I never noticed how quiet Victoria is until traveling to India.
At all hours of the day and night, birds crow, cars honk, Asian wind instruments echo through the city, Communist party dissenters and advocates drive through the streets and politic through microphones.
Because windows on even the finest homes remain open to let fresh air flow through, the symphony of city noises are present throughout the day.
Far from being unpleasant, I’ve adjusted nicely to the noises, and I know when I leave here, I’ll remember my Indian alarm clock of crowing birds, Asian chimes and prayerful singing.
I know when the birds crow before dawn, the day is about to begin.
Yesterday was full from the moment I opened my eyes.
The host family I’m staying with has taken ownership in my interest in visiting the many temples and churches in the area, and learning as much as I can about the practice of religion in Kerala.
So before our scheduled programs with the Rotary group, my host father, Mr. KG Baiju, planned a morning tour of the temples (which can also mean church) in Kollam.
A view inside the Holy Family Catholic Church.
We stopped first at Holy Family Catholic Church. It was large and open, resembling an old airport hanger.
All the elements of Catholicism were present: the great statues and relics of the church, rosary beads, Bibles, hymnals and a small confessional that consisted of a chair, a wooden partition and a square screen for the confessor and priest to exchange conversation. There were messages to the congregation written in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, reminding them to remember God was mighty and full of peace.
The church’s priest was not available, but Baiju translated my questions to the church overseer, an aged man who didn’t speak English.
English is spoken in Kerala, but there is tremendous difficulty understanding each other’s accents, so we often revert to translating conversation from English to Malayalam, then back to English. Baiju confessed yesterday that he thinks I understand him better than he understands me because English was not enforced in his primary education as it is in India today.
At Holy Family, I roamed freely through the church taking pictures and asking questions. Everything in India is so foreign and different, and there was an odd sense of feeling at home inside the church, even if I couldn’t understand the messages on the wall. I didn’t realize Baiju was experiencing some difficulty being inside the church until we were on the way to our next location. That’s when he expressed his Hindu faith made entering a church building somewhat uncomfortable.
About 20 minutes later, when we entered the Ashram Sree Krishna temple, I was the one who would begin to feel out of place.
Ashram Sree Krishna temple
I’d never entered a Hindu temple before, and when the temple leaders and Pujari saw me, they initially did not want me to enter. It’s obvious I’m not Indian, and there are restrictions on foreigners entering a few of the temples here.
Mr. Baiju convinced the group of men to grant me access to the temple grounds, but the group required that I relinquish my digital camera before touring the campus. I accepted their terms.
It was a quiet place where incense and coconut oil permeated the compound. Hindu men and women arrived early that morning to deliver offerings of prayer, smash coconuts before the altars, and leave behind other trinkets for the Hindu gods. The offerings are made as a method of requesting divine intervention from to the gods to help their families find jobs, or become pregnant, or simply ask for blessings.
There’s a great sacred tree in front of the temple, decorated with wooden cradles, symbolizing couples in want of a baby. The cradles hang from the tree in large numbers, and I couldn't help but think about how each of the cradles represented a mother who was unable to conceive.
My host father, Baiju and other Rotarians are teaching me about the different gods of Hinduism under Lord Vishnu, as well as other categories of Hindu followers.
Baiju is well studied about his faith, and seems to enjoy answering my many questions, even as we struggle through the language barrier.
We departed the temple in time to meet up with the rest of my Texas team, where we spent the afternoon on one of Kollam’s famous house boats, sailing the waters of the Ashtamundi Lake. Many of the area Rotarian leaders joined us on the boat for the afternoon, as well as a few camera men and photographers who were interested in filming the American foreigners visiting Kollam.
We cruised past many churches and temples, peeking out from the tops of rows upon rows of palm tree forests.
The Rotarians pointed each one out as we sailed by, which led to a few conversations about the great presence of spirituality in Kerala.
After the boat tour, we visited the Nila Palace cashew packaging plant to view the process of exporting one of Kerala’s most valued commodities.
The emphasis on hygiene was high, and I giggled as we entered the factory and were instructed to take off our shoes. Removing shoes before entering homes, churches and buildings in India is customary. But I'm not sure I would ever make the case that it's sanitary. It's certainly not safe. What if I dropped something, or stepped on a nail, or burned my feet?
All I could think about was how a shoeless cashew factory in the States would become national news and a class action lawsuit.
We ended our evening with a Rotary meeting and assembly, where my team was required to deliver a full presentation about Texas and our occupations.
Since the electricity shuts off on a schedule twice a day, we spent a half hour in candle light, singing songs from India and a few from the United States. We sang in the darkness and sweltering heat, waiting for the power and ceiling fans to begin circulating again.
When the power resumed, we were thrilled to learn they had invited two performers to demonstrate two traditional Indian dances. The audience was silent as the gold-adorned dancers moved with grace and precision across the stage.
The night overall was silly and disorganized, but we were all content to spend time breaking bread together.
These have been my days so far, loud and busy and full of unexpected smiles.
I think I’m enjoying the noise.
Until tomorrow, Victoria.
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