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Sunday, January 29, 2012

St. Anne's Church

My favorite church in Jerusalem is St. Anne's. I think one of the reasons, maybe the main reason I love it is because I love to sing. St. Anne's is a stark stone Crusader church and the acoustics there are just marvelous.

The first time I went to St. Anne's Church was 3 years ago when I was in Jerusalem for a travel seminar. Our group visited and sang there together. After the group sang, we had some time to look around. As I was walking around the church, from within me the Ave Maria started pouring out, first as a gentle trickle, but by the end there was a stream of song gushing out of me. It wasn't really a conscious decision to sing; it just happened. After that I knew I'd be back to St. Anne's.

The next time I went was a few days later. Our group had some free time, so I went by myself. This time my goal was to sing the Ave Maria especially for my grandma. When I got there, there were groups coming in and out. I waited until I was completely alone, so there would be no distractions from singing my heart out. When the church was finally completely still and quiet, I closed my eyes and sang. And I did sing my heart out. When I finished I was surprised to be overcome with emotion and started crying. A group had come in while I was singing, Italians, I think, because one came over to me, took my hands in his, looked into my eyes and said, "Grazie." Then I really lost it. I wasn't really sure why I was crying. It was cathartic, I guess. The journey through Israel and Palestine had been incredibly intense and so as I released everything I'd experienced through my singing, I guess my eyes also let loose. I sat in the church until I thought I had pulled myself together, sang again, since I happened to be alone again, and then went outside. There I ran into a priest. He asked if I was the one who had been singing. As I said yes, I found myself crying all over again. Through the tears I said I'd been singing for my grandmother.

"Is she sick?" he asked me.

"No," I sobbed, "she's fine." He looked a little confused, but continued to engage me in conversation until I was no longer crying. After talking awhile we each went on our way.

When I arrived in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, one of the first places I went was St. Anne's. I sat in the church for a long time, listening to groups sing. Eventually I also sang. I lit a few candles for some friends.  I felt at peace.

Though I've only been here for a few weeks,  mostly in Nablus, I've already been to St. Anne's a number of times.  I feel pulled there. I've stayed there for an hour or so and I've gone in for just a few minutes. Usually I sing, but not always. Regardless of how long I stay, regardless of whether I sing, each time I leave feeling a little lighter. I think I'll be visiting St. Anne's many more times before I go... 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Education

Road closure between Palestinian neighborhood and lands
I don't want to write about teaching English.  I'm sure I will at some point, but not today.  I'm not going to write about the education system in Palestine or Israel.  I don't know enough about them anyway.  I am going to write about the education I got a few days ago as I took part in events organized by Ta'ayush, whose self-description is as follows: "Israelis & Palestinians striving together to end the Israeli occupation and to achieve full civil equality through daily non-violent direct-action."  If you want to check them out yourselves, their website is www.taayush.org. 

House demolished by Israelis on confiscated land
On Friday, after my first time walking through a checkpoint (which I'll also write about soon), another volunteer from Project Hope (PH) and I went to join a demonstration/action by Ta'ayush. In Jerusalem a road from a Palestinian neighborhood to Palestinian pasture lands had been blocked. The land that was blocked off had been illegally seized by the Israeli park system because they want to build a national park.  Incidentally, the land for the park effectively isolates the Palestinian lands and connects Israeli settlements.  Hmmm... Israelis don't have the right to take the land, but they did anyway.  They also destroyed homes, sometime more than once, on the land.  They don't have the right to block the road, but they did anyway.  Our task that day was to voice our opposition to the road blockage and begin to clear it.
Working to reopen the road on confiscated lands
  Being my first event, I did not participate in the direct action, but was there as an international presence, taking pictures, and trying to learn more about the people there and the work they do.  

While there, I was talking to one young woman and asked her how she got involved in Ta'ayush.  She said something like this: "When I was young I was really politically active, but then I got tired and stopped and tried escapism.  That didn't really work, so I started coming to protests again.  Then I got beat up by the Israeli police and that did a lot of good."  While the beating was meant to intimidate and make her stop, it seemed to only give her more determination.  

We stayed a few hours and some progress was made, but it would still be impossible for vehicles to pass over the massive pile of dirt, rocks, and trash that had been created...

