Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was a beautiful way to close our experience in India. The love story, the infrastructure, and the nature surrounding it reminded me of India as a whole. The story reminded me that everyone has a beginning. Every individual and organization that we came into contact with started somewhere. It could have been good, or bad. Regardless, I feel like everything is united by the struggles that we’ve faced at some point in time. The building and the intricate architecture reminded me that through creation and innovation, something new and helpful can begin, just like all of the NGOs that we came into contact with. RIWATCH, the Angelo Women’s Empowerment Group, Rahi, and so much more were like that. The nature surrounding it reminded me of new life and the generation to come in India. As a whole this country is thriving. There is poverty and a variety of social issues, but it is advancing. And, with the new generation to come, it can only grow more. It has so been great to see all of things in action first hand, and with that, I hope to become a better social worker.

~Magdala~

I was thoroughly impressed with “The Taj.” We got there before anyone else, and was able to experience the outside view against the backdrop of the sunrise, which was really awesome! I really enjoyed the pictures with the Taj Mahal in the background. In some ways, my experience was unbelievable. During our journey I’ve experienced so many things that I thought could never be topped, and as always, today’s experience was no exception. Although I’d heard of the Taj Mahal, I never understood the story behind it. After doing some research and listening to our guide, I was amazed that a person’s love for another could be so strong, so as to inspire a magnificent monument like this. That is true love! So now my goal is to learn to love my wife even stronger than I already do, and to never to her for granted. Thank God for this once in a life time opportunity! Study Abroad rocks!

~Reggie~

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I was amazed about the grandeur of that place! Magnificent building symbolizing eternal love.  I was impressed about the beauty and the Persian and Indian architecture and the minimal details that entailed the 22-year construction. It took thousands of workers and tons and tons of marble and endless semi-precious stones from different parts of world to finish the one of the most amazing construction in the world. For me was an amazing experience, as the whole trip has been, but the love story behind one of the 7 wonders of the world was absolutely the highlight of this trip. The visit to Taj Mahal was a great way to end our study abroad. I’m feeling so grateful for this whole experience as will change my live forever! Namaste!

~Carol~

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Walking through the Taj Mahal barefoot and feeling the marble beneath my feet was a surreal experience. I had heard the great love story that sparked the building of the mausoleum that is the Taj Mahal but being able to see it is a completely different story. When you are actually within the mausoleum and able to see the intricate carvings within the marble and the time and energy that must have gone into each square foot of the building gave a new respect to the history behind the place. Even after leaving the mausoleum and relaxing in front of the building viewing the garden was an experience. Feeling the breeze and taking in the peaceful of the scenery warranted the awe-inspiring respectful tones and manners found throughout the mausoleum and its grounds. This will forever be an experience imprinted on my brain and something I will look back on fondly.

~Leah ~

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Going to the Taj Mahal today was such an amazing experience. The Taj itself was breathtaking and just so beautiful. Hearing the story behind the Taj Mahal made the Taj even more beautiful. The tour guide articulated the history behind it very well. When going towards the Taj Mahal it was very invigorating and surreal almost. Taking pictures from the sunset almost made the Taj look like it was a painting. When inside and stepping on the marble really made me feel like I was stepping back in history. It was such an amazing experience and I’m so thankful I was able to experience seeing one of the seven wonders of the world.

~Mary~

 

 

Being able to go to the Taj Mahal today was such an amazing experience. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and it had such a serene quality to it. Being able to walk on the marble floor in the mausoleum was very surreal. However, it really saddened me to see all of the trash that surrounded the site because this place is not just one of the 7 Wonders of the World, but it is a grave site- two people were buried there. It should not have been disrespected with trash. However, I later learned that it was not typically treated this way and was only like this due to the union workers going on strike. This made me feel slightly better. Overall, being at the Taj Mahal, and hearing the story behind it, was an experience I will never forget. It truly is a wonder of the world.

~Erin~

Indescribable. The detail, the beauty, the love. The Taj Mahal is the only building in the world I would wake up at 4am for. It is unbelievable it took over 22 years to complete and I enjoyed learning the fascinating history behind the mausoleum. The feeling of cold marble under your feet and the intricate detail of the artisan gemstones delicately placed is unforgettable. I will remember visiting this picturesque Buddhist palace for the rest of my life.

