EMU Cross-Cultural

The astonishing beauty of India

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

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

-Andrew Meade

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

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

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

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

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

-Allison Thurman and Kristen White

Free travel reports

Latin America 9

Group: Peyton Erb, Cassie Leatherman, Rebecca Copeland, Yvonne Stauffer

I think we are all equally exhausted tonight. We went on a white water rafting trip today in the Pico Bonito forest just outside of La Ceiba, Honduras. First our guide had all of us stand together and say a prayer before our trip. Then they gave us tips on how to stay afloat if we were to fall off the raft. For three of us, it was the first time rafting. The guide told us all to jump off this 10-foot high rock into these swirling rapids. This was supposed to get rid of our fear of water and learn how to float. We just decided that the guide knew what he was doing and to trust him. We all jumped off one at a time. After many different feats like this one we got on the raft and started down the river. All of this lasted about 3 hours. We then rode back to La Ceiba in a big, green, army looking truck.

-Yvonne Stauffer

Monika, Charity, Hannah and Jenny enthuse about white water rafting during their free travel. “LAS BANANITAS” (Hannah Kraybill, Monika Burkholder, Jenny Blosser and Charity Strayer)

It’s called Free Travel, and travel free we did. In eight days, Jenny, Monika, Charity and I passed through three countries, wheeled and dealed in four different currencies, pushed, shoved and bartered our way into ten buses, seven taxies, four boats, two kayaks and rested our weary bodies in five different hotel beds.

From La Ceiba, Honduras, to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and finally down to Managua, Nicaragua to reunite with out Cross Cultural “family,” whirlwind adventure may sound like a more accurate description. But, in the midst of sun baked bus rides, shady characters, a few seedy hotels, various creepy crawlies, miscommunication, misdirection and misunderstanding, each night as we gathered for our “debriefing,” although physically exhausted, we felt spiritually energized by the adventures of our day.

Whether it was white water rafting, zip lining, a spontaneous conversation with a stranger or fellow traveler, a peaceful kayak trip, a chance encounter with a previous acquaintance, simple yet delicious food, fishing without a rod or late night talks, we molded our week, moment by moment into a priceless life lesson. Starting with flexibility, good humor and a few grin-and-bear-it moments, the result is a week abundant in laughter, beauty of all varieties and a good dose of high quality adventure.

-Hannah Kraybill

All smiles during a tough hike. The Unsniffible (Hitch) Hikers
Ingrid Johnson, Allison Glick, Elisa Troyer, and Christina Harman

Our group name comes from our stench after hours of hiking and riding over dusty bumpy roads in the back of a pickup truck. We ended our first day of free travel with a starlight hitch-hike ride on the way to a little town called Gracias, in the mountains of western Honduras.  We spent three days and two long nights hiking and camping in Celaque National Park, home to a very lovely cloud forest.  We actually hiked for a total of about 13 hours, five of which resulted from a wrong turn on the infamous Sendero El Gallo.  Looking back, we are glad for our mistake, as it allowed us to see a wider variety of flora and fauna.

After a good night’s rest in Gracias after we got back from our hiking adventure, we continued in the back of a truck to a little town called La Esperanza where we caught a bus to Tegucigalpa.  We spent one night there in a pretty shady part of town after discovering that the two hostels that we had considered were either full or closed.  The next day, we continued to the Honduran-Nicaraguan border, where we lost about $40 each to bad exchange rates and crooked taxi drivers.  We spent that night at a hostel in Leon, and explored the city the following day, contributing to the local economy through our licuado (milkshake/smoothie drink) consumption.  We stayed there for one more night, and the next morning took a bus to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua where we met up with the rest of the group in the lovely Quinta Shalom Guesthouse.

We had a lot of fun and met many interesting and very helpful people along the way.  According to Ann, after this experience, we can now travel anywhere in the world!

