Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nearly Circumnavigated

On this trip - in its entirety - we will have traveled 20,625 miles, just a few thousand miles short of the entire circumference of the globe (around 24,000). What a distance traveled over only eleven days.

Coir Factory in the Throes of Globalization

Produced from the husks of soaked coconuts, these men and women spin, weave, dye, and make products we see in the states (doormats, rugs, and other durable goods). This factory is collectively owned, thus insuring each worker is both a shareholder and stakeholder in the company. Furthermore, there is wage equity between women and men. Unfortunately for this outfit they've gone for 240 to 16 workers, given the scarcity of skilled labor and the competition with large, multinational firms.

Fine Art Form Concludes Agenda

We were able to see a very dynamic and allegorical play put to music and fabulous costumes called Kathakali. Originating in the 17th century, actors remain silent an communicate using hand gestures and dramatic facial expressions. Delightful performance and great way to conclude our time here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spectacular Encounter

From Emmanuel Opara:

Our trip to India without mincing words was a rich experience, informative and educational. The state of the art monument, parks, museums, temples, both Christian and Hindu is an amazing testimony of beautiful nation. However, among all the exciting places we visited I was mostly humbled to step my feet in the resting place of one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. The Tomb of St. Thomas in Santhome cathedral Basilica in Chennai. It was a consummation of my faith as a Catholic. The tomb of St. Thomas the apostle indeed represented the quietness and peacefulness reminiscent of a Saint. It is my singular honor and privilege to be involved in this travel course that had made all these possible and accessible in my lifetime. May God take the glory - Amen.

Venice of India?

This is what we say to the houseboat.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Faith in the Future

From Laura Guber:

Yesterday's visit to Sevalaya was heartwarming and inspirational to say the least. An organization that began just as an orphanage has now grown to serve 30 plus communities and thousands of people day in and day out. Spending time in the school was my particular favorite portion of our day there. Being able to meet and interact with the children was amazing. The first class visited was full of 3 and 4 year olds that spoke no English. This room made conversation difficult, but the smiles on their faces showed excitement of our presence there. Watching them do their daily routines the children appeared well taught and very well behaved in the school setting. The teacher showed us some of the work they had done and I was amazed at the finger paintings of the alphabet and numbers they had completed and how well done it was for children being just 3 and 4 years old. The next classroom my group visited was full of 13 and 14 year olds. Walking in the room was quiet as they were working on a reading exam. We entered the room quietly trying not to disturb them and that silence was quickly broken by the children asking questions and wanting pictures with us. After a few minutes of trying to keep the class focused and continuing with their reading exam the teacher realized it was a lost cause with us in the room and allowed us to interact with the students. Immediately the children swarmed each of us wanting to know our names and began bombarding is for pictures. Once they got pictures from us the biggest smiles came across their faces. Being in India I have seen that the children are thrilled to see us walk in a room. Seeing the joy on their faces brings warmth to my heart, a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Coming into this trip I had no idea what to really expect in India. Francis had explained to us, but I was still coming in completely open trying to expect nothing and see what happened. In doing so I have been pleasantly surprised. The country had amazed me. It's a beautiful place full if gorgeous individuals with big hearts and lots of talent. My experiences at Sevalaya yesterday have left me humbled and speechless just like many other adventures endured on this trip thus far. The culture in this country is rich. The history is deep. The future is bright.

Sweetness of Sevalaya

From Casey McNamara:

Yesterday we went to Sevalaya, a school, elderly care facility, and an orphanage. We spent most of the day in the classrooms with the children. I was so happy to see how proud each student was of their work. They all seemed so happy to be in school and to be learning. They were excited to learn about us. They asked us about our names, jobs, lucky number and color, national bird and flower. Shea and I even sang our national anthem upon the children's request.

The program was astounding, Sevalaya has done so much to help educate their children. It is located in a rural area of the state. Rural areas have a hard time maintaining the same level of education as urban areas. Sevalaya, however, has been able to push their students and their educational standards so that they can have test scores equal to the students of urban areas, even though they lack some facilities and funding.

