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Monday, 23 July 2012

Musings at the Gandhi Ashram

Team member Julia Meyer writes about her thoughts at the Gandhi Ashram:

Piling seven people into a five person car (and five people into an eight person van),  we finally made our way to the Gandhi Ashram.  The premise is modestly designed: a series of bungalows overlooking blue, algae coated water.  The lake, now polluted, is entirely still.  I leaned my torso forward over the concrete ledge.  My vision of the immobile pool was perfectly framed by bridges supporting two-wheelers cascading their course.

The Mahatma's Room

            There was something about the image of the stagnant water encapsulated by the hurried vehicles.  Modernity rushing forward, pulling nature to a stagnant stop.  It was painful to watch, but there was something beautiful about the serenity of dead water.  I pulled out my camera to capture the moment.  Fumbling over the composition, I struggled to include both bridges and the detail of the algae coated blue.  I finally had to settle for two separate images: the first looked directly down towards the water, the second was broader view of the land-scape, however, even within these two photographs the color was less vivid and the lens was too far to capture the motion of the crazed two-wheelers.  Once the shot was on my camera the impact had disintegrated and the moment was meaningless.

            The previous night I had just finished reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, where she describes the fleeting power of a photograph.  Unlike a painting, a photograph claims to render the truth.  The viewer sees the image, is forced to consume the “diet of horrors,” but once the photograph is removed from their field of vision the viewer moves on, apathetically able to return to the routine of their daily lives.  The impact of these photographs is completely ephemeral.  Not only does the viewer quickly forget the power of what they have seen, the image also leaves them feeling helpless and unable to make any sort of change. 

            Last Friday in the workshop I was conducting we began a discussion about the difference between sympathy and empathy.  One of the participants explained how it is obviously easier to sympathize than it is to empathize.  She eloquently described how empathy doesn’t mean one has experienced said event, but it does mean that they are able and willing to imagine it.  Looking at these two images on the screen of my puny digital camera I’ve began to wonder the power of a photograph.  

For the past month all of the ITSA interns have been seriously committed to divergent, creative thinking, yet in many of the workshops I’ve found myself incorporating photographs and videos.  Of course, these are intended to motivate the students and when I watch the series of images I myself feel empowered to make a change.  But how long does the memory of these images last?  Our visual recollection is much weaker than the memory of our other senses and I worry that the moment the video or slide-show is turned off the sentiment will fade. We don’t have to smell a simulation.  A photograph does nothing for the imagination.  Sympathy is as ephemeral as a bubble and without the chance to internalize the pain, empathy is left dry.  These students are overloaded with images to a point where they’re rendered meaningless.  Occasionally there is the image that does manage strike a cord.  It will vibrate inside you for a moment like the string of a guitar shooting up your spine.  Traveling through your ears, it fills your brain with a painful hum, but as the vibrations simmer the sound numbs.  Imagination, however, digs us deeper and deeper into despair.  Embodied pain has a way of sticking to the soul and it’s our ringing core that pulls us into action.     

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Student & Teacher Workshops at SN Kansagra School, Rajkot Photo Journal

Here's a photo journal by team member, Natalia Choi, about her experience in Rajkot where ITSA went to work with The Galaxy School. 
Here is a brief recount of the trip:
Monday: 5 AM rickshaw-ride towards the bus stationt, 3-hour bus ride to Rajkot with booming bollywood music from movies, student workshops with 30 students at TGES school for 4 hours, dinner at Chokhi Dhani (an amusement park-like, “traditional village” experiencing place where you watch shows, ride camels, get your fortune told, dance at a discotheque with chaperones...) 

On the bus ride to Rajkot

Riana and I

Sites from an early 6AM bus

Student Workshop on Monday in Rajkot, talking about human rights, the education system, and social hierarchies

ITSA Team!

Camel ride in Chokhi Dhani

At dinner with our freshly done Henna!

puppet show

Tuesday: Early excursions to Hingolgadh to eat local Gujarati food, touch snakes, see wildlife, see old fortresses and villages

the snake man at Hingolgadh

real cobra

making friends

what I eat everyday

All the trees that you seen in this photo are connected as one tree

The group by the 600-yr old tree

new favorite hobby, swining like Tarzan on trees

seeing wildlife

lots of cacti

Martha making friends

the group visiting villages


Old palace

Cassie and I

Wednesday: Student workshop at a beautiful resort-like school then bus-ride back home to Ahmedabad

Workshop 2 at Rajkot

Our students at Rajkot

that is the school campus behind us, not a resort…

ITSA team!

On a school bus!

Monday, 9 July 2012

A day of ITSA-ing!

Just another day at the ITSA headquarters in Ahmedabad by team member, Arden Feil:

        This morning I arrived at Riana’s apartment around 11am to find the rest of the interns busy working on their curriculums for this Friday’s workshop. I quickly joined up with the rest of the Social Action and Justice team and we got to work planning for the workshop. 

