Saturday, August 20, 2011

Travels Part II

So this past week was awesome. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Aug 15 was India's Independence Day. We went to the Ashram where they raised the flag. It was a nice little ceremony. Something that they do that I enjoy is before opening the flag they fill it with flowers so when it's up in the air all the flowers fall like confetti. And then every one hands out candy and sings the national anthem. After the Ashram we went to a park in Coimbatore where they had lots of dancing, music, etc. etc. to celebrate. All the kids in the villages nearby had been practicing for months to prepare for performing at the park, it was really hot and really well done. While we were there the press asked us to take a picture by India's flag. I felt like I was famous. Literally, there were so many reporters taking pictures I didn't know where to look. And a big crowd of people formed around us, who were all taking our pictures too. It was pretty fun. The next day we were in not 1 but 3 newspapers!!!!! The Hindu, The Indian Express, and another one in Tamil. And those were just the ones that I looked at, I think we were in more. Don't worry, I got multiple copies for everyone to see and I will give you all my autograph when I get home =)

2) We went to the state of Karnataka just north of us to the cities of Mysore and Bylakupe. I got to go to a Tibetan displacement camp which was really neat. The camp has an interesting dynamic in that the families live in India and it is their "home" but really it is not their home. They come from a completely different culture. We spoke with many of the store owners who told us about how their parents/grandparents fled Tibet and came to south India. They were given this land by the Indian government but when they settled here it was a jungle area, so they had to clear the area first. It would be such a difficult situation to live in.
While we were there we went to the Buddhist Golden Temple that's in the center of a Monk monastery. This was so incredible! The Golden temple was gorgeous and it was so quiet and peaceful. While we were there they had a school training where many young monks came to pray and give offerings. I got to be in the temple when this happened and it was sooooooo incredible to see! They all recited the mantras together and there were specific parts where they blew horns, rang bells, burned incense etc. etc. etc.It was a rich sight to see. It was also completely relaxing, as i left I realized how relaxed my body was.

3) We also went to an elephant interaction camp where I got to ride an elephant! It was fun and way far up. They also showed us how they feed and bath the elephants in the middle of the Indian jungle. If you paid you were able to help wash the elephants, but I decided against it when I saw one of the elephants enter the water and go to the bathroom. I was not about to pay to go into dirty water....but it was cool to see the washing process regardless. And the the way they ride the elephants is cool too. They sit near the head and put their feet behind each ear, it's kind of like using the gas pedals in the car. I want a pet elephant now!

4) Finally we went to the Mahajara's Palace in Mysore, It was huge and beautiful! Mysore is a cool place mostly because it worships a female deity named Chamundi. She is the royal family's principle god and protector. She is known for killing a demon who was half human. He received a boon from Shiva (or Vishnu..I can't remember) that allowed him not to be killed by the hands of man. So Parvathi (the wife of Shiva),in the form of Chamundi, came down and killed the beast and saved humankind from his wickedness.It is an awesome story and city.

So those were some of my adventures for the week! Until next time....

Peace Festival

I just thought I would do a follow up to the Peace Festival, it was awesome! However, it was a really really long day. We left at around 6am and didn't get back till 9-ish at night. I was beat, but it was worth it. The festival was held at a local Gandhian University that had a huge campus and was very beautiful. And over 1,000 people came, so it was a success! They had different organizations and kids dancing, different speakers on peace, and there was a breakout session so different age groups got together to talk about what they could do to promote peace. It was really interesting. They also handed out awards to 25 people who have done things for their community. Among the most memorable was a small boy who goes around to his neighbors for rice donations. He then gives the donations to families who are infected by HIV. The amazing thing is that he's doing this on his own, no one is helping him and he's about 10-11 years old! There was another guy who's in his early 20s and he takes corpses who do not have any known family members and he gives them a proper burial according to their religious beliefs (generally cremation). There were so many inspiring people there who are doing a lot to make a difference.
There was also a very touching video about Hiroshima that was shown. I will try to find it and post it here. It's pretty graphic, but it made me think more about the consequences of our actions.
All the dances had themes about stopping violence, poverty, etc. etc. etc. and the last dance was especially powerful. It was done by the kids of Shanti Ashram and the song spoke about love. It was touching mostly because at the end EVERYONE got off their seats and the stadium was filled with clapping. Then tons of kids and teenagers rushed the stage and started dancing with the kids. It was really neat to see.
Anyway, it was a great experience. Many of India's greatest peace workers came together and shared their thoughts and ideas. And many youth came together and participated as well. It would be awesome if this type of thing happened more often.

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Adventures

And here we are with our guide

Here I am on the Backwaters.

