Let the One Month Countdown Begin!

11/20/13

Hi everyone! As usual, there are not enough hours in my day. It was my turn this week to contribute to our group blog, so I decided to share that post on my own! It’s pretty vague, but I am hoping to do more over these next two weeks. We’ll see how that goes, my computer hasn’t been cooperative lately, and we’re not sure that we’ll have internet. My lovely mother has been insistent that I post something, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll be adding to my blog once I get home and have a little more time on my hands. I think it will also be a nice way for me to reflect on my SJPD experience. 
Enjoy!

                Though this week was a short one, we managed to keep ourselves busy! We had classes and a few short field visits last week, and mainly worked on our course papers this week. This course has focused on the Environment, Ecology, and Sustainable Livelihood aspect of SJPD. We’ve watched a few documentaries on war, collective community action, and media’s role in advertising. With all the documentaries we’ve been watching over the last few months, several of us have decided to purchase external hard drives so that we can bring them home to share with all of you! I know I’m really excited about this as we’ve talked at length about ways that we can share our experiences when we get back home. Some of the topics we discuss can be pretty difficult to bring up, so I am hoping that sharing certain documentaries will spur some great conversations!

                Besides working on papers this week, we also had a session on Warli Painting. It was nice to be able to sit back and take time to be reflective while also channeling our energy into more of a creative activity. I’m excited to share my Warli attempts with family when I get back home!

                Today we wrapped up our course by presenting our papers to the class, then breaking them down and reflecting on different themes that were prevalent. Following the paper discussions, we had a few creative-work assignment presentations. I think I can speak for the whole SJPD group when I say that we have really enjoyed the opportunity to think outside of the normal paper parameters and reflect on the course content in our own unique ways. It has been fun to see different creative styles coming forth. It is always a pleasant surprise to see what people will come up with! Two of our girls, Hannah and Leah, also facilitated a theater workshop for us today. This is something they have done for each course. Again, it’s a great way to collectively process different recurring themes or ideas in an environment outside of the classroom. Hats off to them for their hard work and smooth sessions each week!

                Tomorrow we leave for our two-week field visit! We’re looking forward to it, but I think it will make our remaining month go by quickly. It’s hard to believe that at this time in one month we will be on our flight home! Our field visit is broken down with 3 days spent in Delhi (& Agra), 4 days in Varanasi, and 6 days in Bhopal. Of course each day will be filled with its own adventures, one of them being the Taj Mahal. We don’t do a lot of tourist-centered things, so it will be a change-up to go experience it. We also found out that we’ll be spending time at the US Embassy in Delhi! I’m sure we will have a lot to report back on by the time we return. It will be weird to not be home for Thanksgiving, but I’m sure we’ll all be thinking of you! I’m giving you all an excuse to eat an extra piece of pie in our honor J (I won’t judge if it’s a big one…)

                We found out tonight at dinner that our hostel is used while we are gone, so we all got to spend a little bit of time (or a lot of time) packing all of our belongings to keep in Martin & Laura’s cottage while we’re away. It was a daunting task, but I’m glad that I was forced to do it. It was a good run-through to see how much space I have to work with… which turned out to be a very small amount.

                We leave for the airport before 10 am tomorrow and will be back to Visthar on December 4th. More to come! Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings! Happy early Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful to all of you for all of the support you’re sending our way! We’ll see you soon!

Love & Prayers, 

Michaela

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Fall Break: Round Two

Turns out it’s easier to blog when you have internet access…. oops. Didn’t foresee that!

Well, here we go. My fall break already seems like so long ago. We arrived back to Bangalore early Sunday morning (the 3rd), and barely had enough time for our laundry to dry before we ventured out to our 3rd field visit… but more on that later. I want to talk about the rest of my fall break in this much-overdue post! I have a ton of pictures up on my facebook page, so if you have one please go check them out!

I’m pleased to announce that the rest of our fall break went swimmingly well. I seriously could not have asked for a better break. It was nice to be able to go out and not have any impending assignments to worry about, although we never stopped thinking. Let me tell you, after 2 months of discussing various social justice issues, it can be quite hard to sit back and enjoy- we all noticed that we were constantly questioning everything around us.

As much as I say I was thinking, there was one area where I clearly was lacking: sunscreen. I wore it, but certainly not in the proportions that I should have. My impending skin cancer speaks for itself. There’s nothing that brings a group of girls closer than taking turns rubbing aloe on burnt skin- and for that, I’m eternally grateful. I was so excited to spend time at the ocean that the rest just slipped my mind. Although, many people got a good laugh out of my horrific swimsuit lines-taking one for the team I guess!  J By our second night at Cherai, we ended up having to switch rooms after several unsuccessful attempts to get the power in our cottage to work. Without a doubt, it was a minor detail and thankfully probably the only thing that went awry for us.  Our second room was just as lovely, if not more than our first! No complaints!

We spent a lot of time in the ocean, but also spent a good amount of time playing tourist. We haven’t done very much of that this semester, so it was nice to see another side of India. We had a great balance of leisure time and time spent being tourists. We did a little shopping, spent time on the beach, and ventured out a few times as well. The hotel staff told us about a location, Munabam, about 5km away where the backwaters and ocean met. They raved about how beautiful the scenery was and about the many things we would be likely to see. It was a nice activity that occupied the perfect amount of time. We went without really knowing what to expect, but by the time we got there, we were glad we decided to go! The scenery was gorgeous, and it was fun to sit and watch all of the fisherman going about their work. We saw Chinese fishing nets in action, and countless numbers of fishing boats going past as well.  We spent a few hours there walking along the boardwalk and watching boats come past.