Ziplining around Laguna Tiscapa in Managua, Nicaragua was the final hoorah for this free travel group. Group: Giles Eanes, Andrew Derstine, Lindsey Grosh, Amy Histand, & Aaron Yutzy

While traveling, sometimes the most random encounters, the ones that you don’t and can’t plan, end up being the most interesting bits of the journey. Our group crossed paths with a colorful host of characters throughout our travels from the Honduran island of Utila to La Ceiba, to Tegucigalpa, and finally to Managua, Nicaragua. If having uncannily good timing with buses is a sign of sharp traveling instincts, I also believe that being available and open to the people along the road, among the pigeons in the park, and in the bus seat next to you, is a mark of traveling well.

We had one such encounter during an afternoon exploration of Utila. We followed some sign for bike rentals off the street and into someone’s yard, because on Utila you’re always walking into someone’s yard to inquire about food or a place to stay or laundry service, and rented mountain bikes that had seen better days. I had to go back to the shed twice for new bikes, as the first two did not successfully make it more than a hundred meters down the road. Third time was indeed the charm, and I managed to coax the geezer of a bike down the rather uncomfortable road to Pumpkin Hill, the formerly active volcano of Utila.

While the five of us rested at the side of the road, an elderly couple crossed our path.  In his thick island lilt, the gentleman told us that it was no good, that we were too young to be tired. We proceeded to talk with him about his thirty-five years on the seas as a boat hand, which included docking in Norfolk, VA many times. And then we continued on our way and they on theirs, hauling sacks of wood shavings to their farm. It felt exactly like the sort of encounter one should have on a little island. We went on our way; the bikes survived the trip back to their shed; nothing earth shattering had happened. But the chance encounters we had during the week enriched our experience and added dimension to our journey.

-Amy Histand

Anna, Michael and Jenae on their canopy tour. The Meanderers: Jenae Leatherman, Anna Rodgers, Michael Showalter

The River

Shadowed by the mountain,

Cutting through the trees.

The river roars its victory chant,

Beneath the water, life is gone.

The rain feeds its constant thirst,

The sand plows a deeper tract.

Rocks worn smooth by the river’s wrath,

Cast into shadow by the setting sun.

Whirlpools dance, spinning away,

Ripples pass, a fleeting glance.

Solid yet moving stone,

Liquid in a set path.

The river never rests,

The river always wins.


As we reflected on our week, our overall trip reminded us of white water rafting the first day on Rio Cangrejal.  Even though we knew our final destination and the approximate path we would take, there were always times where plans changed.  There were decisions and obstacles that we encountered along the way that were unexpected, but by working together as a group we accomplished what we set out to do and had a fun, interesting experience along the way.

Mining in Honduras

Latin America 8 Our visit to ASONOG in Santa Rosa de Copan was very fascinating.  I thought that it was very cool that we could make that connection from our speaker in the first week of orientation, Francisco Machado, to the organization that he worked with in Honduras and actually see the work they’re doing that is so dangerous to some people’s interests that he had to flee to the United States.  I was appalled to hear of the pollution being produced by the mining companies, especially the cyanide pollution.  Cyanide is an extremely deadly poison that they use to extract gold from the rock they mine.  After the process is over they either leave the soil, but the cyanide makes is unusable, or they dump it into rivers that serve as water sources for nearby communities.  It kind of upsets me.  Aren’t there safer ways to extract gold than exposing so many people to such a poisonous substance?  Have they no regard for human life at all?  I was very glad to hear about the Civic Alliance for Democracy, a civilian organization researching the effects of cyanide on the local health and organizing local communities in protests.  The Catholic Church has also gotten involved in ensuring the welfare of its people.

The original mining law that allowed mining companies to evict people from their homes (the new law isn’t much better) reminded me of how in the States, the road building companies used to be able to forcefully take over people’s land to build roads and expand the infrastructure.  I’m not really sure how much that goes on anymore, but I’m sure whatever does happen is much different from the new mining law in which there is so much pressure to sell that you’re almost basically forced to.

