Implications of tourism in Tanzania

My study abroad experience was wonderful.There is no way I will be able to fully express it through writing.The full extent of my experience and feelings will remain with me in memory. During my journey I kept a detailed personal journal to document my experience. I may not include all the details in this particular essay. However, I will try to express some things.

I boarded the plane headed to Kenya, my home country about a week before my study abroad. Kenya was absolutely wonderful. I reconnect with family that I had not seen in eight to ten years. I visited my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Although it was many years since I have been to Kenya, talking and interacting with family was as if resuming a conversation that had just been put on pause for a while, as if no time had passed between the time I last met them. I reconnected back with family instantly.They were all ecstatic to see me again. I had missed them much, they had missed me much. I travelled from Nairobi to Nyandarua to Mombasa, to Kapsabet. Kenya has changed and grown a lot, it’s wonderful! I truly cannot express the joy and experience I had in Kenya. Look at the photos and see, these memories and feelings will remain with me.
After my week in Kenya, I boarded a bus headed to Arusha, Tanzania. The traveling time was about four hours. The view was wonderful, hills,plains and wild animals spread out. A student who was part of the study abroad group had decided to visit Kenya also. So we decided to take the bus together. Four hours later we arrived and got picked up and driven to where we were to stay.

During the first four days, we were hosted by small college. During this time, we explored the environment to get a feel of Tanzania. The rest of the students got a small crash course in Swahili, since I already knew Swahili, I helped them out a bit.
After that week, we started to travel to different parts of Tanzania. Most of out time in Tanzania was spent exploring and discussion. We started in Maji ya Chai we traveled to Arusha National park to Lake Natron Conservation to Serengeti National Park to Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Loliondo. We were not in a formal classroom. We learned about the discourse surround ecotourism. About the Positives vs negatives of ecotourism.

The positive aspects ecotourism is that wild animals are conserved and not invaded upon by humans and people get an opportunity to visit wild life. However, there is a down side to ecotourism. First, animals are glorified more that people. When tourists go to Africa, they mostly only go on Safari to see animals, yet they never take the time to actually interact and know the people in Africa. When tourists go to Europe, they go and see human creation, human architecture, when tourist visit Africa, they only go to see wild life. Negative stereotypes concerning Africa emerge due a lack of interaction and understand of African people on part of the tourist. Second, tourism lodges are so expensive that only rich people, mostly from Europe and America can afford. Third, the conservation areas were designated and made by European nations, it’s not the Tanzanian government who made the conservation areas. This shown the colonialist connotation that the conservation areas have. Who said that European nations are the only ones who know how to conserve and take care of animals? Animals are designated such as huge area of land by the guidelines of European counties, while the Maasai people’s land is getting snatched away from them by conservation workers and investors. That is ridiculous. No one tells Europe and America what to do with their land. As we were speaking with the Maasai people of Tanzania, we leaned that the Maasai have their own mechanics on how they protect and conserve the animals. Each clan looks out to conserve a certain type of animal, this is their way to be stewards of the land that they acknowledge was given to them by God. I strongly agree with them.

My favorite part of the experience was meeting the people of Tanzania. I truly do miss the people. I miss the people I met when I went to church. They were so welcoming. Church service was wonderful, just like in Kenya, just like in the U.S. I ate lunch with them, joined their choir practice in the afternoon and was invited to visit by two ladies. I had a wonderful time, I miss them. The members of the Pastoral Woman’s Council (PWC) were great. They are a strong organization that empower their community. There is so much I can say about them, but I need to summarize. The experience I had with them I will never forget. They educate the community regarding money, they educate the community by running a high school, they also fight against injustice regarding land by education the community about their rights.

The students that we met were also wonderful. They reminded me of my experience when I went to school in Kenya. They were very friendly, I made friends with them. We played, laughed and talked together. We played jump rope. I used to do that a lot when I was young. The people that hosted us were also so wonderful. I talked much with them. They directed me on how to get African Style clothing tailored. We spoke about the difference between Tanzania and Kenya. We laughed and made jokes. I really connected with them well. It was great to be with my fellow Africans. There is just something wonderful about being with people like you, people who really get you.

