Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Student Post: Julianna Gibson on Homestays!

This post was written by Julianna and originally posted on her personal blog.

A Weekend To Remember!
by Julianna Gibson
Julianna poses with a carom board.
So this weekend we did our homestay!  Most of the group had a free weekend, but it was full of festival activities like a dance competition and the fashion show in which I narrowly escaped participating.  But one of the families in the church asked for two girls to volunteer to do the homestay a weekend early, so Kendra and I volunteered. We went to stay with Vasantha and Sam David, and they were the nicest people ever!  So hospitable and kind.  Sam bought a carom board, and he said it was an early present for Vasantha's birthday, but I think it was more because we were staying there.  They were shocked to hear that we had never played carom, but we learned pretty quickly.  It's a lot like pool and shuffleboard.

We also ate guava for the first time!  Uncle made us weigh ourselves when we first got there and then told us that he was going to make sure we gained 5 kg before we left!  He never weighed us again, but he really was determined to feed us as much as he could.  The food they made for us was wonderful.  Auntie tuned down the spiciness on purpose for our sakes, and we were endlessly grateful.

Julianna and Kendra in their saris and their host family at church on Sunday.

We also went shopping and bought sarees!  It was so much fun!  We also saw a regional film.  Completely in Tamil, and completely awesome.  It is called "Vettai," and I kid you not, this is actually a song in it!  Please watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyc5WmYJaCI.  Apparently all movies have 4 or 5 songs in them, no matter what genre the movie is.  It makes things way more fun!

Text and photo by Julianna Gibson and Kendra Fiddler('s camera?)

Monday, January 30, 2012

In Pictures: India's Next Top Model

This post was originally written by ISP Spring '12 student Hannah Brown on her personal blog. Enjoy!

Jessica and Ashleigh workin' it. Can't you just hear Right Said Fred's "Too Sexy" playing in your head?

Tyra Banks would be proud. Well, probably not. The dresses we wore were not exactly top model designs. And the stage was not exactly spouting fire. But I was still a model.
Ashleigh (far left), Hannah (third from left), and Jessica (middle) pose in a lineup at the Festival of Arts and Culture Extravaganza (FACE) this past weekend.
The other week a girl stopped me and asked if I would be a model. There is a fashion design class at the college and a fashion show for a big state competition. So some other girls and myself were given dresses to try on.  These dresses were crazy! Its as if they put every style, fabric, design, and bling imaginable into every piece!
Jamie, Hannah, Ashleigh and Jessica practice their model faces.
If we had any idea what we were getting ourselves into we would not have agreed to take part in this show. The girls told us that we had practice every day from 8-5 which is insane! On Friday we showed up at 8 and of course since we are on Indian time they didn’t start practicing till after 9. So on Saturday we decided to be Indian and so showed up at 9 thinking that practice would be just about starting. Instead, they told us that it had just finished but would start again at 10:30. We live about a 20 minute walk from college so walking all the way back did not appeal to us. Instead we sat around and did a bit of homework. Then we showed up at exactly 10:30 and ended up sitting around until after 12 when we ran through our sequence once. We kept sitting there because we were told that practice was still going on. We found ourselves just sitting around doing nothing. It turned out that we were at school for 12 hours and literally practiced for 15 minutes! This is a prime example of India time.
A lineup of entries
Part of the problem was that whenever someone would give instructions, they would speak in Tamil so we never had any idea what was going on! Even the modeling coach would tell people where to walk and how to pose in Tamil!! Very difficult to know what we were supposed to be doing!
Hannah working the audience!
Anyways, the show went off without a hitch and was actually very fun.  The crowd was crazy and it was fun to have friends in the audience. Since I was appearing in two different sequences and dresses it was definitely a struggle to get changed in time and remember all the different moves. I’m glad that I’ve had this experience, but I’m so thankful it is over!

Jessica and the creator of her fashion show attire!
Text and photos by Hannah Brown.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Pictures:: Amazing Race: Coimbatore!

Jessica, Ashleigh and Jamie pose outside of "Hot Chocolate," a neighborhood favorite.

We wanted to share one of the highlights from orientation weekend for those of you reading from home!  In an effort to encourage our students to explore the city they’ll call home for the next 14 weeks (week number one having already passed), ISP staff wrote up a Coimbatore edition of the popular TV show “The Amazing Race."
Hot Chocolate sells some delightful cakes and pastries and, as this team discovered, also actually does sell hot chocolate!
It's important to ISP Staff, for reasons larger than the need to fight jet-lag, that orientation weekend isn't just made up of lectures and other events which will let students fall asleep. 
Jessica and Ashleigh pose with our favorite tailor, who works at a little local shop called "Feelings" located directly across the street from college.
In teams of three or four, our students were turned loose during orientation their first weekend in Coimbatore. It was the the first time in their busy orientation schedule that they were on their own, sent on their way with enough money to cover a bus fare for each of them, cell phones should they get lost and a list of objectives to accomplish over a three hour time span.

