September 29, 2011

We are pilgrims, not tourists.

I enjoy conferences. I enjoy them so much. It’s hard to say if I like working behind the scenes more than I do attending. Well, it’s probably an even mixture. The past few days, the Madras Christian College Social Work Department has been hosting: a National Study Conference on the Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights. I was blessed to participate a bit behind the scenes with setting up the hall and being part of the Exhibition Committee and the Documentation Committee, because I’m currently a member of the MCC Social Work Department. :)

Our BCA crew and our lovely MSW professors. Prince, Priscilla, and Miriam.
Our Exhibition Committee was created on the Friday before Conference! The BCA kids had come to the Department for a big meeting about conference and everyone was gathered in their committees, but at the time we didn’t belong to any committees. So, Prince came over and told us that we had become the Exhibition Committee. Our role as the Exhibition Committee was to make sure that all of the poster presentations were hung and that we coordinated with those from other schools to make sure everything was in order with those. Our task was to make sure it looked “academic.” We decided to call ourselves the X-Team.

X-Team Assemble! JJ and I taping up some posters in the Hall. 
At the same time, Prince also asked us to collaborate amongst our team (The X-Team!) and design some posters to be hung up. No big deal. Go design these, bring it back this afternoon, and we’ll take a print out tonight! So, we hustled back to our hall to design 3 different posters. I opened up photoshop and made some designs, while our team helped to create catchy slogans to put onto them. I was really pleased with what we created and so was Prince. (Minus, the setbacks when we tried to first get them printed – something weird and technical that caused the images to be distorted when brought up at the Print Shop. God Bless, Karthik, and his patience for having to deal with that mishap on Friday and then having to go again with 3 different copies of each design on Saturday just to make sure nothing went wrong, because we did not have any more time!)

Working Together for a Better World
One Step at a Time
On Monday of Conference I had to present my poster! For my second CA (Continuing Assessment – i.e. exam), I researched a topic in relation to India and the MDGs and Human Rights. My topic was forced migration, which I have not researched much about at all until now. So, it was exciting to learn so much more about forced migration and internally displaced people in India. During the half hour, Conference participants wandered around asking each presenter questions. 

Photo Credit: Jess and Hannah, thanks! 

Photo Credit: Jess and Hannah, thanks! 

I was talking to Richard (II MSW) on Sunday before the Conference officially started and he was talking about how he was designing the booklet and it was all pretty much left to him. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Yeah, do you know how to use photoshop?” Oh, goodness. I do have some experience. So, each night of Conference I would help design some pages with Richard and Daniel (Documentation Committee Chair) to put into the book. 

Late nights, little sleep, and lots of work!?! Count me in!

Get this, though! After each day of Conference, we would have dinner and then the attendants would go to the Department to sleep and the MCC students would go to the auditorium for a meeting that started around 8:30pm. The girls who live on campus in Martin and Margaret Hall had to be back no later than 10pm. So, they would have to be hurried out as soon as our meeting finished. Then some local off-campus girls and hall/off-campus boys would linger to finish some things up for the next day. Since I am an exchange student, the Hall curfew is not as strict for me so I was allowed to stay a bit later. However, Professor Prince would always drive me back to my hall around 11:30pm or 12. He wanted to make sure that the guard would let me back in – he wouldn’t challenge a Professor, but he might challenge a male student walking me back late. It made collaborating or working on designs difficult in case Daniel wanted to assign something else or would want to make changes to something I made, but we made it work. Essentially, I would receive homework to do after I left. I didn’t mind leaving too much, since I was allowed to ride on the back of my Professor’s motorbike!

Conference was such a wonderful opportunity for us to spend more time with our fellow MCC MSW students. You could spend all the time in the world with students in a classroom, but you truly get to know someone when you have to work alongside them or collaborate. I have grown so much closer with so many of them over these conference days. Especially, with working on the Conference book with Richard and Danny and asking for tasks from the Hall Chairman, Karthik.

