Dr. Byers and I have a long history. He is the reason why my father let me come to Marquette University and pursue my career of journalism, he was my first journalism professor, my one and only academic advisor and two-time travel companion. Dr. B and I went to Italy together where he was a professor of mine in the Cagli Marquette Digital Storytelling Program as well as India where he was a professor while I was a TA . At each of these places we attempted to photobomb one another. In Assisi, Italy I secretly gave Dr. Byers a bunny ears at a fountain after we all ate our daily gelato. I framed the photo and gave it to him when school began in the fall. He never got over how hilarious and perfect the photo was, it is in fact a perfect representation of our relationship, silly but always educational and having fun. Then, all throughout India Dr. Byers was attempting to get me back. He finally succeeded on his birthday, or did I let him get away with it because it was his birthday? He will never know.... But for the time being the photo is covering the old one in the white frame sitting on his desk. We don't know when we will have another opportunity for an international photo op, however I will settle for one at my graduation ceremony if we don't travel together in the near future.
By now everyone in India and at home knows about one of Jen and I's several roommates, Malti the rat. I noticed the other day that I had a comment on my blog about Malti from my father. He does not like to visit websites unless they are related to hunting, specifically Cabela's. Here is what he had to share:
My response to him in a phone call was: "No, Malti is shy and doesn't like anyone except Jen and I. Plus, Malti is gross and I don't want a picture of him...." Harsh? Possibly, but I do not miss him because I know Fr. Vinayak is keeping him company along with Father Daniel.
A few months after we had our opening ceremony I found this online! My mom would be so proud to know that I was in the India Times. Heck, I'm proud that I was in a Times publication, especially for an educational cause. There may not be an article about us, but there was a picture. Look at the grainy close up to see Jim lighting the peacock candle.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Did you know elephants are ticklish? I did not know this until Dr. Byers told me after I climbed down the back of the elephant, grasping at the animal’s soft hide I just finished going in circles on.
We were scheduled to have our elephant ride last Thursday, unfortunately the adventure was canceled because:
The elephant had the flu.
Luckily, he recovered after a week of rest and we were on our way to the grounds where the elephants lived. Now, let me say that these elephants are not treated poorly, malnourished or overworked. They are well fed, given baths weekly and used to help with labor and work in the city of Ahmedabad. At first glance I thought I walked into a single-animal zoo, but Dr. B’s wise words and past experience told me that these animals were well taken care of – this only sunk in after I had time to reflect. This blog post is dedicated to reflection and the question of what I stand for. Jennifer wrote a similar blog about this experience and what she stands for going into the new year and it’s important to remember that what we stand for changes and is always hard to define.
When we arrived I couldn’t get out of the vehicle fast enough. I had never seen an elephant so beautifully painted, with pastel colors red and blue drawn intricately on the animals hide. Of course, I anxiously walk towards the one where a man stands and he suddenly waves his hands across his body motioning, “No, no, no!” I stop and realize the elephant was going to be given a bath. I definitely can’t touch that elephant is what ran through my mind at the point, no matter how much I like wildlife, but I did.
After making the decision to ride the elephant Jennifer and I walked over to the elephant that the men pulled to a concrete wall for us to climb on and then hop on the back of the animal. When I say “hop” I mean struggle. Jennifer of course volunteered me to go first and so I follow the man’s advice and attempt to wrap my gangly arms around this ginormous animal whose skin was surprisingly slippery because it was so soft. Five minutes passed and I was still not on the elephant but somehow with one giant leap and swinging of my arms and legs I was on top and bracing myself for dear life. Jennifer was next.
Let us just say this; Jen was not so willing to get on after she realized how large the animal was or seeing the man who lead the elephant whack the animal with a bamboo stick. (This is where Dr. Byers’ comment on it only tickling the elephant comes in, we didn’t know that at the time, however.) Jen had a difficult time mustering up the courage to continue on with this delayed adventure but she hopped on more graciously than I and we were ready to go.
