The Medinas of Morocco

By Nat Smith

                The experience most emblematic of my time in Morocco is walking down a crowded alley: weaving through a bustling throng, vendors vying for my attention, the drifting scent of olives and roasting meat, the call to prayer echoing out from mosque minarets towering above everything else. From Fez to Marrakech, most large cities in Morocco have an extensive history and a section of town built long before cars were a concern. These old areas at the heart of every major urban area are called medinas (from the Arabic word for city). Each medina has its own character, but they all share the quality of being a narrow, winding maze both daunting and exciting for a tourist. There are always overly friendly guides who can help you find your way (for a fee of course), reaching out in French, Arabic, and English. The streets of the medinas were built with one primary rule in mind: to be wide enough for two donkey carts to pass in opposite directions. The result is a pedestrian’s paradise and a respite from the roar of traffic that dominates US metropolitan areas.

                Fez has the largest and most overwhelming medina, over 180 miles of alleys snaking around in patterns only recognizable to a local. Bring a map or someone who knows where they’re going. A must-see landmark is the Chouara Tannery that has been in operation since the 11th century. You can climb up to the rooftops and look down at the process of dying leather, which has changed little in the last thousand years. If a leather jacket doesn’t quite fit your style, the city’s numerous shops filled to the brim with beautiful rugs may be better places to shop. The cuisine is another reason to visit. You could try a traditional tajine—meat and vegetables smothered in spices and slow cooked in one of Morocco’s iconic conical ceramic dishes—or couscous, traditionally eaten on Fridays to celebrate Islam’s holy day, but always delicious. The more adventurous could try a camel burger (a bit greasy for my tastes) or a bowl of snails. Food carts offering delectable baked goods or fresh prickly-pear cactus fruit are never far away. Fez’s cramped alleys can hardly contain the variety of shops and vibrant energy you feel walking around the ancient city.

 

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Tannery – Leather dying

 

                Since I’m one to usually avoid big crowds, my favorite medina was Chefchaouen. The tourist attraction of a city is tucked high up in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. What makes the city so unforgettable and eye-catching is the blue paint that covers nearly every wall in the medina. Come for the scenery and stay for the lifestyle. Given its proximity to where Morocco’s marijuana is grown, Chefchaouen has gotten the reputation as the country’s hub for illicit activity (and thus attracted plenty of western tourists). Everyone in the city was friendly, whether because they were smoking hash or trying to sell me some I could never tell. Regardless, the blue city is something everyone visiting Morocco should try to experience. I can say without exaggeration that a labyrinth of blue alleys nested among a panorama of grey-green peaks is a city unlike any other.

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                The diversity of scenery in Morocco is incredible. You can go from snow-capped mountains to rolling hills of olive trees spotted with grazing goats inside of an hour’s drive. From the sand seas of the Sahara to the waves of the Atlantic, Morocco always provides a captivating vista. Still, of all the beautiful places I visited there, when I think of Morocco I miss the medinas.

Abroad in Milan

Emily Hake

I had the opportunity to study abroad in Milan, Italy for the Spring 2017 semester, where I truly fell in love with the culture and beauty of Italy. Living abroad was eye-opening and challenging at the same time. It allowed me to learn much about myself and also how diving into other cultures is integral to our understanding of the world. My focus for the global theme and challenge is technology and society and while in Milan I was able to engage with a few of the ways in which technology is shaping business markets overseas. Specifically, my entrepreneurial finance class gave my class direct access to a med-tech conference taking place in the city where concepts of how technology is influencing innovation is taking root on a world-wide scale. We were asked to use these new/technological concepts to craft our own innovation or business idea. Seeing first-hand the incredible innovations coming out of Italy and surrounding European countries proved to me that the world is becoming ever-more technological and that the U.S. has a great amount of competition in the innovation world. In terms of fostering my personal leadership skills, studying abroad helped me understand what navigating a new place is truly like and that if you want to learn and grow you often have to step up to the plate yourself. Going abroad has left me curious about how the world will continually change as we become more interconnected and globalized. Overall, this study abroad experience is something that I will never forget and has shaped the rest of my life.

