional life. You can’t live life being a stressed, anal person. You have to live freely and happily, but also be on time….

More lessons to come, I can guarantee it. 
Photo of Brendan Dabhi, current student in the program. (Photo by Chris Whitman)
We began at 9:00 in the morning and welcomed 26 friendly students from St. Xavier’s College. They came in and said, “Carole Ma’am” and “Andrea Ma’am,” their formal greeting for us. We all quickly told them to address us with just our first names, a cultural exchange within the first five minutes. Loved it.

The students are fantastic and are truly showing me why I entered this field in the first place. They are so eager to learn and have infested the entirety of their energy into this program. Brendan Dabhi, a current student in the program, was set to participate last year but after the cancellation on our end he was given his money and fees back. On the first day he told me, “They said to me, ‘Come and collect your money,’ I was so sad. But when I found out the program was coming back this year I immediately went and filled out my forms.” Brendan is just one example of how persistent and focused the students here are. They want to be journalists who tell the facts and stories no one else knows about. They know what they want to do and they go for it. Here, at St. Xaveir’s curriculum is set for them to stay focused on their goals and on track for success. When you watch them work it is as if they are wearing blinders for distractions, they never look up except for help, they don’t use cellphones during class, all attention is on the professor and they take notes vigorously.

The Rev. Vincent Saldanha, professor in English and Dean of Students, pointed out the difference in Indian and American education. In America we have our common core classes that everyone has to take so we receive a well-rounded perspective, where as in India it is not required for you to take two philosophy or theology classes, for example.  We discussed that there are pros and cons to each form of education. Here, in India, you finish your undergrad within three years and immediately move onto your masters due to the lack of general education requirements. In the U.S. you finish your undergrad in four years but are not told to move onto your masters right away for all occupations, we are encouraged to have the real-world experience first.

Looking at the systems I see the positives and negatives, but more importantly after working with the students, who I am beginning to see more as friends, I see that each form fits the cultural. In the evolving country of India the students are ready and excited to enter their field and receive the highest qualifications for their job because they want to make an impact, they want to be a part of the faced paced country. In America the slower paced system lends itself to the current job market. Employers are looking for well rounded, highly educated and evolved people and that takes time to foster and create within and make yourself marketable. Neither is better than the other, it is simply the way it is and I accept that. 
We have a third roommate that paid us a visit two nights ago, he is now named Malti, an Indian name that is pronounced similar to Monty. He came to us at approximately 2:30 a.m. before we expected two guests from Marquette’s business school who would be rooming with us. 

Jen spotted the rat and woke me up with a scream, “Andrea! There is a rat in our room!” 

My response, “No, no we don’t!” Needless to say, we did not get sleep that night and our new Marquette roommates moved out the next day after we told them the following:

“Welcome, get settled and just to let you know….”
  • We have a rat in our room, it may be gone
  • There is one bathroom for the four of us – the other one doesn’t work and there is a squirrel in there 
  • There is only cold water unless you heat it up with the water heater and take bucket showers
  • Shake out your blanket for bugs
  • Keep your eyes and mouth closed because of the water, though you probably already know that
  • Feel free to put anything in the bathroom, like shampoo face wash etc. just don’t take away the mothballs because they keep the bugs away
  • And laundry, we can talk about when you need to wash clothes. For now you should get some sleep.”
No wonder they left the next day and left us a note. Who would want to live with Jen, Malti and I after that introduction…. The Jesuits found out about Malti and told us today at Tea Time that there will be a cage and a piece of cheese waiting for the rat tonight, the poor little guy means no harm but he needs to go. Sorry, Malti. 
If you have not metDr. Byers this is him and his Scotte Vest in the airport at the beginning of our adventure.
In the midst of our serious excursions and adventures we do have lighthearted conversations around the dinner table. Last night Dr. Byers enlightened us about his love for his pillow and how he makes sure his sleep is nothing but amazing after molding his pillow to his satisfaction.

“I tell it whose boss with a few punches here and there before bed,” Byers said at the dinner table while he made punching motions into his left palm.

