The End of the Beginning

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to finally get this post up.  It’s been on my mind for a long time, but with the intensity of TASP (which was as incredible as I had hoped) and now beginning a new year at MUWCI, I have been unable to find the time, so I’ve decided to upload a post that I wrote during the summer and managed never to actually get up on the blog.  That means that a lot has happened since I wrote this, but I think in this case it makes sense to post something a little outdated.

I really hope I’m not disappointing people with the news that I’m planning on discontinuing this blog.  I’m really happy with the reception it has gotten (we’re at 1,200 views now!), and I’ve actually talked to a few newly-arrived first years who apparently contributed to the view count of this blog, but I no longer feel I have the requisite time or mental space to keep this up.  When things cool down later in the year, I may give it another shot, but for the time being I’m very happy with leaving the blog as it is.  Anyway, if this blog causes even one person to find out about the United World Colleges and apply, or provides one applicant with some anticipatory excitement, or reassures one worrying parent that their child is making the right decision in applying, I’ll feel like the effort I’ve put in was well worth it.  Anyway, here’s my final post for who knows how long.  Enjoy!

 

Well, here I am, back in Seattle after nine months.  Having gained five pounds, lost twenty, then gained twenty five, I am ten pounds heavier than I was when my plane took off last August.  I’d like to imagine I’ve grown in more ways than one in the past year, but then again  I’ve definitely spent a lot of time since I got back insisting to people that I’m basically the same Will that I was when I left.

Another thing I’ve told people a lot since I got back is that India was “good”.  What people expect in response to the question “How was India?” I have no idea.  It’s a ridiculously big question to answer, and I’ve decided that it merits a ridiculously simplistic answer.

But in some ways “good” does manage to encapsulate, as well as any one word can, the last year I’ve had at MUWCI.  In fact, I feel as though I’ve had an unreasonably smooth, happy ride through what was supposed to be a thrilling but challenging year.  For me, probably the biggest challenge came on the last morning, when I had to say goodbye to my second-years, some of whom I may never see again.  More than having to say goodbye to any one person (though there are some particular individuals who really had me sobbing that morning), I think I was upset by the realization that my first, truly good year is over, and that though I’ll be back at MUWCI in August, I can never reclaim the past nine months.  I’ll never regain the honeymoon period of profound happiness mixed with disbelief that India was turning out to be everything I’d hoped for; the disillusionment I felt when I began to realize it wasn’t, accompanied by my first feelings of homesickness; and finally my own reconciliation with any of MUWCI’s perceived failings, and the conviction that came with it that, whatever else MUWCI may be, it’s a pretty incredible place to start the transition into adulthood.

I didn’t sleep on Grad Night, spent most of the night in our courtyard, talking with whoever came by, or just sitting and listening to the music that fluctuated between loud and funky and soft and nostalgia-inducing.  Late into the night I left the fire and found myself in Wada 1, singing along with Conner, my second year, as he played “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show.  So many of the songs we’ve played this year, some of my favorites, will be forever tied up with my memories of MUWCI.  They’ll transport me immediately back to nights spent with Emil, Rounak, Tudor, Christoph, Jason, Dhruv, Parikshit, Remmelt, Corne, and all the rest, listening to Rounak play his guitar and sing, staring into the fire, thinking, This is about as good as it gets.

After singing a few more songs with Conner, Lucia (Mexican second year) asked me if I wanted to climb the internet tower, something she’d never done and had always wanted to do before she left.  I had promised her that I would take her up if we got the chance.  It was 5:00 AM and the sky was beginning to turn from black to a deep blue, and I’d never seen sunrise from the tower before.

Within a few minutes we had climbed internet hill and started up the ladder that once took workers up the side of the now-inactive internet tower that rises hundreds of feet above our campus.  As we climbed, the birds began to sing, and the sky continued to quickly brighten, an orange patch beginning to emerge over the mountains to our left.  After a few minutes of climbing, we came to the very top of the tower.  We perched ourselves on the thin metal girders supporting our tiny bodies high above our world, the Mulshi Valley, and, holding on tightly, looked out over it all as the birds sang happily below us and the rest of the campus finally went to sleep.

I’d only been up the tower twice before, both times during the night.  This clear early morning, Lucia and I could see for miles and miles in all directions.  It was one of those moments when there is truly no other place on earth that you’d rather be.

After we climbed down from the tower and ate our breakfast, we went to the parking lot to say goodbye to the first departing students.  There was a constant stream of jeeps for the next few hours, and I had a few sad goodbyes, but I didn’t manage to cry until 11:00 in the morning, when two buses arrived to take away about sixty students in total, and we had the most painful mass goodbye I’ve ever been a part of.

I had worried that I wouldn’t cry that day, that I wouldn’t give my second years the mourning they deserved.  It turns out that shouldn’t have been a concern for me.  I spent the next hour and a half bawling, seeking out particular second years obscured by the bodies of other embracing students and by the unreasonable amount of tears streaming from my eyes, and, upon finding them in the crowd, making eye contact and pushing my way through to them to hug them and unsuccessfully try to control myself enough to tell them how much I was going to miss them.  I think they got the message, and when most of the campus was at last deserted, I found myself emotionally exhausted but at peace.

Goodbyes largely finished, we decided it was time to leave ourselves, and Dhruv’s driver drove a few of us to Mumbai, where I caught a plane to Seattle by myself that evening.  Less than twenty four hours later, I met my family at the baggage claim of Sea-Tac Airport, whereupon we all freaked out.  It was a long nine months – thank goodness I’m coming home for Christmas next year.

I’m writing this on the basement floor on a Thursday evening.  Pretty sure the rest of the house is asleep.  I’ve been doing my best to spend as much time with my parents and sister as possible before I leave again, this time for a shorter and less exotic adventure to Michigan.  I’m excited about the coming year, but it’s hard right now to think about going back.  MUWCI feels very far away, and when I do get back things are going to be very different.  The valley will be a deep green once again, the world will be moldy and damp, my courtyard will no longer be my courtyard, and I’ll have a hundred new names and faces to learn.  I don’t view next year as a continuation of the last at all, and that is helping me to find a measure of closure.  That chapter of my life is over, and I think I’m ready to begin the next.

