Friday, January 9, 2015

Day 4: Mysore

Day 4: Mysore
So on January 2nd we woke up kind of early and began the drive to Mysore. After a few hours we stopped at a little store that specialized in wooden crafts, like boxes and bowls with metal inlays. I wish I had more space and money for this elephant:

As we drove, we passed through several areas with houses made of corrugated metal and tarps, but they were mostly by the roadside. Also some people sleeping in tents and lots of women selling fruits and nuts on street corners. The state of Karnataka is the "Sugar Cane Capital of the World," and our bus driver bought some from a farmer for us to try. You peel off the skin and put a chunk in your mouth. As you chew, it gets juicy which is weird because it looks dry and cruncher. But it's sweet and pretty good! We also got some oranges and bananas which are smaller than in the USA but sweeter and with a better texture. 
We got to Mysore before lunch and ended up staying at the Infosys campus. Infosys is a software and computer company based in India. Apparently one of the bishops ended up accidentally meeting the president of the Mysore campus or something, so we were invited to stay with them. 

So the campus can hold up to 14,000 people. It has a pool, tennis and basketball courts, yoga and dance rooms, four cafeterias, a 5-lane bowling alley, fountains, ice cream shops, bicycles that you can ride anywhere on campus, two IMAX theaters, and also lots of security-protected buildings that we don't have access too. Also, there's even a door/curtain between the shower and the rest of the bathroom! It's the real deal. 

Lunch was a little more Western than we had been eating. At 4:00 we went to a hospital in Mysore, started by missionaries for women and children 108 years ago. Today it's a 300-bed hospital with 450 staff and 350 outpatients every day. 

This might sound weird but I really enjoyed the hospital. Yeah, it was heartbreaking to see a child with an IV and an oxygen mask and to see a pregnant woman in the Hep C room, and some other students in my group hated the hospital because they felt like we were intruding upon the patients' privacy, which I get. But at the same time, we may be the only Americans these kids see for a long, long time. Even though we have literally don't nothing to deserve their attention or excitement except to be there, when you wave at a kid they smile big and wave back. U.S. visiting them, no matter how little we do while we're there, gives them hope. It makes them feel significant. And that's not fair at all, that us doing practically nothing makes them so happy. But if I can do anything to give them hope, I will. It's awful that these children need treatment for tuberculosis and chicken pox and other really really treatable things, but at least they are in a hospital. At least. they. have. treatment. And that's cool. So I really enjoyed the hospital. 

We also went to St. Philomena's Catholic Church for a little while but there was a mass going on so we couldn't enter. It looked cool from the outside though! That was our day. Not really that exciting. But yeah! Infosys is incredible and I definitely never expected anything like this. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day 2: Bangalore

Day 2: Bangalore
New Year's Eve! Breakfast was fried eggs, but it was like they had been scrambled before being fried, toast with mixed fruit jam, and some interesting sweet stuff that looked just like sweet potatoes but definitely wasn't. Then we heard two lectures that each tested my ability to understand Indian accents. The first was about the Caste System in India and the next was about the history of Christianity in India. They were both really informative, though. Then we took a tour of UTC's library and archives, which was incredible! They have thousands of books from the early 1800s- the earliest I saw was 1809, which is very impressive for a seminary in a non-Christian, developing country. 

After lunch we drove one and a half hours outside the city. It was so interesting to see the country, with palm trees growing above vineyards and cows, goats, and sheep strolling through the red grass. We drove through two or three village centers which was eye-opening but also awkward because our bus has huge windows and literally and figuratively has "TOURIST" written in red letters on the side of it. 
I felt like I was inside a zoo: lots of staring and pointing. Anyways, we eventually came to a little church building in a poor village (not a slum, but definitely impoverished). We took our shoes off before entering.  

When my eyes had adjusted to the dim room, I saw that it was filled with dozens of people: women in saris, children in a mix of clothing styles, and maybe five to ten men standing at the back of the room. It was a branch of Glades Covenant Church's Community Development Project, which includes things like parenting classes, raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, education for children, teaching better sanitation, etc. 

A small group of girls sang us a song, we probably prayed, and then we were able to interact with them. Everyone wanted a handshake or a high five, and maybe 1/10 people spoke any English, which made things interesting. One MOPer had brought markers, colored pencils, and stickers, so the kids were very excited to get those. I learned, though, that it might be a better idea to give gifts like this to the adult leader and have them distribute them because I saw kids with three markers and two pencils behind their back hold out their hand for another one. Kids are kids in every country! An hour later it was time to go, and I was ready. It was hot and stuffy in that room, and also emotionally tiring. 

