Varanasi: the city of light, death, and silk

We were in Sarnath from the 31st to the 3rd. While we were there we stayed in Kalpana’s

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house, an amazing woman who helps out both the women and children in the surrounding community. One of the ways in which she gives back is by providing a schooling environment to the local children. She also provides jobs and training to some of the women in the community. While we were there we played with the children and also helped to teach them English. On the 3rd Sam Bull arrived and was welcomed not only into our group but by the community as well, later in the day the children put on a performance and said their goodbyes. As a thank you gift to Kalpana for here hospitality and generosity, our group painted her a mural of Krishna.

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On November 4th we took tuk tuks to Varanasi and met Sangametra, who has been our

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guide, that night we went down to the Gangas and watched an Arti. On the 5th we learned about the history of Varanasi and then went on a tour and observed the sari making process. On the morning of the 6th we received a a brief introduction to Islam.  Later that day we learned about Varanasi’s red light district from Ajeet, a man who works with sex traffic victims. Early on the 7th we went on a sunrise boat

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ride. After breakfast we packed up and left the Puja guest house for our home stays. The 8th has been our first day of classes in Assi Ghat with local teachers and artisans. The 8th has also provided time for each member of North India and Nepal group to have some time to ourselves and recuperate.

Sarnath was an amazing introduction to North India.  It is not quite as busy as Varnanasi and allowed us to ease into the culture. In Varanasi so much was happening all the time, there were so many noises and smells and people that most everyone in the group became a little overwhelmed. In Assi Ghat we are all getting our first taste of freedom. We have been able to schedule our days with what interests us and have had time away from the group to embrace to culture through our home stays and wanderings.

Reaching The Unreached

The last week has been a very rewarding one at RTU. We have seen our hard work be not only finished, but deeply appreciated by the families whose lives we’ve helped change. We completed the finishing touches on the three houses we have built, and today, Friday, we celebrated their inauguration with the families themselves. It was a very joyful and emotional experience. When we arrived at each house, we were greeted by the families, workers, and fathers. We had a leader cut the ribbon to the house before stepping in, and then one of the fathers proceeded to bless the house with candles, a ritual, and holy water. After the blessing, we were given food and drinks from the families and had a great time.

All the houses were decorated colorfully and everyone was dressed at their best.

Their appreciation was felt even without the need to communicate in the same language. During our free time this week and during certain times throughout the last 2 weeks, we have been working with the school children ages 5 to 16. It was a very interesting and fun experience. We did all sorts of activities such as painting, origami, play games, and even teach English. It is one thing to see them from a distance and wave, or simply tell them your name, but it is completely different to actually get to know them and their stories. Tomorrow we begin a new transition. We are headed to Madurai to join a yoga ashram for a week, and will deeply miss RTU.

Diving in Honduras

We left the beautiful city of San Marcos in the night. The lights of Lago Atitlan twinkled as we said goodbye. The time has come for a new adventure. After a night spent sleeping in the Guatemala City Airport, we boarded a plane heading for Roatan, Honduras. The

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moment that we stepped off of the plane, a beautiful sea breeze welcomed us. The warm sunlight  and tropical climate is a nice change of pace. The Caribbean Sea was one of the first sights that greeted us and we have become very familiar with it since. We are staying in a hostel owned by a Spanish woman. She is very hospitable and a wonderful cook. She made us a mouth watering paella that we are sure to remember for years to come.

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During the day, we spend our time with our lovely dive instructors, Eva and Velveeta. We have been learning the basics of scuba diving for the past week. Most divers begin their training in a pool, but our group has been learning in the Caribbean Sea. Each day we review our homework from the night before and then go into a sand bar to practice our skills. After lunch, we go to a dive site and get to enjoy and be a part of an entirely new, underwater world. We have seen lion fish, flounders, parrot fish, angel fish, giant crabs, barracudas, eels, and even the rare turtle. We swim through tunnels of coral reef and we have swam with a school of fish or two. Some brave souls

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decided to dive 100 ft below the ocean to explore a shipwreck.​​ We end each day exhausted, but still looking forward to what is to come. In order to relax, we are able to watch movies and laugh together to end our days. It will soon be time to leave this paradise, but we all know that this place and our memories of it will never leave us.

Live From G. Kallupattu It’s South India at RTU!

This week we’ve been working on finishing the houses at RTU (Reaching The Unreached),

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and we are just two days away now! Some group members have also gone to the schools at RTU to teach English to the students and have had really amazing experiences. The students are so energetic, singing and teaching us how to dance has been the highlight of our time with them, not to mention they have taught us how to speak Tamil (local language). At the sites we’ve been in the process of digging the 8 foot septic hole, that are also capable of holding the tallest person in our group! As well as finishing the final cement touches on the houses. It may be tough work, but the workers and families at the site make it all worth it. They have really touched our hearts and

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have impacted us in ways that are unexplainable. We’ve had so much fun with the workers and families while teaching them how to dance and just laughing with them on the sites. Working has become very fun for all of us because of how cheerful and spirited the workers and families are!