~Olivia~

The last destination on our trip through India was the Taj Mahal. It is a once in a lifetime experience to enter into a place built out of love. One man built the Taj Mahal as a tomb in honor and memory of his wife. The same man had about 500 concubines and several wives, but I have no doubt that love was present. Taj Mahal is one of the few landmarks in the world on the UNESCO world heritage list and I feel honored and blessed to have visited, especially wearing a saree in the color of love. To me, love really is what the Taj Mahal represents and as I sat down viewing the building I just imagined what kind of powerful feelings must have been moving for someone to build this mausoleum to honor just one other person, it must have been true love.

~Anne~

A trip to India is not complete unless you see the Taj Mahal.  The monument is impressive on its own, without knowing much about how it is built.  After learning what kind of work goes into inlaying marble, I have an even greater appreciation for this architectural marvel.  It is definitely the most beautiful mausoleum I have ever seen.  Personally, I appreciated the chance to explore the Taj before thousands of other tourists arrived.  The perks of getting up at 4 in the morning.  There are so few opportunities to experience places like this without the hustle and bustle of what seems like millions of tourists all clicking away with their cameras.  I’m glad that we got to be those tourists taking a bunch of pictures.  Cross this off the bucket list.  But, I’m also glad I could just wander around and truly experience the Taj Mahal without all that tourist craziness.

Kira

 

 

 

 

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India Day 12 -5.22.16- Hello Agra

Day 12 for me started off really nicely because I woke up and took a shower- not a bucket bath- and had actual hot water for the first time since arriving in India. This shower, even though it seems insignificant, really made me appreciate so many things in my life that I normally take for granted. After my perspective giving shower, the group met downstairs for breakfast before our departure to Agra. Some were awake, and others were not. We are nearing the end of our trip and sleep is becoming more and more desired. However, breakfast seemed to revitalize everyone because the food was so delicious. We had been on such a routine for the last few days, that having something a little different was exciting. I never knew how much the food would vary from region to region until I actually experienced it.

After breakfast, we checked out of our rooms, loaded up the bus, and were on our way to Agra! It was about a 5 hour drive in total so many people slept or listening to music along the way. We made a pit stop about halfway through to use the bathroom and I had a scoop of probably the best mango ice cream I’ve ever had! So for me, it was a successful car ride. As we got closer to the city of Agra, I began to notice a change. It was much more touristy than any of the previous places we had been, and it felt weird to be in a place like this. I saw multiple groups of Americans and Europeans. We didn’t seem to get stared at as much probably because it was a more typical for tourists to be seen in Agra. All in all, it was just a bit of an adjustment coming to a new area. Agra is a beautiful city and our hotel is gorgeous. We stopped by the hotel to drop off our bags before going to lunch. To give you a picture of how nice the hotel is- there is a doorman, telephones in the bathroom, and I hear you can see the Taj Mahal from the rooftop!

For lunch we went to Pizza Hut, but this is Indian Pizza Hut so it is a little different. It is basically the same, just with some modifications. The pizza I got had panner on it, which are cheese cubes essentially, and some type of pepper. It also had some red pepper flakes, so the pizza was a little spicy. Not really like any pizza I have had in the U.S. However, I really enjoyed it! I also really enjoyed the surprise entertainment we had before our meal. The Pizza Hut employees all gathered together and danced, which is something that they do randomly for the enjoyment of their guests. They were all amazingly talented and I think we should have more entertainment restaurants in America!

After our meal, we went to observe how some local carpets are made. It was a really intense process because they are handwoven and take months to complete. They were all very intricate and I could definitely see why people come from all over the world to come buy carpets from here. One of the carpets we watched being made was a team effort. It took two men to work on and they had to be working in sync or else the pattern would be messed up. It amazed me how their timing was the same and how they could do something like this for hours. They must have incredible focus, and really strong hands. All I could think about was if back problems or arthritis was common among these workers. If I learned anything from this trip, it was how to be a better advocate.

After the carpet store, we stopped in a souvenir store to shop and get henna. Most of the girls got henna done and I think I can say that we all ended up really enjoying it. Some of the henna turned out better than others, but the experience in and of itself was really amazing. All of the henna was beautiful and it was interesting to see what people requested. Some requested elephants, lotus flowers, and some people even asked for the henna to be done on their faces! I’ve had henna done before, but to be able to say that I had received henna in India is something that I will probably never be able to say again and that is really cool.

