Rapar – India, a spiritual retreat to improve me as a human being

How I obtained a positive decision for my trip to India it’s a mystery. To my surprise, after submitting the application, I received an email with an invitation for an interview, I went and gave my best but and after a few days, received a negative answer… They didn’t select me.

Rapar, India
Wearing classic Gujarati dresses

However, many weeks later a new email turned up, it was a new invitation to join the group! I was astonished as it wasn’t in my mind to travel abroad. It took me a few days to re-think the invitation and organize all my school work and personal responsibilities to take a final decision and join the journey.

 

Without any doubt, the trip was a great experience that helped me to improve myself as a global citizen and be more human. I practiced empathy and compassion every single day of the trip.

What did I expect?

I went to India without any assumptions, only the idea that I was going to give a hand in the construction of sustainable houses and see how people live there, but that was just a tiny part of all I have experienced and learnt.

The objective of this trip was to know more about the situation in Rapar, India, a small village in the state of Gujarat, also support the Institute for Social Action and Research (ISAR).
This Institute helps women in vulnerable situations, many of them due to problems related to SATA marriage (a system of exchange marriage) or simply because of their gender.

Life Stories

While in Canada we still dealing with some gender issues, in India be a woman, gay, lesbian or queer is a synonym of minority and inequality. This sad situation brought me to the point that sometimes we need to look beyond and support those in need on time because this can affect generation after generation.

During our stay, we had the chance to know and talk to a few women that suffered from violence, their stories impacted us a lot, It wasn’t easy to digest. However, thanks to the hard work of ISAR, now those women are empowered and ready to help their community.
It’s exciting to hear stories of bravery and courage, listened to them with opened hearts motivated and made us realize how cruel and unfair a human can be when morals and ethics are not part of our life, no matter where you live.

What we did

We have visited villages, schools and some tourist places to know more about the history of Gujarat. To know more about the reasons for the current status in India, we also had the opportunity to follow a few lessons about Sociology, Feminism and Economy with excellent teachers that I hope I can see again.

 

A fantastic experience

We made friends with locals who made us laugh and helped us with everything. I have no words to explain how they treated us, how much we laugh and cry together.
India wasn’t a school trip, was more than that, was a spiritual retreat which pumped up our souls and allowed us to be aware of the necessity of this world; Love and compassion.

Thanks to ISAR and Centennial College, I re-confirmed the following quote:

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.

Lessons learned in India

Going in to this whole GCELE experience, I was a little unsure of what I would inevitably take from it. I feel like any time you make the decision to leave your comfort zone (whether it be travelling abroad or trying something new for the first time), there are definitely going to be perception shifts that will take place within you. I just wasn’t sure what they would be exactly. Over the course of my time spent in India, there were a number of things that really resonated with me. I think for me, the biggest shift in perception probably came after one of our first lectures (I’m not sure of the village name or even the name of the woman conducting the lecture). The lecture was on health care accessibility for women in India (particularly women who came from smaller villages). It is not necessarily the content of the lecture, but more the demeanour of the presenter that shocked me. If you had asked me two weeks ago what I envisioned a traditional Indian woman who lives and was raised in a small village would be like, I probably would have said something like, “She would probably be very meek, soft-spoken, uneducated, passive, etc.” This woman was anything but that. She was strong, powerful, confident, brilliant, charismatic, and every other thing I did not expect her to be. So while may initial expectation of what it means to be a traditional woman may be correct in certain cases, I must also acknowledge the fact that there are other traditional Indian women who defy this stereotype in leaps and bounds. Hemming her in with what western people believe a certain demographic to be like can be really problematic. Not just in this instance, but also with every other stereotype in existence. It is so important to make space for the different realities that are sometimes beyond our comprehension. Our thoughts and beliefs and realities are not the only ones in existence and moving forward, this will be a concept that I carry with me for the rest of my days, both personally and professionally.

