Rebecca Vest:

***

Becky, Arun, Lauren, on Mike send their greetings to all

Becky, Arun, Lauren, and Mike send their greetings to all

A perfect time and place for this

A perfect time and place for this

Counting the hair-pin turns is the way that you can measure how high up you’re venturing into the mountains of Kerala, the Western Ghats, as we drove from  Trivandrum to Kallar and then beyond. After each turn we all started to move a little farther away from the windows as we exposed the majestic beauty of the tall mountain we were scaling. Bellies full of Vada (gram flour doughnuts), a savory snack and Chai tea (tea with milk). It was an amazing afternoon, we finally made it to the top where we were all just in awe, quickly followed by all of us settling and quieting down. The air was a change from the heat we’d all been experiencing to a slight cool breeze. The cool air, rolling hills, and sky brought a feeling of calm to everyone there. The trip had been very fast-paced, filled with so many different sites, adventures, sounds, people, music, food, and our group that valiantly persevered through the indulgence of India and Indians. The side trip up to Ponmudi brought tranquility, reflection, and a sense of being ‘on top’ of India that was literally and figuratively a pinnacle of our trip.

Tom Hazuka:

***

Our boat trip from Kochi inland to the Periyar River headwaters was emblematic of India as a whole: abundant natural beauty, tainted by human greed and corruption.  Our guide, Geo Jose, explained that the backwaters near Kochi are officially a protected area, yet high-rise apartments continue to be built on illegal landfills.  The government is at best incompetent, and at worst complicit in the process.

Geo told us the picturesque Chinese nets capture nowhere near as many fish as they used to, a fact that became grimmer as our boat motored closer to the heart of darkness.  The reference might seem hyperbolic, but I don’t think so.  Though we were traveling through staggeringly lovely country, our goal was a massive complex of some 242 factories that bring numerous low-paying jobs to the area, but at a dreadful human and environmental cost.  Not only have the fish numbers been drastically reduced, those that remain are likely unsafe to eat.

A local environmental activist detailed the myriad health problems of residents caused by the factories’ pollution of land, air and water.  As he talked, in the smoggy distance we saw waterfront factories belching thick smoke.  Even from the boat we could smell it.  The activist described the Catch-22 (or is Kafka a better comparison?) situation whereby the government owns the factories, yet the government is in charge of enforcing pollution laws the government put into place.  Folks who complain receive the same mindless response that Americans get when they decry “right to work” laws: What do you have against jobs?

The Kerala backwaters are among the most lovely places on earth, and I feel incredibly privileged to have seen them.  Unfortunately, though, despite Kerala’s accurate depiction of itself as “God’s Own Country,” it is also, as my wife Christine sadly puts it, “Man’s Own Mess.”

Nate Sprague:

***

Now that I have had some time to relax and recover from the jetlag, I find myself already missing India.  I am still full of excitement from the feelings that I got from the trip, and recounting the story to so many people has helped me solidify my feelings about it more and more.  I still can’t believe that it’s over, the whole two and a half weeks seem to have just flew by.  But all in all, here are my reactions now that I’m back.  India to me is a place that is absolutely loaded with potential – potential to grow, potential to develop, create, and expand, but also huge potential to destroy.  During our time in Kerala we studied many different aspects of the development that has occurred there.  There have been tremendous strides made in social movements (equal pay for similar jobs as in Tata, free health-care for all, free education, etc.) which have made it a truly remarkable place.  However, I also saw many of the tremendous side effects that development, as well as globalization, had on the place at large.  I mentioned the huge levels of pollution in my last blog, and there also seems to be a unanimous turning of the other cheek to these issues.  During one of our group discussions, we recognized that India, being so young in her development, really has the chance to do things right, and to set a global example of how development should be brought about.  I hope that people like the fishermen win their struggle to retain their traditional, sustainable ways of life, and that if development does continue, the four elements of successful development are followed – sustainability, equitability, participation, and transparency.  I have been truly touched by a people so giving, willing to share so much even when so little is had.  Also so intelligent, the students we came in contact with were tremendously dedicated to their studies.  Overall, Kerala was an experience that has changed me for forever.

