Now We’re Cookin’

This titular expression is both literal and metaphorical. Metaphorically we do, indeed, feel like we’re cooking as temperatures have now settled into the 95-100 range and with the continuing 90% humidity (it has rained several nights recently, which drops the temps briefly but then creates steam-heat once the sun comes up) we, like most everyone else, stay indoors hiding from the sun from 11:00am to 4:00pm. More and more Indians have entered the middle-class, which means AC is becoming more common, but the power-grid hasn’t been able to keep pace, so we’re experiencing a lot more blackouts now than we have in the past few months.

20150417_161308Literally, we have also started cooking more. Tom & Ruby brought us that evil orange powder from Red Front’s bulk section, so we’ve been able to make US style mac’n’cheese (its color rightfully shocks our guesthouse friends). We have also invested in a blender and with it are now able to convert India’s many fresh fruits into a wide variety of lovely beverages. I made a big pitcher of virgin mojitos the other day and served them to all the guesthouse staff to rave reviews–I may have started a new culinary trend in Tamil Nadu!  Isaac has become obsessed with the coconut tree growing next to our guesthouse, and to the great amusement of our guards, has developed a method of standing on the roof-top deck and, with a long stick, knocking down coconuts. Sagayai, one of the guesthouse guys, is incredibly adept and opening them with a big coconut knife (a coconut is his br20150417_161828eakfast each morning) and we’re slowly learning the skill. Ike has blended them, along with various other ingredients, into some pretty good (though often quite fibrous) beverages.

Our other cooking project is the topic of Cora’s latest Blog entry….



It seems as though our Mennonite roots are showing. We’ve come to miss baking so much that recently we decided to do something about it. Because India has an amazing amount of sun and we have an amazing amount of time, we decided to go green and put together a solar oven to put on the roof of our guest house. We surfed online for a bit, hunting for ideas as to how to build one affordably and with supplies we might find somewhere in downtown Puducherry.20150417_160345

Once we found one, we had the problem of actually knowing where to look because apparently there are no Ace Hardwares in India. The downtown market eventually saved us, so we bought our supplies and started assembling. Once we completed the building of the oven we whipped up some brownie batter. It turns out that we may need to make a few adjustments on our oven, because the brownies cooked for four hours and you could still pour the batter into your mouth from the pan. I’m usually all for gooey brownies but that seems a bit extreme. We’ll keep working on it.20150417_144430


Three Indian Sonnets by Isaac

   DSCN2193 The Fat Monkey – Bajrang Bali

He sat upon the wall with belly fat
His back faced towards me, his fur shown bright light
He would not mind a pet or tummy pat
He would not dare attempt to growl or bite
Peanuts by the dozen flowed down his throat
His tummy growled if you gave it a poke
Eyes bright, but age show’d in his thinning coat
If I gave him more peanuts he would choke
It is hard to find a friendly monkey
His eyes were so mischievous and most round
I have to admit he was quite chunky
If he got mad he made the strangest sound
I hope I will come see him once again
Sadly he will probably be dead then


Extremely loud and annoying at night
Creepily stare at you from far above
Their eyes show a dark twinkle of warm light
They are straggly and they look like no dove
They’re feathers show jet black in the night sky
Their shit falls like rain on a summer’s night
They are in great numbers, you want to die
Their squawk is so loud it gives you a fright
They are such a kind bird nobody knows
I will miss their loudness when I am gone
When they spot food their eyes begin to glow
Their dark feathers are strewn across our lawn
I am sure I’ll see them when I come back
Patience and quietness is what they lack.





Wander across busy streets in the sun
Eat garbage that people have left around
They are quite tasty between toasted buns
They’re everywhere, how are they ever found?
They are treated better than some people
They sleep soundly in the shadows of trees
Their statues sit on top of the steeple
Their milk is used but not for any cheese
Sometimes people paint their horns red and blue
They often stick together in large groups
The streets are always covered with their poo
Their eyes widen when they see tasty fruits
I will miss them when I’m back home again
It will be a very long time ‘til then
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ERIKA: On Work (yes – I do work! It’s not all trains, planes, and tuk tuks!)

Whaaaatt?!   The month of March just completely flew by, and the blank virtual space on this blog indicates that the Metzler Sawin family has clearly been a terrible group of bloggers! You should know, dear readers, that the lack of communication from us meant, in this case, that we were both busy and happy. I have been the worst of everyone in my family; it’s been almost TWO MONTHS since I wrote anything. Sheesh. Kabob.

