EMU Cross-Cultural

First five days in Peru

Peru 1I can´t believe we’ve been in Peru for five days already! Time has been flying by! I hope to briefly reflect on our time here so far from my point of view, which hopefully expands across the group.

We were able to make it to Lima, Peru without any flight problems. The only small glitch is that when getting onto the plane in Washington, D.C., they required everyone in Zone 4 to check their bags. Well, our whole group happened to be in Zone 4. So we all checked our bags with the hope that they would arrive in Peru with everything in them. And they all did… except for Kristin´s. We waited and waited until all of the bags had been picked up, in hopes that hers would show up, but it didn’t. For some reason, they didn´t send it from Atlanta. So the next day they were going to send it to Peru and she received it Friday.

Thursday was spent traveling by plane from Lima to Cusco, meeting our host families (which we were all a little nervous about) and relaxing in order to adjust to the altitude. As I speak for myself, but hopefully most of the group, I love my host family. They were very welcoming and welcomed us into their house as if it was our own. ´´Mi casa es su casa´´. Brittany and my host family consists of Javier, the father, who works as an administrator at the school our trip is through, Maria, the mother who was a teacher but has not been teaching since she had her last child, Santiago, who is 11, and Sophia who is 2. Javier speaks a little bit of English but Maria does not speak much at all. We have been able to communicate with each other with the little Spanish or English we know, hand motions, and a lot of patience!

Since it is technically winter here, it gets very cold when the sun is down. However, during the day, when the sun is out, it is pretty warm. Our host families have laughed at us when we leave in the morning in shorts because to them it´s still pretty cold but it feels good to us. Some persons in the group have had to go to the market to buy llama wool socks and sweaters to sleep in at night since there is no heating in any of the homes.

Friday morning we all met at Academia Latinoamericana de Español, which is the school our trip is planned through. When we first got there, we took a written placement exam to test our levels of Spanish knowledge for our classes that began Monday. I believe we all were supposed to take an oral exam as well but only some of the persons in the group had to… I did not! After our placement exams, Diego, the head of the Academia, took us on a tour of Cusco to show us safe places to exchange our money, pointed out certain places in the city such as La Compañia, San Blas, and Plaza de Armas. He also gave us a brief history on the ´´evolution´´ of Cusco with the indigenous people and the Spanish. We all returned to our host families for lunch and then returned to the Academia at 3 p.m. for orientation.

Lunch in Peru is the biggest meal of the day for the Peruvians. In fact, many families don´t eat dinner at all. Lunch generally consists of a type of soup, followed by a meal of a type of meat and some sides. For example, my first lunch that my family fed me was a bowl of soup (which is what I expected to be the whole lunch) followed by chicken, potatoes, and mixed vegetables. And the portions aren´t small! I ate as much as I could until I was full and still didn´t finish my plate. My host mom commented, (in Spanish) ´´You eat very little! ´´ I responded ´´Si´´ but was thinking, ´´I ate a lot!! You gave me so much food!!´´

Saturday was our first day trip, which was to Salineras and Moray. It was about an hour’s drive out of the city and it was beautiful! We stopped once to take pictures of the countryside and the Andes Mountains. Salineras was formerly the Inca Salt pans but is still used for livestock consumption. How it works is that when it rains, the mountain soaks up the rain.  While the water is moving through the mountain, it picks up salt and other minerals and then runs out through a natural spring and flows into these mass amounts of shallow ´´craters´´. The water would then evaporate and the salt would be left to be mined. We were driven to the top and then walked an hour down through the salt pans.

Peru 1After our long (and hot) but fun trek, it was time for lunch at a buffet style restaurant in the town close to the salt mines. There was a lot of food, some we weren’t so sure about, but we explored new foods and found new ones we liked and ones we never wanted to eat again! The afternoon was spent in Moray. Moray was the center of Inca agriculture for cultivation experimentation where seeds were produced for different ecological settings. There were 3 circular, extremely wide, ´´holes´´ that were approximately 500 feet deep. Each hole had 7 platforms built into it to represent the different ecological settings.