So this past week we went to Kerala and it was amazing! It is so different than Tamil Nadu (the state where I currently am) it's like a whole different world. It was a lot more modern, they speak a different language, even the food was different...that made it difficult to order food sometimes. For example, here a roast is a big crepe with dipping sauce. So one night we ordered roast and it turned out that in Kerala it is a sauce that you use to put on parrotas, chapathi (kind of like a tortilla), etc. etc. So we had to get more food. But it was really good; I actually kinda wish they made it in Tamil Nadu. Anyway, we stayed on the border of the Arabian Sea in Eurnakulum and were able to do a lot of neat things.
We took a ferry to the nearby island and saw the Dutch palace which was made mostly out of dark tea wood. Actually, the best part about the Dutch palace was that it had murals depicting scenes from Hindu stories/legends (mostly involving Rama, Krishna, Siva, etc) and was REALLY cool to see. I am still amazed by how culturally rich India is, and the stories are fascinating. This probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never heard them before so the stories always are new and exciting. The palace was older than the US and the murals were beautiful…unfortunately I couldn’t take picture! We also went to see an old Catholic Cathedral, which was the oldest cathedral in all of Kerala. The Portuguese had a big influence on Cochin so there are many Christians, which generally isn’t the case. We also saw a Jewish Temple. So basically within a radius of about 2-3 Km there is an old Catholic Cathedral, Hindu Palace, and Jewish Mosque. There also is a Jain temple, but we weren't able to go see it because we didn’t have enough time.
We also got to go on a tour through the backwaters of Kerala. That was a calming experience too! It was just us, our tour guide, and boat man on the a rice canoe. The water was cool and the only thing you heard were the sounds of the birds chirping and those who lived nearby working in their homes. It was so tranquil and there were SO MANY plants and spices that grew there. Cochin basically has any spice you could imagine. It smelled terrific! And on the tour we saw the plant form of everything. Now I know why the spice trade was so popular. And the interesting thing is that it's still thriving today. India used to trade with Rome. Not only has it survived Rome but has survived so many other world events. Anyway, the backwaters are a must for anyone traveling to south India.
So there are some of my recent happenings. I LOVE traveling!

Monday, August 1, 2011


Hey All!

So this post is going to be a little different because I have been thinking a lot about the idea of peace and religion. It is not really something that is focused on in the US; we tend to be a country that promotes 'Freedom" but not necessarily "Peace".

Something that Shanti Ashram is currently working on is called "The Peace Festival" which gathers the community and city of Coimbatore together to promote peace. It's going to be held August 9th because that is around the time that Hiroshima was bombed by the US. Now maybe my school education is seriously lacking, but we never seemed to really focus on the results of Hiroshima. Actually, I can't really remember talking about Hiroshima much past middle school and we certainly don't acknowledge when it happened. When we do talk about it, we generally talk about how "we ended the war early" by bombing Japan and little else. I know that some people made the paper cranes to commemorate it, etc. etc. I think we know the general effect that the bombing had, but we don't really like to think or talk about it. However, among the people I have met from here and from other countries, Hiroshima is an important symbol of the effects of war and the need for peace. Life is something that is very precious and must never be taken. However, Hiroshima took many lives and left the remaining ones to slowly die....even if the war ended quickly.

Part of the idea of this push for peace is that we should get all the governments to not only get rid of their nuclear weapons, but all weapons (including fire arms) in order to promote a more peaceful society world-wide. Another part of this idea is inter-religious acceptance and understanding. We need to have an open mind about others' beliefs and try to understand instead of judge and/or discriminate. Shanti Ashram has been part of an alliance with many different organizations, both religious and non-governmental, world-wide. These organizations got signatures from people in every country saying they support peace and called each country to get rid of their weapons.

Over 50 million signatures were obtained and submitted to the UN. Japan alone raised 10 million and the US had less than 200,000. Now, maybe there were differences in the way the NGOs went about getting the signatures; however, I do think it's interesting that a country the size of the US only got such a small amount to support peace. But I guess it's not that big of a surprise when you think about the debate on the rights associated with holding/owning weapons. The majority of Americans are not willing to give up that right, and feel no need to turn in their weapons before their enemies turn in theirs.

I'm still not 100% sure where I stand on this subject. On the subject of inter-religious peace, yes, I completely agree. And that's also something that is waning in the US. We say that everyone has the right to religion, but when you live in an area where the majority is Christians it doesn't seem that hard. I wonder what people would think about the right to religion if they heard a Muslim prayer call 5 times a day, or if their Hindu neighbors smeared cow dung on the driveway/sidewalk. My neighborhood would complain to the city without a moment's hesitation. I think that we still have a long way to go in the US before we have true "inter-religious peace". On the subject of firearms and weapons, though I certainly don't agree with war, I do think that the right to have weapons is important (and this may be my American upbringing shining through). But the more I see what people do with weapons the more I think it's a good idea that nobody has them. Unfortunately, I also don't think that's realistic though it would be nice. Anyway, there's some food for thought about the ideas of peace and religion.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