One of my goals is to travel to as many African counties as possible and interact with the wonderful people and see the wonderful treasure that lay in my home continent. After the study abroad ended, my adventure continued. I went back to Kenya to visit more family members. Before I had come for the study abroad, I had visited family in Nairobi and Nyandarua, now after the study abroad, I visited family in Mombasa and Kapsabet. The experience was wonderful, family was ecstatic to meet me again, we instantly reconnected. I was there for a about a week, time flew by so fast and soon I boarded the plane heading back the USA, my immediate family was missing me. I will never forget this wonderful experiences. I thank God for giving me this opportunity.

After I came back from my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I was very glad to see my immediate family, but I missed my extended family. I also missed the people I had met in Tanzania. Although I am not there, memories will still remain.

Reflecting on my experience in Brazil

Reflecting is very important so that I can process and remember my experience. There are many things that I learned concerning Brazilian culture. Some activities that are memorable to me are such as the Capoeira workshop/kids’ performance, the workshop where we learned how to play African instruments such as the drums, our visit to the Remanso community Quilombo, our visit to Steve Biko (of which I spoke about in first reflection) and our visit to the Afro-Brazilian clothing studio.

It was interesting to learn about Capoeira’s history. Capoeira is a combination of dance and fight. It was used as a form of self-defense for enslaved Africans during the time on slavery. This knowledge of the history and background and significance of the moves made our encounter with Capoeira more valuable as we learned some moves during the workshop and as we watched the kids play it. Because Capoeira is now used only as an art form and not a self-defense mechanism, it would be interesting in the future to see if Capoeira ever changes significantly throughout time. It was interesting also to play the African instruments. I have never played them before. I particularly liked the shakers. They are so simple, yet can make complex sounds. African things are impressive, even the “simplest” things are so beautifully complex if you look long enough. The visit to the Remanso community Quilombo, was also very valuable. It was great to learn about the strong communities that runway slaves created. I love hearing stories of resistance against oppression, we do not hear resistance stories often enough. It was great to hear from the brother and sister that spoke to us about their personal life-stories. I love listening to peoples’ life-journeys, so that was great.

Although I enjoyed all these activities, I will compare only one of these activities to my culture. I am Kenyan as you already know. I will comment on the activity concerning the visit when we met Goya Lopes who talked to us about Afro-Brazilian fashion. It was very interesting to see the whole process of cloth-making, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of this event was seeing the final product after everything was put together. I have many African clothing but until then I had not had the chance to see how the process of putting the African prints onto the fabric works. This was a good opportunity for me. (I am actually wearing one African shirt right now as I write this essay; I did not plan this, what a coincidence). The process begins with an artist dreaming up an Africa-inspired print design. Then the artist draws the print design on paper. Then that drawing is transferred to digital form on a computer making it possible for the design to be reproduced multiple times and in desired sizes. Then another machine (I am not sure of the name) is used to copy the digitized image onto a nylon-saturated-screen which is the sprayed with water to clean off part that are not part of the design. The next step is for two individuals to put paint over the screen which is placed over the fabric copying the design onto the fabric. Then the paint is dried and stays on the fabric. The designs we saw made were typical African style. I know this; I have seen many African print clothing. The different prints really give character to the clothing. Then the style of the outfit itself is the finishing touch of the art work. African clothing is so distinct and beautiful.

Like I said before, this was a good opportunity for me because I got the see the process of putting the African prints onto fabric. This experience complemented an experience I had in my study abroad in Tanzania last year. This experience I had in Tanzania is similar to what would have happened if I was in Kenya, let me explain. While I was in Tanzania, I got African-style cloths made by a seamstress. These cloths were not ready-made cloths that one buys at the store. These cloths were made specifically for me. I went to a store that sold African-style-prints fabric (like the fabrics we saw made in Brazil), and I chose and bought the fabric that had the designs and colors that I liked. Then I took the fabric to the seamstress. She measured my size, I gave here the style I had searched and liked, she took note and she together with her assistants made me the cloths. The cloths were beautiful and very well done. Like I said, when it comes to clothing, Kenyan and Tanzanian style and process of making are similar, that is why I said that this experience I had in Tanzania is similar to what would have happened if I was in Kenya. When people want African-styled clothing, many people prefer to choose the prints and fabrics they like then they personally go and get fitted and their cloths made by the seamstress instead of buying ready-made clothing like in a mall. In Tanzanian (which is similar to Kenya) I got to choose and buy the print design and fabric I wanted, I chose the particular style of the outfit itself that I wanted (unlike ready-made cloths such as in malls). My experience in Tanzania (which is similar to Kenya) complements my experience in Brazil because while Brazil, I got to see how artists design the prints to the point where the print designs are put on fabric. While in Tanzania I saw how the customer chooses the print design they like to the point where they have the cloths made. These two experiences got me to understand the full process from the point the design is born in the artists mind to the point where the customer is wearing the design.
One of the difficult aspects of this event was the fact that the country’s economy had negatively affected the business making it impossible to have more artists working together. But one thing that was good to hear was the fact that the artist has workshops that expose people to her work to inspire them, especially kids. At least that’s a positive thing despite the economic hardships.