Working to open road in south Hebron hills
On Saturday we again met with Ta'ayush people.  This time we went to the hills south of Hebron.  As a sidenote, Hebron is a unique Palestinian city because there is an Israeli settlement smack in the middle of the city.  Joining us from Hebron were a couple of volunteers from CPT, Christian Peacemaker Teams, another NGO (non-governmental organization).  CPT provides accompaniment and witness in various places around the world, Palestine and Colombia being two of them.  I'd also recommend checking out their website: www.cpt.org.  The volunteers from there were telling us about a special needs boy in Hebron who had recently been arrested, released, and later captured and tortured by the Israeli army.  The initial arrest was because he had "attacked" an Israeli soldier.  What actually happened was that he was knocked to the ground and beaten by the soldiers at a checkpoint.  When he tried to get up, he stumbled and knocked into one of the soldiers.  That was the "attack."  Sigh... It sickens me.  The full story is on the CPT website.  

Israeli soldiers wanting group to stop working; activists documenting
 Saturday our goal was to clear some roadblocks that had been created illegally, which effectively blocked off any road access to a number of Palestinian villages.   The reason given for blocking them: "safety."  On Friday the Israeli army had consented to re-open the roads, since by law they had no grounds to close them anyway and had even done some work to clear what they'd previously blocked Even with that being the case, we expected to encounter some soldiers while we worked.  So we arrived with pickaxes and hoes and began clearing what still needed to be done.  We also put down sand to try to even out the road.  We got one road in decent shape and moved to another spot. After working awhile there the soldiers showed up.  So we went to another spot that needed to be cleared.  The soldiers followed us.  At the time they initially showed up, I wasn't working and decided to play it safe, since I don't speak Hebrew or Arabic, the two main languages spoken by group members, and since I hadn't ever been a part of such an action before.  I did take pictures, as were a number of people from Ta'ayush and CPT.  In fact, several were shooting video.  At the third spot, the soldiers told people to stop working.  Most did.  A couple did not, so they were arrested because they didn't put their tools down.  They were Israeli activists, so they probably were either released after questioning that day or maybe spent a few days in jail.  I don't actually know.  At that point, the Palestinians left the work-site, since their fate could have been much worse than a few days in jail.  

Once the work stopped an amazing brave young woman started shouting chants, some in English, some in Hebrew, to call out the unjust actions of the soldiers in that moment and the Israeli government in general.  This standoff went on for awhile and then we left.  At that point, we walked to one of the roads we'd unblocked and started walking down it. 

At one point when we were walking, we walked along a road.
An Israeli army jeep drove right behind us.
This began a walk of several hours, during which we stopped at various villages and heard about their history and struggles.  We heard about home demolitions, the struggle to get water access and electricity to the villages.  At one spot we saw pictures of their struggles- animals that had been poisoned, home demolitions, road blockages, and other things, all done by the Israelis.  Sigh... The photos were in the village of Tuwani, a success story compared to other villages in the area, because it actually did have electricity and had water access at the entrance to the village.  It took them years to get to that point... Though the Israeli settlements in the area have access to both electricity and water, somehow it's too difficult to get them to Palestinian villages.  Did I mention that it's Israel who controls access to water and electricity?  

Pictures of abuses by the Israelis
While we were on our walk, we got news that the Israeli army had brought a bulldozer back to where we'd unblocked the road earlier in the day.  Let me say again that the previous day, the Israeli army had begun unblocking the road.  Now they were re-blocking it.  It was really pretty ridiculous.  We watched this happen, all the while documenting it.  

The bulldozer...
For me, this picture pretty well sums up the power differential between Israel and Palestine...
During that same day, other members of Ta-ayush were working in a different part of the Hebron hills, but I think the details are too sketchy in my mind to accurately give you the story. Eventually we all left the area and headed back to Jerusalem.  I know I have a lot to learn about what's going on.  Learning the names of the villages will be one good step... As I continue my education, I'll also keep you informed.  Until then, peace to you.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Freedom of movement

Yesterday there were air and ground strikes in Gaza. If you follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you probably already know this. If not, well, there it is.  Yesterday morning we heard planes going overheard (something I hadn't heard before or since). Perhaps they had something to do with the Gaza attacks...

Of course, the story from each side is different.  Relatives of those killed (2 were killed and 2 injured) say the men were setting bird traps.  Israelis say the men were planting a bomb and that in the Israeli attack they detonated the bomb. Sadly, there will probably be more stories like this to tell while I'm here.