The sun was setting on our ride home and it was super pretty! More orientation type stuff after dinner because we haven't finished it all yet, and then it was time for church! We thought it started at 11 pm, so we got there at 10:40, but really someone started playing intro music on the piano at 11:30. It's a huge church, St. John's, with plaster walls and dark brown posts and ceiling. At the front was a gate-like divider and its latticework was woven with fresh yellow and white flowers and more Western Christmas decorations. By counting the pews and making some educated guesses, I estimate that there were at least 500 people there, all the women in saris of every color and pattern. Halfway through the sermon, the church bells tolled midnight. 

The thing about India is that you hardly ever go more than a few minutes without a car honking or dog barking. But that night, as soon as it became 2015, the only things I heard were fireworks, church bells, cheering, and fireworks. Well, the sermon too, I guess. Just because 2014 was over doesn't mean the service was. Ohhhhh no. 

We did communion, all 500 ish of us. I must admit, they had it down to a science, but it still took the better part of an hour. I had to watch other people so I would know what to do: walk up in line, kneel, accept the bread, stay kneeling, drink the wine, go back to your pew. Except it wasn't bread but a wafer, the kind that dries out your mouth and then dissolves. And the wine was real wine, except super sweet. There was one cup with wine, so after the pastor held it to your mouth he wiped it off for the next person. Sanitary, right? 

There were just a few more readings and songs after that, but it still didn't end until 2:00 am, meaning none of us got in bed until 3. And keep in mind that we were all still recovering from jet lag and the lack of sleep on the plane ride, too. It's okay, though. Adrenaline and excitement are powerful substitutes for sleep. Anyways, that was Day 2! Hasta luego. 

Day 3: Bangalore

Day 3: Bangalore
Hello!!! So on January 1st we went to the state of Karnataka's state house and got to meet with Mr. Abhayachandra Jain, Chief Minister of youth and fisheries. Two odd and mix-matched things to be in control of, but I guess it works for him. With him, we went to the "State Youth Centre" where we were introduced on a stage and then got to meet with maybe 100 young people aged 13-25. They were all there for a training course on journalism, and the girls I was talking to were asking really good questions! But I felt like a celebrity: everyone asking for a photo with me and asking for a signature and email and Facebook. 

After 45 minutes or so of that we moved into a press conference room (microphones and everything!) and were given tea and roses. We talked to Mr. Jain for a few minutes, but then we left to get a tour of the state house. And OH MY GOSH IT IS SO PRETTY. The outside is an interesting blend of colonial and traditional architecture... Like the rest of India I guess. And the inside is amazing, all colorful with painted ceilings, columns, and walls in blue, pink, green, yellow. There was something new to look at in every corner. The chamber of the state building is really unique, but I loved the pink decorations on the white background. 

But we only had so much time there, so we headed back to lunch at UTC. After that we all (bishops included) talked in small groups. It felt a little forced but I guess it was good to get to know the bishops, church officials, and their spouses who are with us. So not much else happened that day, I guess! I'll include lots of photos in this one. Bye! 

Day 1: Bangalore

Alright, now that our group has moved on to a new city and I have wifi, we can share what we did in Bangalore. So we landed at 2 am or something on Dec. 30th, India time, but we didn't actually leave the airport until 6 more or less because of customs, baggage claim, finding our bus, etc. Also, some people's bags got lost so that took a little while. We stayed at the United Theological Fellowship, a seminary campus. It was surprisingly green, with trees and flowers and grass. It feels like so long since I have seen the color green. 

I'm rooming with Riley, an amazing girl from Rochester. I had heard of her before because she's friends with some of my friends from South Africa, so it's nice to finally meet her! Anyways, we ate breakfast (chai tea is so good here!) and then went upstairs and slept until lunch. We began orientation after that: talking about what our purpose is, getting to know each other, discussing the concept of shalom, etc. The boring stuff, basically. 

After just a little of that, we got on the bus and went to a church in the city where we met with young people of the church. Well, young being relative. Whereas in my church "youth  group" means just high schoolers, in India it can refer to anyone from 5 to 30 years old. We sang some songs together and then broke into smaller groups so we could talk more comfortably. One man in my group shared that his family was and has always been Hindu, but a friend invited him to a VBS one year and he converted because the music was so much more interesting and engaging than the "boring Hindu prayers." They gave us chai as we were sitting there and yellow flowers on our way out. 

