Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reflections on Being Home

          It's now been about a month that I've been home and over a month since I've posted. So much happened in those last weeks in India, between finishing the big paper, taking the 36 hour train ride back up North with Colleen, presentations, final banquets, seeing host families for the last time and the sadly starting to say good bye to everyone with whom I'd grown so close with. The last few weeks were emotionally and physically draining in every way, but also one of the most rewarding months I'd experienced in a long time. Hearing everyone's research and how they'd spent their month of independent research was amazing and just reinforced how strong and inspiring the other 24 people I'd spent this time with, are. We enjoyed our last weeks together, got dressed up in our finest Indian wear for the final banquet and then had all sorts of emotional bonding as we starting heading our separate ways. It was some of the hardest good byes I've ever said.
         Now, here we are a month later. I was so worried about coming home, thinking about how difficult it would be to readjust to being home. For the first week I was home, I was incredibly jet-lagged and pretty sick as well. India got the final say by giving me a nasty case of something. I had the chance to go in and talk to my dad's world history students again about India. This was actually interesting, but most of them were interested in the experience in what I had to say. A couple of them even expressed an interest in wanting to go abroad. If I could get a couple of people to push themselves and go abroad in a country they wouldn't normally consider, that would make me incredibly happy.
            Just as I was starting to feel better, and the boredom was starting to set in, a couple friends I studied abroad with in Morocco came to stay with me for a week. Having them come to stay with me, as the initial adjustment was really starting, was helpful. They had gone through the adjustment and understood what it was like coming back after living in a very, very different place. A lot of personal reflection happened as we went around exploring together. It was phenomenal to see them, and incredibly helpful to have them around while I was first getting used to being back home. It was still strange being home and seeing home after being gone for so long. We started moving into my apartment down near school and life here is really moving forward. I also got an internship working with the International Institute of Rhode Island, working in their refugee adjustment department. Providence takes in 120 refugees every year (that's a lot for such a small city). The majority are from Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal and Senegal, so I'll be working with a variety of people, which will help keep things interesting and exciting my senior year. Basically, just trying to keep as busy as possible in order to get used to routine again. I started work the day after my friends left from staying with me. Getting used to being at work again was interesting as well.
        Currently, I'm visiting people on the West Coast, which is also helping to mix things up. Not only to I get to see friends I studied abroad with in both Morocco and India, but I get to explore a part of the country I've never seen before. I think it was the perfect time for a break from things at home. It was time to mix things up again.

Reflections and adjustments continue to happen, and I'm sure will continue to do that for a long time. Being home is going to continue to be difficult, especially when I'm back in the regular "school" routine. I think the internship, surrounding myself with new people at school, living on my own and really trying to push myself to  continuing to do exciting and new things will help all of this.  Some things are good about being home, but I definitely miss the excitement and craziness of being abroad. I also miss everyone so incredibly much. It's reinforcing how wonderful our group was and lucky I am that I got the chance to spend four months with them.

Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to go abroad for the year and to all of the people that were there along the way. It wouldn't have been them same with out all of you. It was the best experience thus far and I have learned so much more about life and the world than I could have ever done by staying in the comfort zone of school.

On a closing note, here are some pictures from our final banquet.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Challenges of Getting Ready to go Home

I realize I've been posting a fair amount recently, but as the semester is coming to a close (I'll be home at this time in two weeks.)  But this is something that I've been trying to put into words for a while.

