Saturday, December 4, 2010

November Retreat and the start of December

Once again I find myself apologizing for my lack of posts. It has been a busy few weeks culminating with a wonderful retreat with my whole India family.

This month our retreat was in Wayanad in the north-eastern portion of Kerala. To get there we had to take a 3 hour train ride followed by a 3 hour bus ride up into the mountains. Wayanad is know, amongst other things, for its tea production and in the cool climate it thrives.

The mountains, which are part of a long range of moutains (the Western Ghats), are home to a large tribal population. If you remember one of my past blogs I discussed the lives of Dalits. Tribals do not technically fall in the caste system but they are none the less of the most marginalized and systematically oppressed people.

In Kerala at the time of Indian Independence and the creation of the modern state of Kerala the elections were one by the Communist Party of India. One of the first pieces of legislation that the party passed was a land reform act returning land to Tribal groups who had, for various reasons, lost their land.

Now, however, many of them still find themselves landless-- having sold their land for as little as a few bottles of alcohol and some cigarettes.

These people education is poor and that was often taken advantage of by wealthier land prospectors.

In Tribal communities today alcoholism and unemployment are high and, like the Dalits, structural system in place on help to keep these people down.

During our four day stay amongst their community we were able to meet many Tribal people. We even attended an Alcoholics Annonymous meeting at a local home.

The people of this region are trying to struggle with the challenges ahead.

We will be returning to Wayanad in late Spring and we are all looking forward to the refreshing cool mountain air!


We are finally into December and I only have two more days as a 22 year old which is quite hard to believe. I can remember being 8 as if it were yesterday. But experiencing this time of year is integral to my time here in India. Spending this time away from friends and family only reminds me of how important they truly are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dalit Reality

This past weekend we had our second retreat of the year. We were staying in Kozhencherry about two hours by bus from Kottayam. As I have mentioned before retreats are a time for us to get together, share stories, laugh, relax and also be exposed to a different reality in India.

This months retreat was focusing on the lives of Dalits in India. Dalits are what we know as the "untouchables" cast. Although, technically, they are so low that they aren't even considered to be part of the caste system.

The caste system in India has been in place for thousands of years and is deeply ingrained into Indian society. Unlike the racial divide that persisted (and still does in some way) in the United States, the caste system in India is not based on ethnicity or race. It is essentially a division of labor. Different professions are assigned to different castes. The Dalits are the lowest of these caste and are stuck with menial jobs that no one else wants (or is allowed to do). Ghuri, an Indian anthropologist who studied the caste system in his book, Race and Cast in India, described the caste system as having six features that kept it ingrained in society.

Six Features:
1. Segmented Society
2. Heirarchy
3. Restrictions on feeding and interactions
4. Civil and Religious privileges and limitations
5. Restriction of occupation
6. Restriction of marriage

Because they have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries the disparity between the lives of the dalits and those of other castes is extremely wide. They don't receive good education and they aren't offered good positions which makes it very difficult for social mobility or improvement of life.

One example that I experienced first hand was from a young woman in the Dalit community we visited. She had had the fortune to study all the way up to a Masters Degree in Molecular Biology (largely because of the practice of "reservations" for students from certain communities). She was offered a position at a hospital four hours away from her home. She had to decline the opportunity because her family did not have the money or the connections to find her a place to stay for the first few months before she received her first pay check. Now, instead of working at the hospital research facility she is teaching Biology to high schoolers. 

The Dalits usually live in close community with one another and rely on the community as a whole to provide for many of their daily needs. In older towns the Dalit community lives in the eastern part of the town because the upper-castes don't want the Dalits to pollute the breeze flowing from east to west. In more recent decades dalit families have financed their most promising young adults migration to other parts of India or the world (usually the Gulf states). They work jobs that no one else will do in these countries and send back most of the money they make to their families back home.

As in all other parts of their lives, their religious communities are separate from non-Dalit congregations. Their churches don't receive full-time clergy and severely lack funding and basic infrastructures.
Thomas John's grandfather was the minister of a Dalit congregation. Although not a Dalit himself, Thomas John grew up in this community and the people here were his neighbors and friends. To return to this community is always an emotional experience and we spent our time going around and visiting many of the families.

One of the interesting recent trends amongst many Dalit communities is the mass conversion to American Pentecostal churches. These churches come into the communities with conversion quotas and give out monetary and material gifts to all those who come to their meetings and are "saved". For the average Dalit family these physical incentives can be enough to get them out to these worship services and the parents usually come away with some money in pocket and the children usually have new school supplies. In our short stay near to this community we met two men from the United States who were Pentecostal ministers.

I know that people like pictures and I apologize that I cannot really provide them for this experience. Due to he sensitive nature of the situation we weren't walking around with our cameras around our necks.

Thursday was Kochammas birthday and so we celebrated that with cake and a small gift from us volunteers

Our novelty card to Kochamma

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There's no business like show business!

The movie is called Anwar and it is the latest film from the new Super-Star Malayama Actor, Prithviraj. It was my first film in Malayalam and, as I went in with little to no expectation (admittedly leaning more to the little side), I came out pleasantly surprised. Having said this I have tried to add some humor to the situation and I would like to point out that these are only my experiences from one movie at one theater in one city.  For those reading this in Kerala and my American friends who enjoy watching Malayalam movies: SPOILER ALERT!!!