A Semester in Ireland

kurtThis spring I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland. I lived in the city and attended UCC Cork. My experience was, in a world, incredible. Having been born and raised in Montana, I was completely unprepared for living in an urban city halfway across the world. Still, studying abroad was the one thing that I absolutely wanted to do in college, and I am extremely grateful that it was possible. As part of the GLI program, I have a unique theme and challenge that I wanted to research. My goal was to examine how international policy programs can effectively fuel environmental protection efforts.

Cork is fortunate enough to be one of the multicultural towns in Ireland. I was able to meet and become friends with several French, Italian, Spanish, and (of course) Irish students over the course of the semester. I was also been fortunate enough to travel across Europe at various points throughout the semester, which has helped me discover just how diverse and complex the world is. I’ve had conversations with my Portuguese roommate about the refugee crisis, witnessed a march against Brexit in London, and was part of a rally for science outside the Pantheon in Italy. More than anything, during my time abroad I’ve been made aware of how little I really know about the world. I’m forced to wonder how to best spur international cooperation on the issue of climate change. The problem doesn’t have an easy answer. However, I don’t believe it is impossible to solve the problem. There are a variety of small steps many countries have taken to work towards lessening carbon emissions. One of the major bus companies in Germany, for example, gives customers the option to pay a small amount more to purchase a carbon-offset for their bus trip. The extra money will go towards funding programs in Germany or developing countries that promote more sustainable business practices.

I also took the time to do some independent research and observations on climate change and environmental efforts in Europe, as was a part of my goal when originally coming here. Ireland has several areas where policies and regulations produce excellent energy results. Recycling is more prominent in Ireland than America, for example. Regarding my challenge, I’ve realized how difficult it is to communicate the causes and effects of climate change. Raised in suburban Montana, I took it for granted that people were at least aware that greenhouse gas emissions are a long-term problem. Since travelling, I’ve realized that this is not always the case. We should take greater efforts to not only combat the problem, but also to improve general awareness of the issue. In the U.S. especially, recent discussions over current political actions and environmental leadership have convinced me that there is a need for action. We will need political support in order to make any meaningful progress in slowing human-caused climate change. The European Union has enacted programs such as the Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme in an effort to reduce overall emissions without damaging the European economy. Norway, as well, has contributed substantially to REDD, a program designed to reduce emissions from deforestation. I believe that we in the US can emulate these political actions. However, in the current political economy, it will take substantial pressure from grassroots organizations and corporations to progress towards meaningful change. I feel that as a result of having studied abroad and talking to so many different people I am more ready to take action in local and national efforts. We have many challenges to tackle, but taking action begins with efforts as simple as having conversations about the topic.

I feel that my time spent abroad helped to widen my view of the world. I remain amazed at the many achievements so many people I met abroad have met. I spoke to one man who was hitchhiking across Europe so that he could teach in Iran. I saw pictures of a mural one refugee painted after years spent seeking a new home in Scotland. And I hope that I can achieve a fraction of what these incredible individuals have done.
Thanks for reading.
Kurt Swimley

Permanence

By Christopher Morucci (Posted April 12, 2016)

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The future has been on my mind quite a lot as of late. At this point in life it seems to be the bases for most things. I never felt a sense of permanence in my home town. I always knew that sooner or later this dance piece or production would be replaced with another. Going to college, even though quite a commitment, really only stays the same for about 4 months at a time. Then you’re on to new classes, people drop out, new students transfer, and a new weekly schedule gets slated. I feel overly aware of the temporariness of my current life. I can’t quantify if it is due to the fact that city life is constantly changing, the NPO has had constant turn over for staff, or the fact that my time sitting in the park under the sakura with my close friends, going on day trips, eating at my favorite restaurants, and even walking the bright streets at night are all marked with an expiration date that goes by the name of a return flight from Tokyo to Portland, and then Portland to Missoula.

