Friday, December 4, 2009
Week 1 in India
Our departure from Portland on Nov. 27th morning seems a world away. The contrast in the week is stark: From frantically completing my 4 courses at Portland Community College (getting Final grades in two weeks early) -- to meeting with my students at St. Thomas College just 4 days later. Our trip required two days involving 22 hours of flying: including 14 hours in one marathon stretch from Newark New Jersey to Mumbai(Bombay)India. While flying my thoughts wandered back to our fine Thanksgiving celebration complete with our son Shaman (21), and daughters Sonrisa (25) and Mira (19) -- as well as our foster daughter Margarita (26) with her new husband Reynaldo, her stepson Reynaldo Jr., and new baby daughter Hanilynn.
WOW. Our first grandchild, less than one week old! When Kris and I return to Oregon she will be eight months old. We will have to really spoil her then, just to catch up on lost time!
While Hanilynn must take the prize for highlight of the week, so much has transpired as to make any full reporting too lengthy for most of you to have the patience to read. Put briefly: In Mumbai Kris and I were treated to a needed overnight rest at the Atithi Hotel -- courtesy of the Fulbright folks (your taxes at work). Before catching a flight to Kochi (Cochin) in the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 29th, Kris and I hired a taxi to see a little of this city of 19 million souls. There was the Taj Hotel, site of a terrorist attack just a year ago. There was the sea of rusting metal roofs where large portions of "Slumdog Millionaire" were filmed. To be seen also was a motorbike speeding past with a family of five all riding together! Most vivid to me was the elderly woman with an emaciated stomach not more than 15 inches around, stoically pushing a large cart to work. No doubt she is among the nearly 800 million (out of 1.1 billion people in India) who are said to live on less than $2. (about 90 Rupees) per day...
AT Kochi Airport we were greeted my the warm smile of Dr. Stany Thomas from St. Thomas College. He takes us by car to our new home in Pala (Palai) noting various sites along the route including the church of St. Thomas (dedicated to the one of the original twelve Apostles of Jesus who traveled to southern India, evangelized, and died here. There also is the temple dedicated to that most famous of Kerala's native sons: the great ancient Hindu religious philosopher Shankaracharya. After about two hours of visual overload complete with lush banana, coconut, mango, papaya, and teak trees everywhere -- and a stop to visit the family of Stany's sister -- we arrive in Palai, Kerala. That no accident has happened while constantly honking and weaving our way among buses, motor rickshaws, bicycles, carts, cows, and pedestrians seems like a near-major miracle!
Much of the remainder of this first week is devoted to moving into the living space Stany has arranged for us. With his apparently limitless energy, we have managed to make our unfurnished upstairs of a house functional. Purchasing a stove, refrigerator, kitchen utensils, groceries, cell phones, and a wireless internet connection for our laptop has me feeling both exhausted and too privileged in the context of life here. I am oddly comforted by the fact that our bed is but a thin mattress on a wooden platform and we have no television or hot water. The two bedrooms, living room, two bathrooms, and small kitchen are large enough to easily accomodate those we expect to visit -- but in a manner modest by comparison with someone of my supposed stature. We are located only one mile from the center of Pilai (a city of 25,000) and within a ten minute walk of St. Thomas College (where I teach) as well as St. Thomas Church (where the mass Kris attends almost daily is conducted in the native language of Malayalam).
As I now finish this first of a series of weekly reports, it is sunrise. Vehicles can be heard of the wet pavement that is the main road to town with cows and goats grazing on vegetation and garbage by its side. Birds are now singing tunes exotic to my ears. Chickens will soon be pecking their way freely throughout our back yard and tiny squirrels will be playing in the fruit trees. Best of all, the mosquitos will surrender their possession of the night as the 90-plus temperatures of the day is unwelcome to them. I try to remind myself of this positive fact as perspiration will have all humans wet by mid morning.
In my next entry I expect to focus more on my first impression of St. Thomas College, my students, and some of the challenges of teaching there. Know that any comments you have regarding these ramblings will be read! Hopefully I will have photographs available for viewing next week.
For all our family members and friends: You are most definately in our thoughts, and those thoughts provide warmth to the heart.
Peace Be With You All,
P.S. As a formality, let me make clear that all observations included in this blog will be only mine or my wife Kristine's -- and in no way represent any expression associated with the Fulbright or related programs, the U.S.-India Educational Foundation, or U.S. State Department.