The plot line is quite simple: A young Muslim man’s family is killed in a bombing committed by a Muslim terrorist organization in a jewelry store here in India. In the aftermath many Muslim men are rounded up for questioning—including the young man who lost his family. He tells the India authorities he will do ANYTHING to get back at the men who did this. He is quickly trained in the arts of explosives, hand arms, martial arts, as well as a much fitter body, a strong sense of courage, military tactical prowess of a seasoned veteran and deadly instincts. He is placed in the prison to befriend the supposed perpetrator of the bombings. In prison he becomes one of the most trust men of the mastermind. Upon their release (which is never actually explained) he is quickly recruited by the mastermind to join his… terrorist group… (I guess?!?!). He joins the group and he gets into the inner circle. He ends up committing a number of acts of violence in order to be accepted by the mastermind. In the end he learns that it was in fact the mastermind who killed his parents. In the end they face each other at gunpoint and the mastermind commits suicide.


So needless to say it was good.

There were a number of reasons it was interesting.

First: The population of Kerala is split up into equal thirds when it comes to the major religions. There are 33% Christians, 33% Muslims, and 33% Hindus. Meaning that, give or take a few people, a third of the audience was probably deeply offended and angry.

Second: It is a movie about terrorism and they still managed to find reason for not one, but TWO song/dance numbers (Interestingly enough the hit Malayalam songs on the radio are usually the songs from the big movies of that season).

Third: There is ALWAYS an intermission. No matter what.

Fourth: Popcorn and tea is actually quite a delicious combination.

Fifth: You buy tickets according to where you want to sit. Usually, families and groups of girls sit up in the balcony (45 rupees) and the boys and young men sit in the floor seats (30 rupees).

Sixth: There is no message before the movie to silence your cellphones. Come to think of it… there wasn’t a message for “don’t talk on your phones during the movie” or “don’t carry on loud conversation to discuss the goings on in the movie”.

Seventh: Not even the cinema is immune to the frequent power-cuts in India. We stopped our movie twice. Once for 13 minutes (it was the second time and I happened to look at my clock… I wasn’t timing it or anything).

Eighth: Indian men are good whistlers.

Ninth: Seriously…. Popcorn and tea is actually good.

Some other interesting things to know about the Malayalam film industry.

The highest costing film was just over 5 million dollars which is equal to the cost of golden leaf toilet paper used by James Cameron while filming Avatar (the 230 million dollars used to make Avatar is more money than then each of the ten smallest economies make in a year and the worldwide box-office grossings of 2.7 billion are greater than the forty-six smallest national-- RIDICULOUS). The major Malayalam film stars are in as many as ELEVEN films a year. They like to use only one take for fight sequences (there are a lot in every movie… probably even romantic comedies…) and are infamously fast about how quickly they can set up and take down film sets. They also usually film in live settings… i.e. the actual road, or the campus of the college I am at (it was used in the 2006 hit comedy, Classmates).

Another nice thing about Malayalam films is they don’t use lead actors with chiseled abs, handsome features and uncanny debonair…. Oh no… they use THESE GUYS (and yes... these are two different men):



It leaves the chance for all of us to be movie stars!

And finally, in a state that democratically elects and is, in fact, run by the Communist Party the Malayalam Film industry is one of the finest examples of cut-throat unabashed Capitalism you are ever likely to see. If public reception to a film is bad the film will run no longer than a week. If a film is loved it will last in theatres for months. Theatres here have one screen not multiple smaller theatres. The auditoriums, which usually have a balcony and a floor level, seat over a thousand in a single screening. The film on offer is showed four times a day, everyday. You wait outside and with fifteen minutes to the start of the film a bell goes off and you are able to pay fory our tickets and shuffle through the turnstiles. Inside the theatre is already dark, the floor is stone, and the techno music is bumping (LOUD). If a film is not doing well and not enough people come to see it the cinema will simply stop showing it and put on one of the MANY other films out there.There's no business like show-business!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Play Ball

Asides from my other responsibilities here at the college I have taken on the position of Coach of the Softball and Baseball teams as requested by the players. It started when I would join in on the Cricket teams practices and eventually the captain of the Softball and Baseball teams asked if I would be their coach. I was excited to accept this role. We began practices roughly three weeks ago and towards the end we began practicing twice a day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon). Some of the boys had played on previous teams but the majority of the players were enjoying their first swing at the American bat and ball sports.

On Sunday night the captain called me and informed me that our first game of the league would be tomorrow. "We leave at 530", he said to me.
"OK... and we play one game tomorrow?" I asked.
"Yes" he says.
"One game and then we come home?"
"Ok. Well I will see you in the morning then."
"Yes. 530"

So I get up at 5 and take a bucket bath and prepare for the day. At 530 we leave and head to the bus station to take a bus an hour south to a town called Tiruvella. We arrive around 730, have breakfast and make it to the field by 815. As we are walking in I notice a lot of activity going on around the field. To my delight they are still measuring out the field and chalking it by hand. 10 AM rolls around and still no games have been played. Eventually, at around 130pm we play our first game-- winning 13-2. They play five inning games to keep play moving. I was very excited and the players had played extremely well and had even incorporated many of the things we had talked about leading up to the match. An all around sound showing. I was excited to head back home too because a long day out in the sun can be quite draining. To my surprise none of my players seemed to be  getting ready to leave. "Shall we go?" I asked.
"No. We still have at least one more game."
"Um.... I thought we had one game today?"
It turns out we did only have one game today... and then another one... and then another one. Three in total. And, whereas I had assumed "league" meant that we would be playing over the course of several weeks, we were in fact cramming the league into four long days. By the time I got home and had taken off my sandals I realized that I had the Chaco tan to end all Chaco tans. If anyone knows of a more ridiculous Chaco/sandal tan please do send pictures. Here is mine:

By the end of the four days (which ended up concluding on Saturday because of heavy rain delays on Tuesday and Wednesday) our team finished second out of eight. Something we are very proud of.