For those of you that didn’t know, (I feel I talk about it all the time.) I’m worried about heading home. The idea of reverse culture shock is real and I was beginning to feel it when I was home for the month between India and Morocco. Feeling out of place because while you’ve been gone, the place you were once so comfortable in, has continued on without you. How much did I miss while I was abroad? How much has changed? And then realizing that I’m not even all that sad I missed those things because I LOVED being abroad. That’s almost harder, to realize that my priorities have changed so much. I’ve gained so many wonderful friends since being abroad, and have lost touch with some of the ones from home. I’ve discovered the type of things I want to do and the type of people I want to be surrounded by. I’ve found out a lot about myself, what I’m capable of, when physically and emotionally I just need a break, I’ve learned to appreciate things back home differently, but have also found things in two completely different cultures that I will miss so much once I'm back in the States.
              When I was a sophomore attending the study abroad information session, and people were like “Study abroad changed my life! Best experiences I’ve had so far in my life!” I was like “Whatever, people hype these things up all the time, I doubt it’ll be like that for me.”  I went into my abroad experience expecting to be difficult and really have to push myself and yes, it would be great but not necessarily life changing. Here I am now, at the final two weeks of my abroad experience getting ready to come home and I realize this has been the best experience I’ve had thus far. It has been life changing in a lot of ways. Now I'm going to be that person talking at the information sessions saying "Go! It'll be the best experience!"  Going home, back to the familiar is scary, I’m different, the place is different, everything will feel different even when I expect them to be the same. That’s what makes home, home right? When you can feel at ease and comfortable because things are the same and familiar. The idea of routine, is terrifying. I've been living in a way where everyday is so different, never quite knowing what's going to happen, constantly adjusting. How will I adjust back into to regular life?
                I was talking with my friend from last semester about my concerns with going home and she said, “You managed to adjust to India and Morocco, two countries so far different than anything you ever knew. You’ll be able to readjust and yes it’ll be difficult. If anything you're more ready for it now because you know how to adjust to difficult situations now.” Her frankness as to the difficulties she has faced readjusting to home didn’t help me feel better initially, other than realizing I’m not the only one who will be going through these things. Then she continued by saying, “Your home is all over the world now. Who says home has to be one place? My parents are home, but so are you and you’re across the world. We get to wake up and talk with people on the other side of the World. That’s home too. You lens will change to being back “home” and realize that home is all over now, and people from all over the world are part of your family.”  She’s absolutely right. My world has expanded and all though going back to my hometown seems intimidating and nerve-wrecking, I will adjust and I will have all those new people and new places to add to my home.

Marie also shared a great quote with me that basically was perfect for the situation, and I want to share it with everyone.

“To be a real traveler you must be willing to give yourself over to the moment and take yourself out of the center of your universe. You must believe totally in the lives of the people and the places where you find yourself, even if it causes you to lose faith in the life you left behind. You need to share with them, participate with them. Sit at their tables, go to their streets. Struggle with their language. Tell them stories of your life and hear the stories of theirs. Watch how they love each other, how they fight each other. See what they value and what they fear. Feel the spaces they keep in their lives. Become part of the fabric of their everyday lives and you will get a sense of what it means to live in their world. Give yourself over to them — embrace them rather than judge them — and you will find that the beauty in their lives and their world will become part of yours. When you move on, you will have grown."
-Ken Nerburn

So thank you Marie for helping me start getting a grasp on this :) And thank you to everyone else who here who has been talking and helping me get ready for the transition home and listening to my concerns. You're wonderful.

Now, here are some lovely pictures of Kerala. Palm trees everywhere! And ocean <3

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let's talk about India

               I feel as though I’ve consistently been trying to portray what it’s like in India, but haven’t been doing a very good job. So, let’s talk about India. Let’s talk about some of the many things (recognizing that India is HUGE and these are just from my experiences) that make India, India. The things that you would never see in the U.S (or, rarely would.) This is small list, since my experiences here are fairly limited. I apologize for lack of pictures on this post; promise there will be more.

First, some background and basic information:

                Population: It is the 2nd largest population in the world, containing 1,220,800,359 people. Yup, that’s a lot of people. The U.S is the 3rd largest with about 317,000,000 people in the country. That’s a pretty big gap in population. It’s almost, in terms of area, only a bit over 1/3 the size of the United States. So not even half the size of the US in land size and has more than 3.5 times the population of the United States.

                Religion: 80.5% of the population is Hindu, 13.4% Muslim and 2.3% Christian. There are other religious sects in India, but these are the top four.

                Language: My host mom said that if I drove 10km I would hear the people speaking a different dialect. She’s absolutely right. There are thousands of local languages in India. However, India has 14 official languages, the most widely spoken being Hindi.

                Government: It’s technically a Federal Republic.

