Posts Tagged ‘Champaign’

The Nagpur International Marathon: Why I woke up at 5:55 on a Sunday

February 1, 2011

The list of things that can get me out of bed at 5:55 a.m. is a short one.

Were the Chicago Cubs baseball team to play in the World Series 12 time zones away, I’d wake up early for that. Once in a lifetime experiences like sunrises on houseboats are also effective motivators to pull off the covers before dawn. And cats jumping through my window, as I discovered last week, can be very effective alarm clocks.

Add Sunday’s Nagpur International Marathon to that list.

The shade of sky outside matched my still dilated pupils as the alarm on my watch went off just before six a.m. Save Jojo and Diana, our two dobermans, no one in the house was yet awake, and going on the texts I exchanged with Anaïs, no one else was awake in her house either. I walked up to the roof and watched Nagpur wake up as the contrast in the sky slowly increased. The air was unusually still, and the early morning cold was a refreshing contrast to the afternoon heat. It was a time of day I wish my consciousness occupied more often.

Nonetheless, I had very little time to spare as I rode off towards the marathon’s start with only a general idea of my destination in mind. On a normal day, the trip would have taken about 15 minutes, but the detours I was forced to make did little to expedite my journey. By the time the time I spotted Anaïs, Franzi, Jakob, Mr. Khatri and their matching yellow T-shirts an hour after my departure, the marathon had long since begun.

This was the third time in three years a marathon was being held in my city of residence. Champaign-Urbana has hosted the Illinois Marathon the last two years, and my classmates have been active in each as participants and volunteers. I wasn’t able to attend the annual mega-event last year, as the day doubled as National College Decision Day, tripled as the day of an important Rotary conference, and quadrupled as my Senior Prom. But I did bike the 26.2-mile course for fun.

Some things about marathons are just different in India.

I think it’s safe to say the Illinois Marathon will never have race-side performances like those we were a part of Sunday morning. A group of middle-aged men in yellow T-shirts and baseball caps stood in a group by the course and cheered – or, should I say, laughed – the runners on. Somehow the four of us ended up in the middle of the Nagpur Laughter Club, spurred to join them in exorcising, exercising, exhilarating laughter yoga.

Amidst the laughter yogis was a group of sari-clad teenage girls performing a traditional dance of their own, who somehow managed to pull off stunts and dance in rhythm while stealing not-so-covert glances at the four foreigners in front of them. We were forced to join them with stunning suddenness, musically accompanying them with either metal shakers or the clapping of our hands. It was just another one of those moments that exchange students seem to have so often in India – the kind of moment that makes you think: “How did I end up here?”

But while such moments occur with regularity, my reactions to them are no longer the same.

Since arriving in India, unusual events have been occurring unannounced and unexpectedly on a regular basis. While life here crawls along persistently, interesting things continue to pop up on short notice every few days. This pattern of traveling with scant preparation has been a constant throughout the year. At first I was frustrated by India’s unique approach to time – trips to temples, cross-town visits to family members and Rotary events early in the year caught me off-guard, and thus I found it harder to enjoy them.

Until I got used to them.

As we were instructed at July’s Rotary conference, the best answer to give when asked if you want to do something is usually “yes”. Because if the answer is “no,” the next question will just be “Why not?” Arguments against doing something often take more effort than the event itself – causing one’s laziness to backfire. If you say no, the experience is lost, and you can do nothing but ask, “What if?”

That’s why I was awake at 5:55 Sunday morning, despite having slept only three and a half hours that night. That’s why I spent an hour on my bike that morning to see the marathon with my friends. I was only going to say yes.

And why not?


Click to enlarge


Christmas in India: Part eight

January 22, 2011

With Boxing Day just an hour away, I had one last thing to do before my Christmas would be complete.

But that last thing was the most important of them all.

Minutes after arriving home, I called my mom just as I’d promised. I was disappointed to hear the familiar greeting and beep of the answering machine, but far from dismayed. She was likely en route to my grandma’s place, picking her up for the traditional Christmas family dinner at my aunt’s house. I’d be calling my aunt’s house that afternoon, so I could talk to her then. I left a one-minute message anyway.

I’d coordinated things with my aunt via email beforehand. If everything went according to plan, Christmas dinner would follow the usual schedule, and everyone’s plates would be cleared by two in the afternoon. I planned to call as the gifts were being opened, just as everyone was settling into their post-meal routine. That way, I’d be able to talk to everyone at the dinner table without hanging up the phone.