The month started off with the Fulbright conference in Hyderabad, as Mark mentioned nearly a month ago 🙂   We returned home, I frantically prepped some lectures, and then my parents came for 10 days, which was great! We experienced a stay-cation in Pondicherry, shifting into a heritage house in town for four days and doing things like a cycle tour of Pondy and South Indian cooking class. Then we drove to Chennai, where they proceeded to get on a plane and we got on a train for 30 hours to do the India tourist triad of loveliness: Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.   Hopefully the kids will write about some of our adventures, which mainly involved seeing amazing sights like the Taj Mahal (“The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” -Tagore), most assuredly paying too much for things like elephant pants, bangles, and textiles, and making new friends, who inspired Mark and I to create the new goal for ourselves of cycling across Europe when we turn 50! (We’ve decided to become Warm Showers hosts in the meantime! Sounds grosser than it is.)

Work is going well; I am learning constantly. I’ve been challenging myself to try some new things in class, such as group work and case studies. This is apparently pretty different compared to the largely lecture-based format that the students here are used to. It’s been fun for me compared to lecturing, and the students seem be entertained by a change in pace, if nothing else!   A personal highlight for me was when my mom, with over 50 years of nursing experience, came to assist me and the students with a family caregiving/ chronic disease self-management case study on the last day of gero class.

I’ve also really enjoyed my M.Sc. course, which is largely international health content. Since it’s only 5 students, I’ve set it up to be more of a guided dialogue/ seminar about issues facing nursing today: post-2015 millenium development goals r/t health, nursing professional development, global nurse migration, and nursing image. I have learned a “lakh” from the students, and I hope that it’s a mutual exchange!

I have also had the privilege of accompanying med-surg nursing professors to the JIPMER hospital, which is huge: over 1600 beds, and hundreds of people daily seeking shelter there, many for extended periods of time (see: and

I am grateful for the space this experience is providing me to think and work. It took about six weeks for me to get to a point where I could go to my office and really and truly focus on things in a thoughtful manner. So much clutter flying around in my head; life is busy and stressful sometimes in the States!

India continues to be an incredible country of mystery and intrigue for me. Just when you think I’ve figured things out, things get turned upside-down and inside-out. There are so many things I love about being here. Here are some examples: on my way to the gym this morning: seeing piles of mango tree leaves swept up by sari-clad women with coconut brooms, watching wedding party goers, flowers in their hair, on mopeds or in auto rickshaws, flooding the community hall at 0700, surprise vacations from work both yesterday for the Jain holiday Mahavir Jayanti and today for Good Friday, and last: watching the full moon rise over town tonight, listening to bus horns, barking strays, cricket and gecko chirps, and fireworks for Hindu festival Chandra Grahan/ Hanuman Jayanti. I’m at 694 words now (Isaac said that he is distressed because his post was only 507!) so I will stop typing. I’ll post a picture of me with my students and colleagues at a rural community health clinic.

Group photo.  Om... I am on the left.

Group photo. Om… I am on the left.


Visitors and Travel

We’ve been rather delinquent in blogging the past several weeks DSCN0928because we’ve been busy with visitors and travel. Erika’s parents, Carl & Marian Metzler, came to visit us for 10 days and then when we took them back to Chennai to catch their flight home we caught a 30-hour train DSCN1469from Chennai to Agra. We visited the Taj Mahal and at our hotel met two lovely young Brits who were biking across India. After a few days there we trained on to Jaipur, saw the sights there, then headed up to Delhi to complete “The Triangle” of Indian tourism. The romance of 30-hour train rides having worn a bit thin, we then took a 2.5 hour flight back to ChennaiDSCN1542 where we met up with our Harrisonburg neighbor and Community Mennonite Church small group member, Sandy King, who had come to India with her sister Cindy and her husband Bosky who grew up and still has family in Chennai. Now we’re back “home” in Pondicherry, which feels good. I’ve posted some of the pictures from this adventure here, but a lot morDSCN2187e are HERE. Laundry is now done, bags backed back away, and we’re returning to our “normal” lives for a week or so before my parents, Tom & Ruby Sawin, come to visit us next week… we’re looking forward to it!


