EMU Cross-Cultural

Expedition to the Himalayas

India 8We were welcomed to the Himalayas, yet another one of India’s myriad regions and climates, by a thrown bucket of blue dye. Covered by this hooliganism that had somehow stolen through the cracked window of our car, thoughts of Delhi and Rajasthan, Kolkata and Kerala, were wiped from our minds, replaced by the snow-covered mountains that we enjoyed while our vehicle was given a preliminary hose-off.

The day, March 11th, was Holi (pronounced: holy). We had seen signs of the festival of colors before-pink powder on the ground, strange stains on the backs of kiosk patrons-but as we arrived in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, the holiday was in full force. This meant that roving groups of young men (perhaps intoxicated on some substance, perhaps merely happy) would throw bright powder at any who strayed too near.

Despite not knowing the actual religious significance of the Holi-Day, many of the guys in the group took to the streets (roving bands of “merry” young Indian men are one of the more disconcerting things we run into; they show an obnoxious and crude interest in Western women). For a short period of time, the only colored people that we saw were Western (another disconcerting element of India; how much of what we see is Indian, and how much is a show put on to verify the Western idea of what India is… we have no way of knowing), but we quickly found Indians willing to paint us various greens, blues, reds and yellows.

Feeling festive, we embarked on a short hike to a waterfall one town over. Strangely, the water seeped into the group as if it were a drain, disappearing. On our way back, several more groups added dye to our faces, making some of us look truly frightening.

It was a good day…

-Dylan Zehr

Hiking Ladies Early Thursday afternoon we arrived in the city of Dharamsala, which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and also happens to be the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since the Chinese invasion and subsequent takeover of Tibet in the mid-20th century, Dharamsala has served as home to countless Tibetan refugees. This city has proven to be infused with more Tibetan culture and cuisine than anything else, which is a nice change after over two months of eating almost all Indian food.

Yesterday our group took a pretty grueling trek up one of the nearby Himalayan mountains. It took us several hours of scrambling over rocks and using muscles in our legs that many of us did not know existed to finally reach the peak around lunchtime. Although many of us seriously considered turning back at various points along the way, the moment we crossed the last ridge and beheld a range of snow-capped peaks before us, we knew the hike was worth the effort. I truly cannot comprehend how thousands of Tibetan refugees have survived trekking through the Himalayas for months at a time in order to reach safety in India. I thought I might keel over and die after only a day of hiking, especially because I am not accustomed to the high altitude here (Altitude sickness is fun, by the way). After a small taste of trekking through the Himalayas, I feel as if I can more fully appreciate and admire the strength and persistence of the refugees who reside here in Dharamsala.

-Kelsey Landes

Community service reports

Latin America 7Friday, Feb. 27 was the end of language school.  That day we had a Clausura in which each Spanish class did a presentation highlighting their progress from the past 8 weeks. There were a variety of presentations, all showing tremendous improvement in the students’ capabilities.  That same afternoon we boarded a small plane for Flores, an island in Lake Petén Itza and stayed the night in a small hotel on the shore of the lake.  Saturday morning we traveled to Tikal and enjoyed a tour and significant free time to explore the ancient pyramids in the jungle.

Sunday the group split up.  Jared and Addie Leaman, Peyton Erb, Yvonne Stauffer, and Rachel and Ann Hershberger returned to Guatemala City. Jared and Addie were heading back to the States on Monday and the other 4 were headed to San Marcos, Guatemala, bordering Mexico for their week of community learning. The rest of us 18 students and Jim took a boat ride on the lake to visit a zoo and some water slides in the morning before heading to Semesche in Alta Vera Paz province for our community learning.

The group in San Marcos spent their week visiting a number of MCC projects there in a food security program as part of the local catholic dioceses. They were working with MCCer, Nate Howard and his local partners, Juan Pablo and Osmar. They visited two different villages, at altitudes between 8 and 9,000 feet! The first community was Nuevas Maravillas where they attended a meeting to discuss the mushroom project the community is starting. They also have flower projects. These are an attempt to increase income and food supply for the people to avoid the necessity to migrate. The produce from their projects is sold in Mexico, several KMs away.

