India, here I come!!!
I am so pleased to announce that my trip to India will include time in Dehli, Agra and, my teaching host location in the West Bengalese city of Kolkata!
My host teacher is Rita Benerjee, an English and Social Studies teacher at Carmel High School, a Catholic school founded by a group of Carmelite sisters in 1870. Carmelite sisters still run and teach at the school, however, most of the students and many of the other teachers are Hindu. Here is the school’s web site, if you’d like to check it out: http://www.chskolkata.in/index.php#page-top.
Once I regained my composure after hyperventilating with excitement when I learned that I would be visiting the City of Joy, the city that stole Mother Teresa’s servant heart, I broke out the massive travel book my daughter gave me for Christmas and rummaged through the pages dedicated to the West Bengal province I am sure to love. I have already corresponded with Rita and my American travel partner, Sandra Lins, from Denver, Colorado. We are presently making plans for our stay in Kolkata, which will include teaching students, facilitating professional development sessions and, of course, experiencing the sights, sounds, history and culture of the second largest city in India. (I also hope to visit St. Mother Teresa's house!!!)
As I’ve mentioned, my guiding question on this adventure will revolve around the transformative power of stories, specifically the sharing of personal stories. How can hearing or reading personal stories from other countries or cultures broaden our understanding of the world around us? Can sitting down for a meal and sharing personal experiences, really getting to know one another, melt away prejudice, resolve conflict, and create a more peaceful world? I believe it can, but one must be committed to learning, to growing in order to be open enough to give it a try. It is so easy for one to judge others by the labels society imposes on us, the stereotypes tossed around in the media disguised as fact. The perpetuation of the “us and them” mentality does more to divide our world than any other single factor. And what about the misconceptions some people have about groups of people, usually neighbors close to home who are “different” in some way, because they happened to have been brought up in a certain region of a country, or during a past age that did not fully understand the depth, breadth or harm of racism? A simplistic examination of the reasons for prejudice and hatred, I know, but this discussion could go on for years and deserves a much larger venue than my tiny blog.
On a more targeted level for my purposes, how can we achieve a more peaceful and empathetic world if our only understanding comes from sources with specific agendas, or sources pushing perspectives designed to make us feel or think in a way that will benefit the source, not us? How also can we work together as global citizens if we are pushing our own agenda, culture, values and perspectives onto others? Isn’t it time for us to learn from each other instead? I don’t mean that we should abandon our values, beliefs or patriotism, but instead, that we understand and accept other cultures and perspectives so that our new understanding will be driven by our informed perspective and will help us put aside differences and embrace similarities and shared goals. After all, what do all humans desire from others? Simple respect.
But this humble teacher and traveler seeks not only answers, but the skill of asking better questions. For many, our question and answer skills developed in our own local bubble. I want to learn the processes by which Indians, be they Hindu, Sikh, Buddist, Muslim, Zoroastrian — no matter the philosophy that guides their life — develop the questions for which they most want to find answers. The right and just answers always, always, always come from a perspective of love. If it is true that all major religions, and those that few even know exist, teach similar directives, instructions that humans are to love one another, to take care of each other and the world, and to strive for goodness in our life, then why is there such hatred and division in our world? I am seeking answers that will give me hope, hope for humanity, hope that, if the world can go back to good, old-fashioned, intimate storytelling, peace can spread from families gathered to share a meal with their neighbors, and from those neighbors to others in the local community, and from there the ripple of new and inclusive perspectives will multiply like ripples from a pebble dropped in a pond. That peace can then wiggle its way into workplaces and nursing homes, school classrooms and playgrounds, ushered into these places by the simple sharing of life, of story.
I believe that starting with the basics, such as sitting down over a good cup of coffee, tea, chia, Shikuwasa juice, Air Mata Kucing, egg soda or mango lassi, and telling stories about our children, our embarrassments, our joys and sorrows, our hopes and dreams can bring peace to our world. One conversation at a time. Two or more people at a time. One funny story, wedding story, death or tragedy at a time. It is through these tiny glimpses into one’s heart that we recognize our similarities. Our character is revealed and our emotions illustrate the essence of who we are. Once that intimacy is felt, the hatred has no where to rest. It will first diminish, and then fade away all together.
My grand plan for my Indian experience is to listen actively to the stories that are graciously shared with me. And I, too, will share. I will set aside my fears and self-consciousness and open my heart to the people I meet. It has always come easy for me to write my personal stories (and to make up stories in my imagination) while sitting alone with my computer or journal. The solitude of writing is both a gift and a curse. But that buffer of solitude often stifles my ability of have open, meaningful conversation. So, I will stretch myself and open up on this trip. I will gather stories and friends like a child in a field of wild flowers, appreciating each for its uniqueness and beauty. And I will scatter a few flowers of my own, a (mature) flower girl spreading petals to make the way toward beauty of a unifying event.
I guess we will all have to wait and see how well I accomplish this goal. I ask you, dear ones, to please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.