Monday, December 04, 2006

Kate, my new baby, in Chicago over Thanksgiving. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Brihannala as: Graduate Student

Ok, time to resurrect this blog from the dead. The problem has not so much been the lack of time to write, as much as the feeling that I am finally back where my readers are, and consequentially, what I have to say seems umpteen times more mundane.

So, here I am: Master’s student in Environmental Planning and Policy at School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Lets try that hat on and see how it fits. Comfy, yes, but distinctly lacking in brightly colored feathers.

Got to Michigan in late August. Moved into a truly lovely little house ten biking minutes away from campus. Decorated it with brightly colored clothes from India and Sri Lanka. Put out Tibetan prayer flags on the porch. My wonderful housemate Michelle had dumpstered a house load of furniture, so there were no worries about finding sofas or end tables. Met Jesse and Wes my two boy housemates—both conservation biologists, otherwise immensely different. Except they both like clean kitchens. I’m cool with that.

So, for the first time in basically forever, I got to sit down on my front porch with a beer and sit in the sun. Really, for those first weeks, all was right in the world.

Got bused up to northern Michigan with everyone in my program (60 people in my year, I think) to be oriented. When we got there people poured out of the buses and almost directly into the lake. So, my introduction to my new peers was in my housemate’s bikini lying on a dock in the sun. And stealing the caretaker’s sailboat with a landscape architect. And making campfires by the beach. I think some orienting happened in there too, but mostly the bright sunlight faded that out. Lucky to start out with three friends (aka housemates), I felt all social and happy. And so happy to be in a place free from Indian or Indonesian cultural values. Free free free free.

Then back to the perfect little light blue house on the cul-de-sac. For my birthday and to meet all those people we had introduced-ourselves-to at orientation, we had a potluck that mushroomed into a party— the sailor landscape architect even made me a birthday cake. It said “Happy Bria Day”. Much happiness. Lots of beer- both on back and front porches.

Sounds perfect, eh? And such it was. After so much time on the road, it was amazing to finally be stable and to be able to connect to discover a community. I went to the local Salvation Army and got a $7 bicycle which was perfect except its back wheel had been smashed in. Went out with a new orientation friends to search out bike parts, and rebuilt it. Lovely shiny black Schwinn. It was great to be able to really unpack and to know that I would not have to repack any time soon.

And even the routine of classes was nice. I’m taking four classes—ecology, governance, socio-cultural issues in urban planning, and a field course with the International Forestry Resource and Institutions Program. Two are required and are with every other first year in the program. The other two are tiny, and interesting. (These classes take up most of my time and are really of interest only to me and my mother—which is the reason that I have not been posting.)

As the winter has come on and the amount of my time on my porch has decreased, my satisfaction with staying in the same place has diminished. The stir-crazy feeling that I was afraid of when I came here has become more and more real. Part of it is Ann Arbor- it is a nice town, but it lacks the interest of a city, the beauty of Madison, any freedom of nature. It’s a rich place, which was not something I expected. There are bars and clubs, but I have yet to really find the alternative holes in the wall (think ABC in Ithaca, Botanica in NYC) that I can call home and where I relax with friends. Ann Arbor can feel like a glorified suburb. I keep on thinking there are things out there I have yet to discover, and I know its true, but I feel like I have been looking, and I have yet to really find them.

One interesting source of community has been based around Kate, my new bicycle. After getting my shiny Schwinn I set my mind on getting a fixed gear bike- a bike with no gears and no freewheel. The bikes are based on track bikes—racing bikes. They do not need brakes-- you can slow down by slowing your pedaling—but Kate has them. I got the bike through craig’s list postings, and a guy brought her in from Canada. She is a converted Bianchi, champagne colored. 48:15. I’ll put up a picture. Anyhow, having Kate means that I have somehow found myself welcome in this oddly exclusive group of fixed-gear riders. The bike mechanic gave me 2 hours of free repair cause he rides fixed, and hey, I’m “part of the mob now” (to quote him). Well, I have been looking for a mob to join. Anyhow, Kate is fast and as close to sexy as welded metal can get. And that’s pretty hot.

Amusingly, people consider me obsessed with bikes. Perhaps I am. Or perhaps there is not much else to be obsessed about here in suburbialand.

So, that’s where life is now. I live in a beautiful little blue house with Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the snow. I have the stability I craved, and friends to share it with. I have hot baths. I have an amazing bicycle. I am stir crazy. I suppose I feel normal, which is not a way I like to feel. But life is good, and I’m beyond blessed to be here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Far Too Much to Type!

So the cliche is that a picture speaks a thousand words, right? Well, as I have not posted for two months, so I have many words to make up. Since I last posted I have been in Palampur; been to a week-long teaching of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala; a 22 hour jeep ride from Manali up through Ladakh; a week in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, including two days at the amazing Hemis Festival, a festival of masks and dancing monks; on a 5 day trek in the mountains, and a 6 day mountain-biking trip, including biking down from the highest motorable pass in the world, and into Nubra Valley, one of the most magical places I have ever been.

And then... more things happened... but the things above are what are covered in the pictures below. I’ll post more (Scotland, West Virginia..... what else could there be?) soon.

But for now, I am back in America, in Madison for 5 days, before I head off to Ann Arbor Michigan and my new life as a graduate student in Natural Resource Management and City and Regional Planning. More on that later!

(Most of these pictures were taken by Ben Glass and Nate Sands.... If you want to use them for anything except seeing how pretty Ladakh is, let me know and I’ll check in with them.)


In Dharamsala for the Dalai Lama's teachings. They would not let cameras in during the teachings, but these were taken after the teachings were over for that day. The colorful cushions mark where people were sitting, and allow them to reclaim their spot hte next day. Posted by Picasa


Me, getting going. Posted by Picasa


The amazing high altitude plains on the way to Ladakh... Posted by Picasa


On the way to Ladakh: Passing over the world's second highest motorable pass. Posted by Picasa


The palace at Leh. Posted by Picasa

All of these are images from the Hemis Festival. This festival is held each year, when the monks bring our amazing masks and costumes representing tantric Buddhist myths and stories and act them out in dance for other monks and tourists. Incredible, beautiful, magical.


The small down surrounding the Hemis monastary. It is also a beautiful example of traditional Ladakhi architecture, which is found everywhere. Posted by Picasa


Kirsten and I stopping on the banks of the Indus on our way home from the Hemis festival. Posted by Picasa


The first camp site of the trek! Posted by Picasa


Tying the gear on to the donkeys! Salt and Pepper, although ornery (what good doney isn't?)were wonderful gear-carrying lifesavers. Posted by Picasa


The first day on the road. Posted by Picasa


I feel awful because I can't remember the name of the man who served both as the owner or the donkeys that held part of our stuff and our guide. And, clearly, occasional cook. Great guy. Posted by Picasa


The gang warming up in a shepard's hut after our first pass. The shepards let us use their wood stove and fed us yogurt and butter. Cold and lonley outside, warm and smoky inside. Posted by Picasa


Mountains at sunset. Posted by Picasa


A stunning camp site. Posted by Picasa


The houses int he valleys. We passed through a community almost every day while we were trekking but few were more than perhaps 30 houses. Posted by Picasa


These are our colorful cotten tents that would have been best suited to a suburban backyard, if even there. They worked all nights except one where we were caught in a snow storm, and the tent collapsed on Kirsten's and my face. Posted by Picasa


Kirsten is a kung-fu master. Posted by Picasa


Nate putting up prayer flags at a very fogged in pass (around 15,000 ft). Posted by Picasa