Another one of the days we took a taxi to a waterfall about 2 hours away. I was so glad we chose to do this! Instead of seeing one waterfall, we ended up seeing three. It was definitely worth the drive. The first waterfall location, Athirapally Falls, was beautiful. Our driver, Jayan took great care of us and got us where we needed to be without too much difficulty. Again, we must have looked like we would struggle, because he showed great concern for us and warned us not to get too close to the edge of the waterfall, or we would fall over it! (That gave us all a good laugh, since the waterfall was roped off so nobody could get too close!) Athirapally Falls requires a bit of a walk to get to, but it wasn’t too bad. It would have been nicer had it not been so incredibly hot out! The first portion was overlooking the falls, with rocks splayed out, where people were soaking their feet and taking in the rays of sun. There was also a trail that you could walk down to be beneath the falls. We spent a bunch of time in both locations, cooling down and taking some fun pictures. By the time we headed back, Jayan called us to make sure we were safe! Clearly we took longer than he anticipated. We assured him that we hadn’t fallen over the edge and headed back. There were monkeys all over the place as well, so naturally those distracted us for a bit too J. By the time we finally got back to Jayan, we were all tired, hot, and hungry. After an ice cream pit stop we headed out. Apparently, we didn’t look tired or hot enough, because Jayan informed us that he was taking us to see more waterfalls. Thanks to language barriers, and lack of full comprehension, we agreed, not knowing completely where these other waterfalls were, or if we would have enough time left to get back to our resort. (We had the taxi booked for 8 hours. I’m so glad Jayan took us to the other two falls! Thankfully they were within 20 minutes of Athirapally.  Charpa Falls were alongside the road, and we only stopped long enough to snap a few pics. (One with Jayan too of course!) Vazhachal Falls were beautiful as well.  We had a short ways to walk to get to them too, but nothing too bad compared to the trek for Athirapally. Vazhachal Falls had a less drastic slope than the other two, and for some reason I felt like I was back in in MN, up north, but with hotter weather! By this time, we were all ready to head out. We were able to make it back to Cherai in time to get a little more ocean time in before the sun set.  I felt the most car sick that I’ve felt so far, and think it was probably because we were trying to get back within our 8 hour time limit! Driving through India is nothing like driving in the U.S…. so if my driving habits change when I get back, I plead cultural disparity. It felt pretty good to get in the ocean that night, let me tell ya!  We had a little bit of heckling that night in the ocean, and tried to evade a group of young boys for an hour before we gave up and decided to be done swimming for the night. We’d been having random people coming up to us (some discreetly, others not so much) taking our pictures all day as well, so the combination of these two things were starting to be a little much for me. I’m used to the pictures by now, but was getting frustrated that the boys wouldn’t leave us alone despite our very obvious efforts. Clearly the ocean was not big enough for all of us! Our feelings were reinforced when we got out of the ocean- because literally everyone else did too, it cleared out. It was weird, not going to lie. The beach was the most crowded it had been, but it was a holiday so I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.

                Other than a few uncomfortable moments, I really enjoyed our time at Cherai, and my first experience with the ocean. We met so many nice people and were reminded of the kindness of strangers. Our autorickshaw drivers and cab drivers took particularly good care of us .The day we went shopping our rickshaw driver made sure to tell us that he would wait for us in the same place he dropped us off, and if we experienced any problems or hassling all we had to do was come find him and he would take care of us. Since he took such good care of us the first day we called him again when we went to Munabam. He warned us that since it was a holiday, there may be more people out who were intoxicated. It was so nice to be warned. We didn’t experience any problems, but he must have picked up on something because he ended up accompanying us as we walked the pier. We were so lucky to be taken care of so well!   I hope to be able to go back one day and experience the taste of the ocean all over again, and the feeling of it on my soul.

 

Here I thought I’d be able to wrap up my whole trip in one post- ooops. Too much to tell! I’ll get to the other half of it on my next post, and hopefully more about my field visits too! There are just not enough hours in the day. My poor mom has been hinting over and over that she wants a blog update, so hopefully this will appease her for the time being.  Feeling a little under the weather, so headed off to bed soon! Thanks for reading! Hope you get a chance to see pictures on facebook! J

All my love,
Michaela

Fall Break: Round One.

 

Hello friends and family! I should apologize for my lack of blogging, but by now you are certainly used to it. J Oops.

Well, I’m officially past the halfway point of my trip. It is so hard to believe that I only have 2 more months left in India… not even! Woah.

 We currently have a 9-10 day break from classes (rough life, I know) and had the options of planning our own fall break excursions. Thanks to much of the raving I heard from some of last year’s SJPD group, I opted to go to Kerala with a group of 5 other lovely ladies. 3 days in, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I am loving every bit of it! We were already to Kerala about a month ago for a field visit, but did not come to the area that we are in now. Kerala is absolutely breathtaking. I loved it the first time, and fell in love with it all over again. I promise to blog about the field visits eventually, but haven’t gotten that far yet! 

Our group has had a very smooth trip so far, thanks to one of our brave, (shoutout to roomie Mackenzie) for taking on the coordinator role! We also had a lot of assistance from Sham, a member of the Visthar family. It was fun to listen to him make phone calls and arrangements for us. He always ended them by saying: “Six girls: you take GOOD care of them, ok?” Feeling the love, let me tell you!

We had a bittersweet goodbye Thursday night from Visthar and headed out to catch our overnight train around 6:45. We were a little bit nervous about maneuvering the train station on our own for the first time, but thanks to teamwork and the assistance from some very friendly fellow Indians, we somehow managed to get on the right train before it left the station. (Insert sigh of relief here…) None of us slept very well on the train, but it helped us to be able to figure out when and where to get off, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise! Again, thanks to the help of some good-hearted citizens we were able to get off of the train at the right stop with little trouble. We must look like we’re struggling or something, because we are always able to employ the wisdom of strangers to get us where we need to be!