Peyton and Yvonne lead the preschool class during community learning. The next morning the group was in the school interacting with the children and Peyton was able to teach the preschool class for an hour while the teacher was not there! That same day they caught a bus back to the central town, Sibinal. There they were able to walk around the market in the morning and attend a meeting of the project treasurers from 4 communities. The second village they visited was La Vega, a community working with trout farming projects. The group attended more meetings and was able to relax by playing some soccer with the locals. After another cold night sleeping on hard boards, they woke up Friday to ice on the ground. Friday was the day of a large community celebration as well as the inauguration of about 25 houses in 5 communities built after Hurricane Stan. The group was able to share in these exciting community events and projects and learn more about what MCC and the local communities are doing in the region of San Marcos.

-Lindsey Grosh

Headed to Semesche for community learning in the back of a cattle truck on a cold, rainy Monday. This past week in Alta Vera Paz was one of joys, struggles, and most of all growth for me. We first traveled to Semesche by cattle truck on Monday. That was interesting because it was raining and I´m not sure you could call the path we drove on a ¨road¨ at least in comparison to what we´re used to back in the states. So there was lots of jerking and bouncing, kind of like a country rollercoaster. Then we finally arrived and were welcomed with warm smiles, giggles, and stares from the community. We were divided up into our families and left to settle.

The first half of our week was spent living with our host families and enjoying communication that consisted of ¨oos¨ (good), ¨bantiox¨(thank you) and of course lots of smiles when we didn´t understand. During the day we also spent time planting trees at different houses in order to help the people of this community gain rights to their land. It was very rewarding to be filling Amy and Christina figure out the corte, a skirt made from 7 yards of fabric that each girl wore the WHOLE week! bags with dirt while wearing 24 feet of fabric around my waist, strung up by a string into the native dress they wear  called a corte. We often walked home with dirty hands and nails waiting for the fire to start up in the evening for warmth. Those moments around the fire were some of the most meaningful to me because it was there that I felt the overwhelming feeling of being welcomed into my host family. Although it was present throughout the community, it was here that I saw the beautiful spirit of these people.

On Thursday we set out for a three hour hike to our second community, Sesalche. I don´t know that I have ever had to push myself so hard before. Some of our paths seemed to go up forever and there were certainly times when I wanted just stop. But when we would arrive at the top to see the view,  A view of the muddy conditions the group hiked through during their service week. it was more than worth it. I have never seen anything like it. The endless mountains with the clouds draped across them… I felt like this was God´s way of giving me encouragement to keep going, and after some time we finally arrived.

Once we had finished our first meal at Sesalche, we all headed to the church that was to be our home for the next couple nights. We immediately began pushing the benches together to create our beds and then headed off to the school for an art camp with the kids. Again this was a fun experience because most of us only knew about two words to use to communicate with the kids, but we found that we could learn a lot of new words just by drawing pictures and then pointing as the kids told us the names in K´kchi, their native language. After the art camp we discovered that the kids were not going to let us just walk back to the church. They wanted to play. So we spent the next bit of time playing ¨you´re it!¨ in K´kchi.

The next couple of days were probably some of our hardest. I felt pretty drained from the hike, lack of sleep due to hard wooden boards for beds, and I stopped eating a lot because I wasn´t feeling very good. But despite some of these conditions that we were all experiencing, we were still able to help some of the families with building cages for rabbits and also composting bens. These were a part of the Heffer Project that had been taking place in different communities. In this project families are given different things like animals with the notion that when their animals reproduce, they will then pass the gift on to five more families, and those families to others until everyone that wants to participate is included. It´s a really neat concept and helps the people of these communities take ownership of these movements rather than it being an outsider´s project. So I think we all appreciated being a part of that.