Now I can finally call Pondicherry my home. After leaving southern India for the first time, I learned that the culture is different in every state. I figured out that southern India is more strict with their dressing. I still miss my home, my records, my cats, and especially my friends. This week I finally got to pet a monkey; in a place in Jaipur called the monkey temple all the monkeys were on the side of the temple wall. They were quite gentle when they took the peanuts out of your hand. If you gave one candy it would sit on your bDSCN2200ack and look majestic for photos. Our tour guide then showed us his monkey friend who looked like a Buddha monkey–it was quite tame and you could pet it and poke its belly, and it wouldn’t try to bite you or run away. We went and saw what all tourists must see when they come to India, the Taj Mahal. The architecture is amazing, Shah Jahan (the guy who built it) apparently had the marble imported from all over India and Pakistan, but the city of Agra is filthy, there are more beggars and false tour guides, and scams than in the rest of India. After that we went to Delhi, the pollution was way worse than any other city in India. It was so bad it caused my throat to ache. But it was awesome to find that Delhi had a Dunkin Donuts, and a Starbucks, along with several BBQ restaurants. The thirty-hour train ride was awesome because we got a first class car, along with some Bollywood movies, which were all comedy, and all had the same plot. I’m also excited because my family is planning to go on an England/France trip on the way home. I’m also super excited to go to the record shop in London. I’m going to buy lots of, Dylan, Stones, Doors, Pink Floyd, and solo Beatles records. When I get home I’m going to try to convince my family to get a dog. Now tDSCN2274hat my cat Pokey has died, I have decided no cat will ever be as good as her. It has been a wonderful experience in India but I hope it gets cold when I get back because summer is 90 degrees every day here in Pondicherry. I really miss beef, and Chinese takeout, you’d think that India would have good Chinese food but they seem to only know how to cook Indian food.


Apparently we are already halfway through our time in India. At this point, I don’t know if I’m surprised that I’m already halfway or that I’m only halfway. More and more, I’m realizing that the line between the two is very fine. Time crawls, but also flies, depending on what’s happening. Though, if it does anything, it certainly allows plenty of time for reflection. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated my friends as much as I do now. Never before have I had a very hard time making friends, but here, things are different. There is a decent language barrier, along with the fact that we are constantly traveling. I guess you could say that it’s a bit lonely, but the experience is fantastic. I’ve learned so much, including how to efficiently negotiate a price and where to find donuts in a foreign country. You know, all the important stuff. I can’t say that I’m not excited to come home, but I do appreciate the experience that Mom and Dad created for me.

I supposeDSCN2325 that I ought to describe one of our experiences, just because we’ve had so many recently. Traveling through Delhi, a city that completely blew me away, is defiantly worth writing about. We were lucky enough to stay in the USIEF Fulbright Guest House, which was gorgeous and happened to be in a pretty swank part of town. That area almost felt like walking through DC. There were trees, motorcycle riders actually DSCN2275wearing helmets, and a minimal amount of honking. It was insane. That area was also very Western, what with the lack of saris and the American and European chains everywhere. (We had to hit up the Dunkin Donuts… it was too hard to resist.) My entire family agreed that we almost felt as though we were blending in, which was a feeling we truly don’t often feel. We were still some of the only white people around, but our clothes matched everyone else’s and I wasn’t the only one with my hair down. Of course, all of the city wasn’t like this. In fact, some parts were about as Eastern as you could get, especially Old Delhi. In Old DSCN2278Delhi, there were narrow streets packed with people wearing every type of clothing imaginable. It was there that I first felt like I was in one of the biggest cities in the world. You were definitely jostled around, but the general vibe was that of a friendly chaos. For a while, we got lost in a maze of back streets that felt as though they went on for miles. Actually, looking back, they probably did. It was a remarkable city that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in history and foreign cultures, but also to those who actively pursue adventures. God knows that Delhi has all of those things.DSCN2337

Collage of Colors

India is finally sinking in. So much has been new and different it’s taken a while to feel like we’re actually part of life here… we’ve felt largely like observers, not participants. That’s starting to change because we’re starting to change. Some ways are obvious… we’re becoming accustomed to heat and our sweat smells vaguely of curry–really. But most ways are more subtle. We simply move through the day more fluidly. Things are still constantly strange and new, but strange and new is now normal and thus it’s just life.

