Category Archives: India 2011

Reflections on departing India

Upon returning to Delhi for our final time, the realization that we were indeed heading home in a few days started to settle in. Frantic shopping and creative packing techniques proved to me that I was actually about to leave this country that has slowly become my home. I was leaving the country that I once feared and now adore in just a few days. I had changed from feeling like a lost, terrified tourist into a person who found tourists to be amusing. I am now starting to feel at home in this frantic, intense, and beautiful country.

In the past nearly four months, I have come to learn a great deal about India and the great diversity of Indians who inhabit this vast country. We saw the poverty and joy of beggars; the spirituality of the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Christians and Zorastrians through the country; the natural beauty of the jungles, beaches, deserts, and mountains; the serenity of the mountain villages and the chaos of the cities. We learned how to navigate the overly crowded streets, the Delhi metro, and the buses of Kerala. We felt the love of our host families, the sadness of the orphans and the joy of a shared smile. We tasted the burning heat of curries, the sweet taste of chai and the warmth of Tibetan soups. We smelled smells that cannot be described. We heard incessant car horns, street dogs in the middle of the night, fireworks in the streets after the Indian team won the Cricket World Cup, the music wafting out of temples, and the chanting of monks.

As I prepare for returning to my home country, it is these small things that seem ever more challenging to pack than the material things I have purchased here. The experiences from the past months seem to be ingrained on my heart, but I know that they will fade as time passes and I readjust to living in America. Holding on to the sights, smells, taste, sounds, and experiences of India is something that I hope to do.

-Laura Beidler

India – Poetry and thoughts on music

India 9

Make up your mind with the sand in your shoes

I don’t know where I’m going.
A sapling knows nothing but dirt on the ground, I suppose.
The dirt and sand under my feet these days keeps changing, sifting in my shoes.

In the village, a circle of girls look up at me with their arms outstretched, waiting for my lead.
I hesitate only long enough to feel the weight of their expectation before modeling the rest of the Macarena, shaking a little more than needed to encourage their tidal wave of giggles.

In a little nook off a side street, with no giggling girls, an old tailor is quietly, intently mending my order.
He asks of my home village without looking up from his work.
I paint him a picture without looking up from mine.
I must look occupied in my writing,
not standing aimlessly, not purchasing or eating or taking pictures- just sitting, just writing.
Maybe I’m in a movie.  Maybe I’m cliché.
The people on the street steal second glances at me, sitting so casually, as if I belonged.

But, in the furnace room of a village house in the Himalayas, I do belong.
The mother sitting near me,
sharing her tea and plain white bread before everyone else awakes,
is not my own.
Yet my bare feet find a familiar spot and the cat instinctively curls up under my bent legs.
She flits about the room, humming as she washes dishes, makes chai, stokes the fire-
she is all moms, with that tune.

And with it still ringing in my head, I know where I am.
The dirt in my shoes has softened my calloused heels along the way.

-Hannah Beachy

Esther Shank We made our way through the narrow ally, the dirt path covered in snow in some places and the wind biting through our thin layers. We arrived at our home stay in Alchi around 5:00, welcomed with steaming cups of butter salt tea. Our house was rustic: the cows lived under the kitchen, the bathroom was just outside the house, a small hole dug in the dirt, and we had no running water or heat. However, our host mom welcomed us with warm and open arms. We filed into the tiny kitchen, the only place in the house that was kept warm by the stove, and sat along the perimeter. I could feel the distance between us as we tried to communicate without any knowledge of each others’ culture or language.

Many times throughout this trip I have been amazed at the power of music, whether to communicate feelings that cannot be expressed in spoken word or to provide the only possible communication when spoken language is not shared between people. Even though we knew no Ladakhi and our host family knew no English, we were able to laugh, dance, play and interact with one another on a deeper level than spoken language could have allowed. A few nights, we sang for our host family as we prepared dinner. I was amazed, once again, at the power of music across cultures. Music is a wonderful medium to communicate and on a few occasions our host mom would attempt to sing along with us, though she didn’t know the words or tune. These instances, when all barriers of communication were dropped and something deep within us connected, I learned more about my host mom than any length of conversation could have allowed.

There were sinners making music and I’ve dreamt of that sound. – Iron & Wine

Though these differences exist, sometimes making it difficult to connect with others, I am reminded to look at them not as something negative but as something to be celebrated. Sometimes their music is the most pleasing to the ear. Sometimes it’s what echoes in our dreams.

-Esther Shank

 

From the Himilayas in Ladakh, India

Before boarding the airplane that was taking us from Delhi to Leh, we received specific instructions to not speak a word on the plane. We were going to be landing at 12,000 ft above sea level, and we had to conserve as much energy to prevent altitude sickness. I don’t think anyone could have spoken much anyway, because what we saw out the window was close to magical. The mountain ranges were covered in snow, and it was unbelievable that we were going to be landing in Leh.

The first day in Leh we spent laying in bed trying to adjust our bodies to the altitude and oxygen level change. That first day was such a boring day, because all we got up to do was eat. The second day we woke up to snow falling from the Ladakhi skies, and our first trip to the wool store had to happen. I don’t think any of us were ready for this type of weather or were expecting this type of weather in India! After stocking up on wool, we drove to see several Buddhist monasteries on the mountain that had beautiful views. None of us could feel our toes by the end of the day. I think I remember the temperature being like 18 degrees at one point. We were freezing!