Last night we watched a French movie called "Le Sel de la Mer," meaning "the salt of the sea." It was about an American woman with Palestinian roots coming to Israel/Palestine. I won't say more than that about the plot, but there was a horrible scene from when the woman arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.  She was grilled for hours and both her body and luggage were thoroughly searched. This reminded me of my own easy arrival, for which I am grateful.  I had heard stories of people being questioned for hours, so I was prepared for the worst. In the movie, the woman was told numerous times, "This is, of course, for your own security."  The experience of Palestinian friends seems to be more like what the character in the movie experienced and it makes me sick to think of how dehumanizing it can be.  My own story of an easy arrival is as follows:

I was prepped before coming, advised not to mention going to Palestine or to bring anything that might hint at Palestinian sympathies. This included an Arabic-English dictionary. Sadly, before reading my prep material, I asked my mom to bring me an Arabic-English dictionary when we met up in Spain. Being thorough, she bought and brought me 4 books...and because of the advice we had not to bring them, took them back with her to the U.S.

My process really began in Munich (I flew from Madrid to Munich to Tel Aviv). The terminal I went to is set apart from the "regular" terminals. Getting there involved a long walk outside. When I walked into the terminal, my boarding pass was checked. Then I walked a little further and my passport was checked. Then it was time for the extra security check. Let me mention here that whereas the rest of the Munich airport that I walked through was warm and welcoming, this terminal could best be described as cold and sterile. In the security room, my bags went through the X-ray machine and then were carried by a security person to a table for another check. Then I got the most thorough body check I've ever had. Once that was over, I was allowed to get my things and go to the waiting area. It was slightly more welcoming than the security check area had been, but not by much. When it was time to board, we got on a bus and travelled pretty far from the building to get to the plane.  Once on the plane things seemed pretty normal, until the last 1/2 hour or so when we were asked to remain seated "for security reasons."

When waiting in the passport control line in Ben Gurion, I watched people get questioned. I was there, it seemed, during the shift change. The line I was in was going slow (because of both the shift change and long questioning of people ahead of me), so I got into a shorter line. I'd be talking to a woman, which I thought might be a good thing. When it was my turn, I approached and gave her a big smile. She was having none of that and did not reciprocate.  Then she started with her series of questions, all asked with a note of scorn or condescension:

"Why did you come to Israel? How long do you want to stay? Why that long? Where are you going?  Where are you staying? How do you know them? Have you met them? How long will you be in Jerusalem? Where will you go after that? Do you have a return ticket? Where will you go after Israel?"

I got some skeptical looks as I was answering, but I think I got off easy.  As advised, I didn't mention Palestine, but otherwise I answered politely and truthfully.  The one question I was a little worried about was the one about the return ticket, because I know people have been sent home for answering "No" to that question.  My answer was no, but I explained that I've been traveling for awhile and had done the same in India and she seemed to accept that.  Whew!   She gave me a visa with the requested 3 months. Then I walked through customs without any sort of luggage search and I was done!  I was relieved that it was so easy compared to some of the nightmarish stories I've heard, including stories of people who were sent back home for the reason I mentioned above and others (admitting going to Palestine, for example).

Maybe the true test will come when I leave. Unfortunately, for some reason the process of leaving Israel tends to be a longer process in terms of questioning at the airport. I guess I don't need to worry about that quite yet...

My story is really one of great fortune.  I have it easy.  For the most part I can go where I want, both in the world and through Israeli and Palestinian lands.  Palestinians can't.  I've talked to people here in Nablus who want to go to Jerusalem.  It's  a bit over an hour from here (more if you have to use public transportation, because of the route it must take).  Palestinians have to apply for a permit to go to Jerusalem for the day, for one single day...and often they are denied the permit.  They have to have a "good reason," as judged by Israelis.  Apparently, things like a job interview or a meeting at an embassy don't qualify as good reasons. Sigh...

I don't know what the men were doing in Gaza, setting bird traps or planting a bomb.  I sincerely hope they were setting bird traps.  I do know that it seems like every time there's a conflict like what happened yesterday, the Palestinians tend to suffer greater loss than Israelis.  I also know that if my movement (physical, economic, educational, etc.) were as restricted as that of Palestinians, I might be tempted to do something drastic to change the situation.  Please know that I'm not saying I condone violence; I don't.  Thankfully, there are groups in Israel and Palestine who feel the same and are using non-violent methods to work for social change.  I'll be sure to tell you about them as I learn more.

