EMU Cross-Cultural

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

Stories from Matella and Amritsar – India

Seeing the cities of India it is easy to believe that India is the second most populous country in the world with well over 1 billion residents. Ironically estimates place the rural population of India well in the majority with around 70% of the population living in towns, and villages of less than 1,000 people. A couple of days ago we met up with a group called SIDH that is working to improve education in some of these small villages in the Mussorie region of the Himalayas.

We divided ourselves up into 3 groups, each of which went to a different village. The village (Matella) I went to is located on the side of one of the mountains in the Himalayan ranges of India and consisted of 9 joint families (multiple relatives) totaling less than 100 people. The village is almost completely self-supported by farming. They don’t sell any of the crops that they grow; everything goes towards feeding the village. Each family is responsible for a portion of the 1 square kilometer of fields surrounding the village, but when it comes time for harvesting or other labor intensive activities the rest of the village pitches in too. Having grown up surrounded by fields of corn and wheat in northwest Ohio, seeing farming like this doesn’t even seem to compare. A field can be anywhere from fifty to a couple hundred yards long and varies in width from 10 to 30 yards wide. To get from field to field the villagers take something comparable to eroding goat paths that go almost straight up in some places and zigzag back and forth in others.

While there we helped them out with some of their farm work. Up by the school house there was a pile of cow manure that had been mixed with straw and left to sit long enough it was at least beginning to compost. One man and around seven women loaded up bags with around 25-30 lbs of manure, had us put them on our heads (you got chewed out if you tried to carry it any other way), and led us zigzagging somewhere from 200 to 300 feet down the side of the mountain to a field. When we would start walking faster on the way down or even up, the only one of the women who spoke English (a twelfth grader who normally went to school fifteen minutes up the hill by her reckoning) would tell us to walk slower and then continue asking us questions. One person in our group made the comment that here they work at a slow, casual speed all day and at home we work really hard, then take a break, then work really hard again, and take another break. In a community like Matella, the everyday tasks like farming and cooking are carried out without hurry or abandon. At this slower speed things get done just as well, the only difference is that you find time for communication and inevitably community along the way.

-Evan McCarthy

This past Thursday was a one day glimpse of the highlights of Amritsar, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. We first walked around Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the Amritsar massacre and memorial for the 319 lives of non-violent Indian protesters who were murdered by British soldiers in 1919. The Indians had been peacefully rallying against unjust treatment by British troops, giving testimonies about the abuses they had suffered, when 50 soldiers were ordered to fire on the crowd. As I stood staring at the bullet holes in the surrounding brick walls I took time to mourn the injustice and grieve the lives that were lost, praying that God would use that place as a reminder that lives are infinitely more precious that the struggle for power.

Next we visited the famous Sri Harminder Sahib (aka the Golden Temple), a place of worship for Sikhs.  Before entering the huge compound we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads. Thousands of people come to worship at the Golden Temple each day so we waited 30 minutes just to get a glimpse of the inside of the temple. Of course, it was an Indian style line which meant that you crammed as many people into the space as physically possible (and then a few more yet), and in order to keep your spot in line you have to constantly be pushing against the people in front of you. After glancing around the temple and making friends with an old man with a scraggly beard (which involved shaking hands and smiling and nodding as he kept talking in a language we couldn’t understand) we headed to the dining hall for lunch. Every Sikh temple serves two free meals everyday for anyone in the world- they will turn no one away. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen where they cook the dal and curry in enormous pots and ‘manufacture’ chapattis by the hundreds. The many cooks, dishwashers, and servers are all local people who take an occasional day off to volunteer at the temple kitchen. When it came time to eat we sat on the floor in rows in a huge room filled with people. Our food was served to us from huge sloshing buckets and baskets piled high with chapatti. To receive the chapatti we reached out our open hands in the style of a beggar- a symbol that no matter what caste, creed, sex, or religion, we are all equal in God’s eyes.