A quick jolt woke me up to a greater reality that I was riding on an animal that I consistently saw in captivity at home in the zoos. That I was riding on an animal that was being used to do labor, better than what happens to other elephants in the country, but I was getting pleasure out of something that one member of our team believed was inhumane. Chris is an animal activist who did thought it was unjust to ride an animal for enjoyment or using animals for labor. Seeing Chris’ face made my heart break.
We continued around a small, grassed area where my emotions were fluctuating. I was on a natural high due to my excitement, I kept thinking: I am in India and riding an elephant?!, but I was also wondering why I was sitting on that elephant in the first place after seeing Chris’ face. He was obviously upset and usually when I see people who are upset I go and ask them what is wrong. I knew what was wrong but I put myself and my mission first and disregarded his. Chris was so sure of himself and where he stood and so was I. I was someone who stood by their friends and family in their decisions and opinions but here I didn’t. We rode around twice more, one time we saw the elephant use the loo, which I thought was hilarious, another he stopped to get a bite to eat. The experience made me feel so many different emotions that I didn’t know what to do with myself afterwards.
When climbing down from the elephant Jen practically jumped off and ran away confused by her own emotions and the experience we just shared. I climbed down, in a not-so-classy fashion, and simply was thinking: Wow, I just did that and I am so confused by what I believe in now…. If you say that in a lax bro voice, you know what the voice in my head sounds like when I am very confused.
After we left I shared my experiences with the students and they were very understanding but also very confused. They thought it was perfectly normal to ride an elephant and find it enjoyable. One student even said, “How many times can you say that? Live it up!” I laughed at this and though, this is true. I am becoming a person who likes to live in the moment, but at what cost?
Since New Years and the much delayed publication of this post I have thought about what I stand for. I realized there are many things that I do advocate for and stand against. I am currently President of Active Minds, a mental health awareness organization on Marquette’s campus that fights to reduce the stigma against mental disorders, I was involved in Gay Straight Alliance in high school and continue to fight for gay rights at Marquette through my beat on the Tribune and through campus clubs. I stand for equality, equal rights and I stand for everyone to have the freedom to voice their opinions, ideals and to exercise their morals. The moments that I was on the elephant with Jen made me question my beliefs but they also made me realize that the things I do fight for I do so with my whole heart. The elephant ride was not just a tourist attraction or on the list of “Thing I have to do in India,” it was a wakeup call for me and my commitment to what I strive for. So, all in all, thank you dear elephant, and thank you dear India for the lessons you taught me.
Monday, January 9, 2012 to Wednesday, January 11, 2012
This morning we had some fun with a photoshoot. All the faculty and students gathered in the assembly room and posed for photos. My favorite, the faculty photo with Vijay striking a pose.
After the photoshoot, the hard work and increased stress filled the air after the students realized their projected were due Wednesday at 8 p.m.. My groups were doing well and seemed calm until they looked at their classmates work and decided it was a competition and they were going to win.
At this point I had to step in and remind them that it was not a competition it was a compilation of work that they needed to be proud of and be able to show future employers while saying, “Hey, this was just the beginning for me and I am happy with it,” and have them think the same thing.
The mentors resumed their positions and stayed in the lab. We sit by our computers, jump up to solve any confrontation between group members and trade off times to leave in order to eat lunch or have tea.
When it comes to students having questions, there are several. The students encourage me to grab the mouse and do the work for them, but I have to catch myself and say, “No, how about I direct you so you remember it better once I am gone?” They are never thrilled when I say this, but I like to think they are now happy I made them do that since we really are gone and they are one their own.
As the days continued the tension only increased but their motivation to complete the projects on time and on their own has sky rocketed. They aren’t asking me so many questions like, “Will you do this for us?” more so, “Will you tell us if we’re doing this right and if it looks good?” This progress is what I like to see. The students aren’t relying on us, they are relying on each other. Teamwork is never easy, but it is always an experience that makes you grow as an individual and encourages you to take on tasks you normally would shy away from.
As the three days continued and the students progressed and were doing tweaking of the final products the staff was able to sneak off to a few places and relax. Read the next post to find out what adventure Jen and I went on.
