Home Away from Home

Home Away from Home

When I moved to West Lafayette in August 2015, I did not expect to discover my new Home. Although I was floored by the hospitality of the local people, I yearned for something connected to India. I saw numerous Indian students in Purdue campus, but in the College of Education, I did not meet many.

A casual walk one day revealed a “little India” here. Just across the road from my apartment was the Indian cultural center. With my heart pounding within my rib cage, I entered the building which looked more like a huge shed. There was a little Hindu temple attached to a very big hall with a stage on one side. Bharatiya Temple & Cultural Center of Greater Lafayette or BTCCGL is the organization that runs all operations in the cultural center.

There were several flyers pinned neatly on a soft board which revealed that there existed a vibrant Indian community in this city. Few words exchanged with the lonely couple sitting there, threw more light on the center’s activities. On weekends, besides religious activities, the center offered Yoga, Sanskrit, Bal Vihar and Bagwad Gita classes. This was like any town or city in India. Little did I expect this here. I paid a visit on a Saturday and was amazed at the number of people attending the classes, both parents and little kids dressed in colorful Indian attire. If I was shocked by their numbers which was, say around 50, it was nothing compared to a bigger tremor that was coming.

Yummy dishes from India here in WL

 

On Diwali, an important festival of India, the hall attached to the temple was full to capacity. I walked into the hall, being drawn by the aroma of Indian food and was taken aback by the sheer numbers of people. There were nearly 400 people at any time and people kept leaving and coming continuously. I asked a friend, (yes, I made some friends) whether all the people were connected to Purdue. She replied that several Indians worked in companies like Caterpillar and in the many research laboratories in West Lafayette and Indianapolis. Parents worked in Indianapolis and preferred to have their homes in WL because of the good schools and safe environment. They did not mind commuting to Indy every day. This is a lot to say about any place.

In WL, all the Indian festivals were celebrated with great pomp and show. I enjoyed dressing in Indian attire, which I do rarely when in campus, and eating mouth-watering food from every state of India. There was always a grand spread of 7-8 dishes and soon I started looking forward to any celebration. I came to know that every festival was celebrated by the Indian community with great fanfare. Moreover, all these activities were organized by BTCCGL volunteers. Men and women and even children participated eagerly in organizing events, dancing, singing, putting up plays, maintaining a small library and what not.

Come November, I bought tickets to go to the Celebration of India event organized by the Indian Women’s Association or IWA. The Faith West community center was full. Now, were there a 1000 people or 1500? I never even thought in my wildest dreams that a little city like West Lafayette located in the United States, would have these many Indians. There were Purdue professors, Purdue students, their families, engineers from companies, doctors and people from every profession.

As is normal back home, there were numerous dance performances and bands belting out music from Indian movies of various languages. Performers traveled all the way from India to entertain the population here. Again, there was food, food, food……. from samosas to biriyani, all my fav food was there. My excitement was evident when I related my experiences to my mother that night. “Are there so many Indian families,” she wondered.

The story of the Indian community in WL will not be complete without me talking about the IWA. The small but efficient group of ladies organized several fun activities like summer picnics, Cricket matches and Holi celebrations. But, IWA was about something more. They used their funds to award a scholarship to a woman researcher at Purdue whose research focuses on women centric issues. They also collect money to donate towards rehabilitation efforts taking place in regions where nature unleashed its fury. In December 2015, my hometown, Chennai, was ravaged by floods and IWA immediately started arranging for help. Locally their services have been valuable to the Lafayette Food Bank, Asha Purdue Chapter, YWCA, and Lafayette Urban Ministry. They do not shirk from expressing solidarity with issues affecting the Indian community in the U.S. I know for a fact that public demonstrations were avoided even in the big cities regarding such issues.

Every year IWA publishes a magazine called Sanskriti which carries articles about global tourist attractions, critical issues, current events and also short stories. Sanskriti gives voice to many aspiring writers who live in WL. This year they published a beautiful cook book named, “Dash of Desi.” All the credit goes to the women behind IWA.