The next day we woke up bright and early to prepare for our visit to the Tibetan oracle. At breakfast that day Kim informed us that this was going to be an experience that could shock us all and that we could walk out of it at any time, and I kept thinking to myself ‘this is so interesting, when am I ever going to get to see an oracle again.’ I was really excited to see this woman heal Tsetop, one of our leaders. The actual visit to the oracle was not what any of us were expecting. She began by chanting some songs and words, and then she told Tsetop not to test her because she knew there was nothing wrong with him. Then she proceeded to answer questions about people’s fortune, and that was surprising because I had no idea she was a fortune teller as well. I think that it was very interesting how much faith Tibetans have in this oracle, and it was definitely an experience I will never forget.

Following the events of that morning, we traveled two and a half hours through the mountains to a village called Alchi. Everyone was shivering, but everyone was excited about our home-stays in the village. We split into three groups and headed towards our homes. Our Tibetan host family was so welcoming, and they definitely made us feel at home. We knocked on their kitchen door, and they greeted us with the Tibetan hello, “juley!” We sat around the stove area where there was loads of warmth, and we all soon decided that we were not moving for the rest of the evening. Then our host mom and daughter made us a delicious Tibetan home-cooked meal and served us lots of chai. It was really nice to sit around in a circle and have a conversation with the family we were going to be living with for the next four days. I really enjoyed the time we had to get to know our families, work in the fields, and get to interact with them. They really enjoyed having us and even gave us their address to keep in touch with them in the future. The best part of the home-stay experience, by far, was knowing that after a full day of excursions we could come home to a family and a home-cooked meal.

-Carina Contreras

Most of India is warm and most of the rest is hot. Sometimes I think, “Oh boy, I’d like to fly a kite and have a picnic” or other times I’m like, “Man oh man, it sure is nice to have this pool here”. But then we woke up one day and flew to this place called Ladakh and all of a sudden I’m thinking, “How long can my feet stay numb before I bother someone about possible frost bite?”

Ladakh is in about the farthest northern part of India you could imagine. There are no roads that lead here; the only way is by plane. It is in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains. It’s absolutely cold. And it wouldn’t be so bad, if, say, there was any central heating, but there is not, just these scary individual heaters that look ready to explode. So, basically, going inside is no respite from the cold. But in a way, it’s awesome.

Bon Iver is a great artist (if you haven’t listened to him, now is the time folks) and his song “Re: Stacks” sounds perfect when you’re stuck to your bus seat, steaming up the windows with your breath, and squinting at the snowy tips of the mountains. It was this stark beauty, like seeing a black crow land in the silent snow, but instead it was a lonely Tibetan woman making her way slowly over a gigantic valley. It made me shake my head once more in disbelief at how diverse India is. We spent time dodging street dogs in crowded cities, sweated the minute we woke up on the coast, got sand in our teeth in the desert, and now we’re dots on the immeasurable Himalayan landscape, shivering in our wool sweaters. Most of India is warm and most of the rest is hot, but of course (of course!) there’s the part that’s crazy cold and still just as amazing as all of the rest of it.

-Steve Henry

On Monday, April 4th we began the last leg of our trip with a morning flight to north India in the land of the Himalayas. The sky view of the Himalayas as we flew into Ladakh was absolutely breathtaking and I found myself, even after nearly 3 months of being here, blown away by the fact that I am in INDIA. In reflecting on the past months, this trip has been an adventure full of variety in every way imaginable. Our arrival in Ladakh added to that variety as a blast of cold wintery air kissed our cheeks, causing them to blush, while the close up view of majestic, snow-capped Himalayan mountains took our breath away; a far cry from the dry heat and flat desert land of Rajasthan but still beautiful in a way that can’t compare to our other experiences. It just goes to show how creative, great, and beautiful the God we serve is.

Our first day in Ladakh (Monday) was spent laying in bed resting so we could adjust to the altitude (we flew in at 12,000 ft). Our second morning here we woke up to a cloudy, snowy morning. It caused nostalgic feelings of Christmas, but those ended as soon as I left my warm bed to turn on the propane heater in our room. Central heating doesn’t exist here, and at night we turn off the heaters and sleep with hot water bottles and tons of blankets, so essentially the temperature inside your room is similar to the outside temperature when you wake up. However, the beauty of the mountains and the snow makes it all worth it and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! Our first task Tuesday morning, before doing any sight-seeing, was to buy wool hats, mittens, and gloves (which I have proceeded to practically live in for the past week). Our sight-seeing that day was mostly visiting Buddhist monasteries and being in awe of the view of the Himalayas we had from the monasteries (and also wondering how in the world the monks survive here year round—their answer, we train ourselves to not feel the cold-that’s some strong mental control).

On Wednesday we went to the small village of Alchi where we had our home stays through Sunday morning. We stayed with Ladakhi families (which are of Tibetan background); my family consisted of my host mom and dad and two host sisters ages 13 and 10. Being spoiled with central heating in the states, I had trouble sleeping in an unheated room and our first night there, even though I had almost 5 pounds of blankets on me, I slept in all my clothes including my wool hat, gloves, and socks. We woke up on Thursday morning to another cold, snowy day. It was beautiful looking out the windows and seeing the great Himalayas and a light falling snow from the kitchen while we drank warm chai. It felt so homey-and braiding my host sisters’ hair before school along with the warm smile of our host mom only added to the beauty and warmth of the atmosphere. On both Thursday and Friday we spent our days sightseeing with our cross-cultural group, and it was so fun to be able to walk home, to an actual home, and spend time with my host sisters after our day of “school” as well as share supper together as a family.