Arun Zacharaiah:

***

Dear David, Raluca, ,Daavid, Tom, Christine, Zoila, Stephanie, Nate, Mike,Jeremy, Tiege, Lauren, April, Kristin, Elora, Johnleia, and Becky, I thank Almighty for providing this wonderful experience in life. I would like to summarize my experience quoting the words of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, on being impressed by the beauty of Kashmir dal lake: “if there is heaven on earth this is it.” The Mughal monarch Akbar’s (grand-father of Jehangir) concept of din ilahi (then “world religion” though maybe today better defined as “world citizenship”) lingers in my mind. I am bit melancholic and a bit down with your leaving. But that is life. That’s the unifying power of soul force/ goodness in mankind. I hope all of the world would be a place like this. Give everyone a fair share of the world’s resources, help him/her and the society understand oneself and each other. Let our knowledge and wisdom gained though education and experience help us try to work for a better world. Let each one try to accept differences and live happily helping one another. Let’s see the boundaries of restrictions blown away by the winds of love and compassion. You are a promising group of blooming anthropologists. Very fair, forthright, and honest. Nurtured right, the stars will certainly shine bright for you all.

Stephanie Bahramian:

***

Imagine deciding to go for a stroll at the beach only to find signs when you get there saying “No Americans”.  You look into the distance, andArabian Sea sunset on the beach you find different-looking people and you can tell that they are all completely naked. What would be most offensive: the “No Americans”, or the fact that that foreigners are running around one of the best beaches in your area completely naked?

Kerala is not the only state where I have witnessed special treatment to the non-natives over the natives. In popular tourist places for Westerners Indians are either not welcome or blatantly refused entry. In Kochi, another popular destination, signs for bike rentals explicitly state that Indians cannot rent. In shops, I have had merchants tell me that they trust dealing with non-natives but not Indians, so I could take something home and pay later, but oh, no! not an Indian!

In defense of these practices, this is not my country and I do not have enough knowledge of what transpires when natives are allowed these same benefits. I have been to beaches where those in bikinis are stared at, and even harassed. I personally wouldn’t bother. If I want to parade around in a bikini, I would not chose to go to India, but as one traveler said, we want everything. We want the sun, the beaches, the cheap food and merchandise, but we do not want to respect the customs of the locale.

In Kovalam, I was pleased to see many Indian holidaymakers. Of course, there were plenty of locals who did come to ogle, and they were regularly shooed off, but there were also many families who came to stay and frolic in the sea, fully clothed and seeming to be having even more fun than most of us foreigners in the waves! These families were likely from the big cities coming to a get away to cleaner air, the sea and relaxation, but most would also bring packed lunches because only the foreigners could afford the restaurants.

If I did not want to see and be around Indians, I would not keep coming to India.  I hope to see more mixed beaches like Kovalam, because there is nothing prettier than seeing a woman walking along the beach with her colorful sari blowing in the wind.

Stephanie Bahramian: My name is Stephanie Bahramian. I am an M.S. student in geography where my main interests lie in planning and sustainability. I am also learning GIS as I like to map data, and I will likely do my masters project in GIS and planning. I am also very much concerned with international issues, probably more so than domestic. As the developing world seeks to attain the standards of living of those of the West, they risk developing in such a way that can compromise and deplete their own resources. Therefore, sustainable development is my primary area of study. My reason for coming on this trip to India was quite simply that I love India. I had also failed to get to this part of Kerala on my previous two trips to the state, and I found the itinerary very well designed.

***

I have noticed a shift in recent years of those living in several western countries seeking to know more about more traditional medicines such as Chinese, Ayurveda, herbal, homeopathy etc.  At the same time I was suspecting a reverse move from those in the developing world embracing more heartily allopathy than their own traditional medicines.

This past summer, I had several medicine students from China and Taiwan, and they indeed confirmed that their studies were almost devoid of Chinese medicine and that their scant knowledge of it depended on their access while growing up, or if their families were regular users of acupuncture, Chinese medicinal treatments and the like.

This trip further convinced me of this shift. Every modern person or professional I  met on our travels in India admitted to preferring using allopathy to seeking tradtional Ayurvedic treatments. The reason everytime, was quite simply that people did not want to wait to feel better, even though they were fully aware that Ayurvedic treatments would give them the most long-term benefits! The practitioners, too, said this was the main reason if not sole as Ayurvedic treatments do not have side effects.

I have been practicing Ayurveda for many years, but access to it in the US is poor, so I decided to deepen my knowledge of it in the two weeks we were travelling. It helped that I was actually sick due mainly to the heavy travelling to India shortly after a tiring semester. I visited several Ayurvedic doctors of varying experience, did three types of treatments and am using numerous herbal treatments from teas to hygiene products to treatments for more chronic ailments.  There are definitely varying degrees of expertise among the practitioners and the types of locales to get treatments and consultations. One young woman had a

Roots and herbs at an Ayurveda shop

Roots and herbs at an Ayurveda shop

little cubby hole attached to just as small of a place where her family sold hundreds of Ayurvedic treatments; she was the doctor of the family. Another slightly larger pharmacy also had a cubby hole where one could get free consultations just like the last place, but this was a chain shop where the young woman there had not long graduated an Ayurvedic college and who considered this a good first job before eventually one day having her own private practice, something that would require her having built a reputation in order to operate well.

