January 9, 2010

Outspicing the Indians

Our hosts in every city were told to make their food more mild for us, as it was expected that it would be too hot for us. Luckily, being Atlantans, we have the opportunity to eat a lot of Mexican, Thai, Indian, and my favorite, Hot Wings. We saw smiles on their faces when we told them to make it as hot as they take it. I don't think they thought we were serious, so I took a spoonful of their spicy sauce and put it on a slice of onion ate it.

After that, they couldn't stop talking about it, and whenever we'd go into a restaurant, they'd proudly tell the server to make it full hot. It almost became a bit of a sideshow, seeing what we would and wouldn't eat, but it was a great icebreaker, and we got to really taste their culture, pun intended.

The state of Gujarat is vegetarian, and they don't eat eggs. You would think that this would limit how creative they could get with their food, but this isn't the case. The food, in addition to being nicely spicy, is incredibly flavorful, and with a variety of textures that make you not miss meat. Never thought I'd say that. We all thought we'd lose weight on this trip, but with all the entries, and bread that is served with everything, we just might gain weight. Wanting to try a little of everything, and eager hosts that emplore you to keep eating, certainly don't help. We only get to do this trip once though, so I'll just have to train a little extra for that half marathon.

Black Bear

I have a little extra time today after visiting Ghandi's birthplace, and so I need to get a few observations out before we head to dinner.

My name is Blake Beyer. I only reiterate this because of our language differences. Since I've arrived, my name has evolved from Blake to Black, and Beyer to Bear. And, without seeing it coming, Blackberry. It goes both ways though. I was calling Rajesh Radish, and Kitan Kitten. Renee is now Renny, and Bill Barney briefly became Billey Barn. Everyone on our team is doing what we can to make sure the nicknames stick, so we are definitely having fun with it.

Rajkot to Porbandar

we were sad to leave Rajkot and the new friends we had made, but we packed up our SUV with all of our luggage (on the roof, thankfully), and stuffed eight people in. It wasn't that bad spacewise, but the bumpy roads on the way to Gil Forest really played havoc on my tailbone! The driving was terrifying enough to have Bill and Renee shutting their eyes while our driver played chicken with 5 ton trucks and daredevils on scooters. We saw our first mountains, and drove through a small fortified town with a large stone fortress. Being a big history buff, I sorely wanted to visit, but the lions awaited, and the last bus into the reserve was going to be a close catch. We entered the reserve, and the guard told us the bus had already left, but we were able to catch up with them before they entered the fenced area and board it.

It looked like an African safari except for the trees, and wildlife abounded. Several types of deer wandered in and out of the bush eating grass, and wild pigs would come to take a look at us before bolting back into the tall brush. And then there they were. Four lions reclining under a large tree, lazily cleaning themselves and eyeing the tourists with little interest. We only stayed for about five minutes, and probably snapped 50 pictures and several minutes of video, but it made up for forgoing the nice new road to Porbandar to see them. Seeing lions in the wild, and having them be the last wild Asiatic lions, was really special.

After several hours more driving, the scrubbrush desert parted abruptly to reveal the ocean. The clouds looked like an oatmeal crust, with the sun punching through in hundreds of Jacob's Ladders. The water was a very light blue, and the sun played on the gently breaking waves. Very peaceful.

Porbandar was announced with a large concrete factory, and we met our new hosts on the outskirts. We said goodbye to Rajesh and Kitan (sorry if I mispelled you, but I don't have my business cards with me!) sadly, and went with our new hosts to tidy up before their Rotary meeting that evening.

We had two hours to rest, so I chose to update my journal on the balcony my new room had. Everywhere we go, we displace family members so that they can offer us a bedroom to ourselves. Here, I took the children's bedroom, and it has a nice little balcony that overlooks the city. In the setting sun, the buildings really showed in their faded yellow, and the sounds of the traffic below were strangely soothing now, after a week in-country. It wasn't ten minutes before Kitan's son Math (pronounced Mech, with the end almost like you are clearing your throat) was in my room with his sister Henne and cousin Herch (pronounced Hersh) to pepper me with questions about where I was from, my name, etc... I realised that not much writing was going to get done, and broke out one of the picture books I created to illustrate who I was, and started showing them. I got all the way through before Kitan came in to shue them along, and I had enough time to relax from the trip and get caught up in my writing.