Along with their work in mining, ASONOG is doing some work with community development, such as risk management and capacity building, which I was very impressed with. They even have regional boards, and they have national conferences to discuss current issues regularly. I was thinking a bit about how these municipalities only receive around 1% profit from the industry that is destroying their land and the health of the people, and it reminded me of discussions we’ve had in class about this idea of center and peripheral countries.  The peripheral countries produce raw materials like food and metals, and these are sold to the center countries at a pretty cheap price.  These are then processed into refined goods, and sold back to the peripheral countries for a profit. Because the peripheral countries do not provide their own refined goods, and what they can produce is of less monetary value, this creates a great inequality in the wealth of nations.  Yes, it’s wonderful that Honduras can produce this raw precious metal, but when it is only sold, or extracted by the center countries, the peripheral countries are taken advantage of, and this is a prime example.  The municipalities receive 1% of the profit from the industry that is polluting their soil and drinking water, displacing hundreds of people from their homes, and stripping their land of the natural resources that belong to the people.  The Honduran needs to seriously reconsider the concessions it gives to these mining companies. One has to wonder if these communities would actually make more money extracting, working, and selling the gold themselves as artisans.

-Ingrid Johnson

Reports from the India/Pakistan border

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

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

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

-Rachel Kolb

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

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

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

-Andrea Bowman

Expedition to the Himalayas

India 8We were welcomed to the Himalayas, yet another one of India’s myriad regions and climates, by a thrown bucket of blue dye. Covered by this hooliganism that had somehow stolen through the cracked window of our car, thoughts of Delhi and Rajasthan, Kolkata and Kerala, were wiped from our minds, replaced by the snow-covered mountains that we enjoyed while our vehicle was given a preliminary hose-off.

The day, March 11th, was Holi (pronounced: holy). We had seen signs of the festival of colors before-pink powder on the ground, strange stains on the backs of kiosk patrons-but as we arrived in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, the holiday was in full force. This meant that roving groups of young men (perhaps intoxicated on some substance, perhaps merely happy) would throw bright powder at any who strayed too near.

Despite not knowing the actual religious significance of the Holi-Day, many of the guys in the group took to the streets (roving bands of “merry” young Indian men are one of the more disconcerting things we run into; they show an obnoxious and crude interest in Western women). For a short period of time, the only colored people that we saw were Western (another disconcerting element of India; how much of what we see is Indian, and how much is a show put on to verify the Western idea of what India is… we have no way of knowing), but we quickly found Indians willing to paint us various greens, blues, reds and yellows.

Feeling festive, we embarked on a short hike to a waterfall one town over. Strangely, the water seeped into the group as if it were a drain, disappearing. On our way back, several more groups added dye to our faces, making some of us look truly frightening.

It was a good day…

-Dylan Zehr

Hiking Ladies Early Thursday afternoon we arrived in the city of Dharamsala, which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and also happens to be the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since the Chinese invasion and subsequent takeover of Tibet in the mid-20th century, Dharamsala has served as home to countless Tibetan refugees. This city has proven to be infused with more Tibetan culture and cuisine than anything else, which is a nice change after over two months of eating almost all Indian food.

Yesterday our group took a pretty grueling trek up one of the nearby Himalayan mountains. It took us several hours of scrambling over rocks and using muscles in our legs that many of us did not know existed to finally reach the peak around lunchtime. Although many of us seriously considered turning back at various points along the way, the moment we crossed the last ridge and beheld a range of snow-capped peaks before us, we knew the hike was worth the effort. I truly cannot comprehend how thousands of Tibetan refugees have survived trekking through the Himalayas for months at a time in order to reach safety in India. I thought I might keel over and die after only a day of hiking, especially because I am not accustomed to the high altitude here (Altitude sickness is fun, by the way). After a small taste of trekking through the Himalayas, I feel as if I can more fully appreciate and admire the strength and persistence of the refugees who reside here in Dharamsala.

