20 Days of Tastes…

By MacLean Thomas

During 20 days, myself along with my classmates traveled through 5 major places in India. Through these travels, we got a taste of what India really is – away from the distractions of what it is not.

From the near freezing swims in the Ganges along Rishikesh to the scorching heat in the Andamans, or the snow capped mountains of Agora to the heavily populated Delhi, every place and experience was unique in its own way. I found that the diversity and dense differences in culture, environment, social norms and location were far more than my mind can comprehend.  They had to be experienced.

Evan introduced me to an important idea in Agora – the idea of simplicity. Upon arrival, I looked at Agora as a place of simple operation.  However, far more complexity lies in that cloud of assumption. Farming techniques, religion, different castes, and somehow finding the energy to work 24-7 is something that cannot be appreciated at first glance.

I experienced for the first time in my life being the minority in an area. I remember coasting through Old Delhi in the back of a  rickshaw and observing the smiles and waves that I received. I felt not only welcomed but appreciated in every place we traveled through, certainly a different minority experience than I have observed at home.  It made me think about those issues differently.

Whether it be Balbir, my host parent, welcoming me with open arms and sending me a prayer before my departure or Praveen inviting me to live with him if I happen to return, there seems to be a sense of home that ties to India. The unknowingness surrounding India as a whole evokes a constant curiosity, a place so different yet homelike forms a whole new platform of learning. Unlike any place I’ve been to, India feels inevitable in my return.

The unknowingness surrounding India as a whole evokes a constant curiosity, a place so different yet homelike forms a whole new platform of learning. Unlike any place I’ve been to, India feels inevitable.  I know I will return, as I have already in my mind.

Trip of a Lifetime

By Kyle Willis

At first, India was the next challenge in my fishing career – the Giant Trevally, a predatory monster, was finally within reach. We started the first day of fishing early. Got in a car and drove to Port Blair to meet our guides and get our gear sorted. We got to the outfitter’s office and spoke to the manager on their balcony and had a nice cup of chai. He explained how the day would go, what we would focus on in certain spots, and made us feel comfortable and excited to catch the fish I had chased to the other side of the world.

After only watching videos for months about how ferocious, aggressive, and territorial these beasts really were, I was finally entering their world. The technique that we would be focusing on for the two days of fishing was popping. Casting out 5-ounce poppers that sit on top of the water and reeling them in while yanking the rod back, again and again, to create a splash on the water was endless, but worth it. In anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet of water, our goal was to bring the GTs out from the depths and experience the sheer amount of power and force that they use to dominate the waters. Tirelessly we popped to hope to fire up the GTs waiting below. On our second day on the water, I had popped so much that my left arm locked up and felt paralyzed and the guides had to stretch my arm out and crack my fingers to get my arm to work again so I could immediately get back to casting. This really was the most extreme fishing of my life.

The amount of anger that a popper causes a Giant Trevally is unrivaled. All they want to do is destroy whatever is causing the commotion on the top of the water. That anger is what makes the fight so incredible. Their determination is obvious when they launch themselves out of the water to destroy the poppers. There is no greater feeling in the world when you finally hook up with a GT and get it into the boat. When I personally hooked up with a GT, it was insane. It felt like I had hooked into a brick wall and I thought I was going overboard. At first, it is impossible to even pull back on the rod because the fish just runs with the popper. When I finally got my balance and rod under control the fish was peeling drag. The only thought that was going through my mind was to not let the fish get down to the coral and break the line. I was reeling and yanking up on the rod to keep pressure but it felt like I was making no progress. After a few minutes of fighting the GT, I was already out of breath and tired. I felt like I could no longer even reel. I found it inside like a second wind to fight harder than ever to land the first GT of the trip. After getting the GT next to the boat and seeing it for the first time I was speechless. I did not have any emotion until the guides pulled the fish onto the boat. Then, I yelled out of excitement and I felt like the king of the world. Little did I know that I would do this same routine two more times over the duration of the trip.