On Saturday we spent the entire day with our host families, helping them in the fields. For my group that meant clearing rocks and mini boulders out of the field to make a pasture wall in the morning and digging irrigation ditches in the afternoon, after lunch. It sounds like hard work, and it was, but doing it together, with our family, made it fun and I am so grateful I was able to help out as a way to give back for all their caring hospitality. As we were working together, be it lifting rocks or shoveling dirt, I kept thinking of the verse…

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love

Being in India, this land of many religions, where Christianity is a minority and idols are everywhere, my faith has been stretched and challenged in many ways. I have often found myself wondering how I am to relate to the people of many different faiths, who worship many different gods, around me. I have wrestled with the question what makes Christianity the Truth and everything else idol worship. I have even wondered at times if maybe each religion, which has its differences but also many similar underlying themes, could possibly be referring to the same God with different cultural twists. Let’s be honest, Christianity is very westernized in some ways. I do not have the complete answers to these questions, but I personally still believe in Jesus and his love and saving grace. However, I find it hard to judge others who are not Christian-like my Buddhist host family. And in referencing the verse of “They’ll Know We Are Christians”, I am reminded that it’s not up to us to judge, it’s up to us to love. No matter what we believe, we are all (from the Christian view) created in God’s image, and that alone is enough to unite us as “one in the Spirit” and “one in the Lord”. In being one in this way, it’s important that we love one another, respect one another, and see each other as equals. Being a Christian does not put me above those who believe something else; being of light skin color does not put me above those who are darker. I believe we are all made in the image of God, because of that we are all one in His spirit, and we must let the love of these two previous statements shine through in our interactions with whoever we meet. Experiencing this kind of love with my host family really allowed me to bond with them in a deep, special way and a tearful goodbye was experienced this morning as we parted ways after living together for four days. I find joy, though, in knowing that we are one in the Spirit, both created in the image of the same God, a bond no distance can separate.

-Tessa Gerberich

Three reflections from India

India is a land of vast diversity. So far during our time in India we have experienced a plethora of different religions, customs, rituals, ways of life, cultures, etc. A prime example of this has been the clear contrast of our recent village study in the Himalayan Mountains to the rest of our stays in larger cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, and Udaipur. We split into three different groups of about eight people in each and set off for three separate villages. We spent one day and one night in our villages and then came together to describe our different experiences to the whole group. Each group had generally similar experiences with their respective villages. One group experienced the local village culture by helping carry manure, in bags, on their heads down steep mountain paths. Another group had the privilege of visiting with and talking to the village mid-wife. The third group introduced the Macarena to some of the children; they ended up having so much fun with it they didn’t want to stop.

Hospitality was a common theme throughout all the village stays. Everyone in the villages was so kind and accepting of us staying with them for a night. Each group had someone who could interpret the language so that we all had a chance to share in a conversation with the villagers. Staying in the villages has definitely been a highlight to the trip so far. It was a great experience getting out of the cities and into a beautiful rural Himalayan culture. Sharing with the locals and experiencing their culture has made me really appreciate India in its diversity.

-Matt Swartzentruber

When was the last time you were surprised? Maybe it was a pleasant surprise like a letter from a long lost friend. Or maybe your found your carpet soiled by your house-trained (or so you thought) dog and the surprise wasn’t pleasant at all.

Here in India we’ve had our fair share of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. For instance, back in Kerala at the Sarang Center, we were treated to a nice, formal meal served by bowtie-wearing hotel management students – pleasant surprise. A few minutes into the meal, the song from the late 90s that everyone loves to forget, “Barbie Girl,” began playing…LOUDLY – unpleasant surprise. That might seem like a silly example, but it illustrates fairly well the kind of odd juxtapositions we witness every day. For everything that seems “normal” to me at first, there is always something surprising right beside it that takes me right back out of my comfort zone.

However, since things like this are happening constantly, it’s come to be something we expect to happen. A few of us made up a game called “surprising or not?” Whenever something crazy happens, we ask the question, and more often than not find ourselves answering the question with “not surprising.” The fact that wild situations occur so often has encouraged us to take on the attitude that we can’t let ourselves get too comfortable. With this mind-set, we’re pretty much ready for anything to happen – at any time. People being awkwardly close to you, driving the wrong way down a highway, men wearing sparkly pink sweater vests, none of it really fazes us anymore. Expecting ridiculous things to happen hasn’t taken the fun out of anything, just kept us from going insane.

For this trip, flexibility is crucial, and I hope by practicing flexibility this semester in a country where it is completely necessary, I can develop a skill that will be useful throughout life.

-Ryan Eshleman

After finishing our village study with SIDH, the group is now in Mussoorie. We toured Woodstock school and had a couple days to relax. It has been great to have mornings free to wander up mountain roads and explore. This is a conversation I had earlier today.

I was sitting on a mountain park bench in Landour listening to music and writing in a notebook. I sensed a figure to my left. It was a fifth grade girl, leaning, with her arms stretched out toward me offering a bag of munchies. Looking up, I met her eyes. “Would you like some?” “Yeah, thanks,” I reply. As soon as my fingers could feel the salty residue on the inside of the bag, a dozen other girls scrambled over. As I Lifted my eyes from the bag of snacks, I saw six other arms offering me everything from chocolate to sour straw candy. Where are you from? Are you a writer? What do you want to be? Are you a Christian? The high pitched conglomeration of sound stewed together in my head. I turned to one of the girls and asked, “What did you say?” I talked with the girls for about 20 min. They told me about their cousins, aunts and uncles who live in America, Canada and Europe. A couple of them told me they wanted to be pop stars when they grew up. To show me their stuff, they began singing Justin Bieber songs to me and I clapped for them when they finished. They were quite good. Afterwards, the other girls talked to me about things like their blood types. I told them that I was impressed they knew their parents blood types, too. When they needed to go, I waved goodbye and they told me not to forget them. I told them I wouldn’t and one of the girls handed me a goodbye candy bar. I enjoyed it all the way down the mountain.

