Archive for the ‘adapting’ Category

So there are all these little experiences that I had quickly forgotten about after returning to the states. and they are quickly creeping (or blitzing) back into my consciousness.  One of these is the incessant honking here in India (and what appears to be just about everywhere in the developing world from what I can tell).  the streets here in patna are madness.  the city is not a “planned city,” or thats at least what a local told me, so its all just one big cluster f.  at any every given time, there are hundreds of bikes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, cars, SUVs, tractors, and huge multi-colored steel death trap trucks all trying to share something I would probably call a “back country road.”  the whole ‘rules of the road’ thing has been overlooked, so driving is basically this darwinian auto brawl where only the most aggressive survive.

and the patna motorist’s primary tool of aggression is the horn.  invented by the germans, this awful device is used sparingly in the states, and when it is, chances are you will strongly offend someone or elicit a middle finger.  here, the opposite.  its actually unsafe if you dont use your horn because, as the logic goes, “people wont know you’re there.”  it never ceases to amaze me how indians can just tune them out.  i’m nearly certain that i will lose my hearing at least 5 years earlier than i otherwise would have, and i’ve only been here 2 weeks. i’m even contemplating wearing those earphones that are usually reserved for people who hang out on airport tarmacs.

patna gridlock

patna gridlock

in fact, i think it would make more sense and just be easier on everyone if steering wheels just had a button that stops the horn from making a loud and blaring noise when you press it.  this would definitely save some effort for the driver.

and dont even get me started on those big colorful steel-clad truck horns.  whoever was the engineer that designed those things should be sentenced to an eternal life of vuvuzelas.  they let out this shrill jingle that is supposed to sound musical i guess, but mostly resembles a 20-ton steel pterodactyl swooping down to eat you, only he’s using a megaphone.  and they are EVERYWHERE.  i still jump everytime one starts blaring behind me.

the primary offenders

the primary offenders

but despite my horn sensitivities, i am pretty sure i have a million-dollar idea.  write this down:  i think it would be a really good idea to create a new breed of horns for indian drivers.  i would call it a for-realsies horn, and it would be used how a horn is used back in the states.  but for it to work, it will need to be powered by a jet engine and operate at unprecedented sonic frequencies.  like the type of stuff that gets invented in switzerland 300 feet below the ground in concrete tunnels.  anyway, the for-realsies horn will probably make things worse and create a nation of 1 billion deaf people, but by that time i’ll be gone. and rich.


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similar to my alter-ego that seemed to be of interest to people before, times square brian, i think i’ve discovered a new self in the last year or so.  his name is south asian brain.

after spending aroundish 5 months in Sri Lanka and now arriving to the Indian state of Bihar, i’m racking up my south asian experience.  and an alter-ego is emerging.

the letter combination i-a doesn’t seem to really exist in the languages across this region, whereas a-i is very popular.  upon following up on the matter, i was told in hindi, there IS no sound for i-a, its simply a-y, or something….

so basically this grammar lesson is the reason that nearly everyone here calls me “Brain” instead of brian.  it has always happened when people type it and mix up the keys, but i started noticing it more than a few times in sri lanka when it was “brain, brain, brain.” so i’ve come to embrace it.

south asian brain has a few idiosyncracies not shared with north american brian.  for one he wakes up much earlier than normal.  I’m always awake by 6:30 or 7:00 here and have trouble falling back asleep if I try.  and those who know me can attest, I enjoy sleeping, and have never been what the pundits like to call a “morning person.”

burping: burping is totally acceptable and almost expected here.  its not impolite, rude, or offensive.  its simply not noticed.  to burp mid-sentence in a meeting would be completely acceptable.  so in the spirit of cultural learning, i’m trying to burp in public as much as possible.

hand eating…as mentioned in the SL days, cutlery is pretty absent round these parts.  i made the cultural mistake the first time around of eating with my left hand (lefties are persecuted in many parts of the world and forbidden to let their true awesomeness shine – its a cause i’m passionate about), which is viewed as very odd and slightly gross (think of the hand you use to wipe with)……so i’m starting anew here and learning to do it with the right hand.  its not pretty, but its my life.  whenever i’m eating with my hands, all eyes immediately start watching the spectacle with great entertainment.

