EMU Cross-Cultural

Kerala & Sarang Center

A day in the life at the Sarang Center, second person POV:

6:15 am:  First alarm

6:20:  Second alarm

6:22: Get out of bed, throw Kalari clothes on

6:31: Take Rickshaw to Kalari

6:47: Arrive, lather oil on body, go through bowing routine

7:01: Smile and grimace after Guru-ji starts class with “Three laps!, one more, one more!”

8:30:  leave class a bit more flexible and with the knowledge that you will be feeling this in muscles you didn’t know you had

8:45:  Arrive back at the houses, gather breakfast, eat with your 9 housemates by sitting in a circle – on couches, on chairs, on the floor – & talk about each other’s mornings

9:12:  Take shower if your gracious housemates are able to fill the water tank

10:00: Violin class!  (I’m a complete newbie… God bless our ears)

12:00: nap time.

1:30: lunch.  Gather food, sit in circle, discuss the current snack situation.

2:00-7:30: free time!  Options include, but are not limited to:

  • read
  • class assignments
  • practice violin
  • provide for your family by braving the heat and head to town for snacksonsnackonsnacks
  • play with children
  • Journal
  • Read
  • Go for a run in a nearby village & gain new running buddies, usually in the form of curious, lanky adolescents with wide smiles and “hello, where from?”
  • Read
  • Pass out invitations to neighbors for upcoming program that your group will be putting on

7:30: supper!  Eat again with your house, discuss pressing topics such as:

  • Is everybody okay with a no-pants rule?
  • The restaurant situation in Harrisonburg – McDonald’s or Cuban Burger? Quality or quantity?
  • Youth group reminiscences, good and bad
  • Who is going to eat the last popper?
  • How is percussion going, Trevor?
  • “Why EMU needs a frisbee golf course” – a persuasive speech by Trevor Oyer
  • Spirit Animals
  • State of the Snackage  (not to be confused with State Of The Union)

10ish: Set alarm, climb in to bed, and whisper an assuring “yes, we can” to your hamstrings in preparation for the next day of classes

On a more serious note:  Our time at the Sarang Center was, for me, a much needed change of pace after our time in Goa.  We lived in houses, interacted with neighbors, and experienced the unpredictability of life in India through tentative schedules and iffy water/electricity availability.  It was the first time our living space was truly “off the grid” with no internet/TV within close proximity.  It wasn’t rare for me to walk downstairs and see 5-7 people sitting in a circle, reading between classes, or walk outside and see other group members playing badminton or soccer with neighborhood friends.  Some houses even went the extra mile, inviting neighbor kids over to paint, play games, and exchange words from respective languages.

We each got to pick two classes to take for two weeks. Options included Kalari (an Ancient Kerala martial arts form), Carnatic Vocal, percussion, or violin, mural painting, cooking, yoga, and theater.  When our time came to an end, we all participated in a program to share what we learned with demonstrations from each class.  It was humbling to see familiar faces in the crowd, ranging from faces we would pass on our way to class, local shop owners, and our own gurus.

I am deeply grateful for the community we were surrounded with for those two weeks, as they developed a home-stay feel for our large group through their hospitality and openness within their own space despite our somewhat invasive and curious presence.

This amount of traveling and level of exposure to so many aspects of India does provide a more well-rounded view of the country, but it can be overwhelming.  Time at the Sarang Center gave me an Indian-esque type of stability and “home” in the midst of all the movement on this journey.

-Abigail Shelley


Guatemala: Poetry

Hola m’hija
Ahorita llego
De platicar con un ciego
Pero voz fijo
Su corazón de fuego

Perdió su visión
En el año ochenta y siete
Por un accidente de cohete
Creando una fisión
En ambos ojos y la mente

Escuchame, me indicaba
Es el trigésimo primer año
De vivir así cotidiano
Pero lo que me perjudica
No es aquel daño

Lo que más me ha dañado
En estos treinta y un años
Es que cada ser humano
A quien he escuchado
Le toma la visión por sentado