But I still faced a two and a half hour gap between my last phone call and my next one. So I spent that time talking to some other people I cared about. I had a good conversation with my host parents before they went to bed, and I wished some of my friends Merry Christmas through Facebook Chat. But mostly I was just waiting for the clock to strike 1:30 local time. Thanks to the 11.5-hour time difference, sleep once again fell low on my priority list.

Nearly two hours after midnight, I punched in the thirteen digits that would create a direct link between Nagpur, Maharashtra, India, and Champaign, Illinois, USA.

My aunt told me beforehand to prepare to be homesick, and I know why she said that. I missed my family. I missed my younger cousins Claire, Henry and John, and I missed their parents, my older cousins Dawn, Cyrus, Chris and Lisa. I missed my Aunt Julie, who always does such a good job hosting Christmas dinner each year, and I missed my Uncle Larry, who always cooks up a scrumptious meal. I missed my grandma, with whom I hadn’t yet talked from India, and I missed my mom, with whom I’d talked several times from India, but was still anxious to speak with all the same.

Was I homesick? No. But before calling, the gap between my family and me was larger than it had ever been.

I picked up the phone, and it was as if I was entering another world.

My aunt’s “Hello” was the first thing I heard. In the background I could hear wrapping paper being torn and exhilarated voices shouting out. Familiar voices. Voices I hadn’t heard in months…

As the phone made its way around my aunt’s house, I exchanged Christmas greetings with almost everybody there. Everyone had something nice to say, and almost everyone had questions about my life in India. People seemed particularly interested in the balmy weather here, and given the climate they described to me there, I can understand why.

Champaign is the kind of city that gets more than its fair share of winter weather. Several deposits of snow fall each winter without fail, sometimes of the knee-deep variety. In spite of this, I hadn’t experienced a white Christmas in Champaign in years – either the snow would melt in time for the holiday or it would wait until January to fall. So as person after person recounted the scene out the window – six inches of fresh powdery snow covering everything in sight – I wasn’t shocked, but I understood the significance of the moment. It was certainly nothing like Nagpur.

All of us were getting used to temperatures in the 20s. I just happened to be the only one using Celsius.

For over 90 minutes, I painted a picture of Indian life to the eight people I talked with. Our conversations bounced from topic to topic, from how I was enjoying cricket to how I was living without meat. Time slows down when you’re enjoying yourself, and when my uncle asked me what time it was in India, I looked down at my watch and told him: 3:30 a.m.

What is it about absence, they say, that makes the heart grow stronger? Of the eight people I talked to, I hadn’t heard the voices of seven in five months, and I hadn’t seen any of them since leaving for India.

It’s precisely because of that absence that the phone call I made that night was life-changing.

I’d always taken my family for granted. That’s not a rude statement, or an offensive one. It’s just a fact. Christmas dinner with my family was always a given, as predictable as the fireworks that shoot off each New Years at midnight. They were always with me in the same area code, or at least usually within driving distance. I grew up incredibly fortunate to live so close to the people I love, and I grew content with them being there, whether I needed them or not.

Now I was in India for Christmas, and I could no longer take my family for granted. Sure, they were all still there at the table, quite solid in their seats. But for the first time in nearly two decades, I wasn’t. There’s just something about being halfway around the world that makes Christmas different. Quirks and petty disagreements don’t matter when you’re 8,000 miles away.

It’s still my family, no matter what.

And that’s all that matters.


Why you don’t need to be sad when I leave

July 4, 2010

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.Ferris Bueller

Tomorrow, I will take my bike for a routine ride through Champaign, as I have for years.

In four days, I will get in the car and attend a four-day conference in Michigan to learn about my trip to India.

In 16 days, I will drive to O’Hare, board a plane, and leave for 11 months.

That leaves me 11 days before I put my bags in the trunk, pet my cat one last time, and wave goodbye for 11 months to the seasonal drifts of snow, scores of orange-clad Illini fans, and almost everyone I’ve ever known.

But is that cause for sadness? Heck no! At least not for me.

See, I live life with a Carpe Diem mentality. What’s there one day often won’t be there the next. In the case of this trip, my departure is an inevitability. Life is good, if you try hard enough to enjoy it.