African and African-inspired clothing is truly beautiful, unique and distinct. I am proud to own and wear my African clothing. The clothing represents the beautiful imagination, creativity and artistic talents of my people.

Here are some photos of my experience in Brazil:

Uplifting/heartbreaking aspects of Brazil

As I wrote on my application to this study abroad program, my aim is to explore Black people’s history and culture by visiting as many places with Black people around the world as possible. Coming to Brazil and specifically Salvador that has the biggest population of Black people outside of Africa has been very eye opening for me. This place is reminiscent of my country Kenya. The friendliness and warmth, people are genuinely interested in talking and interacting with one another. As in Kenya, people in Brazil are outside interacting with one another. Marketplaces are loud and busy. Kids play outside, people buy food by the roadside, the streets are buzzing with activity. This is very different from Seattle. It is so beautiful and sweet to come and be so hugged and kissed by the host mom and by other people. Personal space here is minimal, people like to be close and personal while interacting. This friendliness and warmth is the same as in Kenya, except people do not kiss as part of greetings in Kenya. Although I am not able to interact with people here as much as I would like to due to the language barrier (unlike in my Tanzanian study abroad), I none the less have learned much through observation and experience. I see how lively and friendly the people are. From the taxi drivers to the cashiers to the street vendors to the people at the beaches. I have experienced the genuine hospitality that my host family has provided for me. My host mom has been great. We have been able to communicate mostly via Google translator. Although communication has been of a different nature (gestures and google translator) due to the language barrier, I have still enjoyed my interactions with her. She has really taken care of me while I have been sick. She has gone above and beyond.

Some parts of my experience in Brazil has been heartbreaking and some parts uplifting. It has been heartbreaking to hear concerning the cruel history of slavery and of the racism that is currently present. However, one part of this experience has been uplifting was when we went to the Steve Biko NGO. It was great to hear of the hard work that people are doing to combat racism.

One of the things they do that stood out to me was the class they teach that is focused on Black awareness. It is great and important that they are combating eurocentric education by educating the students about Black ideas, history and cultures. Eurocentric education is very damaging because it presents a skewed view that looks down on and minimizes other people such as Black and Indigenous people, giving undue emphasis on European points of view.

The difficult part of this event was listening to the experiences that people had concerning racism. The story about the black lady that was unduly asked by the boss to make coffee simply because she was black while that was not part of the job description. The other story was of the black professor who was barely recognized as a professor simply because of his color. This particular event did not place me out of my comfort zone because I have had many conversation concerning race in the U.S. I knew what expect, however I will never be used to the heartbreak of these stories. Talking about race issues will never be easy. When it comes to my country Kenya, race is not an issue because most people are black (there are many Asian and Indian immigrants there now, but Kenya is majority Black people). The issues with Kenya have to do with ethnicity. People can be discriminated upon based on their tribe. I cannot give much detail on this because I immigrated to the U.S almost ten years ago when I was young. However, I do know that tribalism is a big issue in Kenya. Just as in Brazil, there are organizations in Kenya as there are also in U.S that are trying to help communities overcome discrimination and help better the society. In the future, I would like to learn if and how Brazilian history books would be corrected to present the correct unbiased non-eurocentric history. As long as people are misinformed, attempts to better the society will not work. Apart from lessons concerning slavery and colonization, Black people need to be taught about their great history and about their great contributions to society. This kind of education is necessary to act as a mirror example to show that Black people can be successful because the were also in the past. This education is necessary in order for Black people to get a better and fuller understanding of who we are so we can be inspired to succeed more and reach to greater heights.

