Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living Abroad (India and Mongolia)

We continue with another installation of Living Abroad! Today we have India and Mongolia!

"Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India" by Miranda Kennedy

Miranda wants to be "super reporter girl" (this caused no end of eye rolling on my part) and so she moves to India, because she doesn't want to be in an "obvious" war torn place like Iraq. She had an older relative (a great aunt?) who was a missionary in India and her parents lived there for awhile for work so that's where she goes. Good enough reason, I guess.

She strikes out with no apartment and no real job prospects. She has a hard time finding an apartment because no landlord wants to rent to a single woman.They assume she's a prostitute. (A majority of Indian women live at home until they are married and then they move into their in-laws home with their husband, so a single lady with no family is up to no good). Eventually she lies and says she has a husband who is a journalist and is away on assignment, and she starts to dress more Indian (less like a "dirty hippie") and then she gets an apartment.

She doesn't talk much about the work that she does, except in passing when she mentions taking trips out into different parts of India. The main focus of her story is the stories of the few Indian women that she gets to know. Geeta is a good symbol for India as a whole. Struggling to keep old traditions (she can't decide if she wants an arranged marriage or not.She ends up with one but it's with a boy she went on 2 dates with) without being too held back from modernity (like being able to work after she is married). All of these things only pertain to the women though. If it was found out that a girl had kissed a boy without being married to him she could be so shunned that she wouldn't be able to find anyone to marry her.

The book gave a really interesting look into the lives of different Indian women, but not as much into the author's own life: besides some of her struggles with Indian culture. It was an interesting book and worth a read but I never have really wanted to go to India and this book definitely did not change my mind. I give it 2.5 stars.

Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia" by Louisa Waugh

Louisa is a bit of a nomad. She's spent time to all over the world and when plans fall through to teach in Latin America she finds herself in Mongolia. Mongolia's capital is Ulaanbaatar (there's your trivia for the day, go forth, looks smart, impress your friends) and it has some creature comforts, but that that isn't where Louisa is going.(Though she does work there for 2 years before starting her adventure.) She is going to Tsengel which is in the extreme west of Mongolia.

I provide you with a sloppy google maps screen shot. For I am kind, and not everyone is a geography nerd like me.

To call Tsengel a village might be overly generous, but that's what we will go with. Louisa is there to teach English to the village teachers and their pupils (she already speaks okay-ish Mongolian, which is impressive!). Right away the differences between city living in Mongolia and village life in Mongolia are apparent. Basically: no plumbing, electricity of any kind in any home (there is some in the school and at the one medical clinic), 2 telephones in the entire village, mail is delivered once a week, and whole extended families live in gers (which is like a circular, wood boned structure covered by canvas type fabric).

She doesn't meet with any hostility but the locals take a long time to warm up to her.The children are the most receptive (as is often the case) but the people who give her the most trouble are some of the local men who get drunk, pound on her door and demand sex. So that's a little scary.(This might be a good time to mention that alcoholism is a problem in rural Mongolia.) Another interesting aspect of the village is the self-imposed segregation. There are the tensions between Buddhists and Muslims, and then the native Mongolians and the Kazakhs who have come just over the border from Kazakhstan.

She bonds with several of the families, even spending summer with them up in the mountains helping with their herds, attending a wedding and even learning how to milk a goat.Also the village is quarantined because the next village over (far far far over) got the black plague from eating marmot. So there's that.

I have always been kind of curious about Mongolia. Sandwiched between Russia and China (2 very different types of places) can be a bit of a hairy place to be sometimes, I'd bet.Still my knowledge of Mongolia is pretty much: this book, steppes, horses; a sad state of affairs. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, an interesting look into a culture and country that (at least in certain parts) are doing things just like their ancestors did.

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