The perfect ending to a perfect adventure!

So as most of the readers know, we are all home safe now! We arrived yesterday morning and were all exhausted after a long journey. Our last couple days in India were packed full of travel and sightseeing including one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.

When I found out that my blog was assigned for the day we were going to see the Taj, I was finally thankful that I had a W last name and was at the end of the alphabet. However, upon seeing the Taj and sitting here writing this blog, I decided that the Taj was actually the most difficult part of the trip to blog about. How do you put something so beautiful into words? It’s like seeing a sunset and trying to take a picture, the colors never turn out as bright or as beautiful as the actual sunset itself. So here is my attempt to describe the wonder that is the Taj and the beautiful love story behind it.

Prince Khurram was the fifth son of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who ruled India is the 16th century. Though Khurram was not the eldest son, he became the favorite, as he grew older. Jahangir even described Khurram as having no comparison with his other children. As he became older, he led many military campaigns and was soon given the title by Jahangir, “Shah Jahan”, meaning King of the World.  While Jahangir aged, his health failed and the sons began rivaling for succession to the thrown. After years of battles and deaths of all other brothers, Shah Jahan finally became the King of the Mughal dynasty. As a young boy, Shah had met a girl born to high wealth, at a bazaar within the palace walls, and it was love at first sight. When he ascended the thrown, this woman, was beside him, as his queen, comrade, and confidant. He called her “Mumtaz Mahal”, the chosen one of the palace.

During the 4th year of his reign, Shah set out on a journey to Burhanpur to subdue a rebellious army, and although Mumtaz Mahal was 9 months pregnant with their 14th child, she insisted accompanying him. While they were gone, she gave birth to the child and later died from birth complications. During her last moments, she made Shah promise that he would build a mausoleum for her; more beautiful than anything in the world, and that the memory of their love would be his strength to survive. And this is exactly what he did. 6 months after her death, the memorials foundation was started right across the river from his palace. The mausoleum took 22 years to complete and was made of the best marble money could buy. It was intricately designed and pieces of gems were placed into settings to add color to the white beauty. Inside, in the center of the masterpiece, Shah finally laid the remains of his beloved wife. The mausoleum was named the Taj Mahal and is still the most beautiful in all the land, never to be compared with anything in existence.

Waking up knowing that we were going to get to see something this beautiful was like a 5 year old waking up on Christmas morning. After getting through the security line, none of us were interested in anything the tour guide said and could not wait to get through the main gate into the courtyard that held the Taj. As we got closer, the Taj started to come into view and when we finally walked into the gate, we were in awe of the beauty we saw. Seeing the Taj in pictures is nothing like seeing it in real life. It literally takes your breath away. We all took moments to appreciate the beautiful work of this monument and were amazed at how wonderful it was. There is no question why this is one of the 7 wonders of the world. After an hour or so of pictures and looking around, we finally got to see inside the Taj and touch the flawless marble that has weathered so well in the Indian sun. After seeing the tombs of Shah and his beloved wife, we sat outside on the marble terrace and enjoyed a gorgeous day while taking in the site. It was so peaceful to sit and appreciate the Taj in all of its glory.

After wrapping up our morning at the Taj, we traveled to the Agra fort, the imperial gates to the Mughal Empire. It was founded in 1565 by Emperor Akbar and is said to house hundreds of palaces, some fairy tale and some real. It is believed that Aurangzeb, son of Shah Jahan, imprisoned Shah here in a marble tower after he was overthrown, and it is where he spent his last days looking across the river to the symbol of love he spent so long building. Now, 25% of the fort is accessible to the public, including the tower Shah died in, overlooking the Taj, while the other 75% is property of the Indian Army.

All in all, we spent an Amazing day at the Taj and in Agra and had a great dinner celebration to wrap up our unforgettable trip to India. Thanks Dr. Sullivan for all your hard work and dedication to this trip, and us! I know I can speak for the class when I say there couldn’t have been a better teacher to take on this trip! Thanks to parents and friends also for supporting us and following our journey! It’s good to be home!

Saying Goodbye to CRHP!

It is hard to believe that just two weeks ago we arrived at CRHP, jet lagged and disoriented. I remember stepping off the bus wondering what I had gotten myself into. What our group did not know is that we would leave CRHP with great friendships and knowledge that we could apply to whatever we choose to do in life. CRHP is such an amazing organization. They have touched so many people’s lives by empowering women to bring about change in their individual villages, providing safe water and proper sanitation practices, bringing vital health care to over 300 villages in Maharashtra, as well as working with important social issues. Their comprehensive model has been implemented in several other countries, such as Venezuela, parts of China and Africa, and even places in the United States! One reason they have been so successful is because they have such dedicated staff who truly care about making a difference. Whether it was Shaila, our translator who stole our hearts, or Meena, the preschool teacher and our neighbor while we were at CRHP who has one of the biggest hearts that we have ever met, or even our night guards who sat outside of our room every night to ensure our safety and always would greet us as we passed; there was not a single person at CRHP that we had contact with that we did not form a special relationship with. Many of them gathered to send us on our way to Pune and a few tears were shed as we waved goodbye.