If anyone is involved in a Baseball or Softball league and would like to help out this team at all it would be greatly appreciated. The team is using very old/broken equipment. My outfielders don't use gloves (Two of them are left handed and you can't get left handed gloves in India and we only have six gloves good enough to be used in games leaving the outfielders to catch the softball/baseball as they would a cricket ball). I am not sure if sending equipment would be the best idea because of shipping costs and unreliability of the postal service here. If you are interested in helping out or know someone else who might be, please contact me via email at:

Monday, September 27, 2010

On a lighter note...

I assure you that this post is of a far lighter nature than the previous post so if you thought about not reading it, don't worry!

This week went by without much incident. I continue to adjust and become ever more familiar with my new surroundings, my new friends, and my new responsibilities. On Friday we met for our first monthly retreat of the year. Once a month (or near enough) we will be meeting up as a way of taking a break from our sites, seeing our fellow volunteers and to be exposed to different realities. This retreat, being our first, was mainly focused on all of us coming together and spending time discussing our success, failures, challenges, and even funny/weird things that had happened at our sites. It provided us with a safe space to talk about and work out our problems and to be open amongst friends. Achen led us in several bible studies which, as always, take old well known stories and turns them on their heads. I will reflect on one such story later this week. 

Backwater life is simple
Other than spending time together we ate a lot and laughed a lot and got to go on the world famous Kerala backwaters. If you haven't read or seen anything about them take time to google or wikipedia them. Essentially they are a series of natural and man made canals similar to Florida's inter-coastal waterways that links up the western coast of almost the entire state of Kerala. They were and are still used for transport goods and commodities-- especially spices. Life for the people who live along these backwaters is simple and many of the distractions of our daily lives are not things they deal with. Electricity is minimal and lives are often spent working in rice paddys or fishing in the backwaters.

House Boat
In more recent years, as tourism has increased in the area, the traditional barges used for transporting goods were converted into luxury house boats which can be rented out for up to a week. They take tourists up and down the backwaters in considerable style. They have bedrooms, satellite televisions, A/C, kitchens (and a chef), and basically every amenity one could possibly need to enjoy a few days on serene and relaxing backwaters.

A Palmetto State
South Carolina claims to be the Palmetto State but as you can see in the pictures the title is much more fitting for the state of Kerala. It was a relaxing day out on the backwaters before returning home, chatting late into the evening and then waking up early for breakfast and church. I can already tell that the time spent during our retreats is going to be a welcome break from our time at our sites. Future retreats will focus on more serious issues in India such as the lives of tribal groups high in the Western Ghats and the lives and challenges of Dalits in India.
Asides from our incredibly relaxing and peaceful time on the backwaters we also had a wonderful conversation with Dr. Rajan the Vice-Chancellor and professor of Economics at Mahatma Ghandi University about the Kerala Development Model (more to come on this later). And we also had a lecture from our newest friend Anne on teaching methods and suggestions which was very helpful!

Sunset at the end of our backwater cruisin'

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WWJD- One Christian's Response to Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the United States

Early Christians were seen as outlaws, punishable by law and thus sought to worship in the safety of closed community and hidden worship. But, as is so often the case, the oppressed, upon receiving power, quickly become the oppressor. Throughout history Christians have, in the name of Jesus and of God, pillaged, killed, tortured, and oppressed many people from many places of many different faiths.
Today, we stand at a juncture—a volatile time of huge social change with massive implications. In the United States anti-Muslim sentiments coupled with the tragic events of nine years ago are giving way to mass hysteria. It is creating a mob culture against an entire group of people . For those who say that Muslims are misunderstood I would debate that. To be misunderstood people must first have taken the time and effort to TRY to understand. This is not the case in the United States. People are creating fact out of fiction. Those trying to burn the Koran admit to having never read it. This is ignorance and ignorance breeds hatred of the worst kind.
It is in instances of social and structural oppression and when the masses have managed to dehumanize their “enemy” that history has had some of its darkest hours. If something is not done, if people do not object to this ignorant hatred and stand beside our Muslim brothers and sisters the dark plumes that blocked out the sun on that horrifying day in September of 2001 will be stoked into a cloud that is so dark that no sunlight will ever break through.
The acts committed by the men on that fateful day in September were horrific and inhumane. But if we allow ourselves to blindly label them as acts of faith then we have already succumbed. Just because a handful of leaders and a group of followers bastardize a religion and drive it to its most violent and destructive edge we must not let uninformed judgment lead to the communal hatred of a people. The men who hijacked the planes on September 11th were not living out the words of the Koran or the teachings of Muhammad. They were deeply troubled individuals who read and heard and spoke words that did not exist and did it in the name of a religion.
Today, a community of peaceful followers wish to build a community center that will foster the sort of dialogue that is critical to calming the waters of this growing storm. Yes, there is a place for prayer, a space for Muslims to openly and freely worship the God they love. And why not? How is this a defamation or a dishonoring of holy ground? It was not Islam or followers of Islam that committed the acts of 9/11—it was headstrong, zealot, bigoted and ignorant people who took the lives of the innocent that day. WE have labeled them Muslims. The atrocities that were committed were not acts of faith, at least not to the God that Muhammad worshiped.
Nowhere in the bible is there a list, a hierarchy of sins, a log of which sin is worse than another. There is, however, a very clear statement by Jesus of what is most important in our lives. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heath, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.’”
This brings me to my title—the very common acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?”. I have two suggestions, surrounding this topic, of how we might change this acronym: “Where Would Jesus Dig?” and “Who Would Jesus Despise?”. To me, the answers are clear. He would dig the foundations of a building focused on peace, reconciliation and dialogue at the junction of war, hatred and suffering and he would despise only those without love.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Strikes, Holidays and difficult conversations

