Archives for category: culture shock…there and back

Teige Christiano:

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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.

Arun Zacharaiah:  Submitted Ph.D thesis.Post graduate in History and Education. Postgraduate diploma in Journalism and Counselling/Psychology. Numerous publications. Most recent: Chengannur Riot case 1938-   a warfront in India’s nationalist movement  that overcame the tactics  to divide minority and majority communities.Published in Malayalam by National Book House,which is the first publishing house in India founded and owned by writers (its a writers cooperative – under the cooperative ministry of Kerala. Freelance  researcher, coordinator.

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Hey shall we call this Mission “KFC global,” Kerala Finds Connecticut. I’m sure most might find the analogy (only in sound or pun) little distasteful as anthropologists go for preserving tradition and local values, and you guys are against negative impacts of capitalism and neoliberalism. Not West versus other model but rather mutual cooperation in this connected world to make it a better place than we got it.

First day walking in we met the group. I saw Dr. K in his usual cap, a bearded active guy (Nathan), and the Jr K. Then met Dr. Tom Hazuka and Mrs. Hazuka (Christine), April, and met everyone except tired Mike and Jeremy. What followed was ice-breaking and we discussed the schedule, going over each itinerary item, one at a time as many things in a day Dr K says. Made some phone calls, arranged auto rickshaws and left.

Next day met at 7;30 left for Velayani lake protection. On the way there was some slight confusion as I got a phone call from Biju, of the Aquatic Biology dept, saying he thought his talk was the next day. But he came and we had a boat ride. Collected floating coconuts (first natural souvenir). Intellectual discussion was followed up with philanthrophy-helping the little boy with kidney disorder, of the family who greeted us on shore.

Sorry I didn’t follow the whole interactive process (busy rescheduling on the phone owing to last hour cancellation). Next day we hopped on to Thanal zero waste centre and had a lively discussion with Usha and Jayakumar. Students bought recyled goodies sold at their office. In the afternoon they marched like soldiers and ate like commandos. Then we reached Kerala University to listen and discuss with Reghu, the Kerala encyclopedia director, a compendium of knowledge. The KFC’s behaved maturely in front of a God of Knowledge’ who has the power to give you more knowledge if you show patience on return. Then it was Puthen Malika royal museum (housed in an old royal house within the city – wherein royal family didn’t live long due to a bad omen. Dr. K and I drank tea while the group went on a short trip through Chalai, the oldest market in Trivandrum. We helped you catch a bus and there was rain and you guys realized the importance of wiper blades.

Last day of last year and first day of this was also hectic and meticulously planned and executed . Can we call it some kind of “utilitarian tourism”, i.e. visiting the maximum number of places in a minimal amount of time, and also getting the maximum benefit. Striking balance with touristic needs and local cultural needs, with care taken to maintain ethics.

The day began with environment versus development debate. Both speakers were passionate. Elias George, pro-commercial port lobbyist and Vizhinjam harbor protection group drawn from independent fisherman federation of Kerala; profit versus basic existence. According to Elias George, it was a question of how the new port would help society and people to realize their essential needs or, without the port, the hand-to-mouth existence of many would remain. But the fisherfolk would be directly impacted by the Vizhinjam International Port.  Fisher folk were happy with what they have and can not depend on promises of government, which has not even delivered pure drinking water to all fisher folk on seaside even after 60 years after independence. Both sides presented their arguments. We voted on the argument and in the end the concern for maintaining the cultural conditions of the fishermenthe prevailed over well prepared presentation in international language with real statistics. The independents who abstained from voting said if the fisherfolk had more scientific data, they would have voted for them. Returning from Vizhniam port we had lunch at Ammachiveedu (grandmas house) Thampurans (the  Royal), the second part of the name showing respect to royalty, yet an irony considering the facilities available were housed in a tin roofed shack. Don’t know how many have studied it from a gender empowerment perspective. The owner and “CEO” of the hotel who yells out expletives, is a widow who lost everything. Yet she is running the single room, one fifty square foot restaurant that is also her home at night. Then we had an elephant ride. Bit scary at times. But man conquered the nature / beast or man conquered his fear.

