Archives for category: the trip experience

Arun Zacharaiah:

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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.

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Stephanie Bahramian:

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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.

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.

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!

Lauren Anderson: I am a third year student at CCSU. I have very eclectic tastes and so my major, rightfully, is anthropology. My minor is psychology. I don’t often have time to enjoy new and interesting experiences as I keep a busy and unrelenting schedule of classes, work, and study. This was one of the main reasons that I was drawn to this winter course…though this is second to the fact that this whole experience has been and is eye-opening, life-changing and extraordinary. I have been drinking in every moment.

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The morning was filled with anticipation. I found myself scrambling to get everything together for the day’s activity even though I had already done so twice theMy first rickshaw ride night before. Although I did have some vague image of the day in my had I basically had no idea what to expect. In the small courtyard in front of our hotel then, like ducklings, we trailed off to meet our rickshaws. At the end of the path stood a handful of men and these small resilient carts. We all piled in and began our trip across the way. The excursion was an experience I won’t soon forget. Blurs of colors whirred by. People were washing into the streets like they were impervious to automobiles. Posters and markings littered every wall, post, and even sidewalk. Palm trees protruded from the background at every angle. The streets were so busy and everything so fast that it was almost overwhelming. It was a sensory overload. Every few moments a horn would blare. More often than not this was followed by what – in the eyes of the wandering traveller – seemed to be a near death experience, as up ahead some bike, or car, or even a bus would be careening towards us. It is a perpetual game of chicken. Nestled along the edges of the roads were buildings, shops, huts, and grand dwellings all jumbled together. There is a lack of exact and obvious neighborhoods, collections of rubbish, and roaming dogs all around. When finally there was calm, golden water hugging the dirt road, we came to a stop. We were about to go on our boat tour of Vellayani lake.

Boat trip on Vellayani KayalThe entire experience seemed surreal. I still expect to wake up from the dream. We began with an extremely informative and interesting lecture about the lake and the people who depend on it. It is the most important source of fresh water in Kerala, and it is an increasingly imperative issue to ensure its protection and preservation, although this is proving to be an arduous task to address. The trip was led by a group of men and boys on their impressive handcrafted boats. They resembled large canoes and were maneuvered by the use of long stalks of bamboo. The sun glistened down onto us as we peacefully glided across the water and water lilies and lotus leaves sailed by. In our boat we were lucky to have our questions entertained by Biju Kumar, our expert lecturer for the day. He pointed out the things that surrounded the lake as we passed, the pump houses, the old summer palace that is now used for the  university campus,  the native and invasive species of plants and the different birds.

When there was more water than the ideal soaking into the boat, we drew up close to the shore and the young boy that accompanied us helped bail out the The group at Vellayani Lakewater.  At the shore, we were able to get a closer view of the sweet peas, banana trees, and sawgrass that were growing there. Once we finished our breathtaking trip we swept up to shore at the family house of our two captains. The structure was small but carefully constructed. The walls were of cement and woven palm branches. The roof of thatch tarps were incorporated also. The floor was packed dirt but everything clean. There was a thin wire leading into the house for their electricity. Our patient hosts greeted us with a breakfast of fresh bananas, cracker like biscuits, hot tea, home raised eggs, and mouth-watering coconut chutney. As we sat around and ate, we discussed what it was like for this family in the lake area. They were born and raised there, three generations at least. They calmly and willingly received our questions and we got a small taste of their life. Once we finished there, we trekked back to meet up with our drivers and their resilient rickshaws. The entire experience was amazing and unforgettable. I could go on about it all and this was just our first scheduled activity!

This is the classic Kerala ritual meal. The best Sadyas's have more than one payasam (pudding). Yummy!

This is the classic Kerala ritual meal. The best Sadyas’s have more than one payasam (pudding). Yummy!

David Kideckel: I am professor of Anthropology and Director of International Studies at Central Connecticut State University, and the organizer of the CCSUinKerala trip and blog. Though most of my research has been in Eastern Europe, I fell in love with India long before I first visited in 2004. Since 2005-2006 I have been engaged in research in Kerala state on political agitations and most recently on women’s self-help groups, the so-called Kudumbashree. My feelings about India are remarkably contradictory. The intensity and passion of people here never fail to amaze, but so too does some of the poverty and degradation. I wanted to bring my students to Kerala so that they might see for themselves the contradictions of this amazing place and learn how people are able to challenge their cultural conditions through commitment, organization, and study. I also want to thank my wife, Raluca Nahorniac, for her constant help and support both with this blog and with the trip generally.

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So, we are getting ready to depart for India on a two and one half week study tour of Kerala with a focus on “development” broadly writ. The description of the program can be found here:  <http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=13886>.

In the days to follow the diverse members of our group will have opportunities to share their thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and joys with the experience of India and Kerala. I am confident that all will have an extraordinary time. They are very lucky to be going to India and Kerala with the program planned for them. We will see the state and its people first in the surface dimensions of most who visit. In that way, India and Kerala will certainly appear odd and strange, if not outrageous. Our group will be daunted by the traffic on MG Road in Trivandrum. With Congress and the UDF in power we will likely happen on  political agitations of various kinds…sit-downs, and marches, and hunger strikes of anti-god-men. Other qualities of India and Kerala are also likely to challenge people’s understanding of diverse cultures and their worth.

But at the same time I entertain a strong hope that the group will appreciate Kerala and Malayalis in and on their own terms, though that is always an uncertainty. The idea of anthropology is certainly a wonderful one; that people can understand other cultures with a fine and deep appreciation and can place the difficult and odd things of other ways of life in a context that enables some kind inter-cultural appreciation. Still, there is always the possibility that some may react otherwise. Though unlikely, they can always respond like an unnamed American politician who, when asked what he felt about other ways of life said something to the effect that he “had only been outside the USA twice, didn’t like it, and found other people strange and unreasonable.”

I doubt that will happen, but one never knows. So, with that said, it is on to Kerala and the wonderful, sensual, challenging questions and thoughts to follow.