My first impression of India wasn't too great. Well, strike that, my first impression of India, pulling into the port was amazing. Palm trees everywhere, beautiful buildings on the side of the water, it was gorgeous. But when I went to exchange my South Africa Rand for Indian Rupees, which I was told I could do at the front desk of the ship (they had several Indians there who were exchanging money), my impression of India went way down. The exchange rate for Rand to Rupees is 1:6.56 or so, and I expected it to be worse at this exchange but when we offered me 3,000 Rupees for 1,000 Rand I was shocked. An exchange of 1:3 was really, really low. So I said absolutely not and he actually tried to bargain with me. He asked if I would take 4,000 and I just walked away. I'm not stupid, I know that goes on a lot in India, but when you are dealing with money exchange, especially on the ship, that was really unacceptable. I didn't hear about that happening when exchanging dollars to rupees to my only guess is that he didn't think I knew the exchange rate and figured he could get away with it. I think the ship should do a little more investigating if their going to bring in a local money exchange for the students. Anyway, after that things didn't get much better. For some reason, whether it was students taking a long time to go through customs or immigration taking forever to process the ship, we were a couple hours late getting off the ship, making everyone late for their trips. There was just this huge mob of people waiting in Tymitz Square for such a long time and that was not fun at all. Once we finally left the ship, I raced to my bus and we left for our trip to the Kumbalanghi Village. On the trip we took the bus maybe 30 minutes to an area where we got on a little boat (I can't think of the name) and took a short ride over the brackish backwaters to the village. When we got there we were greeted with a coconut, which I've learned to like on this trip and become a pro at drinking/eating. They taught us the various ways they use the coconut and palm trees, which are very plentiful in India. We saw veeshu vala, fishing with conical nets, and padal, fish trapping in coconut tree leaves. They also showed us how they catch crabs (huge blue crabs that they catch from the ocean and grow until maturity in freshwater), catch fish, boil clams, make coir from the palm fibers, make coconut milk, use the leaves as shelter, climb and get the coconut, sharpen knives, break open coconuts, and much more that I just can't think of right now. But it's amazing how one plant can be used for so much! You can literally use every part of the palm tree for something, according to our guide. After all of this, they treated us to a great meal, which I was surprised about considering I don't like Indian food. Of course they had curry, which I hate, but also fish, shrimp, and several vegetarian dishes, which I enjoyed. Then six young girls performed a dance for us for when their friends are about to be married. When we were done, they let us all ride in a richshaw, just for a few minutes, to get to our bus. The rickshaw is a three-wheel motorcoach and seems a little sketchy, but it was still a lot of fun! Then we quickly viewed several sights of Kochi since we were running late. We just went to the first European church built in India I think at Fort Kochi, the first European colony. The church was where Vasco Da Gama was once buried, he first discovered India. Then we walked to the Chinese fishing nets near an area where there was a market and got bombarded with salespeople (I think it was a trap!). On the way, some of us saw a snake charmer on the other side of the street. I was the first to see it and looked over and all I saw was a cobra figure swaying back and forth in a small basket and asked, does that look real to you? After we decided it was real, one of the professors whipped out his camera, and as I was about to do the same, the man put the lid back on the basket and demanded money for pictures. Since I didn't have any money and didn't really want to condone using animals for such entertainment I just kept walking. But it would've been amazing to get that on camera! At the market I surprisingly didn't get hassled. I just didn't make eye contact with the salespeople, and the one who wouldn't leave me alone I just completely ignored and walked away. But several guys on the trip must have just looked like they were going to give in because they just wouldn't leave them alone, so I tried to help saying that this was our first day here and nobody had gone to an ATM yet so we didn't have money. Which wasn't true, but usually when you look at them and say I have no money they will back off. And it worked in these instances. After that we just went back on the bus and went back to the ship.
On Tuesday I went with my media studies class to visit the Times of India, which is India's most popular newspaper. They just recently opened the bureau in Kochi in February so everyone was new. But they had some very interesting things to say, and I was a little surprised considering we have a tendency to view newspapers as boring in the US. But in India, it's quite the opposite. Newspapers are still very popular and aren't going to become obsolete any time soon, according to the editor. He said that many people, even young kids, read the newspaper often. Even though they have an online web page that's free to read, people still buy newspapers. He said it might be because buying Internet is more expensive than paying 2 rupees (1 dollar = 50 rupees). He also said that English newspapers tend to be weren't popular in India at all until the Times of India began. Another interesting fact is that they are sponsoring scientists to go and get water samples from the river in Kerala and testing the water. Then they are going to report the results and show how poor and polluted the water is. I thought this was very strange because usually it's the governments job to fund such research but the newspaper company was taking it into their own hands to show people the extent of the problem. In addition to all of the newspaper's accomplishments, I was also very impressed with the hospitality. The entire time we were there we were being served with bottled water, more cookies than we could eat, and the most amazing coffee I've ever had. All while in the most air-conditioned room I've been in in India. I felt really spoiled.
The third day I had a trip to another village called Chendamangalam. Upon arriving, we were greeted by young girls who threw flower petals as we walked by. Then 10 or 20 members of the community were waiting for us, along with a musical performance using drums and a sort of trumpet instrument. We were, of course, given a coconut and watched as the women performed a traditional dance. Then we were shown a 93-year-old grandmother's recently built home, it looked nicer than many American homes. We were then served a meal on banana leaves, which consisted of fish for some (and I have the recipe for it for my mother!), potatoes, rice, breads, and bananas. After that, they gave us a tour of part of the village and we just walked around for a while. Everyone was very friendly and the locals stood outside of their homes as we passed to wave hello. We were able to meet many of the young boys and speak with them. Surprisingly, there weren't many young girls we saw outside. After walking around, we drank some lemon tea and then went to a factory where the villagers weaved. I was a little taken aback because it looked somewhat like a sweatshop. Women working inside a hot building all day and being paid very little. But I guess it's how they are able to make money. We were then taken to a shop and I bought a dotee/tablecloth. After that we just went back to the ship.