I’m sure there are other little aspects to my south asian brain existence i’m not even noticing at this point. i’ll continue to keep updates coming as i notice them.



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aaaand moving along with the hands theme, i had some real difficulties when i first arrived to sri lanka and moved into my apartment.  obviously its pretty hot here.  also, i’m not being paid a six figure salary by kiva so naturally coming by AC for me is a rarity.  so my primary means of cooling, or sweat damage control, is by overhead ceiling fans.  they are ubiquitous in sri lanka, in every office and apartment, constantly humming away. (more…)

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[from the fellows blog]

Well it’s about time I joined in on the fun.  It seems to be a rite of passage for fellows stationed in the tropics.  When regularly consuming the fellows blog as an eager Kiva Fellow applicant, I seemed to often come across many of the “malaria! ugh!” or “a trip to the hospital in Kenya…” genre of blog posts from prior fellows succumbing to the fun and lovely illnesses that are new to many westerners in exotic locations.  It almost seems clichéd to write a KF blog entry about a trip to the hospital, but maybe its just an elite club that I should feel honored to be a part of, who knows.  Either way, after a sturdily powering my way through a healthy KF9 fellowship in Armenia sans frostbite, I was feeling pretty invincible as I arrived to Sri Lanka.  And it only took a week before I was served a healthy dose of humble pie when I could barely move from my bed one morning.  Six days later, I was still in the hospital.  Who knew humble pie is flavored like Sri Lankan rice and curry? (more…)

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map of the SRI

I apologize for the awfully-punned title but I really couldn’t resist.  Coming down from a humidity-induced fog, I can’t be expected to think clearly or use proper blog-titling judgment at this point.  I’m writing this post from beautiful Colombo, Sri Lanka, as I look out the door to a coconut tree from the head offices of brand new Kiva partner, BRAC Sri Lanka.  Not only is BRAC Sri Lanka a brand new Kiva partner, but so is this teardrop-shaped island nation of Sri Lanka.  I have the privilege of serving as a Kiva Fellow in the class of KF10 to help bring this partnership online and posting loans from across the country so lenders can learn a bit more about this fascinating South Asian nation while funding local businesses.

Sri Lanka is an interesting country for Kiva.  Like several other countries across the world, the central bank imposes certain requirements about funds entering and exiting the country.  So the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is taking a chance on Kiva by granting the ability to work in the country under the conditions that BRAC Sri Lanka borrowers on Kiva are: below the Sri Lankan poverty line, receiving a reduced interest rate from BRAC, and that funds wired from Kiva must stay in the country for at least 12 months.  So this can complicate things a bit.  However, due to Kiva’s net billing model, lenders can receive their repayments as BRAC Sri Lanka continues to fund loans in excess of their repayments due.

The BRAC SL office with aforementioned coconut tree

Basically (more…)

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i was warned before I came here that the mail could be very unreliable in armenia.  i was told that things could get held up in customs, take months, or just not arrive at all.  these words of warning all sounded like old wive’s tales to me, and I had a few very eager people in the states (ok just my mom, but whatever) to send me something from home.

so i decided to risk it and let them try and send me a package.  well its turning out to have been a big mistake.  said package was sent on something like november 16th and there is still no sign that it has arrived in the country.  i’ve gone to the post office at least 3 times (with an armenian to help) and they love to say

“no we dont have a package.”

“well can you look?”

“if we get a package we will deliver it to you”

ohhhh ok, so thats how the mail works?! thanks for describing how the process should happen.  acknowledging otherwise would be ludicrous, so helping must be out of the question.  so to go one step higher we decided to try and pursue the customs office, which apparently isnt able to communicate with the post office, or at least according to the helpful post office man who told us he couldn’t check with them.