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After everyone’s henna was finished, we went back to the hotel. We had some down time before dinner, so my roommate and I went to the rooftop to explore. It was so beautiful to see the city from so high up, and it was true that you can see the Taj Mahal from the roof. It was really relaxing to be able to sit and enjoy the view as the sun went down and listen to the city noise. It was insanely hot because there was a heat wave, so even though the sun was setting it was 115 degrees. But even the heat was somehow still nice. Mary and I spent about an hour on the roof before going down to dinner and meeting the rest of the group.

After dinner, the group gathered together once more for circle time. The professors shared “appreciations” and the students shared “paper plate awards.” The appreciations were Dr. Joshi and Dr. Carrion’s way of telling us what they had come to appreciate about us throughout the trip, and the paper plate awards were basically superlatives for everyone based on things that had occurred on the trip. It was a really nice bonding time for the group to be able to share all of that, but it was also becoming increasingly more real just how soon we were to be leaving and going home. It was bittersweet, at least for me, because I am glad to be going home but I have really gotten close with everyone here. I have learned so much from this trip and from the people who have taken the time to talk to us, but I have also learned a lot from my peers. 2 weeks is not a very long time, but a lot has happened in these two weeks and I am grateful for every moment of it.

India Day 11-5.21.16-Goodbye Assam

This study abroad trip has not been a vacation, even if some of our amazing experiences has made it seem that way. After almost two weeks of non-stop activities in India, any form of down time comes as a welcomed chance to process all the things we’ve seen and done, and to rest our minds and bodies. Today was that chance.

The day started late since we had the opportunity to sleep in-and we all know how much college students enjoy sleeping. But too soon it was time to leave. Before setting off for the airport, though, we gathered to share with each other our experiences since arriving in Assam.  We discussed the challenges we’ve faced, our suggestions for Vijay Gi, and our gratitude towards him for everything he did for us. While common in social work, this “circle time” was often a challenge for me both as an extremely private person who’s bad at winging it and as a non-social work major. However, I found that it provided a good sense of closure, and made our departure just a little less difficult.

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Goodbyes are never easy, especially when you’ve come to love a new place and all the people who made it feel like home.  I know I speak for everyone in our group when I say that we feel extremely grateful for the incredible hospitality of every person we met and all the opportunities we had to learn.  We spent a week fully immersing ourselves in a culture and a way of life so different from our own.  This could not have been done so successfully without the help of Vijay Gi and everyone working at RIWATCH, and Dibrugarh University.

So, after saying goodbye to Vijay Gi and Dibrugarh University, we boarded our flight for Delhi. The flight was long and uneventful, but I know many of us appreciated the time to catch up on more sleep and our journaling.  I admit I opted for sleep instead of journaling.

I did take the time to reflect back on our journey, at least when I was conscious.  The flight back to Delhi was, in a way, the end of our study abroad-at least the study part of this trip. Once we arrived, we would do all the tourist-y things you do when you go to India, like take pictures in front of the Taj Mahal, buy all the souvenirs we can, and maybe even get some henna if we’re lucky.  Now that the end is quickly approaching, I find myself struggling to describe what the last week and a half has meant to me.

It has been a long time since I have been so completely out of my element, surrounded by people with a different academic focus.  For once, was the one struggling to keep up, trying to learn what social work is and analyze how it is put into practice at the same time. If I had to name one thing I got out of this experience, it would be the expansion of my perspective.

As a molecular biology major, my focus becomes more and more specialized each year.  The concepts and processes I am learning function at the atomic level.  As a result, the big picture gets a little fuzzy.  But many of us in biology majors are also on the pre-med track. As future doctors, it is dangerous to be so narrowly focused.  This experience has challenged me in many ways, but it has also given me a deeper understanding of the factors that affect people’s health, their responses to medicine, and the challenges they live with everyday.  I had gotten lost in all the little technical aspects of what I study.  I had lost track of why I had even wanted to study it in the first place.  I can’t say that I’ve found answers to all of my questions or that I have “found my way.” If any thing, I have more questions and doubts than I did before I came to India.  I can say, though, that the experience is far more valuable than what I could have learned about India from a textbook.  At least some of the big picture has become clearer.  Wherever I end up, whatever I end up doing, I know what I have seen and learned will change the way I look at my work and my own life.  I will never be done processing, because there will always be more to learn.  I only hope more people take the chance to experience something like this.    The end of this adventure is bittersweet. I have no idea how we will be able to say goodbye to all the people who have so warmly welcomed us into their country and homes when we leave India.