                When it got its freedom:  It was a British Colony until 1947. That’s pretty recently…

1.       Arranged Marriage. Most marriages in India, are arranged by the parents and family. The dowry system is still very much in place. (The dowry system is what the bride’s family gives to the husband and his family. It usually entails money and other extravagant gifts.) The first question I’m asked when I meet someone new is, “Are you married?” And when I say, No, definitely not. They then ask if there are arranged marriages. When I say No, they’re love marriages; their faces looked surprised. Some people like the idea of a love marriage, but a lot of the time they say, “Oh, so you have to find someone on your own? That sounds so hard!” The idea of finding someone on by yourself, is intimidating to them. The whole dating culture here, doesn’t exist. You are shown a man, you talk, and if you get along, you get married.  I think it’s also shocking because that means I, as a 20 year old female, am traveling alone without a male escort.
I think this important to think about because, at least for me, the initially idea of arranged marriages sounded less then appealing. But after speaking with these women and families, I’ve come to realize maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. Their families (usually) want them to be happy and will try and find a man they are compatible with. If it’s what they are used to and grow up with, why should a love marriage be viewed as any better. Especially when 50% of marriages in the US currently end in divorce. Just something to think about.

2.       Auto Rickshaws. These little guys are unique, terrifying and so much fun all at the same time. They are like enclosed motorcycles (except in tricycle form) They have three wheels, a motor, a small front space for a driver and then depending on the quality of the rickshaw enough space for three people comfortably. This of course means you fit six or more people in the auto. In Udaipur there were ten of us, including the driver. Auto’s are the public transportation of choice; and you bargain for the fee; at least in Jaipur. Here in Calicut, they use meters which I nice. Last month there was a strike from the auto walas (the people that drive them) because they want to increase their pay/starting point for prices because of the expensive price of gas. Autowala drivers are some of the poorest people in the country.

3.       Kids living with their parents until they are married. My host sister is almost 30 I believe, but since she is not married, she still lives at home. And my host mom cooks for her and my host brother, cleans up for them, takes care of the house, etc. In India, the fact that I work AND go to school is astounding. That would never happen here. In India, you stay a kid for a much longer period of time.

4.       Patriarchy. Yes, the United States could still be considered a male dominated society. And yes, there are issues, problems and discrimination that women still face today in America. I don’t want to say that America doesn’t have problems because it most definitely does. However, that being said, India is definitely much more patriarchal. Women cannot buy alcohol, cigarettes, smoke, walk alone after dark or even walk down the street without being harassed (or eve-teasing as they call it here.)There is a women’s section on the bus and on the trains. Women are restricted in their ability to pursue education and can be viewed as a burden because the families then have to find them a husband and pay a dowry. Female feticide is a problem here.
I would like to point out though, that women are letting their voice be heard. There are movements across the country. One example is the Pink Sari Gang. It I a group of women, thousands of them, that assemble to protect women from violence. If they see a woman being harassed or physically grabbed by a man, this group of women descend and starting hitting the man in the same way he was hitting the woman. They have a phone number, you can call if you need help and they will send the closest member to you to help you defend yourself. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in regards to violence against women, but statements are being made.
Pink Sari Gang (not my photo, photo from:

5.       Being welcomed into a home, no questions asked. I show up at someone’s house to conduct an interview and not only do they welcome me in to speak with them, but they offer me fresh made fruit juice. I’ve had papaya juice, mango shake, coconut shake, pineapple shakes so many times at this point. Then they will serve me snacks, fresh made pastries and sometimes, they even make me lunch. These people are excited to share their culture with me and in Kerala food is a huge part of it. So they go out of their way to welcome me in, agree to an interview and greet me like family. Even the girls that have been nice enough to take me from interview to interview, they’ve welcomed me to their villages and to their homes to show me around.  This is something I feel happens very rarely in the U.S. I spoke about this last semester as well, how in Morocco, your door is always open. It’s the same here, and I’m really going to miss it when I’m back in the State. I have never felt more welcome.
                     I think a really good example of this is the community we've built with the SIT group as a whole and our program center. It truly is a home when I wasn't at my host families home (which was very welcoming as well)

6.       Electricity going off and on. Electricity is expensive here and since there are so many people they do electricity cuts during the summer. Some of you might remember last summer there was a huge power outage in India.  These power cut are to try and avoid another disaster like that. It comes and goes in short bursts. It makes for writing papers an adventure; always making sure your laptop is fully charged. Gas is also really expensive and difficult to get; hence why Colleen and I are cooking off of this:

7.       Local vendors and shops. They’re everywhere. Fruit stands, juice stand, lassi stands, clothing, stitching, tailoring, it’s everywhere.  Yes, there is big business in India (however, a lot of them are U.S and other foreign companies looking to outsource for cheaper labor). Please, don’t hold a grudge against India for “taking our jobs”, they are simply taking opportunities to work that we are offering them. Raise your problems with corporate America if you dislike the system; enough with the call center jokes.  If you were in a country, trying to make a living, and a foreign company offers you a job…you wouldn’t say no. You need to live too. So anyways, that’s a side rant for another day.
Local businesses are widely supported when possible and are literally everywhere. Take away business from WalMart and support local business.

8.       Staying close to your family. Here, family is important. I went with this girl who helped me translate an interview, and when we got to her neighborhood, all 20 houses belonged to her family. You stay close to them. This is starting to change and people are spreading out more. Traditionally though, you stay close and you value your family in a way that I don’t think happens in the U.S.
Here's a lovely picture of my host mom :)

9.       Vegetarianism. In Northern India a lot of the community I vegetarian. A LOT, as is MOST. Some are non-veg on certain days. And on auspicious days, you really can’t cook meat. My family was vegetarian, but they would cook me eggs some days for breakfast. While in Jaipur I was essentially vegetarian .Now that we’re in South India, seafood is HUGE. A lot of people here are not vegetarian. I would like to point out that I did love the food in Jaipur (so long as it wasn’t filled with green chilies, they like their food SPICY.) Since I can’t eat really spicy food, every interaction I had with a host family was positive, they would make food without the spice just for me. People here are very considerate and went out of their way to make me as comfortable as possible.

10.   Finally, number 10. Honestly, there are so many things that are incredibly different in India that a complete list isn’t even possible. I’ll give a quick run-down I guess of a couple other big things in this culture:
o   Marriages are HUGE, like, thousands of people attend them. 
o   There is school on Saturdays.
o   Education is VERY competitive here.
o   Nose piercings, in the North, are everywhere. Yes, I got one.Here's where:

o   You are served Chai (or milk tea) every time you enter a new persons house.
o   Cell phone SIM cards are really hard to get, due to terrorist cells in India.
o   Trains here are absurd; you have to book tickets months in advance. (Hence why Colleen and I are still on the wait list to get from Kerala to Jaipur…woops.)
§  But actually.
Here's a wonderful link to a catchy song from the first Bollywood movie we saw: watch it, love it, let it get stuck in your head.

People have been asking if I like Morocco or India better. I think it’s hard to say the more I think about it. I loved Morocco and miss it a lot; but I’ve also really enjoyed my time in India. The people here have been wonderful (despite the staring, Yes…I’m white, I’m aware, now TURN AROUND) but this happened in Morocco too. Every place has its pros and cons and it’s important to remember that. I leave in a little over two weeks and I’m finding that I’m genuinely sad because I feel there is a much higher chance of me going back to Morocco than of me getting back to India. Hopefully I will, there’s still so much to see. It’s wonderful, spiritual and culturally diverse place, along with all its crazy contradictions and the thing I don’t enjoy; like the eve-teasing (street harassment) and trash being the top two things. But let’s be real, I’ve grown a lot here and have discovered a lot of things. There’s just something about India that makes you think and contextualize your own life; and puts you in a position to not only adapt, but push and change yourself in ways that I have found are positive. :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Kerala Adventure begins!

First things first, I think India is on to something when it comes to giving change after buying something. In the US, all you get are those annoying pennies…because everything is marked $9.99 to try and make us feel as though it’s actually cheaper and worth the purchase. So we end up gathering pennies…which it costs more to make a penny than it’s actually worth. Anyways, in India, when you don’t have those annoying little bits of change to give them when purchasing, the take it, round it up and then in place of those little would-be-pennies, you get candy. That’s right, candy. And not those silly little hard candies that no one wants from the candy jars. You get Cadbury chocolates. Sometimes you get gum, Orbit I might add. I think the US should adapt this system. I thoroughly enjoy the occasional chocolate or piece of gum than those annoying coins you can’t do anything with; and I think a lot of other people would as well.