When I started writing this, and even as I was finishing the above stories, I wasn't sure why I was connecting what happened in Gaza to the movie to my own arrival.  Maybe this is how they connect.  I am free to move. I also have a means to speak.  Others, particularly Palestinians, do not, or at least not without great risk.  I came here to teach, and with Project Hope that means teaching English.  However, I think the greater part of my teaching will happen when I use my freedom of movement to go places in Israel and Palestine and listen to stories.  The greater part of my teaching will happen when I use my voice to tell those stories faithfully, probably right here.  Those stories may be re-caps of the day's news or personal stories that you would otherwise never hear.  My teaching will also happen when I use my voice to tell my own story.  Sometimes it will serve to exemplify the life experience here and sometimes it will serve as a contrast to the life experience here. I only hope that I will find the words to say what most needs to be said. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Morning at the market

After a couple of ugly days (weather-wise), this morning dawned with a beautiful blue sky.  I had been wanting to check out the market and buy some things, so I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and some free time this morning.  My goals: to buy hummus, fruit, and whatever else might strike my fancy.

Some other volunteers had told me about a good place to get hummus.  I knew the name of the place (Mamma Mia) and had a vague idea about where it was.  The Project Hope house is pretty near the market and part of the market is down the street from where we are.  Once in the market, I wandered down that street for a while, noting the different shops and things I might buy from them at some point.  I was approaching one shop and noticed a lot of cats hanging around the door.  When I got closer, I saw that the shop was full of live (caged) chickens.  I guess the cats were hoping to get some snacks later on.  During my walk I passed a number of similar chicken shops.  I didn't notice if they sold anything else.  The other shops didn't have the cats hanging around like the first place...

And since I mentioned cats above, let me say a little more about them: they're everywhere.  A friend in Jerusalem said, "You see cats here like you see squirrels in the U.S."  It's true.  They're all over, in the streets, checking out the trash, and they come in all colors, sizes, and states of well-being.  Though many are strays, some are quite friendly.  Others, not so much.  Being a cat person, I love seeing them and occasionally I pet the friendlier ones.  I'm not sure other people are quite so excited about this plethora of cats...

Anyway, eventually I bought some fresh still warm pita bread and at another shop some dried chickpeas (I've been missing eating them Indian-style).  Then I decided to go down another street in the market that leads to the center of town (where I needed to go to get my hummus). The shops along the first street sold mostly canned items, household items, oils, dry foods, and such.  The next street I walked down was full of fresh food: vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, more (live) chickens, and this street was, and I think usually is, quite crowded.  As I headed down (the street goes downhill) I scoped out where I'd buy fruits on the way up (so I wouldn't have to carry them down and back up the hill).  I got to the end of the street and was in the center of town.  I wandered a little, trying to find Mamma Mia (trying to remember what I'd been told about its location).  Having no luck in finding it, I randomly wandered down a few streets just to get familiar with the city.  I noticed one vendor selling something that looked like custard apples, what had become my new favorite can't-find-it-in-the-U.S. fruit in India.  I made a mental note to buy some on the way back.

While walking, I ran into the only person I've met who doesn't work or volunteer for Project Hope. Small town.  I was introduced to him my first night because he spent some time in Barcelona and may be interested in practicing Spanish (which wouldn't be a bad thing for me either).  He invited me into his relative's shoe shop (he'd been standing just outside it) for coffee.  I'm not a coffee drinker, but I wanted to be polite, so I both accepted the invitation and drank the coffee.  With sugar, it was OK.  After coffee, I had to start heading towards Project Hope for my second class.  As I stepped out of the shoe shop, I saw down the road in front of me the sign for Mamma Mia.  I'd passed the place several times in my wandering, but hadn't noticed it because the English part of the sign only faces one direction.  It was literally right at the end of the street I'd walked down and was about to walk back up.  So I walked in and ordered my hummus to take back to the house.  They didn't have enough to fill the 2 containers I ordered, so one of the men went...somewhere...to get more hummus.  While I waited (5 minutes perhaps), I was offered coffee (which I declined since I'd just had one), a strawberry (which was perfect in color, shape, and taste, sooooo delicious), and a cigarette (which I also declined, being a non-smoker).  I had experienced wonderful hospitality in Jerusalem while staying with the family of a friend from home ("You are in your second home'" they so generously and graciously told me), but now receiving  from a stranger, I was beginning to understand Arab hospitality even more.  I think it may rival Indian hospitality, but the jury's still out on that one...