The Final Push

Hey everybody!

I worked out how to explore statistics on this blog, and I was excited and humbled to find out that the “everybody” reading this blog actually includes many more people from many more places around the world than I had expected.  Along with views from the US and India, I apparently have fans – or at least visitors – from Nepal, Belgium, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Germany, Brunei, the UK, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and Spain!  I’ve also recently broken 700 views!  Thanks for reading everyone!

It’s hard to believe, but I have one week of classes, two weeks of tests, and then I’m headed back to Seattle.  The year is truly coming to a close, and most of us first years are having to trouble accepting it; for most of us, the days have never passed by so quickly.  As a result, it’s been about a month since I last made a blog entry, and a ridiculous amount has happened since then, stuff that’s probably going to require a number of exclamation points.  I’ll try to bring you up to speed and keep my enthusiasm under control.  Also, I’ve posted some pictures of our travel week throughout this post to spice things up a bit.

During our first night in Pune, just before we left on the train for Bangalore, we met these three Japanese men in the Hard Rock Cafe dancing to the YMCA. This picture also features the ridiculous hats that we wore throughout our trip.

To begin with, I now have my soon-to-be first years!  Chantal and Charlotte will be coming to MUWCI next year, along with a boy who remains unidentified.  Paul, Freya, and I are preparing to be the best second years in the history of the United World Colleges.  And all of the applicants that we Americans have been talking through the application process – including Freya’s cousin – have made it in as well.  Congratulations to all of our new zero years!

And I’ve had my own success in my completely unrelated application to the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)!  I’ll be heading for University of Michigan on June 24 to take “Modernism Through Modern Art and Theater” with fifteen other juniors.  A brief aside: One of our two teachers will be Justin Kim, the previous dean of Deep Springs College, and our supervisor Corey Myers – called a “factotum” – will be graduating from there this year.  Deep Springs is a zero-tuition school of 26 run by the Telluride Association that has been all-male up until the year in which I’ll be entering college, and it’s a school I may apply to next year.  Maybe I’ll get some more insight into what I’d be signing up for during my time at TASP.  Anyway, at TASP we’ll have a three hour seminar each morning, then have the rest of the day to arrange however we want, though we’ll be doing plenty of daily reading (50 to 200 pages a night at previous TASPs) and have to produce one significant paper and one work of art.  I’m thinking now that I will very likely write a play in the modernist style and then try to get it into the theater season at MUWCI next year.  I’ve also decided that I’ll be writing my Extended Essay on modern theater, and that my adviser for the project will be Doug, the unreasonably cool history teacher who lived in Seattle before he came here and who happens to be taking a summer course for his PhD in – you guessed it – modern theater.  I’ve been thinking about TASP constantly since Tuesday evening when I got the news via email a day earlier than expected – it’s distracting me from studying for those final exams coming up.

Speaking of theater season, in another happy development my article on MUWCI’s theater season was published by the national daily newspaper the Times of India just last week!  Unfortunately, they edited it down to half size, managed to add in more grammatical mistakes than were there to begin with, and it generally doesn’t look much like my work anymore.  But hey, you gotta start somewhere, and it was still very cool to see, accompanied a picture of my Leo and Tudor in 12 Angry Men taken by my Indian second year Shyamli.

I guess I'm famous now

In case anybody ever needs more proof that I actually lived in India, on April 6th Housefull 2 premiered in theaters all over India, with yours truly featured prominently in about .75 seconds over the shoulder of Johnny Abraham.  Michael, Rolando, and I all managed to jump into the frame – unfortunately, Freddie didn’t make it in, despite the fact that they filmed us in this enormous dance hall for around ten hours.  I now have perspective on just how much filming has to be done to put together a professional feature-length film (incidentally, our second year IB Film Studies students put on a showing of their own five to ten minute films, the culmination of two years of work; naturally they got a great response).

I saw Housefull with Paul, Anya, Paresh, and Megan a couple weekends back in Pune.  We had all been part of the Indian National Committee’s selection process for incoming Indian first years, which meant ten hours a day over a three day weekend, in my case playing games with the applicants and guiding them through a simulated “cultural exchange”.  It was a lot of fun, though exhausting, and those of us who participated were rewarded with a double overnight over the next weekend, during with the five of us decided to work with our new friend Abhinmanyu, a Teach For India Fellow who is working to renovate his classroom and curriculum to energize his fourth standard students and bring them up to the levels of fourth standards in the best private schools in the region.  A large part of the work he’s doing is to center his whole class around a pirate theme, painting the room, building a “reader’s crow’s nest” at the back, rewarding good behavior with gold (read: plastic) medallions, all on a budget of 8,000 rupees (160 USD).  He’s actually developed a brand for his project: he’s calling it “Pirate Bay,” and he’s attempting to market it to the Maharashtrian government so that they will begin using a more fun, student friendly format in government schools (not that all Maharashtrian schools will have pirate themes).  Anyway, we went down and worked with the design school students who are volunteering for him and we gave him a lot of ideas about how to construct the classroom, as well as feedback on the curriculum he had worked up and his advertising strategy.  Paul and I also wrote a little classroom pirate song and recorded it for him so he can teach it to his kids.  Next year we’ll be coming down occasionally to do little workshops (I may do a music workshop for example) and to help out however we can, but mostly our role is what he calls “ideation” – so, being creative for a cause.  I think I’m a fan of this ideation business.

The Pirate Bay Team (Abhinmanyu is on the far left; Anya's next to him; Jiya is the darker girl in the red behind Megan; Paul's in front of Paresh and behind me). Did I mention that a bunch of us shaved our heads for a fundraiser?

I also had my first experience in Indian slums, and in an Indian orphanage/home for the elderly.  Abhinmanyu took us to both for what Teach for India terms a “community visit,” an important aspect of Teach for India that is not included in the Teach for America model upon which the program is largely based.  We split off into groups of two to talk with primary school children about their school experiences.  I was with Abhinmanyu, fortunately, which helped significantly with my discomfort at what felt like the often-derided “slum tourism” that India has become famous for.  I ended up having a great experience, ultimately asking questions to a fifth standard student in my very limited Hindi while surrounded by about twenty other Indians, young and old.  The answers I got were really interesting, and it was pretty wild to be there, surrounded by unfamiliar, uncomprehending faces that were nonetheless entranced by the presence of a “gora” just outside their home.  I still think there is something very unnatural about that sort of interaction, but I guess if I entertained them for a bit and I learned a little more about one boy’s experience in school, it was a positive experience for all of us.