HIV Research

Right, so I've realized that I haven't given much of an update on my research project since I've been here: So far it has been a really good experience.
For those of you who don't know I am researching how HIV effects women and their children in the villages around Coimbatore. I am interviewing several women to see what challenges they have in their lives and how their lives have changed since they have found out they were HIV positive. I initially just wanted to study how it effected the individual "woman" but I quickly learned that HIV is a disease that doesn't just effect one person, it effects the entire family. Coming into this I knew in general that their lives would probably be made more difficult, but I wasn't aware of how much.
For example, many of the women are widows or their husbands also have the disease and are unable to work. As a result she is the main provider for her family. So the monthly income is generally around 2000 rupees a month, which equates to more or less $40. Just to give you an idea of how much that is worth here, their monthly rent, is also about 1000 rupees a month. So in order to pay everything they get extra money by sending their kids to work or doing extra jobs on the side, or if they've told their family and their family is supportive sometimes they can get support from them. As I've spoken with the women they've said that one of the most challenging things is that in order to maintain a reasonable health they need to be on ART medication. But this requires strict adherence to a schedule of taking it twice daily with a healthy meal before each dosage. These women do not have the money to eat a healthy meal before each dosage, which can give them side affects and make them sick. So really, they need the ART in order to be able to work and provide for their family, because they are the only ones that are able to do so. But they are not able to meet some of the necessary requirements to take ART effectively. So this can cause the women to get sick, which will cause them to miss work and make even less money. It is a very viscous cycle.
Have you ever been sick and not have energy to work? This past week I haven't been feeling very well and I was reminded of how hard it is to work when I don't have proper health. I couldn't imagine feeling like that regularly. And generally when you have HIV, you more easily get infections, illness, etc.etc. etc. depending on the state of your immune system.
So something that I think would be good for those who are HIV positive would be some sort of educational course, that would allow them to learn how to eat healthy while on a low budget. Of course assistance with buying food would be a great help too, but the problem with outside funds is that the only last for so long,whereas if they know what kind of food will give them more energy and nutrients they can help themselves for longer on a lower budget.
Anyway, this is just one aspect that I've been finding so far in my research. I'll try to write more at a later time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shanti Ashram

Ok, so during my time in India I have been volunteering with an NGO called Shanti Ashram. It's pretty much the coolest place EVER. The Ashram was started about 25 years ago as a grassroots organization that has many different community interventions like teaching women how to sew so they can get better jobs, HIV care and support for those who are infected or affected by HIV, anemia screening, inter-religious teachings and peace, etc. etc. It's founded on Gandhi's principle of Sarvodaya, which means the progress of all. Basically it's a movement that Gandhi started to try to better society as a whole by having members of society help others so that they all can progress and live in peace. The programs are really interesting and I've really enjoyed helping out and trying to make a difference. Every day is something new and I generally usually learn something new about Gandhi and his teachings of peace. I'll have to write about that in another blog. Its something that we never really learn in the US but is considered very important in this part of India.

We get to go to a lot of small villages for the programs, which is always an adventure. As soon as I step out of the car all the kids instantly look at me. I pretty much stick out like a sore thumb around here. I find that I get a variety of reactions: some start yelling the few English words they know "What is your name?" and "Hi, how are you?", some just stare me down--they are not ashamed of looking at you for a looong time--and others cry. The last one has happened a surprising amount.

Hahaha...there is this cute little boy that lives in the house next to us and he gets soooo scared whenever he comes within 5 feet of us. He will smile and be shy in the arms of his family members, but the moment they try to bring him closer to us he screams, so basically I scare the children. I've been here for about a month now and he is just getting used to us. The other day he even shook my hand for about point 2 seconds before bolting in the opposite direction which was a huge sucess! I honestly think that the kids here are probably the cutest I've ever seen. They have big brown eyes and the school girls where their hair inbraids with red ribbon and flowers, and the boys wear shorts and a red tie. Every day the mother of the house where we are staying, Jeeva, holds an after school program at her school. Just imagine 30ish kids on your front porch every day, never a dull moment. So every night I sit out there and try to do homework or help the kids with their English homework. The other day they wanted us to play games with them so I taught them "Thumb War"....big mistake. I've seriously played that game like 100 times within the last week. I always win, but the kids are getting better. I knew it was a hit when I was standing at a bus stand and a kid i'd never met before came up to me and said, "Auntie...war". So if anyone wants to challenge me when I get back, I'm ready. They in turn have taught me how to play their version of "down by the banks" (the hand game). Basically instead of having to take your hand out of the circle, when it lands on you you have to grab your neigbor's ear with that hand. I have no idea why but that's what they do. It actually makes for a more exiting game. Anyway, those are some of my adventures as of lately. Until next time!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Hey Everyone,

So, I tried to get some good pictures of the buses here. This is the best that I got. If you look closely you can see how full it is. Stay tuned until next time!