Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to Remember

Hey there, so we are back in America now, and I am trying to process this whole experience I just had.  Which is hard, overwhelming actually, because there are just so many memories buzzing through my head at once.  It's like scanning through channels, and your favorite movies are on every one of them, but you can't be still and just watch one.  I guess that's normal though, it feels good to have so many good memories, and it's all shared with such great company.  But I still feel the urge to find one thing to put my finger on, one thought that sums the whole trip, and just rest with that for a minute.

So I try to think about what was the most important part, what matters the most out of everything we saw and felt.  One way to wonder about this is to look into the future and see how we will be different for going on the trip.  What will be different 3 weeks, or 3 months from now, when we are back in school, taking classes like normal?  Well a lot of the places we saw were very interesting, but I doubt I will still be visiting Hindu temples or touring Mughal forts quite as much.  What will be on my mind though, is the poverty and charity, which we saw everyday, and is present in America too.  Sure you would like to only remember the good parts, but I think I'd be lying to myself if I acted like that did not exist or that it was not part of the trip.

How will seeing the poverty still affect us in the fall?  Well, hopefully my dispostion towards charity will be changed.  In the past I have felt like I would like to help people more, but never took the steps to actually do more.  So I have a couple ways I hope I will help more actively.  For example, whenever I am approached by a charity to help, just by volunteering some time, in the past I've said, "Oh that would be nice if I did that," then walk away and don't.  Now I remember faces that need our help, and turning away will not be an easy option.  Also I think we all go beyond that, and will seek out charities that we can support, specifically Tong-Len, which we have a personal connection to now.  I know there will be opportunities to fundraise for Tong-Len USA, and when that time comes, how could I say no?  Nothing that I used to do instead will be more important anymore.

When I remember the kids faces, nothing in my privilleged life could matter more than spending a little time trying to help them.  I hope the opportunity to help does come, or we will find a way to make it come, because this is the best way we can remember this trip.  The journals, and pictures, and souvenirs will all be nice to have, but the feelings and emotional connection to India, that is what will matter most.  All the memories flash through my mind, the sights and sounds come and go, but the feelings rest deeper, and that is the part of India that will last the longest.


torn between two worlds

I can't believe I'm actually back. This trip already feels like it was a dream and our plane only landed one hour ago. It was definitely different not getting stared at as if we were a walking freak show. Also, the weather in DC has been nothing short of heavenly. I honestly don't know how to react right now. I already miss India so much. The connections I've made with people in the group and natives in the cites will always have a special place in my heart. I will most certainly be going back to Mcleod Ganj. To be surrounded by so many calm buddhist monks and tibetans was absolutely wonderful. The teaching from the llama was especially important to me since it was on the buddhist concept of emptiness. I couldn't keep my eyes off him. I was transfixed by his demeanor while he was giving the teachings. Even though I had no idea what he was saying, I could feel the sense of deep connection and understanding on the perfection of wisdom.

I will most certainly never forget this trip. I want to see the world and then some. And who knows where else I might end up. On the flight to Abu Dhabi, I was invited to stay with a pharmacist who lives in Nigeria. So maybe adventures in Africa will be on the agenda?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The End

I can't remember the beginning of the trip. I feel like I have been in India forever but the trip flew by. We left India early this morning and are currently on the way back. The trip was definitely amazing and awe inspiring. I have to commend Dr. Maher as he put together and executed this trip perfectly. It was an amazing mix of religions and culture.

I don't have a specific favorite part of the trip as I enjoyed it all. The towns were all vibrant and different in their own right. I have to admit that my personal favorite was McLeod Ganj, many of the other students would agree.

On the last day we stayed at the same hotel we started with in Delhi. This time was completely different than the first time around. We easily walked through the streets and getting around via Rickshaw is much easier. Also on the last day a small group of us went to the Delhi Zoo. At the zoo we saw the typical animals like elephants and tigers. One thing that I did notice is that Indian people love their deer as there were about 18 different types to see.

Overall this trip has been a great experience. I don't think it has fully sunk in what has occurred over these weeks. I honestly don't think that it will until I am sitting in class next week. What I take away from this trip are a book full of stories, most of which only the people on this trip will fully understand. I cannot thank Dr. Maher and ECU enough for this opportunity.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wait...This is Our Last Day in India?

I thought that I would be sad to leave India.  And, if I'm honest, I will miss several experiences from this trip:

  1. I will miss traveling through the Himalayas.  As someone who has always lived in and urban area, I never realized how attached to nature modern people can be.  Perhaps it's because of the sparse population of these towns or the permeation of Buddhism and Hinduism into day to day life (signs encouraging sanitary practices don't hurt either), but the streets of the Himalayas were much cleaner than those of the big cities we visited.  
  2. I'll miss visiting amazing palaces and forts that couldn't even be dreamed of being built today.  At the Agra Fort, within the massive complex full of ornate rooms and secret passage ways, there is a bathroom that sparkles with gold in the dark and has a built in band.  We visited places where the builders were so rich, they built their servants gigantic tombs.  How were people, 500 or 600 years ago able to dream of such creations, let alone build them?  These old sites were a reminder to how powerful and lasting human dreams and creations can be.
  3. Most of all, I will miss talking with people (in Hindi!) about their lives.  In the US, I almost never have a reason to speak Hindi, so I have a pretty limited vocabulary.  I always thought that my basic, conversational Hindi wasn't good enough to communicate effectively, but to my surprise, I was able to understand what others were saying to me and I could respond appropriately most of the time.  There's something about communicating to people in their native language that allows one to have a greater understanding for their culture.  When we visited the Tong-Len Youth Hostel, I felt I was able to better understand and make friends with the kids there because they weren't struggling to find the words they wanted to say.  There was one student around my age who knew English pretty well, but we were able to joke around in Hindi that wouldn't quite make sense in English.  For example, my name is Leela, but some of the kids thought my name was Neela which means "blue" in Hindi.  Since a lot of other colors and names in Hindi rhyme with each other, we were able to joke around with what my name was and tease each other about their names.
This trip has helped me realize the importance of understanding how one fits into the world.  I was born and raised in the US, but my ancestors are from India.  I was raised with American ideals, but I couple that with Indian culture.  I am not sad to leave India because I know that even though I am an American and I embrace the US as my country, India will always live inside me through my family, language, and Indian community at home.