-Kelsey Landes

Community service reports

Latin America 7Friday, Feb. 27 was the end of language school.  That day we had a Clausura in which each Spanish class did a presentation highlighting their progress from the past 8 weeks. There were a variety of presentations, all showing tremendous improvement in the students’ capabilities.  That same afternoon we boarded a small plane for Flores, an island in Lake Petén Itza and stayed the night in a small hotel on the shore of the lake.  Saturday morning we traveled to Tikal and enjoyed a tour and significant free time to explore the ancient pyramids in the jungle.

Sunday the group split up.  Jared and Addie Leaman, Peyton Erb, Yvonne Stauffer, and Rachel and Ann Hershberger returned to Guatemala City. Jared and Addie were heading back to the States on Monday and the other 4 were headed to San Marcos, Guatemala, bordering Mexico for their week of community learning. The rest of us 18 students and Jim took a boat ride on the lake to visit a zoo and some water slides in the morning before heading to Semesche in Alta Vera Paz province for our community learning.

The group in San Marcos spent their week visiting a number of MCC projects there in a food security program as part of the local catholic dioceses. They were working with MCCer, Nate Howard and his local partners, Juan Pablo and Osmar. They visited two different villages, at altitudes between 8 and 9,000 feet! The first community was Nuevas Maravillas where they attended a meeting to discuss the mushroom project the community is starting. They also have flower projects. These are an attempt to increase income and food supply for the people to avoid the necessity to migrate. The produce from their projects is sold in Mexico, several KMs away.

Peyton and Yvonne lead the preschool class during community learning. The next morning the group was in the school interacting with the children and Peyton was able to teach the preschool class for an hour while the teacher was not there! That same day they caught a bus back to the central town, Sibinal. There they were able to walk around the market in the morning and attend a meeting of the project treasurers from 4 communities. The second village they visited was La Vega, a community working with trout farming projects. The group attended more meetings and was able to relax by playing some soccer with the locals. After another cold night sleeping on hard boards, they woke up Friday to ice on the ground. Friday was the day of a large community celebration as well as the inauguration of about 25 houses in 5 communities built after Hurricane Stan. The group was able to share in these exciting community events and projects and learn more about what MCC and the local communities are doing in the region of San Marcos.

-Lindsey Grosh

Headed to Semesche for community learning in the back of a cattle truck on a cold, rainy Monday. This past week in Alta Vera Paz was one of joys, struggles, and most of all growth for me. We first traveled to Semesche by cattle truck on Monday. That was interesting because it was raining and I´m not sure you could call the path we drove on a ¨road¨ at least in comparison to what we´re used to back in the states. So there was lots of jerking and bouncing, kind of like a country rollercoaster. Then we finally arrived and were welcomed with warm smiles, giggles, and stares from the community. We were divided up into our families and left to settle.

The first half of our week was spent living with our host families and enjoying communication that consisted of ¨oos¨ (good), ¨bantiox¨(thank you) and of course lots of smiles when we didn´t understand. During the day we also spent time planting trees at different houses in order to help the people of this community gain rights to their land. It was very rewarding to be filling Amy and Christina figure out the corte, a skirt made from 7 yards of fabric that each girl wore the WHOLE week! bags with dirt while wearing 24 feet of fabric around my waist, strung up by a string into the native dress they wear  called a corte. We often walked home with dirty hands and nails waiting for the fire to start up in the evening for warmth. Those moments around the fire were some of the most meaningful to me because it was there that I felt the overwhelming feeling of being welcomed into my host family. Although it was present throughout the community, it was here that I saw the beautiful spirit of these people.

On Thursday we set out for a three hour hike to our second community, Sesalche. I don´t know that I have ever had to push myself so hard before. Some of our paths seemed to go up forever and there were certainly times when I wanted just stop. But when we would arrive at the top to see the view,  A view of the muddy conditions the group hiked through during their service week. it was more than worth it. I have never seen anything like it. The endless mountains with the clouds draped across them… I felt like this was God´s way of giving me encouragement to keep going, and after some time we finally arrived.