It’s caused me to think a lot about what my future looks like and what I want to get out of it. I have twelve or thirteen tabs open on my browser right now with job descriptions at various organizations and their minimum requirements for application, none of which are in the realm of careers I would have pictured myself reading up on even last year. I set search requirements for “Humanitarian” and “Global” and “Mental Health” or “Counseling”. I pictured myself as a “Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Manager” in Nepal, or the coordinator in Syria, both of which require advanced graduate degrees of social sciences in one field or another. Then I pictured myself in graduate school. Pushing on to get my Masters, publishing research articles, doing both a pre and post doc internship. Finally being awarded my Philosophy Doctorate of Psychology. That person I picture is different from the person I feel like I currently am. It’s not in any obvious way, but still it’s there. I think it has to do with a level of mindfulness that I don’t currently have but hope to reach. He’s no longer the kid who listens to meditation podcasts while filling out excel spreadsheets at work. He’s the person that has dedicated a part of his day solely to his practice. He doesn’t walk around watching beautiful things happen and be afraid to put himself out far enough to make something of his own. He has a sense of understanding for other’s cultures that allows him to not only communicate fully, but understand people to an extent in which positive growth can be made for both parties involved. A person who’s things. But not a person that knows so much he can stop learning.

Accompanied by one of my roommates I went for a hiking trip up Mt. Takao this weekend. The whole experience was very much unlike any hike I have ever done before. The paths were paved. There were vending machines along the route. There was even a lift that you could use a train pass to get on if you didn’t want to take the time to actually walk all the way up. About half way to the top there was an observatory, which is to be expected, however, there was also a plethora of shops and restaurants filling the paths that felt like they came out of nowhere. Feeling like it was unnecessary to do your shopping for the day we continued forward until we reached a garden, a monkey garden. There was no way I was going to pass up my chance to hang out with these lively fellas. As a trainer gave a presentation I could in no way understand, my roommate and I flocked to the railing in order to obtain the best view possible of or primate brethren. we watched the interactions of the monkey community for far longer than two grown men probably should have. Afterwards we regained our composure and continued on our trek. Once at the top you could see the expansive metropolis that goes by the name of Tokyo in the distance. It was odd to think about how little of this space I have covered despite my constant efforts to get as lost inside of it as I could. It also reminded me of being back home in Montana and being able to look out at my surroundings from atop a mountain peak. It was comforting and felt familiar. Maybe minus the vending machine 10 meters away from me.

Read more of Christopher’s blog at christophermorucci.wordpress.com.

 

 

El Fin

By: Ciara Gorman

(Posted September 16th, 2015)

My time in Nicaragua came to an end and it was time to travel home. Saying goodbye to all of the wonderful friends I had made was tough but I was ready to see my family! Little did I know that the first week home would be a huge adjustment. I wasn’t used to running water during the day and certainly wasn’t used to the weather that felt like I was going to freeze. I often looked around throughout that week and realized how much I took advantage of simple things that really are luxuries. I wasn’t used to the paved roads, the urgency everyone around me had or the use of electronics that truly dominates our way of living in the United States. I cannot speak for other countries because I do not live there but I know that most Americans could benefit from a type of service trip in a place that is very different from our way of living. I say this and am hesitant though because third world countries do not exist for others to pity on and give charity to. Never in my life have I seen neighborhoods and communities like the ones I did in Masaya, Nicaragua. The people were so supportive of one another and truly were friends to not only one another but to visitors like myself. From the young children to the elderly ladies that got together at dusk, every person I had the chance to meet and converse with made me feel like an old friend. I think what I was trying to say earlier is that most people in today’s world are so comfortable in their setting that they do not realize the potential that is out there for personal growth and new experiences.