Jessica buys Chips Ahoy cookies, newly available at our local grocery store!
Staff’s hopes for the Amazing Race were that students, inspired (bribed?) by a sense of competition, would begin to break down some of the hesitations related to talking to people whose primary language is not their own, give them very real opportunities to learn where significant landmarks and locations are around the city as well as to help push and pull our group of eleven toward being able to navigate the intimidating ins and outs of life in India and in Coimbatore a little more confidently.

Celiz, doing a fine job of trying to push CBE's Tower of Pisa back up straight and earning a point for her team in doing so!
Their objectives ranged from things like finding and photographing the neighborhood temple to asking a local tailor how much it costs to have a kurta (traditional Indian women’s top, required dress code for classes at our partner college) hand tailored to their size to finding their way to the poo (flower) market and taking some photographs of a team member there. They visited grocery stores, fabric shops, clothing stores, restaurants and book stores, traveling by foot, by autorickshaw, and even by public bus. (They would have tried traveling by elephant, too, if it was available to them!)
Jake poses with a packet of Indian sweets
Fighting jet-lag and India’s tendency to overwhelm all of one’s five senses, our students did swimmingly!
Jamie flashes the camera her excited face while posing on top of CBE's "London Bridge"
We're hoping to celebrate their success by taking the team that accomplished the largest number of tasks out for what has been dubbed the "Winner Dinner" at a local restaurant this week to reward the students for their hard work and navigational skills!
In case you didn't get enough of Celiz trying to push and pull the Tower of Pisa back up!
Photos by Alyssa Brokaw, Celiz Aguilar and their teammates.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Good Theologian is a Lover of God…

A great theologian is a lover of life.
ISP students on the porch of the TTS guesthouse
This statement is true of the theologians at Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, otherwise known as TTS. As you might have read here, the ISPers spent their weekend in the city of Madurai. In addition to visiting the distinguished Meenakshi Temple, they visited several projects that TTS students are involved in, including a home for abandoned women and a home for children infected with HIV/AIDS. The structure of this seminary is incredibly unique in that the students spend their first and fourth years on campus, in the classrooms, and their second and third years off campus, living in the slums and living in a village. The seminary also employs “differently abled” people on their campus to help run their book printing facility.
ISP students visiting with the grampas!
It is evident that this community is filled with great theologians. Their actions reflect a deep understanding of what it means to love life, particularly as a gift from God. The people who benefit from the service projects are those who are neglected, ignored, and mistreated by the majority or society. They are often hopeless and destitute, having been abandoned by those who ought to be caring for them. They are the faceless and the nameless. They are the elderly with no one to support them, the women who have been abused, and the children who are infected.
Some of the women at the vocational rehabilitation center.
They are the people who the ISPers do not often see on a daily basis, both back home and here in India. Hannah Brown had this to say about the weekend:

“I really enjoyed the visits to the service projects, in fact, I wish we could have stayed longer. Everyone at the seminary was welcoming and friendly. It was great to see that they want their students to get hands on experience and practically apply what they’ve learned. Also, through this trip I feel as though we were able to expand our view of India. We were taken outside of Coimbatore and we were able to see more of what the common Indian experiences.”
A sweet face!
The group learned, enjoyed, and experienced. More importantly, though, the group was challenged. Their understanding of what it means to be a student and a servant was deepened. Their perceptions of the nameless and the faceless were altered. And they were challenged in what it means to be a Christian in a cross-cultural context. This is only the beginning. 
Playing on the swings on Sunday at the home for HIV and AIDS orphans
Photos and words both by Celiz Aguilar, our ISP Social Media Intern for the Spring '12 semester! Look forward to more posts and insights by Celiz throughout the semester. We're glad to have her on board to help tell the story of this spring semester, especially from her student perspective.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beyond BACAS: Guides and Gurus:: Installment 2

Welcome to the second in our series called "Beyond Bacas: Guides and Gurus" where we introduce you to some of the familiar, friendly faces in the lives of ISP students. Our second face is another of our peer mentors, the group of BACAS students paired with ISP students for the semester, who can often be found in the company of our first featured face!

We'll call this one Deepni's "model" face. :) She's modeling a traditional salwaar kamiz!