What saddens me is that there are so many people that don’t.

Pettiness invades the fabric of our daily lives. Squabbles overtake the beauty of an ordinary day. Grudges are made, left to simmer, and left alone. We spend our time letting what we can’t affect, affect us. And we’re left with no time.

Does everyone do this? Of course not. But sometimes those people want to share their misfortunes with others, failing to put their misfortunes into perspective. They become so preoccupied with their dislikes, that they lose sight of all there is to like.

So I prefer to use my time to enjoy what life gives me to enjoy. And use what’s left to share it with others.

I’ve been lucky to have a plethora of free time this summer. I’ve lived in the moment the most I’ve been able to since I was seven. I’ve realized, and continue to realize, that each moment in Champaign could be my last – at least for a while.

Going to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game is a special occasion in itself, especially when I’m allowed to walk on the field. But it’s even more special when I know I won’t be following baseball for a full year. The same goes for tennis practices, eating homemade pasta, and watching Toy Story 3 in 3D.

The lasts are coming. The last time I’ll play Madden NFL 06 on my trusty old PS2. The last time I’ll head over to The Union to work on my Rotary Powerpoint. The last time I’ll look out my living room window and watch a squirrel bound across the yard as I lay down by the register to cool off.

But those lasts aren’t sad. Because I’ve enjoyed almost every moment I’ve had recently, be they the first, 81st, or last of their kind. When you live life to its fullest, you have no regrets.

I have no regrets as I prepare to leave. I’m not sad. If anything, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know so many of you so well. Sure, a new life is beginning, but for no reason does my old one have to go anywhere. If you’ve touched my life in some way, I’ll take the memories of you wherever I go. Never forget that I will never forget you.

That’s why you don’t need to be sad when I leave.

Happy Fourth everyone!


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Weather in Nagpur: Dispelling the misconceptions

June 14, 2010

Note: Fahrenheit is used throughout this post. C=(5/9)F-32


It’s a word I’ve heard used to describe the weather in India by dozens of people I’ve talked with as they prepare me for this year. The more I heard that word, the more anxious I became about my year abroad.

See, I’m the kind of person that thrives in cold weather. I’m comfortable in shorts in 40 degree weather. I wore no more than two layers of clothes all winter. On February days as my classmates would hurry back to school from P.E. in the freezing air, I’d enjoy the frosty breeze in a t-shirt, arms outstretched.

My teachers have chastised me for not wearing a coat. My friends know me as a “polar bear”. My grandma won’t let me out the door between October and March unless I’m wearing a thick cotton-stuffed coat – or two. (Love you grandma! :))

In short, I get along much better with cold weather than seems normal for, you know, a human being.

One day in May I went online and checked the weather in Nagpur from an ocean and a half away and saw it was 88 degrees. ‘Not too bad,’ I thought. Until I realized that while the sun was high in my location, it was pitch black – the middle of the night – in Nagpur.

‘I wonder how hot it is during the day,’ I wondered. I clicked.

116 degrees Fahrenheit.

And I, of all people, would be spending 11 months in that?

But I did a little more research on my own. The average temperature in Nagpur is about 92 degrees – certainly not cool, but quite tolerable. Whereas the hottest months in the U.S. are June, July and August, India’s temperatures are at their peak in April, May and June. That 116, then, was much more an outlier than the norm.

Average Monthly Temperatures

The temperatures in Nagpur are actually far more constant than those in Champaign. For eight months, the average high temperature remains between 83 and 91 (all in which I’ll be there). In fact, in July and August, the temperatures in Champaign and Nagpur are quite similar.

And of course, you can’t forget about the monsoons.

Average Monthly Precipitation

That huge spike you see in Nagpur’s precipitation is because of the annual monsoons. Each year, from June to September, the subcontinent is cooled off by the humid air from the Indian Ocean. 80 percent of India’s precipitation occurs during this season.

Basically, the monsoons make the thunderstorm that passed through Champaign this afternoon seem weak. Three inches of rain a month? Pshaw. The 10-day weather forecast for Nagpur reads “Scattered T-Storms” for the next ten days.

Here’s one way of comparing the two cities: Champaign has stable amounts of precipitation, but widely varying temperatures. Nagpur has relatively stable temperatures, but widely varying amounts of precipitation. It will be hot, but I’ll be able to adapt.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be packing a coat.


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