EMU Cross-Cultural

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Justin Rittenhouse


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

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

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

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

-Gabe Brunk


Globalization, coffee, chai, and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Ben Bailey


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

-Josh Kanagy


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

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

-John Reesor

India – two reports

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

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

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

-Tracy Moyers


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

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

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

-Adriana Santiago

Guatemala – report from Lake Aititlan

Mexico/Guatemala 9Coming into the last 2 weeks of our time here with our host families and Spanish classes it seems that some of us are starting to get anxious for the end. For others it seems sad because they are just getting to really know their families and they already have to leave. It is so hard to believe that we have been in Guatemala for almost 7 weeks. I, for one, am very excited to be going on free travel at the end of next week and then after that heading off for Chiapas, Mexico for two weeks of living in a small rural community.

This past weekend we went to Santiago Atitlan right on Lake Atitlan and stayed in a hotel with an amazing view of the lake. We left early from CASAS on Friday at 11:00 a.m. and had a 4 hour bus ride up to the lake. On the way to the lake we stopped in at a coffee cooperative and they talked to us about what they are there for and all the different work they do advocating for change in labor laws and helping organize coffee workers on their land so they receive a better and fairer wage. We arrived in Santiago at around 5:30 p.m. in the evening and had a little bit of free time before dinner. As I mentioned earlier our hotel had an amazing view. We found ourselves on the roof of the hotel taking tons of pictures of the sunset and mountains/volcanoes around the lake. That night we had dinner at a little restaurant and after that the group split up and some of us found our way down to the docks and others went up the hill to the central park which was full of little stands with people selling everything you can imagine. You could buy anything from fried chicken, French fries and something that tasted kind of like Cracker jacks to mangos, used clothing, tamales, corn-on-the-cob with salt, mayonnaise, ketchup and lime, and lots of hot and cold drinks.

Saturday we got up bright and early and headed to breakfast back at that same restaurant. After breakfast we went up to the church and looked around and then learned about the priest who was murdered by the Guatemalan army during the civil war. Then we were taken on a tour of Panabaj which is a tiny little town outside of Santiago. Our guide worked with the ANADESA cooperative which is there to help the community and talk with the government to help get things done, especially after a devastating mudslide a few years ago wiped out half of the community. Many houses were buried and many people died. Slowly they are rebuilding their community. We ate lunch with them and then afterwards had time to buy natural shampoos, cleaning supplies and bead jewelry which they make and sell to produce income.

The group in front of Lake Atitlan.Sunday we were again up bright and early and off for breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. we got on a boat and headed across Lake Atitlan over to Panajachel. The boat ride took about 40 minutes and once there we had the rest of the day to shop on the main street. A lot of people wanted hammocks so Javier (the brother of one of the CASAS staff) took us out to try to get the best deal we could. At 12:30 p.m. we all met at the end of the street and loaded up the bus to head back to Guatemala City and complete an awesome weekend.

-Peter Labosh

The past and present in Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 8Throughout our stay here in Guatemala, we’ve been learning about Guatemala’s violent history. This week we had a lecture about human rights in present-day Guatemala, and we’re learning how the past is affecting present-day Guatemala. I have had a hard time comprehending the extent and intensity of the violence, but one experience last week helped me to understand this violent history a little bit better. We had the chance to visit the Forensic Anthropologists Foundation, which works to exhume bodies of individuals or of mass graves. The bodies are identified when possible, examined for trauma, and returned to their families for a proper burial. We were able to see a few skeletons currently under examination. Then we went to a storage room filled with boxes. Rows and towers of boxes stretched from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, only leaving enough room for pathways to pass through the room. Each box had an identifying case number, a date, and a place. Each box contained a skeleton that was waiting to be examined. Walking through that room was a sobering experience, and somewhat unnerving. Knowing what was in the boxes, it was difficult to walk through the room. I would have rather been somewhere else, but it helped me to better understand how the past is affecting present time. Guatemalans cannot forget or escape from what happened in the past. Thousands of families whose loved ones disappeared or were killed still to this day do not know what happened or where the bodies of their loved ones are resting, waiting to be unearthed and given a proper burial.