We were able to find a cab without too much trouble (can’t take too much credit- they were lined up and waiting right outside of the station… I would have had to have been hit by one to make it any more obvious). We arrived to Cherai Beach Resorts around 9:30 am. After breakfast, we explored the resort a bit. I hope to have good enough internet to post pics soon. To say the resort is beautiful would be an understatement. I can’t even describe it! (Beware… this is going to be a recurring theme of this blog post…) There is a spa, restaurant, bar, and store. To the back of the resort we are surrounded by the backwaters, and there are ponds located throughout the resort that allow the backwaters to flow in. Beautiful! We spent time walking around and taking it all in. Across the road from us, the ocean stretches out before us. Mind you, this is my first ocean experience. It was indescribable to walk across the road and climb up over the retaining wall to be greeted by the sound of thundering waves pounding the shore. Needless to say, we spent some time getting our feet wet and giving our cameras a workout!
Our only regret: not wearing our swimsuits… there are only so many places in our little villas to hang up soaking wet pants!

After all of that beach fun, we were exhausted and decided to relax for a bit. I was against it, as my dear sister has ingrained it in my existence that vacations are meant to be experienced- NOT to be spent laying around! 😉 However, after I laid down, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea after all. Our 30 min group nap turned into an hour and a half. Oops! It was ok though, because it was raining for most of the morning and some of the afternoon, so there wasn’t a lot we could do anyway. We ended up sleeping through lunch and a few of us ventured out to find some snacks in the afternoon. Naturally, we ended up in an ice cream shop.  (That’s what you get for sending two dairy farmers’ daughters out for treats…) I decided to be adventurous with my ice cream and ordered a “falooda”. Yeah, definitely had no idea what that was but sounded fun, so figured, what the heck!  I got quite the concoction… I felt like Buddy from the movie, Elf. It was delicious but odd nonetheless… My falooda consisted of a scoop of vanilla, orange, strawberry, and maybe lime (?) ice cream… topped with some kind of fruity syrup, completed with fresh fruit chunks and some kind of spaghetti-type noodle….. Yeah…  I couldn’t quite nail down the taste, but my friend described it perfectly: if you can imagine what an air freshener tastes like, and be good, that was it. Mmmm….falooda.

We enjoyed dinner together as a group, and sat up having some good conversations together afterward. Our beds were looking pretty good to us by the time we collapsed into them! It is about 90 degrees in Kochi (where we’re staying) and verrry humid. I am really appreciating our air conditioning, and my first non-bucket showers in 2 months. …Oh the simple things in life  🙂 

Only day one and I was quite content! I will post another blog (or two) tomorrow, but for now I am going to head off to sleep! You’ll have to wait until then to hear about Day 2 and 3 of vacation!

Goodnight and thanks for reading, friends! Stay tuned!

Love from India,
Mic

Homestay

Hello faithful followers! Thanks for your patience with me. I am going to do my best to catch up on my blogging this week. The posts will be a little bit out of order but I will get them up!

This past week we had class as it was our week following our field visit to Koppal (that is the post that will be coming…). On Monday, we had a presentation from one of the women who lives on campus, Francoise. She has lived in Bangalore for the past 40 years; originally she was from Belgium. She presented her art to us and talked to us about how she came to be an artist. Her art is a portrayal of the hardships and triumphs that Indians face presently as well as what they have faced in history. Although, her art is not paintings or drawings. Instead, she creates dolls depicting stories that she finds or learns about. Most of her dolls have a poem or short story written that tells the viewer what the significance of the doll is. Her dolls tell such a powerful story, she has the display perfected so that they are featured in a significant sequence. We pondered the scenes before us and read their stories for what seemed like 5 minutes, but was probably closer to half an hour. I could have spent all day learning from these meaningful works of art. I was thrilled to find out after the display that she has several books out which contain images of her dolls as well as the stories that have inspired them or been inspired from them. I bought copies of each one and can’t wait to share them with you when I get home! Remind me! 🙂

This week our focus was on Identity, Resistance, and Liberation. We had a variety of speakers come and present to us throughout the week. The speakers were a diverse sampling including: a woman who has done a great deal of work with the Women’s Movement in India, a panel focusing on LGBTI Rights in India, and also a writer whose stories speak in undertones about Dalit resistance. Her message was one of hope for humanity and her belief in the politics of love to overcome Dalit discrimination. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term “Dalit”- The Dalit caste is considered the lowest caste in the system. Dalits are highly discriminated against and face incredible oppression; they are considered to be one of the Untouchable groups. The writer, Saraswathi, shared a story and a poem with us. I thoroughly enjoyed her session with us and was in awe by the end. She has so much passion for exposing the rigidity within the caste system. She is passionate about turning the caste system around and inspiring Dalits to persevere. She wants others to be aware of the inequalities that the caste system imposes. I felt so hopeful that her work, and others’ like her own exists. I agree with her sentiments that it is vital to give voice to those that are oppressed and voiceless. I wish her the best in her endeavors, and am grateful to have had her share her work with us.