See you soon!


Well I do declare, India was most interesting.

This entire trip I've had many experiences, some interesting, some boring, some hilarious, some that make me look like an idiot, and others that simply must be told in person. However, this trip has really opened my eyes, not only to my culture and heritage, but also to how we should view others. 

As Americans, it is easy for us to forget about the many people who are suffering. We sometimes get annoyed when we realize that the WiFi in our house isn't working or the coffee that we just ordered at Starbucks wasn't sweet enough. As many of you know, these are our "First World Problems". For me at the very least this trip has been a most humbling experience. My parents would always tell me stories of how hard life was back in India when they were kids, sometimes not having electricity all the time, never having a personal laptop to do homework on, actually having to walk to/from school (in the rain, without an umbrella, while carrying 15 books, and uphill both ways). As for me I had a bus all throughout high school and even a car since my senior year, but neither of my parents ever had a car, much less a scooter while they were in India. There are millions upon millions of people in India who struggle each an every day, yet the entire time I was walking through the streets not once did I ever see anyone crying, giving up, or even complaining. It may sometimes be a fight for survival here, but even the poorest of people are sure as hell going to fight to live the best possible life they can.

I have to admire the tenacity of even the very annoying street vendors who would constantly hound us trying to sell us stupid post cards or stamps. If I was a street vendor I would have given up a long time ago; however, many of these kids would follow us for entire days just on the off chance that we would get annoyed and buy something. You truly don't understand the beauty of the word free until you come to a place like India and experience not just the culture, but also the people because the only thing you can get free in India is the air you breathe and the bonds that you make with the people here.

Sure the streets may be a little dirty and sometimes the people come on as a little rude, but that is how it is to we who are sheltered in our First World Countries. If one ever wants to truly understand the world, you'll never find your answers in a book or from someone who has been places, you must first venture out into the world and see for yourself. For me this trip was my first few steps, not just in gainging a better understanding of my culture, but to truly understand what the world is like. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything and I implore anyone reading this blog, or any of our blogs, to go out and explore the rest of the world because there is so much to see and learn.

Mcleod Ganj and Goodbye to India!

When we arrived in Mcleod Ganj we were all amazed and relieved to feel some cool air! Our hotel over looked the Himalayas and we could even see a huge snow covered mountain in the distance! It was so beautiful. Mcleod Ganj had such a different feel from everywhere else we have visited. It's so much calmer, and there are so many more tourists! But my favorite part of Mcleod Ganj was when we were able to visit the Tong Len Hostel. This is a place that was started by monks who take children out of the slums and provide them with a place to stay, meals, and an education. The children were so excited to have people come to play with them for a day and to bring them some small gifts! It seemed that when we walked in each child picked each of us out and stayed with us the whole time. One little girl who was seven years old immediately held my hand and basically didn't let go until I left. She kept wanting to sing songs and wanted me to dance with her. I was so amazed at how well behaved all of the children were. When it was time to leave I couldn't stop hugging her. She kept giving me hugs and kisses and telling me how she missed me already. I miss her so much and wish she could have just come back with me! I hope one day I will be able to return to this organization or benefit it in some way.
 Today is our last day in India! I can't believe how fast the trip has come to an end. We are leaving tonight! I am so sad to leave all of the people and places we have experienced behind. I am so thankful for all of the things I have been able to experience in such a small amount of time. I can honestly say that there is not one thing about this trip that I have truly disliked. Even though some of the bathrooms were a little hard to get over and I got sick, those are not the things I will look back on. I will look back on how much I have learned and how much I have grown to love everything about India! I am extremely sad to have to say goodbye to India, but I am excited to see my friends and family! 

A Little Monkey Blog

Before this trip I heard all about the monkeys here running wild and being everywhere in the streets.  So after 3 days in Delhi and not seeing a single monkey, I was pretty disappointed.  The first time I saw one was in Pushkar!  The first time seeing them was at our cooking class in Pushkar .  There were a larger momma and two small babies on a roof top in the distance and closer up a big ole daddy.  The big  one got pretty close, trying to get the food we were cooking, and the father of our cooking teacher had to scare him away with a stick and crazy yelling.

Later in the mountains we were walking to the Beatles ashram with monkeys all around us in the trees.  Selby and I saw a big one jump from the tree to the wall next to us with an evil look in his eye.  We didn't know what kind of mischief he was getting into next so we stepped over to the other side of the road.  Sure enough the monkey starts running jumps off the wall near a lady holding two grocery bags.  Snatches on bag, turns around, laughs, and runs back in the trees with his new bag of goodies.

That made me a little skeptical of the monkeys.  People even walk around with sticks in some places to protect themselves. It was awesome to see monkeys everywhere just hanging out.  All in the trees, on the roofs, on the side of roads, and even in temples and museums.  Some are a lot bigger than they appear from a distance, like 3 feet tall people.  And the little babies were adorable to watch play and ride piggy back or on the belly side of their mommas.  We tried to get close and take pictures.  Some people got good ones.  I got a nice on of one chilling on the wires of a bridge.