The whole group took a trail down into one of the holes, down the platforms, and to the very bottom of the whole. Then we had to climb back up. Man, was that exhausting. Did I mention that it´s really difficult to breath normally at this altitude?! With this type of hiking, we´ll definitely be in shape and skinnier when we return to the U.S!

Yesterday was our second day trip. For some of us, the day started very early. A group of us met at 7:45 a.m. to attend a Catholic mass at a large cathedral in Plaza de Armas. It was surprisingly a short mass, only lasting about 20 minutes, which was okay since I didn’t understand anything that was being said except for ´´Cristo´´. It was neat to walk through the cathedral and see the detailed architecture and lots of gold. Moira had visited the cathedral the day before to get some information about the traditions there so she was able to explain things to us.

We left at 9 a.m. for our day trip to Awankancha and Pisac.  Awanakancha was our first stop, which is a llama and alpaca breeding project. It is run by 14 indigenous groups that work cooperatively to make textiles. We were able to explore the site by feeding the llamas, seeing the step-by-step process of using natural dyes, and watching the women weave the wool. Jessica even got to experience being spit on by an alpaca!

Our next stop was in Pisac, where we were able to see how they had built platforms into the side of the mountain to prevent erosion and use as farm land. At the top of the mountain were Inca ruins. We climbed the mountain to the top. The view was so beautiful!

Lunch was eaten at another buffet restaurant with delicious food! The afternoon was spent at the Pisac Indian Market, where we were able to practice our bartering skills. We found out that the ´´walk away method´´ works pretty well. If you give them a reasonable price that they don´t accept and you start to walk away, they often will give it to you for that. The market was very large. We spent 2 hours there and only made it through ½ to ¾ of it, but we´re all coming back with great souvenirs!!

Today was our first day of Spanish classes. We were all separated into small groups based on our levels of knowledge of Spanish. Rochelle, Derek and I were in a class together today and we enjoyed ourselves. When originally thinking we were going to be in class for 4 hours, we thought we would go crazy, but luckily it went by fairly quickly! Our teacher is very nice and patient with us. I need someone to have patience with me when it comes to learning Spanish! I didn’t hear anyone complain about their classes so it sounds like a success!

The drivers here are crazy! Pedestrians do not have the right away. So be careful when crossing the road. Actually, just sprint across the road. Nobody really obeys the lane lines, horns are constantly honking for many reasons, and people cut each other off so much! If you’ve ever been in New York and seen the driving… Its 10x scarier here!

One last thing to write about before I finish up (although there could be a lot more!):  As we travel throughout the countryside and even in the city, I see God’s creation and all its beauty and I am mesmerized. The city is very beautiful in itself but parts break my heart as well. The amount of dogs running around homeless breaks my heart as I think about my two puppies at home. The amount of trash on the street and a lot of the living conditions also breaks my heart. Beggars on the street who are homeless and or injured break my heart. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am and am extremely grateful for this experience and my life back at home.

So now that I’m done writing this, I realized that it looks a bit long (and for those that know me, know I talk a lot). But in reality, what I wrote doesn’t hold half of the details of our experiences. So if I could sum it up in one sentence… The group is getting along great and we are having a blast with new experiences!

Steps walked Saturday and Sunday alone: 30,392+ (Thanks to Megan’s step odometer)

Number of times one of us has almost got hit by a car: Too many to count

Number of times we’ve heard a horn honk: Enough that we don´t think much of it anymore

– Julie Weaver

Reflections on departing India

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

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

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

-Laura Beidler


Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala

An elaborate alfombra This last week, our FINAL week, we traveled out of Guatemala city and into the old, colonial capital of Antigua for Semana Santa festivities. During the week we stayed in the beautiful Lutheran Retreat Center run by an indigenous women’s cooperative. As we wrapped up this semester with final presentations we also ventured out into the city to observe all of the traditions of Holy Week. The packed streets were often covered with beautiful rugs made from colored sawdust, flowers, veggies, and other natural materials- these got more intricate and colorful as the week progressed. In addition, there were many processions sponsored by the local Catholic churches, symbolizing the mourning of the crucifixion. They consisted of men and woman (and for one, children) carrying giant floats of Jesus and Mary through the streets of the city for many hours. Most of us witnessed this amazing feat and saw the dedication of these people to their traditions. The fiesta climaxed the night of Maundy Thursday with a night full of the preparation of alfombras (rugs) and processions starting in the wee hours of Friday morning.