Hint: Water for ________
Wednesday, January 11, 2012:
Susan's Army completed their project right at deadline today at 8:00 p.m. After starting their video from scratch the day it was due the team trucked right along and were troopers during the whole day. Exhausted and ready for some sleep the team still managed to show some joy and lift their arms in triumph after realizing their initial video was not going to work out. The end result was better than their first idea could have ever been.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Another bright and early morning on Sunday, meaning our usual 8:00 a.m. breakfast with the gang and we were headed off for a day full of sight seeing. After cramming into a white car, meant to seat six tiny people, the six Americans and two guides drove for approximately an hour and a half to Our Lady of Camel, an intercultural experiment for Christians and Hindus. It serves as a church and temple for people of either faith to practice freely. As mentioned in previous posts the level of respect for people of different faiths and the importance of religion in India is unlike any I have seen. People can practice without judgment from a person of another religion sitting next to them during a prayer.
The surrounding area at Our Lady of Camel was open and silent. I think that is why I liked it so much. I could walk around and not have any by me. I wandered away to a dirt trail and Carole joined me but even then with our conversation I calm and collected like my time at the Jami Masjid.On a funny note I found a cactus for the first time since I went to Nevada and decided that it would be my friend this time compared to my last encounter where my brother pushed me into one…. My brother, the cactus and I really do love each other. After being found by Jen and Dr. Byers we walked back to the place of worship and I took a closer look into the temple and found beauty that I have only been able to witness in India. The colors of the tile were bright against the white walls and the only source of light was from the natural environment and candles for prayer. Jen took a moment to herself and prayed when I left sit in the warm sun and wait for the others to have their moments of peace. I couldn’t help but rejoice in the country I was in and the blessed life I live.
After leaving the camels behind we packed ourselves into the car and drove to the Adalaj Wav Step Well. The Step Well was constructed by a woman as a gift to her husband, something that is not only uncommon in India but also in the United States, I must say I was pleasantly surprised and pleased. You immediately see the intricate detail at the step well. Stone was hand carved, the colors of the clothing, a circle of women dancing around a young man playing an instrument and a baptism occurring on one of the branching pillars. A group of tribal women who were celebrating the baptism were sitting on the ground in front of one of the gods carved along the wall of the step well. They looked towards Jen and I and waved us over. The celebrity status has not left and neither has the sensory overload. But wait, there is plenty more.
While listening to the music, watching the dancing and taking in the spirit of the Step Well, I was engulfed by a group of school children who were full of smiles gearing up to take a group photo. They grabbed my hand and the chaperones asked Jen and I to be in their actual group photo. Jen and I were happy to do so. If we didn’t I feel we would have ruined their day. After the photo all the children touched my hand, then waved with a energetic “goodbye,” or simple, “bye” and “thank you, goodbye now.”
After the photo op we headed back to have a quick lunch and break and then we were back on the road to see a Jain temple and Gandhi’s Ashram. These were exciting.
When we arrived at the Jain temple we parked and were greeted by a group of langoor, a type of monkey in India. They were everywhere in the parking lot and they were extremely friendly looking until we exited the car and they ran after us. One jumped off the ground and pushed off my shoulder onto the car, another hit Jim’s head. Animals never leave Jen and I alone, but I suppose me wanting to feed them after their attack sent mixed messages.
Let me explain. After they attacked us two young men were feeding the langoor while relaxing in the parking lot. Smart old me thought this would be an incredible experience and so I asked if I could feed them too. The boys gave me some nuts and I held them with my pointer finger and thumb and they reached out with their paws and grabbed it from me. I was scared they would eat my finger instead but I still have all ten fingers and an exhilarating experience to tell.
Following the excitement with the langoor we walked towards the beautiful Jain temple. Woman sat on top of the temple, working on the details and stone. Unfortunately the temple does not allow pictures so the only ones taken were of the beautiful outside that made you anxious for what was within.
A little on the background of the Jain community: It is a sector of the Hindu community, and follows strict guidelines in terms of their form of worship and lifestyle. The Jain believe that any vegetable, and food, that is grown underground contains a bacteria, that when eaten, is considered the killing of a form of life. How they do this I do not know. It shows a strong level of commitment and determination that I admire about them and hope that I embody and show to others in the present and the future.