We all had such a long day that we could do nothing but laugh. It was definitely one of those moments you wish you had on camera. Byers has entertained us during the stressful times here and during our sleepless dazes. He shares stories about his family, who I swear if you mention a field of work he will have family who work or worked there or he himself will have. A man of many tales, this I knew, but never did I think he would have an uncle who worked for NASA or niece who worked with Jen over the summer at a local Milwaukee bar called Lucille’s Piano Bar and Grille. He has too many connections and a family tree so extensive Ancestry.com could most likely not figure it all out. Dr. B is a sweet man and a hilarious one at that so I’m sure there will be more stories to come. 
After dinner on New Years Eve and our adventure in the Village of Buhmel with Hollywood level attention, the six celebrities of Marquette University went for the first family walk of the trip. Little to my knowledge did I know choosing the shorter walk after a long day would lead to an encounter with a local slum where hundreds if not thousands of local untouchables live.

Our walk began around 8:45 p.m. and I had decided that I wanted to just take in the scenes and different atmosphere so I left my camera in my bag and let my eyes, ears and mind soak in as much as possible.

Immediately along the way a child came up to the group and held out his hand, asking for money in Gujarati. His family stood about five paces from our last member in line on the sidewalk. The family encouraged the son to keep asking each of us for money. I put my hands together in prayer position and said, “Namaste,” (Welcome) he moved along to the others.

We continued our walk up across a street vendor and building while the air filled with ear piercing horns and local chatter. Before we crossed the street another family approached us and the parents motioned their children towards the six of us and they began to ask for money. Again, we all said hello and kept walking – something the Jesuits told us to do incase that happened.

After walking down the street past a closed local market, we began to distance ourselves from one another a little more. I headed to the front and began to reflect on my day and the prospect of a new year with a fresh start, Carole and Dr. Byers and Jim walked in the back gabbing, while Jen and Chris took pictures of the closed stalls that kept big statues out for the night. We rounded a bend and decided to circle around to head back after deciding we were all fairly tired and entered a world I never imagined seeing and even being right in front of me.
Children and adults flocked towards the six of us as we were pushed to the left side of the road by cars and towards the untouchables arms and hands. They say, “Americans, Americans,” with smiles and gleaming eyes. We all had a look of shock, or at least I did, as we realized there were people three blocks from where we are sleeping who are living in ten feet by ten feet, deteriorating cement homes, with broken beds and sand mixed with gravel as their front yard – merely feet from the side road. The smell of urine and sewage is overwhelming.  

With raggedy clothes that fall off the shoulders of boys and girls, and babies who are wrapped in woven blankets and cradled in their mother’s arms around a small fire you can’t help but recognize the stark differences in economic class in India and between the U.S. and India.  The children with their oversized clothes come up to me and ask to hold my hand or shake it. I reach out and they smile running back to their mother and father who wave and they scream, “American girl” or “American, American,” while waving the hand that I just shook. This continuous for a few more blocks and down a corner until we reach the street where the street vendor and second family approached us before hand. The picture taking ceased long ago and the conversation had dwindled to a minimum until someone said, “Celebrity status all day today, huh?” I had no response.

This celebrity status was not one I welcomed, I know I had money in my pocket that I wanted to offer, but if you offer to one you have to offer to all. The people living in the slums are called the untouchables because they are the lowest on the totem poll in India, they get excited when anyone pays them mind and offers their hand because in their eyes you took time out of your busy schedule to interact with them, something their own fellow citizens don’t do.

Before I came to India Janet, a co-worker of my mothers, and her husband came to my home and explained their experience in Ahmedabad a year ago at this same time. They were doing medical missionary work in villages where untouchables lived. The two said that the people were so happy to have their blood pressure taken because the nurses and aides were physically touching them instead of shying away, the citizens would ask for another test just to be given extra attention and be touched, Janet said.

If I made someone happy and gave them joy on their New Years Eve by a simple brush of two skin tones then I am glad to be a celebrity in their eyes, but because I can’t help them in any other way I’m thankful to end my celebrity status with this post and begin working with the students I know I can help at the current moment on Monday and only hope that I can help in a more tangible way with the untouchables or people alike in the near future. 
Rashmi, the now President of the Village of Buhmel, with family and fellow villagers.
On the day of our arrival we were supposed to go to see Rev. Vinayak Jadav, a Jesuit and professor of journalism at St. Xavier’s, in the Village of Buhmel where he grew up. It was the final night of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the village had prepared a large meal and ceremony for us to partake in. Unfortunately the lads of our group were extremely tired as was Carole and the car was an hour and a half late – this is acceptable in the Indian culture however and has been dubbed “Indian time.” As a result we did not end up going. New Years Eve made up for the missed opportunity.

