Sunday, April 26, 2009

India Part II

Okay, now for India. First of all, please read my previous blog as well as this one because it means a lot to me. Secondly, I know my memory is getting a little fuzzy in terms of travel details so if you have any questions just email me!

Day four of India was fairly tame. Most of the students had decided to sleep in and forgo the morning tours and so our group had maybe twenty people at most. The day started with a visit to the Baha’i Lotus temple. It was an amazing temple that (believe it or not) is the most visited building in the world with over 4.5 million visitors per year. We were lucky enough to arrive just before the services began and our group was lucky enough to hear religious services for multiple religions in a fifteen minute period. It was amazing to see all those different groups come together under one roof. After visiting the Lotus Temple we went to a Sikh Gurudwara (Bangla Sahib). This was a very interesting experience for me because we went through the entire ceremony with local Sikhs and those who had made a pilgrimage to the gurudwara. I ate the food they gave me which symbolizes god and enlightenment and I dipped my feet in the holy water that would cure all ills. I covered my hair and walked with no shoes and felt like I was no longer a tourist, but a part of India. We left the gurudwara and headed to the capitol buildings for a brief glance at Indian government. The buildings were beautiful in a western style, but after everything I had seen, they were nothing special. There was only one building in the governmental part of Delhi that held any real draw for me.

At the “Palatial Birla House” on Albuquerque Road I followed raised footprints though a garden path to the spot where Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi was assassinated. I cannot describe how this felt. Gandhi was one of the people that I idolized growing up. He stood for his beliefs no matter what the consequences were. I watched all the movies about his life and read stories about the changes he made. I was never able to understand how someone was able to stand up and shoot him in cold blood. Visiting his Delhi home was absolutely amazing. I walked through his garden where he would have nightly public walks. I saw his home, filled with only the barest necessities, and his room, untouched since the day of his death. Throughout the grounds of the house there are amazing flowers and signs with messages of peace and non-violence. I do not have that many photos of Birla House because I felt the need to be there in the moment instead of seeing it all through a camera lens. I cried a few tears of joy because I was there. I was standing in the same place that he had stood over fifty years ago. If I had any life changing moment in India, this would be it. The Taj Mahal, paupers on the street, and Hindu temples could have nowhere near such a huge affect on me. I grew up knowing that “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and it meant more to me than I can say to be standing in Gandhi’s garden. Thank you Mom and Dad!

That evening we flew back to Chennai. My final day in India was spent wandering from place to place in Chennai. I did some last minute shopping, went to an internet café (had some really good waffles there too!) and visited a few more temples. It was a fairly calm day and it was nice to just relax and not feel the pressure of doing touristy things. I was exhausted that night when the ship departed from India, but I was glad that I had been there. India was filled with extremes. There was extreme wealth and poverty, extreme natural beauty and pollution, and even extreme culture and exploitation. It was amazing and someday I would like to visit again.

Social Stratification

Here is a small blog rant and then I promise to write part two of India. So for the last two weeks SAS has been running the Shipboard Drive in which we donate money that goes towards scholarships, new gym equipment and so on. Well this year the Shipboard Drive is a competition between the seas (hallway groups kind of like dorms) and the winning sea will get a pizza party. This didn’t really bother me because I knew my sea wouldn’t win and what’s one pizza party in the grand scheme of things? Well now the competition has changed and the first seas to reach 100% participation in the drive will be the first seas off the ship in Fort Lauderdale. This is absolutely despicable in my opinion. Not only are they asking us to pay the program in order to leave the ship and see our families, but they are ignoring the huge financial schism between the seas. For example, my sea (Baltic) is mostly economy cabins, quad cabins, and triple cabins. These are the three cheapest cabins you can get on the ship. Additionally, most of my neighbors either have scholarships or work study programs because it is impossible to afford the program without them. We are the sea that is worried about not having cab money to get to the airport once we reach Fort Lauderdale. So yes, as a matter of fact we are losing the in the Shipboard Drive with 53% participation. Then take a look at the Bering Sea. They are all normal and suite style cabins with larger windows and some even have little sitting rooms. These are the students who can afford to spend $50 on a quesadilla at the Students of Service Auction (really did happen). These are the people that buy burgers every day at the grill instead of suffering through ship food with the rest of us. They, of course, are at 90% participation. There is a huge financial gap between “us” and “them”. And so all I can say is:

Dear Institute for Shipboard Education, I am paying $20,000 for one semester because you refused to give me a scholarship. I have loved traveling the world, but if you expect me to pay another cent just to disembark and see my family, you need to think again. I hope that you are proud of the way you have divided the ship into the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Well done.

Love, Kendra Hartwell—Baltic Sea 3116

Hopefully my message will get across because we have been told that they read our blogs to see if we have done anything against the rules. Still, I would appreciate it if any of you would be willing to call Semester at Sea and let them know what you think of the situation. All of the contact information is at



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

India Part 1

As a small disclaimer I need to mention that at this point countries and temples are blurring together and so I might mix up my historic sites in my Asia blogs. Anyway, here goes India!

In the days before we arrived in India, everyone was getting excited and ready to have a life changing moment. We were all told that India would make us laugh and cry and that we would never be the same again. Well, to tell the truth I did not have another South Africa moment. There was not a single instant that changed me; however, I do know that I am different. I have seen extreme poverty next to extravagant wealth. I have seen a begging child break character once to smile before returning to asking for money. I saw beautiful sites surrounded by extreme pollution and horrible smells. It broke my heart and made me wish that I could do something real with my life that will make a difference.