Another thing that really challenged the way I thought was the fact that this woman was also illiterate. She shared this with us towards the end of her presentation. I believe this was done deliberately so as not to taint the content of what was being said. In western culture, people kind of make an association between being illiterate and being stupid; so much so that the words “illiterate” and “stupid” are often used interchangeably. When she told us about not being able to read and write, it totally caught me off guard. How could this strong, brilliant, confident woman who was out there saving lives and changing communities be unable to read? She gives lectures in front of thousands of people, is such an inspiration to everyone she meets, and is able to lead this organization in their pursuit of social justice, yet does not possess such a basic skill like being able to read or write? I remember leaving the lecture feeling like I had more questions than answers from what had just transpired. This was something I reflected on for days to come. In the end, I came to the realization that not being able to read and write was not a matter of intelligence, but a matter of accessibility and maybe even culture. This woman was not so stupid that she could not have been taught to read, given the opportunity. She was unable to read because men and women do not have the same rights and accessibility to resources in that part of the world. Again, I feel like the same lesson can be applied to both scenarios. It is important to acknowledge the fact that we do not have all the answers. There are things beyond our comprehension and we must make space for that reality. It is best to always give people the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions about who or what they are and allowing them to share their story.

In conclusion, there were other realizations that were had on my part throughout this experience. I have learned so much about the world, about myself, and about other people and their cultures. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this learning experience. These memories and lessons learned will be things I take forth with me into the future. They are things I will never forget and will always cherish and will be invaluable to me down the line. Thank you Centennial College for allowing me to be a part of this experience. It has definitely made a huge impact for me and for anyone I may encounter in any future endeavours.

Lissie and I go out for a walk

I remember waking up the first morning in Ahmedabad feeling irritable. I was tired of what seemed like a month’s worth of travelling. I knew I needed to get my bearings if I was to get into the right mindset and hit the ground running for the adventure that awaited. So I grabbed my iPod, put Lissie’s Pursuit of Happiness on repeat and headed for a walk. Now the idea of spaces was prevalent to 2015’s India GCELE from the start. During orientation, we were informed that part of our experience would be helping to construct a shelter that would act as a safe space for women needing a reprieve from whatever circumstance was causing them harm. So maybe that is why I was being mindful of the intentions of the places as I wondered. My initial observation as I left the hotel was Ahmedabad was boring. The street was lined with the hustle and bustle I was accustomed to find in the morning at home. Kids were going to school and adults were headed off to work. I soon discovered a Subway and KFC. I started to think did I really come all this way for this. Not that I was expecting an experience of Indian caricature. But at least something worthy of the eighteen-hour plane ride. Could I not see at least a monkey. With not a lot of excitement to encounter, I did not wander for very long. So I headed back to the hotel. I did not realize it at the time but if I would have roamed just a bit farther in all most any direction I would have encountered a shanty town, a community made up of makeshift homes using whatever materials could be gathered. I would come to learn that these communities existed in pockets throughout the city.

This is my attempt at being Maurizio Cattelan
This is my attempt at being Maurizio Cattelan

Looking back at that initial morning I realize that my impression of Ahmedabad was incomplete. The spaces I walked that morning were intentionally boring. Fortunately, the group had a couple days to explore the city. We would have the opportunity to visit Gandhi’s Ashram, shop at a market, meet with local activists, and eventually see the different shanty towns that existed throughout the city. It turns out Ahmedabad was a much more complex place than I initially considered. So what does that mean for global citizenship? I guess it is important to make an effort to challenge what we believe to be true. To try and develop a personal understanding of the spaces we encounter by exploring and trying new things on a meaningful level. This GCELE certainly provided this opportunity for me.

Bloom

Salaam Bombay!!!

Namaste…

I arrived at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Mumbai, India) on Wednesday night and my first “wow” moment was at the sight of a magnificent edifice which was the newly constructed airport itself. Modern, spacious, beautiful and best of all, it still has a traditional taste to it with the presence of local artifacts as part of the design. It was such a beautiful sight and a great way to welcome visitors into the country.

