A candid description of my trip from NYC to rural India and finally to U. of Michigan, Ross School of Business. Go Blue!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dirty American

It's hard to believe that I have just 2 weeks left in my itenrnship! The time has really flown by and I feel like I've learned more in 2 months here than I have in the last 6 years of my life!

Weekly Recap
Yesterday, there was no electricity at the office due to a bad storm all morning, and the UNDP guys took the laptop for a presentation in Banswara. So Baby (host sister), Sweta (host sister-in law), Chickoo (baby's middle brother who is visiting from Delhi) and I went for a drive to see this really cool house that Chickoo designed for a family in a nearby village. Chickoo is getting his masters at the best Architectural school in India. He also does a lot of work with PEDO on the side, helping to design rural homes and towns. This house was really nice because it was made of slate rock rather than mud. He also showed me the house where the family used to live....or describing it as a tiny room would be more accurate. It was so small and only about 4 feet high. The roof had caved in because it was so poorly built. I can't imagine what it must be like for that to be the place someone calls home.
After seeing the house, we drove further out to visit a communal plantation that the villagers have been planting in since 1987. Then we walked through the plantation and eventually came to a beautiful lake and stream. It was so picturesque; I can't believe I forgot my camera! Definitely it was Dungarpur at it's finest. While hiking, Chickoo told me some interesting facts, like only 23% of the population of Dungarpur have electricity and only 8% have access to toilet facilities!

Today, I kind of skipped out of work to come back to Udaipur because early tomorrow morning I am going with some of the other interns to Pushkar, a town in northeastern Rajasthan. It's supposed to have a bunch of temples and also be a total hippy/tourist spot, so it should be interesting. Particularly, lonely planet says Israeli hippes (whatever that means) flock there.
I've been staying at Namrata's (the FSD Family Coordinator) house because she had an empty room for a few days and invited me to come hang out in her oasis! What a different way of life it is there! I sleep on a king size bed, internet and electricity are readily available, and the food is scrumptious! Total kid in the candy store syndrom.
I think my weekend host family is missing me but I'll be back to stay with them on Sunday night.

Jain Religion
Speaking of that family, I've been learning a lot about them lately. They are of the Jain religion, which is a sect within Hinduism....I guess I can best liken it to the Orthodox sect within Judaism, although you really can't liken 2 different religions to eachother can you? Anyway, learning about Jainism has helped me to understand why my weekend family are anal clean freaks. Apparently it's traditional to the religion. Hardcore Jains walk with a broom that they constantly sweep in front of them so as to not kill any living insects in their path. Some also keep a cloth covering their mouths at all times so that they aren't exposed to impurities. And they aren't supposed to eat anything that grows out of the earth either, like potatoes or carrots. Thank goodness my weekend family are modified Jains!

They are really great people, but they tell Shivani and I quite consistently that we are dirty and they won't let us get our own water from the water jug. It could've been worse; Namrata told me my host mom initially asked if we would tell her when we were having our periods so that she could warn the rest of the house (her sons, husband, mother and servants) so that we didn't touch or handle anything! I used to take offense everytime she called me dirty but now I can just attribute it to some religious fanaticism.

Work wise things are good albeit a bit slower. My supervisor, Mr. Vyas, has been working like crazy on a million different things. He says he will give me an interesting project for my last 2 weeks but he hasn't had any time to sit down with me yet. Also, his mother who is around 80 and lives with us, is suffering from health problems and Sweta thinks she will die in the next month. So obviously he is preoccupied.
I finished the Case Study book and it is on Mr. Vyas' desk to review before we move to the next stage of printing it up. It is 50 pages long and turned out really well! I've very proud of it and excited to get my copy to utilize in pursuing future opportunities.

Right now I'm working on combining 6 years worth of 6 month progress reports that PEDO submitted to a foundation that funded 245 of the microfinance Self-Help Groups. The 6 month reports are filled with English grammatical errors, and it seems like this is where I can truly add the most value for PEDO so I am happy to oblige. Plus, I'm learning a ton about the structure of the microfinance program.