After the Jain Temple we finally arrived at what I had been waiting for the entire trip, Gandhi’s Ashram. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an ideological and political leader in India during the Indian independence movement. He was a pivotal figure who helped to create many improvements among the government and civil rights for the country, despite many obstacles he and his followers faced.
While walking around the ashram I realized the place was much simpler than I previously had expected. Though seeing the spindle Gandhi used to make his own cotton was absolutely insane. After reading several of the signs that said, peace, faith, hope etc. and speaking to Chris, I came to the conclusion that the ashram is a place of peace and to expect anything but simplicity would be wrong. It was a wonderful place that we all enjoyed walking around by ourselves. At the end before we exited we saw the three wise monkeys and jumped at the bit for a photo. It was a great way to end the day and reflect on the work of motivational Indians.
Despite the long day we all were OK with eating some ice cream with Fr. Danielle before dinner…. We’re in a foreign country with ice cream made by a Jesuit’s village, how could we say no?
Saturday, January 7, 2012:
After two mosques, lunch, and a break we were driven to see the Rev. Cedric Prakash, a man who spent the fall of 2009 at Marquette working with the Center for Peacemaking, faculty and guest lectures and numerous other activities involving activism.
Rev. Prakash is a human rights activist and director of Prashant, the Ahmedabad Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, and a man has more passion and understanding of the human mind than anyone I have met in India and possibly the U.S. He believes in educating the uneducated is the only way to advance society and move on with current issues and make a difference. When he was speaking before tea time I found myself in awe and my jaw half open.
He explained the work he is doing and I couldn’t help but think about how I wanted to help and do what he is doing. He currently works with his employees on finding documentation for human rights case studies. Everyday he and his employees go through 20 newspapers and clip out articles that relate to topics they are keeping a close look at. Numerous files and clippings are in binders full of information that are presented to courts for cases as evidentiary support regarding certain topics. The entire time I kept telling myself that I would love to do this work, Carole even mentioned to me after that she thought of me during the visit. For his work, Rev. Prakash was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, one of the highest civilian honors that acknowledged his devotion human rights in India. He also received the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award that was presented to him for his humanitarian work by the Indian American Muslim Council in 2003. Now, we learned this all before tea time. That’s a lot to take in.
This tea time was special in itself as well. There were decadent treats and the tea was even better than normal, and that says something. It also happened to be Dr. B’s birthday so we had cake, biscuits, homemade ice cream everything under the sun that is sweet. Delicious.
After tea and more visiting we all headed back to Xavier’s exhausted. After teaching, staring at a computer, and exploring the day was catching up with us all so we all took a nap or simply had some alone time and then headed out for the Heritage Walk of the Old City. Carole and Jim were both sick with a head cold so they stayed behind, which felt strange because it’s like we’re a family – we don’t leave each others sides unless we need some serious time to ourselves. On the upside Aman Shah, a participant in the program two years ago and current journalist in Bangalore (south of Gujarat), joined us for the walk.
The Heritage Walk was led by a tour guide who knew his history. With a flashlight in hand and a booming voice he shared all the knowledge he could about the Old City, the rich families, hideouts and escape goats.
Here are a few facts about Ahmedabad:
Saturday, January 7, 2012:
Up at 7:30 in the morning for breakfast at 8:00 and teaching at 9:00 is not the norm for me, but this Saturday was the exception. Following classes and lab work we hit the road in three rickshaws with a student named Udit Tharke, a passionate young man who is intelligent beyond his years and volunteered to be our tour guide as we ventured into the Old City portion of Ahmedabad.
Getting out of the lab is nice as the stress level is rising but the itch to see the sights is more dominate. We are all realizing that we have less than a week left until we are back in Wisconsin with the unusually warm winter. I don’t want to go back to a place where it is cold one minute and warm the next. Here, I am not tearing off my scarf and North Face like I am in Wisconsin; it’s a nice change.
The Old City was originally built by the Sultan, Ahmad Shah, and was protected by what we learned to be called gates that are stories high and yards thick. This is why it is also called the Walled City. Ahmedabad has kept it’s tradition and interest in keeping the original culture alive and so with the beating of a drum the city reenacts the opening and closing of the now non-existent gates at 11 a.m., and close at 11 p.m., each day. We heard the music on our Heritage Walk later that evening, something I will share with you in a separate post.
