I often take for granted the interconnectivity of our world. I don’t think twice about how easy it is to communicate with others, no matter how large the physical gap may be. As sad as my family was to say goodbye to my brother yesterday, within 8 hours, he had landed in England and called us to let us know that everything had gone smoothly. When I learn about colonial America at school, the long, arduous, painful journey is explicitly described in the textbook. It took individuals over 2 months to cross the Atlantic and make it to the eastern coast of America. Now with a single flight, one can travel from Midwest America to London in just 8 hours. Communication efficiency has also greatly increased. Instead of having to wait months to get a hand-written letter from my brother, letting us know everything is alright, we found out minutes after he had landed. With iphones, FaceTime allows us to communicate with one another face to face. As sad as I was to say goodbye to my brother, I appreciate the technologies available in our day and age. Any time I miss my brother, I can just pick up a phone and call, FaceTime, or Snapchat him to stay in touch.
Staying true to the title of the blog, I will take you on a trip with me. Our journey will be dropping my brother off at the airport. As I briefly mentioned in the previous blog post, my brother Sanjay is studying abroad this year in London. Last March when he got his acceptance letter into the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, my family, and more specifically my brother, was elated. However September 27th seemed ages away. As always, time gets away from us, so earlier this week when my brother began packing for the upcoming year, I couldn’t help but feel cheated by the amount of time I got to spend with my brother.
The week leading up to Sanjay’s departure seemed like a prolonged festival at my house. Every day I would come home from school to a house redolent of another one of my brother’s favorite dishes. He was pampered in every possible way. My mom even agreed to let the two of us carry out our tradition of watch a Harry Potter movie together, on a school night.
The night before my brother left, we all went to Biaggi’s, an Italian restaurant, as per my brother’s request. While conversation was smooth and effortless as always, there was a slight hint of angst in the air. As much fun as we were having, each of us knew the dinner and recent specialties were all in anticipation of having to say farewell to Sanjay the next day. Unlike many farewells in the past, this wasn’t for a week or even a month, we won’t see him in person till next spring.
As soon as our food arrived we jumped in, relishing each bite. Sanjay went for seared scallops over a risotto, my dad got baked ziti, and my mom and I shared a classic four cheese ravioli laid on a bed of marinara sauce and covered in a creamy pesto sauce. About half way through our meal we were interrupted by a call from Sanjay’s flying agent. She informed us that a fire in the control center at the Chicago airport was interfering with several flights. Over a 1000 flights had been canceled and she asked us to check on Sanjay’s flight to ensure that his flight would travel as planned. While we were slightly alarmed but we didn’t think Sanjay’s flight would be effected by the fire.
Later that night Sanjay attempted to check-in online. The original plan for Sanjay was to fly from our hometown to Chicago, and from there straight to London. It was only when he checked in that we realized that the flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago had been canceled. The second leg of Sanjay’s flight from Chicago to London was still scheduled to leave O’Hare airport at 7 pm the following day. Thus we had to make the spontaneous decision to drive 4 hours to Chicago the next morning.
After getting all of Sanjay’s luggage in the car the following morning, we set out on our mini road trip to Chicago. Despite this seeming inconvenience, everyone was secretly glad for the extra time we would get to spend with each other. When we arrived at the airport, news vans were stationed outside, continuing to get details about the fire and families all around us were saying their last goodbyes as their loved ones entered security and left for their own journey. After getting Sanjay’s bags checked in, we dallied at the entrance to the security line not wanting to say our final farewell. At 5pm Sanjay really needed to get going so finally all of us hugged and let Sanjay go. My mom, dad, and I hovered at the end of the line, waving to Sanjay till we could no longer see him.
As sad as we were, there was an element of excitement. Sanjay is about to get the experience of a lifetime and so of course we are happy for him. As hard as goodbyes can be, we just need to be optimistic and think about the next chance we will get to see Sanjay.
In lieu of my brother leaving for London this week and my current topic of study in AP United States History, this post will be all about England. Over the course of my schooling every one of my history classes has emphasized the role of English imperial rule in the development of the country. Growing up in India, I was constantly reminded of the impact that Britain had on the development of India. The large territory divided into many nations finally came together during British rule, unified by a common cause. British rule also aided the development of infrastructure like railroads. On the other hand, English rulers also abused Indian workers and placed steep taxes on the already-struggling farmers. As we learned about the imperial rule, I was taught to revere famous leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and follow their main principle of non-violence. I grew up watching historical movies, including Lagaan, which demonstrated the hardships that individuals faced during British rule.