September 19-HOME

Going to Machu Picchu was amazing. It was beautiful to see the ruins and learn about their advanced culture. We had a guided tour for a few hours that went into detail about why the city was built the way it was and the general history behind their beliefs. We were able to then wader around for a few hours. I and a partner did both of the short, but free, hikes out of the city and back. We viewed the architecture and the sights of the beautiful city. Admired how good they were at making stairs (man there were a lot! Our knees were feeling it by the end of the day!). After spending 7 hours there we then hiked back down to Aguas Calientes because the line for the bus back down was so long.

This brings me to something that was incredibly obvious when we first got there. It was so incredibly touristy. Thousands of people are there daily, and it was kind of a shock after seeing a limited number of people for such a long time. I absolutely enjoyed my time up in Machu Picchu wandering the paths that people took so long ago, but I was very happy that the rest of our trip had not been like that. Anyway, after a lovely sunny day at Machu Picchu we all slept very well and then headed back to Cusco the next day for our adventure to come to a close.

Little did 6 of us know our adventure was not over yet! We were all supposed to fly from Cusco to Lima the night of the 21st and be home on the 22nd. Unfortunately our flight was canceled and we had to stay another night in Cusco. We were working off of little to no sleep but we managed to get our flights rescheduled home for the next day. We managed to make it home only 12 hours late (which was around 2:15 am on the 23rd!). We were all very happy to be home after a couple stressful days. It was a stressful ending, but this was an incredible once in a lifetime experience for me and I am so happy that I went out of my comfort zone to go to Peru and explore the incredible biodiversity that it was to offer.

Farewell Peru!

September 15- September 18

            The last part of our exploration seminar really focused on culture in Peru. We were back in Cusco for a day and back with civilization for the rest of the trip. I was excited to start seeing that side a bit more. We spent one day in Cusco visiting the San Pedro market and we squeezed in Plaza de Armas for some souvenir shopping!

   We headed out of Cusco and moseyed our way to the Urabamba Valley. We stopped did a lot of enlightening things along the way. We stopped and volunteered at a elementary school and met some of the children. We planted some flowers and started to help build their playground, but we ran out of time before it was complete. They were grateful for our help, and we really enjoyed spending time with the kids. We then got to view and be a part of an earth blessing by a local shaman that Ursula and Tim knew. That was incredible to be a part of something so spiritual. We then toured a large Incan corn farm to close out the day.

We followed this day with discussions about sustainable agriculture vs mass production of crops. It boiled down to people are doing the best that they can to be sustainable but still make a profit to survive. Completely understandable, but sustainability does need to become more of a prominent factor. All the people in Peru no matter their profession know climate change is happening, they have seen it growing up. This is a very large head start at achieving sustainability goals over the United because most of their citizens understand that the climate is changing and people need to start responding the crisis no matter what is causing the change.

We followed this busy day with more incredible packed days. We went to a women’s weaving co-op. We learned how to dye yarn and see how much hard work goes into spinning, dying and weaving. We got to buy some of their products (warning all these products are great and I spent too much money there J but I regret nothing!). We then went to tour the Salt Mines and WOW these were stunning. I had never seen anything like it. It was incredible to see the process and to be able to walk through it and see crystals forming.  

We went to a textile center the next day that produced a variety of clay products. This ranged from art to bowls and mugs. It also doubled as an animal sanctuary because the man’s son who started the business was a vet. That was fun to see because he had large german shepherds running around with a lot of ceramics at head and tail height, but they never knocked anything over!

We then made our way to Ollantaytambo where we then took a short train to Aguas Calientes and got ready to go to Machu Picchu the next day!!! I was very excited

September 10- September 14

We spent our last day in the amazon basin exploring how crops are grown with a tropical climate. We discussed sustainability and viewed sustainable agriculture expieraments that were put together by the researcher there. It was fun to hear about his plans for the future, because he had just taken it over at the beginning of the year. We also enjoyed a tour of some medicinal and more traditional plants that are used by natives in Peru. That was interesting to hear the natural remedies and shows that plants are capable of a lot of things!

