January 08, 2009

Last night in Delhi, on the way to the airport. Mixed Emotions about coming home!

Dr. Andi StepnickHi everyone.

Well, it's been another long day or so. We LOVED Haridwar with its crisp clean air, beautiful rocks, walk-able paths, and, of course, the green, green Ganges running through it. We wandered down to the river upon arrival...to be greeted by Indian students who were also on a trip. How many photos can we take of one another? A LOT!

Some of the BU SOCIOLOGY majors headed away from the group (what's new, right?) and we found a lovely little beach complete with beach cow and beach dog. It was fun to stick our toes in the water but, brrr…. cold! After lunch, many of the women enjoyed getting their hands hennaed and we all did a bit of shopping as we walked around town. After a lovely and relaxed afternoon, it was off to the ghats for a night-time deepmala ceremony and more time shopping at the local market. Oh, the stories I could tell! But, heck, I'm tired, so I'll let your sons/daughters tell you about their adventures that night.

We had an early night back at the hotel (9pm) so we could pack and have dinner. Have you ever heard of room service calling you back and saying "The mac and cheese is bad for you. Your order has been canceled?" Well, such things happen in India as Marti, Heather, and Taylor can attest. Again, good spirits prevailed although, sadly, back up room service didn't make it!

Today we left Haridwar for Delhi and a visit to the lovely B'ahai temple. Shaped like a giant lotus, it's hard to believe something could be so solid yet so light and airy. Too much to say about this so I’ll try to let pictures (or students) do the talking. We make a fast stop at McDonalds and S'barro. The food many of us never eat--scoff at, even--suddenly tasted like a bit of heaven. (Do I hear a haiku ode to french fries, anyone?) I think this means we must be ready to go home? Then, we made a stop at Fab India where, even I the non-shopper shopped. I'm not sure, but I think it's India's equivalent to Old Navy!

Continue reading "Last night in Delhi, on the way to the airport. Mixed Emotions about coming home!" ...

January 06, 2009

To take the photo or not to take the photo....?

Dr. Andi StepnickIt’s January sixth and we’re on our way to Haridwar, one of India‘s holiest cities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Theoretically, it’s a 6 hour drive from Delhi, but as we’ve learned, the (bumpy) realities of the roads probably mean this trip will take 10 hours or so, maybe longer. (In fact, as I look at my watch, we’ve been on the bus 5.5 hours and we’re only half way there! But, as Chris has already stated, the journey is the destination!)

Over the past few days it seems almost everyone has developed a cold. A few folks have had various stages of Delhi belly, too. Luckily, while we all could feel much better, we’re troopers and almost everyone has been able to join in our field trips to the Ganges, embroidery factory, Sarnath (site of the Buddha’s first sermon), and on a cyclo-rickshaw tour through Varanasi which was pretty mind-blowing and which offered a very different perspective on Varanasi street life than we would ever get from our elevated tour bus.

cute_kid240.jpg taylor_and_kids240.jpg

Continue reading "To take the photo or not to take the photo....?" ...

We're in a Hindi paper? And..some haiku.

Dr. Andi StepnickWe just stopped for a quick bite and while having ‘class’ outside an Indian man took our photo. The timing couldn’t have been better as we were, again, discussing the “guidelines” of visual documentation. On a whim, I decided to ask the man why he wanted our photo. Luckily, our guide Raj was able to translate. It turns out the man is from a “famous” Hindi paper (the name of which doesn't come to me right now) and wanted to put our photo in it. Since 26/11, many people-especially Americans-have canceled their trips to India and the economic influence will be felt by many. He wanted to show his readers that some of us are still coming to see India.

We’re not sure the photo will make it into the paper, but if anyone feels like googling, have at it! We told him we were from Belmont University. And, as I think of it, it makes Belmont’s ‘From here to anywhere’ seem pretty darn appropriate!

Continue reading "We're in a Hindi paper? And..some haiku." ...

Varasani, The Holy City

We road in rickshaws from our hotel through Varanasi and down to the River Ganges. This is a very authentically Indian form of transit. Because we spend most of the trip traveling by bus, it was nice to be on the back of a rickshaw feeling a part of the hustle and bustle. I enjoyed the rickshaw ride especially because because it was nice to be on the same level with as everyone else--it's a bit awkward looking down on everyone from the window of a tour bus. However, it's also very heartbreaking at the same time to have a man in front of you pedaling you around and knowing that the little tip he gets is his livelihood.

