Sunday, August 28, 2011

Long Time, No Blog...

Dear All,

It is safe to say that I have not been blogging for quite a while. This is obvious... however, I want to make amends! I will start by describing some of the details of my life in general and then, if I have time, I will go into some of the trips that I have made lately.

These days there are only 4 interns around. When I first arrived there were around 9 or 10. Next week there will only be three while one of us goes on a trip to Thailand. This is an odd window of time. It's even more odd because some of the staff members that I am close to are temporarily gone as well. For example, my dear friend Neenu is on a trip to the U.S.  
Here is a picture of Neenu looking sad (I don't know why she looks so sad, but apparently Kristen finds it funny). She and Kristen are baking an apple pie for Neenu’s going away party. This pie was DELICIOUS and the first American style pastry I have had in months. It was a nice departure from many Indian pastries which can be a little too sweet for me sometimes. One of my favorite Indian sweets is gulab jamun, which is balls of dough soaked in sugar syrup. Delicious? Yes. Very very sweet? Double yes.
Anyways, we are getting a new batch of interns in the fall. For the time being I am just trotting along and trying to enjoy my last few months. I am already feeling excited, sad, and nervous about going home in late-November or early December. It is just bizarre how quickly time can pass. 

Lately I have been playing quite a bit of badminton. I am lucky because I get to play nearly every day during my lunch hour. Right now I am the only guy from a country that doesn't really play commonwealth sports like cricket, rugby, badminton, and field hockey (my roommate and boss are from New Zealand, our legal fellow is British, and the rest are Indian)... this means that I have been forced to learn new sports. So, badminton has been my current project.  It is odd when I first started because I didn't care for it much. I thought it was too... "aristocratic." However, it has become something that I use to keep me sane and I would even go as far to say that I am addicted to playing it. If I am ever feeling frustrated or annoyed I get a really strong urge to go play badminton and it really straightens me out. I'm still the worst out of the people who play, but I've been improving. The courts are in a hangar-like building (pictured below) that works like a greenhouse in trapping heat, so I always come back to work soaked in sweat and voraciously hungry. 


Here are some pictures of things I experience fairly routinely:
This is me and Tender Coconut Man and we have had a complicated relationship... one week he gives me a free coconut and the next he tries to cheat me. Oh, why's it gotta be like that Tender Coconut Man?!?
Heck Yes! I went home in May for my brother's wedding and came back with Settlers of Catan… and heck yes I would have won this game if I didn’t hoard my bountiful resources like a dragon.
I grew a beard! It was gloriously manly. It made me feel so manly I thought of challenging entire packs of (probably rabid)stray dogs to death-matches. Luckily I never did. When I shaved it off and got a haircut I got a famous Indian-style head massage from my local barber. Well, I don’t actually know if it is particularly Indian, but I’ve never heard of paying for someone to literally beat your head with their palms and fists for 10 minutes. Last time I got a headache… but it hurts so good... Additionally, communicating what I want my haircut to look like is difficult so I mostly just say "short sides, long top" and hope that my haircut turns out alright. It’s like Russian roulette, but instead of a bullet I get a bad haircut.
This picture represents an average sidewalk here. Uneven, covered with garbage, and sometimes inhabited by cows. I saw this on my way to the office this afternoon.  The little buddy in the photo was being shy and looked away when I took the photo.
There are buildings springing up everywhere here. India is definitely changing quickly. It’s hard to see from here, but notice how a combination of stick and metal bars are used  to prop up the top story... Also, notice the small Christian church near the auto-rickshaw. There are many of these small churches around the area. 

This is a photo of me at my desk with my “mouche.” At least three of my female co-workers said that it was “manly” with complete seriousness and several male co-workers gave me legitimate compliments on how much they liked it. Fashion is definitely different here. It's funny to me when I think of how people back home would say certain unsavory things about my mustache... rude.
Here's a picture of Casey and I dancing. So fun. For his going away party 4 drummers showed up with a flute player... It was LOUD. About 10 minutes after this photo was taken I was outside being thoroughly yelled at by my landlord's son. I don't think I'd ever been yelled at like that before. I was so embarrassed. Apparently I was bright red for about an hour after. The next day I brought my landlord cake to apologize and he told me that it wasn't really a problem... it's just that the band was playing funeral music. Oopsies!
 Since being in India I have become rather... fruit obsessed... Here is the fruit I currently find in my kitchen (from left to right): Pomegranate, sweet lime, custard apple, and papaya. Due to my fixation, I am quite displeased to announce that mango season has been official over for several weeks now.
video
 I am tired now. So I will stop. Unfortunately I didn't get to post any of the photos from my recent trips to Hampi, Chennai, or Mysore... Please don't cry! To help ease the pain I'll post this last video that shows what a street near my house is like. The tall white building is a mosque and I captured it during the call to prayer.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Latest Rambling Blog Entry from your Favorite Brady Nordstrom