On Saturday we set out Rebecca gathers tropical oak tree seedlings for another group member to plant in bags of soil.for our three hour hike back to Semesche and even planted some trees on the way when we stopped for lunch. When we returned, we were glad to be able to sit and rest for a little bit, even if it was wooden benches that we were sitting on.

The next morning we all went up to the church to attend a wedding that we were invited to. It was definitely a time to see cultural differences. For one, within this culture the men and women are separate which meant that the bride and groom did not know each other before the wedding. This probably would explain why we did not see them smile at each other. The wedding was also the church service and a baby dedication all in one. So we were there for about three hours. But it was definitely a gift to be able to be a part of this sacred tradition, and another example of how welcoming this community was to invite us to this event. After the ceremony we gathered our things and got back on the cattle truck to start our bumpy journey back to Guatemala City.

As I said before, this week of service was one of great growth for me. I got to experience a way of life that was very foreign to me. I was able to learn some new words and repeat some others more times than I would like…Bantiox. I even arrived at a point where Spanish had the comfort of a native language to me! Though it was hard and possibly the farthest from my comfort zone I have ever been, it was an experience that I, and I´m sure the rest of our group would agree, would not change for the world.

-Rebecca Copeland

Elephants, camels, the desert, and more

India 7You can’t go to India and not ride elephants. With that in mind, we found a place in Jaipur that would take us on a brief half-hour ride through the city. We rode four people to an elephant, not including the driver, and created quite a spectacle as we explored the city in a single file line. It is safe to say that we all got a unique perspective of the city from the backs of our respective elephants. The ride ended all too soon but (the only way I can end this paragraph is with a cliché) the memories will last forever!

The next day we left Jaipur in search of a smaller, more elusive animal. Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Reserve is sadly the last place where you can see wild tigers in the state of Rajasthan. Their numbers have dwindled down to less than twenty, but we remained optimistic that perhaps we would be fortunate enough to see one. In the end we did not get to see a tiger but that did not stop us from enjoying the wide variety of other wildlife. We got to see peacocks, monkeys, several different types of deer, numerous birds, including a rare brown fish owl, and two crocodiles. No one did much talking on the safari as we tried to remain as quiet as possible so as not to scare off the wild animals. But in the end we left without seeing the camera-shy cats.

Rajasthani Garb When not out on the tiger safari, we passed the time back at the hotel cooling off in the pool and relaxing in general. We were also treated by some of the locals to an evening of traditional Rajasthani music and dance. Near the end of the performance, we were all encouraged to join in on the dancing. Many did so willingly but I must admit that I took a little persuading before I left my chair to join the others. It was all in good fun and so our stay in Ranthambhore ended on a good note.

-Will Stutzman

Jodhpur (The Blue City) After the “tiger” safaris in Ranthambhore, we arrived in Jodhpur, the “blue City.” Here, we saw another giant fort, the location where Jodhpurian maharajahs are cremated and the current maharajah’s palace, the third largest residence in the world. Jodhpur is called the “Blue City” because of the large number of buildings that are painted a sky blue in honor of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, whose color is blue. It was beautiful seeing how true this was while looking down from the giant Mehrangarh Fort! India just continues to astound us with its beauty.

After one night in Jodhpur, we drove two hours to the Manvar Desert Resort for two days and nights of peace and relaxation, our own little Spring Break. After spending the first afternoon out at the resort pool, we drove for Jeep Safarififteen minutes to reach our destination for the night, a tented camp in the Thar Desert. That evening, we walked up a sand mountain (putting a lot of us out of breath) to watch the sunset. In my opinion, it was the best Indian sunset yet, was beautiful arrangement of yellows, reds, oranges and blues. I’ll remember that sunset for a long time!

From there, we trekked back to the camp, where we experienced a typical Rajasthani night. A bunch of kingly pillow-sheet things were laid out for us, we laid down on them and a music/dance troupe performed for us as we received multiple incredibly tasty appetizers. I truly did feel like a maharajah. All I needed was someone fanning me and someone else feeding me grapes. It was fantastic! Then, after a great dinner, we went to bed eagerly awaiting the next day.