The medical aspect of the trip was incredible as well and I was lucky to be with a group that had similar goals and career interests that I did. I didn’t know a single person on this trip with the exception of looking on Facebook! I loved meeting people from across the country who wanted to learn and make a difference each and every day and am lucky to call many of them my friends today. As much as I felt like I helped our patients, I don’t think they realize how much they helped me in return. This was my first opportunity taking patient histories and performing physical exams with a team. I realized the importance of not only asking the right questions, but also performing a thorough exam so we didn’t miss anything when the doctor came to us. Educating our patients on hygiene, diet and answering their questions was one of our strongest tools as well. The opportunity to see conditions and diseases not typical to the US was unique and my first experience conversing in Spanish with patients was so cool!

The best way to understand a culture is to fully immerse yourself in it and I will repeat that until my last day on Earth. This trip was an experience of a lifetime and I cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunity. Traveling to a country I’ve never been to, speaking a language I wasn’t confident about and eating food I normally would not are things I would highly recommend to anyone. Getting out of my comfort zone was one of the best life decisions I have ever made and the friendships, memories and clinical experiences I gained are only proof of that. I want to thank Vida Volunteer for coordinating our trip and to GLI for helping make my experience possible. Pura Vida!

“Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living.” -Albert Einstein

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Pacayita!

By: Ciara Gorman

(Posted September 8th, 2015)

Day 7 of our trip was the turning point for me in our clinics. During our clinic orientation, Dr. Pinto had taught us about common illnesses and diseases we would frequently see throughout the next couple weeks and mentioned to us that prevention education was one of our most powerful tools to help people. By now, I felt confident in taking patient history (mostly in Spanish by now!) and performing physical exams. I was not prepared however for the emotional toll seeing some of these patients had on me though. Experiencing some of the living conditions our patients had and the surrounding communities really opened my eyes to why some people were sick! It was a common practice to burn garbage in these areas, but, often times they were open fires in backyards or right next to the homes. We would frequently see children with severe allergy symptoms and respiratory issues in our clinics and I would tell the parents that their smoke from burning garbage was a likely cause.

A common illness we saw was Chikungunya. This was a viral disease passed to humans from mosquitos and resulted in rashes, fever, joint pain that could last anywhere from a couple weeks to several months. It was interesting to see an illness not common in the US frequently in another country and reminded me of the importance of constantly studying and staying on top of illnesses whether they are common to your area or not. I learned the vital importance of a thorough physical exam when a young girl complained of common cold symptoms like a sore throat, fever, and body aches. The minute I asked her to open her mouth so I could look inside I was shocked. She had the most swollen tonsils I had ever seen and we classified them as stage III tonsillar hypertrophy, meaning they were almost completely obstructive to her throat. Thankfully we gave her an immediate referral to the hospital to get them taken out. If we hadn’t looked in her throat, we probably would have diagnosed as a common cold and just prescribed acetaminophen!

Thankfully our long days were also followed up with relaxing evenings exploring the cities we visited. In Masaya, we visited their famous outdoor mercados (markets) and shopped for souvenirs and even found hammocks a couple of us bought! I had my first smoothie with guayaba and pitaya! They were some funky looking fruits but they tasted awesome. All of the fresh fruit we’ve never heard of but got to try everyday was definitely one of my favorite parts of Nicaragua. I never found one I didn’t like!

exchanging money at the Nicaraguan border!

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The best smoothie i’ll ever have!

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Guayaba!

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Pitaya aka dragonfruit!

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Carmen del Parque & La Fortuna

By: Ciara Gorman
(from September 3rd, 2015)
We had out second clinic day in the community of Carmen del Parque. I was particularly interesting in learning about both Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s healthcare systems and made it a point to find out more today. Costa Rica has a universal healthcare system and is regarded as some of the best in Latin America. Often times, we saw patients whose family worked in some sect of the government so they had the opportunity for a privatized plan. Many people from other countries try and move solely for the healthcare benefits, referred to as seguro social, and job opportunities. However, it was apparent that if you were from another country besides Costa Rica, you most likely did not have healthcare access and consequently were patients we saw in our trip. This community had cobblestone streets and the houses were colorful with children playing everywhere. Children who had school that day were dressed in white pressed collared shirts and navy bottoms with black shoes. They took such pride in their school attire and made sure to not get dirty by playing with the younger kids before they left!