While many of us went and viewed the magnificent decorations, we alsoBrandon Waggy, Kathryn Ennes, Rachel Hershey, and Isabel putting together an alfombra outside our hotel shopped, took many pictures, relaxed, and soaked up our remaining days together. It was a week full of rich tradition and continuous Guatemalan culture- the perfect finale to our adventure here. Spending a little time debriefing, the realization of our homecoming became more evident. We have much appreciation, however, for this experience and what it has taught us and we are grateful for the opportunity we’ve had.

As we say “adios” to this amazing land and “hola” to home, we want to thank you for your thoughts, support, and prayers over the semester. We pack up with much anticipation of returning to share our experiences with all of you. As we are celebrating and traveling, please continue to pray for our safe arrival- we’ll be home soon!

Happy Easter!

– Kiersten and Erin

Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico

Mexico/Guatemala 12A break from the city, time to relax in a tranquil little town, and all the coffee we ever wanted to drink.  What a wonderful ten days our group spent in the coffee growing community of Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico.  While we spent a lot of time embracing local culture: sitting around, talking, and watching the world go by, and playing soccer, we also spent a lot of time learning.

The community we stayed in is part of the coffee cooperative Just Coffee or Café Justo.  The growers started the cooperative with the help of Mark Adams and Tommy Bassett in the early 2000’s, and now it fuels the economy of Salvador Urbina.  With Café Justo providing fair wages for its members, it has enabled a number of the community members to remain in Salvador Urbina, when in many similar communities people are forced to migrate to find work in the United States to provide for their families.  This lesson tied in nicely with the focus on immigration we started the semester with at the Arizona/Mexico border and had continued with during our time in Guatemala City.

While in Salvador Urbina, from Tuesday, April 5 to Friday, April 15, our group was led by Tommy Bassett. We stayed with host families, two to four students to a family, and had breakfast and lunch with them.  We used our Spanish skills to explain to our families what we have been doing all semester and why we wanted to learn about their community.  We always ate supper together as a group at the Café Justo warehouse or bodega.  One of the coffee cooperative members processing coffeeDuring the day, we often had lots of free time, but we also had some activities scheduled to learn more about the community.  On Wednesday, our first full day there, we went with two of the cooperative members to their coffee parcels to see what a real shade grown coffee farm looks like.  They explained about the many types of trees and everything about how they care for the plants.  All the trees were grown on steep hills and kept at a height where coffee pickers could reach them.  All of the harvest must be done by hand because every coffee tree is different and the terrain is not ideal for automating coffee harvesting.  The next day, we had a tour of the warehouse and all the machinery used to process the coffee before it is sent to the cooperative’s roaster in Agua Prieta, near the border of Arizona and Mexico.  We also attended a weekly meeting of the cooperative that evening.

On Friday, we went to Tapachula, the third largest city in the state of Chiapas.  We visited the Buen Pastor Migrant Resource Center that works with migrants who’ve been injured while trying to get to the US border.  Many have lost limbs as a result of using the rail system and the migrant resource center works with them to get prosthetics.  After the resource center, we enjoyed some free time in the central plaza of Tapachula and then went to some Mayan ruins close by.  Our weekend was free, but it filled quickly with plans of swimming and soccer.  Then, on Monday, we met with the mayor and then with Mama Joli, the mother of the mayor and many members of the Group enjoying a waterfallcooperative.  On Tuesday, our group took a truck ride to El Aguila to see a beautiful waterfall and swim at the base of it.  Then we went to see Adan Mendes, a member of the cooperative who lives in El Aguila and also runs a water purification system out of his house for the community of El Aguila.  Wednesday, we visited the school and got to see many of our host siblings in their classes.  Thursday, we visited the clinic and then the library.