We finished the day at the Wagah Border, the boundary line between India and Pakistan where the border security forces from both countries perform a special sunset ceremony. We sat on concrete stadium steps in an arena that seat 6,000 people, though they manage to fit in 8,000-10,000 each night for the ceremony as it is a highly attended event. From our seats we could see the Indian and Pakistani iron gates separating the two countries and beyond that a similar looking stadium on the Pakistan side.  The ceremony consisted of a very random flow of events including shouting chants as a crowd, trying to out-scream the Pakistan side, and watching the border security force guards, dressed in elaborate uniforms, as they marched, kicked, high-stepped, shouted, and blew their bugles. The gates of the border were opened and closed a few times throughout and the culmination of the event was the lowering of both countries flags. It was entertaining to watch but I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the cheering section of a high school sports game trying to build team spirit and shame the other team. For our dinner grace that evening we sang a verse of “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds” – a beautiful reminder that in God’s kingdom there are no borders or nationalities, but instead a single body of brothers and sisters each created in the image of God.

-Sarah Schoenhals



This has been such a powerful week for me. On Sunday Olivia, Steve, Andre, Ben and I returned from our week of free travel in Egypt. We found our way back to Old City, Jerusalem and to the Ecce Homo Convent. Thus began our week.

We spent our free time on Sunday evening exploring the Old City and getting ourselves reacquainted with the area. (A week seems like a long time to be away!) Monday began our program for the week. We started with Hebrew class. Woo! That was amazing! By the end of the few hours we learned how to introduce ourselves and say common phrases like “thank you” along with some of the alphabet. It was wonderful to go out that afternoon and be able to say some of these things to the people. It kind of felt like we were in Syria all over again practicing our Arabic. That afternoon some of us spent time shopping and getting to know some shopkeepers. We became really good friends with some of them and later in the week got invited to have dinner with their family by one of them. That was an experience! It was a true Muslim family dinner which I absolutely loved!

The rest of the week consisted of us hearing a lecture about the holocaust and Jewish tradition. The same day as the lecture we went in our own small groups to Yad Veshem, the holocaust museum. That was an incredibly moving experience for some and not so much for others as we learned when we debriefed about it that night. I thought it was moving personally. It was so hard to think about how something so horrible could actually happen. It seems like something that would be in the movies and not reality, but it was real and the stories were real in that museum. During the week we took a tour of the four quarters of the old city (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters). We stopped in each area and discussed them. I loved getting out and walking around even if the rain came down on us. We also heard from a Rabbi. That was such a fascinating lecture. He was such a peaceful person. I could feel it coming off of him. More Hebrew class followed near the end of the week. It actually made me want to learn more Hebrew when I get home.

Another really amazing thing that happened occurred when I was with Aly. We were walking back to Ecce Homo and stopped by the group of soldiers. We had really wanted to talk to one and now was our chance. We went up to one and had a good conversation with him. They had to leave to go to the Western wall, but invited us to walk with them. It was so cool! We had the chance to follow and observe what they do. Also near the end of the week we got to participate in a true Shabbat. It was fascinating! Before having a shabbat meal with the family of the man who lectured us and gave us a tour, we went to the western “wailing” wall. In this area there is generally praying at the wall and socializing and celebration in the other areas. There was dancing, singing, chanting and praying. To see everyone out and in such high spirits was wonderful. Some of us even went to the wall to pray. That was definitely another moving experience. I was praying at the western wall!!! Dinner was fantastic. There is a whole process of prayer and ritual to the meal that includes blessing of the wine and bread along with songs and prayers. Oh my goodness was that a blast! Those were the main things we did, but it is more of what I did on my own or in small groups that was moving.

Jamila and I got up early one morning to go to the Holy Sepulcher hoping we could get into the tomb of Jesus. We could not, but it was wonderful to get up early and try anyway. That didn’t stop me from trying again either. I am a Catholic and consider myself to be a born again Christian so being here means the world to me. We had a chance to do a few things. This included walking the Via Dolorosa (basically the Stations of the Cross) where tradition holds specific events happened as Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion. I walked the Via Dolorosa and it was so moving to me. Standing in these places such as the area where Jesus fell on his walk and reading the passage from the Bible changed everything for me. It took over an hour to walk this path and it was worth every second of it. Along those lines we also did what was called “Walking with Jesus in Jerusalem”. This was amazing to me! We went to three places: The Garden of Gethsemane, Peter of Gallicantu (where Peter denied Jesus three times) and the Garden tomb (the other assumed crucifixion and resurrection site). I felt God so much in all of those places and it was absolutely mind blowing to be standing in those places. My faith definitely soared higher than ever before. What an incredible opportunity I had to be there! In between doing the Via Dolorosa and the walk with Jesus I was able to meet with a priest in the convent who did confession with me for the first time in years. That was an amazing thing for me and something I wanted to do before I am rebaptized in the Sea of Galilee at the end of the Jesus trail. God just really came into my life last week.