We spent the first five days of March in Hyderabad at the Fulbright conference that pulled together about 120 scholars from across India and Southeast Asia. It was a wonderful time, but surreal once again as we were in an over-the-top luxurious hotel surrounded by Americans at the conference, but then we’d step out the doors and be in the thick of the hustle-bustle of an India tech boom town. Then, after a non-eventful flight back to Chennai and a sunset car ride down to Pondicherry, we arrived at our guest house and learned that the JIPMER students were celebrating the Indian festival of Holi, which is a Hindu festival celebrated on the first full-moon of spring that has morphed into a largely secular celebration of colors and young love. Sort of a combination of Valentines Day mixed with Halloween and an Easter parade… on steroids. A bon fire was burning next to the pavilion on campus and student groups were competing against each other by orchestrating their own Bollywood style dance numbers and performing them on stage.

What follows, then, is an assortment of images of our past few weeks. Life keeps rolling on and now we’re rolling with it… more or less.


A scene out our window… Erika coming home, greeted by Jayamaran, one of our guards (there are three primary ones who each do an 8 hour shift), and followed by several of the neighborhood boys.


We eat in the guest house for lunch, but our nightly meals we’re on our own, and without a real kitchen, we frequent a few local restaurants and this, the student snack shop/restaurant.

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The guest house is always attended by a guard and by various other staff from 6am to 9pm. We’ve come to know most of them quite well. Pictured here are Jayamaran the guard, Sagayai, Raghul & Dharmendrakumar. Tamil names are often all one name, and thus quite long at times.

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Ike and I do our Bio lessons in the dining area each day, looking out over the courtyard which provides ready examples for many of the things we’re discussing.


About a month ago we discovered Cafe Xtaci which makes legit stone-oven pizza. Small comforts of familiarity are wonderful from time to time.


The pool at the Taj Krishna Hotel in Hyderabad where our Fulbright conference was held was, like the whole place, over-the-top. Along one side it had mango trees that were heavily populated by huge Indian Flying Fox bats that come swooping out at dusk looking for fruit.


Hanging out with a group of the Fulbright folks that we got to know during the conference. Lovely folks all.


Isaac being very sophisticated at a dinner out on the hotel lawn.


Hyderabad became a Muslim city in the early 1500s when a group of Shia kings established themselves in the area, only to be conquered in the late 1600s by the Suni kings from the north in Delhi. We toured many of the structures and monuments left behind from these eras. This is at Golconda Fort, a two-walled fortress structure at the top of a hill in the city.


At the Qutb Shahi Tombs–mini Taj Mahals, about 40 of them, that are currently being restored thanks to money from Shia groups across the world.


Visiting the busy markets that surround the four minareted Charminar at the center of Hyderabad’s old city. This is where thousands of Indian couples come to buy all the various things they need for an Indian wedding.


Strolling through the alleys filled with silk merchants


A lighter moment with Cassie, the Fulbright student we’ve gotten to know well as she, too, was stationed in the Pondicherry area. She left for home after the conference in Hyderabad and we miss her greatly.


Cora bought bangle for her ankle–we got them for a great price for silver, or a lousy price for plastic… either way a fine story for $5.


Holi eve night on JIPMER campus, complete with full-moon and raucous festivities!


A crazy crew of students who did a mime sketch of what boys feel like when it’s time for an arranged marriage–complete with a rather provocative honeymoon night scene and the nine-months-later appearance of a baby who looks like someone else other than the father! They’re joined by several neighborhood boys who like to photobomb most every picture taken in the area.


A student Bollywood dance number.

Temple Towns & Guitars

The past week or so has been largely dominated by two very different events: our first big trip out of Puducherry to the temple town of Tiruvannamalai, and our purchase of a guitar.

DSCN0645Our trip was exciting because we arranged and executed it all on our own. We had our driver, Moris, take us out of Puducherry and first to the 15th-18th century fort complex at Gingee/Senji where we spent about three hours hiking around the complex and up to one of the three hill-top forts that, along with 8 miles of wall, protected an area of about 4 square miles that the Brits referred to as “the Troy of the East.” DSCN0650We were there with a number of school groups which was great. An ideal hike complete with old ruins and monuments, snack vendors, monkeys, happy kids in uniforms, boisterous teenage boys, and (my personal favorite) a stylish young Muslim woman wearing a hijab adorned with the Apple Macintosh logo done in black sequins. DSCN0656


It’s important to note that despite their expressions here, the kids had both been yelling “Mom! Not so close!” right before the shutter snapped.


We were struck by how much these fort lookouts were like the ones we saw in Croatia, and how much bigger our kids are now than they were when we took their pictures in those!

