Back Online in the Backwaters

Dec 30, 2011

Allepey, Kerala

It has been so long! I have not forgotten you, dear readers, but have been kept way for reasons both technological and logistical. The Alternative Break group kept me running for three weeks and then four days later my parents and sister arrived. To make matters more complicated, for some reason the Sri Aurobindo’s Society’s server does not like WordPress very much, so I haven’t been able to access my account from work for over a month.

I now write to you from the beautiful banks of the Kerala backwaters. After touring Pondy for five days we took a night train to Allepey, a vibrant land made up of islands that hold rice fields, and banana  and spice plantations. The food here is paaka; everything has coconut in it!

Anyhoo, I have much to catch up on. The only place to start is at the beginning. Well, actually I’ll start at the end:

The UO Alternative Winter Break team could not have been more wonderful. Everyone contributed something unique to the group, but they all shared a maturity and an earnest open-mindedness that allowed them to absorb the best of the culture of South India.  All of our educational partners also provided guidance and depth to our discussions.  For its first year, the program was a great success. I would certainly make a few tweaks to the next year’s itinerary, but overall we had a busy schedule that gave them wide exposure to the many facets of culture, spirituality, with room to process and discuss what they were experiencing.

One of my favorite parts was showing them around Pondy, navigating the markets, the restaurant menus, and discovering Bollywood movies. It was so much fun to watch them learn how to bicycle on the left-hand lane, eat lunch with their hands, or haggle with the rickshaw driver.

I was sad to see them go, but when I said goodbye all I felt was joy that I had the chance to get to know these 15 students. I know they have all gone back to the United States more conscious and inspired by what they have learned here.

The Oregon crew and Society staff at our celebratory presentation

BTW, 2011 is almost over. It’s a struggle to comprehend how much my life has changed in the last year. I am so thankful for all of the joys and challenges it has brought me. I pray for reason to reign in 2012.

 

 

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Here we go!

Today was the last day of the creativity workshop. I’m tired but happy. I had a great time getting to know the students from Delhi, where I got to practice some Hindi. Yesterday’s day of silence at Matrikunj was a bit of a stretch for some, but I think that everyone got something out of it. It didn’t rain and we only had one incident where one girl slipped on a rickety bridge and fell in the rain-filled ditch below. She was so good-natured about it; she just changed into some dry clothes and went on with the day’s activities.  Everyone enjoyed exploring the beautiful grounds.

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I also had lunch and dinner with John Duncan and Jan Monte who arrived today, a couple days ahead of the group. Jan is a UO alum who is very involved  with the College of Education and UO Foundation and has come to be a part of our Alternative Break experience. She’s lovely and so excited to be here. When Jan asked John if he thought I had changed at all, he said that I seemed “at peace.”

Tomorrow night I get in the van to Chennai to pick up the Oregon crew! I have been reflecting, preparing myself both mentally, physically and emotionally for the busy month ahead. It will be interesting to see what I’m calling “reverse culture shock” when people from your home come visit you in a strange land. I will be surrounded by the accents, habits, and mentalities of back home but still in a foreign setting that I have happily grown accustomed to.

I am very much looking forward to meeting them all at the airport, their bleary-eyed faces full of the wonder, as if they are seeing the world for the first time. And in so many ways, they are.