-Adam Moyer


Dirt floor and hanging corn
Lush carpet and ceiling fan

Candle light and wood fire
Flipped switch and microwave

Wooden bed and shared room
Mattress pad and closed door

Tortilla making and mountain climbing
Eating out and five cars

Eight siblings and roaming chickens
Nuclear family and backyard

Outhouse and outdoor spigot
Flushing toilets and hot water

Playing catch and manual labor
Toy room and studying science

Worn clothing and no education
Full closet and college degree

Below poverty and pure joy
Middle class and …

-Madeline Mast


Poems are freaking hard
Harder than living abroad
We’re already halfway done
Time flies when you’re having fun
There was AP, Douglas and Tucson
Guatemala City and Coban
And I almost forgot Atitlan
My Spanish still sucks
But who gives two ducks
(I write kid friendly poems)
I have experienced so many cultures
And seen the basurero with vultures
I have slept on planks of wood
And where people were massacred I have stood
The people here have beautiful souls
They’ll keep giving you food when you’re full
While they eat so little
And have so little
The lucky ones have opportunity
And the rest live in poverty
Yet they all wave and smile
While this gringo says “buenos” and passes by

-Lucas Miller


Where is the oxygen
Not in my lungs
My throat burns
Straining my legs
My back
My whole being
These children
We would label them poor
And yet here
In this context
I’m the poor one
Lacking strong lungs
Legs that don’t ache
When I pull myself
Up the mountain

Where is my knowledge
Of using this bathroom
And sleeping on wood
I am poor
I have nothing
That is useful here
In this context
I am forced to think
A different way
For to me they’ve
Always
Been poor
Because poor is just
About money
But being here
My money means
Nothing
And poor is about lack of
Knowledge and
Ability
And language

-Jenna Heise

Guatemala & Cuba 2018

India: Beauty, Colonization and Wrestling with Enough

Goa Reflection

The state of Goa is located in western India with its coastline stretching along the Arabian Sea. Its history, like much of India’s history, involves European colonization. The Portuguese set their eyes on Goa when realizing its valuable placement geographically as a port for spice trading along the Arabian Sea. In the late 1500’s the Portuguese took over the state of Goa and controlled it until 1961 when Goa became independent from Portugal and became officially a part of India again. What remained was a unique convergence of two cultures that has continued to develop into what Goa is today.

Finding Portuguese culture in Goa, and India in general, was a surprise for me. During our two weeks in Goa, I continually found myself astounded by the interconnectedness of culture through art, music, religion and architecture. Colonization, however, has deeply influenced the culture and I started becoming critical of what we were seeing, hearing and being exposed to. I was at times uncomfortable hearing how beautiful and unique Goa is because of Portuguese influences and not hearing much of the negative impacts of that influence. I struggled with knowing that colonization in the world has been forceful dominance of one group/culture over another, but also loving the Portuguese influenced art, music and architecture I was seeing. It seems that Goans have adopted and claimed this mixture of culture as their own, nonetheless I felt as if our exposure was unbalanced and catered to us as westerners only wanting to see/learn the “positive”, “easy” things. I expected to learn more about the harm and abuse of power that the Portuguese brought upon the region. It was incredible seeing Portuguese and Indian culture existing in the same space because I have never been exposed to that dynamic before.

However, I found myself being critical of my biases towards what is beautiful and how my perspectives as a westerner influence my experience here. Did I find Goa so beautiful and interesting because it was a more culturally familiar, comfortable space, or because of observing the differences unique to Goan culture that I had never been exposed to before? I believe it is important to be critical of our western lens while we are here, and how it affects our experience here in India. Our two weeks in Goa encouraged me to think about how I am interacting and existing in these spaces and reminded me to keep questioning why I feel emotions such as discomfort or guilt. It reminded me to always be aware of the multiple parts to every story, even if you are only being exposed to one side. There is beauty within the remains of colonization – but that does not mean we should ever be content with that, and forget to ask more critical questions that explain the other parts of the story.

– Emma Petersheim


What does it mean to have enough to live?

To answer this question, it is necessary to define what having “enough to live” means. There is an obvious scientific definition of having “enough to live,” which focuses on the resources a human being needs to survive: food, water, and shelter from the elements. This scientific definition, however, is not sufficient to answer the question in context; in context, the question addresses the inherent differences between cultures as to how having “enough to live” is defined.