          After Gingee we drove another hour to Tiruvannamalai where we had booked a hotel right next to the 11-story Annamalaiyar Temple. As it turned out, our “Deluxe Room” truly was deluxe as our rooms were on the top floor of the hotel with balconies that provided stunning views of the temple, which was less than 100 meters away.  After reading up on proper temple etiquette we journeyed out about 5:00 as the sun was going down and temperatures were cooling. The temple complex is 20 acres big and includes four huge temples so we were very glad when we ran into a state-sponsored official guide who for a very small fee led us around for the next two and a half hours. His guidance was key because without him we wouldn’t have felt comfortable going into all the various buildings and engaging all the different ceremonies that were going on. I found him fascinating because he was a truly devout Hindu, but aggressively insistent that most Hindus got lost in all the mythologies and stories and forgot the fact that there is only one true message, “You are the light.” As we asked questions about Shiva (whom the temple was dedicated to) and Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesh, and the various other manifestations of the divine, he answered our questions but constantly reminded us that those were just stories of how certain people experienced the light; that each generation and each enlightened person experienced the light differently and when they share their experience, some come to think that that is what Hinduism is, forgetting that it’s just one path. To drive his point home he went to an area where people were lighting small lamps and very respectfully asked several of them why they were lighting the lamps–what it meant. He then translated each of their responses for us, noting that all of them said different things and that none of them remembered that the flame was to remind them of the one message–that they are the light–they are one with god.


The temple at night from our hotel balcony

It was a beautiful evening, well after dark by the time our tour was done, and the sounds, smells, sculptures, and serenity of the temple were quite magical. The whole experience did make me wish that some of my own denominational members back home, who are currently dividing themselves along yet another set of ideological lines, would be able to experience the idea that our differences of expression of our devotion to God are ours, not God’s–the same is true of the divisions that those devotional differences cause.

Perhaps most rewarding about the trip, however, was the experience of coming “home.” As we pulled back into JIPMER and the car stopped in front of the Guest House and the familiar smiling guard came out to greet us, it was the first time that a part of India felt like it was where we belonged.


DSCN0743Just last week we finally traveled outside of Pondicherry. We went to an ancient Hindu temple in Tiruvannamalai, which was from the ninth century, and had tall walls and beautiful architecture. Minus the beggars we had a good time, even though we didn’t get to see the main part of the temple due to us not being Hindu, we had a good time. I still have not gotten over missing home, I miss my cats, especially Pork (Pokey, Pocahontas) even though she died about one month ago. Along with my friends, my records, and most of all fat Hannah, who has now gotten used to the people who are staying in our house. When I finally get back home I will try to convince my family to get a dog.

DSCN0620The monkeys here are not scared of humans at all; if you walk up to one it will simply look at you with an expression much like saying “what up”, and if you have bananas it will grab it from your hands, or in the case of my mom it will just cling on to the DSCN0731bananas and make loud screechy noises until you let go. Now we know to not let a monkey know when you have more than one banana. Some time in the next month I will begin helping students learn to read English in the rural areas outside of Pondicherry.


DSCN0654I suppose this entry will carry on with my usual theme, trying to find things to do that fills up my time. Well, it seems as though I’ve found something. For a while, my parents were having a bit of a problem with a woman we refer to as “the guitar lady.” Not because she was rude and certainly not because she was demanding a ridiculous price for her merchandise, but because she always told us what we wanted to hear regarding when the guitar was supposed to be shipped. We deposited our initial down-payment for the guitar about four weeks ago. When we asked when we ought to return to pick our new guitar up she, with finality, replied with a simple “tomorrow.” Now, it seems as though that wasn’t the case. So, after returning to the store eight times and leaving every time with another shower of “tomorrow”s, we decided to take our business elsewhere. (In case you were wondering, we did request our money back, to which she replied, unsurprisingly, with a “tomorrow.”) There was another music store that sold us an awesome guitar. (We didn’t realize that it had a grim reaper dude painted on the body until it was too late. I’ve actually come to like him and have started calling him Tim. Tim’s my buddy now, though some day I think I’ll put a happy smiley face sticker over him.)

This guitar isn’t spectacular by any means, but, to be fair, neither is my playing. To be honest, I never actually played a guitar until we purchased this one. For a little over an hour a day I’ve been stumbling through Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison while uncertainly singing along in the bacDSCN0781kground. Although I can’t play worth anything, I can at least say that I’m trying. What I’m really looking forward to is actually developing callouses. The tips of my left hand’s fingers are starting to acquire a pleasant maraschino cherry red that I really would rather not have the rest of my life. Hopefully, by the time I get back, I’ll be half-way decent, that’s the goal, anyway.

