The Rev. Prakash on the right getting tea. Photo by Jennifer Solorio
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:
- It does not flood in the Old City due to the elevation and if it does the houses are built further up from the ground so that the floors will not flood
- Many of the homes were built following Vastu Shastra, similar to Feng Shui.
- Homes often have elephant trunks on the columns and pillars that symbolize strength and good fortune for a household.
- Last but not least, the tour guide said one very humorous thing at the beginning, “In Ahmedabad, one must have a good horn, good breaks and good luck.”
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.
The gates to the "Walled City"
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.
Photo by Chris Whitman
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.
In the classroom with my two teams.
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.
Team Awesome from left to right and top down: Me, Jen, Carole, Jim, Chris and Byers who has fallen and can't get up!
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:
Susan's Army from back to front and left to right: Harveen, me, Farheen, Shiamak and Falak
Everyone deserves a funny, loving family picture, right?!
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:
The Clocks from back to front and left to right: Sherwin, me, Sushmita, Kajri and Avanti
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.
The Clocks completed their project two hours and 56 minutes ahead of deadline today at 5:04 p.m.. They could not be more happy with their work and nor could I! They are tough on themselves and wanted everything to be perfect and it shows. They worked so hard and I can’t express how proud I am of them. Congrats, team!
Friday, January 6, 2012:
Chris Whitman, the tech guy for our trip and senior at Marquette
, requested to see one of Louis Khan
’s architectural wonders here in Ahmedabad, India. Louis Khan designed one of the top management institutes in all of India, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
(IIMA). The students in the program at Xavier’s
explain that for every person that gets in, there are approximately 600 applications. I couldn’t believe this so I asked a few Jesuits and they said it is true. To fulfill Chris’ wish we left the confining, gloomy lab and went for an adventure while the students continued to be diligent and pound away on the keyboards.
Chris, Carole and Dr. Byers tried going to IIMA the day before but were denied entrance because they didn’t have their passports. To this I said, “Now, who said we should carry our passports at all times?” and then we all chuckled, except for Chris who was really sad. We made it up to him the next day though when we went back and had all of the papers necessary. At the front gate we had to leave our passports, something that scared the daylights out of me. Everyone knows you don’t leave your identity unprotected, but it is common practice here. Dr. Byers gave the security men, who had stern faces and never smiled, received a slip to collect our passports at the end of our visit and we were off to explore. Chris’ face was beaming with excitement, it was a little cute to see him "geek out" as he says.
As we walked throughout the campus we saw students playing cricket, one ball almost hit me…. Shocking considering my other adventures at this point. The atmosphere was extremely soothing, with the green space and trees all around, pots with vibrant flowers on stairways and roundabout, everything was peaceful and welcoming. It was a nice getaway from the loud lab. Khan made the most of natural light in his architecture (Chris’ shared knowledge has stuck with me) as the large circles in the sides of the buildings shed light on the hallways and staircases. Everything is naturally lit and would be stunning in the evening.
We wandered around the campus, taking pictures of the architecture, Chris holding the school up with his mighty strength and used Khan’s architectural style to our advantage for a family photo. Here, three boys came up and wanted to be in the picture. How can you say no to such beautiful and innocent smiles?
When we left we received our passports, all pages intact and identities not stolen. On our walk back things that reminded us of home greeted us. A school bus, a barbershop, stacks of books. The walk reiterated the fact that our time was coming to an end faster than we predicted and that I am not ready to go home, but at the same time I am. I’m in a limbo stage right now, but seeing these things made me chuckle and be at peace for the time being.
I am several events, tales and adventures behind on my blogs so from now on I will be dating them at the beginning for easy reading pleasure. The work here has really picked up and with all the sight seeing that we are doing in addition to teaching things are piling up and we are all exhausted by the end of the day. My apologies for being on India time! It will get better!
“When I say 6:00 I mean 6:00 American time, not 6:00 Indian time.” Jennifer Solorio
said it perfectly in her blog
“‘If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.’ An American expression that I myself have lived by, or have at least tried to. It is rude to waste the time of those who expect you, because you must always remember, time is of the essence. Time is money.”
Since the first day of classes we have struggled with the students, and even faculty about the idea of time, a key difference between the cultures of the U.S. and India. Here, in India, it is perfectly acceptable to be 30 minutes “late” for a meeting because that is considered on time, in the U.S. it would be considered rude and disrespectful. At the request of the faculty and principle the Marquette faculty was asked to be strict regarding time. Classes start at 9:00 a.m. and the students are to be there before the class starts. At this point in time we are in the lab doing work so it is difficult to see if the students are exactly on time, but when we were in the classroom those who weren’t on time had to wait at the door until Carole
or Dr. B
said they could come in.