To answer this question in context, it is necessary to recognize and analyze the various living standard expectations individuals in different cultures have. In an American context, having “enough to live” is generally equated with some version of the “American Dream” – life in a comfortable suburb with two cars, a few kids, and more than enough money and resources to get by. Though this certainly is not considered the minimum standard of living for all Americans, it is a quality of life the majority of Americans expect.

Americans must realize this lifestyle is one of excess, and that it disadvantages marginalized communities across the world. This lifestyle allocates a disproportionate amount of resources to Americans, meaning people in the US get way more than their fair share of global resources, ranging from food to clothing to oil. Access to more resources inevitably leads to more waste production, which explains why the average American produces more than ten times the daily waste of the average Indian. This is all to say that though Americans tend to view their lifestyles as justified, or even “natural,” from an environmental perspective, these lifestyles are unsustainable.

Now, I do not want to make it seem like I think I do not engage in a lifestyle of excess; I certainly do, as this lifestyle is difficult to avoid while being raised in a society that encourages, and even expects people to have significantly more than they need. This brings me to the main issue I have been struggling with this trip: trying to justify my lifestyle of excess while being surrounded by the people who are negatively affected by my lifestyle choices. The way I see it, there are only a certain amount of resources to go around in the world. Though I am not directly choosing to take those resources away from the people of India, the fact that I do have significantly more than I need to live means I am indirectly taking resources away from people who need them more than I do.

What I am struggling with even more is the fact that despite knowing how harmful my lifestyle is to other people, I don’t see myself changing it significantly when I get back to the US. I am going to justify this by making claims of the difficulty that comes from being counter-cultural, especially when it comes to the American ideals of consumerism and materialism, but realistically, that is nothing more than a poor excuse.

So what does this all have to do with what it means to have enough to live? I think it shows just how privileged we are as Americans to be able to include so many excess items and luxuries in the category of what is “necessary” for survival.

In India, it is obvious that most cannot expect to have the same living standards that many Americans have. The first couple of weeks on this trip, we spent almost all of our time in big cities. In these cities, it became abundantly clear how little many people had. By American standards, these people did not have “enough to live,” as they often did not have more than the clothes on their back and a few other personal items.

However, I do not think it is fair to say the majority of people in these Indian cities do not have “enough to live;” sure, by American standards these people have essentially nothing, but American standards are not universal and should not be used universally. I do not know enough about India to claim I understand how a typical Indian would define what qualifies as “enough to live,” but I do know enough about India to say confidently, an Indian’s definition differs from an American’s.

This is all to say that what constitutes “enough to live” varies from region to region, country to county, and continent to continent. It is important to recognize this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we must realize our standards of living in the US are not normal as compared to the rest of the world. We should appreciate the fact that we have the ability to live the way we do, while also attempting to alter our unsustainable lifestyles in an effort to promote environmental sustainability and global equality. Secondly, it is important to recognize the differences in living standard expectations across the world because it can become easy for Americans traveling abroad to pity people who do not have as much as they do in an almost imperialistic way. Working to help people who are less fortunate than we are is extremely important, but ideally, this desire to help should come from the right mindset. If we want to help less fortunate people because we recognize their humanity and want the world to be a more equal place, I have no issue with that. If we want to help less fortunate people because we view ourselves as inherently superior, and project our ability to aid them as a sign of racial, social, or political dominance, we are no better than those who used a similar sense of dominance to justify colonizing and abusing people all over the globe for centuries.

In short, what it means to have “enough to live” varies drastically from culture to culture. My time in India so far has made me realize I want to do something about the inequality that derives from those different standards, as I think it is unfair for someone to have too much, or too little, based purely on geographic location of birth. Global economic inequality is one of the modern world’s biggest political, social, and cultural issues, and I believe one of its best solutions is to convince Americans, myself included, that our way of life is inherently unsustainable and marginalizes a huge portion of the world’s population.