Squeezed into the ITSA mobile!

Our upcoming session will cover gender issues and we made considerable progress in designing activities around the topic. After a nice lunch we all headed over the apartment in Paldi to continue working. Admittedly, by that point we were all a bit exhausted, so we were not nearly as productive as we had been in the morning. We relaxed and napped for a while (some of us even went in search of coconuts!) 

We did get a good amount of work time in too, and our lesson plan is pretty much complete for Friday. At about 6pm Riana and some of the India interns came and drove us over to Law Garden—a big outdoor market with vendors selling tapestries, clothing, and jewelry. It was definitely hectic and overwhelming, but also very exciting and exhilarating. A lot of the interns, including myself, found nice gifts to bring back for our friends and family. 

Colors! Colors! Colors!

Tejas helping navigate multiple sellers at the same time!

Neil getting his bargain on!

 We left the market just as it was getting dark and went to Swatti Snacks for dinner. We ordered a bunch of different dishes, which were all delicious and interesting to try. I’m now back at my host family’s house where I am enjoying some of my last nights before I move into the apartment in Paldi with the rest of the interns. Today was pretty calm and easy going; we got time to just hang around as well as have valuable preparation time. I think I speak for all of the interns when I say today was one of many great days we’ve had in 

Riana demonstrating to us the special technique to Pani Puri eating!

The Swatties (Swarthmore College students) pose under Swati snacks!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heritage Walk: First Experience of Old Ahmedabad for ITSA's International Interns

Team Member Natalia Choi reflects on her day:

It was an especially hot day today in Ahmedabad. I mean everyday is hot, but today we didn’t have as much air conditioning since we were out and about the city unlike the past few days when we mostly stayed indoors resting and preparing for our workshops).

Guide, Nirav Patel, explaining the history of the Jumma Masjid
(Mosque) on the Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad
The day started out early at 6am because we wanted to avoid some heat and crowd for our Heritage walk through the old city of Ahmedabad. [We avoided neither the heat nor crowd…] As we waited for Aiyub, our driver to come pick us up, we spotted several monkeys on the roof of a building nearby. They were huge! I expected to see the little monkeys like Abu from Aladdin, but they were close to human-size (maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but they were not small cute creatures). Then came my turn for the rickshaw ride! Karen, Pavithra and I loaded up in this yellow-green rickshaw and our rickshaw weaved and honked our way through bikes, motorcycles, and cows toward the Old City of Ahmedabad. Because I didn’t have a layer of glass separating me from the outside, I felt that everything was even closer. I must say I am amazed that I have not been in or seen an accident yet given the chaotic nature of the streets. The cars seem to build their own system as they go. There seems to be no marked lanes, and rarely do we run into traffic lights. Here, our tour guide told us that to drive, one needs three things: good breaks, a good honk, and good luck. And from what I’ve seen, that seems to be true.

Though it was before 8am when we arrived at the temple (the starting point of our walk), there was no time for the morning calm. The place was packed with vendors selling their fresh produce, women in their beautiful saris, men biking through the crowded street. I had expected to encounter more tourists in this historic attraction, but soon realized that we were the only ones. We had become the focus of attention and many curious gazes followed our group.

We waited for our tour to begin upstairs where we had some distance to look at the site from a birds-eye view. It was nice to see and taken in everything and not be seen. Our tour guide arrived with a huge eager smile and began a presentation introducing Ahmedabad’s history dating back to the 15th century. He was proud of the city’s smart planning (ex. buildings made of stone-wood walls which survived major earthquakes; doors leading to secret passages that only locals would know) and peaceful state (there are no “defensive” architecture). It was interesting to learn about how commerce and business helped maintain peace in the region because they formed business partners. For example, because the British relied on Ahmedabad’s textile industry, they developed and maintained a friendly relation. The Old City was divided in “pols” which are little neighborhoods that was originally organized based on profession/religion but later came to be based on class. Each pol has a gate, a public board, a temple, and a bird feeding tower. I was impressed by how people were sensitive enough to build these bird feeding structures to compensate for the birds losing their homes as the city expanded and cut down trees. Our walk took about 2-3 hours and we saw temples, a plethora of stray dogs, beautifully colored walls (very pastel-ly I thought), and then ended our tour at a mosque.

The rest of the day was spent viewing some Indian paintings and sculptures at the Institute of Indology, eating a scrumptious lunch at Havmor, a nicely air-conditioned restaurant, and resting at Riana’s great aunt’s house. Then we headed back to Riana’s apartment and dinner (a salty popped rice dish called bhel and sev puri, a taco-like dish) and returned to our prospective homes (for some, their host family’s house, for others, the ITSA apartment or Riana’s place) afterwards. Whew, what a full, wonderful day!