Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reflections...

This is an ongoing list of thoughts I've had since returning to the States. Some of them are just things I've come to realize, and some are things I realized were left out and should have been included...

STP/IPC/PCO
This was the name of the phone and internet booths that are sprinkled throughout India. They are used regularly by both travelers and natives. Of course, seeing "STD" everywhere is pretty amusing to Americans. "It's spreading across the nation," I said at one point.

TNP
This was the term we affectionately ascribed to our frequent stoped while traveling to "tea and pee."

Dynamic pluralism
India is host to many Major World Religious. Even Hinduism isn't really one conglomerated belief system, as there are many divergent and conflicting views and Gods. Hindus are "hendotheistic," meaning that while they support a particular God, they are aware of the existence of other, and that others worship them, and this is not problematic. This general sentiment can be said of most of the people of India. There are so many varied beliefs, and people are not oppresive or condemning of others simply for acknowledging a different belief system. This was one of my biggest takeaways from my travels in India
Of course, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the Hindutva militants, one can see the teachings of Gandhiji slipping away...

Symbols as visual theology
Every temple and mosque is intricately carved and decorated, just as is much of everything in India. What at first glance simply looks beautiful and impressive can upon further inspection tell you so much about the time and culture when it was created. It can offer stories of the opeople who visited it. It can open your eyes to things you hadn't previously consider. This visual theology is everywhere, and one need only a brief introduction to start seeing it.

Mr. Subramaniam, Nikky Singh, Cathy Asher
These were the guides that accompanied us on our trip. They were invaluable as leaders, translators, teachers, and friends. They made the trip the huge success that it was, and I feel forever indebted to each of them.

CNG
Compressed Natural Gas. The autorickshaws are run on this, and some newer ambassadors use the new fuel type as well. As the world approaches peak production of oil, and gasoline becomes much more expensive, I think this is the next option. Of course, it is no answer to the world energy crises...but to see smaller, lighter vehicles provided for mass transit within the city and running on this is very symbolic of India's awareness and commitment to environmental friendliness. Rickshaws, for the record, seem like the perfect blend of public transportation and convenience. I think they'd go over well in most large cities and college towns, if it weren't for all the (explitive deleted) SUVs.

Nikky and the Prime minister
The day before ManMohan Singh traveled to America to meet with President Bush, he met with Nikky. She informed him of her concerns for women's rights, and also transferred an idea Mary had to employ the homeless in trash collection. She and he are both Sikh, and it was sort of exciting to talk with someone right after they had met with the Prime Minister.

Sitting by river - productivity vs. purpose
While sitting on the side of the Ganga in Haridwar (the night I couldn't stay alseep), I sat thinking about the primary difference I see in Indian and American culture. Americans seem to be searching for productivity and efficiency in all that they do, whereas Indians are looking for purpose and meaning. As the two nations start to merge, I see that our productivity is rubbing off on them. I really, sincerely hope this can be a two-way street, because the function of our life is not to produce and grow an economy. Without searching for purpose and meaning in life, I worry about the willingness of Americans to become corporate drones, working 10 hour days and purchasing things they don't need, only to achieve a fleeting sense of happiness and a feeling of purpose that will not endure. While you can't spend forever deciding what you believe and what your purpose in life should be, I see that as infinitely enviable to simply working and making, with no purpose past that of your corporate master.

Shigella
I returned to the US with a new friend! Shigella, a foodborne illness similar to E. Coli and Salmonella, has gone everywhere with me - through 22 hours of plane rides to Amsterdam and Detroit, for a 3 day trip to Columbia to move things up to my third-floor apartment, and to the Emergency room, for a get-to-know-you session.

Reverse culture shock
Upon my return to the US, I had to overcome the reverse culture shock, which was almost as difficult as the Shigella. Things seem slower, and I feel more calm and in control. I find it difficult to feel overwhelmed (though Master's school is giving me a run for my money). I also am amazed that such a smart and powerful nation can be inhabited predominantly by people who have no zest for knowledge, no want of civic involvement, and no worries regarding the state of the world. On a number of occasions, people said to me that "travel abroad should be compulsory for American students." Having now traveled abroad, I agree completely - for this and so many other reasons.

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