Deepni Pradeep

Aren't you on Facebook? I tried to find you, but you weren't there.
I was, but then I spent all of my time there. I'd get up in the morning and forget to brush my teeth because immediately I'd be on there, and then I'd get to school and realize I never did brush my teeth but just wasted my time.

I was born in Coimbatore and brought up in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. My family still lives there. I came back to Coimbatore to take care of my grandparents.

Oman! Do you speak any Arabic?
A little. I can get by. For emergency!

What are you studying here at BACAS?
I'm doing Viscom [Visual Communication] final year.  

What do you want to do with your degree?
I want to be a sound engineer, for Christian albums. 

Great! So you and Fabian can work together?
Sure, I will record Fabian's album! 

What was your reaction when you were assigned to be a peer mentor?
My first thought was, Oh my god. I thought I'm going to America. But then they were coming here, so I thought it would be nice to make friends, so when I travel to America I'll have friends. I'm happy, excited, yay!

What are you particularly excited about this semester?
I'm going to finish! I'm also so happy that ISP students are here. Before I didn't have free time, but this semester, now I have some. I enjoy getting free time to spend with ISP, I went on the Pollachi trip [for Pongal], which was amazing. Next week we've got the FACE competition and I'm singing 3 songs, and rapping two more. And, at the end of January I'm going to Muscat. I'm going for 8 days. I want to see my mom so badly. I miss her! I can't eat [without her cooking]. I can't sleep. Nothing else will do!

What will you do after graduation?
Next year I will go to Pune, in Maharashtra, to continue in my education. Then I'll get a job in sound engineering.

What are your hobbies, now that you have free time again?
I love singing. I love singing along with karaoke, it's my favorite. Then, I like to write lyrics and poems. I enjoy cooking, but my grandma doesn't allow me to here because I keep burning her [cooking] vessels! Also, I have my own car. I like to take my car and camera and go around and talk to people. I prefer to meet villagers and I like talking to them with no agenda, no proper subject. Usually, they are happy to share things with me, and I share about my life with them. I take pictures of them and love photographing them. I also enjoy photographing landscapes. There's a lot of things I like to do, just now I can't think of any: if I get time, I just do it. I keep the writings from my village visits and the photos for myself now but I used to upload to Facebook, when I had it. Now I just keep them for myself. But when I had Facebook, I had an album called "Smile." I even have in there some grampas with no teeth. They're really cute. In the album I would tell the story with the pictures, and the whole time you looked at the album you felt like smiling the whole time. Like that. 

What's your favorite Indian dish?
Well, ::big smile:: it's dosa! Ghee roast. But then I love biryani, too. Chicken biryani.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Madurai: Meenakshi Temple and Tamilnadu Theological Seminary

This weekend, we traveled on our first regional trip to the temple city of Madurai. We left around 5am and drove for around 5 hours to Tamilnadu Theological Seminary (TTS)'s beautiful, green campus where we had the pleasure of staying for the weekend. As with our previous trip, which you can read about here, our purpose was twofold: visit and learn about TTS and their ministry to and concern for the poor, and visit the Meenakshi Temple.

Brahmin priests inside the temple courtyard
We spent our Sunday morning first putting on a small worship service in TTS's beautiful, open-air chapel. Then, we traveled to the temple and spent several hours walking around and learning about the temple's history and significance to the Hindu faith.

There are approximately 50 priests employed in the temple.
Birds darting in and out of the temple's carvings
One of the myths central to the city's founding holds that Indra, king of the gods, bathed in a holy tank and worshipped Shiva, god of destruction, in this place. Shiva then shook his wet dreadlocks over the city, covering it with amrita, the nectar of the gods and of immortality. The Pandiyan king Kulashekhara then built a temple in the same place to commemorate that auspicious event. 
A view of the towers from the courtyard.
Any day of the week, no less than 15,000 people pass through the main gates of the temple (25,000 on Fridays, the sacred day of the goddess Meenakshi). 

To see more photos from our weekend trip to Madurai this semester, check our Facebook album here
For last semester's photos (or if you just want to see more of our photos), check our other album here.

Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum: Happy Pongal!

Last week, a former BACAS student and her family invited ISP students to celebrate the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal with them. We traveled in the college bus out to the neighboring town of Pollachi where we observed puja, or prayers, and shared a traditional Pongal meal.
Pongal is celebrated with the most zeal in the villages, as in farming villages people live more closely to the land and are more in tune with nature, harvest and crops. The festival is something around 1,000 years old (some say older!), and we were fortunate to observe it with some very generous hosts!

During Pongal, Hindu adherents show their gratitude to the sun god Surya, to the land for the harvest, and to cattle for their sustenance and aid in farming life (Some especially crazy/ brave Tamilians also tame/ attempt to tame bulls during the festival, too! See Jallikattu for more information on bull taming and its history.) 

