tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quote-Unquote: Walt Whitman

Afoot and lighthearted,
I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

--Opening lines of 'Song of the Open Road,' from the epic anthology Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman.

(Context: Committed to reciting these lines whenever I take the first step of a new adventure, I found they popped into my head as my partner and I prepare to board a train today for Darjeeling and then on to our Himalaya trekking adventure in Sikkim. Back in a few weeks.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

You say Potato, I say... Banana Pancake

There's more than one way to slice fruit. You could, for example, not slice it at all. Just peel it and wrap a spongey pancake around it, and call it (tada!) banana pancake. I'd argue it more closely resembles a banana burrito, but then, what's a burrito in the land of dosaroti and naan?

Nothing so liberates the heart from homesickness like ordering a dish you know and love, and having it served a little unlike home.

So let's add this banana burrito-pancake to the list of things I'm loving about India.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What PREM Does: Long, Long Distance Education

This is the third in a series of posts about the development work of People's Rural Education Movement (PREM) in Orissa, India.

The majority of the 8 million Adivasi people of Orissa live in remote, inaccessible villages situated deep in the hilly, interior forests, where a lack of communication as well as other basic facilities are stumbling blocks for development.

Government outreach in education and health care is negligible in most of these areas. Not surprisingly, Orissa’s Adivasi people continue to lag behind the rest of India on socio-economic indexes.

30% of Adivasi children will never spend even one day in primary school, and only 1 in 4 will complete the sixth grade. Half of the population is illiterate. School attendance rates and dropout rates among Adivasis in Orissa are among the worst in the country. Teacher absenteeism, government neglect, poor infrastructure, lack of consideration for tribal culture and language, and lack of awareness among Adivasi of their rights, are among the proximate causes of these problems and only exacerbate the desperate condition in which these communities live.

A few years ago, PREM partnered with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to pilot a program to reach Adivasis in some of the most remote parts of Orissa. Through this partnership, PREM helped build Village Resource Centres (VRC) in eight different rural communities, while ISRO outfitted each centre with computer and broadcasting hardware to connect each VRC via satellite to a studio in PREM's headquarters near Berhampur.

Each Monday and Friday from its studio, PREM hosts a two-hour interactive broadcast on a scheduled topic or issue that simultaneously reaches audiences in all eight VRCs. The broadcasts usually feature one of PREM's ongoing initiatives in, e.g., pre-school education, malaria prevention, youth-club development, agro-forestry livelihood, early childhood and maternal care, eco-sanitation, positive discipline, and others.

PREM's role is to help train those community representatives who will in turn be developing these inititatives in the home community. Audiences of village leaders, parents, teachers, and youth ask questions on camera in real time and can also submit queries by email before and after the broadcast.

More often than not, in PREM's studio sits a small panel of experts and program leaders, presenting to the camera and taking questions from the participants at the VRCs. But frequently these twice-weekly broadcasts feature other, livelier acts: Adivasi singers, dancers and stage performers who present the material in a culturally contextualized fashion.

The two Adivasi men in the photo are presenting a song-and-spoken-word routine on the subject of eye care and preventing eye-related diseases. This is going to have the audience on the edge of their seats!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Belated Onam

Onam is the one of the biggest holidays of the year in the Indian state of Kerala, which is absolutely nowhere near where I live. However, it happens that the founder and president of PREM is from Kerala, so a feast-in-exile was arranged to honour him, as honouring the founder and president of PREM is one of the most important functions of PREM!

In a salty nutshell, Onam celebrates the annual return of an ancient, beloved king of Kerala, Mahabali, who retained such favour with the gods during his life that, in his afterlife, he is permitted once a year to visit his people whom he loved and served so well.

It's also a heck of a feast, or sadya, an all-vegetarian affair in which the mighty coconut (its milk, its oil) features in just about every dish, all of which are served on a freshly cut banana leaf. Rice, cabbage, gourd, eggplant, plantain, potato, yogurt and papadam also feature prominently in the meal whose spices are savoury and muted by Indian standards. Dessert is a sweety and milky rice pudding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ten Things I'm Enjoying about Life in Orissa, India

1. That being chased, charged or nearly head-butted by Colossus the Ox, who rules the muddy lanes of our neighbourhood, is considered a rite of passage for residence and has endeared me to several of my neighbours.

2. That it is perfectly acceptable--or even advisable--to walk into an important meeting barefoot, and further that it's quite all right to take off your shoes, walk around and stretch your toes in the middle of someone's power-point presentation.

3. That in a culture where, in many circles, vegetarians are the majority, a "non-veg" person like myself endures no discrimination.

4. That almost every time I approach the neighbourhood egg shop for my regular half-dozen-bag purchase, the guys have it all ready for me before I enter and playfully call out "six eggs," to which I echo "chuh undah" for my most-used Oriya phrase.

5. That road trips come with elephant warnings.

6. That every month when the cable guy comes to collect the bill of 175 rupees ($3.90), he inquires earnestly if everything is okay with the cable while he has me sign and date three different official forms and waits for my smile of satisfaction before he leaves.

7. That stray dogs (almost) always prefer lounging on random piles of dirt to harassing humans.

8. That after more than six months I can finally ride a motorcycle through a herd of imposing water buffalo without fear of being impaled by their foot-long horns.

9. That the guy who comes into my office everyday to announce that it's time for lunch--which by all evidence is the only English word he knows--does so with an unaffected panache that befits the delicious meal I'm about to eat.

10. That everyday when I walk home from the marketplace, a half dozen 3-5 year-old neighbourhood children run straight at me, laughing, tripping over each other in order to be the one (or two) to hold my hand and walk me to my gate.

And here's one more shot of Colossus the Ox...