We spent a lot of time reflecting as a group on what we had seen and learned.  We also had plenty of free time to reflect by ourselves, journal, visit the families of other group members, play soccer and card games, and explore the town.  While it was a bit more rustic than some of us are accustomed to, it was still a very pleasant ten days and a change from the fast pace and big feel of Guatemala City.  I really enjoyed getting to know my host family and getting to wander around to other group members’ families or just do nothing.  And many people in our group, including me, enjoyed the many opportunities to drink very good coffee.

-Suzanne Opel

India – Poetry and thoughts on music

India 9

Make up your mind with the sand in your shoes

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

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

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

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

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

-Hannah Beachy

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

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

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

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

-Esther Shank

 


From the Himilayas in Ladakh, India

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

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

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

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

-Carina Contreras

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

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

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

-Steve Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Tessa Gerberich


Nazareth Village and the Jesus Trail

Middle East 10After our week at the kibbutz and at Oranim College, we made our way to the small city of Nazareth for the next stage of our adventure. We are staying in the middle of the old city in a nice hostel with nice people, but then again, when aren’t the people nice here? We spent two days volunteering at Nazareth Village, a small reconstructed village from the first century. When we first visited, we met shepherds, Joseph the carpenter, and Hannah the weaver, all of whom were dressed in handmade first century garments. When we went to volunteer, we found out that we got to dress up too, so we were sent to work on the village wearing a tunic and leather sandals. Most of us had the job of pulling weeds while others got to clean the synagogue area and help prepare the authentic first century meal for tourists. This experience showed us a hint of what the life of Jesus might have been like.

After our first two days volunteering at Nazareth Village, it was time to hike the Jesus Trail, a 40 mile trek from Nazareth to Capernaum. Our journey was split into 4 days, all of which would end with wonderful hospitality at our various accommodations that were all completely different. Our first day went through Zippori, a Roman city where Joseph may have worked as a tecton (master builder), Mash’had, which was Jonah’s supposed birthplace, and ended in Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle. The second day was quite easy as we followed the trail blazes through the countryside. We  stayed the night in Ilaniya at a goat farm. Since the day was fairly short, we had some time on the farm to hang out, relax, play games, and do handstands.

The next day was the toughest as it measured to about 15 miles, not counting the few times we got lost. The day consisted of seeing a Roman road, climbing the Horns of Hattim, and heading towards the cliffs of Arbel where we stayed in the luxurious Arbel Bed and Breakfast. The last day consisted of hiking to the top of cliffs and then, of course, hiking down. From the top of the cliffs, we could see where we had been for the past two days, and we could also see our destination, Capernaum, was in reach. Just before we arrived at Capernaum, we climbed halfway up the Mount of Beatitudes where Linford gave us some insight about the Sermon on the Mount and how it related to the land surrounding the Galilee.

Our journey ended very happily in Capernaum where we celebrated the baptism of Mariah Elliot, where she was immersed in the Sea of Galilee and renewed her commitment to God. This was special for all of us because this is where Jesus called his first disciples and that is where their journey began. As we drove back to Nazareth, we really felt a sense of accomplishment as it took us four days to reach our goal and only took about 45 minutes to drive all the way back. We got to experience the land as Jesus would have, which you do not get on a bus. Now that the Jesus Trail is completed and we are all still in one piece, we have two more days of volunteering in Nazareth Village before we head off to Greece early Wednesday morning. Our journey is quickly coming to a close, and while we are ready to reunite with family and friends, we are also sad to say good bye to the land we have called our home for the past three months.