Students at Ganges River Dr. Andi Stepnick - Ganges River - India

After about a 15 minute ride, we arrived at the River Ganges to witness some traditional sunset ceremonies. The ceremonies along the river only occur from dawn till dusk so we came back the following morning to see some different ceremonies and cleansing going on. LizThat evening we went out on a boat and watched many things happening on shore. Varanasi is a holy city in India with many cremation cites. Ashes and candles are places in the water after cremation. Everyone in our group lit a candle and sent it floating down the river in honor of a wish or someone's life. Every evening along the Ganges the ceremonies are concluded with prayer and music. we watched this through a layer of fog and listened to the bells being rung--the whole experience was surreal. I think it will take a while for what we witnessed to really set in.

Random Travel Thoughts

chris_train_bunk240.jpg I just woke up here on this train in India en route from Jaipur to Varanasi. Besides the 30 to 60 minutes in the cold wait station, it's been surprisingly fun and not uncomfortable! I think we're about to start the choreography for our Bollywood dance number any second now, to the annoyance of the other car passengers. I will make no comments on the restrooms, because we have varying opinions on if it is in fact the worst we have come across so far, nor will I pay any attention to Taylor's trying to blame me for all of the crumbs falling on his bottom bunk.

EsmeYesterday we got to spend a few more hours in a market, which was just so great. I didn't buy anything; I'm still getting along just fine with my Punjabi suits that I bought (hand tailored) at the last bazaar. Earlier that morning we went to mother Theresa's home, and we played with the kids and met some of the beautiful people who stay there. I'm glad it's there, but by American standards it was a medical nightmare. Wonderful but heartbreaking. Exactly why I'm going into nursing. More later…

January 05, 2009

Back to Delhi - "MOFA"

Dr. Andi StepnickHI all,

We've made it back to Delhi for a night's rest...after a lovely two days in Varanasi...which Liz is going to blog about any minute now. (We had a bear of a time getting internet connection there and, of course, there was no internet on our 24 hour train ride. BUT...it was a good opportunity to live out our motto of MOFA: mishap = opportunity for adventure! )

So...I'm back tracking a bit here...

January 1st was a day of contrasts…perhaps symbolic of the peaks and valleys you might experience in a typical year. We started out on the road to Agra and along the way made a quick stop along the roadside to see a ‘brick factory.’ Really, it was just a handful of people, mostly children it appeared, hand patting mud together into brick form. We could see into the fields rows upon rows of gray bricks. The moment we stepped off the bus a few children ran up to us, then more children, then even more children….as if a pied piper (this time in the form of a tourist bus) was calling them.

Continue reading "Back to Delhi - "MOFA"" ...

January 04, 2009

Mother Teresa's Home and 22 Hours on a Train

Our last day in Agra was absolutely fantastic. We spent the morning at the Missionaries of Charity - Mother Teresa's Home, where we spent time with children and some mentally/physically handicapped adults. The lessons were immense, and the people we met (not to mention the consequential experiences) were nothing short of amazing and life-changing. After playing with one of the infants in a crib, who loved her small tambourine and played it very well on rhythm, as well as giggling uncontrollably at presence, I went to the next room over. Beyond the steel, low lit passageways, I came to a room of about twenty beds, of which about six were filled. I sat on the floor next to a boy named Banu, a patient with cerebral palsy who touched me so deeply. He had a beautiful spirit, and when Dr. Stepnick, Heather, and I were hanging out with him, and with Bariani (the girl in the photo that Dr. Stepnick is swinging), when we would say his name "Banu" he would smile and laugh ever so deeply. And some construction workers were cutting down a tree outside the window, and when it fell, we all jumped, and Banu just laughed and laughed at us.

Bariana - Andi Swing Banu

We also ventured over to the mentally/physically handicapped adult section of the Home where we met some incredible people who loved to have their picture taken. We just all laughed and talked about things for the few minutes that we had together.

Two Great Guys agra_fort240.jpg

We drove over and toured around the Agra Fort, where we saw another view of the Taj Mahal in the distance and learned of the area's rich history.