Once we had finished our first meal at Sesalche, we all headed to the church that was to be our home for the next couple nights. We immediately began pushing the benches together to create our beds and then headed off to the school for an art camp with the kids. Again this was a fun experience because most of us only knew about two words to use to communicate with the kids, but we found that we could learn a lot of new words just by drawing pictures and then pointing as the kids told us the names in K´kchi, their native language. After the art camp we discovered that the kids were not going to let us just walk back to the church. They wanted to play. So we spent the next bit of time playing ¨you´re it!¨ in K´kchi.

The next couple of days were probably some of our hardest. I felt pretty drained from the hike, lack of sleep due to hard wooden boards for beds, and I stopped eating a lot because I wasn´t feeling very good. But despite some of these conditions that we were all experiencing, we were still able to help some of the families with building cages for rabbits and also composting bens. These were a part of the Heffer Project that had been taking place in different communities. In this project families are given different things like animals with the notion that when their animals reproduce, they will then pass the gift on to five more families, and those families to others until everyone that wants to participate is included. It´s a really neat concept and helps the people of these communities take ownership of these movements rather than it being an outsider´s project. So I think we all appreciated being a part of that.

On Saturday we set out Rebecca gathers tropical oak tree seedlings for another group member to plant in bags of soil.for our three hour hike back to Semesche and even planted some trees on the way when we stopped for lunch. When we returned, we were glad to be able to sit and rest for a little bit, even if it was wooden benches that we were sitting on.

The next morning we all went up to the church to attend a wedding that we were invited to. It was definitely a time to see cultural differences. For one, within this culture the men and women are separate which meant that the bride and groom did not know each other before the wedding. This probably would explain why we did not see them smile at each other. The wedding was also the church service and a baby dedication all in one. So we were there for about three hours. But it was definitely a gift to be able to be a part of this sacred tradition, and another example of how welcoming this community was to invite us to this event. After the ceremony we gathered our things and got back on the cattle truck to start our bumpy journey back to Guatemala City.

As I said before, this week of service was one of great growth for me. I got to experience a way of life that was very foreign to me. I was able to learn some new words and repeat some others more times than I would like…Bantiox. I even arrived at a point where Spanish had the comfort of a native language to me! Though it was hard and possibly the farthest from my comfort zone I have ever been, it was an experience that I, and I´m sure the rest of our group would agree, would not change for the world.

-Rebecca Copeland

Elephants, camels, the desert, and more

India 7You can’t go to India and not ride elephants. With that in mind, we found a place in Jaipur that would take us on a brief half-hour ride through the city. We rode four people to an elephant, not including the driver, and created quite a spectacle as we explored the city in a single file line. It is safe to say that we all got a unique perspective of the city from the backs of our respective elephants. The ride ended all too soon but (the only way I can end this paragraph is with a cliché) the memories will last forever!

The next day we left Jaipur in search of a smaller, more elusive animal. Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Reserve is sadly the last place where you can see wild tigers in the state of Rajasthan. Their numbers have dwindled down to less than twenty, but we remained optimistic that perhaps we would be fortunate enough to see one. In the end we did not get to see a tiger but that did not stop us from enjoying the wide variety of other wildlife. We got to see peacocks, monkeys, several different types of deer, numerous birds, including a rare brown fish owl, and two crocodiles. No one did much talking on the safari as we tried to remain as quiet as possible so as not to scare off the wild animals. But in the end we left without seeing the camera-shy cats.

Rajasthani Garb When not out on the tiger safari, we passed the time back at the hotel cooling off in the pool and relaxing in general. We were also treated by some of the locals to an evening of traditional Rajasthani music and dance. Near the end of the performance, we were all encouraged to join in on the dancing. Many did so willingly but I must admit that I took a little persuading before I left my chair to join the others. It was all in good fun and so our stay in Ranthambhore ended on a good note.

-Will Stutzman

Jodhpur (The Blue City) After the “tiger” safaris in Ranthambhore, we arrived in Jodhpur, the “blue City.” Here, we saw another giant fort, the location where Jodhpurian maharajahs are cremated and the current maharajah’s palace, the third largest residence in the world. Jodhpur is called the “Blue City” because of the large number of buildings that are painted a sky blue in honor of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, whose color is blue. It was beautiful seeing how true this was while looking down from the giant Mehrangarh Fort! India just continues to astound us with its beauty.