All 17 of us made our way to Pune in three jeeps. One jeep contained all of our luggage, some of which was strapped to the roof, the other two jeeps we rode in. We stopped at the “Smile Stone” rest stop, which was actually a very decent stop, and was very similar to interstate stops in the U.S. It had a restaurant, convenient store, and restrooms. To our surprise there were emus on our way to the restroom! There was also a beautiful garden in the center of all of the stores.  Once we reached Pune we stopped for a nice lunch before we headed to our hotel. Lunch was at a very nice hotel, and the food was delicious. Soon after, we joined the Pericleans at the Samarat Hotel. Some of us spent the rest of the afternoon/evening relaxing while the rest of the group went shopping.

Our time at CRHP has been a truly amazing experience, and we were all sad to leave. I know I will apply what I have learned at this program to my life in South Carolina. As we left behind great memories at CRHP, we are excited to see the more urban cities of India, including the Taj Mahal.

Shila our translator teaching us about the plants growing on the farm. She really helped us make the most out of our experience at CRHP.

Last Day at CRHP and Graduation!

Today was our last full day here at CRHP.  I think I speak for everyone when I say how much CRHP has touched our hearts and how it has made such a positive impact on our lives.  The staff and people in the surrounding villages have been so welcoming and helpful during the past two and a half weeks here in Jamkhed.

This morning we had the chance to go into a village with the mobile health team.  The mobile health team consists of a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker, which are there to support the two village health workers.  Together they go around this specific village once every 15 days because this village has been much healthier than others.  We didn’t see any patients today, which shows just how healthy this village is compared to surrounding ones.  We were also able to sit in on the women’s club meeting where we saw how one of the first village health workers was working with the younger women and sharing her experiences and knowledge.  Although many of the older village health workers may be illiterate, their knowledge and opinions are still well respected and valued since they’ve had years of experience.

After our village visit with the mobile health team, a large group of us made our final trip into town to do some last minute shopping.  Some people went to the tailor to pick up their garments and others ran over to the department store to buy more scarves, tops, and pants.  Several of us even stopped at a little store to buy boxes of henna so we can continue drawing on ourselves back in the states.

We had our final lunch, which always consists of white rice, the spicy yellow stuff, the spicy green stuff, and chapati.  Let’s just say we’re ready for a change this weekend.  After lunch, we all got dressed up in our Indian garb before our 3:30 wrap-up session about CRHP, since we needed to be ready for graduation at 4:30.  During our wrap-up, we watched a video about how other agencies and organizations have implemented the CRHP model around the world.

At 4:30 we started our graduation ceremony from the CRHP course where all of the staff members came to congratulate and say goodbye to us.  We were given 4 gifts, which each symbolized something special.  The first was a scarf meaning a symbol of being scholars.  Our second gift was a necklace made of flowers, which showed us that such a small flower could spread such beauty and scent despite its size.  Third, we received a lamp (candlestick) meaning that we should spread our light everywhere we go.  Finally, we received our certificate saying that we completed an intensive course in community based health and development at CRHP.

After our ceremony, we finished up the day listening to two group projects about discrimination against women during menstruation and child marriage in India. During dinner we all signed cards to give to the staff members thanking them for how they opened their hearts to us and helped us through the two and a half weeks in Jamkhed.

We are excited to travel this weekend, but we are all sad to leave some of the nicest people we’ve ever met here at CRHP.

Graduation!

 

Second to last day in Jamkhed!

Today (Thursday) was our second to last day at CRHP.  We were supposed to go out with the Mobile Health Team to one of the villages, but the visit got cancelled so we are doing that tomorrow instead.  It will be nice to go out and visit the village one last time before we head to Delhi.  One thing that we have definitely learned on this trip is how to be flexible when plans change!