The next place I went to was to a private Ayurvedic doctor that I found through one of our contacts during our lectures. She had been practicing many years and received me in her home, gave me a cup of tea and consulted with me for about 45 minutes. She refused to take any money, which was very uncomfortable for me, but I realized that it would have been just as uncomfortable for her had I insisted in handing her some. I also had no clue as to how much to pay anyway. I was pleased that all practitioners had agreed with what was first  “prescribed” and so trusted the additional treatments that were suggested (there was no prescription per se).

As for the distribution of medicines, some came from the Ayurvedic pharmacies and some from raw medicinal shops, which were basically tiny cramped warehouses of dried herbs and fruits and barks and heaven knows what else. These places were less abundant and not so easy to find. Everything cost pennies to buy so, clearly accessible to the masses, something that is contrary to here in the US. Anything non-conventional in medicine in this country is either costly and/or not covered by insurances.  Free consultations are also almost unheard of. I loved the way everything was wrapped up in newspaper and natural fiber string (coir?!).

This brings me to my final point, and that is about the Ayurvedic school that I visited. Even guidebooks are now saying that one can no longer visit them. As I

The Kerala Ayurveda College

The Kerala Ayurveda College

was with an Indian student, I was able to have a quick look around and ask some questions. Ayurveda has been an open sharing of knowledge forever, probably since the beginning some 5000 years ago, but in recent times, this knowledge had been used and profited from by Western countries like our own, and the recent trend in patenting components of nature is threatening the very industry. As a result, Indians are now getting suspicious of foreigners and quite rightly so if we have been thieving and claiming ownership of something that was never needed to be owned before.  The school I visited was in the center of town and was government-run with an attached pharmacy for all to get their medicines. I felt a lot of hostility there and decided to go elsewhere for my meds. It was not clear if being sick made the people grouchy or if my being the only foreigner evoked the animosity, so I decided to focus on other things.

The rooftop housed many potted plants with plaques with names in Sanskrit, the language of Ayurveda, Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and, of course, the botanical name in Latin.  I was not allowed to take a picture so I refrained…We stopped a young man who told us that he was in his first year and in his class of 70 students, there were only 12 men. He said this was typical, which jibed with information I had been getting from numerous sources, that this was predominantly a woman’s profession; it is one that does not generate a large income typically. It can be completed in 5 years, including a 6-month practicum. I asked another gentleman about foreigners studying at the school. He said that everyone must learn Sanskrit and to pass an entrance exam. There are two places reserved for outsiders that one must interview for but one cannot pay directly for. The foreign government must pay for the studies. I suspected there was no bursars office on campus and could safely assume that the US government would NOT pay for me to go to school there.  I removed it from my bucket list. Otherwise one can attend a private Ayurvedic school. Had there been more time, I would have researched these just to complete my preliminary understanding of the field of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is not medicine per se; it is a way of life and encompasses elements such as correct breathing, posture, movements and attitude. One does not need to wait to get sick to take Ayurvedic treatments and ideally should be taking concoctions to help balance the body before it gets sick. We in the West are just beginning to recognize this. What a pity that Indians are turning away from a piece of their very identity that others of us are discovering is a wisdom to be valued and cherised.

Teige Christiano:

***

CCSU changed my world. I would have never thought myself ever being able to explore the world the way I have. This university gave me the opportunity to learn Teigein an entirely new way. The two short weeks I spent in Kerala had me thinking it was my home away from home. In each hotel or home stay we stayed at had its own charm and differences. Especially when it came to the bathroom, ice cold bucket rinses made me ever so grateful for the hot showers I have at home. I learn how other people live at home through this. Every meal felt like an adventure. I ate rice and various fish curries with only my right hand, teaching my taste buds to tolerate the spices in Kerala’s food. I learned to expand my pallet and to try new foods. Everything down to even getting accustomed to the impressively different mannerisms and behaviors the people of Kerala have was a hidden opportunity to learn new methods of communicating with people. During my time in Kerala I was able to ride an elephant, body surf in the Arabian Sea, be in a vallam on the Vellayani Lake, spend New Year’s Eve with friends that now feel like family, learn about the development of India and its challenges, and experience life through a different pair of lenses. I would not exchange this experience for anything, so thank you CCSU, Arun, and Dr. Kideckel.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.