As a citizen of the United States whose family long ago laid roots in the US, I can assume that my ancestors have not endured much persecution, if any, in the last several decades or centuries. As a US citizen, I was born with rights and access to medical care, security, education, housing, and so much more. I have the right to have a name. I have access to capital. I have opportunities to study and travel, to spend a semester in Mexico and Guatemala. I can live in relative freedom and peace. I take these things for granted. These are things that some Guatemalans do not have.

To my knowledge, none of my ancestors’ towns or villages have disappeared. Unarmed communities were not attacked or bombarded. No one had to flee to survive, and no one disappeared. None of my ancestors endured physical or psychological torture. My ancestors did not have members of their community turn against them. They may have had to fight for some rights, but future generations reap the benefits, and forget any struggles that their ancestors may have endured. My ancestors did not live in fear of violence. They may have faced hard times, but most likely their lives were nothing compared to the lives of Guatemalans here who have faced these atrocities in recent decades. My ancestors did not have to live through a genocide. Unfortunately, many Guatemalans today have.

In the past, some Guatemalans were afraid to stay, while others were afraid to leave. Many were afraid to say what was wrong, and those that did may have faced persecution, discrimination, or torture. Life was not easy. However, life here is improving. It’s a process, but Guatemalans are discovering and using their voices. The indigenous are no longer invisible, and they’re becoming active in a society where Ladinos, or those of European decent, are much more powerful. Programs have been implemented in school to help the younger generations become aware of what happened. Some people today still don’t realize or believe the extent of the war, but more are learning the true reality of everything that has happened in Guatemala’s history.

Through reading books, visiting places here in Guatemala, and hearing lectures, our group is also learning more about what happened here. Sometimes it’s not easy to hear what happened. Even after being here for several weeks, it’s hard to fully understand how the violent past has affected present-day Guatemala. As I’m learning about what happened here, I’m taking the time to think about my own life, my country’s history, what my family has or hasn’t endured, but most of all, how fortunate I am. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to live here for a few months, to study the language, but also for many more things including this country’s history. Most of all, I’m grateful for my rights, and I’m trying to figure out how to not take them for granted as I live in this country where many people are still fighting for their rights.

-Melanie Sherer

From Palestine to Israel

Middle East 6This past week we have been staying at Jerusalem University College (JUC) and begun studying Biblical geography, history, and archaeology. The transition from Palestine to Israel has been tough for me, but JUC is a wonderful place to be staying and I wish we could be here for more than two weeks. The JUC campus is beautiful and we have enjoyed meeting the students who are here for the semester. The purpose of our time here is to begin to understand the way the land of Israel influenced the Biblical story and the people who inhabited the land. In the first week we explored around Jerusalem, including the original City of David, Hezekiah’s tunnel, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Scopus. We also traveled to places like Shiloh, Beer-Sheva, Arad, Madaba, Qumran, En Gedi, Ashkelon, Azekah, and Beth-Shemesh… the list could go on. The volume of information we have been given is overwhelming.

The first day we arrived in Jerusalem was my birthday (as well as Jamila’s – it was awesome to get to celebrate our birthdays together!). That Sunday, I woke up in Beit Sahour and realized that about 2000 years ago Jesus was born within five miles of my house.

