So… on Friday we went on a fieldtrip! I must share a little background information to see why and where.

On Susana and I’s first day of school, we were asked many questions! One of them was, “Are you Christian?” (Shivani). She has a fascination with religion, a really interesting thing to see in someone of age 14. She has since been asking daily if we can take the girls to a Christian church. I was hesitant of this idea. As we are representing an Indian NGO, I was concerned that some of the parents wouldn’t want their girls to keep attending school if there was such field trips. I am glad Suzanne was so persistant in taking the girls on Friday, because it ended up being a very incredible day!

As I have said, 10 girls and 4 leaders piled into ONE tuk-tuk. I spent the entire drive thinking I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if anything happened to the girls and I hadn’t spoken up against the idea adamantly enough. Every little bump we hit I grabbed as many of the girls as possible and prayed! I also had to refrain from screaming at one particular driver who thought it was appropriate to ride our tail. I actually hate the lack of safety.

When we arrived at the Catholic church, it was closed! There were three security guards who said there was no way we could enter. After a bit of begging and the  look of disappointed childrens’ faces, one sympathetic guard unlucked the church. It was built in what looked to me to be a gymnasium. High ceilings but no peaks, and it was quite large. I had a feeling of being at home there, after being in temples and surrounded by idols of Vishnu, Ganesh, etc. But, I was struck by, after seeing these temples filled with icons, such a similar layout of the Catholic church. There were miniature statues of Jesus on the cross, stained glass depictions of the Last Supper, and large statues of David and Mary around one massive crucifix. I viewed these icons in a different light after I had reacted to other icons with odd feelings in the Hindu temples.

We were blessd with an Indian nun who was so happy to explain many of the traditions of this church to the girls. While some were listening half-heartedly, I was honestly AMAZED at the reaction of one sweet girl, Pooja. Pooja is 16 and incredibly quiet. She is half the size of me, and is constantly hunched over. She has a lazy eye and is hesitant about any eye contact, so shy and frail. She is quite bright, but keeps her mouth shut so you have to really dig to discover this! At the church, she completely lit up! I was looking at a new girl, who seemed at home and uplifted! It was astounding. She was tugging at my arm and speaking to me in broken English, and I was so sad to not understand what she was trying to communicate. I told her to talk to the nun, and after found out some amazing questions she asked the woman. She was very thoughtful, asking, “How could a God be killed by men?”, about how Jesus could have fed so many with so little ‘chipatta’ (bread), and who Mary was. The uneasiness I felt about the field trip was washed away by just this one girl’s immense interest. I can still hardly imagine that Pooja, one of the most insecure girls I have met, was up at the front of the group asking direct questions to a nun! The nun was also gracious to sing a hymn for everyone (in English) and the girls were delighted. How exciting that these young girls are interested in more faiths than their own, and that their families are open to exposure.

Saturday at 2 am a group of eleven of us left for Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It is about 5 hours from here, and the ride was so cramped! We booked one ‘van’ and one car. I was determined to keep everyone as positive as possible in our too-close-for-comfort space… but I was having some claustrophobic issues! Thankfully, I have adjusted to the roll with it attitude and made the most of the trip… I knew it would be worth it once we saw one of the Seven Wonders of the World! Very glad we arrived in Agra around 7, because there was already a large amount of tourists. Foreigners pay 750 rupees for admission, and Indians pay 20. We were there at a time of mostly Indian tourists, and many, many foreigners were arriving as we left. I know that it is a tourist place, and people are familiar with seeing Western styles there, but I still could not believe what some females decided to wear- short shorts, tube tops. I found it very disrespectful. But I definitely saw  how white people stick out like a sore thumb, I understand why people stare at us everywhere we go! Haha.

The brilliance of the Taj Mahal was completely breathtaking. It’s so hard to imagine having the heart and vision to see a project of that magnitude out for over 20 years. It is perfectly symetrical and the colour of the marble is incredible. Unfortunately the fountains were not filled when we were there, but I can imagine how it would add to the structure’s beauty! At the centre of the Taj Mahal are the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, his wife who the mosaleum was made in dedication to. The ornate gem work within this area of the Taj Mahal was fantastic! There were six types of specifically-chosen flowers depicted with rubies and other stones, and they are crafted so that when sunlight hits the stone they colours of the gems shine through the opaque marble. In Marie and I’s case, we saw the shine by a guard’s small flashlight. We told him we didn’t want a tour (because we knew he would end up asking for money) and he insisted saying, “No, no, I am just a gate keeper.” Guess who held out his hand for rupees after showing us the tombs?!? It’s a crazy system of bartering and doing anything you can for a bit of cash here!

After stopping for lunch we were en route back to Jaipur. I really wanted to stop in Balaji, the site of a Hindu exorcism temple, and my group so kindly agreed. One of our new volunteers, Farhanna, is originally from Bangladesh and is such a blessing as she speaks Hindi! We were able to ask our driver to stop in the town. His vehicle would not be able to turn around at the end of the main road in Bilaji (it is a small rural town with one main street) so we hopped out and began to walk towards the end of the street, where the temple is located. What a walk! The Indians here stared much differently than do the ones in Jaipur, with an intense, inquisitive, almost angry focus. I doubt this rural town sees many tourists, and I certainly would not have wanted to walk down that road alone. We reached the temple which looked like a large hotel, and it was fully surrounded by men chanting and raising their arms, in line for the next exorcism! It was 3 in the afternoon, and this exorcism did not begin until 6 pm. I can only imagine what the swarm of people would be like when the event actually took place. While the group of us were gazing at the crowd, suddenly we were surrounded by about 30-40 Indian men. While I sensed a slight intimidation, I was too in awe of the mob mentality to feel frightened. Luckily again Farhanna was able to translate, and told us the men offered us “VIP Access” to see inside the temple- but no one was up for that! (We also knew this service would come with a VIP pricetag!)

Even though the pitstop was unsuccessful in terms of watching an exorcism on the outside flat-screen TVs, I am glad we went. What an eery, intense feeling this town had, and it gave me a different feel for India than the one I have had in Jaipur.

Classes have been going well. But, Gora has not come to the lesson Monday or Tuesday. She was by for the tailoring lessons and I told her we missed her and held her hand. I am not sure if she will ever be back. We do have a bunch of new students in our girls’ class, which has been very fun, but has broadened the class’ level scale even more. Four of the new students are 17, 18, 18, and 20, and I have enjoyed working with them. I can feel immense respect from them, but also that they want to be my friend. The eldest has invited me to her home, and I’m looking forward to attending tomorrow after school!

Tomorrow I am leading a lesson in creative writing. It seems that the imagination of these young girls is opressed. There is no concept of fantasy, and when students in our slum (those from the morning class and from my class) draw pictures, they copy out of colouring books or off of one another. I am hoping my lesson is a success. I have written a bunch of random scenes and characters which all the students will choose individually, and then paint and write upon the one-line scenario. For the more advanced students we will also look at the elements which make up a story.

More soon!



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