So we called customs.  the first couple times they didnt answer.  next day, we tried again.  they gave us a number.  ok, we tried that number. another number. another number. and another.  seriously, at the end of this we had 6 telephone numbers written on the piece of paper, and at the end of the chain……surprise surprise, no answer.  What do these 6 different people do?

I probably sound like a whiny westerner complaining about this, as this isn’t uncommon in most of the world.  And i knew that going in, but i really thought it would at least arrive, if even a month or so late.  and i continue to maintain hope (take that obama!), that it will arrive before I depart from the land of stones….

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[Disclaimer: I am probably making it sound like all I do here is drink vodka with the copious references to the friendly clear fermented-potato substance.  but it really is a big part of the culture here.  and after all i’m going for that whole immersion thang.  but i promise i’m helping to spread some microfinance too, even if it does involve tasting a borrower’s varietals of moonshine mulberry vodka. seriously.]

So 11 days after commencing, Armenian New Year’s is officially over.  I feel so discombobulated and and confused that I dont know what day it is or if I will ever be able to weigh less than 263 lbs again.

The new year here is a big celebration.  Its family oriented, involves lots of visits to friends/neighbors/relatives and lasts for a week.  New Years Eve is usually spent with family, and, like most Armenian celebrations involves a table packed from edge to edge with all kinds of tasty foods and booze.  In the center is the horovatz (grilled pork) with all kinds of cheeses, dried cured meats, veggies, and often cakes.  I dont know how these families do it because they basically have to be on call for visitors for 11 straight days while anyone can show up at anytime and the table gets loaded up and feasting and drinking recommences.  Everything in the city shuts down (president’s orders – where were you on that one OBAMA?!?) and you can get arrested by the cops if you dont have proof that you’ve gained at least 15 lbs.

12:01 new years at the square....

I was lucky enough to get to experience several different families’ new years.  NYE itself involved hanging out with a fellow group of international orphans at a friend’s apartment, then going down to the central square to see the fireworks, followed by an indeterminate amount of hours at the bar.  And that was day 1 of 11.  The following days were a tour de table of different friends and families, each of which constantly had a table full of meat/cheese/greens/booze on standby for any potentially arriving visitors.  At each stop copious amounts of Horovats (bbq’d pork and always the centerpiece of the table) was consumed with lavash (national bread, like a tortilla with bounce), all kinds of cured meats (I find pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted cured meats), greens (parsley again, dominates every bite), with lots of wine & vodka with thoughtful toasts to family and friends.  At one point I tried a jug of tasty homemade Georgian wine.  At another I had a delicious banana cake.  Also some delicious dolma, accompanied with yogurt sauce.  On Armenian Christmas itself (Jan 5th into 6th) I was invited to a good friend and co-workers to eat with her family.

Her younger brother and his 3 friends were very intrigued having an American at the table.  Basically I was treated as a pet tamagachi, and the boozing got taken up a notch or five.  It was kind of like those house parties when a bunch of idiots think it’s a good idea to try and get the cat or dog drunk, that’s a little bit how it worked….”yaa lets make the American drink a shot every 3 minutes!!!” However, as a stand for all the dogs and cats out there I decided I was not to be shown up.  I kept shoveling food in my mouth between every shot and lasted lasted lasted until the 19 year-old ringleader eventually started to slow down a bit.  Somehow I survived until they got bored and moved to the couch.  Victory, America.  I was so proud of myself, I had passed the official Armenian booze test.  Next stop, Russia.

All in all the New Years break was a whirlwind of barbecued meat and celebrations with friends and their families.  It was great to experience the holidays overseas in such an authentic and traditional way.  Plus it was a ton of fun, too.  While I don’t think I’ll let myself accidentally miss Christmas/New Year’s at home next year, this one will definitely always stand out as a great memory…….The Christmas/New Year’s that lasted 11 days and when I lost my six pack.  I’m gonna have to really start pounding my core again.


kaaaa boom

one of the many new years table spreads

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