August 6, 2009

“How can you explain a feeling in one word”

A wise woman (aka Jignasha = 1 of our amazing coordinators) once said “How can you explain a feeling in one word” in response to me asking her if she could describe how she was feeling about InSPIRE in one word…. (in my defense it was for presentation purposes – finished product is pending)

Anyway, I was just reminded of that when we were preparing for our closing ceremony in Delhi and we each had to share something in response to the question “What have you learned from InSPIRE? ” . I quickly jotted mine down so I wouldn’t trip over my words like I usually do. Here is what came out:

This trip has taught me two things that I will definitely carry with me forever – to care and not to care. I have learned to care so deeply about issues that I barely devoted any of  my brain power to before. I am constantly questioning myself to make sure my passion is not just on the surface and not just motivated by my immediate to reaction to things and I can assure myself (because in the end, who else really needs to be assured) that it is not. I have learned, seen, and discussed topics that will remain close to my heart and will hopefully guide my future thoughts and actions.

So…now for the not caring part. I don’t mean apathy or blissful ignorance but fearlessness. Starting with very basic things which have made an impact on me despite their simplicity. I have learned to play frisbee in the rain and mud and not cared about getting dirty; I have learned to bathe in a freezing cold stream after hiking a leech infested path….at 5am;  I have learned to sing loudly to myself for myself.

This trip, this experience, and these people mean more to me than I can express in words.  Yes,  I do realize that a lot of what I say sounds a bit drastic and driven by emotion and maybe even a little “cheesy” but…I feel it. And that is validation enough for me right now. I don’t think I even realize yet how I have changed but I look forward to finding out.

July 31, 2009

Sitting in an internet cafe in the town of Bir, Himachal Pradesh and wondering what I can blog about in 5 minutes before heading back to the monastery for dinner. We are in our last few days of InSPIRE and I am in utter disbelief. These 5 weeks have gone by so fast yet so slow – I guess that’s what happens when you wake up before 7am every morning.  I’ll write more about the whole experience when I get home but let me tell you a little bit about what we have been doing here. We came here to take part in a workshop called “Jeevan Vidya” – it’s basically an approach to life and existence. It was honestly really difficult to going from 4 whirlwind weeks to 7 days of mostly sitting and listening. I had a hard time getting into the subject matter because it was so vague and so dense but I think in retrospect I did learn from it. It made me question what I consider “reality” and really made me think about my own assumptions and pre-conditioning as a result of society, status, family, etc. So we did that for about 7 days and now we are doing some closing and reflection activities.

I can’t stop talking about how incredibly beautiful this place is. We are in the foothills of the Himalayas – about 5000 ft. up and the weather is perfect (even when it rains unexpectedly). One morning a few of us woke up at 4:30am to hike up to these nearby waterfalls. It was such an adventure – 2 dogs from the town followed us and basically served as our guides, we hiked through a leech infested area (but not before de-briefing about them first) and ended up with harmless but digusting bites all over us, we bathed in a freezing cold stream with no regard for “decency” (….well….there was nobody around so that made it easier), we experienced a slice of the twilight zone when we stuck our heads into a tiny waterfall and were able to open our eyes and see through the tunnel that was created, and we hiked back home in the POURING rain and waded through the newly flooded path that we had come on. It was, in one word, AMAZING. If you haven’t realized yet, that is my favorite descriptive word and I am in dire need of synonoms. 🙂

We have also been doing some general reflection, program overview, and planning for our closing ceremonies in Delhi.

I am feeling and thinking so much and I’m really excited about coming home and implementing some changes in my life. Small changes, yes. But important ones. I’ve finally realized that change really does start with you and me. I threw that phrase around before thinking that I believed it but I guess I didn’t believe it 100%. It is sometimes really discouraging to stand up for something you believe in and feel like it’s futile because you are only one person and what does that really mean in the grand scheme of things? But really, it’s basic math. 🙂 ONE > ZERO. And that makes it wothwhile.

Enough for now. Time to walk back up to the monastery for dinner (the food there is delicious so I’m eager to go 🙂 )

Love to all.