We left Villa Carmen and headed to Wayqecha where we did data analysis for a few days for our research projects. Man it was cold up there in the cloud forest! Moving from the amazon basin to the Andes was a shock! I wore a hat, gloves, and many layers while we were there, and I actually enjoyed eating hot food and having hot tea and coffee (eating hot food when it is hot and humid is surprisingly hard). We explored the forest near the biological station and got to enjoy the amazing views while we did many nature walks. It was incredible to see the difference in habitats from what we had just come from.  

On our last day at Wayqecha we went on a hike to a suspension bride. We looked at environmental differences between the peaks and valleys of the hills along the way. We all got to cross the suspension bridge and see what the view of the forest would be like from the trees. It was a great way to learn about plant adaptations for a damp and cloudy environment.

Next thing I knew we were on our way back to Cusco! Time was flying by, and we were already saying goodbye to the rainforest as we weaved our way back to civilization.

Religion in Varanasi, India

“Religions are different roads converging upon the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, as long as we reach the same goal?”- Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the main reasons I chose to go on this trip was because of the religious aspect of it. I wanted to discover different religions and learn about the stories/logic behind them. As a practicing Muslim, I have only known Islam in details my whole life and wanted to learn about other religions as well because I was always fond of religions. India is one of the best places for me to learn about religion because there are so many religions being practiced such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. The first week of this trip, I spent time at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) where we learned about Buddhism and how its philosophy. This was really interesting to me because technically its not a religion because there is no god and everyone is their own boss, but at the same time it is different than atheism because they have rituals to follow and prayers, nuns, books, etc. It was interesting to learn about the four noble truths in Buddhism and the role of Karma in our lives. One thing that I liked about Buddhism was the emphasis on impermanence. This explains that there are certain processes that no human being has control over certain things in their lives such as the process of growing old, dying, being sick etc. When learning about impermanence I was able to also find similarities within Islam and Christianity because they also believe that nothing in this life is permanent and that there is a hereafter. For example, in Islam when someone dies, its not the end for them, they would go to the hereafter which they are able to reunite with their loved ones again. And in Hinduism and Buddhism impermanence is very essential because they believe in reincarnations. Buddhists and Hindus live their lives well and stay away from evil/negativity in order to reduce their karma in the next life or have a better life in the future. We see the same concept with other religions. For example, Muslims and Christians live their lives well and try to stay away from sins in order to enter heaven. This brings me back to the quote that I mentioned above which talks about how we all want to be good in order to be rewarded in the future which is something common that I observed in many religions and practices here in India. Even though they might be very different from each other they are all working towards the same goal.

Something else that I observed was the different ways people practice the same religion. For example; in India the mosques are only for men and women are not allowed. In authentic Islam there are no distinguishment between men and women from worshiping god. And in many Muslim countries mosques always have a section for women which is why I was so surprised to hear that women in India were not allowed to inter mosques. Since this is being not justified by Islam by any means, I came to the conclusion that it had to do with cultural influences. Mixing culture and religion is something that is very common in many countries and it is not just with Islam but we also see it with Christianity and the American culture as well as in India with Hinduism. I had the option to visit a “secular university” that was public and was suppose to be non-religious but at the university (Banaras Hindu University) there were many Hindu Gods and Goddesses all over and when I asked about why there are religious affiliations at this public secular university I was told that its not by any means religion related and that its just a cultural thing to have Goddesses of learning and such. Here again is where we see another example of religion being mixed with cultural practices. We see this a lot in the world but in India I was able to spot it easily because of its rich culture and many religions.

Written By Rowaida Mohammed

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 Muslim Leader of the Weavers community in Varanasi. Photo By Rowaida Mohammed   
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Photo of a Hindu Pandit By Niko Sepanos 