Instead of shadowing the Mobile Health Team, Shobha set up two sessions with the village health workers.  In the first session, we heard to story of a health worker who became the mayor of her village.  It is so amazing hearing these women’s stories and how CRHP has empowered them to take control of their lives.  She spoke about the stigma and oppression she faced as a little girl from the lowest caste and as a religious outsider.  She told us of how she was inspired to become a health worker after seeing what another woman had been able to accomplish in the village.  She told stories of resilience and persistence once she was elected mayor, and how she performed her political duties on top of her role as a health worker.  At the end of the session, she spoke on how she retired from her position as mayor after five years in order to give others a chance to try the role.  What truly amazed me, though, was her recognition that both health and political work should be in the best interests of all the people, including the poor.  She ended her talk by saying that while it is only appropriate to be in politics for a short amount of time (although she still helps villagers with financial and legal issues if they ask her for help), being a village health worker is a lifetime job.

Our second session of the day was focused around alternative healthcare methods and appropriate technology.  The session was run by Shiela, as she translated for four of the newest village health workers.  It was amazing to see the skills and confidence in these women, who had only been working with CRHP for three years.  They performed every remedy correctly and we could tell even Shiela was impressed.

Something we have talked much about while being at CRHP is the concept of developing health care and technology that is appropriate to the context of a given community.  We have learned that not every ailment and disease needs the latest drugs and treatments of the big city hospitals, and that most often, there are remedies that mothers themselves can prepare in their homes.  One of the biggest issues that the rural communities in South India are faced with is disease and sickness of newborn children, often due to malnutrition.  The village health workers were able to show us two solutions that can be made in the home to rehydrate children if they have diarrhea.  Both were made from boiling water and mixing it with ingredients found in the home which are rich in potassium, calcium, and electrolytes.  What was truly amazing to see was how the women grasped the concept of the importance of clean water.  They told us that the purpose of boiling the water was to get rid of the germs and contaminants before giving the solution to the child.  They also acknowledged the fact that the reason the child had gotten sick in the first place was probably because they had drank unclean water.  To hear women who had only begun training three years ago understand the importance of clean and safe water when this is not a norm in rural India was incredible.  They were extremely knowledgeable and we all gathered that this had led to increased confidence and empowerment.  While we have attended many sessions in the last two weeks about these ideas, it was incredible to see young women confident in themselves in a society that still degrades women and is extremely patriarchal.

Overall, it was a great day! Even though plans changed and we had to be flexible, it was great to hear these women’s stories and how CRHP has transformed their lives.  We look forward to going out to the villages one last time and then heading to Delhi for the weekend!

Much love from Jamkhed!

Maybe We Aren’t So Different After All

Today we had the option of returning to CRHP’s farm. Not surprisingly, everyone chose to go the farm. After a morning of cutting down cornstalks and harvesting vegetables (like green beans, cabbage, okra, and chilies), we had lunch on a blanket with some of the workers from the farm. I really enjoyed this; I’ve found that my favorite parts of this trip, as well as the most educational parts, are the times we are able to make personal connections with individual people and take the time to learn about their lives. When we finished eating, Shaila told us that we were going to get to hear Retna’s story. (Retna is the manager of the farm). Everyone grew quiet and turned around to pay attention.

Retna told us that she was the youngest of the girls in her family, so the last to be married off. Because her family was poor, her parents were very preoccupied with finding a husband for her that didn’t request a dowry. Finally, after a few suitors came to see her, a man came along that wasn’t worried about being paid or receiving gifts. Retna said that her parents gave her to him without many questions. She was 16.

Retna was happy with her new husband, and became pregnant after 6 months. During the 7th month of her pregnancy, she returned to her parents’ village to prepare for delivery (which is customary in India). While she was there, she was given the news that her husband had fallen very ill and was in the hospital. After delivering her baby, Retna learned that her husband had been diagnosed with AIDS. Her husband’s doctors requested her return to Mumbai so that she and her newborn son could be tested as well. And then Retna learned what would change her life forever: she had AIDS and her baby was HIV positive.

After her husband died from AIDS, her in-laws told her that they no longer had any connection to her. Retna went to live with her mother, who feared that she would “catch” Retna’s illness. Because of this, her mother forced her to live in a small hut near the main house. Retna’s community shunned her, and wouldn’t eat with her or even speak to her. She couldn’t hold a job for any more than a few days, because as soon as her employers learned that she had AIDS, they considered her to be a liability. Her lack of employment caused her to be unable to properly care for her and her son, which meant that they were both malnourished and did not take any medicine for HIV/AIDS. Retna lost her son to the disease only a few months after her move to her mother’s village. She told us that losses of her husband, son, other family members, friends, and community were too much for her. She took poison in an attempt to end her life. Retna is alive today thanks to her fast-acting Village Health Worker and the support of CRHP. She is gainfully employed at the farm, and says that she is happy with where she is in her life. When asked what advice she had for us, she told us that we should not discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS because she doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to anyone else.