I apologize for the lack of blog posts. I could take the easy way out and say that I have been super busy but I don't think that would necessarily be true. I will be posting more regularly from here on out. First, I would like to say thank you to everyone who is following my blog. Both those who have registered and are "Followers" and those who are just reading it but have not signed up. For those who are interested and have not yet done so you can sign up to "follow" the blog which will give you access to leave comments and questions. I want to say a special thank you to all those who have left comments and I hope that on some of the more serious and intellectual blogs (not just the travel/daily life updates) the comment section can foster some good discussion and conversation.

Now for the daily life update:

I am continuing to adjust to life here at CMS College. It is being slowed by the continuation of strikes and holidays that are breaking up the normal routine here. There was a strike again yesterday, a holiday today, and there will be another strike tomorrow. This, coupled with the fact that on Thursday I will be leaving to meet up with Thomas John and my fellow volunteers for our first retreat/catch-up, has meant that I have not experienced a "normal" week here yet. For those unaware the strikes are being lead by the student government parties who are upset at the administrations decision to use parliamentary style elections as opposed to the desired presidential elections. A few months ago CMS was making headlines throughout India because of vandalism and riots surrounding the suspension of the SFI leader (the majority party) here on campus.

Although the strikes are happening students and faculty still seem to be in good spirits and I spend a lot of my day outside talking to various different groups of students and faculty. In talking to students I have realized that male students feel more comfortable and at ease in coming up and talking to me. Therefore, I have partnered with the Communicative English department to create a "formal-informal" time for groups of girls to come talk to me. These take place during the students free periods and lunch time. So far several groups of girls have come and chatted with me and have highlighted the importance of such interactions. They are happy to be using the English they have learned in a conversational setting because many of them have learned some English but have no means of using or practicing it. Additionally, they told me that if they were to come up to me individually when they saw me on campus the male students, especially those who cannot speak English, would ridicule them and make fun of them. So, for the time being it seems as if my solution is working.

Apart from this I will be giving a lecture in a weeks time on the current financial crisis focusing on its impacts in the United States. So, for all those who like to send Op-Ed pieces or Letters to the Editor... here is your chance! If you would like to weigh in on this subject leave a comment at the end of this blog! It just might make it into an Economics lecture at CMS College!

I am always learning new facts and trying to remember the dozens of names and faces that I come in contact with. It is exhausting having conversations all the time everyday with people who don't share a common first language as you. I started my formal Malayalam lessons yesterday and I am hoping that I can start putting to use what I am learning. Perhaps this will make communication a bit easier... but then again I'm sure their English will still be much better than my Malayalam.

Hope all is well state-side and around the world! Shout out to my fellow YAVs reading this... GOOD SELF CARE!!! You will all be hearing from me soon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kottayam, Kerala

My year will be spent in the city of Kottayam (Coat-tah-yam), Kerala. I arrived last Wednesday and was immediately welcomed into the campus life of CMS College. On Friday there was a holiday so there was no classes and the students have only just arrived back. Today, however, the students have decided to go on strike and so there are no classes today either.

This weekend I took the time to venture out into the city and surrounding area to familiarize myself with it all. I visited to Syrian Churches: Valliyapally and Cheriapally. Both churches were built in the 1500s by Syrian Christians here in India. These churches predate the United States and yet, by Indian standards they are relatively new. It makes for a very interesting place.

Apart from these churches I just strolled around the street to familiarize myself with the city and the staring people. The best is when I entered a restaurant by myself, ordered some food without looking at a menu and then proceeded to eat the meal with my hands-- this took everyone by surprise. The one good thing about eating with your hands is that you really have to concentrate on what your doing so I usually can keep myself busy and not pay too much attention to all the looks I get.

On Sunday I had my first rehearsal with one of the two choirs I will be singing with during my time here. It is a community choir made up of men and women from Kottayam and the surrounding area. Check out their website at                                   

Today, I was part of the Economics Departments Inauguration for the start of the years programs. Afterward, I went to meet up with the cricket/baseball team and played cricket with them for an hour and a half. Now I am just resting and reading. That is going to be one of the great things about this year. With few distractions I have time to do some serious research and reading. So I am looking forward to that.

Oh... and I got a new fan in my room so I don't sweat constantly while at home. I do, however, sweat constantly everywhere else.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Development Gospel

During our time here Thomas John Achen will be providing us with a daily bible study. Not your average, run of the mill, read through of a certain verse but a in-depth look at the bible through the eyes of a man who has spent his whole life within the realm of what many of us know as the "Third World". It is easy to read the stories of the Old and New Testaments from the relative comfort and safety of many of our homes or places of worship and not see the application in our daily lives. Here, reading many of the stories found through out both books of the bible can be eerily similar to reading the newspaper.