I got my hummus and walked back up the hill.  On the way I bought some apples and tangerines and hurried back to the house, realizing along the way that I hadn't bought my custard apples.  I'd have to remember for next time... Once at the house, I scarfed down some hummus and pita, having not really eaten before doing my shopping and headed over to Project Hope, only to find that my class had been rescheduled for an hour later.  The woman in charge of scheduling classes had sent me a text, but I hadn't checked my phone, so it wasn't her fault for me arriving (now) an hour early.  Guess I need to check my phone messages more regularly... Going back to the house to relax for a bit before the class, I ran into another volunteer who was going walking in the market.  Now that I had another free hour, I walked with him and bought my custard apples.  Yay!  I've eaten one and I think they are a different variety than the ones I ate in India, but it was still quite tasty and I still have 4 more to eat.  The other volunteer also showed me his favorite place to buy hummus.  I am looking forward to becoming a connoisseur of hummus while I'm here.  I am equally looking forward to more explorations and adventures in the market.  That's all for now.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nablus New Start

Today is my third day in Nablus, Palestine.  I arrived on Sunday afternoon after spending a few days in Jerusalem.

My first day I got settled into the volunteer housing, saw a little of the city, got a new SIM card for my phone, and had a lovely dinner with the other Project Hope volunteers.  For those who don't know, I'm spending the next two months teaching English and maybe other things here in Nablus.  If you want to know more about Project Hope, they have a website, www.projecthope.ps.  Check it out.  There are currently 9 of us volunteering here, but several are leaving soon and others will be coming, so the number will fluctuate over the time I'm here.  Currently, volunteers are from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, England, and France.

It's chilly here and today it's rainy.  Thankfully, we have space heaters in our living space and lots of blankets for our beds.  We turn the space heaters off overnight, so we don't use so much electricity, but the blankets have kept me cozy warm.  During the day, dressing in layers is working pretty well.  We are also asked to be very mindful of our water use, since the tank for the house is filled every few days and if we use all the water...well, we wait until the tank is filled again.  The Israelis control water access in Palestine, though in Israel, Israeli water use is not limited...

I haven't yet established a routine, but what is clear is that it will be very different from my India routine.  Whereas in India, I got up at 6:00 and was the last one to wake up by an hour or so, here I got up a little after 8:00 and was one of the first.  My first morning I set my alarm for 7:20.  No one was up then and I stayed in my warm bed until I heard others stirring.

My teaching schedule is a work in progress and, from what I can tell by talking to volunteers, it will be a work in progress the whole time I'm here.  I was supposed to have my first class last night with a group of guys who  had completed the first level but wanted to work on their speaking skills.  The class was supposed to be at 6:00 in the evening.  They arrived at 6:50.  We didn't have class and set the class for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 6:30 to 7:30.  We'll see what happens tonight.  This morning I did get to teach a class, going to a center where I had a group of 10 to 13 year-olds; there were 13 or 14 kids, I think.  The first class is always a process of figuring out what the kids know.  These kids were more advanced than I was expecting them to be, so I didn't do a whole lot of teaching, but did learn (most of) their names, learn a little about them, their interests and families and discovered one set of vocabulary that I can teach them.  The director of the center said they like worksheets.  I'm not much of a worksheet person.  I suppose we'll meet somewhere in the middle on that...

From my first few days here, I've realized that my motto for my time away from home, "be flexible" is going to be very important here.  Things are much more in flux than they were in Chatra.  Things that will change over the time I'm here include who I'll be living with, what I'll be teaching, what my day-to-day schedule is, to name a few.  One thing I didn't mention in my "Missing" post that I will really miss is the hour of community prayer I had with the sisters.  That time served to help me to process and/or let go of the stresses of each day.  I definitely need to find a way, a time, a space to do that for myself here.  I'll let you know when I figure that out.  Maybe I'll use the quiet mornings for that...

Here I think I'll be able to get out more than I did when I was in Chatra, to explore Nablus in a way I didn't explore Chatra.  Though some people get nervous at the mention of Palestine, in general things here are pretty safe.  No worries about pickpockets or theft.  I have more freedom to wander, something which was not encouraged in Chatra because of Maoist activity in the area.

