Saturday, December 4, 2010
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
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.
1. Segmented Society
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
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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."
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:
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: email@example.com
Monday, September 27, 2010
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|
|A Palmetto State|
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
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
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
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.
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 www.kottayammixedvoices.in
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
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
Sunday, September 5, 2010
|Left to Right: Achen, Me, Maggie, Madison, Binu|
|Me in my jubba and mundu and the girls in their churidars|
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.
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
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
|Outside Thomas John's House|
|Thomas John's Veranda|
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
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.
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."
I have been examined from head to toe and blood to urine and have been OKed to go to India.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
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
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
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.
DISCLAIMER: WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY IS SOMETHING I ALWAYS HAVE TROUBLE ADMITTING
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