Camel Riders 3 We awoke at 6 the next morning for our sunrise camel ride. The camel ride was great fun! We rode in groups of two (I was with Braydon Hoover) and made our way to another sand hill, where we witnessed a beautiful, but horribly bright sunrise. Eventually, we rode thirty minutes back to the tent camp, had breakfast, and drove the fifteen minutes back to the 5-star resort.

After a lot more pool hangout time (I’m burned again!), we had a desert safari ride. The only animals we saw were adorable gazelle. However, the highlight of the ride came when we would drive down each sand dune. It was like a real-life rollercoaster, and I was sure death was on the other side of the hill after a four-wheel tumble. But no! All the vehicles got down safely. We stopped at a particularly dune-y area and dune-hopped for a little bit, having an absolute ball! We then watched the sunset, not nearly as memorable as the night before, but beautiful nonetheless.

After the ride, we came back to the resort for the night and then returned to Jodhpur for one free day, and have now arrived in Ajmer, where we will stay for two nights before returning to Delhi. It’s hard to imagine that it’s March already and that we can actually say that we’re returning next month. The two months have flown by, but at the same time, it feels like we’ve fit a year’s worth of activities in so far. It’s been a truly amazing, unforgettable, life-changing trip so far, and I can only pray that these last two months continue to be as memorable as the first two.

-Steve Kniss

Reflections on an Indian heritage

India 6Growing up as a young child my parents, my father being Indian himself and my mother being Caucasian, kept my background alive. As my brother and I grew up we had tastes of the Indian culture through food, music and souvenirs that my parents had from their journey, as well as adoption picnics when our family would hear about other family’s experiences in India. When I entered into the India cross-cultural program, I had hopes of learning more about myself, but also about my homeland. However, despite how excited I was about landing in this rising nation, I felt a great deal of pressure due to the fact that I am actually Indian. As I thought more about this, it dawned on me that during my stay, natives to India would believe that I understand their culture and languages only to be offended or disappointed at the fact that I have been Americanized. Despite this drawback, I entered the country with and open mind, knowing that the people and sights would change my perspective as a whole.

My journey so far has undoubtedly exceeded my expectations. Before arriving here, my thoughts about this country were that it was an underdeveloped nation with lots of poverty, that it was extremely strict  religiously, and, of course, home to many amazing historical sights. As I entered each city, my jaw dropped to the ground. India seemed more modern than I realized, especially after riding the Metro in New Delhi and realizing that pretty much every Indian has a cell phone, regardless of their status.

Although I am doing my best to enjoy my time here in India and soak in its existing culture, I am constantly shocked by people and events that have a hard impact on me. It hurts me to see a slum full of shacks made from tin and its inhabitants dressed in the same clothes from day to day while at the same time a business man in a Mercedes Benz (yes, they have those here) can drive by the slums and pull into a brand new mall with name brand clothing stores. Irony such as this in India has led me to really question my distinction between my needs and wants back home.

More interestingly, however, I am greatly impressed at the level of religion in this country. The more I have observed those that participate in the daily prayers and study the various elements of these religions, the more aware I have become as to why religion is held as a crucial element to individuals’ lives. It seems that despite their setbacks, they still make the most of their lives with hopes that they will have a better life in either the future or in another life. This has really made me grateful for all the opportunities that have been placed at my feet and reinforced my awareness that I shouldn’t take what I have for granted.

Overall, India is a magnificent place with beauty running across the whole nation. From the Taj Mahal to technological development, India is on the rise and has the potential to do great things. If you haven’t traveled out of North America or haven’t been to this country yet, I would strongly recommend visiting, because there is something here for everyone, be it food or adventure. India is full of outgoing inhabitants that will go out of the way to help and make sure that visitors are content. I have fallen in love with the country, and perhaps after my education is complete, a life working in India would be fulfilling.

