Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Birthday, A Feast, and A Visit from the king

This weekend several of our students were off on another home stay. The rest still had a fun full weekend in Coimbatore with a big Onam celebration at our apartment complex. Yes, you may have already read our blog about Onam- but it is a 10 day festival and our Malayalee neighbors wanted to be home in Kerala for the actual holiday and then celebrate back in Tamil Nadu afterward.
The morning was a flurry of preparations to get our sari’s wrapped properly and get all dressed up. We went outside and found a beautiful huge rangoli (flower design) that had apparently taken 4+ hours to create!
Beautiful rangoli
Soon we heard drumming and a horn being blown so we wandered over to the entrance and spotted… the king! We joined in the parade of people bringing him into the complex. Since everyone else was getting a snap next to the king, we decided to follow suit. Now I must admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that his eyebrows, mustache, and sideburns were filled in with a marker and that he was not a real king! But he did a good job of looking stately and important! 
The King
 There were several traditional dances performed by little elementary girls that were so impressive performing multiple dances with several costume changes. There were also several awards given out, including ‘Best Dressed Couple’ which our director Kirk Ji and his wife ended up winning!
Director and his wife winning the award
One of the little dancers
   After the performances were over, we were treated to a feast of traditional food from Kerala served on a banana leaf! There were so many different side dishes and it was very interesting to taste all these unique flavors. 
Just the start of all the dishes they served us
 This weekend was also one of our student’s birthday. It was definitely a birthday she will never forget-eating a feast on a banana leaf and meeting the king! When all the students had returned from home stay, we had a surprise party with cake. All in all, another good weekend in India!

Birthday surprise!
This coming Friday we are heading out on our first weekend trip to the city of Madurai to visit the famous Meenakshi temple and tour the Mahatma Gandhi museum!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Student Post:Weekend Home stays (Part 2)

Last weekend the students had the chance to go on a home stay with a friend from college. This is simply an extension of the last post- giving the students the chance to tell of their adventures in their own words.
Gretchen and Faith:
Outside their house
When we first came to India, we were “warned” about the hospitality—as in, be careful what you ask for, because they might actually give it to you.  This weekend, we discovered how true that really is.  Our guidebook related the phrase “the guest is like God,” which completely described our experience in Karuna’s home.  We experienced eating on banana leaves (only done for special occasions), receiving flowers for our hair every day, having multiple dishes prepared for us at every meal, being accepted as an “akka” (sister) by Karuna’s younger cousin, meeting Karuna’s extended family, having Karuna’s father come home from Chennai (at least a 7-hour journey) just to meet us, always being asked if we were comfortable, being fed all the time—and ultimately, having Karuna’s father buy saris for both of us at the end of our stay there!  Their hospitality was incredibly humbling, and although we saw some amazing things there (like a banana plantation) and got to bond with her family (playing card games with the girls), it was the hospitality that really made the weekend memorable for us.  

Our very hospitable home stay family!

Tayler and Tina: 
At the top of the hill we climbed
So, imagine you’ve just traveled on an Indian bus for five long hours. You step out of the crowded bus into the cool mountain air and you are in Kerala, “God’s own country”! We took an auto (a small three-wheeled “car” with no doors) to Pratiksha’s (our new friend) house where we were welcomed with open arms. While there, we never were hungry, tired or hot. We had a blast in Kerala. The first day we took an adventure up the mountain. Our journey started at the bottom of the hill and we made it all the way to the white cross at the very tippy top. Below we could see a Catholic church and hear music echo throughout the area. The long bus ride was worth it because once we made it to Kerala our eyes were able to take in so many beautiful sights that we know will stick with us forever. The second day we went to “church” which really means we went to a tea museum 2 hours away. We drank Kerala’s cardamom tea and were able to see how it was made (hands with dried tea in them). The best part was we also got to see a wild elephant while at Pratiksha’s uncle’s house (note the river picture)!!! We loved every moment spent there with Pratiksha and her family in our new favorite place: Kerala, India.

Dried tea leaves

Near where we saw the wild elephant

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Home Stays (Part 1)

This past weekend the students had the chance to go on a home stay with students from the college. In order to hear their perspective on the experience, I'm going to let them tell about it:

Becca and Emma:
Our home-stay was spent at our friend Jennifer's home in Coimbatore. We were taken to the Perur Temple where we were given an extensive tour by a family friend and were even allowed into the rooms marked by golden archways where Hindus believe their gods live. Afterwards we drove to the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains and spent the afternoon at the Dhyanalinga Yogic Temple where we bathed in an underground pool made of solidified mercury and spent time in silence within the massive dome structure.  We also went to a horror movie, ate a chicken masala burger at McDonalds, shopped at the mall, and spent an afternoon at an amusement/water park.

