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India trip highlights cultural differences

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
Feb. 23, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 23, 2013 at 8:24 p.m.


I've always known I've worked for a special newspaper. As a journalist and someone who's familiar with other newsrooms I knew my experience at the Advocate would be apart from previous experiences.

Nearly three years later, I still believe I work for one of the greatest community newspapers in the country.

This was never more apparent than in recent weeks when my editors allowed me a five-week leave of absence to report on faith and spirituality in Kerala, India.

My trip wasn't Advocate-sponsored, necessarily. I was among a small group of professional women selected to represent Rotary International's Texas District 5930 on a Group Study Exchange team to Kerala. As a team, we toured Kerala's Rotary District 3211 and delivered presentations on our lives and careers in Texas.

I returned to the United States days ago energized and excited to share stories of my India excursions.

I'm still adjusting to my return home, however.

Life in Victoria is entirely different than life in Kerala.

There's no air conditioning, and the mattresses there are firmer than anything I've ever slept on. And because there's no air conditioning, there are no excess coverings on the beds. I always had to request additional blankets.

Food variety doesn't really exist in Kerala. People eat Indian food morning, noon and night. I never realized how easy it is for Americans to eat whatever foods they want, anytime they want it, simply by driving down the street to the nearest Italian or Chinese or sandwich restaurant in town. In India, you eat rice and various curry dishes at every meal - and you eat it with your right hand. No one eats with their left hand, something I was extremely aware of while there. (For a giggle, I beg you to Google this cultural trait.)

In recent days, as I drive up and down North Navarro Street, I find myself amazed that cars in Texas drive inside the lanes and at law-abiding speeds. There are no cars and buses anxious to cut you off or motorcycles (with helmet-less groups of four and five people riding on them) zipping past you at great speeds.

Amazingly, in India, it's perfectly legal for mothers to ride sidesaddle on the back of motorcycles holding their infants, yet it's illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving.

That logic escapes me.

And speaking of cellphones, the use of cellphones in India was entirely unfamiliar to me. No one uses their vibrate ringtone feature, so cellphones ring at maximum volume all day long. They ring in meetings and during presentations. They ring at schools and government meetings, at churches and Hindu temples. And to my surprise, it's acceptable to answer a cell phone and have full-volume conversations whenever someone calls. I even witnessed an orthodox Hindu pujari answer a cellphone call during quiet time after telling my Hindu host father that my white, female, non-Hindu presence was a disturbance to the temple guests.

India, I discovered, is also a marvelous tea culture. Colonized by the British, Indians share many cultural traits of the English.

Tea-drinking is one of them. Hot tea, or chai, is served about four to nine times a day and made with milk and raw sugar. Tea without milk is called black tea.

I've never consumed so much tea in my entire life than I did the past few weeks, and since being home, I've found myself brewing hot tea and pouring it in a pot and serving it to myself on a tray. It's so very "Downton Abbey," I tell myself.

There are so many wonderful things I learned while in India. And I'm so thankful to the Advocate and to Rotary International for allowing this faith reporter to take a trip of a lifetime.

But I'm especially thankful to all the Victoria readers who followed my journey on The Land of the Gods website. I'm so pleased you could experience the journey with me and share the magical lands and cultural diversity of southern India.

Namaskaram.

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