-Sanjay Dick

Rajasthani Meal This week came accompanied with quite a variety of emotions. Early Friday morning, we departed the VKV and headed back to Delhi. I found that leaving was much harder than I expected, especially since I was ready to go before we even concluded our first week of classes. Even so, I had become comfortable with the daily routine of woodcarving and Hindi lessons and had begun to grow attached to the place we called home for nearly a month. It feels good to be back on the move though, seeing new sights and experiencing everything India has to offer.

We spent two days in Delhi before we left for Jaipur. I found myself strangely comfortable with the city that seemed so foreign not long ago. Our Saturday was spent shopping at the local markets and playing games of Rook that never seemed to end.

Looking back on the time we’ve spent here in India, I can’t help but notice how my feelings towards this country have changed. I have a greater appreciation for the culture and the people who have so warmly welcomed us. I had my share of doubts before coming on this trip but I am reminded everyday how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful part of the world.

-Bryce Troyer

Immigration Focus

Latin America 6 A normal field trip brought out strong reactions from our group in our visit to CAM, Centro Atención al Migrante. Our host, Carlos gave us information about their immigrant halfway house and why it is needed. Then this led him to directly state how the U.S. has played a role in causing migration. I have been aware and am still learning just how much the U.S. has interfered in the development of Central America, but it was still a depressing lecture for me. No one really likes to hear how inconsiderate his or her country is. Carlos also abruptly began to ask us questions on how we can make such contradictions like claim to be the freedom light of the world and go fight a war in Iraq or refuse to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Because of the setting, set up for a speech and spread out, none of us were sure if these were rhetorical questions or not. As comments did spurt out, I noticed how people seemed to have reached a point of not being able to be silent longer. Afterwards students were buzzing with anger. One said it was the first time she felt discriminated for being an American; another was angry that Carlos thought he could just keep accusing us like that. Personally, I came away more depressed than angry, like a beaten dog with its tail between the legs.

As our week focused on immigration ended, I was reminded of how glad I am to have taken a Spanish class at EMU last spring; I hadn’t even known what the class was about when I signed up, but I came out of that class with the beginnings (or more) of understanding of the complexity of immigration, especially in the U.S. Now that I’m in Guatemala, this background helps me see multiple sides when reading the case studies and visiting the U.S. Embassy. I see neither undocumented or legal immigrants, nor the Mexican government or U.S. border patrols as the “evil” ones. I do not, then, have a proposed solution; in fact, the more I know, the more impossible it seems to find a happy, just situation for everyone. But I see places that demand improvement regardless.

-Allison Glick

A small group surprises Aaron with a birthday song. It is amazing how people can touch the lives of others.  Today I went walking hoping to find a Mennonite church, Casa Horeb.  Andrew’s host mom had told me where the church was as we were driving down the Periferico but I conveniently forgot which avenue she told me.  I ended up walking six blocks too far because I thought I was supposed to go to 13th Avenue rather than 19th Avenue. But I am glad that I did.  On 13th Ave. I asked a woman if she knew the Mennonite church.  Of course she did not even know what a Mennonite is.  She told me there were two churches on 13th Ave, but if I wanted to, I could go with them to an Evangelical church.  It meant a lot that they invited me to their church, so I went and I really enjoyed my time with them.  Their Evangelical style of worship is certainly not my style of Mennonite, but I enjoyed the energy.  The lady’s daughter was a huge help during the service and she tried to help me understand what was happening by whispering things in my ear… in Spanish.  She is about five but I think she really understood my situation.  Later in the service her mom bought some gum to share.

After the loud and disorganized service my new friends and I walked back to the corner where we met.  It was nice to have the walking time to chit-chat and the five year old held my hand on the way back.  I have not been around children much, since my host parents here in Guatemala are older and do not have children in the house.  On our walk I found out that the lady is twenty-five years old, divorced, has two children, and her job is part time.  I think she lives with two other ladies and their two children.  The gist of this lady’s current situation really put into aspect how much wealth and security is in my life.  I saw God through this lady and her family.  This put a completely new face on poor people in my life.  They are no longer the aggravating beggar, nor the drug addict, of possible thief, but rather my friend and my family.  I never want to forget how my life has been touched this week.