It has been fun,

-Stewart Nafziger

Stories from Matella and Amritsar – India

Seeing the cities of India it is easy to believe that India is the second most populous country in the world with well over 1 billion residents. Ironically estimates place the rural population of India well in the majority with around 70% of the population living in towns, and villages of less than 1,000 people. A couple of days ago we met up with a group called SIDH that is working to improve education in some of these small villages in the Mussorie region of the Himalayas.

We divided ourselves up into 3 groups, each of which went to a different village. The village (Matella) I went to is located on the side of one of the mountains in the Himalayan ranges of India and consisted of 9 joint families (multiple relatives) totaling less than 100 people. The village is almost completely self-supported by farming. They don’t sell any of the crops that they grow; everything goes towards feeding the village. Each family is responsible for a portion of the 1 square kilometer of fields surrounding the village, but when it comes time for harvesting or other labor intensive activities the rest of the village pitches in too. Having grown up surrounded by fields of corn and wheat in northwest Ohio, seeing farming like this doesn’t even seem to compare. A field can be anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred yards long and varies in width from 10 to 30 yards wide. To get from field to field the villagers take something comparable to eroding goat paths that go almost straight up in some places and zigzag back and forth in others.

While there we helped them out with some of their farm work. Up by the school house there was a pile of cow manure that had been mixed with straw and left to sit long enough it was at least beginning to compost. One man and around seven women loaded up bags with around 25-30 lbs of manure, had us put them on our heads (you got chewed out if you tried to carry it any other way), and led us zigzagging somewhere from 200 to 300 feet down the side of the mountain to a field. When we would start walking faster on the way down or even up, the only one of the women who spoke English (a twelfth grader who normally went to school fifteen minutes up the hill by her reckoning) would tell us to walk slower and then continue asking us questions. One person in our group made the comment that here they work at a slow, casual speed all day and at home we work really hard, then take a break, then work really hard again, and take another break. In a community like Matella, the everyday tasks like farming and cooking are carried out without hurry or abandon. At this slower speed things get done just as well, the only difference is that you find time for communication and inevitably community along the way.

-Evan McCarthy

This past Thursday was a one day glimpse of the highlights of Amritsar, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. We first walked around Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the Amritsar massacre and memorial for the 319 lives of non-violent Indian protesters who were murdered by British soldiers in 1919. The Indians had been peacefully rallying against unjust treatment by British troops, giving testimonies about the abuses they had suffered, when 50 soldiers were ordered to fire on the crowd. As I stood staring at the bullet holes in the surrounding brick walls I took time to mourn the injustice and grieve the lives that were lost, praying that God would use that place as a reminder that lives are infinitely more precious that the struggle for power.

Next we visited the famous Sri Harminder Sahib (aka the Golden Temple), a place of worship for Sikhs.  Before entering the huge compound we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads. Thousands of people come to worship at the Golden Temple each day so we waited 30 minutes just to get a glimpse of the inside of the temple. Of course, it was an Indian style line which meant that you crammed as many people into the space as physically possible (and then a few more yet), and in order to keep your spot in line you have to constantly be pushing against the people in front of you. After glancing around the temple and making friends with an old man with a scraggly beard (which involved shaking hands and smiling and nodding as he kept talking in a language we couldn’t understand) we headed to the dining hall for lunch. Every Sikh temple serves two free meals everyday for anyone in the world- they will turn no one away. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen where they cook the dal and curry in enormous pots and ‘manufacture’ chapattis by the hundreds. The many cooks, dishwashers, and servers are all local people who take an occasional day off to volunteer at the temple kitchen. When it came time to eat we sat on the floor in rows in a huge room filled with people. Our food was served to us from huge sloshing buckets and baskets piled high with chapatti. To receive the chapatti we reached out our open hands in the style of a beggar- a symbol that no matter what caste, creed, sex, or religion, we are all equal in God’s eyes.

We finished the day at the Wagah Border, the boundary line between India and Pakistan where the border security forces from both countries perform a special sunset ceremony. We sat on concrete stadium steps in an arena that seat 6,000 people, though they manage to fit in 8,000-10,000 each night for the ceremony as it is a highly attended event. From our seats we could see the Indian and Pakistani iron gates separating the two countries and beyond that a similar looking stadium on the Pakistan side.  The ceremony consisted of a very random flow of events including shouting chants as a crowd, trying to out-scream the Pakistan side, and watching the border security force guards, dressed in elaborate uniforms, as they marched, kicked, high-stepped, shouted, and blew their bugles. The gates of the border were opened and closed a few times throughout and the culmination of the event was the lowering of both countries flags. It was entertaining to watch but I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the cheering section of a high school sports game trying to build team spirit and shame the other team. For our dinner grace that evening we sang a verse of “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” – a beautiful reminder that in God’s kingdom there are no borders or nationalities, but instead a single body of brothers and sisters each created in the image of God.

-Sarah Schoenhals

 

India – Taj Mahal, zip-lining, camels, Delhi, and more

India 8Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, and you say out loud what your first thought is. I know that I’m just a journal entry, but just do it anyway, alright? So what do you picture when I say “India?” I would bet 100 rupees that you just thought of the Taj Mahal, which is that big white building that you can never remember the name of. The Taj Mahal (crown palace) was built by a king in love for his wife who died during its construction. The state that this building resides in is known as Rajasthan, which is an awesome place. When people think about India, Rajasthan is usually what is thought of.

There is a city within Rajasthan that is called Jaipur, which has many beautiful palaces and is pink. Now I bet you thinking, “but Justin, how can a city be pink?” I tell you what, I did not believe it myself, but lo and behold, the city was pink. The buildings were painted pink because it was the color of welcoming, and the city received a visit from the Prince of Wales.