February 17, 2011

So, here we go again. I figure that it is about time that I write another entry. Today marks my first month in India. Time surely flies. Many things have happened since I last wrote... I now am rated 7/10 on my hand-eating abilities (as told today at work), I now have an apartment with my Kiwi friend Troy (we moved in 3 or so days ago), I have learned two phrases in Tamil (“have you bathed?” and “I am going to study”... very impressive, no?), I can now barter with an auto driver with very little timidity (I might even go as far as to say confidence!), my (now less) delicate digestive system has pretty much adjusted to spicy Indian cuisine (still waiting for what is apparently an inevitable battle with food poisoning though), I have learned that if you posture your body right while walking (I like to imagine that I’m pissed off and ready to punch a dog in the face) you can pretty much go right through a pack of stray dogs with few problems (although I saw a man the other day who had to pick up a huge rock to scare them away), and I have even learned how to barter with furniture dealers on crowed, dusty streets by cutting out any words that might confuse them (“How long will it take you to put the cushions on these chairs” becomes “how much time... cushion on chair” ...while pointing, of course). 

I am far from being an expert (... although I can say two whole phrases in Tamil...), but many of the things that originally surprised me have begun to become expected. In general, I have begun to exit a stage where I was habitually in thought about what was happening, and have begun (slowly, of course) to get into the habit of just living. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing.

To mention one particular account before I end this entry, I went on a work retreat a few weeks ago in a place called Coorg. We were on a plantation next to a river. It was a very peaceful time where I got to go swimming in the river, play my guitar, and drink tea (and watered down black coffee which you have to special order). I took a short walk with two friends from Kerala (a neighboring state to Karnataka) and they showed me how to pop the pit of a coffee berry into my mouth. It was subtly sweet, but delicious none-the-less. The bus ride to the resort and back was so bumpy that you would get popped into the air every minute or two and standing without being thrust forward or backward was a serious challenge. Somehow a big group of us managed to play charades for almost 3 hours straight... mostly to keep our minds off the bumps. I just remember laughing.The son of my co-worker called me uncle, which is a common term for older people in India, on the bus ride. That was my first time being called that. I don’t know why it stands out so much. In any case, I look back on the weekend with warmth. It was a nice break from learning my new job, which I am just now starting to get the hang of. I am relieved that it is starting to click because I want to be useful to this organization that I am here to serve.

Many interesting things have been happening that I don’t have the opportunity to mention here, but I think that I will have something more substantial to write after this weekend when I get back from a trip to Hampi (which is apparently an historical site that houses an ancient Hindu temple) with some of my fellow interns. I will be a full-fledged tourist there so you can finally expect some pictures! 

Thank you all for your support and prayers.

Peace and Hope,

Brady Nordstrom

Monday, January 24, 2011

First Week in India


1/23/11 and 1/24/11 (written through two days)

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This is my attempt at a blog entry. I wonder how I'll do.