I was learning so many things about the WL Indian community and was baffled at the myriad activities they were involved in. Any big city in the U.S. houses a huge Indian population, I know, but for a small city like West Lafayette, it was amazing. The festivities, friendship and fun were reminiscent of the harmony among the Indian community. I am sure I’ll have a ton of stories to share when I visit home next summer after three long years. I can go on and on about my findings about this city, but let me keep some for my next blog post.

By the way, did I mention the word HOME, in my previous paragraph? Isn’t this like home? When I wrote that sentence, I got my title to these ramblings, “Home Away from Home.”

Runners

My Thoughts on Running (Or My Love-Hate Relationship with My Calves)

Running in all weather 😉

My “hate” for my calves. I think I have always been genetically predisposed to run. I have really muscular calves. (Thanks Pops!). In elementary school and high school, my calves were a source of great insecurity for me. Let me say this, high school boys can be cruel. I remember vividly how a bunch of 9th-grade boys would loiter by the stairs looking at girls’ legs and I overheard this particular group talking about my muscular calves. Now for an 8th- grader, this was particularly distressing. I put on a brave face and ignored it but I can never forget the fact that my calves were a topic of conversation.

Despite being a source of insecurity,  my legs (calves, included) helped me with my gymnastics. My coach would tell me I had “great legs”.  By great,  he meant that my legs could take me to the nationals. And they did and even won me a silver medal.Yet, for all the “nice things” my legs brought me, I was always insecure about them. I remember freshman year in college, the girls in Silliman University were required to wear — of all things — bloomers. I would run as fast as I can from my dorm to the field and back again so I can spend as little time in public wearing those despicable excuse for shorts. I think I left an impression on my classmates when I would remove my shorts underwater rather than before going into the water for our swimming classes. I was THAT insecure.For the longest time, I think I avoided wearing shorts, skirts or any piece of clothing that would bare my legs. But these days, I now wear a lot of running shorts. Because I rediscovered a love for running.

Running in the Philippines. I think I have always loved to run. In the University of San Carlos where I did my undergrad, I was almost always rushing from one place to the other. However, I was told it was “unladylike” to run. So I stopped. I now regret listening to that advice — because I would realize later on that once our bodies get used to inactivity, it will remain at rest. (Newton’s law, right? LOL). I would run here and there but never really made it a habit.

Running in Texas. This is now an absolutely horrific memory but in TAMU where I did my masters, in the first not-so-fun run I ever joined, I only bested 2 pregnant women and a woman with her baby in a stroller. If that’s not embarrassing, I do not know what is. Those women were running for 2. I wasn’t.

How running helped me overcome depression. In 2012, I hit a really low point in my life. I was depressed. I hit rock bottom. My self-esteem was zilch. I was overweight. I was ugly. Everything in my life was falling apart. I can hardly recognize myself in the mirror. And now, I wish to confess that I had thought of ending it all. But as I was too cowardly (or maybe brave), I sought help. I went to the doctor. I went to group therapy. I sought counselling. I eventually went home to the Philippines to heal myself. And I decided I needed to make changes

When I went back to Texas, I knew I needed to fix my health issues. I started with the small things. I decided to eat healthy. I started to avoid all meat and I started cooking all my meals. I would portion them and made sure I only ate within my caloric allowance. I went to the gym. I tried the treadmill.

My running journey. Running on the treadmill, I would get bored and would focus on the time or distance and when I get tired I just hit that STOP button and workout is over. So one day I decided I was going to run outdoors. Running outdoors forces you to run till a certain point then run back to where you started. Now, at this point, I was really horrifically unfit. I was slow. So I decided I was just going to do timed runs. I got a Couch to 5K app. My first run consisted of a 20-minute run/walk combination. I hated every second of it. I can barely breathe. But I finished it and that gave me a bit of confidence to do it again. So I did. Eventually, I was running 30 minutes a day, then 45 minutes. I got better at it and I would run a minimum of 3 miles on average every day during the work week. I would then run 6 miles on average on Saturdays and/or Sundays. I wasn’t fast or anything. I just kept at it.

