the wonderful world of veena.

27 September 2012

30 thursdays: 30 songs I'm always listening to.

It is a well-known fact that my taste in music runs the gamut of genres, artists, and decades. It comes from growing up listening to a mixture of Hindi movie songs and 80s hair bands, with some Elvis thrown in for good measure. While I go through phases of favourite songs, the following ones tend to show up on any playlist I make and never fail to make my day just a little bit better.

30 songs I'm always listening to:
  1. Make You Feel My Love cover by Adele
  2. Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap
  3. Reason Why by Rachael Yamagata
  4. Senorita from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
  5. Southern Girl by Amos Lee
  6. At the Beginning from Anastasia
  7. Suspicious Minds by Elvis
  8. Kuch is Tarah by Atif Aslam
  9. The Promise by Tracy Chapman
  10. She's Always a Woman by Billy Joel
  11. Blaze of Glory by Bon Jovi
  12. Stand by Me cover by the Woolsocks
  13. Cowboy Take Me Away by the Dixie Chicks
  14. Defying Gravity from Wicked
  15. If I Were a Carpenter by Johnny Cash with June Carter
  16. La Vie Boehme from Rent
  17. Faithfully by Journey
  18. When Everything Seems Wrong by Ari Hest
  19. Summer Wine cover by The Corrs
  20. Every Rose has its Thorn by Poison
  21. November Rain by Guns 'n Roses
  22. Pehla Nasha from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
  23. Tum Ho Toh from Rock On!!
  24. Come Away With Me by Norah Jones
  25. Talking to the Moon by Bruno Mars
  26. Someday You Will be Loved by Death Cab for Cutie
  27. All We'd Ever Need by Lady Antebellum
  28. Icky Thump by the White Stripes
  29. Peaches & Cream by John Butler Trio
  30. Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan
These are the songs that are generally stuck in my head. Which ones are stuck in yours?
woo pig.

[if you're curious about my awesome new heading for the series, dear sweet Laura designed it for me. isn't it great? thanks, La!]

20 September 2012

30 thursdays: adding on to a previous list.

I don't have a new list for you guys today, but I do want to add on to my list from a few weeks ago. Due to an email mix-up on my end and my brother's ridiculously busy schedule [tests every two weeks. yikes], I didn't receive his response until after I had already posted that list. However, as he is my big brother and is the one person in the world who knows me better than I know myself, his response was a mash-up of words describing me throughout the course of my life, and I would like to share it with you today. [warning: you may want to get out your tissues. I certainly needed them]

"Trying to describe you in one word or phrase is difficult, because having known you for your entire life there are different words at different points in our lives that I would have used to describe you, such as - princess, girly-girl, redneck accent, Americanized, 4 eyes, brainy, nerdy, annoying, pest, smartass, shy, bookworm, carlene's pet, Braves Fan, Razorbacks Fan, stubborn, brave, outgoing, fearless, adventurous, altruistic, intelligent, sincere, dependable, relentless, caring, loving, confident, Packers Fan, FOB accent, rickshaw pro, bus pro, non A/C sleeper pro, Indianized, adversary, sister, friend, confidant, protector. 

But above all of those things, for me, the words which I would use to describe you are - "My Hero." 

And I mean that with all my heart. You are my hero Veen. The person I look up to the most, whom I most want to emulate, whose footsteps I want to follow in. There will always be beauty and hope in this world because of people like you."

To hear that from someone I consider my hero is an incredible feeling. And I once again iterate that I have the best big brothers in the world.
woo pig.

19 September 2012

channeling my inner history nerd.

During my recent stint in western Nepal, I had quite a lot of free time in the evenings, so I decided to use the time to scout out some good podcasts on iTunes. In the past I have mostly subscribed to news and sports podcasts, which can be very informative when you don't watch a lot of television, but which can become frustrating if they become backlogged. But I had never really even thought about looking at what other podcasts were available.

A few weeks ago, Dylan Perry told me of a podcast that Slate does called Lexicon Valley, so I decided to check it out. While it was downloading, I did a few random searches and eventually landed on one called Stuff You Missed in History Class that piqued my interest.