Overall, it was a very busy week. We had several group-led discussions as well. We talked about Media & Race, Institutional Racism, Religious Minorities & Discriminations they face, Conflict in Israel & Palestine, and also had an intuitive discussion about class, where we were asked to talk about unearned/undeserved privileges or disprivileges within our lives. We dissected these privileges later to challenge whether they were truly unearned or not. The complexity of this concept was hard for me to wrap my head around at first, but Roshen assured us that we will be revisiting it and further clarifying it many times throughout our next three months. Oh goody 🙂

On top of all of our lectures, discussions, and guest speakers we had 3 documentaries throughout the week that we ended the nights with. I would highly recommend them for anyone interested. They were good tools to spur critical thinking for myself! The three that we watched were MissRepresentation, Agent Orange, and People’s Speak. My favorite was the one that had to do with Agent Orange. I was horrified with the revelations within the movie, yet so glad that my eyes were opened to atrocities that my own government has inflicted on other nations in somewhat recent history. I had heard about the use of Agent Orange before, but until now I never realized how widespread the devastating effects were…and continue to be for that matter. I am astonished that my history books in elementary school and high school only touched briefly on the use of Agent Orange, merely glossing over it. MissRepresentation was about media portrayal of women, and People’s Speak was about oppression, resistance, and liberation of minority groups in U.S. history, based off the book “A People’s History” by Howard Zinn. Because of the documentary, I have added his book to my reading list!

This weekend was our weekend to go and stay with families in the Bangalore community. We all stayed in small groups or individually with friends of Visthar. I was slightly apprehensive about this weekend, and was glad to be in a group of three. We ended up leaving Friday night and returning this afternoon (Monday). To say that my homestay was phenomenal would be an understatement. Many of us stayed with family members of one of the staff, Sham, on campus. My group stayed with one of Sham’s brothers’ family. I was absolutely spoiled by our host family who welcomed us into their life with the utmost hospitality. I don’t think I have eaten as much as what I did this weekend in the entire time that we have been in India. Our host father’s name was Mohtasham Khalil. He had a beautiful home where his wife, Minu, and two children lived. The oldest daughter is married and has a family of her own. We didn’t meet her, but did spend time with his other two kids: his son, Unush and his daughter, Harmine. We spent a great deal of time talking with the family. Harmine spoiled us with her excellent cooking and made sure to take us out to the city to various food entities as well. Her friend Ayesha joined us for most of our outings as well. We tried many things for the first time this weekend… to name a few: delicacies such as cow brain curry and chicken liver (be proud, dad), a Hari Sandwich- which was basically a grilled cheese with chocolate on the cheese (Sounds weird but was sooo good! Don’t knock it until you try it!), sugarcane juice infused with mint, and also our first ice cream sundae from the Ghandhi Bazaar (a nearby shopping area). I went with black currant and did not regret my decision at all! To keep in the spirit of dairy promotion, I offered to buy our sundaes for the group– I include this because I had to laugh at myself for doing what I always make fun of mom for! She loves to buy other people ice cream in the “spirit of dairy promotion”! I guess I’m more like my mom than what I like to admit…. 🙂 Oh well. Harmine and Ayesha took us to two well-known parks in Bangalore as well, which was a good thing because we needed to walk off all of that food! The first park we went to on Saturday morning was Lal Bagh Botanical Garden, in Bangalore. Lal Bagh was absolutely beautiful, and was unlike any of the other sites I’ve taken in so far. It is a 240 acre park that is home to many different varieties of trees and flowers. I was shocked to learn that the park was an expansive 240 acres! We spent a few hours walking around and taking pictures. I definitely would like to go back and explore it again! We went to another park, KR Park, on Saturday night. It was another beautiful park that was filled with families enjoying the nice weather. This park had a playground filled with kids, and also manual exercise equipment located to the side for the parents! I’d love to see the U.S. have parks like this! I really enjoyed walking through these parks and taking in all of the different sights and sounds. The trees loomed overhead, and created a jungle-like atmosphere. I will do my best to get pictures up on facebook as soon as I can! On Sunday morning we ended up going out for breakfast at one of Mohtasham’s favorite places. We had Dosa at Vidyasti Bhavam with Harmine. The dosa were delicious, but filling and very much worth the half hour wait! Sunday night we went to another shopping block, called Jayanagar 4th Block. It was a bustling market-like setup with shops and people everywhere. We mostly window-shopped and stopped for the occasional treat. Like I said, rarely were we ever not munching on something. Harmine and Ayesha also spent time drawing Henna on our hands… there are pictures on facebook of that! Check it out, they did an awesome job!! So FUN! We stayed up late Sunday night talking with the Khalil family, Harmine finally made us go to bed as we were keeping her up! Poor her!
I had such a fantastic time this weekend, and am forever grateful to the Khalil family for their generosity and hospitality. They insisted that we come back again before leaving; an offer that I don’t think any of us will be able to refuse. They took such great care of us! Ayesha and Harmine were wonderful to us and I enjoyed all of the time spent with them. They are wonderful people.

Afterward, we met at one of Sham’s sister’s house as a group. All SJPDers came and we had a discussion with several members of the Muslim community. I really enjoyed our time with them, and learned a lot about Islam and what life in India is like for Muslims. It was great to be able to ask questions and hear different opinions. I think we all left feeling great… overfed, but great.

This week is filled with homework and paper writing for me. I have a big paper and presentation due on Friday, so I will sign off now and do my best to get a blog up about my week in Koppal soon!

Love to you all!
Blessings,
~Mic

A Week to Remember

As I sit here I honestly don’t even know where to begin. My week has flown by and I’m still not sure that I have taken it all in yet. I’m in awe of all the things that have gone on these last few days.

