Students from MacMurray College are taking a cultural plunge as they travel through the country of India during the College's January Term, or J-Term as it is known. As you read through the blog, you will follow along on their journey, observing the students immerse themselves in a different culture and having an experience that can truly change their perspective on life.
Day 10 — Wednesday, January 16
Today is the day that we begin our long journey back home. As we walked around Ahmedabad one last time, I know we were all taking in our last sights, smells, and sounds of the city. The last nine days has been such an eye-opening experience and we have all learned a little more about ourselves; things that we could have only learned had we taken this trip.
Although we are all looking forward to getting home, seeing our families, and sleeping in our own beds, a piece of our hearts will remain here, and we will all be looking forward to the day that we can return.
It's our last full day in India and it started with a trip to the mall so we could do some much needed shopping. We can't leave India without a memento of some kind to either keep for ourselves, or give to family and friends as a souvenir. The mall they have in Ahmedabad has three floors and is filled to the brim with all kinds of jewelry, clothing, kitchenware, and whatever else someone might need to get in one trip.
After shopping, we toured the Jivdaya Cheritable Trust (JCT) Animal Hospital. The hospital has been open since 2007 and helps animals that are not owned by anyone. Seeing how many dogs, cats, and cows roam the streets freely in India, JCT is an amazing and lifesaving operation that treats around 650 birds and animals per day. The students were able to see and hold many of the animals that JCT has helped nurse back to health. This organization is especially crucial during this time in Ahmedabad because the flying of the kites during the festival causes harm to a lot of birds, and, because of the festival, JCT opens a camp from January 13-17 specifically to help treat the birds that are harmed.
Our last evening in Ahmedabad was spent enjoying the company of the friends we've made during our time here. We drank tea with them and watched the kites fly above Ahmedabad as they were lit up by the fireworks and Chinese lanterns that littered the sky. We then went to dinner at a restaurant called Arabian Hub where we got the chance to try chicken shawarma and Arabian grilled chicken, which, for many of us, was our first time trying Arabian food.
Days 7 and 8 — Sunday, January 13 and Monday, January 14
We spent two days in Bhavnagar, a four hour bus ride from Ahmedabad, to stay with the family that hosted Professor Anozie during her first trip to India. Most in the family are practicing Hindus, so the students were able to experience a different way of living compared to that in Ahmedabad where we were staying in the Christian Colony.
Once we arrived to Bhavnagar on Sunday, our stay began with lots of conversation as the family we had just met was just as curious about us and life in America as we were about them. The students asked a lot of questions about certain aspects of the Hindu religion as well as general questions about life in India. We discussed the roles of women in the presence of men and the act of married women covering their face in the Hindu religion; we talked about how arranged marriages work, and the ads that eligible bachelors and bachelorettes put out in the newspaper; we also learned how Hindus see God in everything, and how they give special reverence to food and the way in which it is eaten. The family gave us a tour around Bhavnagar, including a look at the plastic factory they own, and then they took us to a garden to enjoy a beautiful walk surrounded by nature.
The next day was the kite festival. Some of the girls dressed up in traditional Indian garb, and we spent most of the morning and afternoon on the terrace where we danced, ate, and flew kites. It was a beautifully warm and windy day for such an event. After lunch, we packed and went to the bus station to head back to Ahmedabad.
It's the weekend before the kite festival, and many travelers are making their way to Ahmedabad to get ready for the big celebration. Our group took a trip to the riverfront where we were able to zip line over the river and watch many people practice their kite flying in preparation for Monday.
After spending some time on the riverfront, we went to Sarkhej Roza, a mosque and mausoleum which was built in 1451 by Mohammad Shah in honor of Shaikh Ganj Baksh Khattu, the patron saint of Ahmedabad. We walked around the mosque and took in the beauty of its architecture which has held up so well after all this time.
From there we went to the Vechaar Utensils Museum, home to 6,000 various kinds of antique utensils. After our guided tour through the museum, we witnessed a woman dancing with pots used to hold water on her head. She balanced the pots and danced as she took turns stepping on knives, glass, and even nails with her bare feet. We've had quite an experience exploring Ahmedabad this week, and we're looking forward to our trip to Bhavnagar tomorrow!
We began our day by celebrating Jessica's birthday in real Indian fashion as some of us stayed up to surprise her with cake, silly string and trick candles at the stroke of midnight.
In the morning, we headed to a police station in Ahmedabad. Our discussion at the station led us to understand the policemen's roles in India compared to the those in the U.S., and how, in India, the judge decides the verdict in each trial instead of a jury. The police also do what they can to give back to the children in their community. Each station in Ahmedabad adopts two children in the area and covers all of their living expenses, and every October they sign up to give blood at their local Red Cross. The students were surprised to find out that in Ahmedabad, a city of around 6 million people, there has only been one murder in the last year and the most common crimes are car accidents and street fights.
From there we went to Gmers Medical College where they gave us a tour of their dissection hall, mortuary and anatomy museum. The students had the opportunity to see real body parts as well as touch and examine the bodies used for dissection.
Our last stop was a ceremony held by Helping Hands, a nonprofit that works to help anyone in need, including funding of cancer treatments, giving protein powders to children and students affected by cancer, providing poor families with a goat and providing medicines to those who can't afford them. The ceremony was specifically to serve widows and the students helped hand out care packages to them.