I spent my first day in Chennai with several friends. My trip to the Taj Mahal was not leaving until the afternoon and so I went into town with my friends Jill and Caroline. We had our first experience of rickshaw scamming when we were told that the place we wished to go was closed. Instead we were taken to a small luxury goods store that none of us could afford. We browsed, bought a few things, and finally demanded that our driver take us to the place we originally wanted to go. Well our destination was a bookstore that had two locations in Chennai. Naturally he took us to the wrong one that happened to be more difficult to get to. When we finally arrived at the right store, Jill and I had to head back to the ship and prepare for our next adventure.

That night I flew with 40 students to New Delhi. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about flying in a foreign country, but my fears were unfounded. Airport security was top-notch and the flight included those fabulous TVs on the back of each seat and a full meal that they called a “snack”. After arriving at our hotel we were greeted with flowers and cold tea. Colored rice on the ground stated “Welcome Semester at Sea”. Dinner was at a traditional Indian restaurant where several friends and I promptly ignored all health advisories and ate the most delicious vanilla ice cream in the world! Never fear, we survived.

We woke up extremely early in the morning to take a train to Agra. The train station was filled with mutilated children who would drag themselves over to you and ask for food. Our group finally had something to give and leftovers from box breakfasts were spread throughout the station. I felt that I was making a difference even if it was only a hard-boiled egg and yogurt. After arriving in Agra we took a bus to the hotel before continuing to several sites of interest. Signs on the road told me to “Be Happy, You’re in Agra!”. Our tour guide told us that Agra is one of the worst cities in India and that the only redeeming quality comes in the form of historical monuments.

That afternoon my group visited the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri which served as the nation’s capital from 1571-1583. In 1583 it was abandoned for “reasons that remain unclear”. One thing that has come from my world traveling is that I now see a Doctor Who episode in every historical site. Therefore my belief is that aliens attempted to take over India during this period of time and the Doctor had to come to the rescue! Anyway, the Mughal emperor Akbar had twelve legitimate children and something like ninety illegitimate children. Fatehpur Sikri had buildings that were built for several of the more important wives in the architecture of their homeland. It made the city very interesting because Muslim architecture was mixed in with Hindu temples and Chinese pagodas. That night we went back to the hotel and some people went off to a Jain festival. I chose to stay in the hotel and rest up for the morning Taj Mahal trip.

Finally it was the day that I was the most excited for. I had a chance to visit the Taj Mahal! It was one of those things that I had been excited to see since I was extremely young. Just last year it was decided by the Indian government that the Taj will be closing to the public in the near future so that preservation work on the monument can begin. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan over the course of twenty years from 1632-1653. The Taj was a tribute of love to Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Wikipedia summary of the story goes like this: “In her dying breath, Mumtaz Mahal urged Shah Jahan to build a mausoleum for her that the world has never seen before. Shah Jahan granted his wife's wish, and construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal”. My first site of the Taj was stunning. It was like the mausoleum glowed in the sunlight. We were given under two hours to wander through the gardens and see the sights. I cannot really find the words to describe walking through the area surrounding the Taj Mahal and taking the usual tourist photos. Despite the extreme pollution just a mile away, the gardens were beautiful and the fountains were clean. I only spent about five minutes inside the actual mausoleum before deciding that the outside was much more spectacular. Finally it was time to leave and move on to the next place, but someday I will go back and spend an entire day wandering around the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

Later that day my group went to the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was kept under house arrest by his oldest son. Considering how beautiful the Fort was, I can’t imagine that house arrest would be that terrible an experience. From the Agra Fort there is a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and the surrounding pollution of Agra. Although I enjoyed visiting the Fort and learning its history, I wish I could have spent that time at the Taj Mahal instead of changing location.

That afternoon the amazing day was completed with a trip to the Mother Teresa Orphanage in Agra. The full title of the orphanage includes something about home for the “sick and destitute”, but right now I am feeling lazy and don’t want to look up the official information. I had hoped that this would be another experience like my South Africa Operation Hunger trip, but unfortunately it did not meet expectations. Despite my small disappointment I truly enjoyed playing with the children. On my wall is a page out of a coloring book that I helped one of the orphans color in. When he was finished he wrote his name in Hindi on it and made me write mine also. Then he showed it to all of his friends and gave it to me with a smile and a hug. The hardest part of this trip was not seeing all the children, but seeing the care given to the mentally ill. I say “care” because it is the only word I can think of. It was more like a prison with the patients locked behind bars. They were alone and many of them were bound so that they would not physically harm themselves. It was heartbreaking to see people living like this and to know that their care would have been much worse if they were not in the orphanage. I spoke with one of the sisters about the problems they face every day and she told me that even though life is difficult there are little blessings every day that make everything worth it in the end.

This is the end to my India blog part one. I will write about my last two days tomorrow, but I thought it might help to split it in half! Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mom Love

I would like for everyone in the United States to call my mom today and wish her a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
Mom, I love you very much and I wish that I could be home to give you a hug, a kiss, and a homemade card.  I hope that your day is beautiful and full of joy!
Love, Kendra
P.S.  Sorry I have been such a bad blogger lately.  India news coming soon!