Classes this week focused on Structural Injustice, Human Rights (also Responsibility vs. Guilt), Society, Ideology & Culture, and the notion of “De-schooling” society. (won’t even touch on that last one… oof). They were all incredibly thought provoking, and often left me either completely enthralled or with my head spinning… on the really crazy days- BOTH. We also had the chance to explore some of the Flora found on Visthar campus in a presentation/project we created in small groups. Our focus was on the Neem tree. There is literally way too much information about the Neem tree for me to go into any details here on my blog; but I strongly encourage anybody who has a little extra time to do a little research on the Neem tree; find out its various uses and customs/religious traditions associated with it. You will not be disappointed, I promise you. I wish I could grow a Neem tree in my backyard, sadly MN’s harsh winters would stifle any growth from it at all. I didn’t expect to be so interested in the many different flora found on campus, but I found myself completely enthralled with all of the presentations. It’s so cool to learn about different homeopathic uses found in nature. I had no idea I was in the presence of such greatness when I passed various trees and plants on campus.
Last week, we were challenged to think deeply about what we thought were causes of poverty; and look at these causes to determine if they were, indeed, causes of poverty or results of poverty. This left my head spinning in many directions; the social worker in me had me thinking that each cause could also be a result and vice versa. For class on Monday, we implemented the previously discussed causes of poverty and how we all have a role in the injustices around the world related to poverty. After this, we all felt pretty guilty; not going to lie.  This led perfectly into our discussion on the Responsibility vs. Guilt aspect.  To summarize, we all have a responsibility to work against the various injustices that we contribute to just because of the circumstances we were born into. We discussed how guilt will not necessarily help us to move forward. Not that guilt is a bad thing, but we must move past the inward feelings of guilt toward an outward feeling of responsibility. This class stuck with me the rest of the week, I’m so glad we were able to have such an in-depth conversation on it. I look forward to going into more detail about it with any who may be interested in future encounters. 🙂
Our discussion on September 11th related to patriotism. It was fitting for the day, as we talked about how patriotism is a beautiful thing, yet is often exploited. This was a terrific transition into our discussion of human rights. We had such a deep (I need to find a new word other than ‘deep’ or this will be a long semester for you all!!) conversation on human rights; it challenged me to think about human rights that we see as rights, yet other cultures do not. Basic rights that appear to be so obvious are often not universally acknowledged to be a fundamental human right. We were also challenged to think about whether human rights are fundamentally explicit in nature, or if humans have created them. We came to the conclusion that human rights were truly invented by humans. I had never thought of them this way and toyed with the idea for a long time. Initially, I refused to acknowledge that water, for example, was not a human right. For example: we have a right to a sustainable amount of water, yet we do not have the right to abuse water and use it in excess at our discretion when so many go without (….back to responsibility vs. guilt). I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that so many poor have to spend ridiculous amounts of money on water to sustain their lives.  Again, there was/is too much to this conversation to ever discuss it all on here. I hope that I have inspired you to think, and have not offended anyone. Yet another topic I’d love to discuss further with anyone interested! I’m no expert, but love to hear different views on these debates.

Friday, we got the chance to celebrate a festival, Onam, on campus with our Visthar community.  We heard a brief story of Onam and why it has historically been celebrated. To recap, the story of Onam takes on many forms; the most common is to celebrate the return of the great lord Mahabali once a year. This is the story that we celebrated. Onam is actually this coming week, but we will be on a field visit in Kopal all week so the arrangements were made to celebrate early, just for us. (Another display of Visthar love at its finest). I urge you to do a quick search on Onam if you can. I won’t go into too much detail, but the story of Mahabali is that he was a great ruler; his people respected and adored him. He was tricked by the god Vishnu when Vishnu came down to Earth to fool Mahabali into giving him land. Vishnu’s intent was to trick Mahabali into promising more land than he could. Mahabali, granted Vishnu 3 paces of land. Vishnu surprised him by stretching his legs so far that he was able to claim all of the land and skies in two paces. Since he was short one pace- Mahabali generously forfeited himself under the condition that he be allowed to return to visit his people once a year.   We celebrated Onam on campus with a “visit” from Mahabali himself. The day’s festivities started out with a large meal of traditional, indigenous food, served to us on a banana leaf. I can’t begin to explain how good the meal was. Nor can I explain how disheartened I became upon realization that this would likely be the first and last Onam meal I would partake in….!! The rest of the afternoon was spent playing outdoor games with Visthar staff and their families, and enjoying each other’s company. It was the perfect way to spend our Friday, and a good time was had by all.

After our Onam festivities, those that were interested ventured into town with Roshen to partake in celebrations of Ganesh. Again, I won’t go into details but I urge you to do a little Ganesh research if you’re interested. 🙂 (I sure do give you a lot of homework: neem tree, Onam, & Ganesh!) The celebrations of the Ganesh festival that we took part in included watching the dunking/offering of various Ganesh into the river. The ganesh varied in size: individuals brought small statues, others pooled their resources together as a neighborhood and brought in Ganesh statues that needed to be lifted by cranes to be deposited into the river. The symbolism of the ganesh offering is to ensure prosperity to the family/ies offering them.I really enjoyed going to the Ganesh celebrations, even though we were rained on for a good portion of it (that’s the last time I forget my rain jacket!) Over 150 of the large Ganesh are offered into the river at the place we were at. This takes place in a matter of hours; not to mention the small household ones. On our way back to campus our bus was in a traffic jam and was passed by a parade of those celebrating and on their way to offer their Ganesh. It was fun to see so much excitement and celebration among the people! I REEEEALLY enjoyed watching everyone celebrate; it made the stand-still traffic more manageable too!