For those of you who don't know, I have long been fascinated by history. It was one of my favourite classes in school, and when it came time to choose an undergraduate major, I landed on History for the variety of courses that Rhodes offered on the subject. In my four years, I took classes on modern India, on Medieval Europe, on the slave trade, on the American South, and - my personal favourite - on African-Americans Through Sports [the only 8am class I never missed, if that tells you anything].

I have always enjoyed learning about people and events from the past, so when I found this particular podcast, I was immediately intrigued. I decided to download the most recent one, which happened to be about code-breaking during World War II [a subject that I have always been particularly fascinated by], and it was great: informative, entertaining, and to-the-point. One of the drawbacks to my history obsession is that often times history books are very long and boring and dry, taking hundreds and hundreds of pages to explain a basic story, so while I'm interested, I don't have the attention span. So a half-hour podcast was great.

The podcast dates back to 2008, so I have been slowly downloading and listening to the earlier ones, and it has been great. I have learned about Vlad the Impaler [ouch], the Code of Hamurabi, the Pied Pieper of Hamelin, and how a sunken Spanish treasure ship kind of led to the United States acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, amongst others.

So if you need some entertainment but also want to learn something new, this is a great podcast to listen to.

And my favourite part about iTunes podcasts? They're free.
woo pig.

[other recent favourite podcasts: TEDTalks (video), BBC Global News, This American Life, Slate's Daily Podcast, and Anderson Cooper360]

16 September 2012

70 years young.

Today is my father's 70th birthday. Last year I wrote about how my father and I are both twin souls and polar opposites, and much of what I said still stands true today. But as much as we may differ on various topics, he will always remain one of my greatest role models for how to live my life and how to serve my fellow human being.

I often don't have the words to express to my father how much he means to me or how much I look up to him, but that doesn't mean that I don't strive every day to follow in his footsteps. I wish I could be there to ring in this day with him and my mother and brother, to celebrate this milestone, but I hope he knows that I am honoring him on my own here in Nepal.

And because thinking of my father's birthday made me a bit nostalgic, I took a spin through a Facebook album of old pictures I had scanned and posted, and these were a few of my favourites. Enjoy.

Happy Birthday, Pa. Hope it's everything you hoped for and more.
woo pig.

13 September 2012

30 thursdays: 30 favourite foods.

I have been having some major food cravings these past few weeks [eating pretty much the same thing for 4.5 weeks straight will have that effect on you], so here is my list of 30 dishes I can never get enough of. Some are general dishes, and some are specific to certain favourite restaurants, but all are feel-good classics that never fail to make my day just a little bit better.

30 favourite foods:
  1. butter chicken
  2. chilly pork / beef
  3. steamed chicken / buff momos
  4. my mother's spaghetti and homemade meatballs
  5. mutton biryani
  6. BBQ nachos from Central BBQ
  7. #2 Classic Italian on wheat from Lenny's
  8. Senor Huey and cheese fries from Huey's
  9. fried catfish
  10. tiger prawns
  11. gobi manchurian
  12. cheesy gordita crunch. oh, Taco Bell. how I miss thee.
  13. Dr Pepper from Burger Shack [I know it's technically a beverage, but if you've ever had one, you'll understand that it counts on this list]
  14. anything wrapped in bacon [particular favourites are prawns or dates]
  15. waffle fries
  16. curly fries [yes, they count separately]
  17. chocolate chip cookie dough / chocolate almond ice cream
  18. hot wings. the hotter the better.
  19. chocolate chip pancakes
  20. mommy mush
  21. waffles drowning in maple syrup
  22. fireball of freedom from Kwik Chek
  23. crawfish
  24. masala dosa
  25. chocolate cake
  26. fresh salad
  27. BBQ sandwich on Texas Toast from BBQ Shop
  28. veg thali
  29. chicken spaghetti
  30. peanut masala
As you can see, my tastes are a bit all over the place, but you know what they say about variety being the spice of life.