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

A big part of studying social work is the constant reinforcing that we are never done learning. People grow, new concepts are learned, and we as a result are constantly re-framing what we know as clinicians, service providers, etc.. The experiences learned thus far really targeted this core concept of social work in that every new item we learned expanded our education base but also lent to us having to acknowledge that each individual we met have their own challenges and strengths they use within their communities. Our goal for this program was to learn about the socio-cultural context of indigenous people’s health within Northeastern India in the Himalayas. However, stamping our perspective of their health challenges would be unfair as each person has their own culture – their own experiences, perspectives – that makes up the bigger picture and should be acknowledged and respected when we bring back what we have seen and experienced during this program. So when people ask me what I learned during this program it would have to be the constant underlying of how there may be umbrella-ing motives of hospitableness, artistic talents, community bonds but each person is an individual with their own strengths and apply them daily. This is a belief I hold personally of every person I meet and it does not change no matter which land I stand on and what it may be called. The terrain may look vastly different, but this elemental belief has remained constant.

India Day 10 -5.20.16- Dibrugarh University

Day 10 started off blessedly sunny. Many people were late for breakfast, likely because they were so happy to be sleeping in a real bed again. Today we went to Dibrugarh University’s Centre for Social Work Studies, where the faculty presented us with an overview of the program and showed us a documentary on their work in rural tribal communities. Afterwards we had the opportunity to interact one-on-one with the MSW students. Being able to discuss global social issues with our peers is something I’ve enjoyed this entire trip!


Next our group, new friends included, went to the university’s anthropology museum. The students were able to explain tribal artifacts better than we could have figured things out on our own and we learned quite a bit.

We had a quick lunch at the guest house then journeyed to a local outdoor market. Fresh fruits, tea, and jewelry were among our most sought-after items. As a few girls were buying tea a group of men congregated around us. There was maybe a dozen of them, just sitting/standing, taking pictures, and watching us. The attention we get for being American is not something I can get used to.


Back at Dibrugarh University, we attended a cultural celebration/ goodbye party for the graduating class. It was supposed to start at 6:30 pm so, like foreigners, we arrived at 6:30 pm. The event didn’t begin until 8! We forgot about “Indian Time”- the fact that Indians tend to be late for everything. Unfortunately half of our group, professors included, had decided to get dinner and come back. Only five of us were present when the hostess began to call us up to the stage and present us with the beautiful red and white scarves associated with Assam. It was a complete surprise and we were caught off guard when they began to ask us questions, and then the worst- ask us to sing. Lacking musical talent we panicked and refused, and thankfully agreed on a compromise of instead attempting an Indian dance. It was awkward, but absolutely hilarious when the rest of the group came back and had to do the same things.


There were beautiful live music and dance performances. We spent the rest of the night learning traditional Assamese folk dances and sweating like crazy with our new friends. It was the perfect way to end our time in Dibrugarh.

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Meeting like-minded individuals within the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Dibrugarh University was a momentous occasion along the trip. Just when we thought the journey had come to a fairly solid closure we began to experience so much more. Being able to talk to MSW students on social challenges and how they were using their own strengths to overcome the challenges continued our education on health practices within Northeastern India. The students informed us on how they use street plays and additional artistic endeavors to gain the awareness of social challenges like substance use and the promotion of education to people within their communities.

As we have come to be accustomed to during our brief journey within India, celebrating the graduating class students’ advancement beyond Dibrugarh University wouldn’t be a celebration without a showing of their individual artistic talents. Our group was lucky enough to experience their talents in singing, instruments, and dancing. We were able to learn their style of dance (or at least we tried) through their guidance and were once more shown their hospitality and general affability as we were encouraged to celebrate with them.

5.19.16 Blog Day 9: RIWATCH to Assam, India

The day started off with breakfast.There were many treats, the most enjoyable of which I found to be fried bread. We prepared for our journey and started saying our goodbyes. We gave USF hats to the students who were volunteering at RIWATCH over their summer break. Headgear was also given to the kind fellows who fed us each day. After all the humans had received their goodbyes I also said goodbye to Babu, the stubby tailed dog whom I befriended and named. I also gave a belly rub to a pup whom I had met that day when the professors were not watching.