When my family moved to America, despite all the changes, one thing remained static: the topic of British rule in my history classes. Starting with the first colonies and ending at the revolutionary war, England has been omnipresent in American history. In elementary school we did various simulations revolving around the colonial era. I specifically remember reenacting the Boston Tea Party. During lunch everyone on our class bought chocolate milk. We then went outside and dumped it into the ‘ocean’. In middle school we wrote DBQs focusing on the triangular trade. Now finally in high school I am taking a U.S. History course. The first five chapters have focused on the development of early colonies and the discord of British rule. Now that we have already spent over 10 years learning about the basics of British rule we are delving into the specific acts, rebellions, and disputes like the Townshend Acts, the formation of the Continental Congress, etc.
Although I have learned about England all my life, it has always appeared to me as a faraway land; one that despite my ancestors connection, seems highly unrelated to my life today. This opinion of mine has recently changed. My brother, who is entering his junior year of college is studying abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. When he left for school yesterday, it finally hit me that our world is highly interconnected. England finally seems a little closer and more impactful in my life.
The Onam celebrations of last weekend, reminded me of my trips to India. After returning home, I sat in my room and had a flashback to two years ago when we had gone to my grandmother’s house in Kerala, India …
Mesmerized, I watched the torrent outside. It was a busy and typical day. In the kitchen I hear the clatter of pots, as an aromatic, traditional, Kerala meal is being made. In the living room I hear the blaring T.V. playing its endless soap operas and their dramatic music. And as always, the excited chatter of a family playing cards. The clutter and chaos comfort me, as it reminds me that I am surrounded by my loving family. In the distance, I hear my grandmother calling, “Mola ninaki veshakanundo ( Are you hungry)”? Followed by warm smells of home cooked food drifting up to my nose. My younger cousin sits next to me, paying little attention to the monsoon rains or the bustle of a typical day in Kerala, India. Accustomed to this lifestyle, she draws my attention away from the window and takes me to the dining table. There, we all crowd around and devour the appam and egg curry (this is a typical breakfast where a rice cake is served with a curry made up of hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, and caramelized onions). After eating till my stomach is about to burst, we take a quick trip to a local grocery store, where I get a chance to practice my Malayalam (the local language) as I buy milk for the morning round of coffee and tea. Once the coffee is prepared we all sit on the couches in the living room and let conversation flow. It often switches back and forth between Malayalam and English and I gaily participate, trying to catch a few Malayalam bits here and there.
Suddenly, a crash of thunder and a bolt of lightning, bring me back from my flashback. I laughed to myself at how the little things connect the two worlds. For a moment I felt as though I was back in Kerala with the rain.
Despite the physical distance between India and America, cultural traditions hold strong. Last weekend, the local community center transformed into Kerala, India. At least from 10 – 3, it felt as though I was amongst my extended family in our hometown of Cochin, in a culture entirely different from where I currently live. The decorations, smells, and clothing all reflected the typical culture of this south-Indian state. Over 40 families came together to celebrate Onam.
I woke up on Saturday morning excited for the upcoming day. I got ready and put on the traditional Kerala outfit, a long white skirt with a gold border, and a colored blouse. My hair was placed in a simple half-pony, with jasmine flowers pinned in as well. My mom and I drove to the building, where the celebration would be held (my dad and brother had left much earlier to help set up). As soon as we entered, I realized that the day would be just like my faint memories of Onam in Kerala. There was a beautifully designed pookalum in the corner with a golden lamp next to it; women were hustling around in the back kitchen, organizing the various food items brought by each family; traditional Kerala music was playing in the back ground; I truly felt as if I had entered Kerala during the Onam festivities.
As I talked with my friends, frequently switching between English and various Indian languages, I looked around for my dad who should have already been there. Finally I found him back-stage dressed as King Mahabali. I have to say it was a bit of shock seeing my dad in a fake mustache and crown with the typical outfit of a Keralite man. After getting pictures with my transformed dad, the programs began. As a dancer, I performed a dance in the classical Indian Dance style of Kuchipudi, and I learned a traditional Keralite folk dance to perform at the celebration. I really enjoyed the piece because it gave me a taste for my own cultural heritage. Apart from my dance, I got to hear various traditional songs and stories describing the importance of this festival.
Once the programs had finished, it was time for the long-awaited Onam Sadya. Banana leaves were set on tables and people walked around with the various food items, serving those who were eating. I ate to my heart’s content getting seconds and thirds for most of the food. The food, in my mind, really brought the celebration together. The various flavors in my mouth reminded me of my visits to my grandmother’s house in India and the joy of being surrounded by my family and those I love.
Heritage and traditions stick with individuals long after they leave their home. Even those who have moved to an entirely different country, continue their celebrations to get a feeling of their true home. So no matter where you are, you can get the traveling experience by attending festivities of various cultures and countries. To all of you who celebrate this festival, happy Onam!