Travel Plans
Right now I'm at the Reliance internet cafe in Udaipur putting some charts together for the summary report. I'm also trying to figure out where I should go for the 5 free days that I have before I head back to the states. I'm having trouble deciding between Goa (tourist/party central- the Ibiza of India) or Kerala, an elected communist state on the southwest coast. They have a famous boat race in August and these amazing backwaters that you can ride through on a houseboat. It's supposed to be beautiful and less touristy than Goa. I'm pretty sure I'm traveling solo to either location, so hopefully I'll meet some cool people when I get there. If the flights are too expensive, then most likely I'll just head up to Jaipur, which is the biggest city in Rajasthan, on my way back to grimy Delhi.

Other than that, I can't believe it's all ending so soon! What an experience. Now, back to the real world and researching which loan to take out for the MBA. If anyone reading has any views on the Government Plus loan vs. Citiassit, or short/long- term views on interest rates (is it better to take a variable rate loan or fixed rate loan), then PLEASE do share.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Baby's cutest cousin- Gurlo

Baby's cutest cousin- Gurlo
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
Taken at a Puja ceremony in Dungarpur

Camel in Kumbagarh

Camel in Kumbagarh
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
This is a quick snap of a camel Olen, Kristen and I had to run past during our little Indiana Jones trek at Kumbalgarh

Sweta getting tested for Malaria

Sweta got Malaria, Baby got some sort of parasite after drinking the village water, the Dutch girl got some sort of whooping cough....suddenly I was the picture of health. Don't worry it didn't last long and I got sick (bad cold) through most of last week!

Little Boy in the village

Little Boy in the village
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
He was too cute and the only child below age 4 that didn't scream bloody murder the minute I tried to hold him.

Sunset ahhhh

Sunset ahhhh
Originally uploaded by jennif102.

Jon and Pretheep

Jon and Pretheep
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
Jon and Namrata's husband dressed for YeYe's party

The girls

The girls
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
This is a picture of everyone dressed up in sarees (and me in traditional Rajasthani attire) for YeYe's suprise birthday party. From left to right: Diana, Namrata, Kara, Me, Kristen, Liz, Reena, Payal


Originally uploaded by jennif102.
This is a picture of the extensive wall of Kumbalgarh Fort, which is 2 hours from Udaipur. It's absolutely amazing! The fort wall is so think that 6 horses can ride along it side by side.
Also, as a famous Rajasthani story goes, one of the Kings of Rajasthan was asassinated by his enemies and then they went after the King's son and only heir. When the son's servant heard they were coming, she removed the heir from his cradle and replaced him with her own baby. Then she took the heir to this fort for safe hiding.

Baby Monsoon Dancing

Baby Monsoon Dancing
Originally uploaded by jennif102.
My Host Sister, Baby, dances in the rain

Eggplant Parmesan Indian Style

So let me first start this entry by saying that the Indian government blocked my access to my blog! Check out this article which made the NYTimes. I feel like such a revolutionary. So there's my excuse for not updating in over a week!


In other news....life has been pretty good in India, now that I am finally over a pretty nasty cold. Last weekend, I made eggplant parmesan as a show of appreciation to my new favorite friend Namrata. She has been absolutely wonderful to me so I wanted to do a little something. You can't get bottled tomatoe sauce here, so Olen, YeYe and I made it from scratch! The dish turned out REALLY well and it was so nice to have Italian food for once that didn't taste of ketchup.


Work wise, things are also going really well. I finally finished all my field visits to the women I am interviewing for the Microfinance Case Studies. I interviewed 13 women total and wrote up all their stories and then combined them into one document with pictures, a 3 page Introduction and a table of contents. It still has formatting issues but as of right now it's 50 pages long!
As I said before, Mr. Vyas didn't like my initial writings becauase he wanted more of the life story of each woman. As a reference he gave me a copy of a book Mohammed Unis published 20 years ago detailing case studies of the Grameen Bank project. Those stories are really detail-oriented and I tried my best to write in a similar way but found it difficult to pull life stories out of these women when I am meeting them for the first time and only for 2-3 hours each. Nonetheless, I'm very proud of what I wrote and when I head back to Dungarpur tomorrow I'll find out what Mr. Vyas thinks.


