Saturday, November 30, 2013

On the Road: Kolkata

These past 3 days we have been exploring the chaotic streets of Kolkata! We visited Mother Theresa's Home for the Dying as well as the Motherhouse where she is buried. We were moved to see the ministry that she started and hear about all she did for those that were hurting- over 87,000 people have passed away peacefully in the Home for the Dying since it was first opened!

Other visits include the Victoria Memorial- a beautiful museum that is a fine example of British raj. We also saw a Kali temple and Tagor's house (a famous Indian poet, playwright, and artist). We have enjoyed getting in some good shopping along the streets in our free day. Lots of presents to take home!

We also visited an amazing organization called Sari Bari which rehabilitates women who were trafficked. The organization trains them and enables them to sew beautiful bags, blankets, wallets etc out of old saris. The metaphor is very beautiful and powerful. These saris have been cast off and thrown away. They are torn, used, and broken. The women then use the saris to create something beautiful and valuable. Of course we are all very excited to be able to support this organization and purchase beautiful items with such a rich story.

Victoria Memorial
We are staying in the oldest YMCA in India and in Asia....and you can tell! The place has got character- from breakfast on an old bed to a beautiful wooden staircase to the market right outside the front door!

Victoria Memorial

Ferry ride
Tonight we board the train for Varanasi. Situated along the Ganges river, Varanasi is a holy city for Hindus.

Monday, November 25, 2013

On the Road: Bapatla

And....we're off!!

Sunday morning the whole batch participated in the Mega Pink (race for the cure against breast cancer) 3-K run around Coimbatore. First we all warmed up by doing a crowd of about 200 India! Quite a hilarious experience. The course went around our area of town which gave us a chance to say goodbye to various sites as we passed them. Goodbye to restaurants like Myx, Coffee Day, AFC, and Marry Brown's. Goodbye to sites such as All Souls, Gugu's, and the crocodile median. And goodbye to entertainment of Racecourse exercisers! We were quite proud that our Alex Wilson ended up coming in first place- way to represent Pennsylvania from India!

Batch 5 after the Mega Pink run
The rest of the day was spent packing, cleaning the apartments, and saying goodbye to friends before boarding the train in the evening. I think we would all agree that we could have used another couple of hours of sleep on that train when we reached the station before 7! 

Director Kirk has been visiting Uncle Babu and his wife for many years in the rural town of Bapatla. Uncle runs a school for children who have lost their parents. For the next 2 days we get to visit the children in their classrooms and play with them. Our students even designed a program to put on to entertain the children tonight! We will also be learning from Uncle about the humanitarian projects he runs. We may even have a chance for some site-seeing to the Bay of Bengal.

Bapatla, Andhra Pradesh
Next stop... Kolkata!!

(photo credit: Faith Boyle)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Packing Up and Heading Out!

We can’t believe we only have 5 DAYS left in Coimbatore! The time has really flown! Was it really 3 months ago that students flew into the city and began their experience? Was there ever a time that they didn’t know how to barter for an auto, or dodge across the streets, or eat with only their right hand, or find their way on the bus route by themselves?

Tina in her costume for dance presentation
Tayler's beautiful painting of a traditional Toda woman
Stevie's handmade cookbook, Emma's mobile and the clay pot they made together
 This week is crazy with trying to finish everything up. Students have final papers and projects to complete-art projects to create, a clothing design to finish, and a cuisine final to cook, and an exam to take. Meanwhile, they have to get in last minute shopping, eat out at favorite restaurants and say goodbye to all their friends and the life they have made here.

Faith is exhausted after all her hard work
We leave for our north trip on Sunday evening. It is going to be a wild and exciting ride: 18 days, 76 hours on trains, 7 cities, rafting on the Ganges river, visiting Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying, seeing the foothills of the Himalayas, and of course- taking pictures in front of the Taj Mahal! 

Follow us on our journey across India!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy Diwali

Diwali is the five day Festival of Lights which celebrates the triumph of good over evil. It is a very exciting holiday in India celebrated through lighting clay lamps filled with oil, sharing sweets with one’s neighbors, and of course- bursting firecrackers!