So there is a little introduction to the next few months.  Already I've heard stories of Palestinians that I'm sure I'll begin to share with you soon.  I look forward to writing more since there is a computer at the house and WiFi. Until the next time...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Missing

It was wonderful spending some time  with my parents in Spain and it was hard to say good-bye to them. Besides their company, they brought letters and cards from friends and family at home, a wonderful treat, especially the ones written by hand.  Certainly the people I love are the hardest to be away from. However, I often have the chorus of the Stephen Stills' song in my head: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." And so I am trying to extend the love I have received to those I meet. Incidentally, as I was cleaning out my wallet before I left India, I found a tiny folded-up fortune in the change pocket. I have no idea how long it had been in there; I took a few things out of there that I know had been in there for years, but that's not important. What is important and I have felt all along as I've been traveling is what the fortune said:  "You will always be surrounded by true friends."  That has seemed to be my fortune thus far and I feel so fortunate to continually cross paths with amazing people who have been welcoming and friendly towards me.

All that said, what I really meant to write about here are the things I will and will not miss about the places I've been so far...

When I started writing, I was on the ferry going from Morocco to Spain. If you are Facebook friends with my mom you know we nicknamed it the barfferry- I'll let you figure out why; thankfully, my parents and I were not among the nauseated.  We were in Morocco less than 48 hours and were only in Tangier, so I didn't have much time to grow attached to much, but I will miss the amazing spearmint tea. So so so yummy! Thankfully, in Israel and Palestine, it is also common to put mint in the tea. The lemon tarts were also pretty tasty. I won't miss the "guides" constantly approaching us in the guise of being helpful, but really looking to make some money from us. There was one particularly unpleasant encounter  yesterday with a man "helping" a man we were with find a caftan. When our friend didn't buy one, the "helper" got nasty with him.  I experienced a little of this aggressive hustling in India, too, but generally didn't engage with anyone who seemed overly interested in me and behaving thus, I got along just fine.  Thankfully, there were many kind strangers who truly did just want to help me in India...

From Spain (Sevilla) I miss the street performers who seemed to be at every corner. I miss the ability to walk in the streets at night, feeling safe since everyone else in the city is also out strolling. I miss chocolate croissants, but in general,  I won't miss the food, as the Spanish diet is not so vegetarian-friendly. I definitely miss being able to communicate easily with locals and read the street signs.  I'm back to knowing virtually nothing of the local languages (Arabic and Hebrew), though I think I already know a whopping 5 or 6 words in Arabic now. 

From India I don't miss the trash in the streets...or the excrement left there by cows, goats, or dogs, but I do miss the never-got-old novelty of the cows, goats, or water buffaloes in the streets. I don't miss the smells of urine or burning plastic. I do miss the smells of incense and the flowers that everyone seemed to have, either because they grew them themselves or bought them for decoration or religious purposes for their home or business. Marigolds in particular were everywhere. I won't miss bucket bathing or hand-washing my clothes, but will miss the reminders they gave me to be conservative in my water use. I don't miss the possibility of any number of mosquito-spread diseases or taking malaria medicine (I still have a few days left to take them). I do miss the little geckoes that sometimes hung out on the walls. I do miss the amazing variety of colors and patterns of women's saris and salwar kameez suits. I miss the food and the fact that in every single restaurant, there were many options  for me, since so many Indians are vegetarian or eat meat only occasionally. And, of course, I miss the people.  

But regardless of what I do or do not miss from the places I've been, I'll keep trying to love the culture and people of each new place I go.  I'll do my best to love the one I'm with.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lightning and Finn: Part 4- Calcutta

It seems like I was in Calcutta a very, very long time ago, and considering all I've seen and the miles I've travelled since I was there, it is a long way away.  Nevertheless, now that I have better computer access, I will try to get some posts done that I'd have liked to do months ago.  I have a feeling from here on out, my posts won't go in chronological order, as I try to both write and post pictures from India and from my current travels.  We'll see how I do...












Above is Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, named after Queen Victoria.  I wish I had my guidebook to remind me of more of the history of the building.  Both Finn and Lightning posed in front of it though I am only showing Lightning to the left.  It has both permanent and temporary exhibits.  To be honest, it's been so long that I don't remember the exhibits that I saw there.  What I do remember (sadly) is the relief I felt that some of the rooms in the building were air-conditioned!


The building was surrounded y beautiful and peaceful gardens, which were lovely to walk in.  Outside of the grounds were silver horse-drawn carriages to ride in.  There were also a lot of these around Gateway of India in Mumbai, but I didn't get any pictures of them there.  We decided not to take a carriage ride, but to walk. 