Yesterday our group ventured into Bangalore on our own for the first time. We stayed in small groups and did some shopping before we met up for lunch. We had a great time, and were glad to make it back to campus by the time we did! This country girl is doing better than she thought she would in the congestion & chaos  of the city! I think the cows roaming the streets may help her keep her cool though 🙂

Today I was able to have the first real skype with my mom! I had to get up by 6 am to do it, but it all worked out. Usually our internet disconnects multiple times, but we talked for nearly an hour with no difficulties whatsoever! It was SO great to be able to talk with her and hear about life at home, and laugh about some of the most recent happenings on our farm. When we were about to hang up my dad came in, so I did get to see him for a few minutes, but certainly not long enough. Hopefully we can work schedules out and his spotted ladies at home let him out of the barn earlier once in awhile!  After I hung up I went to Mass with a woman who works on campus, Maria, and my friend Christina. The Mass was in Kannada so we were not able to understand any of it; but we did follow along with the readings in our own Bible. It was really nice to be able to go to Mass and I hope to go often. Maybe I’ll get lucky enough to find an English Mass! Afterward, Maria offered to take us to visit her family who lived nearby. She seemed delighted when we accepted. We walked over to a nearby neighborhood and met several of her 11 siblings and their children. The hospitality of her family was incredible. We were offered a hearty breakfast and coffee (which they ran out to purchase so we could have), followed by several other offers as we went house-to-house meeting everyone. Her nieces and nephews were wonderful, and clearly adored their aunt. Everywhere we went people offered to serve us and one of her sisters who owns  a small shop insisted that we go in and pick out something to eat. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, we uncomfortably accepted all their generosity and assured them that their offerings were more than enough. They all expressed desire to do more and felt limited. Maria even took us to a vendor and bought Christina and I both a pair of beautiful earrings and ankle bracelets which she adamantly refused money for. I was overcome by her generosity, and so grateful to have this experience. What a beautiful family I was fortunate enough to meet. They all insisted that we come back to visit and requested that we come to stay with them for a weekend. Maria was so happy to be able to introduce us to her loved ones; I hope to return again!

I’m all packed and ready for our first field visit to Kopal. I am not sure that we will have internet, but it will prove to be an unforgettable week for sure. Expect one heck of a blog!! My nerves are running high, but I can’t wait to see what the week has in store. Hoping that all goes smoothly, and I am able to cherish each and every moment I have there. We will be leaving by train tonight in just a few hours, around 7:30, to return by Saturday. I’m not sure what to expect from my first-ever train ride, it will be overnight, so I’m just hoping I get a little sleep in.
Blessings to you all….
Love & Prayers,
Mic

  • Onam (rajesh1128.wordpress.com)

Celebrating Mary & a LOT of firsts!

Once again, I’ve put off my blog post for a day too many. Bear with me.

I’m pleased to say I’ve officially been in India for a week! Yesterday (Saturday) was officially our first day really moving around the city. Our day started off early enough to milk the cows. Oh wait- that only works to say when I’m at home. (Sometimes I think I’m funnier than what I am….) Anyway, so we left campus at 5:45 a.m. We traveled by a chartered bus to Bangalore.Yesterday marked the beginning of a celebration of the Virgin Mary. Indians of all religious affiliations attend the Basilica of St. Mary in Bangalore to honor Mary on her birthday. Our group headed out early in order to beat the crowds. Since the majority of our SJPD group is not Catholic, we picked up Francis, one of the staff who works at Visthar to guide us.  We arrived around 6:30 and already the streets were full of people bustling about. Not to mention all of the vehicles and autorickshaws! (More on that later…). The bus dropped us off a few blocks from the basilica, so we had a little walking to do. There were speakers set up on many of the street signs/poles which was cool because they were projecting the Mass from the Basilica throughout the town. It was so cool for me to be able to hear the Mass, which was being said in English, en route! I recognized some of the songs they were saying and was able to follow along with the Mass in my head. By the time we arrived at the Basilica, there were vendors everywhere- it was clearly a big party for Mary! Among other things, there were fresh bouquets and garlands of beautiful vibrant flowers being sold. Candles could be purchased to be lit in Mary’s honor and brought inside the basilica as well. Vendors on the street were selling everything from jewelry to produce, to trinkets and kids’ toys. The best way I can describe it is that it was like a street fair. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood and happy to be there. We stood in a large line and slowly made our way with the masses of people inside the cathedral. There was a screen outside showing what was going on inside. The Mass was very lively and upbeat. As people waited in line, I could see many of them praying and clutching rosaries. I can’t describe the music, but it contributed to the lively atmosphere and made me feel alive. Once we made it into the basilica, we stood in the crowd of people celebrating Mass. We were close enough to witness all the happenings at the altar. I’m not sure how long we stood there, as time flew by for me. I felt like I was in a completely different, yet familiar world. The Mass that was being said in English had come to a close, and was now being said in what I later found out was Tamil. Though I had no idea what was being said, I could pick up on cues from the congregation as to where we were in the Mass. I was able to follow along, for the most part, in my head in English. I noticed the translation took longer than what it would have in English as I finished many of the prayers/recitations far quicker than the congregation. Unfortunately, we left as communion was being distributed; so I was unable to receive-though it would have been wonderful to have been able to. I found out from Francis that the Basilica says Mass in 5 of the most common languages. Everyday they say Mass in each language: first Tamil, then Kannada, followed by English, Malayam(?), and Hindi. How cool!!  It was a very powerful experience for me to see so many people gathered to celebrate something so dear to my heart. Through all the diversity and change I’ve been a part of in the last week; it was astonishing to me to be able to feel such a connection with such a vast diversity of people.  Happy Birthday Mary!

After the St. Mary’s festival, we went to the oldest market in Bangalore and walked around for a few minutes. Had I been thinking, I would have bought all of the pomegranates they had. Pomegranates are my new thing. I like them at home, but they don’t even compare to the ones here. I wish we had farmers’ markets like the ones they have here!! We are cautioned to not eat the produce unless they can be cooked, peeled, & thoroughly washed. Everything looked & smelled SO good.