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This weekend we took a trip up the mountains to Munar! There we did a 7 mile trek up the Western Ghats and above the clouds! It was an incredible site looking out over all of Tamil Nadu`and Kerala. Our legs may have been burning and we may have been out of breath, but it was all so worth it! Some of our members also had their first encounters with leeches…gross.

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All in all its been a very hardworking, but fun week. We’ve been enjoying every moment and as we get ready to leave RTU, we realize how much we’re going to miss it here.

SOUTH INDIA OUT

The Buddha Was Born In Nepal

Happy Halloween Everyone!

As of Sunday the 30th we are officially over the border an in India! Though many were sad

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to leave Nepal, our 8 hour bus ride (cue cringe) was a great way to observe the new country. We were fortunate enough to be traveling during a major festival called Devali. During the bus ride we all stared out the windows in awe at the sheer amounts of candy, temporary shrines, and speakers blasting loud Bollywood music that lined the streets. We

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also were the main focus of a few family photos. Ann seemed to be the crowd favorite. Our host here in Sarnath is an amazing woman named Kalpuna who welcomed us into her home with treats and a candle lighting ceremony to honor the holiday. Everyone is so excited to participate in the classes and volunteer work she has arranged for us in the next few days. Jette is also headlining a new mural of Krishna we will be painting (stay tuned for photos next week).

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Our last week in Nepal was absolutely amazing. Our friends and teachers, Veta and Prem, accompanied us from the Kathmandu ashram to a different ashram in Terai. During our stay at the Terai ashram, Prem invited us to tea at his family home in the local community.

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As we walked up to his home he pointed out the banana orchard on his family farms as well as the cows they keep in the barn next to their house. His family was so kind and generous in making us tea and pasta while Prem spoke about his life growing up. The day afterwards,

fullsizerender7we drove to Lumbini to visit the birth place of the Buddha. Fun fact: you have to take your shoes off to enter the site. Everyone (to the best of my knowledge) enjoyed wandering through the gardens and sitting in the

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sunlight underneath the prayer flags. We are all so excited to have Sam come visit us tomorrow and to stay with our home stay families in Varanasi in the next few weeks.

Lots of love from Dal Baat Power North India/Nepal 2016!

 

Monks on Motorbikes and Astrology Cafes

Greetings and Salutations,

The past week has been filled with so many adventures and transitions. After leaving

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Wildlife SOS in Bangalore we were off to Mysore. A five hour drive isn’t so bad when you can look out the window and feel as though you’ve been dropped into a little Tibet. Monks in their maroon and gold robes riding past on their motorcycles, chatting with each other at a cafe, or walking around having a good laugh with their fellow monks as they carry Coca-Colas in their hands. We had an amazing opportunity to tour the monastery where the monks eat, live, and study from young to old. We were given a personal tour by a monk

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thanks to one of our contacts name Gomo who was an amazing kindred spirit that we were all so grateful to meet. We saw the monks chanting and we were also fortunate enough to spend some time with the little monks, which was adorable. Next day we prepared for a two hour drive to our next destination, Byalkuppe. Here is where we were given the opportunity to wind down a little, learn something new,

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and explore. The first day we took a tour of the city and learned about the city’s history and delicious food. The next day our group went out to explore the city some more and we found this funky little cafe name Sri Chakra House, thanks to our tuk tuk drivers. This place was amazing, from the art, to the super healthy foods, to the classes, and to the amazing staff who always had a smile on their faces, probably because we kept buying food. We were all wrapped up in pure bliss

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after just one bite. The cafe had Astrology readings which everyone in the group did. Some of us received a relaxing ayurvedic massage after all the hard work at Wildlife SOS, and some of us took an ashtanga yoga class that definitely pushed us to beyond our limits, but made us realize that our limits are more in our mind, and the body is capable of many things. After a relaxing couple of days in Byalkuppe we were again to RTU in G. Kallupatti.

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Twelve hours later and we’re touring the place where we will be living and working  for the next two and a half weeks. RTU is a Christian organization where we will be building three houses for three families. It’s going to be hard work but so rewarding, and the fact that we will be helping to provide a more stable roof over the heads of three families is more than enough to keep all of us motivated. Until next time.

 

Peace Always!

Life in Xela

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The LTAM group has been busy culturally immersing themselves in Latin American culture, staying at home stays and studying Spanish 5 hours a day. The wonderful city of Xela provides a typical Guatemalan experience garnished with a city who’s architecture is heavily influenced by European design.

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We did a traditional Mayan ceremony with a priest who told us our Mayan cosmology signs. In exchange, we did service work by building a pig pen for a family in need. To unwind we treated ourselves to an exotic hot spring day filled with spiritual satiation, and beautiful vistas to appease our senses. What a country!

 

Stories From Nepal: Living in Community, Living as Family

Hello, from Nepal!

This week, we traveled from the Sri Aurobindo ashram to Conscious Impact, a sustainable living community in Takura nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, focused on rebuilding schools and homes in local villages affected by the 2015 earthquake. The views were incredible with endless mountain peaks, green hills, farms, and blue skies. Weather report: no rain!