Now, there are times where the students, guests etc. can do the reverse. India time can mean 30 minutes early. My philosophy while in India is to be ready a reasonable amount of time before the designated time, but also bring something to entertain myself during the time I may be waiting.
There is also another aspect to India time and that is the duration of time a certain event or travel may take. Fr. Vinayak
may say, “Oh yes, it is a short travel,” and that short travel can be the equivalent of an hour. It is all seemingly relative here because the culture is extremely relaxed. Coming from the United States’ culture where everything is go-go-go and time is of the essence it’s an adjustment, but it is also a cultural exchange as the students need to understand that a deadline is a deadline and when we say come to class at 9:00 a.m. we mean it.
After class on Thursday we went out with some students again to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
at a new mall Ahmedabad has constructed. It reminded me a lot of the Mayfair Mall
in Wauwatosa, Wisc. It was a little too American for me – going to a mall, seeing an English movie – but nonetheless it was still enjoyable. There were differences though, security screenings at the entrance to a movie, and an intermission during the movie? I have never experienced that before, it was a movie screening done India’s way.
At the entrance of the movie theatre complex there were two men and a woman standing behind two metal detectors. Kajri, Sneha and I walked through them and a woman signaled us to the side where there was a separate booth with a curtain where the woman patted us down and bags were searched. She said something about my camera and I started replying in Spanish…. WRONG COUNTRY, ANDREA
. Sneha came in and explained what it was and that I was not going to take photos. She had some girls keep their bags outside in lockers because they thought they would steal things, I was able to keep mine. I must look innocent, an accurate statement in my opinion.
When we entered the theater we were ushered to a designated area and we all sat down. I was between Jen
and Shiamak. Jen bought popcorn that had a great combination of caramel and cheese popcorn, the cost? One U.S. dollar and it was the equivalent of what the American movie theaters designate as a large. Was it a deal? Heck yes. Shiamak, Jen and I all shared the popcorn and needless to say, Jen was full and didn’t want dinner because she ate the majority of it. She was hungry!
At the very beginning Sushmita, Kajri and the other girls screamed, hooted and hollered at the sight of Robert Downey Jr.
, Sherlock Holmes, and his dreamy face. They could not get enough of him. I personally prefer Jude Law
who plays Dr. Watson….
Halfway through the movie during an intense action scene between and Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. the screen goes black and the lights come on. I was very confused. The first thought that came into my head was, Did we only pay for half of the movie…?
I moved around in my seat seeing people getting up, including the students we were with and I could not understand what was going on. Shiamak finally said that this is normal in India, especially when viewing Hindi movies because they are generally three hours long. I was thrown through a loop but it makes sense. People don’t want to miss part of the movie for a refill on their drink or popcorn or a bathroom break. The intermission is perfectly logical and I think the U.S. should adopt it ASAP because this way I’m sure to not miss anything because I need to use the ladies room. When the show resumed all was back to normal with a few more screams and then silence. If I were a film critic I would say what was good and what was bad and how well the acting was in great detail but for now while I’m not a film critic I’ll just say it was a good movie in a mall that reminds me of being at home, but was fun because I was with friends enjoying great group of people.
This is another shout out to my dear professor, advisor and two-time travel companion, Dr. Stephen Byers
. Today we celebrated his birthday, the number of years will remain unknown for you readers, but let me say he has a lot of spunk for his age and does not look it either! The students and Jesuits brought him a cake, chocolate of course, flowers and Diet Coke (his favorite drink - straws included). The whole day he had students and faculty wishing him happy birthday and he couldn’t help but smile.
If you are lucky enough to know Dr. Byers you know that he is a very modest man that does not like the spot light to be on him, but today we all felt he deserved it. His lack of acknowledgement of his birthday in the previous days made him an easy target but also his dedication and focus on the students and the program made it impossible to not show our appreciation for him. His day consisted of getting out of the class room and visiting the Old City, the oldest part of Ahmedabad, visiting the Rev. Cedric Prakash who was a student at Marquette
and has close ties with St. Xavier’s
, and then a three hour nap or so until we went back to the Old City for a nighttime heritage tour of the historic sites. He loves history and walking around so this was a perfect match for him. We all hope he had a great day and enjoys his time tomorrow while it is his birthday U.S. Central Time.
Happy Birthday Dr. B, you’re an inspiration.