The day ended with a Garba to finish off Jessica's birthday celebration. We had the opportunity to get dressed up in traditional Indian attire and learn traditional Indian dances. The students then taught everyone American dances like the Cupid Shuffle, the Cha Cha Slide and the NeNe. We ate and danced all evening, and it was a great opportunity to bond with our new friends.
This morning we visited a nonprofit called Shataya. Shataya, which is Sanskrit for "Live 100 Years," focuses specifically on Organ Donation Awareness in India.
Mac students discussed the differences in awareness in organ donation between India and the United States. They found out that different religions here can stop people from pledging for organ donation and that, at the end of the day, it is the family's decision whether or not to donate their loved one's organs, whereas in the U.S. it is the individual's decision.
From there we visited another nonprofit called "Vatsalya", which in Sanskrit means "Love and Affection." Here students saw those with disabilities learning various tasks on the computer, like typing on a keyboard and using a data entry program. This organization's goal is to teach students the skills they need on computers so that they can earn money by working online.
After visiting Vatsalya, we were able to try some Pani Puri. There were various different kinds, including those that were spicy, sweet or a little of both, and the students enjoyed trying another authentic Indian street food. We then finished our day off by exploring a curbside market where the students could buy souvenirs and practice their bargaining skills.
This morning we began our day with a historical tour of Ahmedabad. As we walked around the city, we saw the Sidi Saeed Mosque, Bhadra Towers, the Three Gates, Ahmed Shah's (Ahmedabad's founder) Tomb and the tomb of his queens. Amongst the many historical buildings in Ahmedabad are the markets that line the streets. The students had the opportunity to try fresh squeezed sugarcane juice as well as different types of foods that were for sale.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Blind People's Association. The students learned about how the association assists the blind and disabled, especially in the many different ways that they teach them skills to make money. They saw blind and disabled persons working at the in-house printing press, some were making wheel chairs and others were learning computer skills.
Then they had the job of helping prepare care packages for the leprosy colony in Ahmedabad. The colony was started in 2013 by Jayanand who felt the need to give those with leprosy a place to belong and be loved, and he uses his earnings from driving a rickshaw to support the colony. It currently houses 20 families and a total of 40 people living in the colony are affected by leprosy. The children, none of which have leprosy, live with their parents and even attend school there. MacMurray students helped take care packages to the colony and took turns giving one package to each one of the families. Their excitement to see us was felt by each person, and our hearts were warmed by the love and hospitality they shared with us during our visit.
Our days are going by quickly and each one is filled with something new that none of us has ever experienced before. We look forward to the stories we'll have to share with our friends and family about our time here in Ahmedabad!
Day two in India began with a tour around the National Institute of Design where the students were shown the classrooms and learned how classes are structured at the school. Along with meeting students who are from India and talking to them about creating animation or working with bamboo to build furniture, they also had the opportunity to interact with international students from Italy, Canada, Australia and France who are taking part in a study abroad program at the internationally acclaimed institute, and discussed with them the differences between their classes in India verses their schooling at home.
Afterwards we walked to the Ahmedabad City Museum to get a taste of the city's history and better understand the culture. The students were very interested in the Kite Festival exhibit and learning about how the tradition started, especially since it takes place on January 14 and we will have the chance to experience it.
After lunch, we went to The Church of North India and spoke with those who run the counseling center there. The students had an enlightening round table discussion where they talked about the differences in both India and America with therapy for those suffering from addiction, mental illness, stress and marriage/relationship troubles. The discussion eventually led to the different struggles that many people face with suicide and depression, especially those dealing with the stress of school, and how we can learn to be more open about those topics in order to help those around us.
As a way to end such an eventful day, we ventured to Kankaria Lake, the second largest lake in Ahmedabad, to relax and enjoy the light show.
Our first full day here has been an absolute blast. After many months of waiting for this trip, it hasn't taken long for us to immerse ourselves in their culture. We've also found that there isn't as much of a language barrier as we thought there would be since some Indians can speak English, even if it's knowing just enough to ask for a selfie with the Americans (which has happened almost every place we've gone to so far).
The first place we visited in Ahmedabad was CCC, a Christian clinic which was the nonprofit organization MacMurray Professor Christina Anozie helped organize during her time in grad school. Many from the community who aren't able to afford to go to a hospital lined up to get help from the doctors on site, and the students took turns praying for some of the individuals who received free medical assistance from the clinic. In the two hours they were open for medical treatment, the center served 44 people. It was quite an amazing experience seeing so many being given the support and help they are needing from their own community.
Our next stop on day one was a visit to another nonprofit called "Manay Gulzar," which means "A Place to Blossom." The school is located in the second biggest slum in Gujarati, the state which Ahmedabad is located in, and it is home to 60,000 people. The school serves those in the slum by giving those students who quit going to school outside of the slum easier access to an education, as well as giving counseling to those with alcohol addiction, helping people learn how to save money and teaching them the skills to find a job. We were given a tour of the school and the slum, and learned that it is quite a unique neighborhood because, instead of being segregated, both Hindus and Muslims have worship temples near each other and even go to school together.
After visiting the nonprofits, we travelled to the Gandhi Ashram and learned about the freedom movement which was started there. A couple of the students even learned how to spin cotton. We also got to taste some authentic Indian street food, a dish called "Chana Chor Garam" which is a spicy snack made from Chickpeas.
But the most exciting part of the day was riding in a rickshaw all around the city and getting a taste of the crazy traffic in Ahmedabad.
This is only the beginning of what will be an incredible and immersive experience, and we can't wait to see what the rest of our trip has in store for us!