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At Conscious Impact, there were a variety of activities including agriculture, brick, cob, bamboo-making and communi-tea visits. Our living arrangements included three tents and a teepee! How cool! We started each morning with 5:45 am sunrise yoga followed by a yummy breakfast at 7:30 am. Some mornings, we were asked to help prepare breakfast for

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the community and our dishes included omelettes, oatmeal, fresh veggies and fruit, and more. After breakfast, the community meets for a morning check-in to discuss daily activities and where each volunteer would like to work that day. With all of the options, our group decided to spread out and try all of them! Jette really liked spending days in the garden learning about agriculture through composting and planting seeds. Jack, Ricky,

img_8623and Lucas spent some time at the Training Center where bricks are made for building schools and homes locally. Alex, Leilah, and Ann spent time at cob making, getting their hands and feet dirty learning about how to make a bench out of mud, sand, and straw. Sarah and Mikaela really enjoyed the community visits being welcomed into local Nepali

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families homes and learning about Hinduism, how their lifestyles were affected by the earthquake, their day to day lives, and what crops they grow. We loved moving around activities everyday and hearing the stories from each other about what each of us was learning. These activities were all facilitated by the founders and organizers of this non-profit organization, which included Orion, Beth, Allen, and Jose. They created a beautiful, open space for us to learn and grow as individuals while experiencing what it was like to live in a community with big hearts and strong values. Like our community at Maacama, we met each night before dinner for gratitude circles where we were able to share a little bit about our days and what we were thankful for. It’s funny how small the world can feel!

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We continued with our daily movement and meditation, even focusing on an “Om” oriented meditation learned at the ashram a week earlier and this was led by Ann and Ricky. At the end of the week, we said goodbye to all our new friends from Conscious Impact and made our way back to our home base ashram where we were welcomed home like family.

 

With an amazing week spent outside in the sun and dirt, we came back to the ashram with a deeper, more rich experience of Nepal and all of the people we met along the way.

Caring for Sloth Bears in Bangalore

After a long train ride leaving Kochi, Kerala, our group arrived in Bangalore, Karnataka on

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the night of October 6th. Embraced by a warm welcome, our orientation to our new housing, land and community members, was filled with kindness and generosity. We spent little over a week working side by side with WildLife SOS, which is a non profit organization that works towards protecting Indian wildlife, conserving habitats and creating alternative livelihoods for the former poacher communities. The facility we were volunteering with is located in the lush

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Bannarghata National Park that holds a variety of different animal enclosures and habitats. We were working primarily with the sloth bears at the center, and were given the opportunity to learn about these animal’s intelligence, build enrichment structures, support positive conditioning and help with other important tasks on the site. Enrichment projects involved creating hammocks, swings or anything

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the bears could climb over, and their presence within the enclosures created a safe space for playfulness and also reconnection with their natural state of being. There was a total of 80 sloth bears at the facility, all coming from backgrounds of abuse and trauma, which

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largely originated from being dancing bears. Thankfully, this form of entertainment is now illegal in India. The staff held such a deep devotion to the restoration of the bears, the ecosystems and the Kalandar people. The social justice  aspect of this organization has created many positive impacts on the well being of the bears, as well as those affected by the poaching. Our group was inspired and moved by this opportunity

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to be working with such a team. From the delicious home made meals, endless riddle games, hard work spent cleaning, and the laughter from all the joyous sightings, this experience has opened our hearts with hope, inspiration and activated action.

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Traveling by Chicken Bus to Xela

A day in Comalapa begins with the cry of roosters and the feeling of warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. The sun is hot, but the cool mountainous breeze balances the heat. Comalapa has become a kind of home for us. We all have our favorite corner shops and internet cafes. At Long Way Home, we befriended some students, and many dogs. We have all become familiar to the woman who sells crepes on the main

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street; Betsa is her name, and she knows all of ours. Sadly, it is time to say goodbye to this beautiful place. Now we make our way to our new home, Xela. We decided as a group to enter the ancient Mayan city the Guatemalan way, by chicken bus. The chicken buses seem to be in a world of their own, possibly because of all the life held within them. In each row, there were two seats on each side meant  to hold two people, the key phrase there was ‘meant to’. Instead, about six people would squeeze into each row. At different stops the back of the bus would open, either for the ayudante to come by and collect money, or for street vendors to come in to sell peanuts, chips, or even sliced fruits. So, with our bags tied

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down on top of a bus, and our bodies squished between the Guatemalan people, we excitedly entered Xela. We had to find our hostel, which was more of a trial then one would expect. It took over thirty minutes before we finally managed to find the Zen House, and believe me when I say we were ready to be in a bed. The next day was gorgeous, perfect for exploration. We went on a citywide scavenger hunt, searching for a laundromat, Cafe Mandarina, the spanish school we

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would be attending, and an ATM. My group was successful in finding the entire list of things, but we kind of cheated. We found a local tourist information stop and had a lady point out everything on a map. But even with a marked map in one hand and a fair knowledge of Spanish in our heads, we were hard pressed to navigate the endless streets of Xela. It made for a fantastic adventure. And now, with home stays and Spanish classes in front of us, we surely have much more fun in store.