Running in Flagstaff. I would eventually move to Flagstaff and I thought I can run as easily as I was able to in Texas. Wrong! At 7500 ft above sea level, I was back to square one. The first time I ran in Flagstaff, I once again felt like my heart was in my throat and that I can hardly breathe at all. I only ran 1 mile that day. Now this put me off from running for a while. I was severely discouraged.

Life then happened, but I was happy. I was happy with my job, with my coworkers, with my students. I felt appreciated and I regained my self-confidence. I was happy once again after a very long time. And winter hit. Now, I can run okay in Texas winters but Flagstaff is a different story. So I took a break.. a really long break.

Let me just say that when summer came, I took out my running shoes again.. and once again went back to square one. I started again. Eventually, in the Fall, I kept running because I had coworkers who were patient with me. They would easily chat while running while I struggled to keep up. Yet they were always patient with me.

I would then join Team Run Flagstaff’s Step Into Running Program. I met some wonderful people there. I felt comfortable running with people from different walks of life and different stages of fitness. I was very impressed and a little bit intimidated at the marathon runners. They were very inspiring. I put in the work and I was happy to have survived a 5k at 7500 ft above sea level. I didn’t care much for my time but I thought I finished strong.

Running in Flagstaff was easy logistically. I miss that about the city I lived in for two years. I can just walk out my apartment and explore some urban trails. I am sad I didn’t run more when I lived there.

Running in Indiana. When I moved to Indiana to attend Purdue University, I was very determined to keep running. My friends thought I was crazy when I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get a 3-mile or a 6-mile run. That was in the Fall. But Winter was another story. Winters in Indiana are something else. But of course after the winter comes the Spring. I started running again – back to square one, then to being comfortable at 3-miles, then 6-miles and eventually 10-miles. That was the longest I have ran.

I would eventually join Fleet Feet’s running program. Fleet Feet in West Lafayette is awesome. I met amazing people from different walks of life with different running goals. Since I am not fast at all, I ran with the BOP – or the Back-of-the-Pack. We may not be the fastest but we sure did have a lot of fun.

I sought to run a half marathon. And I did! My first half marathon was the Purdue Half 🙂

Running with Fleet Feet friends. My first half marathon. The Purdue Half.

I was super proud of myself after I finished. Training for it was a 12-week commitment and I made it! I would run another half marathon after the Purdue Half in the Spring. I did the Indy Mini. I was super proud of myself.

Indy Mini. My second half marathon!

Injury. I kept running in the summer because I had signed up for another race. But alas, I injured myself, had a couple of health issues and well, life got busy.These days I am trying again.

Why do I run? I run to exercise and feel healthy and strong. I run to enjoy my running music. I run so I can make full use of expensive running gear (On a grad student’s salary – running clothes and shoes are pricy!)

Light on my feet. Literally.

I run to exorcise all my demons. I run to find peace. I run to talk to friend. I run so I don’t have to talk. I run to think. I run to stop thinking. I run so I can forgive others. I run so I can forgive myself. I run to run away from all the stresses that plague me.  I run to fight with my enemies in my head (I sometimes imagine myself as Manny Pacquiao, the boxer).  I run when I have things weighing me down.  I run when I need to make a decision. I may not always get an answer but I always feel much better after a good run.

How do I run? I try to run in good form. I run till the only thing I can focus on is taking my next breath and putting one foot in front of the other. I wonder if my eyes sweat as well or I am actually crying. But I run till all my sadness, all my heartbreak, all my frustrations, all my desperations, all my anger go away. I run until I feel myself becoming whole again. I run like it is a form of meditation or prayer. I run despite my whole body rebelling until it feels right. I run in order to be happy. I run so I can live.

My “love” for my calves. These days, I am really proud of my calves. Because they are strong. Quite strong that even after the killer workout,  I hardly feel any soreness. Because I am vain. I get compliments on how muscular they are. But most of all because I have always had them and they are strong and they are mine and they take me places. Maybe it isn’t even too far-fetched to say that my calves saved my life.