It was a very uplifting experience. This organization sought out to do so much, and in a short time has achieved many of their goals.

Doubting Thomas

From Shawnalee:

This morning we visited the cathedral and tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle. Being raised catholic, this was one of the most memorable sites I've seen in Chennai. It wasn't the same experience I've had in other cathedrals in the US or Europe. This experience was quiet but touching. Seeing a saint's tomb has always been a desire of mine. With St. Thomas also being a martyr, it was clear that many people come, rooted in their faith, to show respect for someone who made an impact on the Indian culture so long ago.

Two Faith Traditions

This morning we visited two of the most holy sites in Chennai - a Hindu temple called Kapaleeswarar, where 200,000 people are expected to gather for a festival on Sunday, and the Tomb and Cathedral of St. Thomas (who was killed in Chennai in 72CE).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Notion of Solidarity


From Brittany:

From day one this has been such an amazing journey that has taught me so much! India is such a humble and family oriented place, if one doesn't have a family they make their own, with the love and inviting compassion that they have towards one another; that is within their class or casts. Today we went to Sevalaya which is a school (elementary-high school) and orphanage for the youth and elderly. The kids were so sweet and just wanted to be around us, to known out names, where we were from, and they were in COMPLETE AMAZEMENT with with taking pictures!

With just being in for the last week I feel like I have come to realize and seen a different perspective of peace, love, and happiness and I hope that the world will one day realize that material things mean nothing, the untouchables and the values of life an love are everything.

Sevalaya: Clear Option for the Poor

Hearing morning songs and meditation by Primary school children, watching High Schoolers taking examinations and visiting classrooms interacting through language and pictures - this morning at Sevalaya showed us the enthusiasm and diligence of students learning so they can make a difference in their own life and the life of their community. Serving 35 villages and over 1,400 students (as well as a clinic, a cow refuge, an organic farm and a home for the elderly), this is clearly working towards the betterment of those most vulnerable and least well off.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photos from Tuesday's Visits


From Bri Tarr:

Yesterday we visited the fishing community. We were immediately welcomed when we stepped foot off of the bus. Children were grabbing our hands shaking them and asking our was beautiful! The entire experience was definitely an eye opening one not in a bad way but something you would never see in the United States. Here life is different it is simplistic, family oriented, and some would say slightly appalling. The people of this community were so welcoming and friendly. Which is quite different then some areas in the U.S. where people push away outsiders. We learned that the people here suffer from inequality issues that most of us could never imagine because of our privilege. Such as, women don't really have a lot of choices or rights here where as in the states we feel its our privilege, our right, and our freedoms which should automatically be given to us. The group that out reaches to this community informs, educates, and empowers the community especially women to want more. When asked to speak each woman had a different story but all had one commonality and that was empowerment. Empowerment to overcome many things and obstacles.
While walking through the streets and seeing these people's livelihood I am humbled by what I have and I am taken aback by not acknowledging the simple things in life. Even though there is a lack in cleanliness throughout there is a sense of pride for upkeep for their own space. They took us into their homes (which ranged from cubicles and huts to apartment buildings) and showed us how they lived their daily lives. The smell of animal feces, dead fish, sea, and rot is their lively hood. Like one woman said without this smell, without the fish we have nothing we are nothing! If you would visit here many people would describe the animals, smells, trash, and filth that surround them as disgusting. Others would say it was beautiful. I would fall on the side of beautiful. Out of all of the places we have been I have enjoyed this experience the most. The sight of women, children, and men covered in filth and human feces leaves me with the impression that we should be thankful for clean water, running water, a place to live, and many other things. To not take family for granted or our friends because without them where is our identity? In money or selfishness? We as a community need to take care of others and not push them love and compassion to all human kind! We all need to be the change we want to see and not be bystanders when we see injustices. This community has left me with an experience that I will never forget and I can't thank the people of the fishing village enough for their hospitality and warm welcomes. My heart is alive for the people of India and I don't want to go home.