During the evening, we walked around the market areas of Agra searching for things for our friends back home and getting a small taste of the night atmosphere in Agra. After dodging taxis, motorcycles, bikes, and cows, we made it well throught the evening without a scratch... although we smelled and saw some very interesting things along the way.

We were scheduled to board a train to Veranasi at 11:30 PM... But, as India public transportation is known for its lax time schedules, we boarded a little after 12:30 AM. The supposed 11-hour train ride (to which were to arrive around noon) turned into a 22-hour train ride, due to fog and a whole list of other circumstances that we're not really quite sure about. Haha, but the journey is the destination, is it not?

We passed the time making conversations, catching up on journal entries, or succumbing to and enjoying lots of Benadryl-induced sleeping. We jumped in the Hotel India in Varanasi around 10:30 PM, got some spring rolls via Room Service, and now I'm on the way to bed.

ChrisComing up, we will be attending some Hindu ceremonies on the Ganges River, both at sunrise and sunset (in which some of us might be taking a spiritual dip in the river) and a few other adventures. Stay tuned.


P.S. No doubt. I know it's sad but I am actually kinda missing the Wendy's late night double stack with cheese at this very moment. 2 AM and Wendy's dollar menu: a college kid's dream for sure.

January 02, 2009

Poverty - Questions and Frustrations

Incredible India is what they call it, and it is indeed. I am amazed by the sheer beauty of the people and the landscape. It's a sight I could never grow tired of. However, the beauty of this region is matched with a share of darkness. India is characterized by intense poverty. It is most evident in the faces of the children. We come face to face with the effects of this disparity every time we exit the bus. Our giant white bus labeled tourist across the front windshield causes an uproar as it moves down the street. When we stop, we are greeted by the hungry of India. In desperation women hold their children up, begging for a photograph in exchange for rupees. It is an image that I wish did not exist. Children rush to us and signal their hunger by moving their hand from their mouth to their stomachs in a repetitive motion. They ask for pens, chocolate, shampoo, and rupees.

sweater-girl240.jpg laptop_view240.jpg

At the market, I found myself surrounded by the children, all asking for the same thing. My heart sank and my head dropped. What is the appropriate response to such a situation, I will never know. I have handed out rupees to some, but that leaves others hungry. I have also walked away from them all. (Our class talked about possible options the other night…to give nothing, to give food, to give money, or to give to organizations dealing with such problems. There is no one size fits all answer.)

MarthaIt is impossible to come across this level of desperation and not beg the question of where the cause lies. In the US, we look upon the poor and the homeless with disdain. It seems evident that their current condition is a consequence of their choices. If only they had worked harder, stayed sober, held their job, etc. We are content to pawn the consequences upon the individual. The larger social trends that create such poverty are often left in the dark, unexplored. Here in India they are impossible to ignore. The level of poverty is obviously the result of a structural flaw and the government's inability to meet the needs of the people. (And, according to a fellow classmate, it may also be in part due to U.S. policies, such as those concerning rice subsidies to US farmers.) Although I am currently unaware of the complex root causes of this poverty, I am committing myself to finding the answers.

January 01, 2009

New Year’s Eve: S.O.S. Village, a Bollywood Film, and Visual Understanding

Chris RidesNew Year’s Eve in Jaipur was nothing short of incredible. We spent half of the day at S.O.S. Villages where I had one of the best days I can remember. As we entered and hung out for a little bit and were led around by a guide, the children weren’t quite sure what to think of us. As our group of about fifteen walked down the sidewalk, I remember one boy, probably age four, just standing still a hundred feet from us, trying to decide what he thought. After a couple minutes of a quick tour, the guide said, “Okay, go ahead.” Many of us were kind of scratching our heads, because the children still weren’t quite sure what to think of us yet, and many of us went different directions.

After about a minute, one little boy came over and started to throw ball with me, and quickly, about a half dozen others joined in. After a couple minutes of that, they said, “Football?” and then (> to get a soccer ball. About twelve of us played soccer in the main field for a about an hour, and it was amazing. They taught me Hindi words and I taught them handshakes. After the soccer, many of the kids played around with my point-and-shoot camera, taking pictures of myself and themselves (a type of visual sociology that I will address in a bit). Then, a couple of the kids led me up to their “house” where their house mother made me a cup of the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life, and they walked around and took pictures and we all danced to some Hindi tunes on the radio. The rest of my time was spent trying to learn how to fly kites, playing hand games, running around endlessly, wrestling, or spinning them while they latched onto my back until they were uncontrollably giggling and I was near a state of puking. The day ended with some quick camera lessons, hugs, a kiss on the cheek I received from 4-year-old Mori, and lots of happy new year wishes.