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings chapter 21 verses 1-15 the story of Naboth, his vineyard, and King Ahab is told (for those unfamiliar with the story here it is) . In the story Ahab goes to Naboth to try and get his vineyard in order to make a garden for himself. Ahab offers what he believes to be a fair trade. He will give him other lands in exchange for his vineyard. Naboth refuses. Then, in what may be perceived by us to be fair, Ahab offers him the value of the land in money.

In both offers Ahab fails to realize how valuable the land is to Naboth. Ahab sees the land as a commodity something with a price that can be exchanged either for money or for something of equal value. He never once stops to think about how this land may have been in Naboth's family for generations. Or how Naboth's vineyard brings jobs and industry to the area. Or how Naboth may just be attached to this land because it is his own. Ahab sees none of this. In the end Jezebel sets up Naboth to be stoned to death leaving the land free for Ahab's use.

This is a story that has occurred over and over and over again through out history. In the past fifty years this story has become increasingly prevalent with the rise of Globalization and, as Thomas Friedman put it, the flattening of the world. More and more, foreign companies from the developed nations of the world come into developing nations to set up industrial plants, manufacturing centers and huge agricultural mega-farms. They see the land as a commodity and the people as expendable. It is how our nations have increased in power and fortune and how we have increased our comfort levels and material wealth.

Here in India one of the most pertinent examples of this situation comes, sadly, from an Atlanta based company and favorite soft-drink of mine, Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has several factories throughout India that have been set up to access large amounts of water which are free. They set up huge pumping systems that take in up to 900,000 liters of groundwater per year. The most drastic example of the huge implications this process creates on the surrounding community is in Plachimada, a small town found in Tamil Nadu, the state directly to the east of Kerala. Here, Coca-Cola has used so much of the ground water that the surrounding farms and communities have no water with which to live. While the plant is still able to pump water the wells and systems of the local community are unable to reach the little water that remains. In addition to this, the small amount of water that is recycled from the plant is highly contaminated and unusable for the nearby populations.

It is hard to hear this and to apply it to the story of Naboth and his vineyard. In a land where everything is new to my senses all I want from time to time is something simple and familiar, a bottle of coke. I am not writing this to get on a soap box or to say I am different from anyone in the US or anywhere else. I play just as much a part in this whole situation as anyone else. However, in looking to the bible, the Development Gospel, we must at least take the time to question these practices and see how we can change them.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arrived at site!

Just a really quick post because they are about to shut the internet off here (funny concept I know...). I have arrived at my site so a new phase has begun. Everything seems good here. A lot of bugs! More to come soon. My internet is very limited here but I will update as best I can! Hope you are all well!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


The past couple of days has been very busy. We continue to receive lots of information from Thomas John Achen about everything under the sun-- different foods,  Dos and Don'ts, how to travel, information about our sites and our jobs, culture and history lessons, and lots more. It is a lot to take in and by the time of late evening we are usually pretty tired (I think it has to do with the humidity and the final stages of jet lag and adjustment). In the past couple of days we have done a number of 'touristy' things during the afternoons.

Left to Right: Achen, Me, Maggie, Madison, Binu
On Friday we went to an elephant training center to see them raising and domesticating elephants for use either for heavy manual labor and in temples around India. We were the first groups of YAV volunteers who were not able to take an elephant ride upon visiting this training center. Selfishly I was disappointed although I think the change in policy is a good thing. It comes from recent legislation that has passed raising elephants to the status of heritage animals meaning that the government recognizes their status as a symbol of India and of many of the states, businesses, organization, etc. within the country (fun fact: Kerala's state emblem has two elephants facing one another with their trunks raised). So for good reason we were unable to take an elephant ride. We still spent a lot of time around them and were able to take pictures with them and play with them.
Me in my jubba and mundu and the girls in their churidars
Today (Sunday), we all got up at 6am to get ready and have breakfast before heading out to a church about 30 minutes away that Achen was preaching at. There we were introduced by the other minister and we were asked to say a few words about ourselves and our time here in India. After this we sang a song to the congregation that we had learned during our week long orientation in New York but that was further taught to us by Achen and Binu. The song is in malayalam although the verses were translated into english by a group of past volunteers. After the service a lot of people came up to us and thanked us for our visit to the church and said how wonderful it was to see foreigners know such a traditional and well known malayalam song.

 After church we headed further north to Kochi. Kochi is a port city which was widely used by traders from all over the world including Jews, Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and many others. The highlights on our tour around Cochin were:

Jew Town-- an area of the city that at one time held several hundred Jewish families (many of them left when the state of Israel was created although still 50-60 roughly remain).

The synagogue, located in Jew Town, is the oldest synagogue in the lands formerly contained in the British Empire. It was built in the 1500s and remains operational to this day.

St. Francis
St. Francis Church which was a Catholic Church until the British came when it was operated as an Anglican church and finally, now, it is a church of CSI (Church of Southern India). Its claim to fame, which draws a lot of tourists, is that it was the original burial site of Vasco da Gama before his remains were moved to Lisbon, Portugal.