Now that the case studies are winding down, I'm not sure what my next project will be. My grant proposal got turned down my FSD (my program). They said, among other reasons, that they didn't think Bamboo trees could grow in Dungarpur. I'm a little bitter about this, because I'm not quite sure how a bunch of people in San Francisco are qualified to speak to the growing ability of bamboo in rural Dungarpur. But who's bitter? I did write them back to appeal but they responded and basically told me I was out-written by the other interns. Which could be since I wrote the whole thing in one night but still, I don't like losing and especially losing on such a worthwhile project. I think FSD's whole grant competition is seriously flawed. During the proposal process all of us got so excited by our projects and spent a lot of effort researching and writing our 7 page proposals, and then when some of us got denied, it was kind of like pulling the carpet out from under us. Okay, now what are we supposed to do with the rest of our internships?

Anyway, Mr. Vyas wasn't too upset by not getting the money and although he hasn't told me what I will be doing next, so far he has yet to disappoint me. I think if I have an open conversation with him regarding what I am looking to get involved with, then he will make it happen.


In other news.....last week one of the guys working for the UNDP briefly introduced me to a woman who was visiting our campus. Coincidentally, not only was she the first American I had met at PEDO or Dungarpur for that matter, but she was also a rising second year MBA student at Columbia! We had a short conversation about my whole waitlist issue, and I can't determine if that was meant to be a sign- running into her like that.

Finally, last weekend while in Udaipur I went to talk with a man name Manish Jain, the founder of an organization in Udaipur called Shikshanter. I had been hearing so much about him from the other interns. Born and bred American but of Indian descent, Manish had an ivy league education through grad school, and then went to work as an I-banker in M&A at none other than.....you guessed it....Morgan Stanley! He spent a few unhappy years there feeling totally greedy and immoral, so then he left to work on consulting projects with the usual suspects: Unesco, USAID, World Bank. However, at those jobs he found the situation to be just as immoral and greedy, except in these cases, as he described it to me, the people working at these organizations actually believe they are doing good for humanity. So they are in fact worse than the typical investment banker, who fully acknowledges his immorality.

Anyway, we had a long interesting discussion about his organization and what they believe. It's very grassroots and hippy-ish as they are anti-globalization and anti-the traditional education system that they claim is plaguing the world and raping us of our creativity. Basically, they hate ideas like "civilizing" the people of rural areas and calling these people uneducated just because they haven't reformed to the norms that society puts upon us. He spoke of a time when he went to speak to a 70 year old man in a village to learn about something (I forget what) and the man said "Why are you talking to me, you should speak with my grandson as he passed 12th standard". Manish couldn't understand why the man would say this. Afterall, why would he want to talk to some teenage kid? The man had wisdom, knowledge and experience from years of living.

Shikshanter is also anti-waste and believes that everything has more than one use. Basically you can just go in, hang out and talk to Manish, read a book from their extensive library, and do all sorts of hippy arts and crafts like mosaics and stuff. It's pretty cool but a little too intense for me. I don't agree with everything they have to say, particularly their negative views towards microfinance. Still, I'm going to go back again to argue about microfinance with Manish and also have a good conversation with him about corporate America before I go ahead and sign my life away with that MBA loan.