Justin RittenhouseFurther on in our adventure, we came to the blue city called Jodhpur. Jodhpur also had some amazing forts and palaces, but the best part was the zip-lining. “Isn’t this supposed to be an educational cross cultural trip, Justin? What were you doing zip-lining?” Well my good sir/madame, I learned a great deal about how intimidating and adrenaline inducing physics can be, plus we also learned about the history of a fort in Jodhpur, so there.

We visited a desert area for a little while, and it was a lot more exciting than a bunch of sand hills; there’s a lot more to deserts than that! In fact there were… lots and lots of sand dunes. Alright, so maybe the desert is just sand and more sand, but still it was one of the most enjoyable places that we have visited. We got to ride camels! Sure they made my tuckus feel sore the next morning, but to be able to ride on the back of a wobbly creature was so much fun. A highlight in Rajasthan in general is the dancing, and we had a very good performance in that desert as we all dressed like we were maharajas and their queens.

Udaipur was the Indian Venice, except there were cows instead of gondolas. There were beautiful lakes there, and one of them reminded me of Lake Atitlan from Guatemala. It turns out that the James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed there! The best part about our time in Udaipur was Holi day. Holi day is now my third favorite holiday because of how awesome it is. There are fireworks and bonfires everywhere, and people throw colored dust at each other! Our group was so colorful by the end of the day that we looked like we tie died ourselves. Unfortunately, blue is really difficult to clean out of a mustache…

-Justin Rittenhouse

 

Tracy Moyers, Sarah Shoenhals, and Gabe Brunk all celebrated birthdays in one week which was a big deal Since our time here in India, the place we keep returning to is Delhi. We’re currently in our third stay here in the city, and we’ll have two more visits before we fly out in April. Needless to say, we’re starting to know the area pretty well. We all have our favorite restaurants that we return to often, we’ve taken the new city subway system all over the area, and have visited more monuments and temples then most of us would care to remember. However, tearing away the touristy cover to our trip, I and others have also come to realize that Delhi, and indeed most of the major cities we’ve visited, have numerous recurring problems.

For one, they all have problems deciding what to do with human waste. Soda bottles, pieces of cardboard, broken shoes, wrappers; some burn the trash publically, other times it’s seen in back alleys, but more often than not it’s simply laying directly next to the road or actually in the street, with people adding to it as they pass. A related but slightly different issue is that of public urination. We’ve grown accustomed to the sight of seeing men standing next to a wall relieving themselves onto it, even though there might be a public urinal just down the block from them. Yes, it’s a cultural thing, but it also adds to the feeling of general apathy towards public health.

Another factor is that with the recent push towards urbanization, combined with the overarching issue of overpopulation. The city is having a tougher and tougher time being able to sustain the massive amount of people that are tunneled through the system on a regular basis. Public transportation, such as the subway system, simply can’t keep up. Cars are constantly full to bursting, with hardly enough room to hold onto anything for support.

These are large scale, multi-generational problems, ones that have been building over the past decades, and ones that will continue to develop if no changes are put in place to stop them. We recently had a lecturer come in and talk about the history of the city, which put into perspective just how much these issues have grown. There are people working on these issues, but it’s going to take more than a band-aid to fix these problems.

Gabe Brunk

 

Globalization, coffee, chai, and more

I am not sure that the best cup of coffee in India could beat the worst gas station coffee from the U.S. in a taste test. Just as Indian food in the U.S. only tastes half as good as a generic curry in India, the quality of many U.S. staples gets lost in translation/transportation on their way from the west to the east. The pasta sauce here tastes like ketchup, the french fries are distinctly Indian tasting, and the coffee is weak, artificial, and sweet. I am someone who needs to savor smooth, dark strong coffee on a daily basis. My search for coffee in this Chai fueled country has taken me to some interesting places and has provided a handful of learning experiences.

One might ask, “why not drink chai?” and I would respond “I do” But chai is sweet, creamy, and not as potent as coffee. I enjoy drinking chai, but it does not satisfy my thirst for coffee quite like coffee does. I thought my thirst would be satisfied in Bodhgaya when I saw coffee on our hotel’s menu. This coffee turned out to be made from an instant powder like most of the coffee we are offered here. It is widely available, but is often sweeter than chai and not as tasty. Chai beats instant coffee any day.

By the time we reached Kolkatta, I had not had coffee since I drank my last precious sip of Dunkin Donuts in Dulles airport. As I was walking through the streets trying to avoid the beggars and hawkers, I spotted a sign that advertised real Italian coffee in a shop called Lavazza. I immediately abandoned my original plan and ducked into the starbucks-esque store in hopes of scoring a good quality cup-o-joe. Immediately upon stepping through the door I felt as if I was back in the states. With exception of the Indian customers and the bad grammar on the signs, Lavazza’s interior could have been that of any US coffee chain. It turns out that Lavazza is a chain based in India that has recently opened branches in India. Globalization at work. But my experience has been that globalization is not laying-waste to indigenous cultures as those of us in my “Globalization and Justice” class had feared. Western products are certainly available. I was able to find a decent cup of coffee, but it was difficult. I could, though, find a cup of chai within 5 minutes at pretty much a moments notice for less than 5 rupees. McDonalds is available, but it costs ten times more than authentic Indian food from the street. Not only is it not as desirable to Indians, but it’s also way more expensive. In a country of more than a billion people, a few will develop a taste for coffee and western ideals, but cultures have an enormous mass. There will be McDonalds and coffee, but they will never have the momentum to substantially move the Indian population away from their Chai and Curry.

I think this idea can be applied to larger cultural trends. Capitalist economics are certainly in place, but well within the Indian culture. The desire to employ a large number of people seems to supersede the efficiency that is sacred in western economics. It would not surprise me to see three people working together to brew me a cup of coffee: one to grind the beans, one to turn on the machine, and one to pour the product into my cup. It takes a lot of jobs to employ 1 Billion people. There seems to be a number of traditional values that make the economic system uniquely Indian.

