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 


  1. Hi Kiley,
    Silver Lake here. Just a couple of questions this week.
    There were a number of questions about the Gift Festival. Students wanted to know if any of the participants had difficulty with you taking their picture. Did you have to ask folks first?Did anyone refuse? They also wanted to know what you thought about the violin playing and did you get a message? What other gifts did you share?
    Second, Kyle (and Mr. Darche) wanted to know if you know how old the temples are that you visited?
    We look forward to hearing from you.
    Silver Lake High School

    1. The people that were part of the organizing had already given me permission to take their photos. In general, since I was taking pictures of the group as a whole, people did not have a problem, especially since they were taking pictures of us. However, when I took pictures of more specific people and/or children I would ask them or the parents for permission. When taking pictures of kids, you have to be careful. I always try to ask the parents if it’s okay.

      The violin was wonderful! My friend Jocelyn actually had fixed the violin when we first got to the organization. They then had it restrung for her since she had fixed parts of it; and as a result she got to play. She’s played for a long time, so it was a lot of fun getting to finally hear her play at the festival!
      I did get a massage, Rama, the woman that did them, was phenomenal. She actually had been going down to that spot for a couple weeks offering free massages as part of the gift culture. So she was really popular because people have gotten used to seeing her.

      Other gifts included the sharing of talents. So the things like massage, we had some singers, someone play the drums, guitar, harmonica, violin and a couple other instruments. We had free crafts for kids and they got to bring home everything they did. The food, I helped prepare and serve it to bystanders and get people involved with that, and the bike smoothie maker. We got a lot of people wanting to try the bike blender and encouraging that. People that came and joined us returned our gifts by either donating money (we weren’t asking for it, they asked us if the organization could use donations. Which was nice, because Shikshantar runs only on donations) or helping us clean the reusable cups for the smoothies, some people played instruments for a while or sang traditional songs. It was a really good environment of reciprocal giving.

      In regards to the temple in Udaipur we visited, it was built in 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh the 1st . So that makes it a little of 360 years old (Which means it’s been around longer than the United States has been its own country.) It was a beautiful temple and I was lucky we got to participate in a ceremony while there.