Steller discussion at Stella Maris

From Shea Ketchum:

Just coming from Stella Maris college where we had an interesting dialogue with second year social work students. The discussion of women's rights in India was very different then what I as a western minded woman imagined. These women know they are living in a strict patriarchal society and yet, instead of resisting as I would, they more or less go along with it. When asked what plans they had for their life in the next ten years most all planned to be married, only a few intended to continue study. This response prompted a question from me, do any of the girls not want to be married. Despite being given the choice to not marry, they all seemed to desire it.
Another surprising reaction was when the students were asked how having a female chief minister had impacted their lives. All of the students agreed that she was no different then other politicians playing to the minority voters. She did not get into office by breaking boundaries but by following the rules. In the US when a woman is elected to any major office it is celebrated but the reaction here seems almost apathetic.
It is good to see women progressing here in India beyond the boundaries of tradition and I believe there is more to come.

Intercultural Dialogue on Women

Joined by 2nd year social work students at Stella Maris College, we had an exchange of our respective views on India and the US, in particular as they relate to the complicated roles of women as workers, wives, public figures, students and citizens within patriarchal societies. Hopefully you'll hear from our students here on this subject as we had quite a fun and enlightening conversation.

Talk with Dr. Gladston Xavier, Dean of Arts

We were quite fortunate to hear about the caste system in India (including a critique of its origins and function in contemporary society) as well as a history of conflict, violence and displacement in Sri Lanka since 1948 (year of independence from British rule). An amazingly cohesive, in-depth, and challenging interaction with a dynamic and knowledgable professor.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Loyola College Chennai

A national seminar, Youth and Violence: A Social Work Perspective, begins the day. We were able to experience the opening session, hearing speakers from a variety of areas of the College. We also had a chance to have a brief meeting with Sister Arul Mary (CSJ, Lyon), who along with three other CSJ sisters is studying at Loyola.

Origanti After Dark

Francis needed a midnight snack (wasn't able to eat much at dinner), so we found a great, little shop where this bird flew down a chute to his plate. Great story, ask him about it sometime.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Please Sir, No More

The Rajasthani meal we ate tonight was incredibly flavorful, included a host of dishes - sweet grains, peppery tomatoes, fried dumplings and breads, and aromatic legumes - and all agreed was quite filling (the introduction of new fare seemed endless). It is understandable why the bus ride back is so quiet :). This ends our time in Northern India (in what is called the Golden Triangle area). Tomorrow morning we head southeast to Francis' hometown of Chennai, where we will (speaking of food) share meals with his family in their homes. By the way, this picture represents food for one...seriously.

Complexities of Justice

From Leslie Dorrough Smith

Although we're here in India considering issues of social justice, it's hard not to be struck by the fact that "justice" can mean radically different things in different circumstances. In our sightseeing yesterday, many of us observed women offering strangers the chance to hold their infant children in exchange for money; others offered us photographic access to their children for a few coins. While many of us commented on how, in our culture, such behaviors would be considered child exploitation, it's hard to ignore the fact that our gut reactions are the products of a privileged culture where relatively few of us are forced into such behaviors. We only see it as exploitation because we have the luxury of doing so, to put it simply.

A scholar named Jonathan Z. Smith notes that scholars have a responsibility to "make the strange familiar and the familiar strange." In other words, those who study others must recognize that even the most "bizarre" things that others do have rather mundane features, and at the same time, we must question those things that we take for granted and assume are "normal" to everyone else. For instance, while many US women enjoy wearing the latest fashion trends, many other cultures find Western clothing sexually exploitive of the women who wear them. How one evaluates clothing thus depends on perspectives inspired by a tremendously complex set of circumstances.

There are are no easy answers here; that is one certainty of India, it seems. And just how we conceptualize "justice" in India is equally complex.

