Saturday, September 7, 2013

Coconuts, Communism, and Curries, Oh My!

Welcome to Trivandrum, also known as Thiruvananthapuram! (IPA: [t̪iruʋənɨn̪t̪əpurəm]
The city of about 1.6 million was officially referred to as Trivandrum until 1991, when the government decided to reinstate the city's original name Thiruvananthapuram. However, I and many others are still working on that pronunciation, so it’s just Trivandrum for now. It’s located on the west coast of India in the extreme south of the mainland, so we’ve moved from the desert Hindu-speaking North, which I’ve heard called the Cow Belt because of the mostly Hindu presence (thanks, L.S. in Jaipur) to the multi-lingual extreme south with a religious breakdown of Trivandrum as follows:  Hindus comprise 65% of the population, Christians are about 18%, and Muslims about 15%. Here the main language is Malayalam, but there is also supposed to be much more English spoken in the South.  Let’s see, that’s why I’m here, I believe, to help improve the quality of that instruction.
We’ve been here about 2 days, and we’re working on putting together our household, so haven’t done any exploring yet. However, here are some quick facts about our new hometown:

  • It’s the capital city of the state of Kerala, which is known as “God’s own Country” because of its lush greenery in its undulating terrain of low coastal hills
  • Kerala is a major tourist destination, and Kovalam Beach is about 40 minutes from our apartment. I’m going to work hard on a beach bum approach to life.
  • The zoo is within spitting distance from our apartment building (no spitting, though), the location where Yann Martel wrote his book Life of PI after studying a disabled lion, Simba for months.  NOTE:  We hear SOMETHING roaring big time after it gets dark.  S thinks it’s a lion, I vote for elephant.  We both are glad we are on the 7th floor and neither of those animals fly.
  •  There is a serious rain presence in this city in the extreme south of the country. The climate borders between a tropical savanna climate and a tropical monsoon climate, so the temperature varies very little all year, and it rains a lot, a whole lot.  Evidence of that so far includes shops for umbrellas and shoe stands, because it’s so muddy and wet outside no one wants that mess inside. We are now the proud owners of a cute mini-black one.
  • The festival season here begins this week with the multi-day celebration of Onam. More on that after I learn about it, because it’s a southern-India-only festival, so I have no clue yet.  This country has great festivals. Well done, India. You and Mexico should have a party smack-down.
  • There are lots of fine arts experiences to be had here, including Karnatic music and Classical dancing.  Let the good times roll!
  • Trivandrum is also known for its Ayurvedic resorts and medical tourism, so whether you want to have some parts replaced or fine-tune your whole machine, come visit us, because they are ready for you in Trivandrum.
  • There is an extremely high literacy rate for the state of Kerala, with statistics varying from the low to high 90’s.  People who study these types of things attribute a few causes, including a heavy Communist presence in the politics of Kerala (towing the party line by educating everyone, women included, for FREE), the Christian missionaries who taught people to read so they could read the Bible, and the state’s financial commitment to education.  What a revolutionary idea…putting over 1/3 of your budget into educating your people…Are you listening, U.S. Congress???
  • There is a huge unemployment problem in Kerala in general, and also in Trivandrum.  The most recent numbers I could find puts Trivandrum at around 36% unemployment. This paradox of high human development and low economic development is visible in the entire state of Kerala, and is often dubbed as the Kerala phenomenon or the Kerala model of development. There is a very prominent path of Keralites emigrating to Gulf States for employment as a result.

There are always new things to learn whenever you land somewhere new, and for me, learning to respect one of the two terraces we have in our apartment has been a lesson.  A bag of S’s favorite coffee exploded in one of our suitcases somewhere along the trip back, so I thought I was quite clever in taking the suitcase out to the terrace to shake each thing out over the edge of the terrace, where the coffee could float down 7 floors and wash away into the grass.  While I was shaking out a pillow case that contained my best Kangipuram silk sari, I held it from the wrong side unwittingly and the blouse floated out of the pillowcase, and down to about floor 3, where it rested on a support beam.  I watched the rain fall on it yesterday, and decided it would eventually get heavy from the rain and fall onto the grass, where I could retrieve it.  However, this morning when I awoke, the blouse was gone, nowhere to be found.  I believe it was the zoo animals getting ready for a night on the town, but who knows?  It’s going to be an interesting year, so join me in the adventure!

DISCLAIMER Required by my Bosses, the U.S. Dept of State, which, if they knew how entertaining my blog was, they certainly would want to try to take credit for:
"This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellows' own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State."


  1. Liking the new look.. and excited to hear new tales.. Happy House Warming!

  2. Wonderful to see you are acclimating so well. I enjoy hearing about your adventures! Take care!

  3. Happy to know you have made it back. Sounds like there were no snafus. I assume you went to Rome? I look forward to vicarious travel through your blog. AK