My first few days in India were nothing but spectacular. Mumbai is different; different in a good way and I enjoy it, despite sometimes getting frustrated about simple things as crossing the street. The streets are always busy, daytime or night. To me, it is the real “city that never sleeps”. Drivers and motorists honk as though it is a musical instrument that produces a soothing sound to calm nerves in the hot afternoon. Simply, they honk like crazy!

The warmth and friendliness that emanates from the people of Mumbai will instantly make you forget you are in a strange land. The spirit of togetherness and collectivism is so healthy I literally didn’t need time to settle or blend in because everyone at Euclid Infotech ensured we naturally and quickly became part of the family too.  I haven’t missed home much, yet. There is always a helping hand, a smile to greet you and a lovely and genuine concern from everyone to know how you are doing and most importantly, everyone was on board to get us prepared for the work ahead.

My first weekend in Mumbai was epic!

On Saturday 29th June, Shun Harada (my other colleague from Centennial College) and I had a tour of Southern Mumbai. We were accompanied by Mr. Alexander Haung, the Vice President of Euclid infotech and a very good friend of ours. We visited the “Haji-Ali” mosque and afterwards walked about 5km around town through the busy streets and ended up the famous and activity-filled “Marine Drive”. I especially loved the Marine Drive because it reminded me of similar places I used to hang out back home in Canada. By the time we ended up at the “Gate of India”, we were totally drenched in sweat and we were absolutely knackered. Sightseeing at this point didn’t seem appealing anymore and we hopped onto the next available taxi and came back home.

The following weekend, we were back on the road, this time accompanied by two colleagues from the office; Shashank Srivastava and Prakhar Sahu. Again it was epic because we experienced a real tour as went all the way to the “Elephanta Caves” on a boat cruise. But before, let me mention we journeyed on the local train to downtown and it was such an experience. From Mira Road station to Churchgate was quite a long ride on the Express train or “Fast Train” as the locals call it. Typical to a local train in India and particularly Mumbai where the population alone is half that of the population of the whole of Canada, the train was packed and overflowing by the time we boarded. As is always the case with these trains, it is always full and passengers neither worry too much about their comfort nor sadly sometimes, their safety. What appears crucial for them is getting to their destinations, however. We hopped on and a few stops later we managed to secure seats at the back as some passengers hopped off.

Long ride it was but was worth it and soon we arrived at the port, Gate of India. After queuing for a bit, we boarded and headed for the island – forgotten the name – where the caves were. The boat cruise itself took about an hour, and then we had to walk up a hill to where the caves themselves were situated. The caves were magnificent and to imagine the sculptors managed to carve out their ideas into such an edifice with the basic tools and practically no high-end technology was mind-boggling. Truly impressive and a sight to behold for a long time.

A few weeks later and I am slowly naturalizing, even picking up a few Hindi words and statements. I hope to come back home totally transformed and so far I am pretty halfway through.

The story continues…

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Mumbai – my first experience in India

It’s time to start my story.

Thanks to Global Experience Office, I was chosen to participate in internship in Indian company Euclid Infotech in Mumbai.

Coming from Toronto, where the temperature was around -20 to the warm Mumbai was so pleased for me. Average temperature here is +25 during winter season. GEO helps me to communicate with the company where I supposed to work and they arrange to pick me up from the airport and help me to get to the place where I suppose to stay.

There are some pics from my apartment.

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I read much info about India and especially Mumbai, but still many things surprised me so much. I will try to describe them in my future posts.

First issue which I faced is the internet. Because of previous terrorist attacks in India, it is not so easy to buy a SIM card and it takes a time, usually a few days, when the cell carrier company will check all information which you provided and identify you. It took me a few hours to find a free Wi-fi to connect to the internet.

On my days off I decided to travel a little bit and I went to the old part of Mumbai.

Taj hotel and Gateway of India.

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Indian park and streets.

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I think many people see the pictures that Indian’s trains are overcrowded so I saw this by myself and it was crazy.

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First time I drink the juice from sugar cane. It tastes so good.

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Next posts I will describe more about Mumbai, Indian culture and my internship itself.

Thank you! 🙂