-Evan Davis


Guatemala: Alta Verapaz

We’re back from five breathtaking days in Guatemala’s Alta Verapaz, where we stayed with the organization Community Cloud Forest Conservation, led Rob and Tara Cahill, along with teachers and staff from the surrounding Q’eqchi’ communities. CCFC is working with the conservation of the rapidly diminishing cloud forest, as it intersects with the lives and well-being of the people who live there. The work of this organization is far-reaching. There are two main community programs: Kids and Birds, which is a summer-camp-style environmental education experience for children, and Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation (WALC). Through WALC, young women learn life skills and leadership, but also plant agroforestry plots, as an alternative form of agriculture that both repairs degraded forest areas and can be a source of nutritionally dense food. CCFC is addressing both social and environmental issues holistically, and coming up with some wonderfully creative solutions.

CCFC – Photo by Alex Rosenberg

During our five days in the cloud forest, we spent three nights in the CCFC facilities, which are filled with windows, light, and wood. The facility was built with careful attention to resource conservation. We got to experience composting toilets, showers heated in pipes that ran through wood cook stoves, and meals featuring ingredients like cloud forest spinach. It felt like there was no boundary between “indoors” and “outdoors.” We got to spend a lot of time outside in the cloud forest. We hiked through the forest two different days, both times reaching caves that were historically places of Mayan worship.

Our other two nights were spent with host families, which we all agreed was one of the most difficult things we’ve done so far on this cross-cultural. We were living in houses perched on the edges of the mountains, in the community of Sebob. While there, we ate meals cooked around a fire, interacted with the intergenerational families who were hosting us, and played a lot of soccer. We wheezed up steep hills (our host siblings nonchalantly sprinting ahead of us), slept on boards, bundled in all of the clothes we’d packed, and tried our best not to cough as billows of smoke from cooking fires hit our faces. Even in writing that, I am cringing a little bit. We all know how incredibly privileged we were to be there, how hospitable our host families were, how little we have to complain about in our daily lives. As we walked down that mountain for the last time, I wrestled with feelings of guilt at the bit of relief I felt at returning to the CCFC buildings, with their hot showers and soft beds. These mixed feelings of gratitude and guilt linger with me, as I return to life at school in the city.

That week gave me a lot to think about in regards to how we talk about conservation and issues of environmental stewardship, since this is one of CCFC’s main areas of focus. Because I am an Environmental Sustainability major at EMU, I was particularly interested in seeing the intersection of culture and environment from an angle other than that of the United States. Our relationship with the environment, and how we respond to environmental degradation, are so dependent on where we were born, who our families are, and what our surrounding culture says about environmental stewardship. I saw a lot of similarities between the U.S. and Guatemala in our environmental concerns: the ways that so many of us take for granted our natural resources, our rapidly dwindling forests, climate change as a life-altering force in all of our lives, the cultural significance of agriculture. Continue reading

India: Kolkata, Varanasi and Bodhgaya

We were told that Kolkata was an 18 hour train ride from New Delhi. The train ended up being 5 hours late and taking 30 hours to reach our destination. One of the “four rules of India” is “anytime after sometime,” and we were truly experiencing this rule!

I cannot, however, say this experience was negative. We had the opportunity to meet and get to know some truly interesting people. They were asking about what we were doing here, and they were quick to share their knowledge about their country and Kolkata. I learned that Kolkata is called the “City of Joy.” This was interesting to hear because Kolkata is known for pollution and poverty worse than New Delhi.

The name, “City of Joy,” did not disappoint me. The locals were all incredibly nice, many asking “Hi. How are you?” as we walked by. Some of the streets even had music playing from large speakers! This, along with wonderfully detailed and colorful architecture, captivated me.

None of those parts were the most impactful, however. It was the smiling faces of those from harder circumstances. They were obviously in need, but you could never tell by their faces. This was a huge reminder that money and possessions should not be my source of joy. Relationships are more important, and this entire trip has been pushing me to reevaluate priorities and “needs.”

