by Christina Richardson
This past winter break I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take the travel seminar to India. It was an experience I will never forget! For a long time, India was a country I always wanted to visit, so when I stepped off the plane in Chennai, India, I knew my dream had finally come true. I traveled to India with 9 others (1 professor, 1 TF, and 8 students), and who would have known that two weeks in India would transform a group of strangers into a family? Of course, like most families we each had our own personalities with similarities and differences. At the end of the day, we all connected with each other, got along beautifully, and took care of each other, especially when someone was not feeling well or needed something. Also, I don’t think you can get any closer than having your laundry washed together and then collecting your laundry one by one from a mixed pile of clothes on the table.
While in southern India, we visited several cities: Madurai, Thekkady, Kottayam, Trichy, Pondicherry, and Chennai. In those cities, we visited churches, temples, monuments, seminaries, and ashrams. One church we visited was on St. Thomas Mount, which is believed to be the place where St. Thomas was martyred. From the Mount, there is also a beautiful view of Chennai right behind the church. Inside the church there were many paintings of Saints along the walls and in the front of the church was a shrine for St. Thomas.
The shrine for St. Thomas had a relic which was a piece of his finger bone. In addition, the church had a whole case full of relics from saints all over the world. We also visited one of the most historic and famous Hindu temples in Madurai, the Meenakshi Temple. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, who is a form of Parvathi, a Hindu goddess. The temple has 4 large colorful towers facing east, west, north, and south. The towers stand about 170 feet tall and if you look closely you can see hundreds of statues all over it. In the inner part of the temple people stood in long lines to get into the main worship area and there are also smaller areas where people can worship. On the outer part of the temple there were market stands where people could go and buy clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, etc. While in India we were also able to do some tourist activities like take a trip down the lake on a boathouse, ride an elephant, visit a spice farm, take a ride in a rickshaw, and see traditional music, dance, and theater performances. One of my favorite memories was after the Dalit drummer’s performance, we were invited to dance on stage with the drummers and dancers. I personally love dancing so it was great to dance with others and see everyone let loose and dance as if no one was watching. Even the children at the performance joined in for some of the fun.
As I reflect on my time in India I realize it is hard to capture my experience with merely words and pictures. The feeling I felt there is quite indescribable and cannot be fully illustrated with words like love, welcome, and care. The people we encountered were all of those and much more! Everywhere we went people opened their doors for us and invited us in as one of their own. People took time out of their schedule to meet and talk to us and even to help us when one of our professors was not feeling well. The people I encountered in India made me feel at home and to see people all around with beautiful chocolate skin helped me to feel welcomed as one of them. India is a beautiful place with beautiful people, garments, culture, traditions, music, etc.
Unfortunately, along with such beauty there is the sight of poverty. While walking around the outside of the Meenakshi temple, there were a large number of people trying to sell different items. One of the saddest moments for me was seeing a young woman with her baby desperately trying to sell some of her items in order for her and her baby to eat. We bought some items to help but I know it did not do much. The next day we saw her again but this time just begging for money. I felt so disheartened and helpless because there was nothing I could do to help this woman and her baby. I knew after I left India, she would still have to sell and beg for money in order for her and her baby to survive. That experience made me feel so small and with so many hardships and poverty around the world, I knew I could not do anything to help or change any situation. Reflecting on that moment, I realize of course I am not able to help everyone but helping one person at a time, even if it is small, will make a difference in that one person’s life, which is all worth it in the end.
Being in India has thought me a lot of things about myself and the world, especially when it comes to time. In the U.S., we are always on the go, from one thing to the next but in India, things are more laid back and people go with the flow when things happen. I have learned that I need to slow down sometimes and treasure the moments I am in. In India, I was also reminded of the privilege I have. Being able to have the luxury to travel across the world to another country in itself is a privilege. In addition, I had the privilege of being educated; I have enough money to buy souvenirs, eat three meals a day, take a shower with hot water, and the list goes on. Many of the people I encountered in India unfortunately did not have the privilege to do even a quarter of these things. Being from a place where I am told of the privileges I do not have and then visiting a place where my privilege is seen everywhere I go can be quite startling. It helped me to see myself with more power that I thought I had and it made me realize how I really need to use the power I have to help others who are suffering. In all, my trip to India was more than marvelous and I appreciate the people I have met, the India culture, traditions, music, and dance, and the new friends I have made during my time there. My heart is full of joy from my experience in India and it is one I will always cherish and never forget!
Christina Richardson is a 2nd year MDiv student from Providence, Rhode Island. She is currently working on being ordained in her church and hopes to work as a college chaplain in the future. She loves to travel, sing and dance to music, and most of all spend time with her family and friends.