After… a new year party sponsored by Dr K  (kudos to your generosity), Next day shifted to city and had a ciy tour with things explained by Malayinkeezh, a retired ciy editor of leading Malayalam daily. Evening spent at Thozhuvankod devi temple. On the second of Jan the group visited Kerala university and interacted with faculty and students . The discussion of teaching versus lecture method in Kerala university was good. Lauren hit nail on the head with question on Socratic method vs Critical Thinking approach in education.

Dr. K, your ability at initiating discussion was, as usual,electric. But beware not to get small shocks, if you’re not prepared. I feel some Kerala students didn’t expect it.  But as you can see, there are some brave hearts (planted and spontaneous) everywhere (you saw that in the questions from Kerala students. Some would like to work in USA and the other extreme my family and immediate society would find it stressful / disapprove of a girl studying in Delhi or abroad India. Cultural aspects and Johnleia Lambert your observation at this point set up greater meaning that one could relate to. As expected, or was it surprising, to have convergence on issues or financial difference in purchasing power of people in two nations, difference in value systems and accepting it. Hazuka brought it up the homogenization of USA and how masses were misled on the wars. Jeremy, Kristen Frenis talked about being broke as students.

Thoughts on the group: 1) Elora stylish expressive dancing through the corridors of US power. Fastest on and off the elephant; 2) Stephanie-sensitive mind has lots of challenging questions. Queen’s English;  3) Zoila – stong willed. The elephant ride revealed it ; you are child like. 4) Lauren–culturally sensible. Sticks to the command. Very responsible. Always on time; 5) April – soft spoken. Your name shows your blooming nature. Good for anyone near you. Never knew you work full time. Your answers to Dr. K at interaction with Kerala university students were short, quick, and sensible; 6) Kristin- in search of things with a difference. Good communicator.  Good at negotiating Indian roads. Only one who remembered to carry bananas for the elephant; 7) Christine- multi talented. Down to earth. Great entertainer, she knows Indian dance. Adaptive. First to give compliments; 8) Johnleia-strong words flowing to Caribbean music. Cool customer. She is also a rugby player. Went through lots of cultural transformations in her life.  9) Becky – sprightly pecking. At times, she fires unexpected, insightful questions. 10) Raluca – the hardcore academic, excellent manager. The family dance with David and Daavid was very graceful; 11) Daavid – strong-willed little guy. Your smile is electric.  Cool that you shared your biscuits with the elephant. You will be strong like an elephant of the ipad generation; 12) Nathan – Dr K in-making. Not many would believe that you are taekwondo 4th degree black belt. Bundle of energy. Very friendly and funny. He loves freedom in being single. Great style, uppa gangnam style. Wants to bridge gaps and misunderstandings  between cultures -east and west. 13) Teige – baby of the group. Quite courageous to try the curry in grandma’s hotel. Slow to start. But then you get going when the going gets tough. You got some smart dance moves. Would like some partner. 14) Jeremy – big guy with equally big heart. I feel like a rugby ball when I’m in front of you.  Quite a “history” guy. Loves talking history.  You speak slow and clear makes it easier for the listener. Asking short direct statements or questions; 15) Mike – conversant in many things. There’s an entrepreneur in you. Wise like your second name. Tells he is fortunate to get the last minute entry in the group to India. Talks on anything can make you feel at home. 16) Tom Hazuka – fiction writer , reserved. scholarly, patient, professor. And Christine helped you on to the dance floor  and you danced well.  Good at getting details especially on camera; 17) David Kideckel – Dr K your students call you. An eternal student . Young-at heart, Very active. A heart of gold . You got to mine / go deep to get  it though. Forgives fast. Master organiser and task-master. I don’t know how he can memorize and retrieve past knowledge the way he does. Interesting, his brain wiring. Things just flash.