And to celebrate them, here’s a photo of me running away from my insecurities and running towards my happiness.

Happy running! (Photo by Babelyn Cabalar)

Bye for now, gotta run! 😉

Food

My path to a plant-based lifestyle

Back in February 2016, I had been experimenting with a couple of dietary changes. I am a coffee drinker but I challenged myself to stop drinking coffee for a whole week. Good thing I survived lol and I learned that I can probably get away with a good night sleep and no caffeine intake during the day. However, I found that with a restful sleep the night before, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning actually enhances my productivity and who doesn’t love to smell the coffee first thing in the morning!

Another experimentation I did was I gave myself a week to be a “vegan.” My inspiration came up from the curiosity to see how eating diet coming purely from plant sources would make me feel. Prior to the start, I expected that I would feel really hungry quickly after a meal and lack of energy. To my surprise, I noticed that I felt more awake and fresh even when I just stopped eating meats and dairy for two days. Of course, I felt like I need to eat more in order to feel satiated because plant-based diet, in general, is less energy-dense than meat-containing diet. By the end of my one-week challenge, I told myself that if it doesn’t hurt and I can make it a sustainable lifestyle, why not give it a try.

One of my easy go-to dish is this sun dried tomato basil pesto pasta!

I did a lot of research on vegan recipes and meal plan. First few things that came up were chickpea-based menus like soup, hummus, falafel or salad. Even though I do like these foods, it’s not what I enjoy to eat all the time. After a couple of weeks in, I realized that key to a sustainable dietary change is to find what I like to eat so I went back to my ground. I came from Thailand and if you’ve ever tried Thai food, you know cooked rice is our food staple. In addition to rice, I like to add quinoa or some beans into my rice cooker. This way I add some more protein to my diet. I then started to look up for vegan Thai recipes which were actually easy to find. Sometimes, I would simply cook the same dishes as when I was eating meat but substitute meat with tofu. As I progress, I expanded my cooking repertoire to Korean, Chinese and Mexican foods.

Thai noodle 

The message I wanted to convey here is not to convert you to be a vegan but to persuade you to step out of your comfort zone or from what you think things should be. Try it for yourself and make a decision from there. You might discover a more pleasant path in your life. This applies to different aspects of life, not just about your food choices. I had been told my whole life that I need to eat meat and dairy in order to stay healthy. This statement is true but it is not the only absolute way to stay healthy. I have been living on plant-based food sources for almost two years, feel stronger than ever and am also training for my first marathon which would be on November 4th.

If you want to follow my journey on plant-based lifestyle, health, and grad student life, find me on Instagram @poomponyo.

Adesina Lecture Series

World Food Prize laureate to speak at Presidential Lecture Series

The most recent World Food Prize laureate will join Purdue President Mitch Daniels on Oct. 23 as part of the fall 2017 Presidential Lecture Series.

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina
Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, a Purdue alumnus and president of the African Development Bank Group, will speak with Daniels at 6:30 p.m. in Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse. The event will be during the same week Adesina is presented as the 2017 World Food Prize. The World Food Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, is the highest international honor recognizing the achievements of those who have advanced human development by improving quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

Adesina was honored as this year’s recipient in recognition of his work with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and as minister of agriculture for Nigeria. For the past 20 years, he has dedicated his career to improving the agricultural sector in Africa, having led initiatives to expand agricultural production, end corruption in the Nigerian fertilizer industry, and increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent.

“Purdue’s researchers and alumni have helped feed the planet by making significant contributions in science-based agriculture and food science, and there is no calling that is both more noble and necessary,” Daniels said. “Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina continues that tradition, and we are thrilled that he will join us to discuss his extraordinary work.”

As a Purdue graduate, earning his master’s (1985) and doctoral (1988) degrees in agricultural economics as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from Purdue (2015), Adesina joins Purdue faculty members Gebisa Ejeta (2009) and Philip Nelson (2007) as World Food Prize laureates. For more information, visit https://www.purdue.edu/pls/.

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