-Aaron Yutzy

A weekend at the beach

India 5Last Friday came just in time! The week of class leading up to it was starting to make us all a little tired and worn out. Everyone had Hindi for 2 hours (in addition to all the homework that was given), as well as our secondary class. My secondary class was yoga, which took place every day for one hour. During this time we learned many different poses from our Yoga Master. After doing yoga for two weeks it was gratifying to see myself becoming more flexible.

But as I said, Friday could not have come soon enough because that meant we were going to the beach! We left in the morning and traveled in two vans, making it a very cozy trip for the fifteen or so people in each vehicle. After three hours or so of driving we arrived at our hotel, where the beach was only a five minute walk away. Needless to say we spent almost all of our weekend at the beach. It was absolutely amazing, the water was just right, it was never cloudy, and there was a boardwalk type stretch of restaurants and all kinds of shops. Oh, and it was also great because we didn’t stick out as a group of Americans anymore because the place was full of tourists.

Sadly though, Sunday came too fast and all of us were sad to see leave the beach. I will admit though that I was happy to get out of the sun, and I think others were too, considering how lobster-red we were! Monday rolled around and we tried to fall back in to the groove of classes for one more week until we will catch a plane back north.

-Jared Troyer

Hindi 101 edited This past week has been a flurry of anticipation, finishing up our classes and preparing to travel again. After a relaxing yet challenging three weeks here at VKV, we’ll be flying back to Delhi in just a couple days! I’ve really enjoyed learning the Hindi language, as well as participating in my Bharathanatyam dance class. Bharathanatyam is a classic Indian dance form, the dance of Lord Shiva, which emphasizes strong, stiff movements. Stomping, intricate hand gestures and animated facial expressions make this dance fun to both practice and watch! This class has been a challenge and a joy for me, and I’m pretty sure we’ve amused our teacher at times with our attempts to perform this foreign and complicated art form! Hindi class has been a little more stressful, but I’m really looking forward to using it in the north, as Malayalam is spoken predominantly in Kerala. I’ve liked learning Hindi from our passionate instructor, Nisha Ji, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us are looking forward to wrapping it up!

After an intense week of classes at VKV last week, we were all pumped to go to Kovalam Beach for the weekend. We spent Friday through Sunday soaking up the blazing sun and the beautiful beach scenery. I played in the big waves, shopped on the boardwalk and found some awesome places to eat. Overall, the weekend was a welcome break, and it was great to just chill out and ‘be a tourist’ for a few days!

As we prepare to leave the south, my emotions are mixed. It was wonderful to settle into a daily routine after weeks of constant travel, and the staff at the VKV are so hospitable. I’ve also enjoyed having the time to get to know others in the group even better during our stay here! However, I’m also very excited to return to the north and to see what new experiences await us there. This once-in-a-lifetime experience in India has been eye-opening, challenging, and so much fun for me, and I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead!

-Megan Yoder

Cultural arts at Vijnana Kala Vedi

India 4I arrived in India just over one month ago. Since that time I have seen many things and learned a lot about both India and myself. Our extensive travelling during the first few weeks led me to be extremely excited for arriving at Vijnana Kala Vedi, a cultural arts center here in Kerala, where our group is in the middle of our three week stay. At the VKV we are all taking Hindi classes and an additional class of our choice. I chose to study the classical Indian dance, Mohinyattam (The Slow Dance of the Seductress), which definitely forces me far out of my comfort zone! Hindi is a challenge as well, and I found it difficult at first to get back into the “school” mode. Our teacher Nisha Jee always encourages us to go faster and learn more!

Kerala DiningLife at the VKV is very relaxing. Whether I am sitting on my balcony reading a book or playing games in the evening, I feel calm and peaceful. The people here are so kind and it has been fun to get to know them. One of the great things here are the meals. Eating off of banana leaves with my fingers is a lot of fun, especially when the food is some of the best on the trip thus far!