Arpita and I on her motorbike to the Zen Café and other adventures
Is this real life? Am I in India, riding on Vespas
and motorbikes with my students who are now virtually all my Facebook friends? Did I actually visit a citywide “it” place called the Zen Café at another university? Did this university actually have a student built gallery called “The Cave?”
Answer: Yes to all of the above.
After our second day of working hard and teaching the students photography they graciously asked the TAs if we would like to hangout for a bit. Spending the last three days cooped up at the college, besides our wonderful New Years adventures and escapades, we were all itching to have some fun. Little to our knowledge did we know this meant riding on Vespas with our students, squeezing our way through rush hour traffic, going to the local hot spot named the Zen Café at the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology University
(CEPT) and then going to the Law Garden where a market opens up at night fall and closes at 11:30 p.m.. I know that was a lot to read in one breath but trust me it was a lot to do and comprehend because never in my life did I imagine that I would be riding on a motorbike with Arpita Vadgama to CEPT and then bargaining prices down to the bare minimum with Rajsi Kaul over three necklaces. Read on if you can bear with the longwinded descriptions and paragraphs, there is just so much to share with you all.
Everyone inside "The Cave"
CEPT is an elite academic institute in all of Ahmedabad and India. Students from all over the country come here in hopes of receiving a powerful and high paying job after college. Here they have the Zen Café where we sat and drank coffee, all 13 or so of us, and then we explored “The Cave,” outside the school and near the café. We went inside and explored for a while, it reminded me of the crystalized salt caves near Mount Rushmore
. After relaxing for a bit on the steps of the café and learning more about the students on a personal level we went for a tour around the campus. It was a really fabulous campus. Every campus here has a green area and I love that about this country and state. No matter how urban and highly populated it becomes, they don’t sacrifice the need for grass and a spot to relax in the sun. Udit loved the pink polka doted chairs made of cement and Jen loved the statues where she pretended to be a damsel in distress. I personally was a fan of taking everything in and watching different students!
Udit enjoying his pink polka doted chair :)
Jen pretending to be a damsel in distress after being sick for two days in the gardens of CEPT.
I had a wonderful conversation with Rajsi and Shreya Vyas about arranged marriages in the middle of an art gallery. This does NOT happen in the U.S. in my life, but in my two weeklong India life it does. Rajsi has a family line solely comprised of arranged marriages and they have all been successful and turned into loving relationships, but she and her sister don’t want that. Her sister is around the age of 22 and is looking for a man to marry and be approved by her family ASAP so she does not have to have an arranged marriage, which traditionally occur in her family at the age of 24 or 25. Shreya has a family of love matches, where each has found their partner on their own; her family has also had successful, happy relationships. We spoke for about ten minutes about the pros and cons about each and then we had to leave the gallery and began speaking about henna. How we jump from such serious, stimulating conversation to henna is beyond me, but it all has a fluid flow that makes it seem absolutely normal. (A separate post on arranged marriages is to come.)
After the arranged marriage and henna conversation we hung around for a bit more on the campus and then left for the market in the Law Gardens where we all bought things for our family and friends. Scarves, saris, traditional tops and bottoms, jewelry, bags, bed and pillow covers, sandals, anything and everything. The thing that was the most tempting was the street food. Oh, did I want to eat it so bad as the aroma drifted towards my nose but I knew that I couldn’t and so I kept on walking and bargaining with Arpita and Rajsiand the other girls. The boys walked around with us too, it was all a collective adventure and the students just seemed happy that we were happy.
The best bargain was for three necklaces. The man wanted to charge me 800 rupees; the equivalent of 14 dollars, and Rajsi brought the price down to 425 rupees. That is a great bargain seeing as I am a foreigner, a blonde one at that, and was ready to settle at a higher price because they were such different and gorgeous pieces of jewelry. Rajsitold me to hide my approving expression when he said 500 after ten minutes of bargaining and soon enough, 425 hit and Rajsi said that was the best we were going to get and it was still a good deal. The market was full of color, with the coins and jewels dangling from colorful saris and little gems sewed onto bags. The light from the streets reflected off the silver bracelets stored in bins and the walking vendors with little orange and pink cloth elephants, which I hope to see again to get for my soon to be nephew, all added to the eclectic atmosphere of the market that I had never expected nor experienced.
On the ride home with Arpita on her scooter I still pinched myself and had to ask if what I just experienced was real. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I had just done what normal college students in India do after school and that it entailed riding scooters in the dark, drinking coffee and tea while looking at art galleries with conversations about arranged marriages. Not in a million years did I expect to have this adventure. Holy moly it was a night I will never forget and I’m 100 percent positive more surprises will come. Stay tuned for more if you can handle all the reading, hopefully the pictures help!