What are your favourite foods?
woo pig.

09 September 2012

bring on the chaos.

I have now been in rural Nepal for 4 weeks, and while I have enjoyed my time here and have loved getting to visit the schools where Room to Read works, I am definitely ready to be back in Kathmandu later this week.

Having grown up amongst the cotton fields on the banks of the Mississippi River, I am no stranger to rural living. That being said, however, life amongst the rice paddies has just about run its course. I think probably the biggest thing for me is that there's not a whole lot to do around here, so Arpana and I pretty much just hang out in our hotel on the days we don't have interviews to conduct. While it's perfectly comfortable, seeing the same four walls all day and night long can get old. We try to go for walks in the evening, if the temperature is bearable, but even that is hit-or-miss. There's nothing to do in the nights, and even if there were, it's not really advisable for women to roam around on their own once the sun sets. So we hang out in the hotel, and I watch movies or tv shows that I have stored on my hard-drive and then read for about an hour before I sleep.

I'm not meaning to complain, as the weeks here have had their own charm, I've gotten to read for pleasure quite a lot [finished 3 books since I've been out here!] and all the people at the hotel and the Room to Read office have been extremely kind and patient and helpful. But it has also been a reminder that I am at my best amidst the hustle and bustle of a city. I need some noise and some chaos and some stimulation. I need the option of having a quiet night rather than having 30 quiet nights in a row. I need things to do and people to see.

So while I am glad that my project included some time in the field and I was able to see a bit of rural Nepal, I am equally grateful that it also provides time in the city. And I am ready to be back in one. #3moredays
woo pig.

06 September 2012

30 thursdays: 30 words [or phrases] my friends use to describe me.

A little over a week ago, I emailed a number of close friends and family and asked them to respond with one word - or phrase - that they would use to describe me. The first 30 unique responses I received are displayed below. I think it goes without saying that not only do I have some incredible people in my life, but they give me far more credit than I deserve. Thank you all for responding so quickly and with such glowing remarks. I hope you all know how much it means to have you in my life.

30 words [or phrases] my friends use to describe me:
  1. loyal
  2. sunshine
  3. humanitarian
  4. smart, but nutty [thanks, father]
  5. motherly
  6. exuberant
  7. annoyingly optimistic
  8. altruistic
  9. adventurous
  10. Gucci [you're hilarious, Fernando]
  11. "I hear smiles when you talk"
  12. fantabulous
  13. genuine
  14. infectious enthusiasm
  15. crazy
  16. free spirit
  17. ebullient
  18. "Little Sister" - Veen will always be my little sister.  Chicken spaghetti, cookies, brownies, and whatever other treats she dreamt up....were always waiting for some hungry boys at 2 a.m.  Coming home was almost as good as sneaking back out after the late night snack!  I love my little sister, and am ready to see her again....and If I see my little sister in a bar, she can't blame me if I take the drink from her hands.  Little Sisters shouldn't grow up.  But what is not surprising is what continues to grow....her heart, it's always been huge, and full of love.  And I'm blessed to be able to call her...Little Sister. [I know I said one word or phrase, but Mikey's response nearly made me cry, so I had to paste the whole thing. I think it goes without saying that I have the best big brothers in the world]
  19. "Veena is always sunny and quick to laugh. She is a mind and mood altering positive presence everywhere she goes!"
  20. organized
  21. kind
  22. jocose [Will wins the award for most creative]
  23. alluring
  24. effervescent
  25. orangy fizz
  26. encouraging
  27. rum
  28. full of life
  29. "One word or phrase is absolutely not enough". I truly believe that. The girl that can claim her "home" in more than one continent, has someone she can call "family" anywhere she goes, and drinks old monk like a rock star cannot be summed up in one word or phrase. [again, Moo also came close to bringing tears to my eyes]
  30. harmonious
Honorable Mentions [because they came in just after #30]:
  • roomigo [It's a hybrid word: friend AND roommate.  See, it's so much more than just a friend and so much more than just a roommate. It's Roomigo.] [thanks, Roomigo :)]
  • best-beach-walk-buddy
And that's that. Greatest friends ever.
Next week: my 30 favourite foods.
woo pig.