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On our way out we stopped at the RIWATCH museum that is currently under construction and we were told that the museum would contain artifacts from an Arunachal Pradesh archaeological dig site. The section of the museum that would be devoted to animal trapping sounded particularly interesting to me.

After that we enjoyed a 7 hour car ride to Assam which was not all that eventful, except for at one point we saw an adorable monkey on the side of the road. So of course, we had to stop traffic and take pictures. We may have gotten honked at…a lot.

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The car ride was broken up by a ferry ride across the river. It was very sunny, so I dangled my legs over the edge in the hopes that they might get splashed and cool me down. The driver of our car asked me to move back (twice), I think he thought I would fall in.

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Rila, one of the students from RIWATCH left us along the way to go back home. I thought it was sweet how much she and Magdala bonded, that they even exchanged bracelets. Rila even cried when she hugged us goodbye. We also stopped for a yummy lunch and I tried a Lassi, which is a delicious yogurt drink. Afterwards my tummy hurt, but I’m not sure it was the Lassi’s fault, as my tum had been slightly funky for a few days prior to that.

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By the end I was dying to get out of the car. We passed by some type of political rally due to the recent election. Finally we arrived at FabIndia where we shopped our hearts out. I think the store would be happy to have us back again. We got back to Dibrugarh University and settled down for the night, resting our weary eyes after our lengthy travels and energizing for the next day.

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

This was a day full of goodbyes. Goodbye to the staff and people residing at RIWATCH, goodbye to new friends made, and goodbye to the continual hands-on learning of the rural communities within Arunachal Pradesh. At this point in the trip it felt like our journey was mostly over and the mood of the group was starting to shift as we approached the last leg of our program. Once again we found ourselves traveling on dirt roads and taking a ferry unlike any we could have ever imagined riding within the USA. The modes of transportation really underlined the differences within the infrastructure in the rural areas of India versus more urban areas and led the group to asking questions in regards to how the people living within the state receive supplies when nature strikes (e.g. heavy storms, flooding, etc.). Generally, the response was “wait it out” and “hope for the best.”

India Day 8 – 18.05.16. – Final full day in AP

Mone

This morning we started our day with a session of breathing yoga. This is said to be the best, and most important type of yoga because it clears one’s system. Many of us found it refreshing.

Shortly thereafter we left for a local resort center where we met an elephant named Mone and her trainer. The experience was beautiful, emotional, and bitter sweet. Mone (Moon-ee) was a 13-14’ Asian elephant who was 60-70 years old. She was brought to us for us to ride, but after three of us took a short trip on her, we were introduced to the reality of her situation. Mone was kept in captivity and when she wasn’t being used for labor she was kept in chains. She was mostly used to move timber, and in reality, elephants aren’t meant to carry heavy loads on their backs. When we asked her owners if she was treated well they said no, which was very honest and true. In reality, how can one actually treat an animal well if the animal is to be tamed and trained. We were all blinded by the whimsical nature of the elephant ride that we somewhat disregarded the life of the creature being used for our entertainment. We quickly learned our lesson. The elephant rides continued while some of us abstained. During the rides some of us talked to the locals who were traveling with us who were curious about our thoughts. After telling them how we felt they expressed that elephant riding is normal and often the only way to travel effectively. This put things in perspective. Before we left we offered Mone an entire bag of bananas. She gladly excepted and searched around the area for more, sniffing them out amongst us. In a situation like this it’s hard to know what was right and what was wrong. At the end of the day, only Mone would be able to answer that.

After this we gathered at the resort where we ate an authentic Mishmi lunch with members of the Angelo Mendo Women’s Empowerment Society. These women were advocators of women and children’s rights in Arunachal. They focused on intervening in legal and societal disputes, community education, and more that we were able to learn in the short hour that we spent with them. We discussed issues of alcoholism, parenting, children’s rights, and societal norms. To advocate, they often created striking visuals or preformed street plays to get their point across. It was amazing to see such a powerful organization in a region where the male to female ratio is visibly imbalanced.

Thankfully for us, during our stay in Arunachal a local cultural festival was taking place. Local men and women gathered in the streets wearing traditional tribal clothing, and umbrellas. The rain did not slow them down. We watched as they marched, danced, chanted, and imitated battle scenes while carrying the traditional sacred plant. As they passed by they invited us to join, and some of us did. The meaning of the festival was to welcome, and many of us felt the invitation. In fact, this was only the second time that outsiders were invited to join the festival.