After a long day out and about we came back home exhausted. We have been lounging and napping and relaxing (all under the fans of course). Only 30 more minutes until tea time!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Flesh into Bread

We have been in the Sub-Continent now for three days. This has been a time of acclimatization in every sense of the word. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and thoughts that I have experienced have been unlike any in my life. Whether it be the saffron parade of some Hindus including an elephant carrying an representation of a Hindu God or the sounds of the local Mosques call to prayer (I can distinctly hear three when) or the taste of all of the new food or the distinct smells of India. It has all been new to me. And, no matter how much you prepare mentally for this immersion I think it is safe to say you can never be fully prepared. Part of this must also come from the stark realization that these will, over the course of the year, become somewhat common place to me in my daily life.
Thomas John Achen, Kochamma, and Binu have been so wonderful in how they are handling our entry into this new environment. Achen teaches us Malayalam and cultural lessons. Binu continues these lessons with history, politics, music, etc. And, most importantly, Kochamma has the difficult task of slowly familiarizing our bodies with the food. With the touch of a master chef and the care of a mother she is slowly bringing us into the world of Indian food. Starting with more bland and less spicy foods and slowly working our way up. Last night at dinner she smiled to us after our meal was finished and said, “Today I included one pepper in the curry”— small steps to a larger goal.
As our minds and bodies become more accustomed to our surroundings we begin to take on bigger challenges. This morning we scoured through the Malayalam newspaper on the dinner table to try and find examples of vowel signs we had studied the afternoon before. It is a long process but with the support of those in our immediate surrounding and the encouragement from those close to us yet far away we will succeed.
We have short bible studies whenever we are at Achen’s house. He uses these bible lessons to highlight situations in an Indian and global context. Areas of injustice and oppression that we are all called on, not only Christians, to stand up against. We were looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 17-34. Focusing on our call to provide food for those who need it as a way enacting how God has called us to live our lives. Today’s bible study ended with a moving quote from a Catholic colleague of Thomas John Achens. He said, “We are so concerned about turning the bread into flesh that we often forget to turn our flesh into bread.”
Be it through a secular organization or company, or through an organization or program linked to a certain faith or denomination, or even through an ecumenical organization bringing together many beliefs and faiths we should all be set on helping out those who need. Many of us have been blessed with having more than we need. As it was so eloquently put (in describing the YAV program) "We are rich enough to be poor for a year". It is not bad to have excess but it is important that we use this wealth in ways to help out other who are in need. You can never go wrong when you end with a Winston Churchill quote so I will do that now: "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Arrival in India

Outside Thomas John's House
I have arrived safe and sound in India. It took over 30 hours of traveling-- seven of which were spent in the Mumbai airport where our plane was delayed seven hours for no apparent reason. It's ok though because we were provided snacks at 2 AM for free. We have begun the monumental process of figuring out this magnificently different country. I am tired and busy and so will keep this post short. Hope all is well state-side.

Thomas John's Veranda

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ode to a Schnauzer

When I was younger my father was always the one to take Chipper out on walks at night. That was, of course, until I was old enough to do it for him. I remember before being able to go out with friends or if I was staying up later than my parents Chipper was used as leverage. “You’re going out to Starbucks at this time?” my dad would say. “Well, I guess that means you can take Chipper out then before you go.” I was an indentured servant earning my freedom. And, because I wanted to go out or stay up late I always took Chipper out. I remember on the frosty December nights and the heat of the summer I loathed taking him out, and Chipper knew it. He would first tease me with a very long stream of pee that would always get me optimistic. “Maybe this will be a quick walk” I would think to myself. It never was. Chipper had the ability of drawing out his walks for far longer than they need to be. He would continue to mark his territory with just enough pee to fill a thimble. Then he would spend a good five or ten minutes scouting out the best location for him to create his masterpiece, his magnum opus; only for it to be scooped up into a plastic bag only seconds after completion and still quiet hot. It used to annoy me to no ends. A complete waste of my time.
Some of you know Chipper and many of you know OF Chipper which makes sense—his reputation precedes him. Many would describe Chipper as Herr Hitler’s favorite hundchen from Berchtesgaden and, at times, he lived up to the reputation. You could cast every dwarf role in Snow White just with people he has attacked and some of us (me included) even have the distinct honor of being repeat victims. To everyone who sees Chipper in this light I can only say I am sorry you didn’t know him for the gentleman he was.
On the eve of my departure for India (with a brief layover in New York—seven days) I was lucky to take Chipper out one more time. He is quite old now and has had his share of problems in recent years and months and his long walks of old are a thing of the past. He usually takes three minutes and turns himself around before struggling up the steps a bit to return to his bed and his peaceful slumber. I don’t know whether this will be my last walk with Chipper but it certainly will be my last walk with him in quite some time. He must have known this because in true Chipper fashion he decided on one last hurrah… going out in a bang! I walked out the door and into the street with Chipper by my side. He peed as usual at the second tree past the mailbox. All was going fine. By the time we reached the road he had peed again—this time on the stop sign. We crossed the street and continued on. He began marking his territory with sprinkles and stopping to sniff for longer periods of time.
Now, if this had happened to me five years ago I would have been more than a bit annoyed at Chipper. Our walk was coming up on its fifteenth minute and Chipper was showing no intention of returning home. As we turned the corner, walked under a tree, and onto a street I had never walked down with him here in Rock Hill it suddenly dawned on me. Chipper, in his old age and wisdom was telling me something. He knew that this may be his last chance to teach me a valuable lesson. Chipper got it. Chipper had always gotten it. And, had I only paid attention to him all these years I might have gotten it to.
I lightly tugged on his collar and called his name out (much louder now then I would have had to years ago) and he looked at me. He stopped sniffing, turned around, paused and looked up at me. Our eyes met and without a doubt in my mind Chipper told me, “Stop focusing on all the shit to come and just enjoy the stroll.” It is a lesson that has been said by many people in many ways and yet it took a small, elderly, at times psychopathic, miniature Schnauzer to finally get the message through to me.
Amongst the vast number of people I am leaving to go to India, Chipper is amongst them-- a friend to me for over a decade now. I can’t imagine life at home without him and yet tonight he reassured me in a way that maybe only he could that to focus on all the shit to come would inevitably effect and impede upon my ability to enjoy the stroll. I hope to see him again and I hope to be able to tell him how right he was but that is shit that I shouldn’t be dealing with now. I know he loves me and would be proud of me. He understands that his place is here, to take care of my mom and dad. I know he will keep his pack protected and understands that I must go out into the world to make a life of my own. These are instincts he was born with.
And so to Chipper I say, “Through the barks and bites, and all the walks too, there has been no greater companion to me, than you.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program