India was a trip that I will never forget and catching three Giant Trevally just added to the excitement and joy that India brought me. When I originally decided on traveling to India, I was mostly looking forward to the fishing, but after experiencing everything that India has to offer I was the happiest I have been in years. The reason for my immense amount of happiness on this trip is because I had never had the chance to explore and be free like I was in India. Hiking in Agora, walking through the streets of New Delhi, talking to people in the Andamans, fishing every chance I got, all things that were so different from what I am used to in the US. Whether it was eating at Karim’s in Old Delhi and having the biggest pile of napkins ever because the food was so messy and spicy to the point of not bothering to sterilize the unpurified water, but so good that you just keep eating and eating until you are literally going to explode. Or feeling oddly comfortable walking through the streets where cars are inches from running you over because it reminded me of my hometown. Or from talking to Suman and Praveen or anyone in India about their lives or what they think about a certain thing because we all experienced things for the first time together. Or finally hooking up on the fish of a lifetime and having moments with friends that I will never forget. I think that difference, the chance to feel like I wasn’t doing the same thing I always do, is why I enjoyed India so much. It was like nothing I had ever dreamed of doing and yet I went at it full force and got the most out of it.  Agora, Delhi, and the Andamans all had their special moments that we all remember – from the people to the food.

I hope someday to return to India to revisit the places that have truly changed my life.

A Year

By Suman Singh

I am sitting here, looking out the window of my bedroom.  It is snowing a little.  The view looks particularly stunning – there is a lot more water in the waterfall now as the snow is melting.  The white streaks look like they are smiling at me.

Above all, I am thinking about you guys.  I am thinking about the time we spent together.  The joyful moments and, of course, lots of laughter and adventures.  I am thinking about the lessons we learned for life.

Now and then I can’t do anything but miss you guys.  I have a hard time thinking then.  Then today I realized that it is only a matter of a year.  In just one year we will see each other again and the experience will be even greater.  Each year this bond gets stronger.


 

We got back from Delhi just a few days ago.  I finally had the chance to spend some time at home and to run around the village visiting everyone.  Everyone I saw had only one question – how are the kids doing?  How is everyone?  Everyone was asking me – not just the host families but the entire village.  I kept thinking how crazy it is that these people are so eager to know how you are, how is your life going.  All I can say is that it is clear how much people appreciate the respect you showed to the village and how our connections are just getting deeper and deeper.


 

Meeting up with you guys in the Delhi airport, it was so hard for me to remember names and put them with faces.  So many of you were coming to India for the first time.  Now I am missing those same faces and being called Suman-ji from every single corner of this small world – with such sweet accents!

It is such a proud moment for me.  I realize what it means to be a brother and a friend amongst you guys!  I am really hopeful right now.  I hope that the trip will lead you toward the right path in life.  I am hopeful that it will challenge you and give you the strength to fight!


 

How deep are the relationships we all make with each other?  It’s always hard for me to hide my tears at the end when I am saying goodbye to each of you.  But I have to do it to show you all how strong I am.  Well, really, just to show you all how strong this bond is and how strong next year will be!

It is just a matter of a year.  Soon I will be seeing many of you again!

Back in Abu Dhabi

With tearful goodbyes—well, see you soons—we left Suman and Praveen at the Delhi airport. From there, it felt a bit like a frantic dirge to get to our flight. But, we made it. We are here, in Abu Dhabi, safe and sound and a couple hours from boarding our flight to D.C.  It’s hard to believe that all that has happened has been encapsulated in two weeks. Agora feels simultaneously near (in us, really) and quite far away. That’s just the nature of this sort of travel, I suppose. The more one sees of the world, the more one realizes how little of it they’ve actually seen; yet, travel like this harbors connections that extend far beyond two weeks.  Really, they harbor interconnectedness, consciousness, and growth. 

The students’ words speak to that, so I’ll keep mine to a minimum. But, we’d like you to know that each night we would gather together to read the students’ posts and your comments on them. It was a beautiful moment to hear our families and friends and school from these seemingly remote locations. 

We will see you again stateside; we look forward to sharing more of our adventure over a cup to tea face-to-face. 