We made it back to campus by 8:45- just in time for breakfast! 🙂 After breakfast we just sat around and relaxed. Of course, the motivated people journaled or blogged… others took “me” time in the form of naps and/or  kindle time. You be the judge as to where I fit in… 😉 Let’s just say I had good intentions to start out with. 🙂 Lunch was at 12:30, afterward, we once again crammed into a bus and headed to Bangalore to do some shopping. My was that an experience! Between dodging cars, trying to read our own poorly drawn maps, and doing our best to avoid all the forceful street sellers (I was approached multiple times to buy a large map, homemade drums, and smoke/buy a pipe more times than I can count) who were just unwilling to take no for an answer- I’d say we had an eventful trip! We did manage to get a little shopping in before finding our way back to our meeting spot at 5:15. If I learned anything from this experience, it was that Bangalore would be wise to invest in some street signs! I’m happy to report that I didn’t buy any drums or pipes. Although, I did manage to get the drum-seller to lower his price from 700 rupees to 200. When I still refused, he asked what I would be willing to buy it for. At this point, I probably would have paid him to go away and stop heckling me! The more I thought of it later, I should have bought one for my little brother who just happens to be a drummer boy! Aaah… maybe next time. 🙂 (Any suggestions on how one would pack a small drum in a carry-on?)  I picked up a few necessities- mostly soap and toothpaste that I’d not packed much of. I did pick up one outfit as well. Can’t wait to model that for you all! I’m excited to go to the city again; I was not as overwhelmed by all the chaos as I thought I would be, so I’m glad!

Once we got back we were pretty worn out, so we played cards for awhile and went to bed. Our group woke up around 2:00 am to meet one of our members who had to arrive late due to her Visa issues. It’s nice to finally have the whole gang here!

This morning I slept in 🙂 It felt pretty great, not going to lie. I skipped breakfast, but woke up feeling great! Sleep was needed. After lunch, we watched a Bollywood movie, Monsoon Wedding, as a group. Check it out if you can! 🙂  We will have a movie screening on campus every Sunday. It was fun to watch together and nice to just unwind to. Four girls from town joined us as well. They ranged from middle school to  college aged. Afterward we sat around and asked them questions about issues from the movie, life in general, and thoughts about living as women in India. They also asked us questions about our lives in the US. I even got to answer some farm-related questions! They were astounded to learn about my family farm; to them our acreage and herd size seemed unheard of. I explained that our farm was small compared to many; they couldn’t even fathom how this was possible. Another moment to count my blessings!

A group of 6 of us decided to venture out this evening before dinner to the market. We needed a few things that we hadn’t had the chance to pick up. It was about a 35 minute walk there in the rain showers. We walked back with one of the girls, Vijay. It was nice to have another chance to talk with and get to know her better! She assured us she would come back to visit-can’t wait!  The market was nice; I was surprised at the small size, yet vast quantity of products they offered. As I told my sister, I was good about my impulse buying. I put a lot of thought into the first chocolate bar that I bought, just not the 2nd and 3rd 🙂 By the time we finished our shopping, we knew we wouldn’t be able to walk back before it got dark so we opted to embark on our first autorickshaw experience! Other than the communication barrier, it was a good time! Though we were sure we were about to hit multiple vehicles/pedestrians/dogs/etc our driver proved us wrong. We got back safe and sound feeling pretty proud of ourselves! For those of you that don’t know what an autorickshaw is, google it!

Here is where I end our very one-way conversation. Thinking of you all often! I checked out my blog stats today and found that I have had 330 views. How this is even possible, I have no idea! I’m astonished to say the very least. That’s a lot to live up to! Again, be sure to let me know if there are questions you have- I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks for being such loyal readers despite the length!

Lots of love~Mic

Processing, but still LOVING!

Hello again friends! I sit here not quite sure where to start. So maybe I will just start out with some fun stuff and hit the heavy later on!

No coconut tree climbing for me today, but I did get a brief lesson in one of the widely used languages, Kannada! Let me tell you, my language learning skills have not improved overseas. I am fascinated with Kannada, however am starting to wonder if it is something I should just observe and enjoy rather than try to “master”. It was a brief lesson, basic phrases and learning a song to be sung by our group when we venture out on field visits.  There will be more lessons to come, so I’m not writing it off yet, but certainly don’t expect fluency upon my return. Dhanyavadagalu! (Thank you!)

I’m also pleased to report that I’ve only had a few mosquito bites and that the malaria meds seem to be doing their job thus far. I did have a run-in with a few ornery ants yesterday that bit me repeatedly, leaving my finger red and burning, but that went away after an hour or two 🙂 Thankfully the gecko that has taken up residence in our bathroom has no urge to attack. It seems pretty content for now just watching me from the ceiling.I guess I’d rather know where he is than have to guess……… 😉

Still tired, but not as bad as I expected! Though I refuse to acknowledge that it’s jet lag! We have a morning and afternoon tea break that is customary in India. We pause our classes and enjoy a cup or 2 (or 3…. they’re small) and light snack. So the 3 opportunities for coffee throughout the day may have a role in the lack of jet lag. 🙂 I may work to implement such coffee breaks in the U.S. upon my return.

Another thing I didn’t mention in my last post was how much I am enjoying the food here. The staff on campus cook our meals for us everyday. We have breakfast and dinner with various people who live or work on campus and then enjoy our lunch with all of the staff that work here. It’s a great way to branch out and get to engage in new conversations every day! The food is always delicious, and I am proud of myself for tolerating it so well. For those of you who know me, spicy food is not one of my fortes. Before I left the states I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to put my game face on and eat it. This has definitely helped me to enjoy all the new foods I’ve been trying! They’re quite spicy, but I never have any problems eating them, though my mouth is usually on fire by the end of the meal 🙂 I’ve decided that I need to start carrying around a tiny notebook to record the names of the dishes I enjoy so that I have an idea of what to order when we are eating out! This would have been helpful yesterday for sure!