So how did ISP-ers celebrate? We returned home from Kerala in the wee hours of the morning and went straight to bed. By 5 in the morning the bursting of crackers going off all around made it difficult to sleep! We found it interesting how many fireworks were being shot off during the day when you couldn’t see the lights. A kind auntie from across the hall brought us some homemade sweets to share and several apartments had lamps lit outside their doors in beautiful designs.

We were invited to a BACAS student’s home in the evening. Before we left, all the girls lined up to get their saris wrapped. Auntie was kind enough to help out and moved through the line with tremendous speed. Alex even bought a traditional outfit for the occasion. We felt very Indian in our beautiful outfits-until we got to our host’s house and found them in jeans and T-shirts or salwar kameez. Perhaps we were a tad overdressed, but definitely looking sharp! We were welcomed very warmly to the student’s home and were greeted with homemade sweets. We went on to another family’s house that kindly let us set off many crackers and taste more sweets!

People on the street were in full celebratory mood-cheerfully greeting each other with “Happy Diwali” and bursting crackers on the street. You see, in India there are no safety rules regarding fireworks! We decided that Diwali is like Christmas and Fourth of July… COMBINED!! Lots of decorations, new clothes, giving of sweets to one’s neighbors, and lots and lots of fireworks!

Friday, November 8, 2013

God's Own Country

This past week we were in ‘God’s Own Country’- the neighboring state of Kerala for classes and site visits. We took an overnight train (first of many) and awoke to see the beautiful sunrise over the coconut trees and rice fields of Kerala!

We spent our mornings in class sessions learning about the Indian economy and globalization from a group of academics called Vichara. We learned how globalization has grown and shaped India over the years and were left with the question if globalization has been beneficial for India?

In the afternoons we had the opportunity to visit some famous sites including where St. Thomas stepped off the boat and some of the churches that he planted.
Sitting where St. Thomas stepped off the boat
 One of our favorite outings was visiting the beach! For most of us this was our first time stepping foot in the Arabian Sea and students happily plunged in…fully dressed in their salwar kameez! You see, in India, a salwar kameez is their bathing suit! Nevertheless, we still had a great time riding the waves and just relaxing in the ocean. We definitely attracted quite a large crowd of curious onlookers!
Swimming in salwars
Kerala is known as the ‘Venice of the East’ because of its abundant waterways. After our beach trip, we were able to take a sunset cruise on the backwaters. We watched as numerous houseboats and fishing boats drifted by and watched the sun set behind the palm trees. India truly holds so many stark contrasts-from the peace and tranquility of floating on the backwaters, to the overwhelming hustle and bustle of city life.

Boat cruise on the backwaters
Another interesting site visit was to Amma’s Ashram. Amma means ‘mother’ and she is known as the ‘Hugging Saint’ who literally goes around the world hugging people. She is behind many humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. This ashram is her central location and people come from all corners of the earth to live here under her. Our students were surprised to see so many other foreigners and our tour group consisted of a young Spanish guy, a middle-aged Chinese woman, and a 30-something German woman, and was guided by Sam from Minnesota! We were able to look around the ashram and learn why they consider Amma to be a goddess, what she stands for, and what these people are doing living there. Still, we left with more questions than answers: What compels a person to come all the way from home to this remote village in India? Why do they not want to leave the ashram? How do we respond to this movement? It was a very eye-opening experience that our students will never forget and hopefully continue to process.
Faith celebrated her birthday in Kerala!
On our last day in Kerala, we were free to do the tourist thing and explore Cochin. Cochin has a fascinating mixture of cultural influences- Chinese fishing nets, Portuguese buildings, burial site of Vasco da Gama, Dutch palace, Jain temple, Brahmin temple, Orthodox churches, and Jewtown! Students enjoyed visiting these various sites and getting in some good souvenir shopping. In the evening we all met back together to see a traditional dance style from Kerala called Kathakali! We were treated to a wonderful mixture of dances and martial arts which was unlike anything we have ever seen. These talented dancers are definitely in a category of their own!
Batch 5 with the Kathakali dancers
Check out more pictures from our trip on Facebook!