With the hustle and bustle of a city like Ahmedabad it is hard to imagine keeping ancient traditions and customs alive, but with the architecture, faith, and people’s family history there are plenty of reminders. The Islamic community dominates the Old City and their place of worship has been my favorite part of this trip. The word “favorite” can be relative and is much overused in our culture, but at the Jami Masjid (Masjid means mosque) I experienced a calm and meditation unlike anything I have experienced before. I felt like I had an epiphany moment where I realized no matter where I am in the world and no matter what state of mind I may be in, I must recognize my inner core and be true to what my body is telling me. While I was sitting with my legs crossed and eyes closed in the sun by the hauz, a fountain where Muslims wash their hands, face and feet, before prayer, my epiphany continued. I also realized there are things you can control and things you can’t and for those you can’t control, you can’t worry about. This new philosophy will be used throughout the year of 2012, or so I will try…. Those of you who know me know I’m a worrywart.
Before we went to the Jami Mosque we went to the Sidi Saiyyad’s Mosque that had the symbol of Ahmedabad engraved in it. Sidi Saiyyad Jaali is the name of the gold lined tree that can be seen throughout the city, but when the British took over the Old City they destroyed all of the trees with the exception of this one. The females were not allowed to go pass the steps while the men were able to enter the mosque. It was hard to get past this at first since I was so eager to see the symbol up close, but I knew to respect the culture and follow the rules so I sat contently and took photos of the beauty that was before me.
Saturday was the first time I had been to a mosque, and now I can say I have been to two. The Siddah Saiyyad Mosque had simple architecture. It was small and had three walls, with no front to it in order for people to worship openly and for the citizens to see the Siddah Sayed Jali tree while driving bye without obstacle. The second mosque, Jami Masjid, was hidden away by the surrounding building, markets and traffic filled roads, but when you entered you would not have known there was anything else in the world. Silence was the sound you heard. Footsteps of children echoed. The brush of feet and knees sweeping the floors while men and women stood up and down from prayer were audible and the water being rubbed across bodies in the hauz. It was a moment in time where time was still and I felt at one with something. I looked around and saw all of these people in this beautiful open aired place of worship and could not help but ask, how did I get this lucky? I looked around again and realized it was because I work hard and because I am a devoted person, just like the Muslims who worship at the mosque five times a day.
The emphasis on worship in India is impeccable and cannot be described in words, even pictures, only through experience. No matter what class you are, how rich or poor, or what job you have there is always a place for prayer in slums, villages, cities, everywhere and they can be in the strangest places. The people of India don’t shy away from other religions either. You are welcome to any mosque, church or temple and be greeted with smiles and welcoming eyes. They do not label you here, they do not ask questions, you are who you are and are welcome to practice what you feel is right. Through this experience I have begun to explore my own faith. This is something I have been pondering for quite some time, but after this experience of sensory overload I have had a deeper look into myself and into others personal experiences.
After this delightful meditation we exited the mosque and found the congested city named Ahmedabad. Here we saw cute little sheep dressed up and a girl with her mother selling goods and were reminded we had a date for tea.
Calm, cool and collected are three words that I would like to describe my teams as they are working hard during crunch time, but unfortunately I can only say they are calm and collected because it is so hot in this lab!
As a teaching assistant on this trip I am overseeing two teams of four students of St. Xavier’s College and their projects. Each team has chosen two great topics that they are compiling a video and photo story as well as a written component. The students have been eager and passionate since day one and I can see their devotion as they work on editing their films and dash off to their last minute interview with the principle that was rescheduled.
They have learned and started to master the use of the new gadgets: Canon G10 digital cameras, voice recorders, HD Flip cameras, or one of the 10 new iMAC computers St. Xavier’s purchased for the program and future courses in journalism. With software such as iMovie and iPhoto installed on the computers, the students were instructed on how to edit content for their projects. So far the projects are looking great, except for the few Bollywood qualities that sneak into the evolving products, such as flashy names and overuse of transitions.