-Andre Swartzentruber

Free Travel Reports from Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 11After 8 weeks of Spanish classes and living with host families here in Guatemala City, we had a week of free travel where we could go anywhere we wanted (within reason, of course). Our group of 20 students split up into smaller groups and most people headed to the beach, but my group of five people decided to do something a little bit different – we headed into the rural highlands, and we got to see a whole new side of Guatemala.

We started at an agro-ecology center, which is working to preserve the rapidly-disappearing cloud forests. We had a 3-day trek, parts of which took us through the beautiful cloud forest, and in other parts took us through what had been the cloud forest just three months ago but has since been destroyed. We spent several days in Semuc Champey, where we enjoyed the beautiful limestone pools, and ended back at the agro-ecology center, and came back to the city yesterday.

Highlights from the trip:

Our trek took us through many areas accessible only by foot, which meant that not many foreigners make it to that part of Guatemala. We were a spectacle in most of the towns that we passed. At one point we were coming up to a rural K’ekchi’ school, and as we walked closer we realized that all of the kids were coming out to watch us, and by the time we got to the school, all of the students and teachers were outside by the path. The five people in my group faced the large group of kids, and our K’ekchi’ guide told us that the kids wanted us to sing a song in English. We sang ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.’ They sang us a song, and they we sang ‘Father Abraham’ to them, complete with motions. They may have thought we were crazy, but we had a great time.

Our K’ekchi’ guide, Victor, became a good friend throughout the trip. He patiently taught us many K’ekchi’ phrases, which we loved practicing with the locals. The K’ekchi’ people often looked surprised when we greeted them with a K’ekchi greeting. We spent two nights with K’ekchi host families. One of these nights, two of the guys in my group played tag with some of the local kids who didn’t really know any Spanish, and it was really fun to watch them interact in a universal game of tag where it didn’t matter that we couldn’t all speak the same language. We spoke a lot of Spanish throughout the trip with other people, and more often than not Spanish was everybody’s second language, which was really cool.

In Semuc Champey, we had the opportunity to do a caving adventure one morning. Candle in hand, we entered the cave, walking through water and at times swimming, holding the candle out of the water. We climbed up and down several ladders and a waterfall, and had a great time. At one point the guide said we were 5 kilometers underground, although we were skeptical that we were that far under. It was really cool.

We had a great time, busy as it was. It was great to be out of the city and in the middle of the mountains. We helped plant some trees, played in a river, explored three different caves, trekked through the cloud forest, ate some good food, hiked through mud, conversed with some Mormons from the US, had crazy fun rides in the back of many pick-ups, spent time laying in the middle of (abandoned) roads looking at the vast expanse of stars, went swimming in beautiful natural limestone pools, and had many great views.

Next we’re heading to Chiapas, Mexico for a week and a half, where we’ll live with a coffee-farming community. Another chance to get out of the city for a while, which is okay with me, and more chances to make many more great memories!

-Melanie Sherer

Jenn Leaman and Erin Nussbaum cheesing for the camera “Rise up this mornin’, smiled with the risin’ sun, three little birds perch by my doorstep singin’ sweet songs, of melodies pure and true. Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou:”
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing, worry about a thing, ´cause every little thing is gonna be all right.”

-Bob Marley

If I were to summarize our week of travel with a song: that would be it. Our group (Ben, Lucas, Erin, and I) went in with hardly a plan at all, just a destination and the goal of relaxation. Our plan was to get to Utila, a tropical island off the coast of Honduras, and sit on the beach for a week. The atmosphere on Utila is so relaxed, though, that we couldn’t find a hotel in our price range that would take reservations, we would just have to find what was available. Don’t worry ´bout a thing, right?

So we took a bus to Honduras, spent the night in La Ceiba, and hopped a ferry the next morning for Utila. We hadn’t exchanged money at the border, so we only had U.S. dollars and a few Lempiras (the Honduran currency) and we arrived on the island on Sunday, so the bank wasn’t open, AND we hadn’t had a real meal since Friday supper, because we left at 3:30 AM and the bus only served snacks. So we were hungry, tired, running low on water, and almost penniless. We found cheap food, though, and even had enough money for ice cream. Once again, “Every little thing, is gonna be alright”.

