Daily Click: Journey

Jen Elephant

Amber Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

“So we can take a jeep or ride an elephant to the top. Which do you prefer?” he asked  nonchalantly.

“Why wouldn’t we ride an elephant? Is there some cruelty to animals thing I’m missing?” I looked at him bewildered.

“Well, because sometimes it’s hot and the elephant will take twice as long.”

We rode the elephant… because it’s all about the journey….

Daily Prompt : Journey

Daily Click: ESCAPE

Over a year and a half ago I bought a one way ticket from San Francisco to Bali and have been traveling around South East Asia on one way tickets ever since. Three months ago I arrived in India on a one way ticket from Bali.

These photos are from a houseboat trip on the Kerala backwaters in India. Houseboat trips feel like pure escape…

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Kumbh Mela 2013 Part 2 – Varanasi, India

I have so many photos from Varanasi and my first post was really popular so I’ve put together another selection. If you want some background on what the Kumbh Mela is please check out my first post Kumbh Mela 2013, Varanasi, India.

Hope you enjoy and thanks so much for your positive comments.

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Kumbh Mela 2013, Varanasi, India

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Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage with over 100 million people visiting the Ganga River to bathe in the sacred waters. It is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world today and I’ve read it’s been deemed unfit to bathe in. This year the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad was for 55 days, with 6 auspicious bathing days. It’s considered one of the worlds largest congregations of religious pilgrims.

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Every third year it is held at one of  four places by rotation: Hardiwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjian. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yanuma and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godwari at Nashik, and the Shipra at Ujjain.

Kumbh means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Hindi. The pilgrimage is held at these four places because it is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh carried by gods after the sea was churned.

Naked, ash smeared, intoxicated Sadhus camp out along the ghats in Varanasi and tourists (like me) give them a small donation to take their picture. Traditionally Sadhus are renunciates, who have left behind all material attachments and live in caves, forests and temples all over India and Nepal. They are solely dedicated to reaching moksa (liberation) through mediation and contemplation. Today, unfortunately, many of them are addicts dedicated to achieving this through the charas, taking “donations” from tourists and quite charming to talk to.

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Celebrating Summer with Jurassic Park 3D

BPGS kids with glasses

Remember when exams were over and it was the last week of school before the summer holiday? Yesterday, I got that feeling back spending the afternoon with 115 of the kids from Bowenpally Government School in Hyderabad, India when we went to see Jurassic Park in 3D. These are kids from very poor families so going to an IMAX theater to see a move in 3D is something they don’t get to do. The whole experience was more exciting for most of them than the movie itself. Some of them would put the glasses on for photos and then take them off during the movie and look around and talk with their friends. Luckily we had most of the theater to ourselves.

Shreedevi Chowdary and Swati Sanghi are very involved in supporting the NGO the BPGS ShreePassionate Foundation in building up this particular school and creating positive experiences for the children. A few TV channels came along with some of the Hyderabad press to cover the outing and the children LOVED having their picture taken and being interviewed for sound bites on TV. The movie theater donated popcorn and Chaitanya and his colleagues from the Passionate Foundation arranged the bus ride, breakfast, lunch and snacks for everyone.

BPGS Bus Jump 1The movie scared some of the kids but that didn’t effect their fun and laughter. What’s more fun than spending a school day at the movies? It used to be one of my favorite things to do.

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BPGS Bus Portrait

Parachuting In – AJWS Global Circle in India

Bikharipurwa Village

Bikharipurwa Village

As a group of 12 young, professional women we arrived in Bikharipurwa village outside of Lucknow to volunteer for one day. Roughly 200 of the Scheduled Castes (Dalits), the lowest castes in India, live there. The day had been arranged by Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK), an organization working to empower economically impoverished communities by promoting their participation in self governance and positive social change. In contrast to more remote villages, Bikharipurwa had access to water through pumps but they had no working drainage system. In June 2012 SSK had coordinated a group of AJWS (American Jewish World Service) volunteers to stay and work in the village for six weeks. They installed new drains, maintained the road and worked on the school house. When we arrived for a two day visit, I felt like we “parachuted in” just to maintain the groundwork. We smoothed over the school yard, laid bricks and planted trees. The village had asked for these minor things. In a few months another volunteer group was coming for 10 days to help them with more work. By the end of the day I began to see how our day of manual labour was actually part of a bigger picture. I began to understand how connected we were to the group before us in the hearts and memories of the people who lived there. We maintained their connections and hard work as well as smoothing the ground for the next set of volunteers to come.