I have been trying to understand the significance of this – that I celebrated my birthday in the land of Jesus’ birth. On that day I saw Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where Christ was born and where he died. I am starting to realize how importance the incarnation is to my faith; how important it is to me that I could have met God on the road to Jerusalem, that he walked in the Judean hills, that he might have known the burn of muscles from hiking through Wadi Qelt. Being in this land that for some reason is important in a real, eternal, mystical, crazy way to the story of humanity Students plant grape vines at Tent of Nations. and God and redemption and love and life – being here is making me love the incarnation. It makes me love that Jesus had a body that probably ached at the end of long days (maybe he helped clear fields of rocks like I did at Tent of Nations; maybe he helped his father plant some grape vines like I did that day). I love that Jesus lived in a place with thorns and that he didn’t shy away from pain. I love that I can envision my savior with the dark hair and expressive eyes of the people who live here; that when I pass an Arab man on the street I can think maybe Jesus looked like that. I have found a piece of a crazy, hard, strange religion that I love and this helps me understand the weird parts (like, for example, the story about the Benjaminites’ wife-snatching that we read at Shiloh).

It is so good to be able to read passages from the Bible in this land – especially after visiting Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We read the story of Samuel at Shiloh, about David and Goliath at Azekah, and Christ before the crucifixion on the Mount of Olives. I think I can speak for our whole group when I say that whatever our faith looked like when we first drove into Jerusalem, we will leave changed.

A few other interesting things: we got to see the Stutzman’s boat SailingActs in Ashkelon, we were able to swim in the Dead Sea, we’ve been seeing military people everywhere, and our bus broke down one afternoon. One final thought: as we enter into the second half of our traveling and some of us are growing weary of continually packing our things up and moving out, I find it meaningful to think about how in the Bible, from Abraham to Paul, God seems to be especially present in the lives of those people who are consistently on the move.

-Emily Harnish

Aly Zimmerman and Jamila Witmer find themselves a bit dusty after exploring ancient tombs. I cannot describe what I felt. I can only describe what I saw. Jesus’ town, Capernaum, nestled along the shore of the lake. Big rocks he might have envisioned building with, water he might have splashed in. A rainbow appeared and birds flew past as I watched the waves creating spots of white water across the lake. A scene he might have enjoyed on a winter afternoon on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, remembering the rainbow’s promise. I walked through the ruins of the synagogue. Jesus was here! And then the courtyard, stone floor and open space, the deep carvings of lines in the ground where the children played games as their parents prayed. Jesus taught here. He spent time here. I looked over the village, the stone houses built together with common walls, like city rowhouses almost. Which one was his? My eyes rested on one close to a synagogue entryway. Maybe. Again I scanned the village, looking at the basalt stones in place upon each wall. How many of these did he touch? How many did he himself- the builder- put into place? Inside each house lived a family, a family he interacted with, visited, fixed things for. My Jesus lived here. This was his chosen home base.

This past week in our field studies at JUC, I saw Jesus in a completely new light. Learning the context and how some of the things we have come to take for granted might be imprecise translations has completely changed my idea of who Jesus was. His life seems so much more concrete and real now. So much more realistic. Easier to imitate, even. After learning so much about the context of the Bible, I now look forward to reading it again with new insight. The last two weeks were intense, but definitely worth it! And now we get to enjoy free travel.

–Jamila Witmer


Palestinian Ponderings

We have reached the end of our stay in Palestine, or the Occupied Territories, or the West Bank, or the Disputed Territories, or Occupied Palestine. Many names for the same small strip of land. I have spent the last week in Beit Sahour, a Christian village near Bethlehem. The group has scattered, for evenings at least, into separate host families; I stayed with the Qumsieh family. It is rather nice to be in a home rather than a hotel. The group still reconvenes for daily escapades. We have been working with the Alternative Tourism Group, and they planned a “nice” week for us.