July 22, 2009

I never want to stop learning

So I’m sitting in an internet cafe in Delhi trying to think of a way to sum up the past 3 weeks in a blog post but I can’t. I don’t even know how to explain it to myself. We have a bit of free time today and then we will be on an overnight bus to the Deer Park Institute in Bir, Himachal Pradesh.

I don’t want to just list off the things I’ve done, post a few pictures and have it end at that. I want to express what I have learned and I want you to challenge me and question me.

– In Ahemdabad I learned that those who we dismiss as “impoverished”  have a name, a face, and a beautiful spirit. I learned this from going rag picking with Kankuben, wakling into rich people’s houses with Champaben to clean their floors, cuddling up at night with Poonam a beautiful girl who lives in the slums of Abad and telling bedtime stories. In the village of  Sarsavadi I learned the true meaning of hspitality and community.  And I learned that village dogs are the scariest dogs I have ever encountered in my life.

– In Adharshila Learning Center, an alternative school for Adivasi (tribal) children in Madhya Pradesh I learned about the struggles of the Adivasi in Inidia, the merits of alternative education systems, and about true passion and committment from Amitbhaiya and Jayshreedidi who run the place.

– In Kakrana, MP I questioned my own notion of “development” when we saw the stagnant water created by the Narmada Dam Project. What was once a flowing river is now a reservoir….but at what cost? The farmer we spoke to says his land will be submerged soon by expansion of the dam….land that him and his family have lived on for hundreds of years. We are not only destroying land but culture as well. But isn’t development necessary? Doesn’t a dam provide electricty and water to people who need it? Is this a short term loss that we need to incur to benefit us in the long run?

– At Futane farm near Nagpur I learned about more than just organic farming practices. I thoguht deeply about where my food comes from and where it goes.  I learned about tubers, rice, mangos, bamboo, and the weeds that plague them. I learned about love and committment from the Futane family who run the farm. And sometimes…I just played with Paniti….the cutest baby in the entire world.

-At Vinoba Bhave’s ashram I learned strength from the women who live there as part of the Brahma Vidhya Mandhir. I left in awe of their spirit and a yearning to experience Ashram life….but I didn’t leave with the strength to actually do it.

– In Delhi I have learned so much in just 2 days that I don’t think I’m ready to process it. We went on a night wakl with Jamghat an organization that works with street kids. We went on an early morning wakl to witness the destruction that is being done to the Yamuna River…by us. By me…every time I flush a toilet.

– Every day I gain new appreciation for the power of music ion my life. Yesterday we had a jam sesssion with kids from Manzil and it honestly felt like one of those momenst of blissful happiness.

– I have learned to love each and every single person I am traveling with. There are 20 of us now (6 coordinators, 12 participants, and 2 new additions from Australia) and I could not imagine this trip without them.

I never want to stop learning. However…I do have to stop writing. Time is up in this Internet cafe. I’ll be home no August 13th and would love to see all of you. Karma Kitchen on Sunday anyone?

Please excuse my spelling mistakes.No time for spell checking in a stream of consciousness. And this keyboard is sticking. 🙂

June 24, 2009

A quick look at where I will be…

Click here to read more about InSPIRE and what kind of issues we will be covering.

P.S. I am excited!!!!

June 17, 2009

A contemplative boat ride – musings on littering & identity

An hour-long ferry ride from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island (home to an amazing array of caves devoted to Hindu deities…as well as a group of wild and evil monkeys that prey on tourists) gave me ample time to ponder.

This trip is constantly challenging my ideals of right and wrong, fair and unfair, good and bad. Let’s take the concept of littering. To me, it seems ingrained that littering = bad, but then I watch a father show his two young children how to unwrap their snack and gleefully throw the wrapper into the already polluted Arabian Sea. I am not here to judge or criticize anyone….just to note that such instances challenge my preconceived notions of right vs. wrong.  Is it dilluted accountability that makes people act this way? The sea, after all, washes away trash with the tide and it is never seen again by the perpetrator. But does that make it any less wrong? Or just easier to digest? (I know I’m guilty of this delusion at many times during the day) Or is it just that nobody taught this man that littering is bad? That trash in the ocean does not go unnoticed by its inhabitants…..

Life is full of assumptions.