New Experiences

The past weeks have been a time of settling in and getting into a routine, but also a time of new experiences. We had our first 20150202_171822visitors, Jonathan and Mary Kay Larson, who stopped by as part of their multiple-month ’round the world adventure.  They both grew up in India and have spent much of their professional lives living and working around the globe so it was delightful to spend an afternoon and evening walking and talking with them as we showed off some of our favorite Puducherry sites.

20150208_163004On Sunday we made our second excursion to Paradise Beach and this time we felt like pros because we knew to instruct our auto driver to take a back way, past the normal ferry port that takes most folks to the beach, and down a little dirt road to “Le Pondy” a high-end beach resort. From there it’s a 15 minute walk throug20150208_153040h a beach-side field full of goats, cows and the folks herding them. The beach itself is an interesting experience as it’s very nice, but we’re kept away from most of the folks by guys in green shirts with whistles who blow them at us every time we drift too close. We think it’s because they think we’re from the resort and they’re keeping us on their part of the beach. Maybe.

Over the weekend the temple in the neighborhood just outside of the JIPMER campus had some sort of festival. We never did learn exactly what it was about, but it involved prayer song being broadcast across the neighborhood via dozens of h20150209_191520igh-powered speakers and the construction of huge lighted figures–Ganesh was the one nearest to our house which we were happy about because we’ve taken a shine to that elephant-headed patron of arts, sciences, intellect and wisdom, and, most wonderfully, remover of obstacles.

On Monday while Erika was at work the Kids and I went to the intentional community, Auroville, which you can read about HERE. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying utopian groups (mostly American groups from the 19th-20th centuries) I’d been looking forward to this visit since we arrived. I emailed the community several days before and one of their long-time members, Gilles Guigan, a French civil engineer who first visited Auroville in 1973 and has lived there since 1980, volunteered to show us around. He graciously spent an entire afternoon discussing Auroville with us at length, answering my many questions and giving us a detailed tour of its schools and its impressive meditation center, the golden, spherical Matrimandir which he helped build over a thirty-year period. It’s constructed in the midst of a park-like setting right next to the Banyan tree that the community was initially centered around–it’s a stunning old tree that puts down long runners from its branches that become new trunks. When we were there it was filled with parrots and little owls… it was beautifully otherworldly.

20150202_171807With only mild coercion, Cora & Isaac have also submitted blogs about these past few weeks. They’ve done amazingly well rolling with all the new things (and Isaac with a stomach bug!). We’re very proud of them because it hasn’t always been easy.



A bit of “wasting away” in our room

Finding things to fill in the long, lazy afternoons here has proven itself to be a problem for my brother and I. It’s not as though we’ve been wasting away in our guest house, nor are we lacking in new and shocking experiences, it’s just that we’ve never been in an area like this, and now that we’re here and the culture shock has ebbed away, we’re finding ourselves facing a blank canvas that we’re supposed to be filling in with experiences, and we simply don’t know where to start. Luckily for Ike and I, Mom and Dad seem to have some ideas as to where to look. Just yesterday, my dad contacted a lovely man by the name of Gilles (pronounced Zheel).

Gilles lives in Auroville, which is a vastly interesting place that seems almost too good to be true. Auroville is spread far and wide over about 20 square miles and we needed a guide, but Gilles was perfect for that job, mainly because he’s been living there since 1980 and has helped design and construct Auroville’s solar kitchen, whic20150209_161549h happens to be able to cook 1000 meals by using steam generated by a reflector 15 meters in diameter. He first sat us down at a café and told us the way it all goes down, so to speak, at Auroville. Within his briefing of Auroville, he somehow managed to weave in a brief lesson on Hinduism and a few of his various theories on how all of the local Hindu beliefs relate to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Though that was all quite fascinating, the real treat was the tour of how the schools all operated there. It was stunning. The first scho20150209_161946ol seemed to be almost entirely focused on art. All the walls were a pristine white that served as a backdrop for the students’ art. (Their artwork actually blew me away, if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was suspiciously good!) For me, the kicker was that either the classrooms had no walls, or those walls were interrupted by a strip of glass halfway down that provided an almost uninterrupted panorama view of the grounds outside. The other schools were similar, painted a light and lively color and seemed to have no set of walls meeting at a ninety degree angle anywhere.