In the afternoon, we headed back to where our vet team was located and had ice cream for the first time! It was an interesting experience but it was so hot outside that day that no one really noticed the differences in flavor and texture. We played a pickup soccer game with the kids around that neighborhood while we waited for the vets to finish up. This is hands down one of my favorite memories of the trip! I started to juggle with a couple of the kids with my scrubs and stethoscope still on and they just stared at me. For one, I was a girl playing with a soccer ball. Two, my Spanish was still a work in progress at this point so we had a little bit of a language barrier. A couple of the young boys really stood out to me, however. One was named Juan Carlos and we ended up scoring goals and winning the game together. The other guy I called Real Madrid because of the jersey he had on. They both were phenomenal soccer players and were only 12 years old! We left the community a little sad that day but I know one day I will hear about a famous Costa Rican soccer player named Juan Carlos and smile.

We had an off day so we traveled to the city of La Fortuna and checked in to our next hotel. We ended up visiting this beautiful hot springs resort for the afternoon and it was our first chance to really see the country as tourists. What I was shocked by was the hospitality and friendliness every Costa Rican showed us! We stayed at Villas Vistas Arenal overlooking a volcano for the night before our all day bus trip to Nicaragua that following morning.

Thank you Costa Rica for everything you taught me, I will be back for you someday!

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Life Changing Days

By: Mackenzie Enich

June 12, 2013

A persistent rooster calls me to wake up from outside my window. It is 5:30 am. I lay in bed for several minutes, my weight dents the thin mattress and my head is cradled by a slice of yellow foam. I can see the sun peeking through the thick green curtains. The buzzing fan and sticky air reminds me that I am not home. I am halfway across the world, staying with a family in Ghana.
I am writing these last few posts after I have come home, for I have not been able to write about my experiences in Ghana until now. It was all too much to process. My experiences in Ghana changed my

life and are difficult to convey in words. As for what I did, I spent all my days in villages in Ghana living and learning with local people.

FishingbasketsI have done my fair share of traveling, and this is the way I like to see the places I go: by living with the people. When I arrange a “home-stay” experience I get to meet local people and through their eyes I gain an appreciation for a new culture that is different from my own. Instead of seeing the country as a tourist, I get a local, personal experience.
During this voyage with Semester at Sea I have been a part of three home stays – one in South Africa and two in Ghana. They have been some of my most memorable experiences on this trip. The people welcome you into their homes with such enthusiasm it is hard to not feel excepted. The energy of the people in the village is as vibrant as the women’s dresses and the children’s dancing.Goat In my first home stay in Ghana I had one experience that I will never forget. I spent the afternoon talking with a group of girls as we watched the boys play football. While talking I realized I had become a confidante for a short time. Having older women to talk to, to learn about themselves, is not a privilege young girls have in their village culture. When they finally opened up, their smiles grew and I realized that human connection is one of the most important things in life.
Some of these connections I find when I listen people’s stories and learn how different our lives are. I spent an overnight in Atonkwa village with the head master of the primary school. This was one of the most remote places I have ever been in the world. The village was so untouched by global influences. This was one of the things that shocked me the most. At this point in my life I am lucky enough to say I have seen many different places around the world, but I have never visited a place or met people who have little knowledge outside of their village.