Abhinmanyu has a difficult time in his classes when he starts out, because very quickly his students learn that Teach for India Fellows won’t hit them.  Up until that point, they are perfectly behaved, far better than a western classroom.  After that point, things begin to dissolve, and it’s up to Abhi to create an environment in which students want to behave rather than being forced to.  Abhi told us that even he still has no innate aversion to the idea of hitting kids.  He was hit frequently as a kid, and it is such a fixture in the Indian educational culture that he disagrees with it on an intellectual level rather than on an emotional one.  This is a culture that won’t change overnight.

The famous fishing nets of Kochi, Kerala. Probably the best picture I've ever taken.

On a more positive note, we celebrated Emil’s birthday yesterday by shaving his head for the second time in one month, this time in a ring of hair so he looked like Friar Tuck from Robin Hood.  He found it pretty funny and pretty cruel, since our hair had just begun to look somewhat normal again.  We abused him in other ways, continuing with a religious theme throughout the 24 hours.  He made it through, but the level of birthday unpleasantness (and hilarity) has been increased dramatically.  Michael’s got the next birthday out of the four of us (Paul, Michael, Emil and me) at the very beginning of next year, and I’m already feeling sorry for him.

Last weekend my good friend and roommate Dhruv had his birthday party in Pune, and I, Emil, Paul, and a few others were all invited down for the most luxurious meal I’ve had in eight months at the Hard Rock Cafe.  When we got back to campus, Paul, Emil and I immediately left campus on a hike to the top of Mount Wilkinson, where about ten other students and Arvin, the Econ teacher, were waiting for us.  We had planned the overnight in preparation for taking our first years up next year during monsoon in groups of around forty students.  It’s incredibly beautiful from the top of the mountain, and I think it will be a great experience for them, particularly for those who find the hike challenging.  They’ll be very wet and muddy by the time they reach the campsite, but we’ll get them dry and into a massive tent, sipping hot chocolate and doing some hardcore bonding, and then it will be worth it.  Of course, we’ll be preparing for the worst, and there will likely be many problems that come up over the course of the three nights we spend up there, but we’re all really excited for it regardless.

The backwaters of Kochi - we got two meals and a six hour boat ride for 600 Rs (12 USD) per person

In the realm of economics, Mihir Doshi will be here next Tuesday to give a talk on emerging markets and the changing role of banking.  Dhruv, Paul and I have put together the first Economics Forum Newsletter to prepare the way for him.  I’m also enjoying Honors Economics, and considering whether I should work with the same couple of guys plus Arvin to put together an Environmental Economics optional evening course which could be used to satisfy requirements for the UWC Diploma next year.  If I went for it, it would undoubtedly involve a significant amount of work over the summer, largely taking the graduate level economics courseware available online from MIT and boiling it down into something that could be covered in a yearlong series of weekly classes.  We’ll see whether the course actually materializes.

And in one final piece of news, Alaine Johnson (my American coyear and friend from back in Seattle) has been visiting from UWC Swaziland since Sunday evening.  It’s been really great having her here and showing her around, and it’s been pretty strange as well, just to have some kind of history with someone that extends further into the past than August 20th, 2011.  She’ll be giving a presentation on her UWC and on Swaziland as a whole tonight at 8:00, then leaving tomorrow morning to spend the rest of her month long winter break traveling through India (Swaziland is on the southern hemisphere academic schedule and she’s only been in school since January).

Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India. We didn't see the sign until later.

There are many more things I’d like to talk about, but this is probably enough for you to digest.  The next few weeks will be a little less exciting – more study focused – since Trivenis have ended for the year as of yesterday.  But I promise one more update before the end of the school year.  Wish me luck on my exams!

Love to all,

Will

Here’s the whole Travel Week Team in uniform:

Nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative

I personally think Emil looked the funniest out of all of us

Cocaine's a helluva drug

In case you were wondering

Stuff I’m Excited About

Hello again, to those of you who are still reading this blog – I’m back!  Lately I’ve had less and less time to write this blog, and more and more stuff that I’d like to write about, so I’ll do my best to catch you up, but further reflections on winter break will have to wait for another post.

I got back from Travel Week…two weeks ago.  I just went and checked with someone about how long it’s been, because my life has been such a blur recently that I actually had no idea.  Contributing to the blur is the fact that we first years have begun the process of taking over the school.  As a part of that process, we’ve created a Forum of around thirty students, faculty, and staff for discussing campus issues in a slightly more manageable group.  I’m a part of that group, as well as another group that met with Pelham last Friday night and then again without Pelham on Saturday morning from 6:30 to 10:30 to draft a document which will hopefully help us to define how the Forum is going to work in the future, which encompasses a lot of things like membership, facilitating roles, and proposal of topics of discussion.  That we need the Forum, or something like it, is clear.  Our campus of 200 idealistic teenagers can’t really agree to anything when we meet as a whole to discuss an issue.  Instead, we’ve created a system of representation by which we hope that we can make all voices heard on campus while keeping the length of discussion to a minimum (one hour a week) and the productivity to a maximum.  We’ll be presenting our work on Wednesday to the Forum – hopefully it will be well received.

I’m also now attending meetings of the Heads of Department with Mathias (Germany).  Our role is to listen to their discussion, clarify any important points, and then write up a summary for the faculty and student body.  There are five different weekly and biweekly meetings (Food Committee, Faculty, Heads of Department, Transportation, and Residential Life) and two students attend each meeting and then report to the wider community in order to encourage transparency and trust.  It’s been pretty interesting to sit in on the Heads meeting and see the stuff that happens behind the scenes to keep this school running.