Moving on to more important things, like the adventure it was to get to Kerala.  Since I last posted, there were lots of things happening. ISP final proposal, Hindi Final, Hindi Final project, final preparations to leave for ISP, farewell parties that of course ended in tears and moving out of our host families homes. It’s official, I’ll be home in less than a month. Where on earth did the time go? So, for the last month-ish of the program, I do a research project. I will be continuing research from last semester, looking at the movement of Muslim women from the home sphere to the “public sphere.” I’m working with an AMAZING organization called Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and they have been wonderful about everything thus far.  One other girl, Colleen and myself both came to Kerala which is wayyyyyyyyyy down in southern India.

Let’s start from the beginning; Colleen and I know we have an apartment waiting for us in Kerala, her advisor is picking us up at the train station and we were both all set with getting started on our research. First thing we have to do is get to Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala. Kozhikode is 1,357 miles from Jaipur where I was based. This translates to a 6 hour drive north, to Delhi to take a 36 hour train ride south to Calicut. Here’s a map, the red line shows the route that we took (roughly…)

We started our journey Saturday morning, driving with the group of students from our program that are doing their research in Delhi. We arrive in the evening to their swanky/ritzy apartment (it’s really freakin nice) and crash there for the night. We wake up in the morning and I’m not feeling great. Actually, I’m feeling terrible. Breakfast doesn’t come and we have to leave. As we are leaving, I get sick. There’s nothing we can do at this point, we have a train to catch. Colleen is wonderful and trying to carry her stuff and help with mine as we go to hail a rickshaw to the New Delhi Station. A rather bumpy and overpriced rickshaw ride later, we get to the train station with plenty of time, which is great since I felt like I really needed to rest. Colleen goes to ask the enquiry desk what platform our train is leaving from….
Cue adventure part two. We actually went to the wrong train station. The train station we need is on the other side of town and we have less than an hour to get there. This would seem pretty reasonable in most situations, but not in Delhi.  It’s population is 14 million and is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s massive. Time to find a new rickshaw, who can hopefully get us across town in a very short amount of time. We call Manoj-ji, our go to guy back in Jaipur, basically being like HELP WE DON’T KNOW WHA TO DO! (I should mention that if we missed this train, we probably would not have made it to Kerala for at least another week…if we were lucky to get another train ticket there at all.) Manoj-ji asks to speak with the Auto driver, I don’t know what he said, but that driver kicked into high gear. Now starts one of the most terrifying rickshaw drives of time in India. This guy was not messing around. He got us there though, just in time. We literally, just made our train. It was pulling in when we got to the platform.
                We then find our seats/beds, in the air conditioned car and the train leaves. Needless to say it was a stress start to my research period. We had some very nice men sharing our compartment with us. So we had good conversation with the less then delicious train food. (Colleen liked it, I couldn’t quite get myself to be able to just yet.) Thirty-six hours later we arrive at our station, the nice guys help us off the train and tell us where to go to meet Colleens adviser and off we went. Manoj, her adviser, whisked us off to the apartment which is very nice, but had no bed sheets or kitchen utensils. We are currently borrowing them from our advisers. (My adviser also found me a SIM card for my phone since my original one stopped working. Womp.) There’s air conditioning though in each of our bedrooms, which is perfection since it’s REALLY humid here and pretty hot. We have Tuesday to get settled in and a couple of girls from the organization I’m working with came to welcome us to the area.
They’re really enthusiastic to have me working with them and I’m really excited to work with them for the month too. They’ve already compiled a list of people for to talk to. They brought me to chat with one woman already, who after a conversation then offered me fresh pineapple juice and snacks. When I mentioned I liked the mangoes down here, she sent her brother to pick me a BAG of them from their mango tree in their yard. The people are so welcoming and Kerala is beautiful. It’s called God’s Own Land, and I can completely understand why. Especially after spending two and a half months in the desert. There is green everywhere, palm trees, jack fruit trees, mango trees, flowers, the beach is within walking distance, rivers, everything. It’s so wonderful here. So far it’s been great and I can’t wait to explore it more. I unfortunately have almost no pictures as of yet, but hopefully that will change after some exploration this weekend!