Onam is one of the biggest religious festivals celebrated in Kerala, India and is based on Hindu mythology. As story goes, there once lived a great king, Mahabali, who owned a large kingdom in what is today known as Kerala (a south-Indian state). He was revered by the people of the kingdom because of his kindness gentleness, and generosity. King Mahabali’s growing popularity made the gods fear that they would no longer being admired and worshiped by the people of the kingdom. This drove the gods to approach Lord Vishnu (one of the three main Gods in Hinduism). As the only god able to change form, or incarnations, Lord Vishnu entered Mahabali’s kingdom as a small midget, named Vamana, with one seemingly small wish. In the form of this small man, Lord Vishnu approached the king and asked him for three steps of land. The king, deceived by the size of the midget, gladly agreed. Lord Vishnu then grew immensely in size. He made his first step earth, his second step the sky/heave, and then asked the king where his third step should be placed. The honorable king, knowing that a third step on earth would destroy the universe, and wanting to stay true to his word, bowed in front of the god and asked Lord Vishnu to place his third step on his own head. Lord Vishnu then pushed King Mahabali into the ground, to the Patala Loca (a lower level of the universe in Hinduism). But Lord Vishnu was so impressed by the kings honorability that he granted the king one final wish. King Mahabali wished to return to his people one day every year. And thus King Mahabali’s homecoming is widely celebrated in Kerala and the festival is named Onam.
For this four-day festival, the state is on vacation. Schools and businesses close down, as everyone gathers to remember the great king and the sacrifice he made for his people. Taking place during harvest time, Onam sadya , a huge feast, is prepared as families come together. The feast of various local specialties is served on a large banana leaf. Since coconuts grow abundantly in the regions, the fruit is largely incorporated in every aspect of the meal. Apart from the appetizing meal, many rituals and festivities take place. One of the festivities include pookalum. For pookalum, women make an elaborate flower design outside their house, made entirely from different colors of flower petals. The pookalum is meant to welcome King Mahabali into every home. A large boat race is also organized during Onam. Huge canoes holding a 100 oarsmen are built and decorated. The various teams then race each other as eager spectators cheer on. Lastly, there is a lot of dance and music. Women do various folk dances and everyone sings along.
So Onam is a huge and elaborate festival in Kerala, India. If you ever travel to the state during the festivities, get ready for a wonderful and enthralling cultural experience. Spirits will be high as everyone remembers their beloved king.
After reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I did a little research to learn more about present day Afghanistan. Here in America we often associate Afghanistan with the Taliban, war, and gender inequality, however, there is much more to this country than is often focused on in the news. Due to Afghanistan’s geographic location, historically it was the center of the Silk Road trade system, and now it is home to people of various races and ethnicities. Pashto, Farsi, and Persian are just a few of the multiple languages spoken in Afghanistan. Local laws, architecture, and daily life are governed by the Islamic faith.
The religious adherence to Islam is reflected in the cuisine, which abstains from the consumption of pork, alcohol, and wild boars. After a long day of work, most men come home to the aromatic smell of freshly made Chapati (a type of homemade flat bread) and various curries. On other days, meats (mainly mutton, beef, and chicken) are seasoned with regional spices and served as the main dish. With the variety of fresh fruit available in this regions, fruits often serve as a morning snack or as a dessert after a spicy meal. Typically families place all the food on one common plate. The family then sits on the ground and shares the meal. When guests visit a house, the hosts are very hospitable and offer food and drinks to their guests to make them feel at home. Tea has great cultural value in this country, and is made in households all day long. The first item offered to guests is a cup of hot tea (don’t decline this offer). In this culture, many friends and family members bond and discuss over a cup of tea.
What to do in Afghanistan? Taking a trip to the local bazaar (market) will ensure an exciting cultural experience. The hustle and bustle with the various vendors, introduces shoppers to the local cuisine, clothing, and acceptable gifts. Everything is sold at these open markets, from produce and vegetables to cosmetics and appliances. These bazaars are also packed with people as everyone travels from vendor to vendor to check off their shopping list and find the best prices. Band-e-Amir is another must-see in Afghanistan. It is a collection of six lakes that are a vibrant hue of blue. The first national park for Afghanistan, it allures many day-travelers by its astounding looks. The Kabul National Museum is another place to visit. The various exhibits demonstrate the cultural richness of Afghanistan. Lastly, I would advise visiting the Friday Mosque of Herat, Afghanistan. The artistry in the tiling of this mosque awes any visitor. The religious hub also emphasizes the role of religion in this society.
So Afghanistan is a lot more than a culmination of wars, violence, and gender inequality. The rich culture and history of the country is apparent in the cuisine, merchandise, and museums. I hope to have given you a better understanding of Afghanistan’s intriguing culture. Next time you consider traveling internationally, I hope you consider Afghanistan!