Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Sum: In Pictures:: Chennai City

Though our visit to Chennai was last week, our students are still singing (and dancing to) “Chennai City”, a song we were introduced to during our time in the state capital. The weekend was filled with plenty of other introductions (including an meeting with a long-time friend of the program staff) and new experiences (first train rides and first time in the Indian Ocean!). There’s plenty to cover, but hopefully this post will do our weekend in Chennai some justice:

After a quick rest Friday afternoon from our busy week of classes and parties (Valentines Day and birthday party [shout out to Oregonian Alyssa Brokaw]) the ISP-ers got ready for their weekend. We boarded the overnight “A/C” train late Friday night and woke up in the state capital of Tamil Nadu.
Some of our ISP-ers on their first train.
In the words of program assistants and experienced train-travelers Jon and Kandyce Pinckney "This is niiiiiiiice"
After the group dropped off their belongings, they boarded another train late morning to visit Shiamala Baby, a long-time friend of the program staff. Shiamala Baby, or “Shiamala Auntie” as we came to call her, told the group of her past struggles, the abuse she endured from her husband, and how she finally freed herself from that cycle. She educated the group on some of the laws currently in effect to protect women from domestic violence and shared about how her own efforts to help empower women.
Shiamala Auntie sharing her story to the "Second Batch"
She emerged from this struggle determined to help other women. With this determination, she started FORWARD, the Forum for Women’s Rights and Development, an organization established to empower and educate women. We heard about some of the FORWARD projects and visited several villages that Shiamala Auntie was working with.
The group getting ready to listen to the villagers.
We watched a performance at one village and learned more about their culture. They shared about their past struggles, their current efforts to better themselves, and the hopes that the village elders have for their children. At the next village, we heard from some of the elder women and watched some girls perform a dance to Chennai city. (Again, that song is still stuck in our heads.) 
Some of the village girls during the beginning of their "Chennai City" performance
Jake Maude and some of the women of the Dalit village. 
The night day ended with a visit to the Mount of St. Thomas, the mountain where St. Thomas was murdered. Typical of India was the juxtaposition found within the view from the Mount. From the high point of the city we were able to see beautiful Church buildings, ornate Hindu temples, slums, high rise buildings, a thick layer of smog, and plenty of lush greenery.
Panorama of the view fro the Mt. of St. Thomas
Sunday morning brought a visit to St. Thomas’s Basilica, one of three churches in the world that is built upon the grave of an apostle. And after church, our students took advantage the opportunity and jumped in the Indian Ocean.
First attempt! (ok...second attempt but close enough.)
They also learned that women typically swim in their salwars or saris. A note to future ISPers: no need for your Western swimsuits. : )

Redefining the swimsuit. 
And to think, all of this happened before breakfast. The trip to Chennai wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Vasantha Bhavan, a well-known Chennai restaurant chain. Our ISPers ordered their favorite South Indian dishes (cooking class, peer mentors, and our Wednesday rituals definitely helped them figure out favorites) including dosa masaala, paratha, and ghee roast. After breakfast, it was off to the mall for a little bit of souvenir shopping. And since our pants were still wet and sandy from the beach, we left a trail of sand with us all over the mall. Well that's a bit of an exaggeration, but our pants were still really wet. We hopped back on a train late Sunday night and made the journey back to Coimbatore. 

We were exhausted and tired but it was completely worth it. 

To see more Chennai pictures, click here.

More to come about Shiamala Auntie, the Freedom Firm ISP Lecture Series, and other celebrations.
Until then, our ISPers are off to the neighboring state of Kerala tonight! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Alumni Post: Renee Sanderford on Returning Home

One of the most challenging and simultaneously rewarding parts of travel and studying abroad is putting together the pieces of your life when you return home. Renee Sanderford, one of our ISP Fall '11 students, recently shared these thoughts with us on her readjustment process.
Renee and a friend on Sudder Street in Calcutta during travel component last semester
Once I finally made it home and saw my family greeting me in the airport, I had a thought like "Hey you. I found you just where I left you." It did not seem like I had been in another country for 3.5 months. 

I could tell that for the most part they stayed the same, but I had changed completely. I returned with people pointing out that I had matured and that I seem to be more confident in myself; I especially was told this when I returned to my university. In the beginning it was really neat to receive those compliments, but when people are constantly telling me that, I start wonder "how did I change?" I know that I changed; how could someone not after living in another country? 
Brooklyn and Renee jump for joy at the Taj Mahal during our visit to Agra last semester.
The struggle that I continue to have is realizing a change in myself. I do not see it. I guess that you could say that I was "forced" to change almost EVERYTHING about the lifestyle that I held onto for twenty years of my life in order to live in India for only 3.5 months. Returning to the States I was not prepared for the reality that only 3.5 months was enough to change my life completely! People continue to tell me that it will take the same amount of time that you were away to adjust back to your usual way of living. I am totally fine with that. The experience that I had should rock my world and make it do a complete 360! 