After one night in Jodhpur, we drove two hours to the Manvar Desert Resort for two days and nights of peace and relaxation, our own little Spring Break. After spending the first afternoon out at the resort pool, we drove for Jeep Safarififteen minutes to reach our destination for the night, a tented camp in the Thar Desert. That evening, we walked up a sand mountain (putting a lot of us out of breath) to watch the sunset. In my opinion, it was the best Indian sunset yet, was beautiful arrangement of yellows, reds, oranges and blues. I’ll remember that sunset for a long time!

From there, we trekked back to the camp, where we experienced a typical Rajasthani night. A bunch of kingly pillow-sheet things were laid out for us, we laid down on them and a music/dance troupe performed for us as we received multiple incredibly tasty appetizers. I truly did feel like a maharajah. All I needed was someone fanning me and someone else feeding me grapes. It was fantastic! Then, after a great dinner, we went to bed eagerly awaiting the next day.

Camel Riders 3 We awoke at 6 the next morning for our sunrise camel ride. The camel ride was great fun! We rode in groups of two (I was with Braydon Hoover) and made our way to another sand hill, where we witnessed a beautiful, but horribly bright sunrise. Eventually, we rode thirty minutes back to the tent camp, had breakfast, and drove the fifteen minutes back to the 5-star resort.

After a lot more pool hangout time (I’m burned again!), we had a desert safari ride. The only animals we saw were adorable gazelle. However, the highlight of the ride came when we would drive down each sand dune. It was like a real-life rollercoaster, and I was sure death was on the other side of the hill after a four-wheel tumble. But no! All the vehicles got down safely. We stopped at a particularly dune-y area and dune-hopped for a little bit, having an absolute ball! We then watched the sunset, not nearly as memorable as the night before, but beautiful nonetheless.

After the ride, we came back to the resort for the night and then returned to Jodhpur for one free day, and have now arrived in Ajmer, where we will stay for two nights before returning to Delhi. It’s hard to imagine that it’s March already and that we can actually say that we’re returning next month. The two months have flown by, but at the same time, it feels like we’ve fit a year’s worth of activities in so far. It’s been a truly amazing, unforgettable, life-changing trip so far, and I can only pray that these last two months continue to be as memorable as the first two.

-Steve Kniss

Reflections on an Indian heritage

India 6Growing up as a young child my parents, my father being Indian himself and my mother being Caucasian, kept my background alive. As my brother and I grew up we had tastes of the Indian culture through food, music and souvenirs that my parents had from their journey, as well as adoption picnics when our family would hear about other family’s experiences in India. When I entered into the India cross-cultural program, I had hopes of learning more about myself, but also about my homeland. However, despite how excited I was about landing in this rising nation, I felt a great deal of pressure due to the fact that I am actually Indian. As I thought more about this, it dawned on me that during my stay, natives to India would believe that I understand their culture and languages only to be offended or disappointed at the fact that I have been Americanized. Despite this drawback, I entered the country with and open mind, knowing that the people and sights would change my perspective as a whole.

My journey so far has undoubtedly exceeded my expectations. Before arriving here, my thoughts about this country were that it was an underdeveloped nation with lots of poverty, that it was extremely strict  religiously, and, of course, home to many amazing historical sights. As I entered each city, my jaw dropped to the ground. India seemed more modern than I realized, especially after riding the Metro in New Delhi and realizing that pretty much every Indian has a cell phone, regardless of their status.

Although I am doing my best to enjoy my time here in India and soak in its existing culture, I am constantly shocked by people and events that have a hard impact on me. It hurts me to see a slum full of shacks made from tin and its inhabitants dressed in the same clothes from day to day while at the same time a business man in a Mercedes Benz (yes, they have those here) can drive by the slums and pull into a brand new mall with name brand clothing stores. Irony such as this in India has led me to really question my distinction between my needs and wants back home.