This got me thinking… A lot of people look at India and other developing countries with disgust, because of discriminatory systems like the caste system and gender inequality. We think, “How can they be so old-fashioned, so backwards?” But there is still great discrimination in the United States. It is not so straight-forward and talked about so openly, but it is still there between the lines. In the case of HIV/AIDS patients, many US citizens know that they are not able to “catch” the disease from eating or socializing with those who have it. We shun them instead for being “dirty”, or for “living a risky lifestyle” that causes them, in some people’s opinion, to deserve falling ill. What I’m trying to say is that Americans are too quick to judge other cultures. For the most part, our fellow citizens think that we have built a perfect society, or at least a society that is superior to all others. But in actuality, most problems are human problems and are shared by all societies… So maybe we aren’t so different after all.

Being One with Nature

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Everyone (at least in my room) must have been worn out from our excursion to the caves because we slept in until 9 am this morning! Usually we are up around 7:30ish due to the chirping birds and early morning Call to Prayer. We made it to the tail end of breakfast and saw Dr. and Mrs. Lambert off as they headed to a nearby village for a tour. Our first session was at 10:30 in which we learned all about different medicinal drug use led by Dr. Shobha. We discussed the criteria for drug selection and the comparison between rational use of medicines versus pharmaceutical promotions. In the villages the health workers do not prescribe meds but have a small selection of drugs that they can carry on them for minor illnesses. They usually encourage home remedies instead of forcing a lot of meds on patients. As the lecture ended we walked over to the hospital and received a short tour. We even got to see a premature baby who was only 11 days old!

We then had an hour and a half break in which some people took a rickshaw into town to do some quick shopping while others of us stayed behind to work on our group projects. After lunch we had a few more sessions; one on Herbal Medicine led by Shiva and the other on Alternative Healthcare led by Dr. Shobha again. The herbal medicine lecture reminded me of my mom’s herb garden and of the different plants we have around our own house such as the Aloe plant. In case you were wondering, aloe not only provides relief from sunburns, but also relieves stomach acidity problems and can make your skin smooth. During the alternative medicine lecture we learned about all types of practices such as Ayurbeda (an ancient Indian natural treatment), Homeopathy, Acupuncture, and Yoga. At the end I was extremely relaxed even just talking about these different methods and wanted to do yoga right then! Maybe we’ll fit in a class later this week😉 We pushed back our class meeting for a quick walk down to the lake which was equally as relaxing. A lot of people in the class hadn’t been there yet and we appreciated the exercise and beautiful sunset.

We then had a short class and went to dinner where we were surprised to find mashed potatoes! Oh the little things. Afterwards, a few girls and I came up with the idea of stopping by the convenience tent next door to get some ice cream…and about 5 bars of chocolate.  But the fun doesn’t end there. A dance party in the room followed by homework and a movie projected on a large screen on the wall completed our night.

Field Trip!

I get the honor of relaying to you all the events of our weekend spent with our special guests, Dr. and Mrs. Lambert. (For all the friends and family reading this who aren’t so Elon-savvy, Dr. Lambert is the President of Elon University.) Waking up Saturday for the eight other girls and myself living in the same room was like a bunch of toddlers waking up on Christmas morning. We were all so excited to meet Dr. Lambert and his wife! We finished packing up for the weekend, put on our best outfits and did our hair and hurried over to breakfast to meet our special guests. After I prepared my breakfast dish, I noticed that there was an empty seat across from Dr. Lambert so I worked up the courage to sit across from him. He kindly looked at me and smiled and said “Hi, I’m Leo Lambert. What’s your name?” He introduced himself this way to every student. We all had to refrain ourselves from replying, “Of course I know who you are!” We had a lovely discussion about his travels thus far through India and his experience at the Taj Mahal.
At 8:30 it was time to head out to the buses. All of us Elon students were traveling with our professors and Dr. and Mrs. Lambert to the Ellora Caves for a nice weekend excursion. It was about a four hour drive from the CRHP campus to the caves during which we came across 1 protest which shut down the highway in both directions, 6 cattle crossings, got stuck behind 3 different bullocks carts (on the highway), and only had 5 near-death experiences. Indians sure know how to keep things exciting! Near the caves we stopped at a nice little restaurant for a group lunch. The restaurant had a nice selection of traditional Indian dishes which we all enjoyed. One of my favorite foods we had there was the naan bread baked with butter and garlic on top. It reminded me a vaguely of the delicious Italian-American garlic bread I’m used to eating back home.
After some debate about which day to do the caves and which day to do the fort, we finally decided to head to the fort. Fort Devagiri is just down the road from the Ellora caves, in the city of Daultabad, Maharashtra. “Devagiri (Daultabad of the later period), 11kms north-west of Aurangabad, is a famous for its formidable hill fort. The fort is situated on an isolated cone-shaped hill rising abruptly from the plain to the height of about 190 metres. The fortification constitutes of three concentric lines of defensive walls with large number of bastions. The noteworthy features of the fort are the moat, the scarp and the sub-terranean passage, all hewn of solid rock. The upper outlet of the passage was filled with an iron grating, on which a large fire could be used to prevent the progress of the enemy. “(http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/MTDC/HTML/MaharashtraTourism/TouristDelight/Forts/Forts.aspx?strpage=DevagiriDaulatabadFort.html)