While at the discussion in Kerala university got a phone from the CEO of a small company with fewer than 20 employees to hear he is admitted in hospital. So had to contact other people. But we got something better.   Then we visited Technopark, the Silicon Valley of Kerala and had a fruitful discussion with Tata representative. Discussed international trade, labour laws, economic crisis competition, recruitment etc. At the Technopark foodcourt some submerged themselves in Subway and had a taste of home before heading back home – hotel. On the 3rd Jan, four groups and four topic-based site visits with cars. While in kovalam we had site visits on tuk tuks / autorickshaws, the 3 wheel wonders. Moved into the city and became contemporary in travel. Then in the evening we had a taste of traditional Kerala in the form of Theyyam. The perfomer, who turns god and gives blessings and foretells as well as observes, made both the foreign and indigenous in attendance to feel blessed.

Finally, Gopa Kumar’s critical look at Kerala model of development and migratio patterns of Kerala people. Then to politics, economics, society, development issues; howmigration stopped in India after Bangladesh. History: More than 655 independent kingdoms, federal linguistic nation with 22 languages constitutionally recognised, 159 sub dialects, 28 states and 6 union territories. India started with 16# states. 1:6j percent land area Kerala accommodates 4 percent population of India (34 million). How language unites Kerala. and that social development in Kerala is ahead of other states because of “the four Ms”: Monarchs, Missionaries, Movements, Marxism, and now Migration.

David Kideckel:

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Theyyam. None of the students have taken it upon themselves to blog about Theyyam, the ritual that we saw at the campus of Kerala University on the evening of Thursday, Jan 3. Perhaps they feel the experience indescribable and I can understand that.  Still I wanted to go on a bit about Theyyam and our role in it. Shaji Varkey in a message to us describes the ritual that we will see, Puthiya Bhagavathy Theyyam. This is a ritual found mainly in North Malabar and is performed in temples, sacred groves, and households. It is much less commercialized than the famous Kerala dance form, Kathakali. Theyyam artists mostly belong to the subaltern classes. A performing Theyyam becomes god incarnate and therefore carries much respect, even though off stage, he is poor and socially ostracized. Theyyam requires thorough training from childhood in use of percussion instruments, makeup, mask design, dance, recital of songs and art work on young palmshoots.

The meaning of the ritual: The female Theyyam, Puthiya Bhagavathy was born from the third eye of Lord Siva. Her mission was to heal the Devas (those who live in heaven) when they were afflicted with small pox. Later she was sent to earth to heal human beings and her six brothers. The brothers were killed by Asuras (the evil gods). Puthiya Bhagavathy, in a fit of rage, kills the Asuras and sets fire to their fort.  Bhagavathy’s power multiplies when she kills a Brahmana and drinks his blood. She was requested to perform a homa (ritual sacrifice) at Moolacherry family. When she found that the mantras (ritual chants) that the family head (Name-Moolacherry Kurup) recited were faulty, she threw his son-in-law into the raging fire. Repenting his fault, Kurup instituted a temple for the Bhagavathy.

The Experience of Theyyam: Everyone was tired today at the University campus. Today was the first day of theme group work so the morning was very busy.

Taking a break and waiting for Theyyam

Taking a break and waiting for Theyyam

Nate, April, and Teige even returned direct to the U from their group and waited a few hours for the rest of us. Meanwhile, I herded everyone else to the Thampanoor bus stand and got them on a public bus (an experience in itself) out to Kariavattom. Then we heard a nuanced lecture from sociologist, Meena Pillai, on Kerala gender, before it was off to Theyyam.

With funds provided specifically by the CCSU Anthropology department, our group had commissioned the performance of this Theyyam and a troupe of five Theyyam artists and ther attendants had travelled some 400 km from Kannur in north Kerala to perform. By the time we arrived at 3:30 at the area in front of the Men Researcher’s Hostel, we were late to see the first phase of the ritual, begun an hour previous.  The Theyyam group consisted of six or seven men. When we got there, they were busy making a decorative skirt for the god from fresh palm leaves and many other decorations for the coming ritual. The breast -plate that would help transfigure the dancer into the female god caused a bit of comment, but mainly our people were looking dragged out. When I told them that the ritual would last until 8 or 9 in the evening, there was almost an audible groan. I foreclosed a rebellion by giving them the option to take some time off tomorrow, instead of leaving early tonight. So people agreed and then milled around…some visited the hostel to see how the young researchers lived while a bunch of folks took off with a KU student and Arun Zacharaiah to find some food in a neighborhood near the campus.