One of the best things that happened with me occurred in the Holy Sepulcher. I had bought some anointing oil from a store on Saturday and was near the sepulcher so I figured I would run over there and try to get it blessed by a priest or someone there. I made it there and the next thing I knew I found myself in line waiting to go in the tomb of Jesus. I made it through the line and into the tomb in about an hour. It was unbelievable! I carried this little thing of oil through the tomb and back out in less than two seconds, but it was an amazing 2 seconds. After I left the tomb I found someone and asked if they would bless the oil and told them it was for my mother. The man took off and came back 5 minutes later telling me the priest would be down in a few minutes. About 5 minutes later a priest came down, took time to take me all the way to the chapel and blessed the oil. He even sat down to chat for a while. This is not a common thing for someone in the sepulcher to do so I knew God intervened in this. I felt so blessed to have this chance and when I return to the states I will have holy oil to bless my mom with. This week for me has been one week that I will never forget. To be in such a holy place and to experience the wonders of Jerusalem changed my life. I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here and I cannot wait to share further stories with others when I return. Until then.  Blessings and shalom!

-Mariah Elliot

Poetry from Guatemala

Mexico/Guatemala 10

I am tired of not being allowed to study where I wish
And yet studying anywhere is a privilege
I am tired of not being able to decide what I eat
And yet having food is a privilege
I am tired of not being able to wash clothes, dry dishes or clean my own room
And yet many people would give a lot to have respite from these things
I am tired of not being able to communicate
And yet many people do not have a voice in their own country

I am amazed at my exhaustion, frustration, and sometimes counting of weeks here
It is a great privilege to be here, especially with a group and professors –
a very unique experience
My host parents make sure I am well taken care of
and every day the beautiful view from the third and fourth floor of CASAS makes me
pause and take notice again
It is an interesting balance: knowing how to take one’s feelings seriously
and then how to give perspective to them from a wider context …

– Stephanie DeHart

Rachel Hershey and her host parents

Power, desired by the world
The world, wanting more, bringing pain.
Pain, walls built, space between.
Is there a difference between the world and I?
Power, obtained through the money of the wealthy
The wealthy, exploiting, consuming, bringing pain.
Pain, money doesn’t bring joy.
Is there a difference between the wealthy and I?
Power lacking in the lives of the poor.
The poor, working, striving, falling, bringing pain.
Pain, the walls keep getting steeper to climb
Is there a difference between the poor and I?
Power, something I have.
I, wanting control of my destiny, bringing pain.
Pain, my plans fail.
Will we ever let go of power?

– Rachel Hershey

Ruth Maust with her host mom

Today I smiled at
The preoccupied woman
Who I pass almost daily
The preoccupied woman and the hurried student
One day
As I make my way to the bus stop
I will greet them both
Buenos Dias

This day twice a day and every day
Buenos Dias
To the guardia of my colonia
One day
I will ask
A veces le aburre su trabajo?

Some days
I run into neighbors
I chat with CASAS staff
I start conversations with my mamita in the hopes that
Some day
When I leave this place
Something will remain

– Ruth Maust

Kiersten Rossetto, Joel DeWald, Marta (their Spanish teacher), Ruth Maust, and Rose Byler after the final presentation


A million ants carrying
10 million leaves as
250 tons of cocaine is carried past
250 young soldiers.
Using a relative of cloves as
Mosquito repellant,
Campesinos harvesting palms –
Carrying Jesus into Jerusalem.