  • Shot of Dr. Lambert at the fort

[I tried to discretely get a shot of Dr. Lambert during our tour of the fort]

The guide explained to us that the different levels of the fort leading up to the top all contained different traps meant to kill off any invaders. The guide failed to mention that in the dark tunnel a few scary creatures still remained. As we were sent on our own to walk through the dark tunnel we all began to hear some squeaking noises. My friend Katie, who had visited the fort last year informed me that this dark passage was filled with bats! Luckily, she let me hold her hand and protected me from the scary creatures (I do not like rodents…especially rodents that can fly). The whole time we were in there I kept thinking, ‘I didn’t get my rabies shot!!’. Luckily, we all made it out of the Tunnel of Death alive and un-bitten. Our next challenge was to climb to the top of the mountain to see the King’s palace.
Some of us continued to climb up to the absolute highest point where a huge cannon was situated. We were told that to this point was about 400 steps, but it felt like a million! I almost gave up at one point, but then I pictured all the Indian women I have seen walking along the highways carrying big pots of water or logs on their heads and thought that if they can endure, I can too! We ended up timing the hike perfectly; we were at the peak of the mountain in time to see the gorgeous sunset.

View from the top of the fort


[Katie and I at the top of the fort]

When we arrived at the hotel we were all exhausted and looking forward to a hot shower and a good meal. The hotel was very luxurious compared to what we’ve become used to these past couple of weeks. My roommate Sarah and I excitedly jumped on our queen-sized soft, white beds and placed our heads on our luxuriously soft pillows. Dinner was in the hotel’s elegant restaurant where we dined buffet style on various traditional Indian dishes. Our group encountered a couple of cultural differences at the hotel. A few students tried to purchase a wifi access card but were told that the hotel had “no more wifi”. We couldn’t understand how they had only a limited amount of wifi. The second difference was that the whole city we were in was completely dry that day…no alcohol, no beer, no wine. Apparently it was out of respect for a religious holiday. So we just enjoyed relaxing and watching Indian television. Sarah and I enjoyed watching the show “Dance, India, Dance”. It was very entertaining.

Sunday:
We woke up from an amazing night’s sleep excited for the day. The Ellora Caves are absolutely beautiful and fascinating. The caves are an archaeological site, 30 km (19 mi) from the city of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty . Well-known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. Caves is actually a misnomer. The 34 “caves” are actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills. Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples and viharas and mathas were built between the 5th century and 10th century. The layout of the caves are as follows: 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves. What is so fascinating about them is their proximity to one another. Their close proximity represents that at one time in history, in one part of the world, different faiths were able to live harmoniously with one another. (some facts taken from http://www.wikipedia.com).
Our tour guide brought us to the last group of caves first (to try to beat the crowds). This group of caves belonged to the Jain religion. It’s fascinating to think that people made these intricate carvings out of the stone with only limited technology.
The second group of caves belonged to the Hindu religion. The enormous size of their main cave, Cave 16, was unbelievable. Carvings throughout the cave depicted the history of their gods.
The third group of caves belonged to the Buddhist faith. Their caves were very modern looking with three levels and perfectly spaced out rows of columns.

 

cave carved by Jain religion

Christa in cave

After the caves we went back to the same restaurant we had eaten at Saturday for lunch. The girls I sat with and I ordered four different dishes and enjoyed the tapas style. Then we piled back into the vans to visit the silk factory. The silk factory was a shopper’s paradise! So many gorgeous fabrics for under 50 American dollars! We all stocked up on gifts for ourselves and our loved ones back home.
We all survived the 3 ½ hour drive back to CRHP. I sat in the back of the bus this time so that my nerves wouldn’t get completely shot! We enjoyed some spaghetti and got ready for bed. I can’t believe there is only 1 week left here! I am excited to learn as much as I can about the organization and to get to know the people here at CRHP as much as possible before heading to Delhi and then finally back to America.