ChrisThat evening, after some time at the Observatory (where we heard the beautiful sounds of the Muslim call to prayer in the air), we went to a Bollywood film at one of the best movie houses in India. The lobby was very ornate and decorated, much like the theatre inside. Most of us bought cokes and popcorn, all for 40 rupees, the U.S. equivalent of about 80 cents. I also bought a KING TAT bar, very closely related to its cousin, the Kit Kat bar.

Continue reading "New Year’s Eve: S.O.S. Village, a Bollywood Film, and Visual Understanding" ...

December 31, 2008

Orphanage visit, Jantar Mantar, and Bollywood!

orphanage groupIt’s nearly midnight here and New Year's music is thumping from the lobby party below, but we’ve all gone to bed after nearly 15 hour day. We started out after breakfast to the orphanage run by SOS Villages Jaipur . As we end the year, I wanted students to have the opportunity to “give back” to India a little of what she is giving to us. If a picture is worth a thousand words then perhaps the photos I’m uploading will tell the story of the group of sweet, funny, and highly energetic children that we met today. We played for about four hours, sharing songs (e.g., Itsy Bitsy Spider ) and games (e.g. tag) and running around a lot! (Thank your local elementary school teacher / this stuff is exhausting!) As we got back on the bus to leave one of the students said, “I’d be happy to skip all the other stuff and just stay here today and another said he could stay there for a year. This could easily outrank the Taj as the highlight of our trip.

Following the orphanage we had lunch and left for Jantar Mantar, an amazing observatory built in 1728. Here we wandered through a garden of ancient mechanisms once used for telling time, latitude, altitude, and much more. Amazingly, they still work today. Again, I'll let the pictures talk, but...keep in mind the pictures thus far have been mine (except for Newark) and I'm working quickly with a teensy Cannon...not like some of the semipros we've got among the students! Look for their AMAZING photos soon once we find time to upload them!

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December 30, 2008

Photo Lessons from the Last Afternoon in Delhi

ChrisOur last afternoon in Delhi was filled with visiting the largest mosque in the city just after the evening prayer time, as well as walking through the neighboring streets and markets. All of these sights, sounds, and smells were so new to me that I spent nearly every moment trying to capture all of these new things on my camera, seeing the entire day through my viewfinder. So, about halfway through the street walk, I was talking with Dr. Stepnick, and I mentioned to her that none of this felt real, like I was actually seeing and experiencing all of this: the immense poverty and beauty on every corner, the dirt-filled streets, the storefronts with locals socializing all around, people so unlike myself and yet so exactly similar. She said, “You should try and put your camera down then.” It struck me with surprise. Here I had spent the entire day trying to “capture” everything, and I was seeing that all the “capturing” was factoring into a lack of quality experience, for the culture to talk to me and show me things to learn, to grow, to change.

wom_chi_jaipur240V.jpg stu_jaipur_fort240V.jpg beth_and_gatangali240V.jpg

Here is an example of some time in the mosque: I spent my twenty free minutes walking around taking pictures of everything I saw. In the corner, there were a few kids playing and running through a large group of birds that had gathered, making them flap and fly in every direction. I went over and stood about thirty feet from them and took some pictures with my film camera. A couple boys, probably around age twelve, came up to me and asked if I could take their picture, to which a half dozen or so other younger children jumped in a posed in a line, smiles all across. They all crowded around me to look through the viewfinder as well, and giggled and laughed. The older boy, who had spoken with me a few minutes earlier, asked me questions about where I am from and how my day was going, to which I replied and asked him the same. I looked around, and seeing that I was late to leave with the rest of the group, had to leave quickly. I thanked him, he snapped a picture with me with his own camera, and we wished each other well.

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December 29, 2008

Delhi and Jaipur Adventures

Sorry for the delay, everyone! We’re having an amazing time, but we haven’t been able to get the internet since last night and we’re just now getting settled into our Jaipur hotel at 10pm after a long and exciting day.