The meeting was held in a very old building, easily over 100 years old, with charming architecture, and the patina that only many years of honest use could embue. We were led out the side door to a well lit grassy area where they had two serving lines set up to distribute dinner. The weather just after dusk is perfect, with gentle breezes and the temperature just about right. We mingled with our new friends and got to know them and their families a little better, as they brought their spouses and children to the meeting. The english proficiency here is a little less, being farther away from the tourist and business centers, so we amended our speeches to accomodate.

After the meeting, we went to the waterfront to see construction progressing at night on a beautification project the government was paying for. After that, we were taken to our new homes to get some much needed sleep. This day started at 7AM, and ended at midnight, and is fairly representative of how stuffed full of activities our average existence is here. Every new city wants to show us every special place, as well as their places of work and worship. It's exhausting, but it's fascinating, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

January 7, 2010

GSE in the news

Tommorrow we depart Rajkot with the most amazing memories. Some of my favorite involve interactions with the press. Our GSE team was twice featured in the pages of Akila Newspaper. Try this link Akila News but it may go bad after tomorrow. We were also priviledged (thanks to my wonderful host Ketan Joshi, Rotary Club of Rajkot president) to be interviewed on Big FM 92.7. We each were asked to share our impressions of Rajkot and its people. Of course, we had nothing but the nicest words. And today, while visiting a clothing store that features hand-made fabrics, we were subjects of a media storm. It was awesome. There were no less than 10 photographers and videographers from national television stations like Z News to document our visit. The event also graced the pages of Akila News once again. Check here for the story but be warned the link may expire.

The next city on our tour of Gujarat is Porbandar. But during our car ride tomorrow, I plan to write a proper recap of our time in Rajkot. GSE is a tremendous experience. Thank you Rotary. Thank you so much!!

Our Time in Rajkot

It's been a few days since I posted, as internet and time have been hard to come by. We have been so kindly welcomed into the homes and hearts of our Rajkot hosts, that thanks can't come close to conveying our gratitude, but will continue thanking them. I can't possibly cover everywhere we visited in this bustling city, so I'll try to focus on impressions, and how our experience has effected us.

I'll start with the driving. While I'm sure this is nothing compared to the madness we will surely see in Mumbai and Delhi, it is still amazing, and a little terrifying. We have seen one traffic light, a few traffic cops who don't seem that interested in traffic, and a lot of traffic circles. Traffic flows remarkably well in what I could only describe as beautiful chaos. Motorcycles compete with auto-rickshaws (little three wheelers that are used for everything from taxi to dumptruck, seriously...), cars, and the ever present cows, as shown in the picture. At intersections, there seems to be a clear pecking order, usually the vehicle that would do more damage getting right of way, but every now and then a surge of motorcycles and scooters will break through the main flow of traffic until that side street empties enough that a break in flow can be exploited by the main flow again. And yet it works.
Cars and motorcycles will be three deep in one lane, and passing sometimes requires borrowing some of the oncoming lane. We've only seen one fender bender between a scooter and a car, and the damage was minor. You don't see traffic jams though, and it's always flowing, and you get to wherever you need to go in a reasonable manner. It's just all at 20mph. Horns are used to encourage people to move a little to the left so you can come through. They are used for saying I'm coming through so pay attention, as my car will not feel good when it greets you. They are used to say, "Mr. Cow, do you really think it's a good idea to sleep in the middle of my lane?" It is also for saying "hello, I'm still here, please don't veer two inches to the right or your handlebar will scratch my paint". Horns are popular all day and all night, they love to use them, and the sounds of the city never sleep.
The city is growing very fast, and new construction is everywhere. The government of the state of Gujarat is very business friendly, so engineers and skilled workers are coming to Rajkot, as it is a center of smaller industry, and anyone with the education, will, and a little money can make a good life here. So many of our hosts have taken us to their factories, and they are my age. The opportunities for engineers in a developing country are amazing, and it makes me wistful that I was unable to apply my engineering degree in such a manner.
We have been treated like celebrities here. We were interviewed by the number one station in the city, Big FM yesterday. And today, while touring a government run crafts store, we were interviewed by a national TV network, so apparently we will be on the air this evening! We also made today's evening paper, as we interviewed the owner yesterday, and he interviewed us. It's been a tremendous experience so far, and it's been four days!
The tolerance of the people of Rajkot is worth mentioning. They have driven us around a lot, and have shown us so much, always falling behind schedule because we like to ask questions, and yet I've never seen them, or anyone get angry or frustrated. There is a peaceful acceptance of it all that I hope becomes engrained in me. There is no road rage, no anxiety, no anger.
Well, I think we are about to go to dinner, so I'll wrap up. I don't have time to review, so hopefully this all makes sense. Next post I'll try to say something about the food! We leave Rajkot tomorrow for Porbandar, and we'll be stopping along the way in a large forest preserve, where the last Asiatic Lions live. It never occured to me that we would be seeing lions in the wild, and we are just getting started! Please keep checking back, and leave us feedback on our stories. We'd like to know if anyone is reading. :-)
Blake and team