Why did the man  selling tickets to Elephanta Island (15 rupees ($0.30) for Indians, 250 ($5.00) rupees for foreigners) assume that I wasn’t from India? Technically, if you look at my ancestry, I am. But I didn’t want to pick a fight…well actually, I couldn’t (not in Hindi at least) But how did he know? I didn’t say one word – just held up one finger for “1 ticket”. What about me prompted him to ask me where I was from? Was it because I looked him straight in the eyes? Was I dressed like a “foreigner”? Was my expression too open and inviting? Who knows. All I know is that I paid the foreigner rate of 250 rupees . It’s not about the money, it’s about the fact that even in India I am considered a foreigner. At best, a Non-Resident Indian (NRI). 

I feel like I have opened up Pandora’s Box (if her box contained questions about identity). Why are we so obsessed with this concept or defining or not defining ourselves? Why do we feel this need to belong to a particular group? Why do we let ourselves be herded into socially constructed identities? Does it even matter?

June 10, 2009

Midnight Infomercial

Sometimes I forget that a blog post does not need to be paragraphs long, gramatically correct, or particularly insightful. I’ve always wanted to blog more regularly but I never feel like my writing is adequate or my subject matter interesting enough. I break all blogging rules by thinking that way I guess. So, here goes 🙂

Midnight infomercial: Do you live in DC and want to be “in the know” about open mics, poetry slams, drum circles, and other fascinating events? Do the words “social justice, “activism”, “arts”, “youth empowerment”, or “education gap” resonate with you? (Trick question). Do you…Do you…..have a first aid kit handy?

Ah….it is getting late here and I am getting further and further away from making my point. If you answered yes to any of the questions above or even if you didn’t you should still check it. What’s it? My dear friend Jonathan Tucker’s new and awesome blog. Yes, that’s really his name and yes, he knows that there is a movie about him.

I encourage you to not only read his latest post about another friend of ours, Henry Mills, but to attend the events he is writing about. Guaranteed good time.  You should also check out his incredible poems including al dente, djali come save me (my favorite so far), national happy hour, pick me, and this rock.

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June 6, 2009

The White Tiger

Ah…..reading for pleasure. Something I haven’t done in such a long time (completely my fault). It is the combination of a long flight from Newark to Mumbai and jet lag that has resulted in me devouring almost 3 books in 2 days. Just wanted to share my thoughts and how they tie in with my first observations of India. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to India before but I finally feel like I am at a place where I can understand its subtleties and make some opinions of my own.

Observation #1 – If I had to sum up this country in one word it would be juxtaposed. Is that even a gramatically correct statement? More thoughts to come.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – (thank D,P, and M for this wonderful gift). I started this book at the airport and finished it in the middle of the night in Bombay when I couldn’t sleep. Maybe I had high expectations because it won the Booker Prize last year and had a lot of hype in general, but I honestly wasn’t that impressed. There go my chances of ever getting him to be on NaanSense Radio….oh wait, there is no more NaanSense. Anyways, the book did hold my interest and it was written in a very interesting manner but i just wasn’t “wowed” by it. Basically, it is about this man who is re-telling the story of his life as he makes his way “up” in society to be a driver for a big shot in the city.  The book did, however, bring up some really interesting points about India and gave me a perspective on something I never thought about that much. I find myself wondering more and more about the lives of drivers and servants and cooks. I remember when I was young, I would come to India and be so taken aback by the fact that there were servants. This is when everything in the world was black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and basically my way or the highway. This is also the time when we were learning about slavery in elementary school and I connected

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June 2, 2009

India Itinerary!

I’ll be in Bombay for the first 3 weeks visiting family. After that I will be away for 5 weeks doing InSPIRE ( Here is our itinerary . I will post updates as often as I can (but I must admit, I am looking forward to being “disconnected” so don’t be surprised if it’s one epic blog post in August)

June 26 to July 5: Ahmedabad, Gujarat 

Introductions of participants and of the program. Orientation. Expectations. Cultural context. Meeting Indian-Americans who are involved with work in India. Introduction to ‘education’ in India. Introduction to ‘Gandhian’ thought. Experiencing the reality of the slums of Ahmedabad. Experiencing the ‘spirit’ of service being lived and feeling the power of relationships, love, and positive thought. Becoming inspired.  We will be staying at the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI) campus. 

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