With Jennifer at her house
Becca riding the sumo-wrestler ride at the amusement park
Stevie and Faith:
This weekend we went to Ooty, a city spread out in the cool lush mountains and segregated by tea and vegetable crops. The father of our host family is the pastor for Bread of Life Church, so we were able to sleep on site. The first evening we had the privilege of being welcomed into a tribal village and witnessing a miracle. Only a few of the people could speak English and everyone knows we can’t speak Tamil, so smiling and the mispronunciation of each other’s languages was the communication for the evening. As guests, we were welcomed to sit on the large bed in the hut and enjoy the delicious meal while our hosts watched us eat. After our meal, a mute man entered the room and fell at the pastor’s feet. Several minutes of intense praying by the pastor and the elder women in the hut, the man collapsed, seemingly unconscious. Within the next minute he sat up, stood up, put his hands to his chest and whispered “stotram” (praise the Lord). From mute to talking in under ten minutes, in this small hut, in the middle of nowhere. The presence of God was so powerful during our entire weekend but it was that night that made us feel truly blessed to be here.

Stay tuned for more stories from the rest of the student's home stay experiences!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy Onam!

Happy Onam from ISP!!!


      Onam is the harvest festival in the neighboring state of Kerala. Today, Onam was celebrated at school through cultural dances and a ‘rangoli’ or ‘flower design’ competition. The students were off at their internship sites for part of the day, but came back early in order to watch the festivities. Rangoli is an intricate design in a circle that is created entirely with different varieties of FLOWERS!! The Malayalee (or Kerala) students at BACAS competed in teams to create the best rangoli design. Taylor, who is an art major, thoroughly enjoyed watching the designs come to life.

In the afternoon, the Malayalee students put on a show with traditional (and non-traditional) dances and songs. The girls wore beautiful white saris which are traditional in Kerala and many of the guys danced hip-hop. There was even a girl who sang a Taylor Swift song in a 'southern drawl'!!
This was truly a cultural introduction for the students to life in India in the way that programs are run but they definitely enjoyed it! Each state has pride in their unique culture and so it was good or us to get to experience that energy!

To see more photos from the celebration please visit our Facebook page: India Studies Program (ISP)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hostel night!

Friends. Food. Dancing. What more is there? Every Tuesday night the ladies of Batch 5 will have the opportunity to go over the girl’s hostel for dinner and a visit. Many of the ladies studying at BACAS live in a hostel nearby because their families live outside the city or even in the neighboring state of Kerela. Since our students are not actually taking classes with the Indian students, the only time to interact is during lunch time, so hostel night gives them the chance to really form friendships. The girls at the hostel are so kind to welcome our students in and have a great time showing their rooms and telling stories. This is a good time to get away from school life and see how much we have in common.

Not only are the girls very sweet, but Tuesday night is also roti night! In South India, rice is the staple, eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As you can imagine, it can be hard for us Americans to take so much rice, which is why rotis (like a fried tortilla) are so exciting!

Indian dancing is an art form and the girls at the hostel seem to have it pretty much nailed. They were kind enough to try to teach us a few moves and give us a demonstration. I think we will still need a little more practice but for now all we can do is try to teach them the Macarena and the Electric slide!

(photo credit to our very own Faith Boyle)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shopping for salwars

Salwar kameez is a traditional Indian outfit made up of pants, a long tunic shirt (kurta) and a scarf (dupatta). The students are required to wear these clothes in accordance with the dress code at BACAS. However, it really helps them to fit in more and shows that they are embracing the culture. Not to mention that they are so beautiful!

Yesterday the students had the chance to get in some much anticipated shopping. We traveled by bus (first time) to a market to sort through piles and piles of clothing at the different shops.Thankfully their peer mentors were along to help with sizes, bartering, and fashion advice! Next they stopped for a coffee break and a small small snack and tried parantha- definitely a winner!!!
Trying parantha
 Hanging out with new friends
After a little more shopping, we felt like we had succeeded and it was time to go home. Since it was getting late, we decided to just catch an auto which is always a fun and exciting way to travel!

This morning the students arrived at church dressed beautifully in their traditional salwar kameez. Batch 5 is ready for classes to begin tomorrow!