Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Love that Lives in India

Posted by Tricia Ben-Davies

I awoke early to say "See you later" to Delhi. As I look down from the second floor balcony, I am reassured that she will be the same when we return. Cows are roaming the streets. The men set up their goods for the day. Children carrying disgarded potato sacks continue to rummage through the streets for rubbish to call their own. Delhi is unapologetically real, a realness that is both impressive and unfortunate. I am facinated that in 2007 donkeys pulling carts and Indian Techno ringtones exist in the same space!
India has welcomed us with open arms. Indians are intrigued by foreigners. Sometimes it seems that they only see us as an opportunity to sell something. Other times it is our varying skin tones and hair color that often result in stares and photo ops. Our experience at the Red Fort in Delhi is something that will never leave me.
The Mugal emperor Shah Jahan built the fort in the 17th century. The Red Fort is a great expression on Mugal art. The structures are made of red sand stone and marble decorated with semi precious stones. As we moved throughout the compound, we began to draw a crowd.
At one point I was sitting on top of a ledge and a family walked by. Their slow pace and eager smiles made me smile as well. In India, all it takes is a smile and eye contact for someone to aproach you.
I was expecting for us to simply exchange greetings maybe even take a picture or two, but I was wildly mistaken. The father took his daughter from his wife and held her out to me. I was shocked, amazed and elated. I was amost brought to tears but then I quickly thought of how confused the family would be if I started crying tears of joy. The little girl could not have been more than a year old. She had the most gorgeous little brown eyes!
I do not know what makes a person hand a stranger their baby. Maybe it meant nothing. Maybe her father just wanted her to be photographed with a real live African. Or maybe just by holding her, he wanted me to experience even an ounce of happiness that she brings to his family.
Delhi has introduced me to the genuine love that lives in India.

Allison and Indian Woman : Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Short and Sweet

Posted by Sarah Remington
Hello everyone.
India is great! We are just buzzing around the country learning as much as we can. Today we got up at 4:00am to go down to the river to see people performing their daily prayers. After that we went into the city to check out some other temples.
We are all having a great time.
Sarah Remington

Smiling Faces: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Colorful Saree : Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Students on Observatory Structure: Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Footnote: Posted by Sara Bartlemay

Hello Friends and Family-
Hopefully, in the near future the other students will be sending me photos and little stories to post. Until then, you'll have to deal with me. :)
You can click on any of these photos to enlarge them if you like.

Warmtone Reflection: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Ebony & Ivory: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Delhi Streets: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Mosque Light: Photo by Sara Bartlemay

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just One Smile

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay

14 hours on a train can do a lot to someone. I personally love trains, but this one was different. It travelled across a desert space, without air conditioning, and it went rather slowly with frequent stops from Agra to Varanasi. Its the kind of travel situation that makes you cringe inside - its 120 degrees outside, possibly hotter inside and inside is sweaty, and just downright grimy.
I sat across from an Indian family: Parents, Grandmother, Aunt/Uncle and four children. Grandmother and I had a rough start. She would return my smile with only a glare at first, and then when my water bottle accidentally rolled out from the top bunk and hit her arm...well, then she really hated me. But I was determined to get her to smile at me by the end of the 8 hours. Oh yes, did I mention that the ride was supposed to take 8 hours and ended up taking 14? Left that out did I? Shucks.

Anywho, I was fascinated by her wrinkled hands and decorated bare feet. Sitting across from one another, our eyes would often meet, each time with her giving me dirty looks, and I continued to smile.
When she tried to get her tattered canvas suitcase down from the top bunk, I attempted to help and she yelled so sharply in Hindi, I thought that she assumed I was trying to steal her bag instead.
Then her grand daughter sat down and she and I quickly exhausted all of her English and my Hindi and were left with nothing but warm smiles to exchange. But Sarah taught the entire family how to play GO Fish ( Grandmother refused, and looked dispassionately out the window) and we played again and again. Later, I offered the granddaughter a chocolate cookie. Her grandmother, who was sitting next to her, slapped the girl's leg and scolded her in Hindi immediately after the girl ate my cookie. (Oh no, I though, she assumes that I am now trying to poison them all) But then, Grandmother did a funny thing. She held out her patterned hand and made eye contact with me. I hesitated, and handed her a chocolate cookie too. She threw it into her toothless mouth and something happened. It started in her eyes, with srinkly lines- a warm smile that moved over her face to the cookie crumbs on the sides of her cheeks.
I looked out the window, drenched in sweat, and realized - I am in a beautiful place, and I am so lucky to be here. I woke up inside and finally I could see the beauty. I got beyond obsessing about my discomfort and opened my heart to the strange and new territory moving past my humid window space.