It was hard because I returned to a winter break where I had the chance to begin 'fitting back into' life at home, and then I had to adapt all over again to my university. Both my friends and family have been SO supportive of my return and offering a listening ear; sometimes they will ask me a question about India and I will go on and on and on and on. Currently, I still feel  anti-social in group settings (I am normally a social butterfly), I am in constant thought about social issues, and I have more of an appreciation for education. I am in constant thought about my new family in India and the memories that I made while I was there.
Text by Renee Sanderford

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beyond BACAS: Familiar Faces

For those of you who have been around Riding in Rickshaws lately, you are by now familiar with our Guides and Gurus series, where we feature people who play a significant role in the lives of ISP students and staff here in Coimbatore. We also wanted to take an opportunity to introduce you to some of the familiar faces we see around our fair city who we don't have the language skills to interact with our know well enough to ask questions of.

Introducing our first ever Beyond BACAS: Familiar Faces post.
Our friend the cigarette- and- candy- walla
We see this familiar face almost every morning on our way to school, and usually every evening on our way home, too. He sells packages of cigarettes, small candies and some other things in packets that we haven't quite identified yet. Every time we see him, he greets us with a smile and an exaggerated namaste. He waves at our staff, our students, our friends. We love it. Once,
Program Assistants Kandyce and Jonathan Pinckney, a friend and the cigarette-walla holding a photograph of himself we had given him earlier in the semester
In fact, he's such a significant part of our walk to school, we find ourselves a little sad if we don't see him and most definitely always notice if he's not there. We occasionally try to make conversation with him in our limited Tamil, and usually are able to establish the fact that we've all eaten (a common greeting here in Tamil Nadu: have you eaten?), but not much more. He once invited ISP Program Assistant Jon to temple with him, but sadly, nothing ever came of that (brief!) conversation.
ISP student Jake Maude poses with the cigarette-walla
Indian hospitality is, as you've read in our homestay posts, world renowned. ISP students and staff alike   enjoy a smile, a wave (and once, even a sweet!) from this gentleman who shows us hospitality even in a small, small way.
Look forward to more Familiar Faces posts coming soon!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Student Post: Jake Maude on Homestays!

A few weeks ago, we posted a bunch on homestays. Jake, our lone male student, had a fantastic homestay experience. Jake has been busy with classes, playing in a band at school and making friends (he hangs out a lot with Poornith, his peer mentor) and entertaining the group with his hilarious sense of humor, but we finally got a few paragraphs out of him to share with you all.
Jake and a young friend made during his homestay!
Last weekend Sandeep, Cynthia, Raya and Ethan were kind enough to invite me into their home. Yet again, I found the rumors of India’s superior hospitality to be true. The family served me a variety of Indian cuisine, including delicious dosas and spicy tandoori.

I also got a taste of Indian culture. In one of my classes at BACAS I learned about a ceremony in which a lady who is seven months pregnant is given bangles. Little did I know I would be able to attend such an event with my host family. The soon-to-be Hindu mother was presented with exotic fruits, then had turmeric paste dabbed on to her cheek by doting relatives and friends, as well as red cumin paste dotted onto her forehead. She was given numerous bangles, which sat in a bowl by the fruit. The bangles are for the baby to listen to as the mother goes about her day so that the baby will become used to the sound and bustle of the world. After seeing the ceremony guests were served five types of rice. When I asked “Why five types” the question actually started a (friendly) debate among the family members, the consensus being that the rice is eaten by the mother and guests so that the baby gets a taste of the delicious food that the world has to offer.

Afterwards my host family and I quickly went to a second event – this one a Hindu baby naming. In Hindu families there is a process that can last as many as five months in which astrologists consult the stars at the exact moment the child was born and come up with a name based on what they discover about the cosmos at that moment. The family celebrates the naming with a feast at which the name is announced to the friends and family.