Wearing Northface and Lucy style travel pants and cozy long sleeved shirts, our early morning conversations revolved around when to take Pepto Bismal or Imodium and using bug spray. By the end of the day, our conversation shifted to whether doing manual labour for one day was benefiting the villagers or whether we were just patting ourselves on the back trying to feel good. As we sat around a conference table with the SSK staff after we left the village, I began thinking about this idea of “parachuting in”. I recalled how each day after visiting AJWS partners, hearing their personal stories of courage and strength while facing, discrimination, poverty and even abuse, we’d find ourselves back in our comfortable air conditioned bus. At times I spaced out, staring out the window as neighbourhood after neighbourhood of slums, naakas (central meeting points were people can be recognized as day labour and pick up work), cows and water buffalo passed by. Those street scenes felt like movie sets. I experienced a disconnect between my perception of how I feel about my life and the way of life in India.  ” Productive Discomfort” is the jargon AJWS uses to describe the feeling. It means we’re uncomfortable with what we see and don’t know how to react. Most days after meeting with an AJWS partner we would talk about this as a group. What could we do with the discomfort and questions that came from these meeting? Did we have unrealistic expectations that we could make a positive impact after such a brief encounter?

Celebrity Alanna

Celebrity Alanna

When we arrived at Bikharipurwa we were given the warmest welcome, as if we were honoured guests. Little kids ran up to us yelling, ” Alanna! Alanna!”, and we were all confused why they were so excited to see our lovely Alanna. She was a celebrity. Then someone explained that in the last volunteer group a there was an Alana and she became like a daughter to some of the elder woman in the village. They cried when she left. Everyone assumed that because we were from AJWS, we knew their friends. They were excited to see us because of their perception that we were connected to those people they loved and trusted. If we were friends with them, we must be good people.

Sunita

Sunita

Sunita, our AJWS India country representative explained some of the social nuances and changes she noticed that day. With her wide, warm smile and her voice of years of experience she explained that even the moment when one of the elder woman from a higher caste joined everyone for lunch and sat with “the lower castes”because of foreign visitors, was a subtle yet significant shift. She described the attitudes people held that certain jobs were for the “lower castes”, such as cleaning drains. Seeing foreigners come and do menial jobs happily was creating a shift. Little by little attitudes were changing and people were feeling more empowered to maintain the drain system their American friends had installed, or sit and have lunch with the whole community when visitors came. She gave us a small insight into the long and difficult process of creating social change in India. It made me think how much we’re all connected and that showing up for one day, when it supports Sunita and SSK’s long term goals, was valuable. I left feeling respect and admiration for the change we were all creating, very slowly, very methodically, one day at a time, one activist group at a time.

Bikharipurwa Village

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Ariel at Bikharipurwa

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AJWS Sistahood Trip

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A group of twelve women, all professional, well educated, funny and not all Jewish. Thanks to Jamie’s adventurous spirit we had an honorary member of the tribe. We met in Mumbai and started our seven day whirlwind tour of Mumbai, Lucknow, Agra & Delhi, meeting with AJWS (American Jewish World Service) partner organizations in Mumbai and Lucknow. Just outside of Lucknow we volunteered for a day in a village called Bhikharipur. In India, AJWS support reaches tribal, Dalit and Muslim communities through advocacy campaigns on land and labor rights, and sustainable livelihood training.

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Each day we met innovative and courageous activists working hard towards social change and we were mesmerized listening to their compelling personal stories. Certain groups specifically asked us not to write about them to keep their work confidential.

One visionary who shared his story with us was Shubhranshul Choudhary. He’s Indian and worked for over twenty years as a journalist with the BBC and the Guardian. He left journalism to devote his time to an experiment which creates a model for democratic media. In the process he has created the world’s first community radio using mobile phones. It allows people in remote villages to access local news and events, connecting them to what’s happening in the other remote communities around them.

As we parted in Delhi I felt like it was ending too soon. Two of the talented sisterhood, Jesse and Julia, wrote a song for Bharat, our tour guide, to the tune of the Beatles, “all you need is love.” They titled it, “All You Need is Bharat.” We sang it to him at our last lunch together and I’ve never seen a man so completely shocked, moved and speechless all at once. He was serenaded by a group of beautiful women. That moment reminded me that laughter is one way to digest the difficult issues we became aware of about life in India.

With Bharat

With Bharat

At the end of the trip a few of us admitted we were curious about what it would be like travelling with all women.  It can be a hit or miss experience without the male energy to balance things out. Luckily Bharat sealed the deal, as he was a pro at managing our time, our shopping and our different needs and wants. I was reminded that in the midst of a tight schedule with heavy personal stories and meetings to process, a group of women can always fit in a little power shopping and keep the laughter going with their warm sense of humour.

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Taj J and J

A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small…

“If we are to teach real peace in this world and we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children – all of our children – a better world. Even if it’s difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don’t get very far in our lifetime.”

~ Barak Obama Speech, 2008

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Most smiles are started by another smile.” 

~Frank Clark

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!”

~ Dr. Seuss

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Think and wonder,

wonder and think.”

~ Dr. Seuss

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India