So far, my experience has been different than I thought, yet within my expectations. As I am finding more and more, being an expat in Bangalore doesn’t illicit as many stares as I though it would. There are apparently many and it isn’t all that unusual to see them in the city. There are also many western amenities (for example, as I write now I am in a western style coffee shop called Barista and I’m drinking espresso. The woman in front of me is wearing jeans and her man-friend is wearing shorts (!)—something I heard didn’t happen very often in India). I suppose I’m finding that generalizations here don’t usually work. I constantly see exceptions to the rules I try to make in my head.
I feel that I must add that even though there are lots of western influences, Bangalore is unlike any place I have been to before. I see cows roaming the streets (skinny and docile) and the streets smell of the smoke from burning garbage and leaves. There is constantly noise—peddlers yelling in the morning as they sell their vegetable, children laughing, cars honking (perhaps the most common noise I hear), and dogs barking.
The first day I was here (slightly more jetlagged than now), I took a wrong turn on my way to an ATM (to pay for my spicy lunch, which provided much entertainment to one of my Indian coworkers when I turned bright red, had tears streaming down my face, and could barely talk without coughing) and I ran into a pack of bony feral dogs (another sight that is not unusual). They looked so nice laying in the shade to avoid the mid-day sun. That is until I walked into their territory.
Well, the dogs started growling and barking at me. Some started circling. I heard from some people that these dogs were really quite timid and that I just had to assert myself and show them that I’m not afraid. I charged. After a moment of retreat they came back even closer than before. Great advice. Luckily a little boy of around 7 years old was playing by a nearby pile of garbage (which needs to be another blog entry in itself) and noticed my rather tenuous situation and came to shoe the dogs away. I thanked him thoroughly and he bowed while waving his arm in a circle. Saved by a kid. Travel makes me humble.
I have also taken my first ride in an auto rickshaw last night-- very standard here, but new for me. I really like them so far. Anyways, the autos seem to be just like I’ve heard they would be: NUTS. This seems pretty stereotypical of me to say but I have to say it: they speed along and cut in and out of traffic, occasional they weave into oncoming traffic... overall though I expected this and already feel (semi) at ease in them. I’m much more afraid to get ripped off by one of the drivers than I am to ride in them.
Luckily, however, I have been with someone each time who knows how to barter for fares. There is technically a meter rate, but the auto drivers like to inflate the price because (as our light faces tell them) we are from out of town. You have to say things like “that’s way too much! It’s just right over there! We’ll find someone else,” while waving your arms in the air and then walk away. Drivers almost always wave you back and lower their price if you do this—at least from my experience so far. My test will come soon when I am alone.
I’ve been noticing that being white here is a bit of a liability during financial transactions with some (especially since my friend Troy and I are looking for an apartment to rent... they landlords or brokers often ask where we are from BEFORE they give us the price)... although there are many honest people about nonetheless. The national staff, for example, has already proven to be absolutely kind, gracious, and helpful in every way. I really look forward to getting to know them more as time goes on.

On that note, I am excited to get into the work I will be doing. There’s a great need for this work and I am honored to get the opportunity to contribute. I have a lot to learn though and hope I can be useful to the staff here... they have already taken such an interest in me... the first day I was in the office many took a half an hour or more out of their work day to talk to me and make me feel comfortable. Today two of the staff took me to get my first coconut drink. There are these stands by the side of the rode where a man with a machete opens a hole in the top and you drink the milk through a straw. Very delicious (and healthy!). I keep finding it odd that something so normal to the people here can be so foreign to me. People are people no matter where you go or who you meet, but I’m finding that the particulars of day to day life can be radically different. I’ve got lots to learn.

Well, I gotta go now. My coffee’s gone and my jet lag is starting to kick in again... it’s only 6:30 PM! So much more to say and I’m so excited for what’s to come... and even for right now at this very moment. I continually have to remind myself to trust in what I don’t understand. 

With love (or something like that),
Brady

Training Week (January 10th to 14th)

I'm posting this one a bit later than when I wrote it (it's now the 24th of January). I was writing this entry about training week from January 10-14, 2011 while I was on the plane to India. Uncertainty fomented feelings of anxiousness while electrical excitement surged through my mind constantly.

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January 18, 2011 – Somewhere Over Hudson Bay, En Route to London.

“It was already getting quite dark, and he felt almost frightened; something
 new was growing in him which he would have been unable to explain.”
-Dostoevsky from The Brothers Karamazov


 
I think that all of us want our lives to be like stories. They help us understand the events in our lives through an anthropomorphic lens. The incomprehensible becomes almost familiar, comforting even. A story has an arch and we sit somewhere on that arch, waiting to find out exactly where we sit. The middle? The beginning? The end? What’s our story about? Do we have a transformation awaiting us that will justify all our mistakes and strivings? Or is this just wishful thinking—romanticizing the absurdities that we find at every street corner?


I won't attempt to answer that now, but I will start this entry with my reflections about training week.

First of all, I must say that training week was an affirmation for me. Meeting the interns and staff and seeing the workings of this organization in Washington DC was refreshing. There was a lot of energy and excitement for the work and I found a sincerity in the people I talked to.