Oh yeah, here's a good story. Yesterday I went to Shikshanter to see a movie they were showing as part of a film festival. However, I got into trouble within 2 minutes of setting foot inside. I walked in carrying a diet pepsi and a bag of kukare chips (the Indian version of Cheetos) as I was starving and thirsty and didn't think much about it. Manish's 4 year old daughter immediately grabbed my hand and dragged me to a back room to play with her. So I offered her a chip, because kids like that stuff right? Then I took a swig of my diet pepsi. Then her mom came in and said "We actually don't like to have processed food full of chemicals in Shikshanter, especially around my daughter". Uh oh...I sooooo could never be a hippy. So I consent and willingly get up to finish my pepsi outside (because Diet Pepsis are hard to come by in Udaipur and one must enjoy every ounce of it when one finds it), where I start talking with 2 guys working on a tile mosaic. I finish my pepsi and ask them if there's a garbage can to throw it out in. They look at me like I have five heads and one says, "We actually try to avoid waste here. Everything has it's use. You can just leave it here and we'll find a use for it." So I put the can on the ground and head back inside, wondering if they are silently cursing me for making them find a use for a diet pepsi can.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Another top ten list- pro America!

Here's the things I now most appreciate about America (all fairly shallow of course...)

1. 24/7 electricity!
2. Steak
3. Toilets that accept toilet paper and flush (the way I flush my toilet in Dungarpur is by filling a bucket with water and tossing it in!)
4. A fuctioning garbage collection system
5. Garbage cans
6. Being able to wear clothing that shows my knees without feeling like everyone's thinking I'm a whore
7. Being able to eat eggs, chicken, or drink beer without feeling like everyone's thinking I'm a heathen.
8. napkins
9. Hot water
10. Quality italian food

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Gangs of Jaisalmer

# of Allergic Reactions: 4
# of Chai Teas Drunk: 76

I apologies for not writing a quality entry in quite a while, but things have been quite hectic. I have decided to add a stat counter on the top of each entry a la Bridget Jones Diary so you all can know my vitals (aka, how often I have eaten a nut after being told it was safe). I've also decided to have more interesting titles for my entries- so I am using modified movie titles.

Anyway, here's a recap of the week:
Last week I was incredibly busy with work. We went out into the field every day to interview women for my case study project. However, my superivisor Mr. Vyas read my first rough drafts and wasn't very pleased with the results. Apparently he wanted much more of a story-telling feel to the case studies, whereas I stuck to mostly facts. The only problem with rewriting is that we didn't get nearly enough of the detail he was looking for when we were interviewing the women. But he is fine with a couple of the case studies being less detailed, and then ongoing we are spending much more time with the women to learn as much as we can about their entire lives. Some of these women are absolutely amazing and it's great to see how much they have overcome. Anyway, more about that later.

On Monday, a dutch girl came to PEDO to visit and learn about microfinance for the next 2 weeks. Her name is Marlies and she has lived all over the world because her father works for Echo, which I think is the equivalent of USAID for Europe. She has even lived in Pakistan and Angola! It's nice to have more english-speaking company and to have someone sharing the upstairs "apartment" with.

On Tuesday, I got back from the field around 9:30 at night. It was 4th of July and we stopped in Dungarpur to load up on a bunch of fireworks that are completely illegal in the US. The interns in Udaipur had quite a celebration too but I was happy with my small but quality display. After the show, Mr. Vyas told me he wanted to apply for the FSD grant competition. Basically, the organization that sent me here (FSD) has a competition for all their interns all over the world- Africa, India and South America. You can apply for up to $500 in funding for a project for your organization, but you have to write a full detailed grant proposal. I didn't think I was going to need to do one because we had been completely busy with the case study work, but then Mr. Vyas came up with an excellent project so I rushed to write the 7 page grant and submit it by thursday morning! So last week I basically worked investment banker hours, except this time for free.
The grant, if I win, will be used to plant bamboo trees in a village and train the villagers to make fine bamboo furniture and other handicrafts. Then they will be able to sell them at much higher prices either directly in the cities or to agents who visit the villages. I find out tonight if I got the money....but keep in mind I'm competing against a bunch of smarty pants ivy-leaguers so it's anybody's game!