At the final meeting among the Department after Conference was over, Prince mentioned a lovely phrase that I think really sums up my experience of the weekend. We are Pilgrims, not Tourists. Yes!  This completely describes my conference experience! My greatest fear is that I’ll be a tourist on this journey, instead of forming friendships and having meaningful moments with all of my new friends. I am so thankful for these moments as a pilgrim.
Photo Credit: Larsen Michael. 
These people are so fantastic and they KNOW how to put on a successful conference! <3 


I realized that you might not be aware of the Millennium Development Goals. I wasn’t aware of them before I arrived in India, probably because I’m from a Developed Nation. They are a set of 8 goals drafted by the United Nations for developing nations to achieve by 2015.
The 8 Goals are:
1. Eradicate Poverty and Hunger
2. Achieve Universal Primary Education
3. Promote  Gender Equality and Women Empowerment
4. Reduce Child Mortality
5. Increase Maternal Health
6. Combat HIV/AIDs, Malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability
8. Develop Global Partnerships
(Booyah! I wrote all of those from memory!) 


PS - I'll do an update post on A) my excursion to Hyderabad and on B) what I actually learned at conference and more reflections about it! 

PPS - I go to Delhi in two days! I finally get to see the Taj Mahal!! 

September 11, 2011

A Rural Sunday at Gnanamani's

Away We Go! 
Joel, Mohan, and I departed around 8:30 to get to Gnanamani's. We are headed to her village which is about 2 hours travel away from MCC. She had invited the MSW department to her home for a house warming. So, after a bus ride for about an hour to get to a town outside of Chennai, we rode in an auto for about 20 minutes. We soon caught up to this motorist ahead of us. Guess who that is!?! Gnanamani! This girl is TOO cool. 

"Had your breakfast?"
"Had your breakfast?" is a common phrase we hear ever day here. Above, is the breakfast Gnanamani's family served us upon our arrival. (From left to right: Banana, Idlee, Rice something, curd something, sambar, and a glass of water.) Being able to eat breakfast demonstrates that you are more well off than most.

These are a few of my friends from the Masters of Social Work Department at Madras Christian College. G- had invited us all to come to her house warming day and we took a walk through some of her farmland.
(From left to right: Joel, Mohan, Michael, Gnanamani, Grace, Linda, and me)

Gnanamani can swim! 
While on our walk through the fields, we came upon Gnanamani's irrigation well that her family uses to pump water to their field. She knows how to SWIM! Most girls in India don't know how to swim, because of modesty issues that can occur from tight, wet clothes and it can be hard to get lessons. Gnanamani just jumped right in - kurta and all! 

Swimming, swimming...
We couldn't let Gnanamani have all the fun so I jumped in after her and then we were all in! Out of the whole bunch only 3 of us knew how to swim, but the others waded on the steps. It was SOOO refreshing! 

Teach me how to dive, Katie!
Since the well was so deep, I dived in a couple times! Poor Joel, attempted a dive and it ended in a belly flop. :/ Thank you Mom and Dad for time at the Beach and Pool and for those swim lessons oh so long ago! 

Chief Guest: Katie 
Somehow (because I'm American) I was the chief guest of the day. Oh, goodness, you have no idea how humbling that was - I am not worthy to be a Chief Guest for anything! I was asked to place the shawl, first, on this man before I received the shawl myself. I believe he was a local minister.

Receiving the Shawl
Then, this woman placed the shawl around me and a prayer was said over the house and family. At least, I think so. It was all in Tamil. Gnanamani's Uncle did explain that their village was started in the 1930's by American missionaries and an American has not visited their village in over 70 years. So, they viewed it as a very big deal that I would visit their village. How could I miss an opportunity to visit a rural village and Gnanamani's home!? Thanks girl! 

"Do you know how to climb a tree?"
Mohan asked me. "Of course I know how to climb a tree!" I exclaimed. Well, not this kind of tree it turns out. A boy from Gnanamani's village climbed this tree to toss down some coconuts for the MSW students and I to have. How impressive is that!?