At maybe 5:30 (or 17:30 I guess) we drove a few minutes to the Baldwin's Girls Academy, a methodist girls-only school. There, we gathered in their auditorium and admired the stage with a huge white cardboard castle set. MOPers sat in the audience but the bishops got to sit on the stage, in fancy chairs. The service, a "welcome to India" service, began shortly. It was mostly the reader and some others giving each member of the bishops' group traditional gifts: a cloth hat made with shiny and metallic fabric, a colorful silk shawl, and a neck garland made of sandalwood. And we all got a cute white mug with the school's crest on it. 

Then, students from the school performed a variety of songs and dances, which I probably would have appreciated more if I hadn't been running on like 8 hours of sleep in the last three days. That's an exaggeration but still, I was tired. Sitting in a dark room and pretty comfortable chairs listening to music was not energy-inducing, let's just say that. Once it was over we moved into the school's cafeteria for dinner. It was a mix of foods: vegetable soup in a thickish broth, rice that was spicy but really good, several different kinds of meat and vegetables, and rice pudding for dessert that was really yummy. 

After the dinner and service we went back to UTC, did evening worship, and SLEPT. Ah, it was nice. Alright, that was Day 1. Lots of activities, not a lot of breaks, which is pretty much standard on MOP. More on Day 2 later. 

Some photos of the streets... Sorry if I already posted one of these, I can't remember. 

The front of the school:

Left to right: Ted, Mary, me, Tom. They're all leaders of MOP so they got the cool crowns and shawls and necklaces. 

The ceremony/service at the school:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's to 2015

Happy New Year! I'm sorry I haven't written yet, but things have been kind of crazy here. I was surprised to learn that we would be traveling with a group of seven bishops of the United Methodist Church, along with their spouses and some other acquaintances/prestigious clergy and leaders. These special circumstances have both pros and cons. Pros being that bishops are the leaders of the church, giving us an opportunity to get to know them and learn from them. Also, it is a really great honor to have just one bishop visit your church or organization- imagine the ruckus 7 cause! So we are getting to do many unique things that we wouldn't do otherwise. 

That said, there is one drawback that affects not just me but you as well. Because of the status of Mission of Peace this year, we have been asked to follow some safety regulations. One of these security measures is that we are not allowed to publicly share information with our friends and family in the US about where exactly we are, what specifically we have done, and who in particular we have met. That includes photos, so I'm sorry I don't have many to share with you tonight. Hopefully, once we move on to our next location we will be able to share what we did these first two days, but for now I can't say much. 

I can say that I am having a wonderful  time and meeting amazing people. I have really enjoyed getting to know my fellow MOPers, who come from Maine to West Virginia, the bishops, and the beautiful people of India. Everything here, from language to food to religion to architecture is constantly changing and different. There may be a Hindu right next to a colonial-looking house and on the other side, a 10-story modern building. Traffic is insane and I'm so glad I'm in a bus... If the vehicle was any smaller I would be scared for my life! I have included the photos I can and hope I can tell you more later. In the meantime, have an amazing start to 2015! Namaste. 

A funny water bottle:

Flowers given to me and my roomieby some lovely people we have visited:

Fire buckets with a sign that says DO NOT SPIT HERE:

My new friend and roommate, Riley, from Rochester NY:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ready to go!

Good morning everyone! I'm sitting in the airport in Burlington and have got about an hour before my flight to JFK boards. I've checked my bag and gone through security, so now I'm just sitting. Yay. I'm so excited for this and cannot wait to a) get on the plane b) meet all the other MOPers! and c) see what India has in store for me. It's going to be a great trip, I can already tell! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Feeling Grateful

I just want to say how grateful I am for the wonderful sending-off that I received in church today.  I felt so blessed and grateful.  The scarf that Pastor Kevin gave me is beautiful and I will wear it with pride, being constantly reminded of the love and support that my church family is sending with it.  I am so thankful for the support and prayers that I have received from my church.  I was overwhelmed by the financial donations, yes, but also the number of people who promised to pray for me and the whole group.  

Through me, a little part of all of them will be journeying to India with Mission of Peace, and this is not a responsibility that I take lightly.  I understand the significance and importance of being an "ambassador of peace" and I will do my best to take it all in while I'm in India so I can share it with my church family when I return.  I am so excited and thrilled and nervous for India, but I'm also unspeakably happy that I will have the opportunity to share this amazing experience that I'm sure I'll have with all of you when I come home in January.  

Thank you for your prayers and support, and please continue praying for me as I prepare to leave, for the whole group as we are in India, and all of us when we make the journey back to the United States.  I will try to update this blog as much as I can while I am in India, but I do not know how often I will have internet access, so no promises.  If I can, I will share pictures as well.  I fly out at around 11:00 am this coming Sunday (one week from today!), as long as the weather cooperates!  I'm including a map that shows my flight schedule.  Thank you again.

Click here to view a map that shows my flight schedule