Our last visit of the day was a visit to the Deputy Commissioner’s office of the Lower Dibany Valley District, Shri Ravi Dhawan IAS. There we met him and his wife who was also a commissioner, and we had the chance to ask questions about things that affect the community on a large scale. We discussed community bonds, substance abuse, waste disposal, and more. One interesting thing that we gathered from this visit was how the officials acknowledge and respected community values. For example, they often ensured that individual tribes were represented equally. If ten community positions had to be filled, individuals from each tribe would be represented equally, rather than choosing the ten best among all of the tribes. In this situation it was a matter of cultural respect rather than ethics.

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Again we were exploring the northeastern landscape of India and the people who live there. Today we learned one of the harshest realities – it’s not always people who have health and challenges but sometimes the wildlife as well. In the case of Mone many faced the ethical dilemma of engaging in riding the elephant in sport as a way to know more closely how people within the area commute via transportation. The dilemma came from the understanding that it would be engaging in riding an animal for sport rather than a necessity to bring in supplies. Each person made their choice depending on their comfort level.

Learning about one’s culture doesn’t just include their social challenges like discussed with the women’s empowerment group but also of their celebrations like with the Adi/Lhoba tribe. The importance of this celebration was evident in the ongoing festivities despite the down-pouring of rain that day. As stated, the overlying meaning of the celebration was a ‘welcome,’ but more specifically they were welcoming their gods to bless their upcoming harvests. However, this welcoming was even more significant as we were the first Americans from the USA that were able to take part in observing this particular festival. This was especially important to me as I have always been a firm believer that to know someone’s challenges you must also know their strengths and celebrations are always a good indication of where their strengths lie. In this instance, the community bonds were very evident.

India Day 7 – 17.05.16 – RIWATCH Continued

This is day 7 of our amazing Indian experience, and our adventure continues. We started the  day with yoga, learning several relaxation exercises after a brief orientation on the purpose of yoga.

After breakfast we visited a tea garden and learned how green and regular tea is made, from being picked, through the finishing process. This was really fascinating, and what was even more amazing was the fact that both are made from the same identical leaves! During the green tea process, the leaves are picked, boiled, rolled, and then dried again. However, when making brown tea, after the leaves are picked, they go through a blower to dry them out, and then are put into a conveyor system where they are ground down to fine grains, dried, and undergo a color change on it’s own. The smell where this process occurs is unbelievable! We all had an opportunity to taste freshly made green tea right off the press and it was really good, although super strong.

After lunch we visited an alternative and traditional Mishmi house. We learned that each house is unique, depending on the tribe, and abide by a different set of house rules. We got to see the different types of tools used for hunting, as well as the attire at the alternative house. There were also a host of skulls from the different animals kill during the hunt. The traditional house that we visited was much different. For one thing, you had to bend just to fit into the house, and stay bent down to move about. The house had a pure bamboo floor and the roof was made of rice weed. Although it had been raining all night, the inside of the house was completely  dry. We were surprised to see that they had color TV.

After leaving there we went to the local community center and attended a lecture on Indian art forms, and then watched Ms. Lumi perform a dance illustrating her local tribal experience. She was truly amazing! Then four very brave members from our group volunteered to learn a step or two, and represented USF very proudly.

The day would not have been complete without a trip to the local trade fair, where many members were able to purchase local souvenirs for their family and friends. Tomorrow, the journey continues!

 

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Learning of the tribes within Arunachal Pradesh continued to be intriguing. They were so culturally rich and many individuals had artistic talents as was evident by the lecture provided by Lumi. In a land that is so vastly diverse where the people know multiple languages and engage in artistic talents it can make someone from the USA feel like they have so much more to learn and experience. India has such varied landscapes and through Vijay Gi’s leadership we had the opportunity to meet a wide range of individuals of varied walks of life in Northeastern India. From Lumi who is a lecturer of fine arts to a tea estate owner to members of the Mishmi tribe. Each one had their own unique stories to tell and strengths to lend to their communities. By the end of the day, we as a group were afforded the education and experience of dabbling within the culture found within Aruchanal Pradesh.

India Day 6 – 16.05.16 – Embracing Arunachal Pradesh

Namaste.