January 6, 2010

Running on Happiness...

As we've mentioned, the people in Rajkot have been overwhlemingly gracious. We've visited many temples, a meditation center, factories and other businesses. We also visisted a girls' school where nearly all 1,400 students who live on site in hostels rushed to see us. I have beautiful video of this, which I'll try to upload later today. So far, the connection has not allowed us to upload vidoes, but I have plenty to share upon our return.

This week has been especially interesting for those of us with vocations in communications, as we've met with some of the cities' most well established TV, radio and print journalists. One of our hosts arranged for an interview on Big FM, which is slated to air multiple times today. Great PR for this incredible GSE program.

The Rotarians of Rajkot invited us to speak last night. As always, they were warm and welcoming, adorning us in fresh garlands, providing us with banners and gifts, and allowing us to share about our wonderful city of Atlanta and our professions - sporting goods, consulting, journalism and public relations.

Today our team contiues our tour of Rajkot with my host family Amish and Karin (and their sons Shiv and Neev). Amish is a member of Rotary Midtown (in Rajkot), and his club plans to show us many of their recent projects, like the city dam, the dolls museum, etc.

As tired as we may be, we cannot afford to blink with so many wonderful people, places and experiences that await us each day. It's as if we're running on happiness - the happiness that exudes from the people of Rajkot. They embody service above self. The more we learn about the people and culture in India (and the more we eat - food here is incredible), the more we realize how difficult it will be to leave.

January 5, 2010

Busy in Rajkot

We have been too busy to write in Rajkot! Our days have been filled from morning to night with the most amazing sights and opportunities. We have visited several factories including Atul Auto and Rolex Rings. We have eaten fantastic meals at very nice restaurants like Motel the Village, where we also watched an entertaining puppet show. Yesterday we visited Big FM and today we will go back for an on-air interview. Most of all, we have enjoyed the company of our host familes and the Rajkot Rotary presidents and club members. They are the most gracious hosts, and we can't thank them enough for their kindness. Actually, maybe we can thank them enough, because they keep telling us to stop thanking them :). I hope to later on today download some more pictures onto the blog if there is time. Tonight we give our first presentation to all the Rotary Clubs in Rajkot.

January 3, 2010

Monday Morning


It's Monday morning and we are about to start our first morning in Rajkot with our gracious hosts. I haven't posted yet, so I wanted to talk a bit about our trip in, and hopefully I don't duplicate much with my teammates. We left Atlanta around noon on New Years and flew to Detroit. The flight was uneventful, save for a snorer next to Whitney sleeping off the night's revelling. After a brief layover, and de-icing the plane, we were off to Amsterdam. I couldn't sleep, and I was in good company, as most everyone had a hard time sleeping, except Amy who could sleep through a war.