This past weekend our group spent time on houseboats, cruising down the backwaters of Kerala. I had a lot of fun, and can’t wait to go on a houseboat again! It seemed almost surreal to be floating along the canals, lined by palm trees and rice paddies, but that is how my time has been so far. I am not sure when it will completely sink in that I am in India. This country never ceases to surprise, amaze, or confuse me, but I am coming to love it more everyday. Even as I miss people and things at home, my appreciation for this complex culture and diverse people is growing stronger and deeper with each new experience I have.

-Lara Gautsche

Woodcarving After three weeks of constant traveling, it feels good to finally have some time to slow down and think. My week has been relaxing and therapeutic thanks to a slower pace of life and my cultural lessons in woodcarving. I enjoy relieving my stresses as I patiently carve every day,

but at this point I still feel like an infant hitting blocks with a hammer. I enjoy watching the woodcarving guru, accurately described as an Indian Groucho Marx, quickly and carefully chisel away at his masterpiece until the chunk of 2 x 4 becomes a folding table and chairs. I don’t anticipate becoming a phenomenal woodcarver, but I will definitely have a deeper appreciation for the complicated art.

The other class I’m taking, required of all the cross cultural students, is Hindi. Needless to say, the idea of learning a language in three weeks is daunting. It’s easy to feel resentful towards the teacher, Nisha Jee, for the strenuous class time and lengthy homework, but we are actually learning quite a lot in a very short time. Hopefully I can retain more that one language…

At times I felt discouraged during the week, but the thought of the upcoming weekend propelled meHouseboat Driving through. On Saturday morning, we left the Vijnana Kala Vedi and spent the day floating down the river on houseboats. I was pleased that the boats were a little more accommodating and safe than the Huckleberry Finn rafts I imagined. However, the newspaper on board with an article about the recent sinking of a houseboat was unnerving. When the boats docked along the riverside for the night, I opted out of sharing a double bed with two large men and chose to sleep outside on a padded bench. Thankfully, morning arrived with all boats above water and no students suffering from excessive gasoline inhalation. As all weekends seem to end, the group was not looking forward to the responsibilities of the week ahead.

In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m having a great time at the V.K.V. and on the trip as a whole. The amazing people and incredible sights are quickly making this trip the experience of a lifetime.

-James Hall

Reports from Southern India

India 3Being in Southern India has been a pleasant change. The weather is hot, there are palm trees everywhere, we can actually see the countryside, the people are friendly and we eat with our hands off of banana leaves. The past week has been very eventful. In the city of Guruvayoor, we saw a Theyyam, which is a Hindu religious festival At this particular Theyyam, a man jumped into a pile of burning coals face first over 100 times. I think he wanted to quit sooner. But the people in the crowd kept cheering him on.

Home Stay Family Later in the week, we went to our home stays in Mala. The Kandam Kaluthy household was very energetic. The house was owned by the grandfather and was shared with his son and his wife and kids. Three or four aunts and uncles were also staying at the house during our stay, in order to help our and make our stay more enjoyable. One of the little kids, Paul, was a lot of fun to play with. He would often take Bryce’s camera and take over 70 pictures in a 20 minute period.

During the days we worked in the rice fields and in the evenings we either went to a cultural show put on by the community or we played soccer against the local team.

On our last morning, a few of us got up at 6:30 to go to church with the family. Even though the entire service was in Malayalam, it was a great opportunity to see a group of people who live on the other side of the world worshipping God in their own way.

-Jeff Swartzendruber

Plowing the Field We awoke on Sunday morning at 2 a.m. to prepare for our early morning flight from New Delhi to the city of Kanur in Southern India. We made our refuge at a local resort style hotel. Unfortunately for me, I became sick on Monday and for half the day I remained at the hotel. My peers on the other hand went to an early morning theyyam (Hindu festival). That afternoon, however, I finally felt better, which let me go with the group to the beach.