On Thursday night I headed back to Udaipur because we left early friday morning for our FSD mid-term trip. That day we crammed 14 people in 2 SUVs and headed first to Kumbalgarh, a remote fort that is probably the most amazing one I've ever been to! It has the second longest wall after the Great Wall of China, and it was so much fun exploring it all. From the top of the fort Olen, Kristen and I spotted some more ruins in the distance and decided to go on an Indiana Jones expedition to find them. We eventually did and I'll post pictures of the trek...I was quite sore the next day!
Next we stopped in Ranakpur where one of India's biggest and most important Jain temples is located. We ate lunch there and saw the temple and also ran into my weekend host family who were en route of a pilgramigge to another Jain Temple.
By evening we reached our destination for the night, the city of Jodhpur. Jodhpur is an amazing city with another giant palace that overlooks a sea of blue-painted houses. It's totally gorgeous and I can't wait to post pictures.

On Saturday, 7 of us interns got really ambitious and decided to take on the SUVs and head to Jaisalmer, the desert city, for the night. Jaisalmer is located in the far northwest side of Rajasthan and it's only 50 km from Pakistan! It literally sprung up in the middle of nowhere in the Thar Desert. It took 5 hours to drive there from Jodphur and perhaps the most fun part about the trip was four of us rocking out to Journey songs that we syched up on our Ipods. I really think the driver wanted to kill us and was praying that the Ipods sponteously exploded before we began the drive back to Udaipur. It was fun nonetheless, and here's a picture of us jamming along:

We reached Jaisalmer around 10 pm. About 25% of the city lives inside the fort there, so it's so cool to explore and the alleyways and little shops- almost like Venice. We went to dinner that night at one of the many Italian Restaurants that exist in the city- we have no idea why there are so many but even the "French" Restaurant we went to for lunch the next day only seemed to serve Italian food.
Despite probably being closer to Osama's hide-out then any American ever should be, what really scared us most that evening were the dog gangs of Jaisalmer. Although it was a very short walk back to the hotel from the restaurant, the streets were filled with gangs of stray dogs. The first gang we came across, we'll call them the Crypts (might be murdering the spelling), came out one at a time until they fully surrounded us barking and screeching. At first we tried to scare them away but it didn't work. So there we were, a group of 7 interns with their arms linked thinking our combined intern power would ward off 20 angry dogs, and silenty cursing ourselves for being too cheap to get that darn rabie shot. Eventually, we survived the attack by the Crypts, but we still had a ways to go.

After we rounded a bend more dogs began shouting at us from the top of a small overlook. These were the Bloods. Soon, they had come off the overlook and emerged from the darkness to surround us and frighten the hell out of us yet again. But we kept walking and eventually perservered unscathed. Yes, that night we did overcome adversity and learned that together interns can accomplish almost anything. End Story.

That night we slept for about 3 hours and awoke to get to the desert for the "sunrise"- which we never really saw because there was too much of a sandstorm. After that we rode camels in the desert and then explored the fort city before having to pile back in the car for the 10 HOUR ride back to Udaipur.

On Monday I ended up staying in Udaipur for the day to sleep off my exhaustion from the weekend and to celebrate YeYe's (one of the interns) 20th birthday! Namrata, aka the Martha Stewart of India, threw a party at her house and everyone dressed up in Indian clothes. Most of the girls wore Saris but I wore traditionally Rajasthani attire that I will post pictures of shortly. The best costume went to the wittiest intern, Ryan, who had left all his traditional clothes at his village. Instead he wore jeans with an Indian scarf tied around his waist, a tight Indian shirt that was obviously meant for a slender girl, and carried a hand-carved/painted elephant that was damaged and cracked on the backside. The description doesn't do it justice, I'll have to post the picture soon!