05 September 2012

thankful for teachers the world over.

Today is Teacher's Day, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of the loyal, dedicated, overworked and underpaid, wonderful, influential, amazing teachers around the world. I have been lucky enough to learn from some great minds, and each teacher I've had throughout the years has had some influence over getting me to where I am today. Additionally, I have many fantastic friends who have dedicated their lives to teaching and influencing the next generation of leaders, and I am so thankful that I have gotten to benefit from their wisdom as well.

So take a moment out of your day to remember and thank the selfless people who give their time, day in and day out, to shaping minds the world over. You wouldn't be who you are or where you are today without them.
woo pig.

02 September 2012

my project explained.

It occurred to me that I'm four weeks into my ten-week project and have yet to actually explain what I'm doing. You know, for the three of you out there who are actually interested. So here you go.

With whom am I working?
Room to Read, an awesome organization based globally out of San Francisco that works to promote childhood literacy and girls' education in 10 countries in Asia and Africa.

Where am I?
I'm a bit all over. The main focus of my project is in Bardiya, a rural district in western Nepal, bordering Uttar Pradesh in India. I started out for a day in Delhi, was in Kathmandu for a week, and have now been in Bardiya for 3 weeks. I'll be here for another two, after which I'll be back in Kathmandu for about 10 days before wrapping up with 2 weeks in Delhi. Confused yet? I've been trying to explain it to Shonali for 3 months, and she's still not figured it out.

What am I doing?
Room to Read Nepal wanted to study the impact the material assistance leg of their Girls' Education program [GEP] is having on keeping girls in secondary school, so I - along with Arpana, my translator - am interviewing stakeholders in 8 of the schools where Room to Read is working to hear their thoughts on the matter. The information we gather will be written up in a final report outlining our key findings and offering recommendations for improvements to the program to make it more successful and more sustainable.

Our progress thus far...
We have completed our interviews in 7 of the schools, with the 8th and final one on our schedule for tomorrow. The schools are spread throughout the district, with the closest being about a 20-minute jeep ride away and the farthest a 3-3.5-hour journey that included jeeps, boats, and buses. It was quite the adventure. In each school we have interviewed the Headmaster, the contact teacher, one Social Mobilizer [Room to Read staff who work in the school], girls who are receiving material assistance, parents of girls receiving material assistance, girls not receiving material assistance, and boys, as well as one individual girl for whom the assistance has made a significant impact. It's been a pretty fun journey so far: we've gotten to meet and speak with a lot of people [nearly 200 so far!], we've gotten to see rural Nepal [rice paddies as far as the eye can see], and we've even received the celebrity treatment a few times [garlands and flowers in one school, chai and samosas in another].

What's next...
Once we wrap up in the schools, we will move on to interviews of Room to Read staff. Here in Bardiya we'll be interviewing two Program Associates as well as the Program Officer for the GEP, and potentially the District Manager as well. Before we leave Bardiya, we'll do a brief presentation for the staff on our initial findings and recommendations.

In Kathmandu we will interview the Country Directors for the GEP and Research, Monitoring, & Evaluation as well as one or two other staff members in the Room to Read office. Additionally, we're going to interview staff from other NGOs who have similar scholarship programs to see what Room to Read can learn from them and to see if there is any potential for partnerships. Before I leave Nepal, we'll do another brief presentation for the staff.

And finally, in Delhi I will interview the Asia Regional Directors for the GEP and RM&E along with a few other staff members. If possible, I'll speak again with staff from other organizations. I will also write the first draft of my final report for the Global Office outlining the project, my methodology, the findings, and recommendations. And I will do another brief presentation for their staff on the initial findings of the study.

Once I wrap up in Delhi, I will make the final edits to my report and will design a presentation to be delivered to the GEP and RM&E staff in San Francisco.

And that's my project, in a nutshell. Any questions?
woo pig.