That night I was sitting with my host mother, host sister, and host brother while I was watching them do homework.

grasshopperhouse Soon we all got distracted asking each other questions. The reaction that stopped me was when my 15 year old host sister asked me what my favorite food was. I told her things like pizza and hamburgers, different foods that people commonly know whether they have eaten them or not. She looked at me blankly. I tried to explain the foods and she just shook her head. She then asked how many goats I owned and how we got our food when we ate beef. I answered quickly with “well we buy it at the supermarket.” That stopped me. I sat for a moment, reflected on this life I am so fortunate to have and then said to myself, “stupid Mackenzie that is not how this works here, that was very inconsiderate and selfish.”
I tried to explain it as best as I could to her, but we come from very different ways of life. Even though we have such different lives, myself and my host family, we spent a fantastic evening listening to each other and explaining the different things that make up our livelihood. We laughed for half an hour while I tried to explain to them what a bear looks like and what snow feels like. Then I was


In both my home stays in Ghana I was lucky enough to be staying with teachers in the village. With my journalistic nature I like to ask questions, but there I was out questioned. My hosts had been endlessly curious about me and my life back home. One important thing I learned while staying with them is that not only am I interested in their lives, but they are equally interested in mine.
captivated by their stories, so interested in how they lived their day to day lives realizing that the world is enormous and everyone lives in it differently.

HandprintI spent a good portion of that afternoon sitting in the house talking to one of the teachers about how school works, what the neighbors are like, what church services are like, and how they feel about technology and media. He returned the questioning to me, curious to know how their village was different from my home. I could only say it is a simpler way of life here, not better or worse, it is just calmer in the village.

In all the conversations we shared, my host family was never looking for pity, only understanding, exchange, and connection.  I’ve found that being able to live with people all around the world makes it easier to understand them. In the first month of our voyage I wrote in my blog, “I love to travel, and it is always going to be a part of me. Whether I am at home or on the other side of the world, I am at my best when I try to understand somebody else.” I will continue to seek out home-stay opportunities because I believe it’s the best way to experience a new culture when you’re seeing it through a local’s eyes.

While I was gone someone told me I was “a pretentious little girl, swooping in as the hero pretending to save third world countries.” After this woman had read what I wrote about my experience in Ghana this is the opinion she formed of me. I certainly know, and hope others can see, that traveling has not made me into this person that was portrayed to be. I know that my experience in Ghana will be one of the most memorable experiences in all of my travels. Living with these people and hearing their stories made me respect and admire their values, morals, and way of life. Everyone I met in my time in Ghana was fantastically happy, open minded, and humble. The day I left Ghana I chose to lead my life like those strong women I met. I want to live happily, embrace every day with an open mind, and I have been humbled by the people I met around the world.HomeagainHomeagain

When I woke up that morning I was greeted by the smiling face of my host mother and a “Good morning.”  I promised them photos, thanked them for all that they had given me, and hugged them goodbye. As I walked down the dirt road I knew I witnessed something special, and will never forget what I learned.

We will never really see the world unless we leave our comfort zone, but that is what I fully intend to do. Only through breaching the uncomfortable will you be able to have the moments that change you the most.

Neptune Day

By: Mackenzie Enich

March 23, 2013 ·

Neptune Day is the day a ship crosses the equator and there are many traditions that happen. Those of us who have not crossed the equator by water are known as pollywogs and when we cross over we transformed into shellbacks. The night before this is the email we received:

“Tomorrow marks our sail across the equator and King Neptune usually pays us a visit. We will celebrate his arrival with Neptune Day! Around 07:00, the festivities will begin and you will take the journey from pollywog to shellback by paying your respects to his highness and his royal court. Participation is not mandatory but highly encouraged – participate to your level of comfort! Wear a bathing suit and clothes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!”

At 7:00am the crew came through the halls as a parade banging drums and ringing bells to get us all up to eat breakfast and get on to the seventh deck. We all crowded around the pool as the royal procession walked into the crowed. Many of the faculty became royalty like the queen, the royal shaver, and King Neptune himself (our captain painted green).

The traditions go in this order (at least for me). I stood in the side pool with my friends and we had fish guts poured on us. It was cold, red, and smelly. Then we turned around, held hands, screamed, and jumped into the pool. When we climbed out we had to kiss a fish and then King Neptune’s ring. If we didn’t, he would push us back into the pool. The last, most drastic, tradition is shaving your head as tribute to King Neptune. Of course all these traditions are optional. Of course I participated in all of it. Yes, I shaved my head.

