Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Zealand + Mexico = ¿New Mexico? (Uh, no.)

So much has happened since the last time I wrote; there’s no way I can adequately catch up. What I can say is that this experience continues to challenge me, to enrich and confuse and stretch me.

I’ll start with some tidbits from New Zealand (since I never wrote a blog entry there… egads!). After sponging up some last bits of wisdom from our faculty in Gujarat, we left India on a cool, sad morning. The plane ride was a strange one. I was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless array of movies and music on the plane. I was irritated by the flight attendants, with their shallow politeness and straightened blond hair and heavy black mascara. I was even angry at the in-flight duty-free magazines, with their multitude of useless crap available to purchase while soaring 30,000 feet above the ground. Overall, I felt an unexpectedly strange kind of reverse culture shock. I had forgotten that life existed outside India – beyond green farms, grey smog, black braids, and colorful saris.

Regardless of my culture shock, an air-conditioned box with all its amenities whisked me away, first to Singapore, then Sydney, then finally Wellington (the capital of New Zealand). During my first few days there, I stayed in a cheap hostel, which felt like a palace after the mud huts on the farms in India. But it also felt strangely alien, like I didn't belong there. (Side note: it was bizarre seeing toilet paper again.)

After our week-long introduction to New Zealand (also called “Aotearoa”), I got to see a bit more of the country’s breathtaking landscape. There were endless rolling hills (sometimes peppered with wind turbines or million-dollar houses), lush forests, impressive mountains and pastures full of sheep. (Fun fact: there are only 4 million people in New Zealand, but 40 million sheep!) Of course, it wasn't all grass and sunshine. There was also deforestation (and plenty of it!), a hole in the ozone layer (which leads to 10 minute sunburns), poison in the forests (to kill unwanted pests like possums), neglected voices (unconsequential to those in power), and loads of cow shit polluting the water.

During our stay, we visited farms, homes, universities, parks, towns, and a marae (home of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand). We went hiking, saw glowworms, sang songs, and swam in countless rivers. In Ngati Rangi, we were introduced to a few sacred places of the Maori people. In Golden Bay, we visited a variety of local sustainability projects, from distilleries to eco-schools to organic food shops. And in Wellington, we visited some of the Green Party members of Parliament. (Of all the government and big-organization folks we've visited thus far, the Green Party members seemed to most reflect what we've been learning on IHP. They didn't gloss over issues or talk in circles around our questions. It was such a refreshing [and surprisingly enjoyable] experience.)

Now, indeed, I am in Mexico City (or “DF” as it’s called here). After a couple brief layovers in Tahiti and Los Angeles, we arrived here last week. Since then, the days here have been completely packed. A few days ago, I had class from 9am-7pm! It´s been exhausting, but also incredible. I’ve visited the National Museum of Anthropology, taken a silkscreening class, gone dancing at a techno club, toured UNAM university (home to over 300,000 students!), and enjoyed plenty of tasty food (including guacamole, the ubiquitous taco, fresh juice from a “juguería”, and the most delicious salsa I’ve ever had). I’ve also been exercising my limited knowledge of Spanish. It's become a bit dusty since high school, but fortunately, it’s been
enough to get by (although at times, I accidentally throw in a word of French).

I'm in good spirits and good company. I hope you all are too.

Que todos abrigan esperanzas,

Thursday, December 31, 2009

India, or rather, the tiny fragment I've seen of India

Delhi. Sevegram. Bt cotton farm. Organic farm. Mumbai. Bhuj. Mandvi. The Great Rann of Kachchh. Countless villages…These are merely the locations I’ve been during the past few weeks. What’s much more interesting than this rather bland list of physical places are the daily adventures I’ve had in each place:

In Delhi, I was entranced by the colorful carnations on the street, the film of grey smog on my neck, and the women’s shining black braids swaying gently down their backs. We had introductory lectures about India’s history, government, population, culture, religions, and current economic situation. It is absurd to think that I learned anything substantial about India as a whole during these lectures. This is a nation consisting of more than a billion people. Furthermore, it is a nation with incredible cultural, linguistic, and historical diversity. One of our guest lecturers told us that we must be foolish if we think we can even begin to scratch the surface of India in a short 2 months.

In Sevegram, I pondered Gandhi’s life and philosophy (he lived in Sevegram once upon a time and established a self-sustaining ashram there). I expected to be very touched by visiting his home, to have some sort of “ah ha!” moment and feel a deep spiritual and emotional connection. Instead, his home felt like a stale museum. While there, I wrestled with concepts of ethics and justice and cultural relativity. I thought of my time with the Maasai of Tanzania, and realized how much their lifestyle would have clashed with Gandhi’s philosophy of truth and non-violence. But does that make it wrong? Perhaps there can there be a different kind of truth for different cultures?

Other details of note: I drank fresh camel milk (still warm from the animal) in the desert. I picked up fresh cow poop with my hands and squished it around in a biogas generator. (Cow poop is actually very sanitary. Many villagers mix it with mud and use it to wall their houses.) On New Years Eve, I went skinny-dipping in the sea under a blue moon and a partial lunar eclipse.

Overall, I’ve immensely enjoyed my time in India. The weather has been a bit cooler than Tanzania. The food has been a bit spicier. My thoughts have been a bit more interesting. I can’t wait for more…

Happy New Year!
Love, Maranda

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Last Days in Tanzania

My stay in Tanzania has brought many “c” words to mind: complexity, contradiction, confusion, and (surprisingly) clarity. Basically, the more I see and learn, the more I realize how interwoven everything is, and how, even within a single community, the situation is far too intricate for my mind to fully comprehend. But I’ve given myself over to my confusion. I’ve yielded to the immensity of the globe, and found some sort of serenity in my inability to grasp it all. I am humbled.

Although we like to discuss and criticize mystical systems like “the economy” or “capitalism,” I’ve realized that these systems merely consist of people. Beneath the categories and the labels, there are simply people who are scratching out a living on this Earth, people deciding on rules and regulations and policies, people evolving and languishing and loving beneath the same sun and sky.

A certain quote from the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann often comes to mind: “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”