"We live in a beautiful world.
All that I know
Is there's nothing here to run from." -Coldplay

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"113 but feels like 129"

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
'113 but feels like 129' is a direct quote from our weather forcast today!
I think that heatstroke becomes me...just kidding. I'll post photos later and you'll see what I mean!
Today, the group bussed around New Delhi to see various temples and historic buildings. I learned and saw so much that my mind is still spinning to keep up! I liked the Buddhist temple built in the shape of a gigantic Lotus made out of white granite. It looked like a giant geodesic dome frame with petals opening out from the center. Inside was beautiful and quiet: with only the occational bird chirping in the rafters. A peaceful place to rest your eyes and meditate.
We also went to a new buddhist temple built about five years ago. It was also made of marble - red and white, with fortyfour stairs leading to the top and several arched doorways and bulbous towers. It took five years to build, and it is easy to see why! The interior is ALL carvings. No flat surfaces - the walls and ceilings are made of carved figurines, buddhas, rows and rows of birds and ornate flowers. The seilings were gorgeous! My favorite was the scene of the buddha under the boddhi tree. The tree was larger than lifesize and carved from white marble - in a circular shape of twisting branches and vines that I could not attempt to recreate even with a pencil on paper - it was so balanced and intricate but so very complicated!
This temple also had a room with a ceiling of rows and rows of different sized brass bells in an inlay circle. Amazing.
The people, well, we've all been to an Indian resturaunt. Yes, they pretty much dress just like that. For some reason, it is okay for women to show thier middrift but not thir shoulders or anything from the knees down. I think they are gorgeous and seem to float on by. Many people will smile at you if you smile back, and they all pretty much speak English, as it is taught inthe schools here. I have picked up a few phrases in Hindi - enough to express myself. It is an interesting language with many eh and ah sounds. I have learned how to ask if I can take a photo, and some people will ask to take mine as well. Actually, people will walk up and start shooting photos, or come over and put thier arm around me to have thier friend snap a shot. I think it is the hair? Meredith (the other redhead) and I had a group photo at the temple today with 16 or more Indian women. They were all laughing like it was the funniest thing. We are stared at by groups wherever we go, but everyone I have met has been friendly.
Child marriage here in India has almost completely been erased, except for in the poor castes. Women can even date if they'd like... and get this- a woman has been in a government position more than once here! But they still do very hard labor. Today, our bus passed by two women who were digging out rocks - claring a space for a canal pipe. They were loading the rocks onto platters and carrying them on thier heads out of the site and back again to continue digging with thier bare hands. It looked like heavy, dirty work. One of thier tiny new babies lay on a dish towel in the shade - he was covered in dust and sweat - did I mention it was 113 today?
I am ready to leave the big citys with thier noise and clutter. But first, we must head to Angra to view the Taj Mahal. Tomorrow we will journey by train early in the morning to see a temple built for the love of a woman.

First day in India, New Delhi, 113 degrees (in the shade)

Posted By: Sara Bartlemay

Hello Everyone, Greetings from New Delhi, India! When we landed, it was 10 at night and 113 degrees. Here, the heat is like a heavy snake coiling around you. There is no escape from it. This morning, I had to stand in awe off the white marble balcony and let my senses adjust. There was so much to take in at once: It is so very different here. The streets are tiny and narrow and lined with merchants selling colorful fruits or silk saris. People hurry in all directions going somewhere. Tiny rickshaw ( 3 wheeled) cars zip around as the taxi service. The most important driving tool here is the horn, and they know how to use it! I finally saw a traffic light, but evidently, none of the drivers saw it, for they all just kept driving through in a steady stresm...so when other cars tried to cross lanes of trafic, an incredibly tight traffic jam began- with homeless beggars weaving in the small spaces between vehicles holding out empty palms and staring at us with hollow eyes. The roads are lined with trash, and occationally a cow will wander through, right down the middle of the road with his pelvic bones jutting out under his skin. People stop to feed these cows, tie on colorful beaded necklaces, pet them or pray to them as they mozie through traffic.
Last night, there was a loud bang against the door, followed by the scraping of nails...and then silence. Lauren and her roomate were both terrified, but had to see what was out there. Couldn't sleep with all that adrenaline and raquet outside anyhow. They cracked the door only to peer into the thick darkness. the hall was quiet. someone was breathing loudly. She looked behind the door to see our bell boy, a hotel employee, with his fists clenched tightly around a baseball bat. He looked armed and ready to attack. "No problem!" He exclaimed in broken english, "Noh problem.....eh....monkey."
Well, we are fighing off the heat and doging monkeys here but so far everyone is healthy!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Introduction to the 2007 ECU Study Abroad in India program

I am a professor of Religious Studies at East Carolina University. See our website here: www.ecu.edu/religionprogram For the second year in a row, I am leading a study abroad program to India. You can see the blog from 2006: http://ecu-in-india.blogspot.com/ and a photo gallery from 2006 here: http://www.ecu.edu/religionprogram/india/slides/

We invite you to follow the progress of our journey as 14 students, my assistant Wes Borton, my assistant in India Jampa, and I visit some of my favorite sacred places in India. Wes and I will arrive in India on May 10th and the students will follow several days later.

Derek F. Maher, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Religious Studies Program
Office 252-328-5332

Religious Studies Program
Brewster A-327
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858-4353