This tension is not limited to economics either, but also comes into play in the culture. Just tonight I enjoyed the best cup of coffee so far in India. This restaurant, run a by a chef who has cooked in a number of European countries, has been an oasis for our group. The pasta sauce at this restaurant does not taste like ketchup. This restaurant is one restaurant that serves western food on a street full of Indian restaurants. I sat there on the terrace drinking real imported Italian coffee and watched the opening ceremonies on the “Holi” celebration of color. This uniquely Indian holiday is famous for the “color fights” where children throw brightly colored powder at passersby. This opening ceremony was marked by fireworks, bonfires, and Hindu traditions that I cannot begin to understand. In the square people were dancing to Hindi music over the loud speakers. At one point I recognized Shakira’s “My Hips Don’t Lie” and my friends and I lit up at the familiar beat of this American hit, but the rest of the night we were serenaded by blaring Hindi music. Looking out from my western bubble I comprehended nothing on the street below.

The other day I got up from breakfast leaving some Starbucks “real” instant coffee that my mom has sent me in a care package in my mug. One of our leaders who is known for his humor teased, “you better drink that, there are sleeping children in India”. This did not bother me because I know that children in India are not asleep thanks to some caffeine deficiency; I wouldn’t be surprised if Indians drink as much Chai as we drink coffee. This notion quelled some of my fears about the fate globalization has in store for the world’s local cultures.

-Ben Bailey

 

Today began with jeep rides in the desert. Our guides rode up front, while we all sat in open seats on the back. We passed many small houses and mud huts with thatch covered roofs, standing starkly against the barren landscape. How do people survive out here? Vegetation consists mainly of small, thorny plants and scrub-brush; the rest is red rock and sand. We stopped briefly at one hut where a man (the only blacksmith in the village) demonstrated the art of metal work. His wife diligently kept the fire going as he skillfully pounded a knife out of an old car part. About a mile farther, we visited a villager’s home. Nearly 25 children crowded around us, their mothers keeping an amused, but watchful eye from afar. We were shown the kitchen building, and the circular hut beside it that functioned as both a living room and sleeping quarters for its occupants. The courtyard area between these buildings had been recently resurfaced with a fresh layer of cow dung, which forms a very hard shell and is easy to keep clean. We were led around the corner of the house, and were met with a chorus of 7 bleating goats, including three babies only four days old. Beside them lay an upturned metal cooking bowl, which wouldn’t be so unusual except that it was two meters in diameter! This bowl is used at weddings and other special occasions to cook food for the entire village. Once back on the jeeps, we drove down several nearly vertical sand dunes, and I was sure each time that we were plunging to our deaths. We sped passed a wild peacock, and several antelope bounded away at our approach. We got out of the jeeps for a while, and ran/jumped down the dunes for as long as our bare feet could handle the heat. This afternoon I got sunburned by the pool, and in the evening we climbed (in pairs) on top of single-humped camels to carry us out to the Desert Camp. The camels knelt in the sand while we climbed on their backs, but they lurched to their feet with such ferocity that Steve and I nearly toppled over our camel’s head. A strange feeling riding atop a camel, something like riding a dinosaur I imagine. Our ride to the desert camp lasted about an hour and half, and though it was an awesome experience, I wouldn’t recommend camels as a primary mode of transportation. They’re lacking significantly in the comfort department. We arrived at the camp in good spirits, and changed swiftly into our nicest Indian garb, red turbans and all (they are very popular here in Rajasthan). We watched, and even participated in, a dance performance, and feasted on a delicious, traditional Rajasthani meal in the white dinning tent. It was a beautiful evening, and the desert had cooled to a perfect temperature. After we finished eating, we walked back outside, beneath a sky now filled with moonlight and stars. I pulled the tail of my turban down over my nose and mouth as the jeeps tore off back down the sandy rode to our hotel. Orion’s Belt glistened just above our heads, and the desert glowed in the cool light of the moon. I will sleep well tonight.”

-Josh Kanagy

 

This past week we had the opportunity to visit an organization called St. Matthew’s in Udaipur, Rajasthan. St. Matthew’s is comprised of an English Medium School (grades 1-12), a church, an orphanage, and a seminary. We visited the school one morning and organized games for approximately 150 students, grades 6 through 8. We had a blast interacting with the kids, playing games, and testing out some of our Hindi language skills. The students come from varying religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. St. Matthew’s accepts many disadvantaged and slum children and provides a quality English education at a subsidized cost. For these kids the cost of the school is one fourth of the average cost for an English Medium school in India. An English education is extremely important in this day and age for Indians who are looking for employment. The school started off with 5 students around 30 years ago and has grown to 850 students today. It’s always refreshing to see thriving non-profit organizations such as this amongst the poverty and hardships that we’ve witnessed everywhere in India. Through generous donors and faithful teachers the school has been successful for many years now in breaking the cycle of poverty for many low income families.

After spending some time in the morning with the students at St. Matthews we walked over to the seminary which was located near the grade school. We sat in a room with a group of seminary students and we were talked to by the director of the seminary. After an explanation of the history and the mission of the organization, a discussion was opened up between us and the seminary students. It was fascinating hearing stories of how these students became followers of the Christian faith. Almost all of the students were first generation believers. They came from mostly rural areas in northern India. Many of the students have become Christians after witnessing healings done by Indian Missionaries (either physical healings or healings from spirit possession). Despite the obvious fervor of these young Christians in their faith, it was evident that many of them face many hardships because of their beliefs. When converting to Christianity in rural India, many people experience persecution from fellow villagers and abandonment from their families. It was interesting thinking about how different of a faith journey that these people have had from my own. It makes me appreciate the freedom I have to practice my own faith in North America. It does however make me somewhat envious of the excitement and extremely strong faith that these first generation believers have. Overall it was a great visit to St. Matthew’s and I was encouraged by the positive things that I saw being done by the church in India.