More interestingly, however, I am greatly impressed at the level of religion in this country. The more I have observed those that participate in the daily prayers and study the various elements of these religions, the more aware I have become as to why religion is held as a crucial element to individuals’ lives. It seems that despite their setbacks, they still make the most of their lives with hopes that they will have a better life in either the future or in another life. This has really made me grateful for all the opportunities that have been placed at my feet and reinforced my awareness that I shouldn’t take what I have for granted.

Overall, India is a magnificent place with beauty running across the whole nation. From the Taj Mahal to technological development, India is on the rise and has the potential to do great things. If you haven’t traveled out of North America or haven’t been to this country yet, I would strongly recommend visiting, because there is something here for everyone, be it food or adventure. India is full of outgoing inhabitants that will go out of the way to help and make sure that visitors are content. I have fallen in love with the country, and perhaps after my education is complete, a life working in India would be fulfilling.

-Sanjay Dick

Rajasthani Meal This week came accompanied with quite a variety of emotions. Early Friday morning, we departed the VKV and headed back to Delhi. I found that leaving was much harder than I expected, especially since I was ready to go before we even concluded our first week of classes. Even so, I had become comfortable with the daily routine of woodcarving and Hindi lessons and had begun to grow attached to the place we called home for nearly a month. It feels good to be back on the move though, seeing new sights and experiencing everything India has to offer.

We spent two days in Delhi before we left for Jaipur. I found myself strangely comfortable with the city that seemed so foreign not long ago. Our Saturday was spent shopping at the local markets and playing games of Rook that never seemed to end.

Looking back on the time we’ve spent here in India, I can’t help but notice how my feelings towards this country have changed. I have a greater appreciation for the culture and the people who have so warmly welcomed us. I had my share of doubts before coming on this trip but I am reminded everyday how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful part of the world.

-Bryce Troyer

Immigration Focus

Latin America 6 A normal field trip brought out strong reactions from our group in our visit to CAM, Centro Atención al Migrante. Our host, Carlos gave us information about their immigrant halfway house and why it is needed. Then this led him to directly state how the U.S. has played a role in causing migration. I have been aware and am still learning just how much the U.S. has interfered in the development of Central America, but it was still a depressing lecture for me. No one really likes to hear how inconsiderate his or her country is. Carlos also abruptly began to ask us questions on how we can make such contradictions like claim to be the freedom light of the world and go fight a war in Iraq or refuse to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Because of the setting, set up for a speech and spread out, none of us were sure if these were rhetorical questions or not. As comments did spurt out, I noticed how people seemed to have reached a point of not being able to be silent longer. Afterwards students were buzzing with anger. One said it was the first time she felt discriminated for being an American; another was angry that Carlos thought he could just keep accusing us like that. Personally, I came away more depressed than angry, like a beaten dog with its tail between the legs.

As our week focused on immigration ended, I was reminded of how glad I am to have taken a Spanish class at EMU last spring; I hadn’t even known what the class was about when I signed up, but I came out of that class with the beginnings (or more) of understanding of the complexity of immigration, especially in the U.S. Now that I’m in Guatemala, this background helps me see multiple sides when reading the case studies and visiting the U.S. Embassy. I see neither undocumented or legal immigrants, nor the Mexican government or U.S. border patrols as the “evil” ones. I do not, then, have a proposed solution; in fact, the more I know, the more impossible it seems to find a happy, just situation for everyone. But I see places that demand improvement regardless.

-Allison Glick

A small group surprises Aaron with a birthday song. It is amazing how people can touch the lives of others.  Today I went walking hoping to find a Mennonite church, Casa Horeb.  Andrew’s host mom had told me where the church was as we were driving down the Periferico but I conveniently forgot which avenue she told me.  I ended up walking six blocks too far because I thought I was supposed to go to 13th Avenue rather than 19th Avenue. But I am glad that I did.  On 13th Ave. I asked a woman if she knew the Mennonite church.  Of course she did not even know what a Mennonite is.  She told me there were two churches on 13th Ave, but if I wanted to, I could go with them to an Evangelical church.  It meant a lot that they invited me to their church, so I went and I really enjoyed my time with them.  Their Evangelical style of worship is certainly not my style of Mennonite, but I enjoyed the energy.  The lady’s daughter was a huge help during the service and she tried to help me understand what was happening by whispering things in my ear… in Spanish.  She is about five but I think she really understood my situation.  Later in the service her mom bought some gum to share.

