Three weeks in January and three weeks following May commencement are dedicated to what is called Interterm at Doane. During this period, students have the opportunity to study through travel in the United States and abroad.
This May students traveled to three locations: Peru, Washington, D.C., and India. Karla Cooper, chaplain and coordinator of service programs, took five students to several cities and villages in South India and spent time experiencing the rich diversity of the region while exploring its many spiritual, cultural and historical elements.
May 25 was the most challenging of days. Our journey thus far included the metropolitan port city of Chennai, visiting the Theosophical Society where Asia’s largest Banyan Tree is housed and where the philosophy is that there is no religion greater than truth. We also visited Velachery and Chintadtripet and afterwards stop at Santhome Cathedral, which is in honor of the Apostle Thomas, better known as Doubting Thomas, who was sent to India on his missionary journey. After the visit, we hung out at the Marina, which put in a contextual understanding, is not the functional beach as we would have, but a place where fishermen live and work in nothing more than shanty’s made out of cow’s dung, thatched banana leaves roofs. As humans, horses, goats, birds and the open fish market all compete for the domination of aromatic fragrances, every sensory preceptor is tantalized as the waves rise and dance upon the beach and fully clothed Indians dare to dance in the dirty bay. Of course Doane students are fearless and dare dance as well.
Our second day in India included a two and a half hour drive to Deenabanhupuram to do a little farm work. We then visited an orphanage for Children with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stages of the disease. Even though the disease is chronic, the founder of the orphanage stated that while there is life, the motto for the home is to share love, encourage laughter and cherish life—love, laughter and life—all three oozed from the vibrancy of the hospitality these children showed to us all. On our way back to the hotel, the van was extremely quiet in deep contemplation of what was experienced.
India is a place that you cannot prepare and do justice, but you have to be open to the fact that you are not in control—which is a difficult concept for those of us in the United States. Here’s an example: we started our journey from Chennai to Madurai at 9 p.m. at the Chennai bustling bus station with a billion people pressing all around though it seemed! And we waited and waited and waited, realizing in real time that the rest of the world’s concept for time is not as linear as in the U.S. but rather circular—when it is time, that is always the right time. So, to say the least, I could see the students’ weariness but like champs, they persevered.
After a couple of hours to regroup, we started our studies at Madurai. Madurai is the oldest living cities in India with more than 2,500 years of history. Beautiful temples, palaces and hilly treasures all make up this city named for honey that makes it so sweet. It is also the place where one of the Gandhi Memorial Museum’s is located. It was in Madurai where Gandhi made one of his major transformations, from wearing the western clothing of the British, to adorning nothing more than loincloths to be amongst and apart of his people who were suffering under British tyranny. We spent several hours remembering the legacy of Gandhi through the preservation of artifacts housed in the museum to honor him. After the museum, we visited the indigenous Hindu temple where students were shaken to the core of their souls, with bare feet on 110 degrees of hot dirt that was mixed with all kinds of everything imaginable yet holy ground where no shoes were allowed. As we walked, I had a déjà vu and remembered the very spot at which my life was transformed 10 years ago, Nikki Tegtmeier had the same experience and even asked me, “was this the place?” And I knew then, these five young women were taking this experience all into their very souls. There at this temple was such great contradiction and contrast—lepers and beggars, priest and worshippers, shop owners and consumers to buy the items to give to the gods—there we were in the midst of this organized chaos of worship and were welcomed like we were part of them.