Many people have assumed I planned to shave my head and they are shocked when I say it was spur of the moment. I won’t keep it this way, but no regrets.

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Mother and River

By: Mackenzie Enich

March 13, 2013

When I was a little girl my mother would take out the slide projector and shine the light on a little pop up screen that was wedged between two faded black arm chairs. The entire set up was old. The screen left green paint chips from the tripod legs on the carpet after it was put away and my mother always said the projector did not click through the slides as quickly as it used to. Even so, I begged often for the slides to be brought out so I could lay back on the carpet in the middle of the living room with my hands behind my head and watch the world go by through the photos of people’s faces to the tune of “Small Green Island.” I would say to my friends at school, “my mom has traveled the world” and smile proudly. And she has been around the world, she took a year to do it. All I ever wanted to do was grow up and do just as she had done; see the world.

eveningcandleMy mother is a retired junior high school geography teacher and one year during her teaching she applied for a sabbatical and bought an “around the world ticket” to see the places she was teaching about. I remember many of the stories my mother has told me over the years and I have even been lucky enough to visit a few of the places she talked about and have my own experiences. However one place with all of its stories has forever stood out in my mind, India.

The stories my mother told about Indian culture and people were always my favorite. I have leaned a fair amount about the Indian culture over the years and I am still passionate to learn more. My mother always said the Indian culture was a culture that existed in its own place and time.

I stand with my palms resting against a brass banister. I press the rest of my body up next to the cool gate to let the temperature seep through my clothes to my hot skin. I stand in front of the Hindu god, Shiva, the destroyer. The temple is cool compared to the outside air. It is especially cool on my bare feet.

I am in the inner shrine of a Shiva temple in the center of a Hindu University. This was one of the original temples in the holly city of Varanasi. This city is also known as the city of temples and the birth place of Shiva. There are over 100,000 temples in Varanasi dedicated only to Shiva.

As I stand against the gate I close my eyes and listen to the prayer. The voice comes from the man standing next to me, our guide and our Brahmin. His words soar around the room and fill its entirety. He knows the string of sand script words by heart and they pour out of him in a deep beautiful song.

It lasted three minutes. For three minutes my eyes were closed. For three minutes I wonder if I should be more religious. I am in my own way. I may not attend church or worship a particular deity but I am a religious person of the world. My spiritual feeling comes when I talk to people about their stories, when I begin to understand others. So for three minutes I give thanks to those who help me get where I am today, traveling around the world. For the rest of my life I give thanks to the people who allow me to try to understand and to those people who will always love me and support my passion for telling the truth around the world.

Later, I climbed two feet up into a bicycle rickshaw and Rebecca climbed in next to me. The hard plastic held our weight but the seat was questionable since it was only supported by two thin bicycle wheels. With the seat at a forward slope and there not much room for two people it was difficult to stay in the shallow seat. The only things holding us in seat was the fear of falling to the broken road and the dust. Our driver tightly wound a green and white striped scarf around his head, leaving a tail near his left ear before he climbed on his bike. Many of the other drivers tied similar scarves around their heads and climbed on their bikes.

We headed for the edge of the city, the most holly part of the city. It is where the Ganges river touches the edge of the city. The center of the city appears to live on the banks of the river. The wheels of our rickshaw splashed through puddles and bounced over broken speed bumps. Faces and hands flew by as we swerved and dodged cows and tuck tucks in the streets. I held on as we hit every pot hole and laughed with every time we missed a cow. Thirty minutes and one thousand people later we reached the banks of the Ganges.

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A set of 100 stairs leads down to the edge of the water. Holly men sit on the stair under orange tarp tents, entirely naked with their bodies painted in ash. The white ash makes their ebony skin grey and there long beards white. These men sit there on the steps, live on the banks of the river, and pray as the sun comes up until it goes down.