Triveni coordinators have now chosen next years coordinators, which has caused me serious excitement and concern about how busy I’m going to be next year.  I’ll be coordinating Global Affairs and Sadhana Teaching, and I’ve been shortlisted for Guidance Office Support (which probably sounds boring, but I’m really interested in the college admissions process and excited about the idea of helping people through it).  I’m also starting up a economics newsletter and lecture series on with my Indian roommate Dhruv.  His family has some serious connections, as it turns out many MUWCI families do, and so we’re looking to get some pretty incredible speakers here every month to talk about a particular topic within economics.  Our first speaker will be coming in a few weeks to talk about investment banking.  He’s Mihir Doshi, the managing director and country head of Credit Suisse, India.  Pretty cool, huh?

We’ve had fires here for the past four days in a row – one day we actually had two in one day.  Today has been blissfully uninterrupted so far, one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in a while now.  Emil and I are relaxing in the courtyard adjoining our houses, shirtless in the late afternoon heat.  He’s lying on a mattress that we’ve pulled outside while I write this in our hammock shaded by a convenient cluster of trees.  I can hear a few conversations at a distance, as well as the buzzing of insects and a few chirping birds, and I’m brought back to my first few weeks here, when I perpetually found myself thinking, School isn’t supposed to sound like this.  A hectic schedule makes moments like these pretty sweet.  Too bad I only have forty minutes until the eighth meeting of my weekend, this one on developing the Candidate Weekend for this year’s Indian applicants.  The 140 finalists will be coming in three groups over the course of a three day weekend, and I’ll be helping to coordinate some group games with them and then sleeping in a tent with some of them overnight.  I’m really looking forward to that, and to learning who my American second years are.  Good luck to everyone who’s gotten this far!  US interviews are a ton of fun – nothing to be nervous about; definitely something to look forward to.

This Friday I’ll be running alongside the rest of the school to Paud Village holding a camera.  Tal, my Israeli coyear, has asked me to make a video that will be used in Israel to fundraise for a trust set up in honor of an Israeli alumnus of MUWCI, who passed away this year in a hiking accident.  I hope any skill I’ve acquired through my participation in MUWCI.tv will do justice to the gesture.

Honors Math is heating up.  The other day, Paul and I were working on a problem, and his retort to something I said about it was, “No, if you take the binary to be addition under modular five, three star three is the identity,” prompting me to respond, “Oh, of course.”  So, I’m now studying four languages: English, Hindi, French, and Group Theory.

Evidently I’ve decided that transitioning sentences are a waste of time.  A couple really cool writing-related things have happened to me recently, the first being that I’m getting published in the Times of India, which is sort of like the Wall Street Journal of India.  I’m not sure when it will come out, but I am pretty pleased that I will now have two pieces of evidence that I’ve lived here – a newspaper article and an appearance as an extra in Housefull 2 (in theaters April 5).  The second thing is that I’ve managed to get to the interview stage for that TASP program that I applied to a couple months ago.  I’m having what will apparently be a pretty grueling two hour Skype interview with a guy living in Buenos Aires, which will cover the topics referred to in my essays and the debate on affirmative action.  The interview is on Tuesday, and I’m pretty excited.

I’m also getting the ball rolling on the Global Lives Project for next year (google it).  I presented the concept at our most recent college meeting, and I’m hoping to gather up a few interested first years so we can hit the ground running on that for next year.

Good news!  In an effort to organize myself as things get increasingly hectic here, I’ve started using my Ipod to write down notes on everything that I have to do.  Some of you may remember how invaluable my phone became for me last year – I’m hoping I can get back into the habit of recording important things before the end of the year.

One final thing that I’m excited about: Freya, Paul, and I had an American Jammie Jam Jam sesh last night (we wore our pajamas, ate Freya’s jam, and listened to music), and one super crazy awesome idea came out of it, inspired by On the Road.  A year from next summer, one year after leaving MUWCI, the three of us want to reunite in San Francisco, where we’ll stay for a few days to explore, buy a really, really ugly car, and paint that car – the Americar – in preparation for the most spectacular road trip of the millennium.  We’ll drive all the way up the northwestern coast of the US, with a stop in Seattle to see my fam, then through Canada and Alaska to finally arrive in Kenai, Freya’s beautiful hometown.  At that point, Paul will leave us for the World Cup (which he will have saved up money for during a gap year) while I will find a job at a fishery or just do schoolwork, read, and relax for a month until Freya’s family begins its own month of fishing, during which I’ll work for them.  I’m totally thrilled by this idea, but the other part of this plan is that since I’d like this to be my first time in Alaska I no longer have the backup of fishing this summer – I really, really have to get into TASP.

Geez, I hope this wasn’t really boring for you guys.  Anyway, I enjoyed writing it, and that’s enough for me.  I’ll do my best to continue my winter break recap and cover our travel week in my next post.