 -Hannah Walker

 

Visit to Varanasi
I enjoyed…
-observing the rituals associated with funerals. Fires could be found along the Ganga, where the dead were being cremated.
-learning about the rich history of Varanasi along the bank of the Ganga.
-feeding the birds on the boat during the smog-obscured sunrise. I must admit that we ate some of the bird food.
-trying on saris and looking stylish for the first time on the trip.
-witnessing the national holiday, Republic Day of India. Everyone was cheering, singing, and running through the temple that we were trying to learn about.
-discovering more about the life of Buddha through large murals in a temple dedicated to him.
-visiting the Banaras Hindu University, which is known as one of the greatest learning centers in India. It played an important role in the Indian independence movement.
-walking through the streets of Varanasi and interacting with the people who live there.
-Maia Garber

Fun Times in Bodhgaya – a haiku
I got really sick
I threw up so many times
Nine to be exact
-Andrew Peltier


 


Guatemala: Bucket List

Bucket List for Guatemala:

✓ -Watch a volcanic eruption from our classroom window

-Hike a volcano and roast marshmallows at the top (this coming weekend!)

-Take a moto (motorcycle) ride around the city

✓ -Barter down prices at the central market

-Have a conversation with a stranger in Spanish

✓ -Attend Catholic Mass (one with indigenous flair)

✓ -Visit “the most beautiful lake in the world,” (Atitlán)

-Climb the palaces and temples of Tikal

-Zipline through a Guatemalan forest (free travel?)

-Ride a chicken bus to Antigua

✓ – Squish a lot of people into a small amount of space, transportation-wise

-Bake snickerdoodle cookies for my host family (and figure out how to work the oven)

I find simple pleasure in coming home after school around 5 or 5:30 and sitting down in the living room with my host mom and abuelita, talking about anything from weather to shoes to food to family to the traffic, the depth and subject matter expanding the more Spanish I learn. But along with those times of contentment come frustrations of living in a family with a different religion (Neo-Pentecostal megachurch attendees), different customs (watching sermons on tv (see “religion”) while eating dinner), different ideas of health (don’t sleep with your hair wet or walk barefoot on the tile – you’ll get a cold), and many, many communication difficulties.

Just two days ago, I came home from school and wanted to go on a run. We had talked about it the day before, and I reminded my family, thinking I was conveying it well, before I went upstairs to change. When I came back down, both my host mom and abuelita were ready, too. Apparently they were coming, too, and were excited to join me on my “run,” which was now a walk to and from the park down the street. I was disappointed, wanting some time to myself and to get some real exercise after eating mostly processed foods the past week. However, walking through the neighborhood close to dusk, many families were out, strolling to the little tienda nearby to get a staple for dinner, passing each other with friendly waves – there was this small town feel nestled in the midst of a sprawling city, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed greeting acquaintances with pleasantries, like on EMU’s campus.

I live in a colonia, or a gated neighborhood, and while I knew I should appreciate the safety measures surrounding me, I felt caged most of the time. I realize, without the walls and gates, I wouldn’t have experienced that small community feeling of Monday night, but overall, we are still surrounded by imposing “safeness.” Stores are guarded by men with guns and rifles. CASAS is surrounded by walls. Most houses, mine included, are surrounded by walls, within the larger wall of the community. “Con cuidado,” is my host mom’s parting words to me every day when I leave for school. I experience the cognitive dissonance of living in Guatemala City with the knowledge and many warnings from my host families that the city can be very dangerous, while experiencing nothing more harmful than wolf whistles from passing motos. I count our group blessed that we haven’t encountered worse, and maybe it’s because we are white people from the US. Maybe I don’t find it dangerous because I am not the main target population for gangs, and we’ve been wisely kept from the “red zones” of the city, but when I read an article last week that claimed Guatemala City to be “one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” I wondered if that was true, and if so, dangerous for whom?

I have always lived near cities, in towns and suburbs with large populations, but they did very little to prepare me for Guatemala City. Every day, a bombardment of the senses accompanies the walk to the microbus – the smells of baking bread from panaderias, diesel, trees and flowers, masses of people, and the sounds of whistles, honking, engines revving, fireworks, dogs barking, roosters crowing, “singing” (screaming) birds, and again, masses of people. Traffic causes most of my sensory overload: the number of cars on the road, the poor conditions of some roads, the traffic laws (and lack thereof), and both extremes of speed – way too fast when there’s a free 100 meters of space in front of the car and not moving at all during rush hour(s) – it’s all a bit overwhelming. The idea of driving a car here puts me into a cold sweat. However, I haven’t seen a single accident, yet, so it must work for them.