I would describe more about our Auroville exploration, but I feel like I ought to leave the most spectacular part for my brother to describe.



The auto rickshaws we take technically seat only three people so Isaac bravely takes the side-facing front seat along with the driver… not always comfortable but he does it with grace!

India has been both strange and amazing. We have now seen most of Pondicherry in these past few weeks, and now we are ready to see the rest of India. But sadly I will be stuck doing home school for the month of February. But we seem to be going to the northern part of India, which is much more crowded, but also has more temples and tall mountains with small villages at the top of the peak. We have now officially settled into our apartment, after we solved the hot water and internet issue. We have been adventuring in the neighborhood behind our apartment; it certainly is not like the rest of Pondicherry but it has a couple good restaurants that we have gotten to know quite well.

DSCN0480The street dogs in India have strangely made me want to own a dog. Not one of those little yelpy dogs that make you want to kick something, but a nice short-haired medium sized canine, with a loving and loyal personality. And now that we have settled in, I have officially started to miss home. The snow, my friends, my records, my cats, and not being the only white family around. We took our first trip to Auroville which is a town full of highly-educated hippies and lots of locals, too. This means that the school buildings are museums, and the classes are taught by retired nuclear physicists and retired politicians with law degrees that are now teaching second grade science class. But the coolest thing in Auroville is the golden golf ball temple in the middle of a courtyard, that looks like the mall where the capital building is in Washington D.C.20150209_170619

Quick note on the “artsy” shot

Mark and I have a long-standing debate on what constitutes an artsy shot.  In my book, it’s just an object in a place (I get made fun of by the family because the shot is usually composed of things like flowers, laundry on a line, windows, the sea, and/or doorways!!) that I think are beautiful. The key thing that makes it artsy in Mark’s book is that there are no family members in it!!   He doesn’t like to take photos that don’t have people in them.  Even food plate shots have the person in them.   I had to fight to get that India post box shot into this blog!!  20150131_202900

So:   for example, Here are two “artsy” shots by me, 1) a lovely coffee that I had the other day, unintentionally chopped off at the side, made into a smiley by Cora, and 2) an unstaffed fruit stand on the seashore in Pondicherry on Republic Day weekend, when the beach was hopping.         20150125_130700

Now here we have two pics, also lovely, by Mark.  One of a flower from our courtyard, the other of chocolate with friends.  The flower shot was going to be a close-up solo shot for the flower but at the last minute Mark photobombed it with an introspective expression on his face 🙂


JIPMER Adventures: The Fulbright Begins


School of Nursing Building

So – I’m coming up on two weeks of work here at Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, a.k.a. JIPMER.


Florence statue right outside the Nursing Building


Erika’s Office

Everyone has been fantastic. Looks like the plan is to begin mainly in the College of Nursing (where I have an office) and then shift over to work with the Masters in Public Health program, housed in the Preventive & Social Medicine department across campus startingDSCN0484 in March/ April, when the students return to class after thesis writing. Aesthetically speaking, the College is lovely. Airy and light (Florence Nightingale would like it!) and full of breeze. I love it that the windows are always open. It is clean and quiet, and I am amazed at how much I can get done for my class preparation – without committees and faculty and students who actually know!


Nurse in full white uniform (hat and all) buzzing around on motorbikes–a common sight.