Shree Carpet & Textile Mahal

Local artisan market selling gorgeous fabrics. Here Shawnalee, Brittany, and Martha are donning some fine sarees.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Some Purple Mixed With Amber

Inside Amber Fort

Martha and Laura 

Avila University professors Dr. Kelly Watson (History) and Dr. Leslie Dorrough Smith (Religious Studies)

Martha's & Franco's Preferred Method of Transport

Going to see the Amber fort outside Jaipur.


From Shawnalee:

Before coming to India, I had mixed emotions. I was eager to see how the other half of the world lives and all of the wonders that India had to offer. At the same time I felt somber towards the idea of experiencing the poverty throughout the country. I knew that nothing would prepare me for the injustice we would encounter. Though I am not too familiar with the Hinduism religion, I had the perspective that how the Dahlits or the "untouchables" lived their lives was their fate. Now seeing first hand, I have changed my perspective. I believe that it is a form of oppression and their lives have been an example of how knowledge can be power. Though, I'm not sure if they are truly empowered to better their lives or circumstances allow them too. India has been absolutely magnificent yet humbling at the same time. The culture is very rich and this trip has fortunately taken me beyond me comfort zone. I'm looking forward to the days to come and reflecting on what we have encountered in this country.

Ride Through Old Delhi

This is from Friday morning, our first group activity in India (just now able to upload).

Our Katha Vachak

This is our storyteller, negotiator, scholar, insider, world traveler, and now friend Ashish with Sita.

Friday, March 8, 2013

In Our Entirety

Second Cousin

The most understated and neglected structure in the world - the entryway to the Taj Mahal.

Delhi to Agra

Brick kilns with 10 meter high chimneys; a running peacock; 5 foot high piles of discs/patties meticulously stacked (turns out it is cow dung for use for fuel); woman in a bright orange dress and scarf threshing wheat alone in a large field; short, fat coconut trees; children playing a pickup game of cricket; massive power line towers to feed the cities; circular thatched dwellings with thatched roofs; a tea stall selling sweet chai; a family resting together in the shade of a cluster of trees, not far from a huge pile of harvested wheat; and of course, an absolutely clear pale blue sky. Who needs seatback entertainment monitors with all this variety and vibrancy on a five hour drive? Oh yes, lastly, students resting and diligently studying.

World Heritage site in Delhi

Qutb Minar, built in 1192CE. Here we see Emmanuel in front of it in the first photo and then Stacy, Laura and Franco.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Flipping the Script

Hopefully in coming days many perspectives will be shared here but as we begin our adventures let me share a brief experience that has left me pondering it. Upon disembarking from our plane in Chicago from KCI and entering into the international terminal, I approached the water fountain for a drink. A man in a dark suit coat was at one of the two adjoining fountains holding down the button with one hand and filling water into his other hand to drink from. I came beside him, pushed the button, and drank straight from the flowing water stream. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed he paused and was watching me. It has left me wondering what went through his mind - was he thinking "how odd that he doesn't fill his hand" or "hmmm, that's a different way to drink" or something else entirely. By being the one observed it gave me pause that as we are entering into a context where we will feel like observers, it is truly a two way street when differences bump into each other. Additionally, in great expectation of being surprised and enlightened by differences we will encounter, I didn't expect to bump into a fellow traveler, possibly coming the other way, who may have felt the same.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Leaving the Shore

After a need for reticketing with an extremely helpful Etihad clerk in O'Hare's international terminal, we are boarding a less than full plane and were assured that dinner would be served 30 minutes into the flight. We will see how refreshed we feel half a day from now. Francis is here diligently documenting our spaciousness.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Both Here & There

In anticipation of the thousands of miles we'll cover in the coming weeks, it bears mentioning that these miles (or, in fact, kilometers in India) will be widely varied in how they are traversed. For starters, the standard way of covering large distances:

Once we then land after one domestic and two international flights on two different airlines (at 3am local time, March 8th), we'll travel in something like this to our hotel and around as a group during the days:

 Many days though we may very well find ourselves traveling in any of the following ways:

I'm sure some ways are not accounted for here, so you'll have to check back in a week or so to see what is missing :).