View from the apartment :)

 Sunset today

On a separate and more serious note, something else I want to talk about is more related to home. When I woke up and heard about the bombings in Boston, it was tragic. I had friends, like a lot of people, who were running the marathon and know so many people who go to school in Boston and go to watch it. It was a nerve wrecking day to realize that this happened so close to where I live and grew up. It was ground shaking and both the girl I live with, and myself, were unsure what to do with ourselves. People we care about were there, and we’re here, thousands of miles away.
I then got upset thinking about how many people were concerned for my safety in India, but this could happen at home? Having to come to terms with the fact that tragic things happen all over the world, even so close to home, is hard. However, as I continued thinking about it and reading updates I recognized something. It’s times like this that we really need to remember and appreciate, is those people that rushed towards the blast to help. There first concern was helping their fellow person; their fellow human. In all the tragedies around the world, there are people like this. There are more good people in the world than bad. More people rushed to help and support and do what they could to those injured, shaken or distressed, than there are bad people in the world. These every day heroes, who do so much extraordinary are in all countries, communities and speak all languages and are of all religions. I recognize that at times that can be hard to realize that the good outweighs the bad but we need to remind ourselves of that.
 My heart goes out to all of those who were affected by the blasts and their friends and family. Also, my thanks goes out to all of those brave souls, both pedestrians and trained professionals, who risked and helped so much on that day; as well as those medical professionals that continue to work so hard for those injured in the blasts. Thank you.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Those who wander are not always lost." A week at Shikshantar in Udaipur.

Holy crap, what have I done since the last time I posted? So, freaking, much. It was excursion time again, and this time we split up into smaller groups and all went to different places. I was in the group of six, plus one staff member (Manoj-gi!)  went to Udaipur, or the Lake City. Needless to say, it was a busy, crazy, fabulous, refreshing, challenging and enlightening week.  First off, on a light note, I would like to say that Udaipur was BEAUTIFUL. I loved it there. So here are some pretty/touristy photo's:

One of the big temples: 

The elephants are still covered in Holi Colors
 City Palace of Udaipur:

The view of one of the lakes:

It all began with me having a sad realization that for the first time that I would really miss the people not on the Udaipur trip with me. Then realizing that when I got back, I only have a week left in Jaipur before ISP starts…and then it’s off to Kerala. As Manoj-gi pointed out…forty days left until we go home. I’M NOT READY. But that’s beside the point. Each time another week goes by I get a little sadder.
Moving on. So we did a workshop, or an internship, at an organization called Shikshantar. I’m not totally sure how to describe it. It looks at an “alternative to education.” Recognizing that not all education can be the same for everyone. And why does education have to be defined the way it is? During the course of my week there, I discovered/confirmed many things; one being that we need to take back the word “smart.” Why is it that we have different definitions of smart. For example: book smart, street smart, or when we say someone is “smart” in a hands-on vocational kind of way. Why does this clarification even need to be made? Smart is smart. Also, why do we need the formal school system in any of those “kinds of smart” to define us? We are defined by our formal education. There are so many problems with the system and how it has been brought through colonization into other countries. What makes people thing one for of education is good for everyone? Everyone is an individual and learns differently. We are defined by our culture, history, surroundings, etc. and this defines what we have to know in order to get through life. So therefore how is ONE form of education going to work? Especially the spread of an education system that has so many problems. Isn’t it a hint that there are problems when so many kids hate going to school? I disliked high school, I did not find it applicable (most of the time.) What about all of the cores I have to take at my college? Yes, I love the classes I take for my major and minor. Some of the cores are interesting, but let’s be realistic. I’m a social science major for several reasons. Why do I have to take two science courses and a math course? My brain does not think like that, these are classes that will take away from my major and focus because I have to put so much effort into these core classes. Isn’t that counterproductive in a lot of ways? I’m actively involved in a system I don’t agree with. I think I always knew this but this past week  really confirmed that. I also love things the things I have been able to do as a result of continuing my education, like go abroad for the year, volunteer, receive leadership training, do AmeriCorps and other things that are more hands on and active involvement in the community. Why are these opportunities only really offered through higher education institutes? Shouldn’t they be available to everyone? Why is it assumed that only someone with a college education would appreciate and take advantage of these things? Watch the movie “Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden.”  In short, the system sucks. But here I am, actively a part of it. Needless to say, that is something that is difficult to come to terms with in many ways.
Moving on again. So that’s kind of what Shiskshantar looks at. Swaraj is an idea they really embrace, which involves the idea of taking control of your life and leading your own way.  One of the big quotes was “Those who wander are not always lost.” Which I think is great. The idea of “unlearning” is a logo of theirs. It focuses on unlearning forced societal and education norms. They are restricting and limit a person’s ability to experience and truly learn things. They also encourage wholesome living through localization of goods, recycling, up-cycling (repurposing things that would normally get thrown away) and including natural products to reduce consumption.  This can be seen in the activities we did.
We helped in their rooftop hanging garden, helped cook fresh food (including hand grinding grain for vegan pizzas), visited the city dump (I’m going to talk about this a bit more), up cycling things we found at the dump, going to a mime workshop, seeing a miming show that represented the little guy versus the big corporations, meditating for an hour, making soap from cow-dung, listening to one of the top Gandhian thinkers in the area (he worked with Ivan Illich who wrote “To Hell With Good Intentions” aka one of my favorite author/thinkers) and organized a waterfront festival on the idea of gift culture. This is A LOT in a week.
Let’s start with the city dump. Consumption is out of control. There were also products from the U.S, of course all wrapped in plastic that can’t be disposed of properly. Globalization at its worst. We walked through and played with the children that live in the dump. Yes. Families live there, children are born there. They collect things that could be potentially be recycled and trade them in for money. I want you to picture it though. A field of garbage, separated into sections solid waste including paper, plastic, card board, etc. Then they move the medical waste to another part of the field and then there is a section for dead animals, food, things that rot. You could see the gas rising from things decomposing and breaking down. Then there were the tents and huts of the families that live there. It was tragic. But it was also amazing to see the pride these people took in their work and there was a beautiful sense of community and solidarity among the people. They live in these terrible conditions, but they manage to have a better sense of community and pride than I’ve ever seen.  Keep this is mind when you complain about little things. Also keep in mind that just because you don’t see these situations in the US, doesn’t mean they’re not there. The US does a very good job at hiding these things from people by dumping in poor areas or the ocean.  It’s still there and it’s a problem. Anyways, we walked around and played games with some of the children that lived there. It was a phenomenal experience being with them and they had so much fun playing with us. We then picked things that could be repurposed and brought them back to the center. Needless to say this was a very moving experience in a lot of ways. Think about it.
Creating cow dung soap…not something I thought I would ever do. However, it was a lot of fun. We went, collected fresh cow poop, mixed it with clay, water, neem (which is a medicinal plant) sandalwood and menthol. It was a three day process. Two days of mixing and one full day of drying. It doesn’t smell, I promise. And it’s all natural and great for your skin. I’m bringing some home to show people and you’ll see, it’s awesome!
Things like the mediation, cooking and miming were light and fabulous and fun things that I never would have had the chance to do like this. It was fabulous. Here are some pictures of the Mime show:

Moving on to the festival. We cooked food, played music, made fruit shakes on a blender that was run through pedaling a bike and had crafts for kids. There were free hugs, free massages; actually everything was free. It was based on the idea of gift culture. Gift culture is when you share what you have to offer in return for another person’s gift or ability. It was so much fun to go and we had a great turn out.  The people at the organization are beautiful and wonderful people and I was so lucky to end our time there at this festival.

Jocelyn being wonderful on the violin :)

Food! Yummmm

Kuku, the adorable three year old that was always at the center

  The start of the gathering :)

 Vishal on the blender bike


 And a very nice guy that decided he wanted in on the fun!
  Rama doing massages

Okay, so that was a lot. And I’m not even sure if that scratches the surface. It was a great week, I feel refreshed and happy and good to go for so much. It also made me question and think a lot. I’m sure more reflecting will be done as time continues.

On an end note, here’s a good quote to think about:

                “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side won and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally in that society? Whatever you would do then, do it now! When you run up against obstacles, people or things that won’t let you live that way, then begin to think about how to get over or around or under that obstacle, or how to push it out of the way and your politics would be concrete and practical.” – Paul Goodman