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday we had an “Alternate Tour of Bangalore” scheduled. We left campus around 7:45 and walked about half an hour into the city where we stopped for breakfast. We ate at a small cafe and had our teacher, Roshen, order for us. I should also mention that we’ve had a lot of discussion about poverty levels in India, and about how little people must live on each day. We were given 30 rupees for the day and had to eat 2 meals with this money. (30 rupees is approximately 50 cents in the U.S.) Our breakfast cost us 10 rupees so that was nice! After breakfast we all got on a bus (didn’t need to use our rupees) and rode to a nearby neighborhood. People seemed curious as to why there was a group of 20+ white people riding the city bus, I’m sure we were quite the sight! I felt like a guest on the bus and definitely out of place. We got off deeper in the city and met up with two other staff members from Visthar, Asha & David. From there, they escorted us to one of the slums in the area. 

We spent the next few hours walking through the slum and observing the conditions the people were living in. It felt uncomfortable to be in such an invasive position, as we were literally walking through the essence of these people’s lives. We broke off into 2 smaller groups which helped. Many people stopped to watch us and were curious as to why we were there. David translated for us telling them that we were students from the US and he was ensuring that we see the people of India and not just the surface of it. Many of the people seemed to be pleased with this explanation. It was definitely hard to walk through and see all the people who were just trying to earn a living by doing various trades. We saw garbage sorters/collectors sifting through piles of trash trying to find something of value to sell. There was evidence of entrepreneurship as well- people who owned shops to tailor/iron clothes, women cooking and selling food, produce vendors, and other small shops. Without minimizing the severity of the situation, I do feel that I was equipped to cope with much of the poverty that surrounded us. I was reminded of many of the mission trips I’ve gone on at home. Evidence of poverty is everywhere, we need only open our eyes to it.

We also stopped at a school and talked with the headmaster. He told us about the school system and the law that mandates that children 14 and under are given free and compulsory education. However, he also told us that there are around 1,000 children in the area, yet only 82 came to school that day. There are several schools in the area, however it is nearly impossible to monitor attendance. In this particular public school, children are give iron tablets, vitamin A, and a midday meal with free milk as a supplemental Healthcare initiative. The children are also given free textbooks. He then went on to say that more parents choose to send their children to private schools which do not provide all of these amenities to children while also charging high rates. Private schools offer English as well as consistent teaching of classes and material. (Teachers do not show up regularly to public schools.)  We ended up parting when he mistook us for missionaries, and started asking us what we could do to help the school and the poor children. What a difference in school systems compared to what I’m used to!  

It was an insightful experience walking through the streets and having such an intimate experience with the people of the slum.This slum was described as a midscale one; there are better slums, and much worse. I am glad to have been able to tour this one, and am anxious about others that we will surely encounter.  I reminded myself to look for the good in the situation and not try to decide what constituted happiness. These people made the best of their situations and reminded me how privileged I am. Be sure to take the time to count your blessings too!

After our slum tour, we were taken to an upscale mall nearby. (Well-played Roshen!) We walked into the mall and felt as if we were walking backing into the U.S. There was popular music playing that I listen to often at home, advertisements depicting great trends, and ritzy stores everywhere we turned. We ventured up to the food court to see what we could afford for lunch. Much to our dismay, there was nothing available for our remaining 20 rupees! We couldn’t even find  something for under 100 to share between 5 of us. I was frustrated by the fact that this mall was so close to so many slums and that many of the people in the area couldn’t even afford food here, much less get past the guards at the doors preventing any “low class” people from entering. The distribution of wealth is shocking. I don’t understand how there can be slums next to million dollar houses and industries. We stayed outside the mall to debrief as a group for awhile. After a few minutes Roshen decided we were getting too much attention and decided to take us to a more affordable area for lunch. We later learned that this “attention” we were getting was actually a group of security guards who had surrounded us and were suspicious of why we were there. Apparently there have been many riots at this and other malls that have bulldozed slums and built on the razed property. (Insert frustration here.)

We went to a small cafe and ate lunch. This is where it would have been helpful to know names of food! I had Asha order for me; whatever I had was delicious! 🙂 Here we were approached by a few beggars, and kind of floundered on how to handle that. I’m sure there will be many more experiences like these- not that it makes it any easier…  

When we got back to campus we had a pretty low key night, which was nice because we needed to process our events of the day. The staff had prepared homemade pizzas for us, which was fantastic! Some “home comfort” was just what we needed.  

Of the things that my eyes were opened to, one that made me think the most was learning that fresh water is a major issue for the people of India. For people in upper class apartments, it costs approx 6 rupees/kiloliter and they have running water. People outside the city (slums too) pay 25 rupees/kiloliter and need it delivered. For those in the rural and often poorest parts, they also need water delivered and pay a rate of 200 rupees/kiloliter. I’m frustrated that such a basic necessity is denied to so many people! Especially at such outrageous prices to people who can’t afford it anyway! It’s WATER! With my 30 rupees I wouldn’t have had enough to buy additional water for the day, let alone medical insurance, or cover other living expenses! WOAH PERSPECTIVE. 

Today was not as intense as yesterday, though we did start out with an organized debate about a social justice issue involving Coca Cola Co. and a Indian Village affected by their business. (I won’t go into details, but it was insightful!)  We discussed notions of justice as fairness for a great deal afterward as well. It reemphasized the importance of identifying different angles to every scenario.

I’m currently trying to figure out plans as to where I would like to travel for my fall break, as we need to have those in order soon! Lots to do!  

I’m pretty sure I will be apologizing often for my rambling on here… I have so much I want to share but am omitting a ton of it to save you all from going blind from staring at a computer screen this long, or potentially falling asleep from boredom. Thanks to all who powered through to the end.  No promises that they’ll ever be any shorter. I’ll do my best 🙂
🙂 Lots of LOVE to you!!

Blessings,

Mic