Monday, December 10, 2012

On the Road: Calcutta

Sorry for the lack of updates folks but it has been for a good reason! We have been traveling all over India and are currently in the chilly North. We recently spent a few days in Calcutta, which was described by one student as "what you think of when you think of India".

Rolling out parathas for Kati rolls!

While its poverty is undeniably in your face, Calcutta is also overflowing with India's colonial history and a plethora of fascinating sites and experiences. On our first night we had kati rolls, which are parathas stuffed with your choice of filling from paneer to mutton. With this flavorful street food, Calcutta was off to a great start!

The Rama Krishna Mission.
Calcutta is also known for the Kalighat, a temple dedicated to Kali, widely known as the goddess of destruction. So on our first morning we hopped on the metro and made our way over. While some temples in India are quieter, the Kalighat was bustling with early morning devotees. We wandered around taking in the noises and fervent worshipers and some of us were able to witness a goat sacrifice. While it was certainly startling for those who watched, as we reflected later on several of us were reminded of what the true meaning of sacrifice means and what it truly signifies when we say that Jesus was sacrificed for us.

A roadside shrine.
We also visited Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying and the Motherhouse, her home in Calcutta. We were struck by the beauty of her ministry and how much one person was able to accomplish. Another highlight was Sari Bari, an NGO dedicated to providing an alternative livelihood for women who no longer want to participate in prostitution. They do this by teaching the women to sew and create beautiful handmade sari blankets. Our students came away inspired by the work that the staff and women do!

Our next stop was Varanasi - one of India's holiest cities. Keep an eye out for our next post!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Road: Hyderabad

The semester has flown by for Batch 3! We are sad to have left Coimbatore and the many good friends we have made behind us. But we are also excited for what is to come because we are on the road!

Posing at Golconda Fort!

For the next two weeks we will be traveling up to the North of the country and continuing to explore and learn about incredible India. First stop? Hyderabad!

Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh and has a wealth of Islamic history. We will be learning more about Islam and contextualization here and visiting everything from forts to mosques.

Follow our posts as we travel and we will be sure to keep you updated! Thanks for reading.

Weekend Trip: Kerala

Kerala is fondly called "God's Own Country" by its people, and for good reason. Although it can be fairly humid, Kerala is also lush and green and lined with natural waterways that has earned it the nickname "Venice of the East".

Our focus during our time there was the Indian economy with classes taught by Vichara, a collective of academics passionate about educating people about how the economy, globalization, theology and social justice all tie in together. These are some of the heavy topics that we have all been struggling through this semester - is development and globalization good for India? And how does our faith fit into this picture? 

Sitting in class with Vichara.
We spent several days discussing these issues together with the professors at Vichara and possibly left with even more thought-provoking questions than we came with! But this semester we have also been talking about how we learn to live in the tension, and how to live with the questions that may not have answers yet.

Exploring the steps where St. Thomas was said to have arrived in India.
Our afternoons were filled with field trips to the surrounding areas. Christianity was said to have been brought to India by St. Thomas himself in 52 A.D. so we went to explore the legacy he has left in the area. Our first stop was the steps where he first stepped into India, followed by one of the churches he founded. For several people in our group this was the first time they had visited a site connected with the Bible - what an experience!

Checking out one of the churches that St. Thomas established in India. It is said that he built seven (and a half!) churches.
Next on our list was Amma's Ashram. Amma is a guru, or spiritual teacher, who has a reputation for affecting her devotees spiritually just by hugging them and is also known for her many humanitarian projects. This was a difficult site for many of us. We wandered around the Ashram and spoke to several devotees, many of whom are Westerners, about their lives there. Their stories were compelling and challenging - they spoke of Amma's compassion and how her love for the world had called them to live better lives devoted to the service of others. It was certainly a different perspective and we are constantly encountering this idea of how to live in a world of plurality here in India.

Amma's Ashram, home of the hugging saint.
Lastly, we spent an afternoon on the backwaters! This is one of National Geographic's Top 50 Places to visit in the world, so needless to say we were quite excited. 

A kerala houseboat!
We watched the houseboats drift by as we wound our way around the backwaters of Kerala. In some ways, Kerala reminded us of India herself - a place of both beauty and challenging questions.

Enjoying the sunset on the backwaters!