After the loud and disorganized service my new friends and I walked back to the corner where we met.  It was nice to have the walking time to chit-chat and the five year old held my hand on the way back.  I have not been around children much, since my host parents here in Guatemala are older and do not have children in the house.  On our walk I found out that the lady is twenty-five years old, divorced, has two children, and her job is part time.  I think she lives with two other ladies and their two children.  The gist of this lady’s current situation really put into aspect how much wealth and security is in my life.  I saw God through this lady and her family.  This put a completely new face on poor people in my life.  They are no longer the aggravating beggar, nor the drug addict, of possible thief, but rather my friend and my family.  I never want to forget how my life has been touched this week.

-Aaron Yutzy

A weekend at the beach

India 5Last Friday came just in time! The week of class leading up to it was starting to make us all a little tired and worn out. Everyone had Hindi for 2 hours (in addition to all the homework that was given), as well as our secondary class. My secondary class was yoga, which took place every day for one hour. During this time we learned many different poses from our Yoga Master. After doing yoga for two weeks it was gratifying to see myself becoming more flexible.

But as I said, Friday could not have come soon enough because that meant we were going to the beach! We left in the morning and traveled in two vans, making it a very cozy trip for the fifteen or so people in each vehicle. After three hours or so of driving we arrived at our hotel, where the beach was only a five minute walk away. Needless to say we spent almost all of our weekend at the beach. It was absolutely amazing, the water was just right, it was never cloudy, and there was a boardwalk type stretch of restaurants and all kinds of shops. Oh, and it was also great because we didn’t stick out as a group of Americans anymore because the place was full of tourists.

Sadly though, Sunday came too fast and all of us were sad to see leave the beach. I will admit though that I was happy to get out of the sun, and I think others were too, considering how lobster-red we were! Monday rolled around and we tried to fall back in to the groove of classes for one more week until we will catch a plane back north.

-Jared Troyer

Hindi 101 edited This past week has been a flurry of anticipation, finishing up our classes and preparing to travel again. After a relaxing yet challenging three weeks here at VKV, we’ll be flying back to Delhi in just a couple days! I’ve really enjoyed learning the Hindi language, as well as participating in my Bharathanatyam dance class. Bharathanatyam is a classic Indian dance form, the dance of Lord Shiva, which emphasizes strong, stiff movements. Stomping, intricate hand gestures and animated facial expressions make this dance fun to both practice and watch! This class has been a challenge and a joy for me, and I’m pretty sure we’ve amused our teacher at times with our attempts to perform this foreign and complicated art form! Hindi class has been a little more stressful, but I’m really looking forward to using it in the north, as Malayalam is spoken predominantly in Kerala. I’ve liked learning Hindi from our passionate instructor, Nisha Ji, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us are looking forward to wrapping it up!

After an intense week of classes at VKV last week, we were all pumped to go to Kovalam Beach for the weekend. We spent Friday through Sunday soaking up the blazing sun and the beautiful beach scenery. I played in the big waves, shopped on the boardwalk and found some awesome places to eat. Overall, the weekend was a welcome break, and it was great to just chill out and ‘be a tourist’ for a few days!

As we prepare to leave the south, my emotions are mixed. It was wonderful to settle into a daily routine after weeks of constant travel, and the staff at the VKV are so hospitable. I’ve also enjoyed having the time to get to know others in the group even better during our stay here! However, I’m also very excited to return to the north and to see what new experiences await us there. This once-in-a-lifetime experience in India has been eye-opening, challenging, and so much fun for me, and I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead!

-Megan Yoder