I use nice in a loose sense, because here in the West Bank, the fact of occupation and the forces of conflict simply cannot be ignored. On Monday, we went to Dheisha refugee camp outside Beit Sahour, and met with a man who had spent most his life within that small arena, wanting to return to his family’s land. Then we walked through the crowded streets to meet with the camps Imam, who spoke to us about Islam, and how he viewed the situation. On Tuesday, we met with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (Arij) which supplied figures and proof of land confiscations and methods of demographic dominance. That same day we went to the town of Hebron, where settlers occupy the city center, and thereby throw the entire city into chaos. Walking through the souq, our heads were covered by a net put in place to keep settlers from tossing items down on the heads of Palestinians below. As we came out of the souq and headed to the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, we passed through three checkpoints and three additional security screenings. We ate lunch in Hebron with Hashim Al Aza, a man whose house is almost surrounded by settlements, is in a part of the city controlled by the Israeli Defense Force, and who is under constant attack. His house is attacked, his trees are chopped down, his children are attacked on the way to school and he and his wife have both been assaulted multiple times.

But despite the signs of brutality, the picture is not without hope. Hashim Al Aza is an advocate for non-violent resistance. The farm we visited on Thursday, Tent of Nations, might be the brightest beacon. The farm is situated on a hilltop; the only one in the area not controlled by settlers, and has been in the family since the Ottoman rule. The farm came under physical attack, but when that failed, the settlers switched to legal harassment. But yet they run a farm, and serve as a witness for peace. Every summer, they hold a children’s camp and teach them the way of peace. The rock by the entrance, painted in three different languages, says their message best: “We refuse to be enemies.” There is hope.

In addition to our emotion-bending trips, we also have been honored with lectures relating to Palestine. The topics have ranged from the history of modern Palestine to the Palestinian woman. They were given either at the Alternative Tourism Group’s study center, Bethlehem University, or Bethlehem Bible College. Regardless of subject or location, they were all informative and interesting.

This is not to say that our stay has been all work. We have visited most of the tourist sites: the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field. We also saw several craft workshops, several olive wood factories and one of the Hebron glass factories. ATG also treated us to a night of Palestinian music. Beyond that, there was getting to know our hosts, which was a pleasure. As a side note, my Arabic is about on par with my four year old host cousin. Next comes two weeks of study at Jerusalem University College.

– Joel Nofziger

Visit to Tikal and reflections on the Guatemalan civil war

Mexico/Guatemala 7This weekend was a second one in a shoreline Paradise, as our group descended upon the mostly undeveloped rainforest region of Tikal in the northernmost part of Guatemala.  This past week we finished our first section of intensive Spanish and we will all be moving up a level and changing around classes in the week to come.  Tikal was a welcome respite before we start the new challenge of our second four week intensive Spanish courses.  We walked through the rainforest and visited excavated ruins of the once thriving Mayan empire of Tikal.  Huge mounds of dirt covered in trees and vegetation  are scattered all over this jungle region reminding visitors that only a fraction of these ruins have been excavated in the archeological process that has been going on since the 1950s.  Our guide told us that in Tikal there are more than four thousand ancient buildings right in the middle of the rainforest.  We met quite a variety of flora and fauna, my personal favorites being the spider and howler monkeys we encountered munching on trees and holding conversations with each other.  The proper description of a howler monkey is a mixture between Joel DeWald atop an ancient Mayan templea scream and a roar that continues without end for several minutes.  We witnessed two of these howling at each other, and my group mates commented ¨that can’t lead to healthy family dynamics.”

As I relaxed on the lake outside of our ecological hotel (complete with hammocks and mosquito nets) I was reminded of the title of one of our cross cultural group’s books ¨Paradise in Ashes¨.  This book details how not long ago in the 1970s and 80s poor Guatemalans without land migrated to another lush jungle region in the north of Guatemala to make a better life for themselves.  Not long after they settled a small guerilla force brought Guatemala’s 36 year long civil war to ¨Paradise¨.  We have been reading and discussing the harrowing accounts of the massacres and genocidal tactics of the Guatemalan government army during the 1980s that occurred in the northern jungle regions.