What an experience this has been! We are in our second day at RIWATCH and the weather in Arunachel Pradesh considerably differs than Delhi’s. It hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived but it’s so peaceful to sleep to at night, bundled up in mosquito net beds. I am absolutely fascinated by the 2 feet long earth worms roaming around the wet ground and the prevalence of leeches.

After our breakfast of fresh bananas and chai tea, we attended a lecture on the Challenges of Preserving Endangered Languages in Arunachal Pradesh. There are 35+ living tongues within the state and they are slowly dwindling due to a large gap between younger and older generations interest of preserving the unwritten script. First stop of the day was visiting the district hospital in Roing, hosted by the community gynecologist.

Dr. Pulu’s loyal passion to serve his community was inspirational despite his higher paying job opportunities. It was fascinating to learn medical services, medications, and vaccinations are free of charge due to the government funded hospital. Next we had the honor to meet an influential person within the AP community who was a member of parliment. He invited us into his ornate home greeting us with coffee and cake, or as Dr. Joshi would say, “Bollywood-themed”.  The hospitality among India has exceeded my expectations. He spoke about his passion for education, employment, and the religions among India. It was interesting listening to his view points on the strengths and weaknesses of Arunachal as a community. He also described the secular religion as one of the nation’s strength, among the quantity of indigenous tribes.

We concluded the night with a curry and vegetable filled dinner, then headed to our cottages.

 

Good night.

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Throughout the day we endeavored to broaden our knowledge on health and social challenges within the the Northeastern India communities. It has been a common theme along this trip to notate the similarities and differences of India and the USA. To understand the strengths and difficulties of each location has been my own personal mission as a way of understanding what India excels in as a means to incorporate a broader sense of what best practices could be when working with the population I work with back home. At this point, it was becoming clear that many people I spoke with considered the community bonds to be a great source of strength. To rely on their family and local communities as a place of positive support was many times reiterated through talking with individuals. As someone who works on a micro level within social work, being able to incorporate the community within interventions of the people I serve in a sense opened doors up within my mind on how to connect the community to the individual being served within the confines of the policies that rule how I provide services.

India Day 5 – 15.05.16 – RIWATCH Arrival

Today has been exhausting both mentally and physically. I don’t know why because today has been restful in the sense we have been traveling mostly. Maybe the change in pace or this new lifestyle is just setting in. Some of us woke up early this morning and were able to go for a short run and explore the monastery. The golden pagoda was absolutely beautiful in the early morning, although it was somewhat muggy out due to the long rain over night. We walked down a long stairwell covered in prayers flags and visited the river. The river ran quickly, almost telling us it had somewhere to go. Some of us had the chance to meet with the chief monk prior to breakfast. It was a blessing even though it was a short period of time, we were able to also meet and speak with the local medical officer and wife and then were introduced to a young girl named Rilla, a senior in high school, who would be traveling with us to RIWATCH.

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Thus our journey began again. This ride was BUMPY. Our driver was in a video game almost, having to maneuver the car around potholes and enormous rocks. There were several times I think we thought we wouldn’t make it. After about an hour we finally made it to the stop where we would be ferried across the river with our vehicles. I can safely say this was an experience none of us will ever forget. The indigenous people have set up a mode of transportation so proficient and profitable. The river was just high enough that we could make the trip safely. Loading ourselves onto this makeshift ferry was unreal, but everyone did it so swiftly without putting much thought into it. Such a normalcy in the hustle and bustle of daily life but so new and exciting to all of us. As you can see we made it!

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The village we came to and ended up driving through was cooking fresh fish, sardines maybe? Some of us were brave enough to try them and were delighted by the taste. Our journey continued and the scenery changed drastically. Young girls carried baskets filled with wood on their backs. Goats, horses, pigs, cows, and dogs roamed the streets. People were hard at work laboring on their homes or at their makeshift shops set up along the road. After several more hours of bumpy travel and stopping to get to learn about the Himalayan rainforest, we made it and are here at RIWATCH. Let me back up at talk about was Veejay Gi shared with us about the rainforest. Elephants used to wander through the area and go deep into the forest looking for vegetation but would find themselves stuck and would end up dying. We saw red inedible bananas growing in the forest, as well as long orchids hanging from the massive trees.

When we made it to RIWATCH we were welcomed by staff and professors, all well regarded in the community and internationally. Lunch was delicious and everyone has been so hospitable, a common theme throughout this trip. We had some time to ourselves to unpack and rest and then met with VJ Gi who presented on RIWATCH and what they do on a national and international level. After the presentation was a delicious dinner…and now sleep. Goodnight!