Tomorrow, Thursday, is the day where we reveal the end products for each team and be graded by a panel. I am happy to say my two teams, The Clocks and Susan’s Army, are well on their way to being finished before deadline and have quality finished products, if they listen to the advice Carole and I have provided them after viewing their progress of the day.
Here I will say it is hard to not want to take control of the project and grab ahold of the mouse because I see so much that needs to be changed, but that’s not the way to do it. Carole is right in saying, “Hands off the mouse, explain in words only.” It is better for them to learn how to do it themselves through practice rather than them watching an instructor do the work. I, personally, am a hands-on learner and should be respectful of my group and know my place as a Teaching Assistant. I must guide them to keep working together in figuring out the last pieces of their projects and managing the final product of their project.
I will say it is difficult to get their attention because they are gabbing and off task some of the time, but I will say age is also a contributing factor. We are all so close in age, though I am younger than the students I am teaching, that it becomes hard to not smear the lines of friendship and professional relationship. But, as the two weeks has progressed I believe the respect on each end has increased. We all realize we are there for a common purpose: their success and future.
Now, a break down of the teams. We will first start with the team of staff members, also know as Team Awesome. Carole Burns, Jim Burns, Dr. Stephen Byers, Jennifer Solorio, Chris Whitman and myself make up this dynamite team and I can say that with pride and certainty. We all play off each others strengths and weaknesses in the best ways possible. Say I have a technological question I know I can go to Chris or Jim and they will help me as soon as possible. If Jim has a question about any aspect of writing, deadlines etc. he knows he can come to me and I will be able to help him. Everyone seems genuinely happy with the team. It's a wonderful thing to be able to have intellectual conversations and challenging ones at that with people that you have grown close to within the matter of 12 days. I love our group conversations but I have to say my favorite ones are the ones I share with Jen while we go to bed. Pillow talk can be mans best friend.
Onto the teams I am a TA for, The Clocks and Susan's Army.
My first team is Susan’s Army, named after a faculty member at Xavier’s that has a wonderful British accent she acquired while living her whole life in India. The members are: Falak Choksi, Farheen Raaj, Harveen Kaur Sandhu, and Shiamak Unwalla.
Susan’s Army is focusing on the student life of St. Xavier’s College in three specific aspects, academic life, social life and the cultural life. The concept stemmed from their original idea to convey the history of St. Xavier’s in the past, present and future but after being told they need to narrow it down the students developed this idea and have been working hard ever since. This is their written description of their project turned in for the course website:
St. Xavier’s College, Ahemdabad is an institute that thrives on its active student body. We cover the three facets of student life here – the academic life, the social life and the cultural life. Our print story is a detailed piece on the various cultural activities that the college is associated with. The photo-feature contains glimpses into the exuberant social life on campus such as student group dynamics and hangout spots. Academics play a large part in the overall growth and development of the students at St. Xavier’s. The student-teacher interaction and views make up the video component of our project. A common thread in all three features is how our college is different from other colleges and universities in Ahmedabad. St. Xavier’s College stands proud on the basis of its individuality.
The Clocks, team two, members are: Sushmita Digar, Sherwin Everett, Kajri Mathur, and Avanti Mehta. This team is focusing on the importance of literacy and the fact that the college has a library archive that is not being used to its advantage. This is their photo and written description of their project turned in for the course website:
In a week we have come a long way, in such a short span of time we have experimented with different types of media, and chosen to showcase a topic that is not the easiest to portray. Our project on the Library Archives reflects the values attributed to reading, the foundation for any human being. Through our work we wish to shed light on the importance of reading and it's declining significance.
This project is an attempt to show our concern for the loss of value on our leather bound, knowledge imparting volumes, which have now turned dusty, mildewed and yellow.
We hope we have been successful in our endeavor to highlight the current situation we are in.
"Confusion never stops,
Closing walls and ticking clocks"
This statement is a perfect quote to convey our state of mind. There have been innumerable occasions where we just wanted to shoot apples off each other's heads, but we managed to tick tock our way till the clock struck and succeed as a team.”
The students are troopers. Even after Susan's Army was told they had to basically start from scratch using the footage they had they went off to lunch, came back rejuvenated and are working as if nothing ever happened.