Our first day in Delhi began bright and early at 7:30 with an orientation and a Visual Sociology class over a breakfast of Indian food--naan, dal, chai tea, and curried potatoes. Fortified and somewhat rested from our 14 hour flight, we began our tour with a visit to see the site where Gandhi was assassinated on his way to evening prayer.

ghandi_240.jpg ghandi2_240.jpg

As the ‘father’ of modern India, this was an important stop to give students an understanding of how India gained independence from Britain and, more specifically, about the path of non-violence that Gandhi espoused. We wandered the grounds for a good while, walking along a path lined with plaques that cited quotes by Gandhi that had students and faculty alike saying “hmmm, yes, yes…” (One of Gandhi’s ideas about the purpose of education emerged later that night as a few students and I discussed the meaning of life back in the hotel lobby.) For most of us, this stop was a powerful start our trip and in some ways an act of ‘witness’ to seemingly senseless violence which India knows all too well, especially in recent days. In times when Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolence seem all too readily abandoned, students seemed pleased to be reminded of alternative ways of seeing and acting on the world.

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December 26, 2008

We made it to Newark!

Hello Everybody! My wonderful family, and Bryan! We made it to Newark! And we have been bonding in the airport. Oh, the sweet culture of the Jersey airport… We are camped out in a corner discussing music, school, and our trip expectations. We have also been people watching, oh, so fun, and even exploring the airport through pictures. All is well and we are having a BLAST!

Newark AirportShoeshine

(Click image to see larger size)

The Ballad of East and West

Oh, East is East and West is West , and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.
---from Rudyard Kipling’s The Ballad of East and West.

EsmeBorn in Mumbai and raised with Hindi as his first language, Kipling was a credible judge of the relationship between the Eastern and Western ends of the earth. To be sure, there are more divisions in the world than East and West, but in the crossing of one such line, I hope to gain a much greater understanding of why separation exists and how to bridge it. There is just something so….magical about India that appealed to me in first hearing about this study abroad opportunity. After having fallen in love with sociology in my Intro class, I knew that studying this country under Dr. Stepnck was a once in a lifetime chance. This class combines sociology with photography, which is an art form that I have always dreamed of exploring. In fact, I always promised myself that I would take a photography course once I got to college, but I never dreamed that it would look anything like this! I expect my experiences on this trip to be another huge step in the personal growth that has been taking place since my time at Belmont University. Since transferring to Belmont, God has revealed to me my heart for human rights and social justice, as well as the career path by which I can best thrive in His will. In the same way that I had no idea what I was in for in August of 2007, I cannot even dream what to anticipate from this time in India.

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The Nashville 11 Prepare to Depart

ChrisAmidst the eggnog and cranberry relish of tonight's Christmas Dinner (which I was happy to share in with my friend's family in Nashville), it seems rather unreal to me that in less than two days, I will be in India. I am extremely excited to study Visual Sociology amid the sites and streets of a few Eastern cities, not just in the tourist hot spots but also in spaces of local cafes, orphanages, and theatres. I am feeling anticipation, excitement, and some sleep-deprived jitters, or perhaps that has something to do with all the sugar in the fifty coconut cake bites I ate tonight.

I will be meeting with the "Nashville 11" around 7:30 in the morning, just after a quick trip over to Harris Teeter to pick up last minutes supplies. We are meeting the rest of the group in Newark throughout the afternoon, and we will all be departing for the 16-hour flight to Delhi around 8:30 PM. Very exciting!

Please keep checking into our blog, as we will be spending the next few weeks in the colorful landscape of India, New Year's Eve at an orphanage, sunrise at the Taj Mahal, overnight train transits, and taking a dip at Triveni Ghat.

Remember the time difference, though. It may take us until the 28th to post again!

December 25, 2008

Countdown to Departure

Welcome to Visual Sociology in India. If you would like to receive an email notification when new stories are posted , please use the subscription button in the left hand column to sign up.

Belmont University

India is a rapidly changing country with diverse people and cultures. In this Visual Sociology class, students will travel to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Haridwar, and Varanassi. They'll use photography to visually document cultural sites including the Taj Mahal, markets, temples, and the Ganges river.

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