Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Week 3: Sonrisa & Shaman
The great highlight of our week three in India has easily been the arrival of Shaman and Sonrisa to join Kris and I for the rest of December. Having two of our children with us adds a lot to our shared experiences. It is their first time ever traveling abroad as a adults and every day really is an adventure for them. In the photo featured here, you see them together with temple elephant in Kochi (formerly Cochin) -- an elephant who is featured in processions around the city in which donations are solicited for a local Hindu temple.
Upon arriving after their long flight, Kris and I thought it would be good to stay in Kochi, the largest city in Kerala (about the population size of Portland) where their plane touched down two hours late at about 5:30am. With the help of a very conscientious travel agent (Sebastion of Darasana Travel in Kottayam), we had secured a 2-star accomodation at Annes Residency in the Fort Cochin area of Kochi. Three nights allowed for the overcoming of jet lag, and an introduction to India including the visiting of sites typically seen by tourists coming to this historic city.
So it is in Kochi that we toured various markets, craft stores, and religious sites. The sites included St. Francis Church, built by the Portugese in the 15th Century and resting place of the explorer Vasco da Gama. There also was a Jewish Synagogue dating from the 9th Century which still is home to a very small community historically known as the Black Jews of Conchin. We also saw a Jain Temple complete with its swastika symbols (representing the beginning of a new age, as taught by the 7th century B.C. founder of this religion famous for its nonviolence: Mahavira). It seemed as though around every corner of this diverse city there was another Hindu Temple, Mosque, or history lesson.
In Kochi around every corner there also seemed to be another merchant or street vendor so eager to sell products to tourists as to approach harassment. While our family did make a few purchases of clothing for Sonrisa and Shaman, cashews for me, and a dustpan and tea amker for Kris -- for the most part we did not play a typical tourist role. Prices were often inflated to maximize whatever profit might be squeezed from the declining tourist trade. What cruise ships come into port (few in number because of the global economic situation) remain only a few hours and have their passengers transported only to selected businesses -- leaving many small shops desperate for customers.
After Kochi, our next five days were spent at our residence in Pala (still called Palai by most who live here). We toured St. Thomas College campus, where this week I had no teaching responsibilities beyond guest lecturing in three courses. Much of our family time was spent with the time consuming daily tasks of shopping for food, hand washing our clothes (to be air dried in the sun), and accepting hospitality from many who offered it. We went out to dinner three times, including once hosted by our neighbor Dr. Chummar and his wife and once to share with Fr. Mathew and others at the hostel where he and other priests reside.
No doubt the highlight of our time in Kochi was the annual Christmas celebration at St. Thomas College where we were treated as VIPs seated in the first row among a crowd packing the campus auditorium. Two hours of speeches, singing, dancing, skits, and other activities before lunch were followed by much more of the same after lunch -- all showcasing students talent and creativity. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were frequently present as was Santa Clause and many renditions of Jingle Bells. Unusual additions to the program included an appearance by a Michael Jackson impersonator (very popular), and various skits including one in which a politician was portrayed as having gotten a woman pregnant (metaphor for acting badly) while denying any personal responsibility for his actions (a comic portrayal of a commonly serious reality). Along with the non-Catholic Bishop of Pala, I was introduced to speak (having not been told of that duty beforehand) and managed to not look too foolish.
In the blog next week our trip (today) to a jungle area of interior Kerala will be reported along with our adventures traveling overnight to Chennai (Madras) by train to