The End of the Road 

By Sam Christie

As steam rose from the reaction of hand-flattened bread to a clay oven in an early morning breakfast, my first dose of India grabbed me by the mind and heart. As I began my list of firsts, I justified every ounce of excitement for what was to come by the shear reward of deviating from a routine. Soon finding myself surrounded by monkeys overlooking the holy river Ma Ganga, I wondered if they ever thought of their own existence or just of the food they scavenged. If all things live and all things die, do all things think, and do all things cry? Flora and fauna alike, our differences bring us closer together for needs of what we don’t have. You see:

We and the trees are one and the same

Some are unknown and some have a name

Some stay in groups and some stay alone

Some live life wild and others at home

They both live and die and breath and they try

To grow taller and better with no limit but sky

Of trees and of men, those cut down too soon

For sources of profit, and thought etched from gloom

We are connected by roots, the ancient ones stronger

With unity needed for the sort to live longer

Different colors and shapes and uses and beauty

Casting a shadow of calm, freely unto thee

There be little different but branches and eyes

Let the code of existence be live and let die.
Two miles past the end of the road, Agora, our mountainous home, almost entirely sustained by its own land and laborers, diverged its own colors from the slope of the peaks that dwarf all below, children ran from home to school with much more enthusiasm than I am used to. Men and women carry equal loads to build upon their neighbors homes.

       

This land of birds, mountains, stream, and soul, helped us reground ourselves from our individualistic lifestyle. We think largely of ourselves and what matters now, but never our family, friends or let alone cows. 

     

The people of Agora, “simple” we called them, not because of their methods, because, believe me, none of us are as skilled as they, but because they are comprehensible. They live for their family and for their community in nature. That is it, nothing more. They found happiness before we realized we lost it, wrapped up in world of fake words and items hoping to hook you on the temporary. Now, I’m not saying our society is bad, nor am I saying Agora is perfect. What I am saying is that it’s time to open our eyes and find meaning in what we do.
Flying into the Andamans, the plane became a world amongst a vast canvas of life’s most precious commodity, flat sparkling water beyond comprehension leading up to the white sand beaches and mangroves. We settled into our cottages and made our way into the jungle with a team of passionate researchers.
On this jungle trail, as I lay my eyes on the soil of a beautiful forest, I challenged myself in a physical and spiritual way to walk with my head up. Instead of worrying where I was going, I needed to enjoy how I was getting there. It was no sooner as I lifted my head that I saw how high the trees brushed the sky and the vines held close to the branches of flora. It was on that trail I learned to stop and smell the roses and it was there on that trail that I learned to embrace the negatives as a necessary element of being positive. I will gladly embrace tripping on a branch if it means I find something amazing whilst tripping on said branch.
It’s hard to fit everything that I have learned and experienced into this post, but when you boil down all of the beauty of a place like India and with friends like those we brought and met here, the first thing that pops into my head is connection. The connections I have made with these islands and mountains to myself and, most importantly, the connections I have made with people, each one of them just as if not more important than I, all with their personal experiences, loves and fears. I think tirelessly over the people I will never see again and how much I want a connection to last. While periods of your life go by and you say farewell time and time again, I am happy that we converge with those who proved to be our inseparable friends and equals at the end of the road. 

Thank You

By Hannah Duke

A million thank you’s could never be enough for everyone on this trip—but I’ll try. Here goes:

I’ll start with a thank you to Mr. Alter for all the time he devoted to organizing this trip for us. A thank you to Ms. Showalter for leading me by example during host family dinners. A thank you to Mrs. Smiley for always being the mom figure. A thank you to Mr. Cola for always inspiring and encouraging us to go find our adventurous side. A thank you to Ms. Robertson for always keeping us on track. A thank you to Ms. Sinnenberg for helping us to learn to think beyond ourselves. A thank you to Ms. Belasco for always finding a way to relate our surrounding to the classroom. A thank you to my parents and family members for giving me this opportunity to experience the world. A thank you to our amazing drivers on this trip for keeping us from flying off the side of a mountain. A thank you to Bharat Lodge for providing us with cozy rooms and tasty food. A thank you to Angeli for giving me a best friend halfway around the world. A thank you to Madhu for being the didi I never had. A thank you to Chandra for showing me how strong women are capable of being. A thank you to all the women of Agora. A thank you to Kathryn and Libby for keeping things quiet even when things next door got a little crazy. A thank you to the kids in the middle school for showing genuine curiosity and excitement. A thank you to Colonel for being the dopest dog ever. A thank you to Agora for being my home away from home. A thank you for Lodi Gardens for showing me you can find peace in the most hectic places. A thank you to Karim’s for your naan. A thank you to Dilli Haat. A thank you to C Park Inn for the first shower in six days. A thank you to Port Blair for being warm. A thank you for Anaugama Resort for taking such good care of us. A thank you to Tappa for sharing your beautiful family with us. A thank you to the ANET researchers for sharing your passions. A thank you for the beach for the good times and sunburns. A thank you to Libby, Austin, Rosie, and Kathryn for keeping the room fun. A thank you to Praveen for showing me continuous curiosity, willingness to give, and excitement. And finally, a thank you to perhaps the most amazing person I have ever met: Suman-ji. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for showing us your amazing home. Thank you for always translating. Thank you for always letting me be a part of your family. Thank you for the promised wedding invitations, daily texts, and FaceTime calls. Thank you for teaching me cool handshakes. Thank you for taking millions of selfies with me. Thank you for always joking around. Thank you for being excited. Thank you for making it impossible to ever forget you. Thank you for making this trip what it is. Thank you for being you, Suman. 

Thank you. 

8 March 2017

By Libby Nashwinter

In the midst of our daily routines at home, we far too often fall into the trap of being too comfortable. We are too comfortable with the amount of knowledge we have, which allows us to pass by opportunities to learn more about ourselves, the world, and, most importantly, our place in the world. I think we are often afraid of experiencing new things, for they never fail to prove how much we do not know. This Indian excursion has blessed us with so many eye-opening experiences that force us to view the world through a lens of immense curiosity, which has ultimately led us to ask meaningful questions. Personally, the past two days granted me the most curiosity thus far. 

We were lucky to spend the last day and a half, March 7-8, with the local environmental team, ANET. Spending the days with such passionate researchers showed us just how much we have to learn. The more we learned, the more we realized how little we know in the most positive sense. As the coral specialist we met with today put it, “the closer you look at the world, the fuzzier things get.” Learning real hard science was tough to process in the midst of this busy adventure. One thing I found helpful throughout the overload of interesting—mind-blowing, even—information was searching for both obvious and abstract connections. For example, the reliance between species in the jungle was so clear. Without one another, these organisms could not survive and thrive as they do in order to compare the magical, most vibrant jungle we trekked through. It proved to me that everything and everyone is the way they are for a reason. We all know that the world cannot be explained in its entirety, for it is far too dense. However, the more we experience, the better window we may have into understanding why things in the world are as they are. Observing these symbiotic relationships in the environment showed me showed me that relationships with other beings are so important in achieving many successes in life, especially happiness. 

When learning about coral reefs on our second day with the environmental team, the topic of reef resilience has remained in my mind most heavily. This concept led me to more, perhaps more obvious, connections between individual plants and animals we have studied and ourselves as individual human beings who need each other to some extent. Not only is the definition of “resilience” applied similarly to humans and the environment, but also we discussed a concept called “social ecological resilience”, which reflects how we, as humans, rely on the environment around us in order to lead our best lives. The researchers residing in the Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team (ANET) headquarters are living proof of this idea. Every aspect of these individuals’ lives have the local environment so deeply ingrained in their everyday existences. 
These individuals proved such inspiring dedication to their passion, and it was evident through their excited teaching. We all experience positives and negatives in our lives, for we are all human, but our immense abundance of curiosity and willingness to discover the world beyond ourselves sprouted such positive vibes to lay the foundation for our experience in the Andaman Islands. After quite some time away, we may be dreaming of home, but our experiences in this environment have revealed an entirely new sect of curiosity in each of us to pack up and carry home. Today we were reminded of home in many ways, but most prominently, of how coastal communities of both Virginia and the Andaman Islands rely on the local environments. Similar to school, where we most definitely get more than the average school experience, we have gotten far more than the average, expected island experience. We got to learn about what makes this place so beautiful and environmentally rich—a behind the scenes view.