YAV India

Kerala- Wikipedia

Kottayam- Wikipedia

CMS College- Wikipedia

CMS College Website

Kottayam Map

Looking for Answers

I have decided that a fun and interactive way of keeping in touch would be that if you have any questions that you want answered. I along with my colleagues and friends in India will go about answering your questions and create a video response for you to see. So if there is anything you want to know about the mysterious Indian sub-continent please ask away! From food to religion to economics I along with everyone else will try and answer your questions. On any post just ask your question in the comment section underneath the post itself. I am excited to teach and learn along with everyone else.

Pre-Departure "Things"

Travel Update:
On August 23rd I will be flying up to New York for a week long orientation event. On August 30th I will be flying from New York to Mumbai and then on to Cochin.

Fundraising Update:
I have raised $4,500 meaning I am half way there! Thank you so much to all those who have already donated. Without your charity this would not have been possible.

Rock Hill Update:
"...a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front."

Medical Update:
I have been examined from head to toe and blood to urine and have been OKed to go to India.

Dental Update:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With every end, a beginning.

To say that a chapter of my life has ended would probably be a bit of an understatement. The past four years of my life and what happened during them... the good, the bad, the ugly... will leave a permanent mark on me for my whole life. The friends I made, the lessons I learned, not to mention the diploma I earned have all, and will all, continue to shape me. It is now starting to hit me how much I will deeply miss DC, the experiences and most of all the people. So for all of my GW friends and, of course, everyone else I have something that hopefully will resonate at some level with you. Unbeknownst to anyone I wrote and auditioned to speak at graduation. Both obviously and unfortunately I was not selected. I would have like nothing more than to have been able to share this message with all of you at our graduation, unfortunately, fate had another plan. I have decided to post it here so that anyone who chooses to, can read it. Again, my apologies if the grammar and what not is a bit off... it was meant to be read aloud and I think if you do this you will be able to follow the flow of it a bit better.

First, remembering that have our whole lives ahead of us to be GW
graduates and remembering we have only one chance to be a son, a
daughter, a brother, a sister, a granddaughter or a grandson, let us
take this opportunity to stand and thank our families and friends.
Thank you to our mothers and fathers, our stempmoms and step dads, our
grandmas and grandpas, our brothers and sister, our aunts and uncles
and everyone else who has stood by us and supported us with love and
commitment in our pursuit of academic excellence. Thank you!

To our parents: relax. Its over. We’ve completed all our requirements.
Used all of our Gworld money. Finished all of our papers. And even
woke up on time for all of our final exams. Now, we just need to pay
off our student loans.. Ok, so maybe don’t relax just quite yet.

To our brothers and sisters: Oh ye of little faith!

And to everyone else: Thanks for calming down our parents over the
past four years.

I have spent the past four years as a student of International Affairs
learning about the effects of the colonial legacy. From the favellas
of Brazil, the townships of South Africa, the outcast of India, the
genocides of entire peoples, the imprisonment and slavery, the
pillaging of resources and the poverty, hunger, and suffering of all
those worldwide.

To all of these people, in all of these places, and more, the word
COLONIAL is often partnered with a tear in their eyes, a scarring
memory, a culture lost, a language forgotten, a people displaced and a
country in ruin.

To these people, the COLONIALS came in with little or no compassion
for their way of life. They used, converted, enslaved, raped, and
tortured them into a life of submission-- if they were lucky. For
others, the COLONIALS could only see them as savages worthy of nothing
short of death.

WE are COLONIALS. Proud to wear this word across our chest, not
thinking once, of the weight that this word carries. We are not,
however, THOSE, COLONIALS. We are a group of people who are committed
to using our talents and changing the world.

We have a very difficult task in carrying this name, out into our broken world.

And today I charge each and everyone of us with the task of changing
this legacy. Taking the word COLONIAL and removing the shackles of its
troubled past and freeing it.

We have already started this new legacy: with our hard work and
studying, our study abroad experiences, our alternative spring break
trips, our bake sales, our student organizations, and our commitment
to service locally, nationally, and internationally.