The god's raiments are made anew

The god’s raiments are made anew

It was at this time that the artists took the materials they had been working on to behind the neighboring building near the offices of the International Center for Kerala Studies. It was here that intense preparation of them would commence and the actual ritual performed. Our students and many Malayali students, university staff, and others (even police), also began to show up to observe the quickening preparations. Arun showed up with a bunch of food…oranges, bananas of a few different varieties including my favorite red banana, kapopazham. There was lots of water to drink as well.

We sat on the steps eating while members of the Theyyam group continued to prepare the ritual materials. Meanwhile a number of large bats slowly and ominously crossed the sky above us. Soon particular attention began to be focused on the making-up and dressing of the god-to-be. He lay on stage while an attendant applied layers of face make-up. The intricate patterns of whorls and dots and lines created an angry visage. As more and different layers and items began to be added on the man-god,

The god begins to emerge

The god begins to emerge

people began to crowd around him as if drawn by magnetism and devotion. The costuming was so elaborate and ritualized, as each item like ankle bells and rice grains on the god’s arms, was added one after the other. I began to feel a bit uncertain, though, when around the middle of the god a square armature was constructed of the four torches that had been soaking in a bucket of coconut oil. They were going to light these torches, though the god would be protected by the freshness of the palm shoot skirt that was not likely to catch fire, or so I thought.

As the sky was darkening, seemingly out of nowhere appeared three drummers and began the intense cadence of the chenda drums that were to begin the ritual

Chenda drummers beat out a furious rhythm

Chenda drummers beat out a furious rhythm

and then accompany the god’s dance. The drumming was fiercer than I had ever heard previously the many times I heard chenda performed, but after drumming for about ten minutes straight came to an abrupt stop. Silence and darkness overtook all of us, now waiting quietly in anticipation of the god and her. Little by little new items were added to the god’s appearance and then at last the elaborate headdress was attached and the torches surrounding the god’s body were lit as were the candles on top of the headdress, and the drumming began again.

The god aflame

Bhaghavathy in her splendor

Now, the god began her dance, alternately jumping and spinning to the sounds of drums and cymbals. The bells on her ankles kept furious time as Baghavathy swirled and traced the margins of the performance area with her footsteps. The fire on the torches and the drumming and the movement of the god were overwhelming. I remember crying out in emotion until someone tapped me on the shoulder to remind me of the decorum demanded of this sacred event. The torch fires ate away at the grass skirt of the god so a retainer continually walked near the dancing god to sprinkle water on its arms and on the grass skirt to keep down the flames. The dancing and drumming went on without stopping for close to half an hour. All of the fifty or so of us observing I think, were overcome with awe. Then as the torches died out one by one, the transfigured god ceased her dance and began to wish blessings on those of us who had witnessed her transformation. People lined up to deposit a few rupees in the god’s hand, who then shouted out more formulaic blessings on us and our houses. Most of the CCSU group came to be personally blessed by the transfigured god, and the success of our trip was further assured by the power of the transfigured deity.

As the ceremony ended Shaji Varkey said a few words of thanks to the Theyyam group for their activities on our behalf and also thanked CCSU for sponsoring the event. It turns out that this was the first time ever that Theyyam had been held at the Kariavattom campus, so that made us particularly proud. With the performance over, we walked a back path on campus to the front gate, crossed the still-busy street and waited together with Shaji and Arun for the bus to Trivandrum. We were fortunate to catch a “Fast Passenger” that had empty seats for most of us, and we travelled largely in silence back to the Thampanoor bus stand. None of us who witnessed this incredible ceremony are likely to be the same again.

Lauren Anderson:

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Last day. The day began with group presentations. Our discussions were so interesting and the information so important that it was near impossible to put a time limit on them. One universal finding, however, was that India with all of its beauty and charm, and with all of its own personal issues, is not as different from our own home as one might think. We have seen a great many things that will change us forever. We will, whether we realize it or not, reevaluate our entire lives from the experiences and observations we have had here. We have seen an entire other world, been overwhelmed by its splendor, and captivated and entertained by its inhabitants. I would venture to say that every one of us has changed as a result of this trip, the experiences, observations, discussions, and interactions.