My host family told me that it is not unusual for them to attend a few events like this every week, since in India the family and friend ties are so close. It was wonderful to experience these Indian celebrations and the accompanying hospitality. I hope to practice hospitality in the same way. As the Indian proverb goes, Atithi Devo Bhavah, or “The guest is God”. 
Photo and text courtesy of Jake Maude.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In Pictures: Student Post:: Our Visit to a Tea Estate in the Nilgiris

The Chamraj factory, built under the British
This past Sunday, on our visit to the Nilgiris, we were fortunate enough to be able to tour the Chamraj Tea Factory and plantation. Lucy Maynard, one of our students, wrote up a paper on her field visit for her business class, and her research from our trip is in italics.
Kandyce holding a cup of tea
Our tour guide, Mr. Hendrickson, shared with us a history of the factory and plantation, we learned about the tea production process and the tea industry in south India. Chamraj is certified fair trade, and we were able to ask questions and hear about why fair trade works for those employed in the tea business all across South India.
The United Nilgiri Tea Estates Company is located in Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu, at 7920 feet above sea level    
The Nilgiri Tea Company was established in 1922 under British rule, and in 1994 the factory was certified as a Fair Trade Tea Company. It was the first tea company in India to be approached for Fair Trade certification. One dollar per kilo of tea “comes back” to the workers of the Nilgiri Tea Company because of their Fair Trade classification and procedures.

We didn’t know until later in the tour that our group was incredibly fortunate to see the inside of the factory. They typically don’t allow tours, and because of the hard work and connections we have through our partner college, we got in!
The process of making tea at the Nilgiri Tea Company begins with the plucking or harvesting of the tea leaves. All of the moisture is then removed from the tea plants through a process called withering. The tea leaves are then rolled, and after this stage they are fermented, which is an oxidation process using controlled temperature and humidity. The tea leaves are then dried, packaged, and distributed. This type of manufacturing process is referred to as Orthodox, or standard manufacturing.
We got to see the entire process of making tea, from plucking the leaves in the estate in the back yard of the factory to the oxidizing and fermenting process to the sorting of the tea into different grades, from orange pekoe at the top of the ladder to the fannings and dust at the bottom.
Four varieties of Chamraj tea.
We got to see, smell and touch the tea in its various forms, and got to taste several cups throughout our visit!
Alyssa making some purchases in the tea shop.
The Nilgiri Tea Company guarantees fixed and equal wages for both men and women, and it was the first company to offer a pension scheme to its employees that provided employees with ten years of pension pay without the employees having to contribute any money directly to it themselves. This company facilitates and funds an orphanage, hospital, and public school for its employees and their families and the surrounding and greater community as a whole. The Nilgiri Tea Company is an example of social entrepreneurship.
Thanks for reading on our trip to the Nilgiris! We're off to Chennai this weekend, so you can look forward to hearing about our trip to the capital of Tamil Nadu next week.

For more information on Nilgiri tea, click here.

For more information on fair trade, click here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Pictures: Toda and Kurumba Tribal Village

Walking out to the temple in the hills
This past weekend on our trip to the hills, we were able to visit several different tribal villages in the Nilgiri mountains. Our first visit was to a Toda village, where we learned about the Toda’s reverence for the buffalo, whose milk provided sustenance (and could be made into ghee, a staple of Indian cooking as well as daily and spiritual life!)
Todas are a hill tribe and live in the beautiful, green Nilgiris.
Looking at the Toda temple and asking questions of our Toda tour guide.
Buffalo milk products were used as currency, in exchange for grains, tools and medical services.
Another Toda temple. This one has buffalo horns painted on the door.
Our Toda tour guide shared a little bit about the Toda’s worship of nature with us as well as some of the rituals surrounding their temples. Anyone can choose to become and be a priest in the Toda’s religious tradition. Though considered Hindu, the Toda’s religion is uniquely different from a traditional understanding of Hinduism.
Toda women are famous for their intricate, beautiful embroidery, typically done on white cotton fabric using black and red woolen threads. Historically, the women only made shawls to keep warm in the chilly Niligri climate. Now, through partnership with various para-church organizations and non-governmental organizations, the women embroider bags, placemats, table runners and wall hangings as both a way to preserve their culture and earn some income.
A Toda woman working on embroidery. The designs are always geometric and always inspired by nature.
Sunday, we visited a Kurumba village on the border of Tamil Nadu and the neighboring state of Kerala. The Kurumba people traditionally live in thick forests.
Asking questions of the elder
While with the Kurumbas, we asked questions about culture, traditions and religion of one of the village elders, who told us he was at least sixty years old, but probably older, though he couldn’t say for sure!
The village elder we spoke with
Some of the women in the village then taught members of our group some of their traditional dance steps while three men formed a small band of two drums and a wooden horn and played for us.
A drummer drums while another elder looks on
Being informed that the villagers would like to teach our group a few dance steps
Dancing with the women of the village

We then shared loaves of bread and jam with the villagers and learned a few words in their language, which is a mixture of both Malayalam, the language of the state of Kerala, and Kannada, the language of the state of Karnataka.
Jake gettin' down with his bad self

Looks a little like the hokey pokey, no?