The rest of the week was much less stressful after we exchanged money on Monday. We spent days on the beach and nights playing card games, journaling, and watching geckos. Tuesday we woke up early and went snorkeling for the day. We saw many colorful fish and coral, and even swam with a sea turtle! Hours were spent floating on top of the water, amazed at the world below, with only a few coral casualties and sunburns.

Overall, the week was as relaxing as we had hoped it would be though there were, of course, many small adventures on the way. Just a few of our adventures or memorable moments:

An ant infestation in my bed, a giant rat in the kitchen, cockroaches, an un-flushing toilet, a leaky sink that flooded the bathroom, no hot water, grapefruit juice in bags, hundreds of bug bites, LOTS of walking, LOTS of sweat, 800 lb. gorilla, bike crashes, eating a ½ gallon of ice cream in just a few minutes, the house shaking, strange native language, “philosophical on the beach”, coconuts, sunburn, and angry iguanas.

Bob Marley´s voice followed us all week, either through songs playing on the beach, or in restaurants, or our own singing during late night card games. And through all of our adventures, Bob Marley was exactly right, there were disappointments, unexpected twists, obnoxious hotel neighbors, and lots of bugs… but every little thing was, indeed, alright.

-Jenn Leaman

Stephanie DeHart enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while watching the sun rise over Lake Atitlan Free Travel Part 1: Rose Byler and Stephanie DeHart

Friday afternoon, we left for Xela on a Pullman bus where we would began a three day trek. We learned that the ¨Minerva Terminal¨ in Xela is actually a four way intersection of buses without any type of traffic signs. With a microbus, walking, and Rose´s map skills we soon found the Quetzaltrekkers.

At 6:30 Saturday morning, we met the rest of the group for breakfast. In our group there were 6 people from the U.S., 2 from Israel, and us. Our three guides were from the Netherlands, Ireland, and California. Needless to say, there was little Spanish on this trip!

We started the hike in Xecam, a town bordering Xela. We climbed up out of the valley; it was steep, but the vistas were worth it! Our day´s hike was filled with walking in a cloud forrest, having conversations within our group and with people we passed, seeing the farming communities up close, and drinking Israeli coffee with cardamom. That night, we stayed in the municipal building of Santa Catarina, a town deeply affected by mudslides.

The second day, we experienced more beautiful views, walked along a river, and ascended many more climbs. That night, we stayed with the indigenous family of Don Juan in Xiprian. In the morning, we left at four a.m. to hike to an overlook of the Lake of Atitaln, surrounded by volcanoes. There, we watched the sun rise and enjoyed our last breakfast before hiking down to San Pedro, where our trek ended. We returned to CASAS for a night before heading on to Belize for Free Travel Part 2

-Stephanie DeHart

Cody Walker by a handmade pizza oven, the Sundog Cafe Where do I even begin?  We left Saturday around 5:00 a.m.  Full of anxiety we left for zone 1 in two unexpected taxi cabs.  We arrived to this bus station where immediately our bags where thrown in the bus and we were rushed on the bus hoping that it would take us to our destination.  Thankfully we got on the right bus.  Along the way were two evangelicals preaching the bible right in front of our group, people selling things on the bus, and people getting on and off every 10 minutes or so until we hit the highway.  Then our first stop: Rio Dulce. In Rio Dulce we stayed at Bruno’s which has a beautiful view of the river.  Not much to do there but relax in the heat of the day, maybe take a quick dip in the pool or go out into the market.  When we weren’t browsing around or relaxing in our hotel, we were probably at the Sundog Café (owned by a man from Switzerland) playing card games.  Just outside of town though were waterfalls and old rundown castles to bring the whole family to.