 

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Traveling from state to state in India lends itself to new terrain, scenarios, and traveling options. For instance, from Delhi to Assam we were afforded a lot of honking (honking means something different in India..more of an “here I am” thing than an aggressive thing) and we had lanes although they were more of a suggestion than a rule. Now we were headed into more rural areas and were no longer traveling along paved roads but rather a dirt/muddy road. There was now a lush amount of greenery and more free range animals roaming around on roads and along the sides. We also traveled by ferry where we loaded up our cars and then sat on the deck for the half an hour ride from one bank to the next. We could see that there was work being done on bridges as an alternative way to travel from one side of the river to the next, but we were informed that this has been at least 10 years in the making and no one was sure when it would actually be done so ferrying across is currently the one and only option for traveling across the river. As we made our way to RIWATCH and introduced ourselves to some of the staff and people at the facility, again, dinner was vegetarian and I think we were all getting into the idea that meat is not something that is expected at every or any meal – like it can be within the USA unless otherwise stated – as we have now entered a mostly vegetarian diet. The meals have all been very delicious and I can’t say I was missing meat all that much, but I am not sure if everyone else held this sentiment or not.

Delhi Day 4 – 14.05.16 On the Road Again

On the road again….

Every morning we wake up and wonder if anything can top our experience the previous day and our mind is always blown away with new experiences. We started this morning with cornflakes and boiled milk, a new but pleasant taste for most of us (believe it or not). Following this was a visit to a local middle school, where I think most of us decided that fame is not something to long for. The students treated us like we were famous and we frequently had to sign our names and pose for selfies. During our visit we were able to talk with some of the students and we learned that Bollywood movies are an important fun factor both here and in Delhi. I think two things that struck us during the visit was how advanced the school’s teaching technology was and the students’ dedication to education. All classrooms had access to a smart-board and quite a few of the students aimed for an MBA and study abroad.

After our classroom visit it was time for a much anticipated trip to a store selling sarees, tunics and fabric. Shopping in India is different from shopping in the USA, here they pull out every possible piece of fabric or saree to show you and then you make a decision and they are very eager to sell. I think we all left with something in our bags, but some with more than others (without mentioning names). After lunch we left the university to start our drive towards Arunachal Pradesh, India. It was amazing to see the change in how the houses were built and how the people dressed as we traveled along, every place seemed to have something unique and different to it. We saw a lot of cows, goats and dogs; amazingly there are hardly any accidents with animals and I still have not seen any roadkill here, despite the animal’s decisions to use the middle of the street as their resting place.

After a 4 hour drive we finally reached our destination and I think we were all breath-taken when we saw the Buddhist temple lighting up in the night. Children as young as 8 go to training here to learn how to become monks. The tradition is that families donate one of their sons to the temple, but as they reach adulthood they can make their own decisions as to whether they will stay as monks or live a “normal” life. Tomorrow we will hopefully meet some of the monks in training. Right now I am watching the light from the Buddhist temple here in Arunachal Pradesh and it is truly beautiful and peaceful. I think we can all learn something from their choice to live a simplistic life, free of many of the worries and stressors we all experience everyday.

 

Reflections by Leah Abramoff:

Meeting the students who study at the secondary school in Dibrugarh, Assam, India was delightful in that the students were so motivated to continue their studies. Every one that was talked to readily identified their favorite subjects and how they want to move forward with their education. Many seemed just happy to talk to someone so foreign as being from the USA. They clamored to receive our signatures and take pictures with us, as this seemed to be an enhancement of their own education to learn about a culture that was possibly so different from their own. However, after talking to the students there are many similarities (like selfies, social media influences, and guidance of technology as a supplemental learning tool within the classrooms). This school, like within the USA, strives to shape the youth’s futures in positive manners. It was also very refreshing to see so many youth genuinely enjoy their classrooms and what they are being taught.

Being able to end our night at a Buddhist temple and seeing the Golden Pagoda of Tengapani was the perfect way to end the night after much traveling from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh. Being able to hear the chanting of the young monks and enjoy their hospitality brought the levels of excitement from the long day to a place where I feel many of us found peacefulness and allowed us to enjoy a restful night’s sleep. Basically, another long day ended on the perfect note.