Environmental Stewardship in Relation to Worldview

Author: Haliehana Stepetin
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Photo credit: Haliehana Stepetin. A view of the pollution of a small river flowing into the Ganges. 
​My first experience with pollution in India was in the metropolis of Kolkata. Excited to see everything the city had to offer, I went outside with expectations influenced by the only glimpse of India I had ever had: through the media. I imagined a beautiful spiritual place filled with people doing yoga in the streets, spiritual gurus, women decorated in beautiful clothing and make up (which is a reality), and babies on fancy pillows wearing cute little hats like in Aladdin. For the most part, my cultural assumptions were very far off. The scene I walked into was one of drastic contrast to the image I had in my mind. There was pollution everywhere. The streets are polluted with garbage, plastic, feces, alongside shanty homes, naked children playing, elderly people in the streets asking for money, lethargic cows laying around, all while economic transactions occurred and life went on, regardless of the environmental status. I stepped over a pile of garbage and dodged a cow pie to go into a shop to buy an ice cream cone to help me tolerate the miserable heat.
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Photo credit: Haliehana Stepetin. The view shows the sharp socioeconomic contrast everywhere in India. While I was enjoying the relatively cheap luxuries of my clean resort hotel, families lived just below us in heaps of garbage and shanty homes.
As an Alaska Native, with a worldview that incorporates a stewardship relationship with the environment, natural world, and humans, I found it overwhelming and alarming to see the huge amount of pollution everywhere. I was raised with the understanding that humans need animals and the natural world to survive, so we must treat them with the utmost respect and reverence. The way this relationship was illustrated to me as a child was that if humans were removed from the earth, all the animals and plants would thrive. On the other hand, if the animals and plants were removed from the earth, there is no way humans could survive. With this knowledge, we know the animals and plants sacrifice themselves for our survival. Living in stewardship with the world directly affects our survival. We believe that if we stop respecting the animals and environment, we will be punished. In following Buddhist philosophy, one could say Indigenous philosophy also believes in karma in this way. If we disrespect the environment or plants, it will turn against us in the form of natural disasters, climate change, and animal attacks. Disrespect of the natural world is blatantly inconsiderate to their survival. I wonder how the people in India view the natural world? I wonder why religion prevails, but respect and reverence for the environment does not?

When discovering that vegetarianism is practiced in Buddhism, and specifically after attending Dr. Tsering’s lecture on the Essence of Buddhist Practice, I asked a question regarding the geographic location of the formation of Buddhism. This connection intrigued me because India has an agricultural abundance of produce and different plants, making it easy for people to choose vegetarianism. However, in colder climates where vegetation may be limited most of the year, it is very difficult and inefficient to be vegetarian. In Alaska for example, there is no way I could live in my remote village and be a vegetarian. Regarding the Indigenous relationship, respect, and reverence for the animal world, I asked a question about eating meat for cultural subsistence purposes. Dr. Tsering, on the value of animals in Buddhist philosophy, says: “We consider that human life is more valuable compared to that of animals . . . ” (p. 3), which sparked my questions about vegetarianism and their hierarchical level of respect for animals and the natural world to humans. I wonder if there is a connection between the belief that animals are less valuable than humans and the indifferent treatment of Mother Earth that leads to the extremely visible pollution of her in India. If there is a hierarchy of value of life with humans at the top, it makes a little more sense to me that such disrespect to the environment can occur. However, it still makes me extremely uncomfortable and sad. Of course, I am projecting my animistic worldview and Indigenous perspective of stewardship with the environment upon my experience.

I realize that in the U.S., and all around the world for that matter, pollution is either extremely visible in more impoverished societies, or covertly present in “developed” societies. Pollution in a post-industrial society is seemingly inevitable, unless manageable on small-scale spectrums in cultures that respect and revere nature (my small rural village in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, for example). I wonder then, what leads societies to care more or less about the appearance of pollution? Does the Hindu and Buddhist religious practice lend itself to the indifference towards nature because it is expected that the gods have ultimate control? Or that karma is the ultimate determiner in fate, even if the fate of the environment is at stake? What would it take to make societal changes regarding the maintenance and preservation of the natural world, which ultimately sustains human life? If the masses devoutly follow a religion that informs the way they view nature or animals as hierarchically less valuable than humans, how can we and do we even have a place in developing more sustainable practices with the environment? Is it possible to create a future of environmental cleanliness and stability that learns from the faults our “developed” society has already experienced in relation to our industrial society dependent upon fossil fuels?

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Photo credit: Haliehana Stepetin. A beautiful path on the Central University of Tibetan Studies campus to show that not everywhere in India is polluted. In small, managed areas, plant life flourishes and is well maintained.