Excitedly yours,

Will

General Update & Winter Break: Episode 1

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long one.  At least I’m consistent.  Anyway, there’s plenty to catch you up on, and I promised to write a post about our winter break travels during last December, so wish me luck.
First, an update on theater season.  We performed Letters From ’91 to a total of around 200 audience members in two nights – virtually all of the students and faculty on campus excluding the twenty or so of us actually involved in putting on the show.  It wasn’t a perfect performance either night, but we did what we needed to do – though it was fictional, I think it was a story that needed to be told about a very real issue in India.  There’s been a wide range in subject matter and style in the other plays, but they’ve all been at a really high level.  For me, the theater season experience has been challenging and ultimately rewarding and I’m seriously entertaining the idea of directing (and maybe even writing) a play  of my own next year.  Cementing my love of theater season is the fact that I’ve been invited by Sudha, the new English B teacher here, to write an article about it for a couple  of Indian publications.  I don’t have much information on that yet, but I’m pretty excited about the opportunity.  Anyway, we finished up the season last weekend with Bricks, written and directed by Fernanda (Mexico), and the finals of Impro-lucha, in which Michael and I, the Lactation Consultants, managed to get second place, defeated by the supremely funny Wacuka (Kenya) and Caner (Turkey), my ex-roommate (he moved to the storeroom just outside, giving Dhruv, Pukit and me more space than we know what to do with).  Speaking of my room, here’s a much-requested picture of my unremarkable corner of our room:
I stayed up until 4 AM the other day talking and listening to music with Emil.  The impromptu late night conversations that we have so often here are probably one of the things I’ll miss most about MUWCI when I’m back in the States this summer.  Strange to be thinking not of missing home, but of what I’ll soon miss from here.  Not to say that I don’t think about home – I’m still loving it here, but I will be so ready to see Seattle again on Sunday May 20th when my plane will take off from Mumbai Airport.
Honors Math has started up, which I’m really enjoying so far, though we haven’t really gotten to “the fun stuff” yet, just sort of laying the groundwork at the moment.  I may end up taking Honors economics as well, which would give me a pretty ridiculous sounding courseload: English Lit. and Language HL, Math HL, Physics HL, Econ HL, Hindi ab initio SL, and French ab initio SL, each almost every day, and then Global Perspectives, Theory of Knowledge, Honors Math, and Honors Econ each about once a week.  I’m still not working nearly as much as I had expected, which is just great, though it makes no sense.  The IB classes are supposed to be harder than AP classes, yet MUWCI gives us like two thirds the number of days of school that we have back in Seattle, fewer hours in class each day, and we take extra classes on top of everything else.  I guess MUWCI has somehow developed a really efficient method of teaching – we were always really aware of how much time we were wasting in most of our classes back home, but it’s still amazing how much you can accomplish in classes that are actually focused.  So it turns out that there actually is enough time here for all of the S’s (Sleep, Study, Socializing, Service), plus the all-important T for Travel, which is supposed to be the main subject of this blog entry.
Last December, Alexander, Leo and I left school for a month-long adventure through northern India.  On Friday the 9th, each of us packed a single bag and hopped on the bus to Pune, where a few hours later we caught the 30 hour train to Varanasi, the first city on our itinerary.
After a relatively comfortable train ride on which I finished Lila (Robert Pirsig) and The Communist Manifesto, and began The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand), which Alexander had brought along, we arrived in Varanasi at around 8 PM.  As we stepped out of the train station into the cool Varanasi night, we were greeted by a horde of rickshaw drivers, desperate for the business of we three stupid tourists.  After being chased down four blocks by three drivers as we searched for an available hotel room, we gave up, attempted to bargain, overpaid, and found ourselves whisked away in a little yellow rickshaw to a hotel of our driver’s choosing.  First lesson of our trip: never let the driver choose your hotel.  He gets paid a commission, and has qualms about taking you to a place with dirty, bug-ridden beds and a manager who smilingly charges you twice the normal rate (of course, we didn’t know the normal rate at the time).
So we spent the night in two small beds pushed together with one thin blanket over us and a host of small but ravenous critters below us. We woke the next morning with bites all over and circles under our eyes, but we were determined nonetheless to explore the city.  We had a map, but we mostly just wandered all day.  In the morning, we stumbled across a Muslim community that worked together to make saris to support itself, and they invited us in to see how they did it.
After a long day of walking, we eventually found ourselves at the Ganges River, one of the holiest and most polluted rivers in the world.  We didn’t see any floating bodies, though we did see more funerals than one sees at the typical river.  It was a grey evening, and the water was dark, and not particularly beautiful or very different from other rivers, except for the number of people bathing in it, but it felt old.  For whatever reason, I think I’ll remember staring silently out at the Ganges for a long time.  We were tired, happy, at peace, and quietly thrilled to be where we were, and with an entire month lying ahead of us.

Alexander managed to see the early morning poojas while Leo and I were sick in our hotel

When I lay down in bed that night, I still had that feeling.  It wasn’t until a few hours later, in the very early morning, that a new feeling accompanied it: nausea.  I felt a sudden craving for water, but pushed it out of my mind, stumbling instead towards the bathroom.  It didn’t take long for the heaving to begin.  For the rest of the night, I was half awake, moving between my bed and a kneeling position over the toilet.  I didn’t know it then, but my body was going through the first stages of amoebic dystentery, which I would have for the next two months, keeping me in bed with a fever for the last two days of our time in Varanasi, during which I ate nothing, and rarely managed to keep down water.  Leo and Alexander became sick as well, and though Alexander fared quite well, it turns out that he contracted dysentery at some point during our trip as well, something he found out just a week ago.  Finally, just an hour before our train was scheduled to leave for Khajuraho, my fever broke, and I was able to walk through long windy side streets, supported by Leo and Alexander, to ultimately take a seat in an rickshaw headed for the station.  I was very dazed, very weak, and very happy to be through the worst of my sickness.
After a cold night in the train (lesson number two: bring a sleeping bag when traveling in northern India) we arrived in Khajuraho two hours late to be greeted by Warren, an old family friend who lives there about six months every year and in Seattle the rest of the time.  He greeted us with impressive warmth for someone who been waiting since 6:00 AM for our arrival.  After a big, wonderful hug and some quick introductions, we were driven to the hotel where Warren stays for almost no cost and given a comfortable room – for a little more cost – and my first breakfast in three days, four pieces of buttered toast.  The next three days we spent eating meals with just about every family in Khajuraho, recovering from sickness, and visiting the temples that have made the town a small tourist destination.  We went to see the prayers in the evening that Warren has attended every night that he has been in Khajuraho since his first day there, two decades ago.
Warren is a fascinating guy.  He is a spiritual atheist, the son of missionaries who worked in India during his childhood years.  He’s currently writing a history book for the next five hundred years of human existence.  He wears a white kurta that tastefully matches his equally white hair, and he can swear better than I can.
Us with some of the younger members of Warren’s extended family

This post is getting so long that I think I’ll have to write the whole story of our trip in a series of installments.  I’ll close this post with this.  On our final full day in Khajuraho, we met a twelve year old girl named Saapna, for whom Warren has been a sort of favorite uncles for the past few years.  She was wearing a beautiful blue sari that Warren had given her, and with Warren’s help she had developed a surprising capacity for English.  The two of them led us to the weekly vegetable market, which was bustling with vendors selling their goods spread out on blankets which lined our path.  I bought a small flashlight, which has served me well since then.  Otherwise, we only observed and talked with Warren and Saapna.  We would be visiting Saapna’s home, they told us.  This sounded great to us – another family to meet, another delicious meal to eat.

