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!

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