A Look at Infrastructure and Waste Management in Varanasi

As someone going into the field of environmental engineering, it’s impossible to overlook the lack of infrastructure here in Varanasi, India. Nita, one of the founders of NIRMAN schools, where we are staying, generalized the issue as being a result of engineers not trained in designing and building for the uncertainties of India. An example was workers right outside the Southpoint school rebuilding the sidewalk for the ‘umpteenth time,’ still with an uneven slope, bound to fail again in the near future. If they were to take the extra time today to level out the land, the sidewalk would last much longer, as it should. Walking the streets of this city, it appears that many things are done in this patchwork manner. Perhaps Nita is exactly right, that when engineers are educated abroad, their coursework is assuming that they are starting with a cleaner foundation, but the reality here in India is that the city’s surroundings are chaotic and disorganized. Gutters that should carry drainage downstream hold still water, accumulating the dust and garbage from the street above until what lines the road is a swampy, foul smelling moat. Men urinate publicly, against the wall or into these gutters. There is a lack of baseline sanitation standards. Furthermore, trash is littered everywhere. The photo I’ve attached shows the bank of a river that has the potential of being a serene haven from the chaos of the bustling city streets, but instead parallels a landfill. Even I, having been here a week, have a plastic bag in my luggage that I collect trash in, for it is often hard to find garbage cans about. The dumpsters that I have seen are either already overflowing, or ignored and the trash rather scattered next to them as they remain empty. Therefore various wrappers and cans line the streets, gradually becoming covered in dust until they blend into the road itself. I keep thinking that if items were wrapped in compostable materials, these really would disintegrate over time and add to the natural organic matter, but they aren’t and so the plastic and metal will remain. Being Americans, we are unused to this level of litter and at first, it is quite shocking. The worst part that I’ve seen, is citizens piling up the plastic, taking a burning candle, and lighting the pile on fire. This inevitably releases harsh chemicals into the air that not only negatively affect the lungs of others walking the street but also contribute to the larger problem of polluting the air and emitting greenhouse gases. To these people, burning the trash puts it out of sight and out of mind, leaving their homes garbage free, but education must be provided to teach the horrible effects that doing this routinely can impose on both the environment and human health. Those gutters that I mentioned, drain directly into the Ganges river, as does wastewater from homes, including raw sewage. There are two wastewater treatment plants near the river, but these do not process nearly all of the waste and problems arise when monsoons cause the streets to flood and the plants to cease their treatment. I know that this problem in infrastructure stems from something deeper than just a lack of personal respect for the environment. Political corruption leading to shortage in funds for projects, and a 30% illiteracy rate both contribute. Still, management of all of this waste should be prioritized in cities like Varanasi that are vibrant in the arts and culture, so that they are no longer dulled and de-romanticized by the ill sight of piles of garbage, crumbling streets, and improper facilities for processing waste.

Written by Victoria Mount

Comparison of My Old and New Self

This trip has open my eyes and made me re-experienced my days in Nepal. Two days flight without sleep was not part of my “to experience” list for India trip. I was exhausted when we reach the Varanasi airport. My thoughts were why did I even come and I was better at home, sleeping in my big bed. As I stepped out of the airport to the indie atmosphere, I couldn’t breathe.  Although it was raining the air was super hot and the climate was burning hot.  I didn’t think of anything besides I want to go back to Washington. We got in the van that was reserved for us. On our way to Central University of Tibetan Studies, I was looking outside from window. What I saw was not so different from what I have memories of Nepal. The house was similar, land area was similar, small and big shops were similar and even the way they display products on the shops was similar. When we got to the city area the traffic and the way vehicles were running the wait vehicles in Nepal. When I saw those it reminded me of my childhood. I felt like me I am in Nepal walking on the street and seeing this all. It made me feel like I am on my younger age feet. As I saw those kids walking and running near road fearlessly. I was terrified to see kids near vehicles. My hearts were racing see all that. Then I realized that I was like them in Nepali. But I had one question that I just can’t answer: In Nepal, was I fearless like those kids or fearful like I am right now? It’s been 8 days and I still fear walking on the street. In fact, can’t walk with just one friend, I have to have more than one friend walking with me. Rowaida my colleagues ask me if I wanted to go for walk. I told her to bring one more friend to go for walk.She has been to Egypt by herself, so she somehow convinces me to walk with her but eventually, I end up adding Emma. I have been here for a week and I still fear when vehicles go near me, I still get scared when people horn and I still can’t walk on my own on the street. I left half of my life in Nepal and half of my life in the US. Here I am still figuring out who am I?

Written by Dibbya Biswa