-John Reesor

India – two reports

Kathakali, translated as “story-telling,” is a classical dance-drama that dates almost 400 years ago. Actor-dancers, dressed in voluminous colorful skirts with elaborate headdresses and jewelry, act out climatic stories of love and valor involving frenetic drumming, emotional singing, and rhythmic movements. There are singers who sing the storyline in addition to the actor-dancer applying facial movements and mudras (hand movements) to convey emotions and dialogue.

I attempted to learn this dance form for a period of two and a half week, which was not nearly close enough to learn the basics. It was difficult, painful, and sweaty work. Class involved eye exercises that stung and brought tears to my eyes, the footwork required rolling your foot outward in such a way that your ankles were supporting your weight rather than the flat of your foot, and body technique entailed squatting so low with your back perfectly vertical and your thighs horizontal to the ground. Regardless of the physical exhaustion, which once made me collapse on the ground during class, Aashaan, my Kathakali master, was so impressed with my ambition that I was offered the opportunity to attend one of his performances and observe the entire process of a Kathakali performance. I got myself involved in an unforgettable experience.

Aashaan could not come and get me, so I accompanied his four students, who knew little English, to the temple where the evening performance was to take place. It was immediately uncomfortable considering the fact that I was one Caucasian with four Indian Kathakali students. I witnessed the four hour preparation of make-up, costumes, and stage setup. During the three hour performance, I sat front row with a mother who knew English and was the mother of one of the students. At the end of the performance, I ate with all the individuals involved in the production of the evening’s performance and then took a rickshaw ride back home with one of the Kathakali students. Considering the language barrier aside from Aashaan and the mother, my cheeks were sore from smiling the entire day to show my appreciation of the event, and by the time I arrived back to our home at midnight I was exhausted and yet so full of astonishment from the experience.

-Tracy Moyers

 

Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, and rickshaws surround our bus which is driving in the other lane into oncoming traffic just barely missing the truck that is coming towards us in the lane we should not be driving on in the first place all to pass one car that is going too slow. All of this taking place on dusty roads filled with endless bumps and potholes. Accompanied by the constant honking of horns. This has become a normal part of our bus trips through India.

In the almost two months we have been here we have spent a lot of time traveling on a bus. This description provided above is normal driving in India. There really are no traffic rules. A road that has two lanes quickly turns into five or six lanes of traffic. Motorcycles pass you on every side followed by rickshaw drivers and cars that think they are small enough to squeeze through the tight space past our huge tour bus. Throw in mobs of people running across the streets or street venders knocking on the bus window trying to sell you their product. In the mist of this craziness we sit safe in our tour bus as it maneuvers its way through the crowded busy streets of India.

I have enjoyed time spent traveling on the bus. It provides us the opportunity to see the cities we drive through without having to deal with the mobs of people who try to sell you things if you were to walk through the streets. Bus rides also provide multiple changes of scenery. We travel through cities streets which lead us to roads where no matter what direction you look out all you see is rice fields then back to the busy city streets. Our most recent travel was by bus from Agra where we were able to see the Taj Mahal to Jaipur the “pink city.” Bus rides not only provide time to appreciate the scenery but also give us time to sleep (if you can on the bumpy rides), read, journal, listen to music, talk, play cards, and just have a good time together as a group. As we continue to travel and see different sites in India we get more and more used to the traffic patterns and no longer are worried about crashing into oncoming traffic. We continue to look forward to what new modes of transportation we will get to experience. We can check off bus, plane, train, and rickshaws. We await our elephant and camel rides as well as hopefully taking jeep rides through the dunes of the desert. India has been a crazy different experience everyday and we are excited to see what the next month and a half has to offer.

-Adriana Santiago

Three reports from India

India 6I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve had at the Sarang Center. Each of us takes Hindi class, cross-cultural psychology, and a third class each day. I, along with Kerm, Ryan, Laura, Carmen, Tessa, and Rachel, take cooking class from our Hindi teachers, Anu and Gautham, every day. I’ve really enjoyed class as we’ve learned how to make deep-fried bananas, parathas (like a tortilla), assorted teas, vegetable curry, and many other amazing dishes. Gautham is web-designer, web-developer, Hindi teacher, cooking instructor, and in his free time learns about agriculture and health, sings, and is learning Spanish, and still has time to raise his adorable bacchi (baby) Herahnya, who is less than a year old.

Aside from classes, power-outages have occupied quite a bit of time during our stay here. At first they were really awful, especially at night when the fans weren’t on and it was extremely hot with 11 guys in the same room. As the days have gone on though, most of us have grown to accept the blackouts; a process made easier by the wonderful rain we’ve had the past few days. The air cools off significantly after the downpours, and it’s nice to see precipitation after such dry weather.

-Eric Broderson

Sarah Schoenhals and Tessa Gerberich about to drink some local chai. Narrow streets, barely wide enough for two people to pass. Houses the size of a master bathroom (and some of those would be much bigger, still). Clean areas to walk. Occasional bad smells. Smiling faces. Rubble. Stacked bricks and tarp.

Yesterday we had the privilege to visit two slums: one thriving and one that had just been demolished. I’ve always heard stories about people who live in extreme poverty: extreme generosity and joy amidst the struggles of life, but until one actually experiences it, it’s never a reality. While at the demolished slum, I was picked out by a girl who wanted to introduce me to her family and show me where she lived. I went to a relative’s ‘house’ first, then her own ‘house’ (stacked bricks from the rubble for walls, and tarp for a ceiling). At both places, I was given chai – her mother actually sent her son to buy chai for both myself and herself. This girl showed me her life, talked of her dreams, gave me gifts – both material and spiritual. What more could one ask for on one’s birthday, especially when the bestower of the gifts is unaware of this fact?