Those are just some of my thought processes of the last few weeks here. It’s lovely. I’m happy and sometimes homesick. See you in 2.5 months, US!

— Anali North Martin

Guatemala & Cuba 2018

Guatemala: Privelege and contrast

Last Tuesday after classes, everyone loaded into the CASAS minivans on an unusual tourist excursion. We were not headed to the national museum, nor to the presidential mansion, but to the cemetery: a resting place for some of Guatemala’s wealthiest elite that also happens to overlook the city dump.

We arrived to elaborate cast iron gates set in a high stucco wall that insulated the cemetery from the noise and bustle of the city. Inside, we found cyprus-draped roads lined by magnificent mausoleums, crumbling monuments, and elaborate marble statuary boasting the remains of some of the city’s best-known generals and politicians. The silent streets were in a surreal state of leisurely decay: gothic spires crumbled after years of neglect, joining the ruins of the long-forgotten Mayan tombs over which the graveyard was constructed in the mid-19th century. Only the monuments of the immortally wealthy—such as the massive [Egyptian] pyramid built in tribute to the Castillo family—escaped the general atmosphere of deterioration.

I wandered down the empty streets with the rest of the group, listening to our guide explain the historical and symbolic significance of the memorials we passed. As we neared the fringes of the cemetery, the decadent, crumbling mausoleums gave way to chaotic walls peppered with tiny marble placards, photographs, and faded silk flowers. Thousands of tiny crypts within these walls held the remains of those who lived by a humbler standard than the elite whose tombs we had seen earlier. But, even these memorials represented a relatively wealthy population: anyone who wished to be buried here had to arrange for an annual rent to be paid postmortem—otherwise their remains would be “evicted” and their crypt would be leased out to someone else. Continue reading

Guatemala: Daily rhythms

Last Thursday, I woke up early and stepped outside into a gorgeous, sunny, Guatemala morning. It was our first day at CASAS. After a long day of airplane rides and a late night arrival, it was refreshing to finally begin the second part of our journey. The group was surprisingly animated for a short night’s sleep, probably due to anxieties surrounding our upcoming events: our first day of Spanish classes and the introduction to our host families. A walk through the beautiful flora and fauna of the CASAS courtyard helped to put our minds at ease.

It has now been week since we first arrived. The excitement and anxiety surrounding our recent arrival has subsided, replaced by the comfortable consistency of routine. Every day, I wake up around 6 a.m. to quickly take a shower before my host brother, Jacobo (35), gets out of bed. My breakfast, a bowl of cereal and a cup of instant coffee, is waiting for me on the table thanks to the hospitality of mi madre, Gladys. My sister, Andrea (25), left the house before I got up and won’t return until I am already asleep since she works during the day and goes to the university at night. She barely sleeps.

Jacobo takes my two friends, Anali and Elizabeth, and me to CASAS every morning. We arrive about an hour early so we have plenty of time to relax in the courtyard, drink some coffee, do some homework and talk with the rest of the group members as they slowly trickle in. Spanish classes start at 8:30 and go until 12:30 when we have an hour break for lunch. The afternoon activities vary depending on the day. Early this week we visited the city dump where hundreds of people dig through the trash to find things to recycle for a paycheck of 10 quetzales a day (about $1.40). It’s the 4th generation of workers that has been born and raised in the dump. We also visited a gorgeous outdoor mall that would rival some of the nicest malls in the U.S. which was a stark contrast from the dump we had been the day before.

After school, Elizabeth, Anali and I are either picked up by one of our family members or ride the bus back home. I knock on the big metal door that guards the entrance to my family’s house and mi madre greets me at the door. I sit for a while and converse with her and the family friend Narda about our days. My siblings arrive at various times throughout the night. Monica (32) comes home from her job as an architect around 6:30 and Jacobo comes home around 8:00. My other brother Manolo (34), gets home on his motorcycle around 8:45 and we spend some time together conversing, playing games or watching T.V. I crawl into bed around 10:30, exhausted from a long day of dual language conversation.