We walked I'm not sure how many miles through the city and finally found ourselves at Mother Teresa's mission. 



It was amazing to read about her life (and I read every word in the small museum), to sit by her tomb, and through a stroke of luck, go to mass (in Spanish) in the chapel next to her tomb. 



Pictures could be taken of her tomb, but I decided to simply sit there and take in where I was.  I did take a picture just outside the museum and tomb, next to a statue of Mother Teresa.  One thing that struck me about the mission was that there was no obvious place to give a donation for the amazing work the sisters continue to do.  I had to seek out one of the sisters to ask about doing so. 



As I walked outside, some kids asked me to take their picture.  I obliged.  They walked along with me for a bit after finally wandering off.  I had a nice dinner in the city and then returned to the house of the family who hosted me there for 2 nights.  They were so lovely; the 2 daughters in the family taught me to count to 10 in Hindi.  They tried to teach me the numbers in Bengali, too, but my brain wasn't as receptive to it...






On another day, we visited the India Museum, which was quite fascinating with exhibits on archaeology, native plants and their uses, animals of the world, the people and traditional clothing of India, fossils, and more.  There was a charge to take pictures in the museum.  I didn't pay it, but did sneak this picture (and get reprimanded for doing so!).  The exhibits were great and very interesting, but sadly not well taken care of. See the thick layer of dust... Because much of the museum was open air, there wasn't a way to control the temperature or humidity around the exhibits, and it was obvious the elements had taken their toll on some things. 

Calcutta was the last stop before joining up for my time with the SCNs.  Lightning, Finn, and I took a train from Calcutta to Ranchi.  The ride was 7 hours long and we chose to ride in one of the nicer cars.  It cost about $17 and we received a bottle of water, tea (twice), breakfast and lunch, and a newspaper to read.  Not bad! The windows were tinted, so I couldn't get a good picture of the landscape, but here's Finn posing in front of the window.

I suppose that's all for this post.  Hopefully, I'll be able to post more soon, especially more pictures!  Peace.

  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Easy

It might be easy to forget that I just spent 4 months in India, if I spent some time here in Seville. Life here is very comfortable, at least for us tourists.  Living in comfort lulls me into the feeling that everyone is living as comfortably as I am...

In the streets or on sidewalks of Seville there are no cows, goats, stray dogs, or trash. We can walk around the city without a cacophony of car horns constantly assaulting us.  I haven't smelled urine or burning trash once.  At the end of the day I can blow my nose and what comes out isn't black. People are well-dressed and seem to have places to go. There aren't large numbers of people sleeping in the bus station, the train station, or out on the sidewalk. Everyone is fully clothed.  It would be easy to forget the millions in India who are fighting to survive except...

Except for the Mehndi still on my hands that reminds me of my last days in India.  Except for the man we've seen sleeping on the same bench over the last few days. Or the man checking all the pay phones for change. Or the man eating from the dumpster in front of our hotel. Or the woman wearing the plastic bag going through the Burger King dumpsters.   There are people struggling in Spain, too, and when I see them I think of the countless, yes there are so many they are countless, people struggling in India who were so much a part of the landscape, so normal to see that they were almost forgettable. What I mean is that with a few exceptions, I couldn't tell you about individual poor people  I saw in India as I was traveling because they were everywhere. Everywhere.  The people I met and worked with I will remember, of course, and have told and will continue to tell their stories (there's still so many to tell) but I don't remember too many specific  people I simply saw like I remember specific people struggling here.  In Seville the poor seem to be the exception rather than the rule. In India, the poor seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

It would be easy to forget the poor of India and sink into the comfort of Spain.  But I will not. I cannot. If I do, my time away from home will have been worthless. I'm glad I'll be headed to Palestine soon, so that I'll be, I imagine, out of my comfort zone again. When I am comfortable, it is so easy to fall back into patterns that don't do much to benefit anyone but myself (and even that is a questionable statement if I believe that my well-being is tied into the well-being of the rest of the world). And so, in a few days, I'll opt again to leave the easy, to enter what will put me at dis-ease, so that I remember the dis-ease of so many Indians and so many others and try to break my selfish personal patterns permanently, so that when I go back to my own culture and comfort, I don't forget. Maybe then I'll work a little harder so others, like so many in India, have it a little easier.