Category Archives: India 2009

Final reflections from India

India 12We recently arrived back in Delhi for our final stay in India!! For the past week we’ve been in Mussoorie, once again surrounded by the beautiful Himalayas. While we were there we stayed at Woodstock, an international boarding school. It was a very peaceful and relaxing place. During our stay we did some hiking, played card games, and worked on our final papers. We left Mussoorie at night and had an absolutely unbelievable view of the city lights.

Now that we’re down to only a few days left in India, it’s hard to know how to feel. One minute I’m excited to go back to see friends and family, and to eat some American food, and the next I don’t want to leave and am trying to soak up every last bit of India that I can.

This has been an eye-opening experience and has allowed me to learn more about myself. I’ve gotten used to living a more simple way of life, and have realized that I take a lot of things for granted. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things, whether that’s sleeping on the floor of a house instead of on the street, or eating foods I hate, instead of going hungry. Overall, this trip has been a fulfilling experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. India is a country that has so much to offer and it will be greatly missed.

-Laura Stoltzfus

Mussoorie Sunset When I return home in the next few days, I will use pictures and tell stories attempting to describe how I experienced India. I will be able to sit for hours talking about the last three months to anyone that will listen. But none of this will be able to accurately depict the pictures burned into my memory: joy and despair, achievement and failure, old and new. I have been overwhelmed with emotion on this journey; let me explain how.

On our sightseeing adventures, many scenes have evoked strong responses. I grieved watching children beg in a train station. I felt arrogant walking out of fancy showrooms. I felt guilty swimming in a pool in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan with the potential of a drought in the next two years. I wept viewing women sort through trash for any precious leftovers from frivolous tourists. I complained about a hair in my paneer, tossing it aside, wasting a perfectly good meal while a hungry family sits outside. I was confused staring at the Akshardham temple constructed for Neelakaat, a religious figure, built 5 years ago, which cost an unimaginable amount of money. Perhaps that money could have been spent in a better way. These are a few of the emotions and images that stirred my thoughts throughout the trip.

Today, while walking the busy market streets of New Delhi, a beggar girl approached our group of guys, a typical occurrence. I was feeling generous, so I walked over to a nearby street stand and asked what 10 rupees could buy (my generosity extended to only 20 cents). He pointed to a strawberry ice pop which seemed like a nice treat on a 90 degree day. Then, I walked back to the group and handed the ice pop to her. As she walked away, she turned and smiled the brightest grin I have seen. That smile warmed my heart. One ice pop is not going to change the state of 800 million people living on two dollars a day, but that smile will remain in my memory forever. Thank you India for taking me on this crazy ride.

-Michael Harnish

Village life in the Himalayas

India 11This past week was an incredible cultural experience in which we learned about village life in the Himalayas.  We were connected to the villages by a local NGO called SIDH, or the Society for Integrated Development of the Himalayas. This organization helps provide a good education to rural children by giving them a solid base of knowledge and keeping them rooted in their culture. SIDH feels that this way of teaching is important because recent studies show a high percentage of the youth moving away to larger cities, which is breaking up their traditional way of life.

To find out more on this issue, we split into 3 groups and spent a day in 3 different villages talking to people in order to hear their stories and to see how they live. We heard perspectives from 4 areas, the school teachers, the young adults, the small children and the village leaders.

The condition in the villages is centered around a couple problems. The effects of global warming make it difficult for the famers to grow their crops and feed their animals. This is one factor influencing the young peoples’ decision to move in order to find a job. Another reason is that in recent years, people have begun to think they need a disposable income, which would be possible with a job in the city that pays in cash rather than the assets created by subsistence farming. When this happens, however, it tends to break up their traditional joint family systems into nuclear families, which is not as conducive to a successful rural lifestyle. When looking at all these issues combined, it is easy to see how such a cycle is hard to break, but this is something SIDH is working towards.

Village Discussion While in the villages we also had the chance to play games with the children, and ask the villagers various questions concerning marriages (arranged and love matches), leadership in the village, their daily routines, their religion, and relationships with the surrounding communities. We really enjoyed this opportunity to see the area and connect with people in a more intimate way. We feel privileged to have experienced another aspect of the diverse Indian culture!

-Sylvia Lorisme and Anita Hoover

The astonishing beauty of India

India 10Returning for our final stay in the colorful state of Rajasthan, we arrived in the city of Udaipur, renowned for its multiple, majestic lakes. We spent some time touring local attractions such as the massive city palace and recuperating from the weary fatigue that accompanies intense travel. After a couple of days of sightseeing and shopping, we traveled up a mountain to Udaipur’s famous monsoon palace where the royal family of the Mewar dynasty would wait out the rainy season.   Gazing down from the palace’s panoramic vista captivated my attention and provided me with a stunning aerial view of the entire city and its interlocking lakes. Waiting for sunset, a group of us began exploring the palace and we chanced upon a narrow staircase leading to the dank, pitch black palace cellar. When we first heard the rusty animal screeches and sounds of ominous movement we mistakenly figured the lightless catacombs were full of rats and contemplated turning back. Upon further inspection, however (and with the aid of an illuminating camera flash), we discovered a colony of bats that had taken up residency in the palace’s basement.  It seems like no matter where we travel in this country, India  constantly provides ceaseless surprises. Heading back to the top of the palace, we arrived just in time to watch the day end. As the sun set on the city’s mountainous backdrop and mirroring lakes, I found myself marveling once again at India’s stunning beauty and sheer magnitude as the glowing city of Udaipur stretched beyond my field of vision.