On Monday we made our way to Livingston.  It might have gotten 10 degrees hotter when we arrived, or at least it felt like it.  There in Livingston the main tourist attractions were on this one long road.  But that wasn’t good enough for my group.  We got a tour from a very interesting old man to get to know the “real” Livingston.  Wow, outside of this long road is this whole separate land where the Garifunua people live.  Racism is very prevalent over there, but because of that they have a huge sense of community.

Belize on Wednesday!  This is where we spent most of our time.  We met up with another group for Kiersten Rossetto’s 20th birthday party!  Other than that, 7 of us (2 newly aquired members) stayed at Lydia’s Guest house that was about a minute walk from the beach.  Here the girls visited the beach while I wondered around Belize for a little bit.  We just relaxed until Friday when we went snorkeling.  That was my first time ever.  We saw a lot of sea life, shells, coral, and much more. We just missed the dolphins though. Though it was still amazing. Saturday we left for Punta Gorda to stay the night so we would have a shorter trip back to Guatemala City.

This trip was filled with laughter,  riding in the back of pick-up trucks, sunburn (except for me, of course), card games, boat rides, and most importantly getting to know each other as well as getting to know new faces.  This trip I will certainly never forget.

-Cody Walker

 

Experiencing Israeli culture

Middle East 9Last week was packed with opportunities to learn more about Israeli culture with the Oranim program.  We stayed in Kibbutz Ramat HaShofem, one of the first kibbutzim set up in Israel.  The original kibbutz system was set up with a mix of socialist and zionist ideals, focused on communal living.  This kibbutz has lost many of these original ideals, but still provided a nice setting and guest house for our group to meet and discuss our new perspectives of Israeli culture.

A highlight for many of us was the several “mifgash” (or planned conversations) where we had opportunities to meet with Israelis near our age.  On the first evening, we had a chance to talk with four Israeli soldiers.  Military service is mandatory for all Israeli youth after high school, which is definitely a contrast to my pacifist upbringings.  By the end of our conversation, I was finally able to look past their uniform and gun to see these soldiers as people.

One of my favorite speakers this week was Noha Khativ, an Arab Israeli who grew up as a minority in a Jewish community.  She helped set up an organization called Hand in Hand, which has created four bi-lingual schools for Arab and Israeli children within Israel.  The classes are taught in both Arabic and Hebrew, which allows the kids to communicate with one another and learn about the other students’ cultures and religious traditions.  Not only do the children have opportunities to make friends with one another, but their parents and families are given opportunities to interact as well.  These relationships help build understanding between Arabs and Israelis.  Hopefully these children will grow up questioning why they are told to hate and fear “the other” and rather build on the relationships they have made through Hand in Hand.

We also met with Tzvika and Ayelet Shahak, whose daughter Bat-Chen was killed in a suicide bombing attack on her 15th birthday in Tel Aviv.  Their strength in spreading Bat-Chen’s dream for peace gives me hope for the entire region.  Bat-Chen’s Diary has been published in six languages, and I was impressed with her messages for peace even at a young age.  Rather than just grieve and become bitter about their daughter’s death, Tzvika and Ayelet converse with other bereaved families, both Israeli and Palestinian, about ending violence.

Other topics of conversation from this week included:  the conflict between secular and religious Jews; the post-Holocaust Jewish mindset; and Arab identity as a minority within Israeli society.  Being here and discussing Israeli issues has helped me understand the Israeli mindset, however complicated it may be.

Students prepare for a delicious Shabbat dinner by ritually washing their hands as is customary in Jewish culture Our group also had plenty of opportunities to bond this week over endless cups of tea, random evening card games, a delicious Shabbat dinner in an Israeli home, group presentations on the Arab/Israeli conflict, and a fun-filled Talent Show/Game Night.  I am impressed with how much the group has matured and grown since the beginning of the semester, and I consistently gain new insights from them through conversation and discussion.  I’m looking forward to our upcoming week in Nazareth and hiking the Jesus Trail to the Sea of Galilee!

-James Souder

Three reflections from India

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

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

-Matt Swartzentruber

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

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

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

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

-Ryan Eshleman

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

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

It has been fun,

-Stewart Nafziger