When we reached Saapna’s home, however, what we found wasn’t much of a home at all.  There was a single, threadbare blanket spread out upon the ground, upon which Saapna’s mother sat with her crying daughter, and a small circle of ashes which had presumably acted as their stove the night before.  Saapna was homeless.  Her father was leaning against a wall nearby, staring off at nothing.  Saapna, not noticing our reactions to the clearly abject poverty that she was living in, scooped up her crying sister and began chattering with her mother.  Her father did not acknowledge his daughter or us, but continued staring blankly into space.

After speaking with Saapna a little longer and then saying goodbye, Warren led us away.  As we walked back to our hotel, he explained that he had felt it important for us to see this, for us to put a name and face to the too often nameless and faceless poverty that we hear about so often in statistical terms on the news.  “There are two options for Saapna,” he told us, “and neither involves an education.  She can be married off, quickly, or be sold.”  It had happened to another girl about Saapna’s age just a few months before, sold by her parents to a group of men who drove her to another village where they raped and killed her.  Warren had heard about it days later, after the men had returned briefly, claiming the girl had died in a car accident, and then left Khajuraho.

We didn’t talk much on the walk home.  I think we were all feeling the same things.  Disbelief, that such a thing could actually happen, and that it might happen again, this time to our friend Saapna.  Guilt, that we weren’t doing something to help.  Confusion, at the fact that Shelby Davis had found us so worthy of his money, had invested tens of thousands of dollars in our educations, while girls like Saapna might have benefited so much more from only a fraction of that sum.  Months later, these feelings continue to return to me.  Am I worth that?  Is my education here worth that?  Will my next four years of college be worth that, or graduate school, or the house that I’ll inevitably own, or the car, or any of the other things that we all take for granted as good, necessary investments?  I can’t at this point see any way to reconcile the fact that while I cannot justify my lifestyle I will continue living in the way that I have been.  These are questions that we’ve all asked ourselves in one way or another, but meeting Saapna has lent to those questions an urgency that they lacked before, and I’m hoping that that urgency will stay with me, though answers may not be forthcoming.

That’s it for now.  I’ll be leaving on a week-long trip to the southern tip of India, specifically the town of Kanyakumari (Virgin Goddess), with Michael, Emil, and Paul on Friday afternoon.  More on that in the next post.

Thanks for reading,

Will

I’m Still a Kid, I Promise

It’s a little ridiculous that the US government lets kids my age call themselves adults.  If I’m an adult in theory, I’m still very much a kid in practice, and I’m hoping I stay that way for at least a solid decade or so.

I turned eighteen on February 9th at 10:31 PM Indian time, 9:01 AM Seattle time.  My sister will be turning sixteen at 1:09 PM Seattle time on May 5th, but she’d make a much more convincing eighteen-year-old than I do.  Time continues to fly by, and I get more and more excited to see her, my parents, my friends, and my home the closer I get to May 20th.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My birthday began at midnight, when I was woken up – I do occasionally get to sleep before midnight here – to receive eighteen wedgies,  two cakes, and a load of birthday hugs.  After quickly consuming the cakes, the crowd dispersed and we all headed for bed, hoping to be well-rested for end of term exams the next morning.

The next morning, I woke up to a fairly normal day of school, with birthday wishes, a physics test, and a Skype session with my family thrown in.   As usually happens here, the school day seemed to end almost as soon as it began, and I soon found myself escorted by Paul and Michael to my courtyard, where I was (loosely) tied up in our hammock and blindfolded while “lunch” was prepared.

When my blindfold was removed, I was given an ultimatum: either eat an entire plate of papaya (my least favorite fruit) and another of veg biryani (just thinking of biryani has made me nauseous since the second night of our winter break in Varanasi, which I spent forcefully regurgitating my amoeba-ridden dinner), or be smeared in any leftovers and hit with the raw eggs that Emil had arrived with while I was blind to the world.  My reward if I managed to eat everything?  A facsimile of those delicious Lovely Chuvley pancakes from the Dolphin Bay Cafe, courtesy of Freya

I was a good sport and ate the whole plate of papaya, but the biryani was too much for me.  As per the rules, it was rubbed all over my body, along with many raw eggs, and I didn’t get a bit of that pancake.  Still, I managed to have my revenge, giving Paul, Michael, and Emil three big thank you hugs when the ordeal was over.

Following lunchtime festivities, I took a quick shower and then headed for fire service, which was moved to an earlier time to allow members, including myself, to participate in Impro-lucha, an improv comedy contest organized by Oscar (Mexican bio teacher) in conjunction with theater season.  When fire service had finished burning the backside of Internet Hill, I ran to grab my costume (a white lab coat) and my weapon (a carton of milk), before heading for the competition.

Michael and I had come up with a colorful team name, MUWCI’s Unofficial Lactation Consultants, and we had put together an introductory performance to go along with it, which was basically thirty seconds of milk-fighting as Freddie Mercury howled Bohemian Rhapsody over the loudspeakers.  The following improv competition was fierce, but after about twenty minutes of opera singing, lava fleeing, and werewolf howling, we were narrowly crowned the victors of our match and moved on to the finals which will be in two weeks at the conclusion of theater season.

After watching the other improv matches, I headed back home to shower my dried milk encrusted body for the second time that day, then went for dinner with Emil.  Afterwards, we came back home and listened to music and talked in our courtyard until I was once again whisked away for the final event of the day – a delicious cheesecake made by Freya and a bunch of my closest friends to enjoy it with me.  We chatted and ate until around midnight, and then Emil and I returned to listen to Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Stravinsky’s Firebird before we headed for bed.  I fell asleep happy.

The next evening Paul gave me a fantastic birthday gift, doing an excellent job in his role in an adapted version of the movie Dogtooth.  It was disturbing and beautifully done – I spent the rest of the night glancing over my shoulder.  Later that evening, a few of us had a man chat on the arts center roof looking out over the valley until curfew forced us back to our wadas and into our beds.

My birthday continued yesterday, as Conner (my second year), Freya, Naomi, Michael and I walked/hitchhiked down to Paud to eat a delicious lunch at Sagar Inn that they kindly treated me to.  When we got back, I managed to read some of my current book, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which I am really enjoying, partly because it’s such a thoroughly American novel and while I’ve never felt more distanced from United States than I do here on the other side of the world, I’ve also never identified so strongly with my country.  You find here that while people are all basically the same, no matter their nationality, there are certain things that do distinguish nations and cultures from one another, and, for all of our country’s flaws, I’m prouder to be an American than I ever was back home.