Okay, now I am back in Dungarpur and my blog is fully up to date. Oh yeah, I forgot to add that I had my 4th allergic reaction yesterday to something I ate at Namrata's house. We didn't think it had nuts in it but I def. got very sick and had to wait for 3 hours on the bus to Dungarpur before I got back to PEDO and could vomit properly. I was out of commission for most of the day but now I feel fine and am about to head out to the field.
I hope all is well with everyone in the states and you had a wonderful 4th of July. In case you are wondering, I have seen the bomb blasts in Mumbai all over the news and thank goodness nobody from my program is anywhere remotely near it.
Take Care and leave your comments!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Top ten observations about India

This is meant to be a brief entry regarding some interesting observations I've had since arriving in India over a month ago. Some are humorous, some are obvious. Enjoy

10. Begin bargaining by taking the shopkeepers price and dividing by 5

9. When walking in the streets you must always pay attention or you will most def. step in some sort of dung

8. Indian people are obsessed with the movie Titanic and that Bryan Adams song from the Robin Hood movie.

7. Indian celebrities are shameless promoters and will appear in whatever advertisement they are paid for- I saw one the other day for hemroid cream

6. Burping in public is totally acceptable and picking one's nose seems to be as well.

5. People have servants clean their houses every day so they are spotless, but then take their trash and dump it right where their property stops and public property begins.

4. Driving in India is the scariest, most nerve-wracking experience. People drive on the narrowest roads and head-on collisions "almost" happen evcery 5 minutes. I am yet to see an accident though.

3. Honking the horn is used to dodge animals, small children, rickshaws, people, cow dong, etc. It is also used as a signal light and rarely used in the traditional American ways

2. Arguing with a rickshaw driver over the equivalent of 6 cents is totally worth it as the satisfaction you feel for winning is priceless.

1. People in India are the friendliest most welcoming people I have ever encountered.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Work Week #2

So I am back in Udaipur relaxing and catching up on emails after another week of work. It looks like I won't have much internet access afterall in Dungarpur, so I intend to post as much as possible to my blog every weekend.

Work is going well although it's absolutely exhausting! Typically this past week I would wake up and board one of the PEDO trucks to go out to visit women microfinance loan recipients in the villages all over the Dungarpur district. Usually Baby (my host sister) or her sister-in-law Sweta will accompany me, along with another PEDO employee, Dhumendra, who is doing the Hindi version of everything I do in English. Sweta is fluent in English and a lot of fun. She just returned from visiting her husband (Baby's oldest brother) in Russia. They've actually been married for 3 years but have hardly been together. He used to be a chef on a cruise boat in the US and now he works at a restaurant in Russia. He is wrapping up things there though and heading back to Rajasthan permanently in 2 weeks.

Anyway, back to work. So we head out in a truck for a 2 hour incredibly bumpy drive to a different PEDO Field Center each day. There we pick up the head of the field center and he brings us to visit 2 of the women under his umbrella that will make good case study participants. Once we find the women, we usually visit their house/shop or whatever they own and I interview them with Baby or Sweta translating. Usually every person nearby will gather around us, so a crowd of 30 children staring at me throughout the entire interview is not uncommon. In one village the town drunk came by and even started yelling at us saying nobody could talk without his permission. Everyone pretty much told him to shut-up though. After the 2 interviews we usually pack up and head back home, arriving around 8 pm each night. The drives make the trip very exhausting and it's the hardest work I've ever done, but also the most rewarding and interesting.

Some highlights from the week:
On Monday baby's family had a ceremony called Puja (kind of like a Hindu blessing) for her 5 year old cousin. Nearly 40 people gathered at her house so I got to meet everyone in her family! Although I am a hit with children older than 5, the babies seemed to scream bloody murder everytime I got near them. Nonetheless, I have some cute pictures of the kids that I can post in the future.

On Wednesday we went to interview a woman in a village where female empowerment is the way of life! Apparently during draught seasons, or whenever they just get really bored, the women dress up as men, take the mens' weapons and go on a robbing spree. If any man gets in their way they just beat him up. However, unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't see this in action and I thought the women were all quite lovely actually.