-Krista Townsend

Ben Bailey and Ryan Eshleman work in Cooking class. On Thursday, February 10, 2011, it finally happened. We arrived at the long awaited Sarang Center. Only it wasn’t exactly the Sarang Center and it wasn’t exactly what most of the group had been looking forward to for several weeks.

During the first part of the trip when we were hopping from town to town every few days even the most spontaneous among us realized a deep desire for routine and habit. We took trains, rode rickshaws, and drove in buses from place to place finding hope in the promise of continuity offered by our two and a half week stay in the south of India. We waited for classes at the Sarang Center like we waited for Christmas break at the end of fall semester.

Several days ago after a bus trip of considerable length which included exactly one bus breakdown, we arrived at the Sarang Center. Rumors had been circulating that we weren’t actually staying at the Sarang Center and those proved true. After a brief introduction to our teachers for the various subjects we are studying including Hindi language, Yoga, and cooking among others, we climbed back into our bus for the final leg of our journey to a nearby Hotel Management College where we are staying.

I may have been the only one who was surprised by our accommodations but I don’t think that was the case as I heard several of my fellow travels exclaiming over the cold bucket showers, firm to rock solid mattresses, and cabin camp room set up.

Since the initial surprise I would say we have settled in well and are for the most part enjoying our classes and our teachers. This group of people has so far demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adjust and adapt so we have quickly made the dorm building a lively place where we all crowd into the bathroom to look at all the funny bugs we find and songs can be heard echoing through our hallway.

Despite our mildly touristy beginnings the (not) Sarang Center is providing us with many experiences that could definitely be termed “cross cultural” and I’m sure will quickly become group jokes and good stories we’ll tell all of you.  So when you’re in your steaming hot shower, think of us with our buckets and laugh because that’s what we hope to be doing here.

-Katie Landis

Delhi, India

India 3Namaste to all back home! Greetings from India! I was excited when I was asked to write this week because I knew exactly what I wanted to share with everyone back home. I wanted to share about getting to hang out with some kids from the slums of Delhi. We met with the leaders of the Reach Out and Pass It On (ROPIO) Foundation to learn about their program for helping children to take their rightful place in society through their Come Together Family (CTF) branch. It was rather eye-opening to realize how many people live in the slums. In Delhi alone, 52% of the population (approx. 20 million) lives in the slums and those numbers are still rising! After listening to some of the hard facts about the poor living in the slums, the program director filled us in about ROPIO’s mission to help the children of the slums by teaching and tutoring students after school and by re-enrolling drop out students and supporting them to the completion of their education. ROPIO also gives the children a chance to explore their own natural talents and gives them a place where they can showcase their skills. When we finished our discussion session, we all went out to go meet some of the children involved in this program and we were able to interact with and just get to know some of these great kids.

We played some ice breaker games and eventually just sat around talking and trying to get to understand each other.  Since none of us can speak Hindi and the children spoke only a little English it made the language barriers interesting, but it was really cool to see that we could still relate without language having to be the main factor. During one activity it was fun to talk with some of the youth about different random things such as their ambitions, likes and dislikes favorite classes, favorite songs, etc. I have to say it was rather surprising how excited they were about Justin Beiber. They sang us some of his songs, and we had fun just goofing off together.

Something that really hit home and meant a lot to me was after we played a treasure hunt game. We were all told that there would be a prize at the end for whoever finished first. Towards the end, all of the groups were left with just one number as a clue that corresponded with all of the other group’s numbers for a final code. We had to work together in order to get all of the pieces to crack the code. Once we cracked the code, the leader explained the reasoning for the game. He said that competition can put people against each other in order to try to win, but it is important to realize that we all need to work together in order to reach our end goal, which today was to crack the code that said “family.” The leader said that it is important to realize that we are all one family striving for the same goals and wants, so if we work together then things will go much better than if each of us was on our own. So many times I have been frustrated with America’s individualistic and competitive nature because through this system only one person really wins and the rest lose. It was really great to see these leaders teaching these group working skills to their youth. Also, it was nice to be reminded that I need to take the time to help out my fellow friends and other people without getting so wrapped up in being competitive and going after what I want that I would step on someone else. Working with the slum children has been one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences for me thus far. I hope that we all will continue to keep learning and growing throughout the rest of this trip. I, personally, feel like I have already been challenged to grow in many ways and I hope that it continues. Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers – I have been especially grateful for them! Namaste!

-Heather Kennell

Mahabodhi Temple

Our visit in Bodh Gaya has come and gone but our group still talks about how much we enjoyed our time there. The open spaces, fewer amounts of people and a few free days were refreshing in many ways, not to mention the many delicious cups of chai to go along with great conversations.

A personal highlight for Bodh Gaya was our visit to the Mahabodhi Temple, one of the pilgrimage destinations for Buddhists where the tree of enlightenment grows. We were all tired and wanting our promised nap after an overnight train from Kolkata but our schedule had been rearranged and we were told we had a temple tour first thing after breakfast. As we walked into the temple we were surrounded by Buddhist monks, nuns and many others chanting their mantras, practicing different styles of prayer and putting all their focus into their spiritual practice. Our Guide for the temple tour was full of history and facts keeping my attention completely throughout. It was refreshing to see people so dedicated to their spiritual practice and it helped me to appreciate Bodh Gaya a lot more than I had when I first arrived.

-Nicole Ropp