Celiz, Becky and Jamie laugh as they stumble over words in the Kurumba language
To see more photos of our weekend trip, visit our Facebook album here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Pictures: What I Ate Wednesday:: Dosa

If you follow us on Facebook (and if you don’t, you should!) you may have noticed some excited posts about dosa this past week (including a video wherein our students demonstrate the art of 'dosa slapping.') We've talked about our love for dosa here on Riding in Rickshaws, too, as both Fabian and Deepni both listed dosa as their favorite Indian dish.
ISP Peer Mentor Extraordinaire Fabian pours water off boiled potatoes to be made into dosa filling.
Some of you may be wondering what this ‘dosa’ is. Let us introduce you, in our first of hopefully many "What I Ate Wednesday" posts:
Blogging world, meet the dosa.
Dosa is a South Indian breakfast food, a sort of gram flour pancake served with savory potatoes (called ‘masala’), egg, onion, mushroom or just by itself. Dosa typically comes with several side “dishes” or chutneys, usually one made with coconut, one with tomatoes and then a watery, spiced vegetable mixture called sambar.
Dosa and coconut and tomato chutneys, and masala potato mixture.
We’ve been having ‘breakfast for dinner’ the past few weeks, sharing Bombay (French) toast with caramelized apples the first week and carrot cake pancakes with homemade cream cheese the second week. Last week Wednesday, our friend Fabian came over and made dosas for a small army, keeping with our breakfast theme!

Bowls of dosa mix, ready to be fried.

Jon has the tough job of cracking and cleaning out a coconut.
Here's Jon. An hour later. Still gutting a coconut.

Fabian was kind enough to share several of his dosa-making secrets with us, and by the end of the evening, Team Pinckney (Kandyce and Jonathan, ISP Program Assistants) got fairly good at making photo-worthy dosas. (And we're the judges.)
Jon and Fabian frying dosas.
ISP Program Assistant Jonathan Pinckney brings out a fresh round of dosas off the griddle!

We’ve been having a tremendous amount of power cuts lately (it’s up to 8 hours per day around these parts), but Fabian and the dosa-making team were not dismayed. They just turned on their headlamps (or rigged their own by attaching their mobile phones with flashlights to their heads!) and forged on!

No current, no lights, no problem! Fabian flips dosas in the kitchen by the light of gas stove.

Jon frying dosas by headlamp.
Hannah Brown, one of our students this semester, commented that lately, she's planning on generally not having power. That way, when the power does work, she's grateful that she has it at all! We love our gas stoves, because we can still cook dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or make tea) even without the current.
We're thankful for gas stoves that work even when the electricity does not!
A hungry crowd assembles and waits on Fabian to make his magic!

Our Breakfast for Dinner nights have been very enjoyable, both for the food and the fellowship and being able to share time with our Indian friends and peer mentors. We've added to the crowd each week!
Photographic proof of our rocking good time.
Thanks for joining us for What I Ate Wednesday. Tomorrow, we'll continue to chronicle our weekend trip to the Nilgiris, even as we prepare to travel to Chennai this coming Friday. Never a dull moment around here (even without power!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Pictures: Costume Design and Fashion Class

We're taking a brief break from posting on our trip to Ooty and the Nilgiris to focus on one of the elective classes available to ISP students. You may remember our feature of the Culinary Arts class last semester.

Four of the ISP Spring '12 students have elected to take the Costume Design and Fashion (CDF) class this semester. Last week's agenda was to learn to batik!
Jamie hard at work
Our students learned four different batik techniques and got to practice their artistic skills drawing their designs in hot wax on pieces of fabric in this hands-on class session.
Splatter method at bottom, painted design at the top
The methods included splattering wax, dipping an entire piece of fabric in wax and crinkling it up and painting designs with a brush or dropper.
Jamie's painted sun. Isn't it fantastic?
 CDF students got to practice their batiking skills and then take their creations home at the end of class!
Dipping a design into red or pink dye
According to CDF professor Dr. Sheila John, one of the assignments for class this semester will be to create a piece of clothing (kurta (tunic top) or dupatta (scarf)) using one of the dyeing techniques learned in the class. Two weeks ago, the lesson was in tie-dye techniques!
Kendra's notes about batik, including the 'recipe' for mixing dye
CDF students this semester have really enjoyed the hands-on aspects of learning this class has to offer, and are looking forward to what the rest of the semester holds!
For more photos from CDF class, see our Facebook album here.

For a brief note on the history of batik in India, click here.

Look forward to more posts on our weekend visit to the Nilgiris, as well as a feature on dosa, one of our favorite foods, on What I Ate Wednesday, coming soon to a computer near you!