This war was one of the ¨hot¨ parts of the cold war and the Guatemalan government received full support from Reagan and the US government during the 80s to suppress the communist guerrillas who fought during the civil war.  The whole war was wrapped up in the poverty and social problems of this country.  An incredibly inequitable land ownership system, virtual slavery of the rural landless population, and an oppressive government that US based United Fruit Company helped install in a coup, drove many to sympathize with the guerilla movement.  When I try to put myself in the shoes of the rural poor who joined the guerrilla movement I have serious problems believing that it was because they believed in Marxist ideology.  Rather it was the burning of villages, destruction of crops, massive killings of civilians, ripping open of pregnant women, and rape committed by the military during the civil war that drove people to either flee the country or take up arms to defend themselves.

The label ¨communist¨ has been used here to do a great number of horrible things here in Guatemala.  Priests and pastors that worked with the poor, village cooperatives, and peaceful change movements were all likely to be denounced as communist and their leaders killed.  Peaceful change was impossible in this country and could get you killed, so joining the militarized guerillas did not seem like such a bad deal to many and the poor and oppressed often saw no other way than violent revolution to change their circumstances.  My host dad told me that people could still use his involvement in protest movements during this time against him to this day, decades after the peace agreement.

Our group thoroughly enjoyed the jungle of Tikal.  It is hard to image that only thirty years ago massive oppression and the most horrible cruelties known to man were going on in these jungle regions of Guatemala.  We have been struggling with the questions like, why does God allow such brutality to go on in our world? And what is our responsibility to our neighbor in this world?  Our group continues to grapple with the issues of poverty, oppression and migration that are our southern neighbor’s daily realities.

-Joel DeWald

Three reports from India

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

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

-Eric Broderson

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

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

-Krista Townsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Katie Landis

Guatemala – a day at the beach

Mexico/Guatemala 6I can’t believe it has been seven weeks since our trip began. It has been exciting. Every day there is something new to learn to and to see.

Right now I am learning a lot of Spanish, a lot about Guatemala, and am getting to know my host family. I have a Mom, Dad, Grandma, and a sister who just turned seventeen. She is a lot of fun. I’ve never had a sister before so this a great experience. My family is very friendly, my mom is a great cook, and they all know a little bit of English. So that’s very helpful at times when my Spanish fails me.

I have never used a public bus system until now. I live about an hour away from the school and I have to take two buses to get there every day. It was a little hard to get used to at first especially when there is usually no room to move on the buses. But I am getting used to them and I don’t mind them as much anymore.

This past Saturday Ben Nyce’s host parents invited us to go to the beach for the day. Most of us were able to go and we all packed into one of the school vans and headed off. The beach was two hours away. It was beautiful and very relaxing. The sand here in Guatemala is black because of all the volcanoes in Guatemala. So it is really hot if you’re not wearing shoes. Ben’s mom, Betty, made us a delicious lunch which included “shukas”, which are otherwise known as hot dogs. On our way Cody Walker, Joel Dewald, Rose Byler, Peter Labosh, and Brandon Waggy en route to Antigua home from the beach we were going up a hill and the van broke down. We waited in the rain while Byron and Ben’s family tried to get it to start again. They were unsuccessful. So we had to get to Antigua which wasn’t very far away, maybe 15 miles. There we could rent another van to take us home. But we all couldn’t ride a bus to Antigua. So Ben’s mom waved down a pick-up truck and asked him he would take some of us to Antigua. He agreed. So Deanna and Dylan sat in the front of the truck and Ben, Peter, Rose, Brandon, Joel, Cody, and I got in the back of the truck. It had stopped raining thankfully and it was one awesome ride. I am sure we looked a little out of place to most people. Eventually we all arrived in Antigua safely and had dinner there. We found a van to ride home in and were on our way. It was a very exciting and memorable weekend.

So this week we are studying and preparing for our Spanish finals which are on Thursday and then on Friday we are headed for Tikal, which should be a lot of fun. On Monday we will begin our second round of Spanish classes. Blessings to you all and keep a look out for the next update. Hasta Luego!

-Audrey Hoover