Every 12 years there is a festival (a sort of pilgrimage) held in Varanasi. The last one was in 2001 and 3.6 million people came to the city. The festival ended a few days ago. This year 5 million people made the journey to the city. That kind of energy would be incredible to see and beautifully dangerous. Someday, maybe in 12 years, I will get to see something like that.naked with their bodies painted in ash. The white ash makes their ebony skin grey and there long beards white. These men sit there on the steps, live on the banks of the river, and pray as the sun comes up until it goes down.

I step slowly on to the last cement step with locals and foreigners alike standing at the edge of the water as the river licks the bottom of the wooden boats. The boat gives into the water asI step on the front to get inside. The air is cool and the bugs hover over the water. Two men sit at one end of the boat with giant ores rowing us and down the river.

The set of stairs we came down is just one of 85 sets. There are 85 ghats up and down the bank of the Ganges, each 100 steps or more. They stretch as far as the eye can see down the river. Old buildings stand, on top of the stairs, with holes so the river wind can pass through them. These buildings were built by the wealthy over the years. The kings and queens of past lives left the bricks to stand as a guard over the river. Most of the buildings are empty although some are inhabited. They are all beginning to crumble toward the stairs and the color is starting to fade.

When the water turned dark with the reflection of the night sky the fires of the crematorium became more visible. Sparks flew as boys beat the burning logs with sticks. Massive logs, the size of whole trees were stacked ten feet tall all along the upper part of the bank. It takes 300 kg of wood to burn one body. Five fires glowed near the edge of the river. All the fires were being tended but all the funeral processions had left. Three bodies, covered in gold fabric, laid on the stairs to the right of the fire, waiting their turn to be burned. Down below the cremation four men stand in the shallow water, cleansing the ashes and taking what gold and silver is left over from the bodies. The families never come back to reclaim the metal.

Many people think there are bodies floating around the Ganges River and at one time it was true but not anymore. There are four types of people that are not allowed to be cremated. A monk, a pregnant women, a child under ten, and a person who died from a snake bite. In these particular cases the bodies are taken out to the middle of the river, tied to a rock, and left to sink. The only reason a body comes to the surface are if the river dolphin cuts the rope. The sparks of the fires drifted up to clouds as we sat and watched. Eventually we moved away up stream to say a prayer of our own.

I sat with a bowl in my hand containing a lit candle with small gold flowers around it. To my right our priest begins to sing a prayer in sand script again. I closed my eyes and held the candle close to feel the warmth of the flame on my nose and smell the flowers. I closed my eyes for three minutes.

After the deep voice of the prayer dissolved into the night air all that could be heard was the lapping of the river at the bottom of the boat. I opened my eyes, turned around, made my wish, and sent my candle down the river.

Every night seven priests do a light ceremony to give thanks to the mother river for allowing them to make it to the end of the day. Thousands of people crowded on the ghats and in the boats at the shore. We stayed in our boat and only tried to move through the hordes of people when the ceremony was over.

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It took 30 minutes to navigate through the streets back to where our rickshaws were parked. The lights were bright on the main road and all that could be heard was the incessant beeping of motor bikes trying to get through the crowd. It never works well. As westerners many people were trying to stop us and take photos of us. As women we often found ourselves surrounded by men. Orange, yellow, green, and blue sari clothed women rushed by. I only have six inches of space around me, less when a cow came walking down the street.

My mother always said the Indian culture was a culture that existed in its own place and time. She was correct. When I got to Varanasi I thought; this is India. Varanasi is all of what I thought my Indian experience would be. It is a whole other world. When I was a little girl and my mother showed her slides from India, I would close my eyes for three minutes and listen to her stories. For three minutes I would be in India with my mother. For three days I was here in my India. Someday I will be in India with my mother and we will experience it together. I take these few words to say thank you to my mother for forever inspiring my passion for traveling.

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