Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cultural Commute

home can be made anywhere, but, [H]ome is always where family is.

21, 449 air miles.  Plus the thousands of miles spent crunched into busses, rickshaws, hitched rides, on motorcycles, and the hundreds of miles by foot.  Easily, a complete trip around the globe (~24, 902 miles) over the past three months.  A small commute.

All this to say that my period of extensive physical and emotional movement, dislocation, relocation, nomadic-yet-present-exploration is all about to be channeled into absolute mental movement.  The enrapturing embrace of the movement-lust that has carried my body, spirit, and mind so far around / through / into India and then for a heart-pounding two weeks across the States, has stirred inside me a "cultural commute" that eludes immediate explanation and seduces an all too-easy and superficial "It was great."  Far from ineffable, but by all means indelible.

Plenty of days have passed since leaving India, but the "feel" of the land has hardly left me.  Time and Place have been more than generous to allow me to continue travel since arriving back to States:  seeing essential pieces of my life in TN, DC, NC, and CO.

One day I'll figure out how not to leave this place.  Ever energized, yet calmed, by these JC roots.

Upon arriving back to Chi, I immediately landed into the thickness and height of helping Orientation events for the incoming students of the Divinity School -- what a beautiful crew:  welcome!  Not really until now, three days later, has there been a still and awake moment to sit, reflect, question, and absorb the past life lived en toto since June.        

The apt and rich words of my colleague, NZ, which title this post, could not be more in-line with my state of being.  Between the many conversations and shares about my experiences, her inspiring, motivational, and accounting delivery on collegiality from which these words have been taken, I find myself finally understanding in a short phrase the concept that so drives my passions and describes my time in India and then the past weeks here in the States.  Maybe one could replace cultural with emotional to capture the investment and attachment I have felt, but for now cultural is right.  Cultural Commuting:  a welcome internal movement for me; one I hope to actively be on and always invite others to share.

As someone who studies South Asia and the religions there, it is easy to recognize my distance from that place reading and writing 9, 000 air-miles away.  Easy to not make that commute.  Easy to stay in my own personal, cultural milieu.  But, the truth is, every time I read about, think on / with, write, or talk about the region, I must accept and proactively engage a cultural commute into different systems of being and believing.  Many scholars would argue otherwise in order to guard against uncritical writing -- fair, and I do agree for most work -- but for my interests, questions, and projects in conflict, I want to see, hear, taste, feel from within in order to engage issues and items of need.  NZ's words of commute reveal a struggle -- a forced difficulty laid onto one entering an environment different from one's own.  Maybe the environment is hostile, hesitant, hardened to outsiders.  But as she rightfully quoted Gandhi and MLK Jr., it is paramount for one to make that effort, urgent to take that commute and even to encourage co-commuters, in order to open up the insights, experiences, contributions, understanding, questions, shared-life -- the human-ness -- of others.

My hope is that these posts have facilitated that for you over the past three months.  With this post I end my writing and thoughts that grew while in India, but please check in here periodically as I will continue to write as I reflect back and learn anew my thoughts and questions on service, development, religions, people, ideas, languages, and life in India (and S. Asia).  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Power of Yes

This past week since finishing up at Seva and leaving Udaipur has been an amazing immersion into madly different geographic, cultural, linguistic, culinary, climatic, architectural, mental, and emotional environments.  Plenty to say in time, most on language, words, and intonation, but first a massive slideshow!

From the deep humidity and then monsoons of Rajasthan, I arrived in Amritsar, Punjab to a tearful evening spent circumambulating the Sikh Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib.

And since I don't like restrictions, so of course the next night, along with some new hostel mates, I headed to the Indo-Pak Wagah border to observe the gate ceremony...what a spectacle!

Literally, grand stands for visitors.  We are in a small, specified section for foreigners.
Pakistan is so close! 
Jai Hind.
The gates are open!  Then comes a flag ceremony shared between each country's border officers.
After a very homey, hot, and overall incredible few days in Amri, my Uncle ji dropped me at the airport, but of course not without first meeting his family-in-law and chai.  Stepping off the plane in Srinagar to announcements and signs of "This is an active military airport. No photography is allowed." was interesting, but the cool air met with the crisp, afternoon sunshine woke me up to the beauty and freshness of my surroundings, assuaging any hesitations. 

Maybe an hour later I am out wandering and strolling through this Nigeem Lake-side park.

The next day, yesterday, I headed out early for the Zojila Pass, the connecting mountain road from Amritsar to Leh.  

Naturally, chai stop early on the trip.

Two hours or so later, stopped on the pass.  Immaculate Himalayas.

Setting out to hike from Sonamarg...yes, that is snow.
All for the Chaco shot, and of course the Thajiwas Glacier.

Today held many wonders among the wanders.  I don't have any pictures from the morning, but I walked from my guesthouse to the Kashmir University.  What a gorgeous campus.  Please look up images online.  I don't know anything about its resources or strengths, but I learned from three 2nd-year engineering students it doesn't quite compare to the IITs for engineering.  These three did me a major solid and helped me to find wifi from another friend in the library so I could coordinate a meeting for the afternoon.  All set.  Pointed towards the bus and Nishat Gardens, I was off to learn about interpreting and translating for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jammu & Kashmir.  Apart from hearing about life in ICRC, probably the best meeting spot, ever.
Dal Lake sprawling beyond the terraced gardens of Nishat Bagh.

After the walk through the gardens, conversation, and chai, I was left to just soak in the mid-afternoon sun bouncing heavily off Dal Lake.  In no time more conversation found me along with the offer to go to Parimahal.  I didn't know what Parimahal was, where it was, what goes on there, or really even how to say it two seconds after I heard the name, but after talking with these two gentlemen for a second about Srinagar and their Delhi jobs, all I could say was yes.

And what a powerful yes.  The Kashmir Valley below.  Dal Lake absorbing the setting sun.