After departing Udaipur and making a quick stop to Ranakpur to visit its impressive Jain temples, we traveled back to Delhi to prepare for our final excursion up north. Upon arriving, we found out, to our great excitement, that the Dalai Lama was going to make a speech in Delhi thanking India for fifty years of generous hospitality during his long exile.  The Dalai Lama in Delhi Unable to catch up with him in his headquarters in Dharamsala, we quickly jumped on the opportunity to see one of the most respected religious and political leaders in the world.  As we made our way into the lecture hall I discovered that the Dalai Lama was nothing like I had expected. Making jokes and passionately expressing his gratitude to the Indian people, he seemed to emanate personal warmth and sincere concern. I find it amazing that a man confronted with as much as adversity as he has experienced over the years can remain so jovial, upbeat, and amiable. I’m delighted that we were finally able to hear him speak, and the experience will remain with me for a lifetime.

-Andrew Meade

Udaipur at DuskAbout a week ago, we arrived in Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan. Udaipur was green and lush compared to the other cities we have visited in Rajasthan. It is the city of lakes, nested in the valley of a mountainous area. It is rich with history, as we learned from the sights we visited. These included the City Palace, Lake Palace, Monsoon Palace and a Hindu Temple.

The two highlights of our trip to Udaipur, however, were the Polio Hospital and St. Matthews School that we got a chance to tour. The Polio Hospital gives free care and surgeries to thousands each year in desperate need of aid. We learned that there are 6 doctors performing countless surgeries for people who couldn’t under normal circumstances afford care. They don’t turn away anyone who needs surgery and everything is financed by donations. It was overwhelming to see all the people in need, but inspiring to hear stories of transformations made in these people’s, mostly children’s, lives. It was obvious in the faces of the patients and parents that this clinic gives hope when there otherwise wouldn’t be any.

The evening we spent at St. Matthews School showed the dedication of the minority Christian community in Udaipur. We met with the couple who rent the school and seminary and were moved by the stories they told of Christians in India. Their stories led to discussions of our own faith and how different the trials we face are. Along with these conversations, we were able to play games and sing songs with the orphan children who live at St. Matthews. Their energy and smiles were enjoyed by the whole group. Our experience was very memorable.

After our adventures in Udaipur, we traveled to Ranakpur, which was a rural setting. Jain Temple Here we experienced and visited our first Jain temple. It was a beautifully constructed temple that had over 1,000 columns. It is known as a pilgrimage site for many Jain believers. Our stay in Ranakpur was very relaxing and we enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of this area. It was a nice change from the large, crowded cities where we normally stay.

It is hard to believe that it’s almost April and that our trip is coming to an end soon!

-Allison Thurman and Kristen White

Reports from the India/Pakistan border

India 9Amritsar proved to be a very interesting learning experience for me. While it wasn’t my favorite city, we saw some fascinating sights. Our first stop in the city was Jallianwala Bagh, or the site of the Amritsar Massacre. I first remember learning about this in high school when we watched the movie “Ghandi,” but to now be in the place where that event took place was very surreal for me. We entered through the one and only entrance, which was where British troops fired their arms into the innocent crowd. As we walked through the area we saw the well that many jumped into to get away from the madness. They had also preserved the walls which had many bullet marks on them. In the middle was a monument set up to commemorate the lives lost at this spot. As I walked around and soaked it all in, everything I learned became more real and more vivid to me. There is something about being there and learning about the event that made it so much better than simply reading about it in a book.

Amritsar is known for its large Sikh population, so it was only appropriate to visit the Sikh Golden Temple, known as Sri Harminder Sahib. After covering our heads and washing our hands and feet, The Golden Temple we entered the temple to find a holy pool with a bright golden temple in the middle. I have found that every religion in India is much different from the next and the Sikh religion is not exempt from that. The thing that makes the Sikhs unique is their belief in service. We witnessed this at lunch we ate in a building next to the temple. Thousands are served everyday from this building. We ate this meal sitting on the floor with our plates in front of us. Very swiftly and efficiently they came around and served us our food. It was quite a unique experience eating in that setting, but it gave me a very small glimpse at their firm belief in service.

These two experiences in this one city have allowed me to further understand India’s rich and diverse history.

-Rachel Kolb

Running of the Flags After a long and exhausting day of touring around Amritsar, I wasn’t too excited about a 30 km drive to the Wagah Border. Our journey from Dharamsala to Amritsar the previous day had several close calls on the road, so the prospect of venturing out on the “highway” again didn’t seem all that appealing. My interest peaked when our tour guide pointed out the several kilometer long line of produce trucks waiting for days to cross into Pakistan. Only 40 trucks are allowed to cross each day, so often the produce, especially tomatoes, goes bad before it crosses. This was the first visible sign of division, at least that I had noticed, between these two countries with a long history of being divided.

Upon exiting the bus we had to walk a little ways and be searched before arriving at the stadium where we would watch a 30 minute border ceremony. I could feel the excitement growing with each step as we approached. We entered to find ourselves in a stadium divided not only by the road running lengthwise, but also by a large wall and gate separating the Indian and Pakistani sides. On our side the BSF (Border Security Force) men, all at least 6 feet tall and in hats that made them look even taller, directed us to our seats. While we waited for the ceremony to begin, there was music and some people got up to dance.

Once the ceremony started, more BSF men came out to perform high-kicking marches, blow a horn, and do some impressive yelling as they opened the gates between the two countries. An MC also led the crowd in some Hindustan cheers to build the excitement as the two sides lowered their flags for the night. As I watched the ceremony, I gazed across the border and realized that there were significantly more people gathered on the Indian side. The difference in the lives of the people from these two countries that were once one struck me as sad in that moment. While this performance was about crossing borders, it still emphasized division. I am glad to be part of a program helping to build bridges of global understanding, rather than highlighting differences.

-Andrea Bowman

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

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

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