 I was also greatly encouraged by my host family. They were a couple that lived and worked on Capitol Hill in DC and were very kind to me throughout my stay. I would walk from their house to the metro stop every morning in my new suit and pea coat. I always felt so “professional.” Having never held a position before where I had to shave or dress in a suit I felt pretty sharp. I would walk out the door into the freezing streets with an orange in my hand and a scarf around my neck. At the end of the week they drove me to all of the main sights in the area before my flight back to Seattle. I got the typical but necessary picture in front of the white house and saw the library of congress. From afar I saw the congress building and the many memorials to past wars and presidents.

I found the metro to be very interesting and felt like a pro by the end of the week. Two things I noticed:
1.) Move quickly and do not get in the way of people. They’re in a hurry.
2.) When someone sits down next to you do not make eye contact, or even acknowledge their existence (otherwise I might blow my cover and seem like a tourist?)

I was fighting a cold for most of the week, but I never let it get to the point where I was distracted. Advil and lots of water did the trick. I actually found that while fighting a cold (with a sinus infection), and having to walk considerable distances in my ankle boot forced me to gradually let go of the things that I couldn’t control. This is a lesson I will have to re-learn shortly, however, because I seem to forget it all the time.

By the end of the week I felt an oddly strong camaraderie with the other interns and fellows and learned a lot through my conversations with them. I think it might be that we all have similar interests and that we are all doing something uncomfortable and new.

After coming home to Seattle for a few days to regroup I am now off again. I look forward to what awaits me when I get off this plane. Even though I expect to face some difficulties, it’s hard to express how thankful I am for this opportunity to go and serve and learn. The biggest thing I took away from last week is to trust that I am in the right place and that I will have provision (in whatever form it takes). This might end up being a strong theme during my entire trip.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Getting Ready

[I now have about a month before I depart and thought that this would be a good time to start blogging. I decided to open up with my fundraising letter. It talks about what I will be doing, why I feel so compelled to do it, what my needs are, and how you can help. Thanks for reading!]


Dear All,

As some of you may already know, my life is undergoing a radical shift. This January, I will be departing for South Asia to work for the oppressed with a legal human rights agency. I am truly and sincerely grateful for this opportunity and it represents the culmination of years of introspection and endeavor.

It has only been in this last chapter of my life that I have become aware of the problems that this organization seeks to alleviate: slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. Although there is nearly unanimous international condemnation of these atrocities, they unabashedly continue due to overburdened judicial systems, indifference, and unimaginable poverty. To cite just one example, while many act as though slavery is a past problem, it is estimated that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today. There is an overwhelming and disheartening pattern in the developing world where oppressors prevail. I am telling you that this doesn’t have to be the case. Human suffering and dehumanization don’t have to be normal—we can take realistic and effective action to shift this pattern.

This agency secures justice for these victims in very tangible ways. I, personally, will work in an office that focuses on bonded labor—a form of slavery that results when people are sold to pay off debts. Too often these debts only increase due to exorbitant interest rates that are impossible to pay off. Long hours are spent toiling under the threats, intimidations, and physical beatings of their debtors for little or no gain. Sometimes generations of families are held under an initial debt on farms, brick kilns, stone quarries, factories, or rice mills. This is not only illegal according to national law and numerous international laws, but it is a violation of something deeply human. Spiritually, rationally, and emotionally it affronts our humanity. These people have a dignity that is oppressed and denied.

It is undeniable that human lives in their vast multiplicity are intermingled—we are connected. As we ourselves struggle with physical pain, doubt, disability, loneliness, or hate we can make decisions to help others transcend their dark places. We can remember those who are mistreated as if we ourselves are suffering. What it comes down to are our choices, and while this might seem very abstract and perhaps idealistic this is the very choice that confronts us all. The people that this NGO helps are in situations where hope is never provided unless they are enabled. Other people must act and make sacrifices on their behalf—people must advocate for them. My part is small and I do not claim to be righteous or strong but I am choosing to take a step now that often scares me, excites me, and confounds me.

I would love to have a chat with you about this new step in my life. I also have ongoing financial needs and if you have a heart to help then please contact me. My e-mail is brady.a.nordstrom@gmail.com. In any case, I look forward to sharing this new endeavor with you.

Peace and Hope,

Brady Nordstrom