Pongal, or sweet rice with jaggery and milk, is cooked in clay pots over an open fire during the puja. When the pot boils over, it is supposed to signify material abundance and good luck for the household.

Our host family had a portion of their field fenced off for the celebration, pictured here. Sweets, bananas and other food offerings and ghee candles sit on banana leaves in front of a portrait of Krishna, one of the Hindu deities. 

Our group enjoyed learning about Tamil festivals and culture during our Pongal celebration, and enjoyed spending an evening with a very generous host family. Thanks for reading, and Happy (late!) Pongal!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beyond BACAS: Guides and Gurus

For those of you reading outside of our fair city, we wanted to take some time to introduce you to some of the folks who teach, love on and help our students adjust to their new homes here. Most of them are from Bishop Appasamy College, or BACAS. They'll range from professors to peer mentors to student guides, as well as neighbors and other familiar faces around Coimbatore. We're calling this series "Guides and Gurus", and we hope to make it a regular feature here at Riding in Rickshaws.

 Each of our students at ISP is paired up with a peer mentor for the length of the semester; someone who shares lunch at the mess, introduces our students to local restaurants and shopping hot-spots, extends invitations to clubs and other events and is generally just a friendly face with which to share in different aspects of life in India.

The black text is Kandyce, ISP Program Assistant speaking, while the grey italics is Fabian. 

Enjoy our first installment!

Oh come on. Fabian Percival Netto.

After my grandfather, Thomas Percival.

Hometown: where are you from?
Podanur, Tamil Nadu

What are you currently studying?
Social work, 3rd and final year. I'm aiming to study at BACAS for my masters in social work because I love the college so much! 

What do you want to do with the rest of your life?
Social work + singing. I want to use my talents in singing and also somehow use social work. I love performing!

What are you excited about this semester? Are you graduating? Is that exciting?
I'm actually not that excited about graduating. I'm quite sad. I love this college. I'm really looking forward to all of the shows and cultural programs this semester. I have a lot of chances to sing!

Why are you a peer mentor?
When I was assigned as a peer mentor, I was really excited. Really excited indeed. I love interacting with people from different states. they find it more comfortable to speak to me, probably because of my knowledge of slang. I also love to entertain them. I also wanted to make new, real friends.  We don't many western people, here so I wanted to get to know them. I also am excited about hanging out, showing them cheap shopping, and learning more about their culture. 

Singing, listening to music, writing songs. I'm also the chairman of student government at college. I also love to travel to the hills and go hiking. Shopping. Exploring new places.

Who's your musical idol?
You know who my idols are. 

OK, but for the blog? Can you give me names so I'm not just making stuff up?
Mariah Carey, Celine Deon, Akon.

How did you become interested in singing?
My mom was an inspiration. She always used to encourage me. I was definitely more of a bathroom singer. No professional classes, nothing. But mom sings well, so had to follow in her footsteps. I got good genetics! My sister, younger brother and dad dance, so I can dance a little, but I'd definitely rather sing!

One last question: would you spend your life savings to attend a concert by anyone in particular?
Celine [Deon.] NOT Justin [Bieber]. Definitely not Justin. Also, Whitney Houston.

Ok. And one more. I know I said that was the last one, but what's your favorite Indian dish?
Basically, dosa. 

What kind?
Ghee roast. The big ones they make. ::Fabian launches into a description of how to make a stuffed ghee-mushroom dosa, while we look on pretending to understand his instructions:: MMM. They're my favorite.

Now I have a question for you: Why did Jon, Kandyce and others become such a great fan of Fabian? Probably because the Titanic song is my specialty. 
Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoyed getting to know Fabian via this interview even just a little bit as much as we've enjoyed getting to know him in person!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Friday from Coimbatore!

Sorry for the long silence!

Our “next batch” of students has arrived safely and after a brief issue with a missing suitcase, everyone has all of their belongings. we apologize for the radio silence.

Our students have been here in India for just over a week now. We’ve kept everyone busy with orientation, shopping for Indian wardrobes and books, and starting the first week of classes, in between things like trying new foods, re-learning basic communication skills (more on the head bobble at a later date!), and trying our hand at crossing the street. If that wasn't enough, we’re already off on our first regional trip to Madurai this weekend, where we’ll be staying at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, seeing a sound and light show at the Tirumalai Nayak Palace and visiting the Meenakshi Temple!

Please stay tuned for next week, when we’ll be sharing about our trip to Madurai, the recent festival of Pongal, the "Amazing Race: Coimbatore," and maybe even a bit on the Indian “head bobble.”

Thanks as always for reading!