I also fit in a workout before dinner and play rehearsal, demoralizing, because I lost so much muscle over winter break, but nonetheless satisfying.  I hope to gain it all back so that by the time I get back home my mom doesn’t worry that I haven’t been eating enough.

And now here I am, sitting in my bed after a delicious Sunday brunch and another stint with Kerouac swinging in the hammock in our sunbathed courtyard.  Life is good.  After eighteen years I am happy and getting healthier, taking each day as it comes and hopefully learning something along the way.

I think my next post will include a recap of our winter break, accompanied by some of Alexander’s pictures.  Stay tuned.

Will

A sneak preview…

The view from Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, The Blue City

The Golden Temple of Amritsar

Early Morning at the Taj Mahal

Exeat Weekend: Om Beach

I am really, really chilled out right now.  I don’t see how anything could possibly upset the profound peace I feel.  I now understand why Om Beach has developed such a reputation amongst the world’s hippie population.  If relaxation died and was reincarnated in the form of a landscape, it would be Om Beach.  If it was reincarnated in human form, it would be me, reclined on the white sand at the water’s edge, my beloved Kindle in my hand and a Bonapi Pie in my belly.

After saying our goodbyes in the parking lot – at MUWCI, an extended (Exeat) weekend necessitates a host of goodbye hugs – we seven intrepid explorers hopped onto two buses headed for Pune.  It was a great ride – whether we’re going down to the villages or out on a trip, I always love the jeep rides off campus, winding our way through the beautiful green-browns of Mulshi Valley and thinking, Damn, I live here.

Soon, we were on a bus from Pune to Gokarna, where Om Beach waited for us.  On the ride, I finished Plato’s Republic, which I’ve been reading on and off since I got here (to make up for not taking Philosophy), and I started a history of the US State Department’s Foreign Service on my Kindle.  In typical Will fashion, I stayed up long after everyone else had gone to bed, reading by the wavering light of my recently purchased and quickly deteriorating 17 rupee (50 rupees=1 dollar) flashlight.  Not LED, sorry Dad.

At 6:00 AM the next morning we woke and groggily exited the bus, and lethargically processed the sign pointing down a long dark road that read, “Gokarna, 10 km.”  Somehow, the prospect of a two hour walk seemed to awaken and energize us.  We set off in the cool morning air, fully prepared to walk the whole way if we weren’t able to hitch a ride.  And our good spirits were rewarded within about two kilometers when a passing bus stopped for us and took us the remainder of the distance to Gokarna.

Once there, we quickly found a couple auto-rickshaws and headed for Om Beach.  Since autos usually have room for only three in the back, one of us was forced to share a seat with the driver. I volunteered.  The next twenty minutes I spent hanging out the side of the rickshaw, soaking in the scenery and leaning into the turns as the wind rushed through my now-unreasonably long hair and my hobo-esque stubble.  As the glorious Om Beach came into view, an enormous smile spread across my face.  I felt like the king of the world.

Everything was perfect.  We arrived with the sun just below the horizon, beginning to tinge the sky orange and light blue.  White sand and turquoise water greeted us, and I had to remind myself that I had spent only one night and less than 10 USD to reach this tropical paradise.

While the girls settled down on a large rock waiting for our soon-to-be hotel to open, Michael, Emil, and I went out to explore.  We traversed the rocks on the other side of the beach for about an hour, Emil dancing dangerously ahead as Michael and I followed more slowly behind.  Emil insisted that I have more faith in “the amazing things that your body is capable of when you don’t get in the way,” but I was too busy looking out and the enormous expanse of blue water to our right, which by now had begun to reflect the light of the rising sun.

We came back to find the girls and eat breakfast at what would essentially be our home for the next three days – the Dolphin Bay Cafe.  Holy cow.  After weeks of eating only rice and dal, I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.   Our meals were parades of grilled prawns, tuna fish sandwiches, vegetable omelets, bonapi pies, and too many other dishes to count.  The food was so good that on our last day at least one of our group remained at our table outside from 9:00 in the morning to the time that we left, at 6:00 in the evening.  As it turned out, our favorite dishes was Naomi and Freya’s invention: bananas wrapped in a crepe covered in peanut butter and nutella.  As my Momma likes to say, Jeezum Crow!  I was on the fast track to regaining those fifteen pounds I lost over winter break.

At Om Beach, life’s beauty is found in its simplicity.  The greatest conflict of the trip was the discovery that my Kindle was low on battery, a tragedy that forced me to sit up, rise from the sand, and make the minute long trip to the thatched house I shared with Emil (100 rupees/person/night) to pick up Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger, which along with Catcher in the Rye has joined my list of favorite books.  Outside of this disaster, nothing interrupted my three days of revelry – not even a sunburn!

Our first day followed a strict regimen: read, swim, sun, repeat.  On our second day, Freya, Naomi and I were up early to watch the sunrise from the rock where the girls had sat when we first arrived, Naomi and I reading while Freya updated her journal, and sitting on that rock, I felt enormously lucky and grateful.  I wished at that moment, as I have often wished here, that I believed in God, so that I could thank Him for what he’s given me.  It was an insignificant moment in the trip – a non-event – but a highlight nonetheless.

Later, once everyone had risen and eaten, we got adventurous and took a hike to another beach that – surprise, surprise – was as stunning as the beach we had just left.  We spent an hour or so, enjoying the waves and then trying to play Cambodian hacky sack, made more challenging by the wind coming in off the sea (Paul’s girlfriend, Julie, had gotten it for him on a trip over winter break, and Paul, who had originally planned to accompany us on the trip, lent us the hacky sack – a sort of springy little thing with feathers that glides through the air when you kick it – when he decided instead to go to a friend’s Indian wedding instead).

For dinner, Tal got us invitations to Shabbat dinner at a home for Jewish travelers, where the flow of delicious food continued unabated, with the added bonus of Jewish prayers beforehand and the company of many Israeli travelers.  After dinner, we returned to base camp, the Dolphin Bay Cafe, for talking and card games and chess.  We were entertained throughout the evening by Patrick, a crazy French alcoholic who is a fixture of the restaurant, its finest and least coherent customer and the man who named Naomi and Freya’s pancake the Lovely Chuvely Pancake for reasons that still escape us.