Drinking FRESH Tender Coconut
So, I have had Tender Coconut before...but that was from a stall. This coconut had just been dropped seconds before from a tall, tall tree that a young boy climbed. This coconut was much tastier - plus NO STRAW. Joel just told me - "Put your lips around the opening. Drink and don't think about it!" Thanks, Joel.  Apparently, TC can stain your clothes...I didn't spill a drop on my clothes thankfully!

Eating FRESH Tender Coconut!
Once I finish drinking the water from my coconut a machete is used to cut it wide open down the middle, exposing an orb center with a coconut meat in it. I'm given a nifty coconut scooper to scoop with. Joel lends me a hand and shows me how it's done properly. Then I have a go!

Rural India
Can we just have a moment and marvel at beautiful, rural India? Ok. Thank you. It smelled like home - cow manure. I don't know why everyone at BC is so averse to this smell. I'm so weird, but I just love it and it doesn't bother me at all. It was such a nice smell after coming from air pollution, sewage, and trash. I breathed deep and marveled at the green. Oh, my heart.  

Mohan Commandeered my camera. Obviously.
At first, I thought Karthik was really quiet and sometimes we have a hard time understanding each other because of our accents - but I am so glad he was there today. I make faces in response to some situations and Karthik makes his own faces in response to mine and then we laugh together. Oh, thank you, Karthik! We were walking along to get coconuts and he asked where my other BCA friends were and I told him they were busy. His response was, 
"Clearly, I like you." 
Of course, I'm thrown off guard, but he finishes by saying, 
"Because you came today!"
They all have such good senses of humor. We all had such a wonderful time!  
(From left to right: Karthik, Jarthro, and Mohan)

Me and Gnanamani in front of her new home. 
Meet Gnanamani. She is a delightful girl who lives in my hall and is in the MSW department. She is a second year post grad. She is the ONLY girl from her village to pursue a post grad degree. Her parents were very adamant about their children getting proper schooling. She has spent a lot of time in hostels in Chennai going to school, because there aren't proper schools near her village. 
She and her family built this house with their own hands! I have seen her Monday mornings exhausted from spending a weekend at home working laboriously on their home. Somehow she manages it all and is the smartest student in our classes and gets the top marks of anyone. 

September 7, 2011

A View of Pondicherry through Mealtimes!

I’m not a food blogger. Sometimes I’ll post pictures of the cookies or peace cakes that I bake sometimes, but I’m not an avid food blogger. However, I am going to give you a taste of our Pondycherry vacation through “most” every meal that I ate! Feast your eyes on some delicious foods! 

Wednesday Evening
Our first evening in Pondy we dined at Don Giovanni's beautiful Italian rooftop restaurant! 
Spaghetti Pesto!
 Tiramisu (with legitimate Chocolate Liquor)

 Breakfast: Bon Bakes - Almond Croissant

Juice Break: Coffee Door - Apple Juice

The juices in India are always legitimate! You can't see through them because they are so frothy and full of real fruitiness!  

Pre-Lunch: Flunch - Croissant and Scrambled Eggs

 Snack: Ice Cream Parlour - ChocoCherry Sundae

Lunch: 24 Hour Coffee Lounge - Vegan Sandwich 
(It was so good I forgot to get a picture!)

Breakfast: Daily Breads - Caffe Latte

Lunch: Auroville Cafe - Guava Juice & Broccoli Quiche w/ salad
(Look at those veggies!!!!)

 Dinner: Don Giovanni's - Spaghetti
(Yep, we HAD to go back.)

Breakfast: Daily Bread - Walnut and Pineapple Salad

 Dinner: Anu's House!
Bhel Puri 

 The Spread: Poori, Stuffed Parota, Chickpea Curry...etc,etc. 

Breakfast:24 Hour Coffee Lounge - The Continental

Lunch: Mahaballeepuram - FISH
(No, I didn't eat this, but it's the catch of the day for display. The crab was still alive.)

Not eating Rice and Sambar was honestly the highlight of this vacation. Now back to rice in the mess hall! Honestly, I don't mind rice at all. I love eating rice...and thankfully I haven't grown tired of eating it. But I'm always an advocate of some diversity!