On Tuesday, we visited St. Angelo’s Fort, built by the Portuguese. The weather there seemed at the time to be the hottest and the most humid that I have ever felt. This much heat on a January morning made me wonder how soldiers could have survived here in the summer months. We also visited a weaving factory where the workers make clothing and other goods in a pre-Industrial Revolution fashion.

Wednesday, we got on the road again to head for the city of Guruvayoor, after seeing master workers make pottery. The following day, we visited the world’s largest Krishna temple, also located in Guruvayoor. Then we headed to a small village for our home stay and worked in the rice paddy fields. Planting Rice No longer were we just tourists, but we were farmers planting rice in a traditional manner. We used water shovels, water wheels, water buffalo and hoes to plant our field. As a result we got cuts, blisters and sunburns. But at the end, we planted a rice field! I should also say that I have never spent so much quality time in a watery mud pit-not even my nights of frog hunting come close!

Our host and hostess were amazing while we were farming. They provided us with entertainment, including performances of Keralan dances and songs. We presented Mennonite hymns as a form of cross-cultural exchange.

-Jonathan Lamb

“There’s so much to think about…”

So I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of Syncretism, Catholic vs. Evangelical, and the ongoing process of change within the Church here, as Rafael was talking to us about yesterday. I’m kind of struggling with it all. Is all syncretism bad? Is my belief a result of syncretism? It doesn’t seem like it, because the Anabaptists back in the day broke away from the Catholic norm, not conformed to it. But then, throw in culture and who knows what, and it seems like everything in this world is syncretism, even me. Everything except for Jesus Christ. He was pure and spotless. Maybe that’s what it means… in this world but not of it. He wasn’t synchronized to anything else. Hm.

And then there’s the whole Catholic-Evangelical battle that’s been going on, really since the 1870′s or earlier. Was that a good divide? It has created such competition and rejection among churches, but yet it allowed for a growth of faith, a mission-oriented stance, and more separation of the (Catholic) Church and State. Do I totally reject the stance of the Catholic Church and their dual focus on Jesus and Mary? Or do I take communion with them? In Italy, any sign of the cross meant being part of the Catholic Church, and any time there was a Catholic parade or activity, all the Evangelicals stayed inside. Within the matter of a week or two, Rafael gives an interesting talk on the Mennonite Church involvement in Guate.I moved in with a Catholic family, attended a Catholic Peace March, and took communion in a Catholic church. I am torn about what I should accept, what I should take a stance on, and then, there’s Rafael’s questions yesterday…

What is the reign of God? How closed is too closed to allow the reign of God?

There’s so much to think about, but I am excited to keep learning and asking questions.

Climbing the Fuego Volcano

Latin America 4Rolling through Antigua this weekend was quite amazing. Even though the country of Guatemala is roughly the size of Ohio, it contains over 30 volcanoes, which are enormous. When I actually (more or less) reached the top of Fuego, I realized how drastic the country really is, in terms of geography. You drive from the busy, huge, smelly, metropolis of Guatemala City, hike a few hours up a mountain, and it seems as though you are in a completely different world.

We were drenched and sweating as we hiked 5-6 hours up to the base camp (from 4,500 ft to 10,000 ft), surrounded by jungle trees. But up on top, another 1 ½ hrs and 2,300 ft later, it was windy, and freezing, completely barren. View of volcano Agua, from above the clouds.There was nothing growing. All I could see was rocks. However, looking out across the landscape, I was met with a wonderful sight. Colossal volcanoes, covered in clouds, towering over the rest of the valley. I have never seen anything as awesome. And that is only one small fraction of the country. There are dozens more volcanoes, mountains and ridges that cover the countryside.

If we compare this country to the United States, we have similar geography, with the same mountains, forests, and beaches. However, our country is 100 times the size, maybe larger. It’s amazing that so little a country can contain so much. This weekend taught me a lot about perception as well. The volcano, from distance, looked like a piece of cake to climb, but it challenged my limits as I struggled all the way to the top. Even from our campsite, the top seemed a short hop away, but boy was I wrong.