Time operates strangely when I’m traveling.  Individual moments are fleeting, but in retrospect the trip as a whole always seems to have lasted an eternity.  I know that I’m living well when time works that way.  It’s how time worked at Om Beach.  It’s also, to a lesser extent, the way time is at MUWCI.  I’ve raced through the past five months, but it feels like a lifetime.  Hard to believe I’m here; hard to imagine life before this.  It’s all a bit paradoxical, and I guess that’s how I know I’m doing something right.

Anyway, it’s time to sign off here, I’ve been at this for way too long and I have to return to the reality of school and get a little work done before everyone else starts getting back.

Thanks for reading, more on the way soon,

Will

Getting Started

Hey ya’ll,

So, I finally started a blog.  For those of you who I don’t know personally – if there are any of you out there – I’m an American from Seattle, WA, and I’ll be attending UWC Mahindra College in India for the next year and a half.  I got here around five months ago, and unfortunately I didn’t really get this started until now.  Anyway, here are some updates on various parts of my life right now.

Theater season is well under way.  I’m acting in Letters from ’91, a play written and produced by Momin, a Kashmiri second year.  Pakistan, India, and China each control significant portions of Kashmir, and the region is plagued by frequent border conflict.  A substantial number of Kashmiris add to the conflict by fighting for the independence of the region from all three countries – this resistance often comes in the form of terrorism – or freedom fighting, depending on your perspective.  My character in the play is Irfan Ahmed, son of freedom fighter Majeed Ahmed.  My father was killed on an expedition into Pakistan when I was very young, but my mother never explains why he was killed, and I grow into a young patriotic Indian man.  So I am shocked when I am detained by police in an airport, twenty years after my father’s death, and told that my father and I are both terrorists, and that I am being sent to the Special Operations Group Headquarters to be interrogated.

The play gets its name from the letters I write to my son from the cell where I am interrogated (read: tortured).  The above information is related achronologically, with the text of my letters interspersed as a sort of narration to the events that lead up to my imprisonment.  In the play’s denoument, I make a confession of my own terrorism rather than continue being tortured, and I am convicted and put to death, and my son, who manages to get the letters that I have written him, becomes a freedom fighter like his grandfather, and kills himself in a suicide bombing.

I’m pretty excited to put on the play, though there’s still a lot of work to be done.  There are four other plays coming together for the season, and in the days leading up to our performances we’ll be excused from all of our Trivenis (the word we use in the place of CAS: Community, Action, Service).  So it’s a pretty big event, and I’m really hoping that everything comes together in time.

In other news, I’m just finishing with an application for the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), which takes like thirty kids to either Cornell or University of Michigan to study one of four courses: Morality in Literature, Modernism in Theater and Art, Democracy and Diversity, and Politics of Darwinism (I don’t think those are exactly the names, but they’re pretty close).  I’m particularly excited about Democracy and Diversity (at Cornell) but any of them sound fantastic, and from what I’ve heard the program is transformational for the people who get in.  The application is huge – like seven thousand words, and the admission process is entirely focused on the essays you write.  I don’t have a lot of chance of getting in, but I’ve got plenty of other plans for the summer if this one falls through.  I really should be working on my application instead of doing this, but I figured I should start this blog as long as I was feeling inspired.

School is going pretty smoothly.  I’m still waiting for the point that all of our second years talk about when it actually gets really difficult and stressful.  Generally, everything outside of education here has totally surpassed my already unreasonably high expectations – the only really excellent course I’ll have here will probably be Honors math, and theoretically I don’t even like math!  Our math teacher is completely brilliant though, and we’re still deciding, but we’ll probably be doing modal logic (mathematically formalizing arguments for and against God).  We’ll have classes just once a week for a few hours before Sunday brunch, and it’s going to be pretty intense – I’ll probably study a lot more for it than I do for any other classes, even though it’s the only one I won’t get graded in.

For the last few months, fire service has been cutting grass and strategically burning it to create a “firewall” around the campus that fires can’t get through (last year was the first time that the bio reserve wasn’t burned down – hopefully we’ll be successful this year as well).  But yesterday we handled the first fire of the year that we didn’t start ourselves.  The once-lush green valley verdure was transformed over winter break by the complete lack of rainfall – it’s now very brown, very dry, and very flammable.  So I’ll be gearing up at all hours of the day and night for the rest of the year whenever the siren calls us.  It’s actually been a ton of fun so far, and the adrenaline I got when I heard the siren the first time was awesome.  Fire service members get excused from whatever they’re doing unless it’s an IB test in order to take care of fires, which can get huge, particularly from February to April.  We don’t have enough money or water to be equipped like firefighters back home – we have bamboo poles attached to metal sheets called “beaters” that we use to – surprise, surprise – beat out fires.  Anyway, it’s sort of a testosterone fest, though about a third of the team is female.

I’ve lost a significant amount of weight as a result of an amoeba that I acquired during my month long trip during our winter break through northern India (awesome trip that maybe you’ll hear more about in subsequent blogs).  So I’m taking antibiotics which should get rid of the dude in my intestines within the next week, which is good, because on Wednesday afternoon Michael (UK), Tal (Israel), Freya (Alaska), Naomi (Germany), Camilla (Netherlands) and I leave for an extended weekend on the beautiful beaches of Gokarna, and I want to be able to properly digest the delicious food I’ll be eating there.

I guess that’s about it for now.  I’ll do my best to keep posting here whenever the mood strikes me, though I will absolutely not promise any kind of consistency.  Hope all is well wherever you are in the world.  I’m off to the caf for a bit of dinner, and then I’ve gotta get back to my TASPlication (3,000 more words to write by midday on Tuesday).

Over and out,

Will

A few photos from the last five months…

Gumboot Dance at the First-Years' Show (Left to right: John, Paul, Leo, me, Howard)

Freddy (Norway) and I, in our costumes for the Bollywood movie Housefull 2: in theaters April 5

 

From left to right: Urbano (Spain), Tudor (UK), Paul, and me, inside during monsoon season

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.