Wherever you go from here: to a familiar place with familiar cooking,
to a new career in a new place, a new school for continued studies, a
time of travel or a time of service, go forward with a commitment to
changing the world-- for good.

For good in two very important ways: first, for the betterment of
society and the world and second, in a way in which we could never
turn back to a past time.

I stand here as proof that your GPA is not your most important asset
in life. With purpose and determination and with the skills and
talents that we have acquired and perfected during our time here at GW
we CAN change our world, for good.

Congratulations to everyone! We’ve don’t it! The easy part is over,
it’s done. Now, now, we answer our calls, each of us individually, yet
each of us together, collectively, bound by our time here at GW and
forever in our mission to create a new COLONIAL legacy. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Lesson in Humility

1.The term yoga comes from a Sanskrit word which means yoke or union. Traditionally,
yoga is a method joining the individual self with the Divine, Universal Spirit, or
Cosmic Consciousness. Physical and mental exercises are designed to help achieve
this goal, also called self-transcendence or enlightenment. On the physical level,
yoga postures, called asanas, are designed to tone, strengthen, and align the body.
These postures are performed to make the spine supple and healthy and to promote
blood flow to all the organs, glands, and tissues, keeping all the bodily systems
healthy. On the mental level, yoga uses breathing techniques (pranayama) and
meditation (dyana) to quiet, clarify, and discipline the mind. However, experts
are quick to point out that yoga is not a religion, but a way of living with
health and peace of mind as its aims.
2.An exercise movement that has gained in popularity in the United States over the
course of the new millennium. It involves group classes often situated in heated rooms

Yoga, as stated above... is an ancient way of life (connected to the this blog because of its birthplace in India) best known in our society for its physical manifestation as a type of group exercise. With it has arose a tight-knit community of active and devoted yoga yogis. I have never been one of these yoga yogis and, in fact, I have been a skeptic of these yoga doers. Jess, a long time college friend
and subsequently one of my roommates of the past two months has been badgering me for
the past eight weeks to go to a yoga class with her.


For all of those eight weeks I have told Jess that I believed yoga would barely
challenge me and that I could easily make it trough one session without having to
a break or stop doing the movements at any point. To make a long story short... not
only was I wrong, after an hour and a half of sweaty suffering I was, dead wrong.
Having played competitive soccer for over seven years and being coached by a former
US men's national team player and a sly Russian who played in Europe a 127 lb. yoga
instructor had me on my knees holding my hands in prayer in front of my chest
(ironically enough one of the few times during the class I was doing the correct

Two very important things to know before going to yoga... drink water... lots and
lots of water and DO NOT EAT within two hours of the classes start.

To discuss the first of the two points: The average human body has 37 liters of water
within it. At the end of ninety minutes 34.72 of those liters formed a moat around my
mat area, darkened my clothes color by three shades and ineffectively cooled my skin from the stagnant, 93 degree, dry heated room. My fingers were wrinkled from contact with the drenched towel and mat beneath me making me feel like Benjamin Button at age 7.

Second... using the restroom in a yoga studio gives off a very familiar sense: the smell of a filled port-a-potty sitting outside all summer at a construction site in Dubai.

Needless to say I struggled through (actively engaging for roughly and hour and then
spending the last thirty minutes of the class in the child's pose-- for those unfamiliar its exactly as you would imagine) and I realized that I had been humbled.

I am excited to move forward from this experience with a renewed commitment to never judge something without having attempted it first myself. In the next year there will be many situations that I am sure I will be quick to come to a conclusion and this episode, fittingly occurring on my final day in DC, will help to ground me again in the importance of experience and openness.

For those of you who have not tried yoga... I strongly encourage you to try although I would also strongly recommend first trying a beginners class).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blog Title

I think the largest stumbling block for me getting my blog up and running was the tricky task of selecting a title. Although my father gave me several good suggestions, I have decided to go with the words of wisdom of another Scotsman... one who would be forever immortalized for the most simple four word question, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" The title of this blog, 'Going anywhere, provided it's forward', is a fitting title due to the fact that it is both acutely definite while at the same time exponentially ambiguous. What is not ambiguous, however, is that I will be spending the next year of my life in Kerala, India with the Young Adult Volunteer program (YAV). To update everyone on my progress on all pre-trip related activities: I have my visa stamp in my passport (and more importantly I have not lost my passport again), I have had so many needle jags that I could be nominated for best supporting actor in Trainspotting, and finally I have picked up my anti-diarrheal medication (which I'm sure will be a supporting actor in this blog in the coming year). Apart from that I am busy fundraising to reach my goal. I would like to thank all who have already donated and to remind them to be looking for a thank-you letter in the mail. I have decided that to get into the swing of blogging I will use the next month when I am still in the United States to practice my blogging skills and to bring all of the reader(s) (I say that because I know if no one else reads this my mom will-- and on a side note mom... please don't correct my grammatical and spelling mistakes, thanks, love you) up to speed on Kerala and India in general. Please feel free to leave comments! I encourage everyone to keep in touch.. leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I will try my best to keep this updated so that I can keep everyone in the loop. Thank you again to everyone who has already supported me. Whether it be through finances, thoughts, prayers, or just kind words and well wishes, every little bit helps and I am so thankful to have a wonderful family and a wonderful group of friends who are so very supporting and very loving. If I start to ramble in this or future posts please let me know. For those of you in the NPC community and the Oakland Avenue community you will realize that this is hereditary so blame my father.