On Thursday we inteviewed a woman who carries a hindu god-like status in her village (we interviewed her for the business she started with her loans; the god-like stuff was just something extra that was fun to learn about). Apparently she had a dream about a golden statue that was buried in the earth. She then actually went and found said statue where she dreamed it was located. Then, several years back a snake started visiting her and biting her. Every time she does something wrong the snake will come out and bite her again. She showed us the scars. The villagers have built a temple for her and people visit her with their problems. We met a man there who apparently couldn't speak for 15 years until he came to see this woman who cured him.
Baby asked her about my married life and she said that I will meet my husband in 6 months, that he will be a good man, and that if I ever come back to India then I cannot come without visiting her with my husband. She basically told the same thing to Baby, but for some reason she asked that I pay 11 rupees to the golden statue whereas Baby got her future read for free. Oh yeah, apparently last year this women became suddenly engulfed in flames in front of her house, but did not burn. Sounds a little difficult to believe right? Especially the part about me getting married in 6 months. I thought so too.

On Friday I spent most of the day with Sweta and Dhumendra trying to write-up all our case studies. We are going to make it into a book and formulate some general impact assessments on the whole PEDO Microfinance initiative so far. I spoke with my boss about what I will get involved in once this is finished, and he said I will be learning more about the next steps in their microfinance plan. Now that all these Microfinance Groups are totally self-sustainable, we want to go a step further and help them start larger businesses or micro-enterprises even. This is actually what I am most eager to learn about so I am very excited for the next few weeks of work.

Anyway, please continue to read (including my newly added entry below on arranged marriages). I have more pictures to post of the village women and Baby dancing in a monsoon rain, but might not get them up this weekend. Also, leave comments and let me know if you want to buy any jewelry/handicrafts from Namrata. Thanks for reading!

I'll take Arranged Marriage for $800, Alex

I'm beginning to think an arranged marriage is the way to go. Baby (my host sister) told me today that she'll be married within a year. She's not sure to who yet, but she's sure it'll happen within the next year. Basically her parents will do all the work. It's brilliant! They'll start looking around for prospects that meet her/their qualifications- he will most likely be from Rajasthan or the neighboring state Gujarat, he'll def. be in her caste (Brahman), and he'll have similar interests. I asked her what happens if she doesn't like the first guy her parents pick and she said, "Next!" It's so simple and practical yet so ingenious! The work is done for you....it's like when you send your laundry out in NYC to be done and you get it back all clean and neatly folded after having to do nothing!

Now I must add a disclaimer here- plenty of people do not end up in ideal situations...and since divorce is not common here and the women rarely own any assets, they do get kind of stuck in bad scenarios. But if you do your homework and get to know the person you parents have picked then you avoid all the hassle and bull&(*% dating games that I've witnessed since my college days at frat parties to the current NYC social scene. An arranged marriage culture would completely eradicate all the game playing because the mens' parents are also out for their match. It's tradition and so dating around, hooking up or even sleeping with a person that he will never plan on calling again is just not done. And for the women, they don't have to worry about when, how, and if they'll ever find their soulmate, and more importantly IF they find said man in time to have children. They are also spared the pyschological garbage, self-esteem defeating games that play out in many single women's heads in NYC. Am I good enough? Too Fat? Too Flat? Why doesn't he call...blah blah blah. Arranged marriages sound a lot less stressful overall. And the divorce rate in the US vs. that in India does say something. Indian women just might have the upperhand here when you truly think about it!

I think of one good friend I have back home who has a three date rule....basically in the last several years she has rarely gotten past three dates with the same guy. Why? Because by the second date she already knows there is no way it will work out. So I say, bypass all this dating garbage and go directly to the arranged marriage route where the weeding out process is done for you and you can focus on other things like your job or hanging out with friends who you know you already like to be around.
At the same time, I don't think I could ever let my mom find me a husband. Because if she's picking most likely his name will probably be Vinnie, he will run a pizzeria off the jersey turnpike and his idea of vacation is the boardwalk at Seaside Heights. No bad intentions meant here, just not my cup of tea!

Overall though, I am liking this arranged marriage idea more and more. I am confident that Baby's parents will find her the perfect match. She is a strong-willed, determined person and I'm sure she will get everything she wants- good career, good family, good life. Perhaps we Americans really don't have it all?