Despite the lack of sleep, I look forward to waking up every day to watch the group grow closer, understand the language more clearly, and encounter new experiences in unfamiliar contexts.

-Sol Brenneman


 

Guatemala & Cuba 2018

Delhi Reflections

We landed in the capital city, Delhi, at around 1 a.m. local time on Monday morning. Half-awake and disoriented, we scrabbled to find our checked bags, hopped onto a bus, and arrived at a hostel just after 5 a.m. This put us at around 30 hours of traveling from when we left EMU at noon on Saturday!

The following morning, we got up respectably early to fend off the jet lag and tour the more modern section of the city called New Delhi. This was an effective introduction to India as we immediately faced poverty, the chaotic traffic, and street vendors trying to get us to buy their products. Furthermore, New Delhi is accustomed to tourism so we were able to ease into being a minority in such a large city.

It wasn’t until Wednesday – when we visited the more archaic section of the city called Old Delhi — that many of us began to feel the culture shock that India presented. Motorcycles, rickshaws, and compact cars packed the streets as we staggered through the metropolis to tour Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and eventually eat at a popular Muslim restaurant called Karim’s. The smell of the urine, feces, and pollution wafted through the air, and at one point, I was certain that every square foot in front of me was occupied.

Personally, one of the most shocking aspects of touring Old Delhi was watching the poverty pass us by after gorging ourselves at a local eatery. We crammed into Karim’s and ordered kabobs, buttered and garlic naan, delicious buttered chicken, and other mouth watering Indian foods. However, when we finished up our feast, thoughts were swimming in my head as we walked past the homeless. How could we just ignore these beggers after filling our stomachs with more than enough food? What could I do to help? Where do these people find shelter?

I look forward to processing these questions with my peers in the future and digging into the issues surrounding modern-day India. The trip has blown my mind already and we haven’t even been here for a week!

-Ben Zook

Delhi Reflection

into the noise
and bustling crowd
I am walking
faster than my aching heart

journeys so distant
drawing closer
in moments amidst the blur

each alley
each space
bound in new color
weaving and breathing
with human life

– Luke Mullet


Guatemala & Cuba: Two sides of our wall

“This wall is not Trump’s wall. This is our wall. This is how we as a country choose to mark our border.”

I know my words cannot do justice to the week we spent at the U.S./Mexico border, so I figured I might as well start with someone else’s. This was said by Mark Adams, one of the coordinators for Frontera de Cristo (Christ’s Border), upon our arrival in the border town of Douglas, Arizona. Our first stop in Douglas was the wall, a towering 23 foot structure that plunges 6 feet below the ground as well. The wall is constructed of tall metal bars spaced far enough apart that border patrol agents can see what’s happening on the México side.

Mark asked us to go around and share what we have heard people in our hometown area say about immigration. It turned into a political analysis, with many of us citing our own family’s left-leanings in contrast to our town’s more conservative politics. We thought we knew what we were talking about: liberal=pro-immigration, conservative=pro-wall. It turns out it is way more complicated than that.

The wall has been a bipartisan effort for a while now, starting back in the Clinton administration. The wall is 23 feet tall in the town, but out in the desert it peters out into a low vehicle barrier. The Clinton administration hoped to use the lethal deterrent of the desert landscape to lower the rate of illegal immigration. It was lethal, but it wasn’t a deterrent. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the fact that our country’s official policy is that we would rather have migrant people die in the desert than live in our country.

We spent the week crossing back and forth between Douglas and its sister city, Agua Prieta, México. We stayed in a church on the Agua Prieta side, and spent our days visiting people, the desert, the wall, listening to stories, asking so many questions.

We spoke to a woman who was held in detention for three months, unable to communicate with her children or even know if they were okay. She was pulled over for speeding and didn’t have her papers.

We learned about what the migrant people are fleeing from: gang violence, economic ruin. We learned that people wouldn’t leave their homes if they didn’t have to; and we learned about our own country’s hand Continue reading