We arrived in Amsterdam around 4 in the morning local time, and everything was closed, save for a few little eateries. We boarded around 10AM, and there was an additional level of security at our gate, as this was the origin of the Christmas terrorist. It took about an hour to get through this, despite already being in the airport. The second to last leg, to Mumbai, was where everyone finally crashed and got sleep. I managed about five hours. Thankfully, Delta/Northwest had an abundant selection of free movies to entertain. Just when we thought we were in the home stretch, we exited into India, and another 3 1/2 hour layover with little to do, since it was 2AM. It was definitely disorienting to fly through two nighttimes.

The flight from Mumbai to Rajkot (pronounced Raj-coat), was about two hours, on a rather large twin prop commuter plane, and it actually had the best food of the trip, with vegetarian Indian food, which had a little kick to it, and the textures and flavors were excellent. Didn't hurt that it was the nicest, most accomodating flight crew yet, either. We got little lemon juice drinks that were really sweet, and salty. The after dinner mints were like a tiny bag of mint and licorice flavored sunflower seeds. Strange, but good.

We exited the airplane and it was definitely a different environment. It was snowing big fat snow flakes in Amsterdam as the sun was coming up, and here with the dawn just breaking, it was warm and humid. On the edge of the tarmac facing the dark perimeter of the airfield was a guard with an assault rifle that had seen better days. It was a reminder that this part of the world also deals with terrorism. In a lighter moment, Amy tried to take a picture of us and the airplane, and the guard, who had only been looking at us curiously, suddenly scolded Amy in loud 'No's!'. Bill, our team lead, then informed us that you aren't aloud to take pictures of the planes for security reasons. As Amy has already spoken about our reception, I won't get into to great of detail, but we were overwhelmed with hospitality and welcome, and we took many pictures with the banner, and our fragrant flower necklaces, and our new hosts. We packed our bags into a large Mahindra SUV, and split up for the ride to our hotel. Bill pointed out several cows along the way, before deciding aloud he was going to stop pointing out cows now.

The drive itself was a little terrifying, as the driver swerved in and out, using the whole road, while honking away and dodging motorcycles, trikes and the ubiquitous cows that seem to roam the streets like stray dogs, unaffected by the crush of humanity. We passed a dusty open park, and even in the weak light, people were playing cricket. I hope we get to take in a match, and someone can explain it to us. The hotel was a short drive from the airport, and we were sat down in the lobby for chai tea, and our hosts welcomed us again, and explained what we were going to be doing over the next couple days. We were given the whole day to rest in order to be, as Bandu Sharma said, 'springy' today. I think I cumulatively got over 12 hours of sleep, and we feel pretty good today, so it was well spent.

Well, we are about to begin our day, so I'd better wrap this up. Hopefully we'll be able to keep y'all well informed. I think I've already written 10 pages in my journal, and it's been an amazing experience so far, and I'm sure it will continue to impress.

Take care,


Fresh off plane in Rajkot. Greeted by District 3060 representatives at Hotel Evershine.

Warm welcome

WarmWelcome When we arrived in Rajkot, the first city on our tour, we received the most incredible welcome. Representatives from District 3060 held a banner and placed fragrant flowers around our necks. We posed for pictures outside and then rode by car to Hotel Evershine, where we will stay and rest today. The ride over came us our first glimpse of the city and India. Wow! This is certainly nothing like America. When we arrived at the hotel, PDG Kulbandhu “Bandhu” Sharma gave us a welcome speech over coffee. Now we each Bandhu are in our separate rooms to rest. Our morning starts at 8 a.m.tomorrow. We have three vocational visits: Rolex Bearing, Atul Auto and Field Marshal. We will also enjoy kite flying in the evening and dinner with members of the Rotary Club of Rajkot. I can’t wait to see the city.

Also, I am hoping to upload the four videos we have taken but have had no luck so far.

Arrival in India

Amsterdam security After more than 24 hours in travel, the GSE team has arrived in India. Security in Atlanta was a breeze, despite the recent scare over Christmas (it just so happened that we took the same Northwest flight, although the opposite direction from Detroit to Amsterdam. That being said, security in Amsterdam was a grizzly bear in comparison. We waited for more than an hour to have our bags searched item-by-item and got a full-body pat down. After another eight or so hour flight, we have now arrived in Mumbai and are waiting to catch our connecting flight to Rajkot, the first city on our tour.