– Rose Byler

Jenn Leaman with her host family

Kaleidoscope Hope
Colors swirl, blend, and mingle.
Bougainvillea, bird of paradise, trajes, huipiles and dirty clothes alike.
The cloth, the flowers, the eyes, and the smiles.
Everything Guatemala seems brighter,
Except the history and perhaps the future.
Oppression, discrimination, corruption
All here too.
Glazed hungry eyes beg for food
While golden Quetzals sit atop a chandelier
And preachers fly in private planes.
Where is justice for them, other than their own
Doll-like hands?
When government officials and “men of God” alike
Are corrupted by greed and power?
The poor?  The children?
Where is justice now?
Cuidado nena, little one,
This kaleidoscope of bright color quickly turns dark.
Don’t give up hope, justice will come for you, and
Hopefully your hungry eyes will see that day.
Hopefully your dirty, doll-like hands will grasp tonight
And never let go.
Hopefully brightness fills your kaleidoscope future.
Hope.  Fully.

– Jenn Leaman


Free Travel reports from Israel

Middle East 8While many of our group chose to plan ahead and have a relaxing time, James, Tim, and I decided to leave much of our trip open-ended. The first day we spent at Tim’s uncle’s house in a town near Tel Aviv. All the people in that family were characters, and we had a good time listening and learning about the life of an Israeli family. In particular, Tim’s uncle Jon had many insights about Israeli culture compared to American culture. We then took a combination of busses to get to Nazareth to pick up some camping gear and pick up some tips from Dave Landis, and then the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In three days we hiked from the southern tip to the northern tip. Contrary to what you might think, each day was full of varied experiences. However, there was always one constant. Pita. It was our main source of energy, and despite the quantities eaten none of us are sick of it.

Our adventures around the Sea included a hike up to the ancient Roman city of Susita/Hippos, which may have been the inspiration for “a city on a hill cannot be hid”, as well as finding our way through fields of reeds, crossing streams almost up to our waist, stumbling upon grapefruits so ripe they fell off the tree (which we of course saved from going rotten), and generally being amazed at the luscious fields of wildflowers that had sprung up thanks to the rain of the previous week.

We ended the week by finding a ride with a friendly Israeli to Yehudiya N.R. with its beautiful waterfalls, exploring Tiberias, and relaxing at the hostel in Nazareth. Free travel was such a great experience, and I am so glad that we had the chance to have the responsibility of our own food, water, shelter, and transportation depend solely on ourselves in an area where we couldn’t always depend on using English.

-Joe Hochstetler


Students relax in the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem Freedom. That’s what free travel is. This past week we all finally had absolutely complete freedom over our schedules and it was utter bliss. The group split into several smaller groups with some going to Turkey, some to Egypt, some hiking in Israel, Aly stayed with a somewhat local Jewish family, and Jamila, Joel and I went back to Palestine for a few

Going back over the wall was a very strange feeling. For me, it felt like coming home. Jamila and I stayed with my old host family, the Awwads, while Joel stayed with Samer (our tourguide). There were two boys from Sweden who were also staying with Samer and we ended up spending a lot of our week with them.

We went back to Hebron where we hung out at a demonstration. It was incredible to see Palestinian flags waving around as the people chanted for unity of Gaza and the West Bank. There is something completely beautiful about people peacefully protesting. Later, we sat with a shopkeeper, Mohammad, for a couple of hours while watching soldiers hold up Palestinians for no real reason. Mohammad told us about his 7 year old cousin who was found a week before in a well. Dead. Another innocent life was gone. He was afraid of the dark. His family doesn’t know why he was walking alone at night. I don’t know why anyone could kill a 7 year old.

Most of our time in Palestine was either completely relaxing or ridiculously fun with either our host family or our new Swedish friends. I was very sad to say goodbye on Thursday afternoon as we packed up and headed back over the wall. We spent the remainder of our time relaxing in Jerusalem with the Turkey people. It was so nice to walk around the city and not be pushed for time. On Saturday, our hostel had a Purim Party and some of us dressed up and had a lot of fun. Around midnight we went out with our Swedish friends to see what others were doing. We ended the night with a rather large dance party in the streets. Think of it as a huge Halloween party where everyone wants to have fun and celebrate the book of Esther.

Now the group is back together and we are continuing our study in Jerusalem. Some of us are glad to be back together while others long for the sunny beaches (it is currently raining here). Either way, we all had fantastic independent travels. We all got a bit wiser, or a least a bit more tan.

-Jamie Heiner