The College of Nursing has been great. Everyone has been extremely gracious and kind. Although I arrived in India not having a clue what I would teach beyond the most general of subjects, I should have known that the nurses would have a plan!   I am now scheduled to teach a geriatrics class to BSN and MSN students and a class on international health, also to BSN and MSN students. They suggested some lecture ideas, but I pretty much have free reign. These are two topics that I’ve had long-standing interest in, but have never had a chance to teach classes specifically about. Friday mornings I will go to Rural and Urban Health Centres (community health centers) along with several other community health nursing faculty. The director recommended wearing a sari to the clinical sites, like the students do, but my colleague convinced me that since it is so obvious that I am not from here anyway, I should instead just dress so that I feel comfortable! I agree. Saris are amazingly beautiful, and I would love to purchase one for the experience and to have some gorgeous fabric back in the States, but they also take a LONG time to learn how to wear properly. I would need a dressing assistant to properly assemble that 6 meters of cloth, and that would just be a bad idea at 0800 on a Friday morning! 20150203_183040Mark and the kids have said many things already, so I won’t add much to that. My work here feels the most normal of anything we are doing. Textbooks, shared centrally by the students, are the same ones that we use in the States, and they sit alongside of Indian and British nursing texts in the library for the students to reference.   The nursing program of study is rigorous, well-organized, and highly regulated, just like at home. The students: names switch from names like Taylor and Hayleigh over to Priya and Gracey, but otherwise they feel the same to me so far! Energetic, earnest, mostly studious J The roughly 10% of male students seem to band together, just like at home. They mostly live on campus, in a dorm called Nightingale House. Not like at home: students might stand when you walk into the classroom, they are not using laptops, iPads, or phones in class for either academic or personal reasons, and they have school 6 days a week! (There is not really the concept of a weekend here per se. Rather, Sunday is most people’s holiday day.) Oh one more thing, for the JMU folks: Some of you may know that my JMU office, Burruss Hall, is also the home of the “famous” JMU Quad cats, Jimmy and Dolly (Madison– HERE‘s more about them) He20150203_155648re we have two dogs that like to snooze outside of the College of Nursing! I have named them Jawaharlal and Edwina, after Nehru and his rumored lover. Ta ta for now! TTFN – As I write it I am thinking less of Pooh and more of new Indian things I’ve learned, like Tata motors and the lovely concept of tiffin


Artsy Shots of Pondi by Erika!

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Monkey Business

One of the things Isaac most wanted for our time in India was to see real live monkeys in the wild. We’d heard that therDSCN0557e were quite a few monkeys (macaques, actually) in the area and so we’ve been scanning the trees for them as we’ve walked through parks and other green areas, but with no luck.


A macaque jumping from the guesthouse roof to a courtyard mango tree

Today, however, as Isaac and I were starting a unit on cellular respiration for his STEM class in the dining area that looks out onto the courtyard we heard the ubiquitous crows start to go nuts. The courtyard is fairly bare on the ground–mostly just a stone-tiled patio about 30×100′ big, but it is full of fruit trees. There are three huge old mango trees, a number of high-producing papaya trees, three banana trees, a coconut tree that leans in from the neighboring yard, and a starfruit tree.  Currently both the papayas and the starfruit are ripe, and thisDSCN0553, it turns out, is irresistible to macaques.  Isaac provides the details below… I’ll just add that these turned out not to be the common Rhesus Macaques that are most prevalent (they range from the Middle East through China) but the Bonnet Macaques, which are very similar except have a tuft of hair on their heads that make them all look vaguely like their wearing bad toupees.


One of the many, many dogs living on the JIPMER campus, many of whom, like our cat Rufus back home, prefer to sleep in the middle of the street.

ISAAC:  India is hard for the first few days you’re there, but after a couple weeks the whole place feels like home. It is still hard to see all the stray animals in the street, some of the dogs just seem to roll with life.

One of my favorite things in India is the autos, in case you don’t know what an auto is, it is a 3-wheeled yellow box car that taxis peopmain-qimg-069ff1da48408a0a2ce0ad2523e68264le around Pondicherry. It seems that all the autos have a different design to them, some are in a weird bus shape, others have jacked up wheels and stereos.

One of the other awesome things in India are the cows. They can do anything they want to because they are a holy animal. They just hang out in the middle of the street, they don’t even have to worry about getting hit, because if they do the dr20150128_181252iver that hit the cow will have his car flipped and burned. It is hard to see them eating trash on the street, but they seem to be getting washed and combed by the locals.

The one thing that bothers me is the gecko that lives in our room makes strange noises in the middle of the night. It sounds like a dying Penguin. AnDSCN0520other cool thing about India are the monkeys; people said that we wouldn’t see any monkeys but this morning I was starting home school and I heard all the birds freaking out so me and dad went outside, we saw a fat monkey running up a branch. So I ran and got Cora; we saw around thirty monkeys (it turns out they’re actually Bonnet Macaques) climbing on the branches and taking mangos, taking a few bites and then chucking them at me and dad. DSCN0512We saw a monkey that was the size of a medium sized street dog jump down from the tree and grab a branch in front of me and Cora. The monkeys were peeing and licking branches.

It general it has been a crazy few weeks. I have drank more juice and eaten more Indian food than I have in my life. The people in India are very polite and smart and successful, well some of them. It has been very annoying not knowing anyone in India except Ram (the man who helped us get settled in) and this one woman from Wisconsin, Cassie, who we went to dinner with a few times. It has been boring a few times but it is a fun experience