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. 
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Our staff in the page's spread.
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Up close look at the photo.
 
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. 
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First touch of an elephant ever!
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. 
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It's harder than it looks.
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We're off!
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.
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Jen is beginning to become a little overwhelmed.
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I'm beginning to be overwhelmed by the elephant.
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An elephant just used the loo.
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The elephant smiled for Carole.
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Nice elephant, nice elephant. Please don't make any more abrupt motions.
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Now our elephant is using the loo!
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. 
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Jen is off the elephant and running away.
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. 
 
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Photo by Jennifer Solorio
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. 
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Photo by Carole Burns
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Photo by Jennifer Solorio
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.”
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Photo by Chris Whitman
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Photo by Chris Whitman
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. 
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Photo by Carole Burns
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Photo by Carole Burns
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Photo by Carole Burns
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Photo by Carole Burns
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Photo by Carole Burns
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. 
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Photo by Carole Burns
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? 

    Author

    Andrea is a recent graduate from the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University with a double major in journalism and Spanish.

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