Once we were able to pull ourselves away from our discussions, we finished up some last minute gift shopping, sunbathing, massages, eating, and enjoying it all. It was interesting to see how toward the end of the trip everyone seemed more comfortable. The girls gave no care to the gawking males on the beach, the shoppers navigated and negotiated like seasoned vets, and we had each picked out exactly what it was we needed to eat for our last meal in India. Even up until the last minute the trip was a learning experience. Most interesting to me was that the few shopkeepers we frequented had opened up to us as well. We had gotten used to each other. It is so easy to open up to something or someone if you give the chance and learn before you assume. While there will always be variations in mindset and routine across any culture, there will always be something to find comfort and similarity in.

We have been traveling now for about 16 hours. Everyone is exhausted, excited, sad, and hesitant to jump back into reality. What was comfort at home will be another culture shock as we adjust back into our lives. But I can say with great confidence that we will be returning home a great deal more knowledge, new friends, and perhaps even new ideals.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Thank you to Dr. Kideckel and all who made it possible for us to be here.

Christine Perkins – Hazuka

I’m a small town girl from a farming valley in California, the San Joaquin, specifically the town of Manteca, a place I couldn’t wait to leave. I did so in 1969 and never looked back – although I do visit since my entire family is still there. It was in ’69 that I travelled abroad for the first time, six weeks in western Europe, followed by two trips to Australia (one business, one pleasure), several trips to Brazil and Chile, a return trip to Europe – Portugal then Spain – and a CCSU sponsored trip to China in ’07. After graduating from Cal State Hayward, I moved to a unique place in southeast Utah called Blanding and began my career teaching high school English. I loved my career, but after 33 years, I decided to move on to destinations still to be determined.  I also love most athletic competitions and spend an inordinate amount of time watching football, baseball, and basketball on the TV with Tom, who is only slightly less avid than I as a fan. We have a daughter Maggie and granddaughter Olivia in California, and we enjoy visiting them, especially as Maggie is a high school English teacher and Olivia is an avid reader. I guess you could say we’re a family of geeks!

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After a night of rain I awoke to the first day of clear blue skies in Kerala. Unfortunately, the power was out, but somehow this seems less problematic in India. Tom and I breakfasted at the German Bakery on waffles, chewy and tasty, and an Indian dish called uppuma, which was dry but full of a curious combination of spices, nuts, coconut, and banana.

The usual hectic and exhilarating auto ride took our group to Thanal, an NGO operated by Usha and Jayakumar, a delightful, energetic pair. After Jayakumar gave a history of their “journey” from self-absorbed scientists to community activists, Usha spoke passionately about their group’s efforts to help local people organize against genetically modified cotton and for organic farmers’ markets. I was so impressed by the way Usha’s eyes flashed when she answered my question about women’s involvement in these grassroots movements: “Women respond from the heart… [they] remember… they tell the truth”. But she was also quick to smile, as was her husband, and together they made the most engaging pair.

A bumpy bus ride took us to the university, where we met Professor Reghu, whose rambling lecture provided stark contrast to the specificity of the morning’s talk. I was fascinated by his thesis regarding globalization, which he prefers to call globality. His detailed argument was that certain universal ideas (i.e. the stone axe, alphabet/ writing, astronomy, and numbers) are the basis for his definition of globality. Each of these inventions indicates that a certain universal cognitive ability had developed in the human brain, which enabled these innovations to go “viral” in a sense.

I found his discussion fascinating, but a bit difficult to follow because of his accent and his meandering style. He ran out of time before he ever connected his theory to the effect on globalization on Kerala, but he did throw out a provocative statement about the positive effect of the British in helping Indians reform the caste system – very interesting but not completely relevant to the topic of Kerala and globalization.

The way home was a bit wacky, what with loading and unloading a public bus to take a private bus at a reduced fare – but without windshield wipers – and, of course, it rained. But we made it back safely and in rather high spirits considering all the energy, mental and physical, that was expended today.

So far my experience in India remains a mix of contradictions: rain and sunshine; fear and exhilaration; the specific/ concrete versus the amorphously intellectual; those who work on the ground versus those who ruminate in “ivory towers”. I LOVE IT!