On New Years Eve, Fr. Vinayak, as we and the students call him, came to us upset that we were unable to make it the previous night and wanted to make it up to us by taking us to the Village of Buhmel where Rashmi, a Catholic woman, just won the presidency of the village. Not only is this a pivotal moment because she is a woman, but more so because she is Catholic. The drive was approximately an hour and a half and the scenery changed from the buzzing city to vast countryside. We drobe through tollbooths with two military guards, seeing slums worse than you could imagine and finally arrived to a procession of three vehicles with smiling Indians covered in “kanku,” pink dust, and flowers draped on string around their necks. 

Photo by Jennifer Solorio: Being rubbed with kanku on the trailer.
Fr. Vinayak then told us to exit the vehicle and stand with Rashmi in a trailer filled with children and women being pulled by a blue and white tractor. They were so excited to see us they grabbed our hands and rubbed kanku on our cheeks and faces. Dr. Byers, Chris and I really stood out with the dust on our faces because we are so pale, while Jen and Jim were taking it all in with smiles as well. Soon we were hoisted onto the trailer for the ride of our lives. 

Jen and Jim enjoying the celebration.
Villagers dancing during the procession in Buhmel.
For about an hour we were part of a private celebration meant only for the village and treated like celebrities. Rashmi’s mother stood behind me and held my hand and waist the entire ride and three young girls behind me wanted to stand in front while I held onto them. We all wanted the attention on Rashmi, but she saw everyone with his or her smiles and gleaming eyes on us and she knew it was right to share this moment with us. She then gave each of us a necklace of flowers, they were a bright orange and yellow that caught the light of the sun in a perfect way that made them shine brighter than their natural color. As we road along the fireworks and firecrackers continued to go off and the stop-go traffic of the procession gathered more people. Rashmi would get off the tractor and pay respects to visitor elders before we would leave.  
Photo by Jennifer Solorio: Jen, Dr. Byers and I .
For about an hour we were part of a private celebration meant only for the village and treated like celebrities. Rashmi’s mother stood behind me and held my hand and waist the entire ride and three young girls behind me wanted to stand in front while I held onto them. We all wanted the attention on Rashmi, but she saw everyone with his or her smiles and gleaming eyes on us and she knew it was right to share this moment with us. She then gave each of us a necklace of flowers, they were a bright orange and yellow that caught the light of the sun in a perfect way that made them shine brighter than their natural color. As we road along the fireworks and firecrackers continued to go off and the stop-go traffic of the procession gathered more people. Rashmi would get off the tractor and pay respects to visitor elders before we would leave. 

Photo by Jennifer Solorio: The girl with our flowers.
Before we left Dr. Byers gave his flowers to a girl on the tractor, Jen gave hers to a girl near our car and I attempted to give mine to a girl away in the corner but she ran away….. Everyone, including the natives, thought this to be hilarious while I stood embarrassed. But then I timidly gave mine away to the same girl Jen did, though she was even afraid. I blame it on my blonde hair.

In sum, we all walked away in awe. As if we were just put in a movie or documentary. People wanted to shake our hands and be recognized by us. They walked away and screamed, “Americans” and a smile stretched from one eye to another with happiness that an American had just touched them. We walked in feeling normal, but left feeling like celebrities. The feeling would continue on into the drive back when we saw a camel on the busy road and into the night with a walk around the city of Ahmedabad.

There are three languages spoken here in Ahmedabad, India. Hindi, Gujarati, and English. The former two are very easily confused with each other, but English sticks out like a sore thumb. I have enjoyed learning some of the local dialect and what are the basic sayings that are most used. The words are phonetic but it is tricky to spell the words correctly. I have listed some below:

Kem cho – How are you/hello
Majama – Fine/I'm fine
A cho – Good bye
Ab ahr – Thank you
Chai – Tea

I have always enjoyed speaking different languages and I find it very intriguing that the St. Xavier's Jesuits, faculty students know English so well that we are not expected to really know the language. However, the Marquette students and faculty are always happy to learn a new phrase and practice it with the people we meet on the streets and with the students, faculty and Jesuits. This is turning into a greater experience than I could have imagined. 


    Andrea is a recent graduate from the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University with a double major in journalism and Spanish.

    View my profile on LinkedIn


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