I like the “s”

I’ve been in a place called Lutheran Theological Institute (LTI) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. It’s about 60 kilometers North of Durban. It is pretty much on the opposite side of the country from Cape Town. It’s a different state with a different dominant culture and language, Zulu.  But here on campus the students come from all over Africa. My roommate is from Zimbabwe, and other friends are from Botswana, Rwanda, Zambia and, of course, South Africa. There is also a large Indian population.

It’s a stew of nationalities, ethnicities and ideologies.

LTI is connected with and right across the street from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). LTI is a Lutheran college and UKZN is a secular university with a Department of Theology. LTI is steeped in traditional liturgy and church structures. UKZN’s Department of Theology is a school of liberation with a history of fighting apartheid through liberation theology and a progressive stance.

I have been attending a few classes and lectures mostly at UKZN. One of the classes I really enjoy is an African Worldviews theology course. The class proves over and over again that the most significant letter in African Worldviews, is the letter “s.” Just like the class, this place is varied, colorful and challenging. It has plenty of mind blowing contradictions and discrepancies. It has thoughtful conversations and mutual interest. I like the “s.”

I might be in class at UKZN but I live, eat and attend daily chapel at LTI. Some pictures of LTI…

Goodbye India…

India you loved me, you hated me, you fed me, you starved me, you clothed me, you stripped me of my expectations, you shocked me, you gave me a gentle peace, you shared your stories with me, you gossiped behind my back, you kept me separate from you and you took me in as one of your own…

India you clarified, confused, challenged and helped me to better understand me, my hopes, my prejudices, my way of seeing the world … You gave me many opportunities to think twice, notice the subtleties and consider a different way to react and to be…

I see you differently than before I arrived … not better, not worse just more truly, more humanly, less naively.

Goodbye India … don’t forget me, I will never be able to forget you …you are now a part of who I am.

I’ll see you again … some day …but for now, I will carry you in my heart …

(And no I’m not back in the states … my next post – South Africa…)

One affects another

I can’t even tell you how many things I couldn’t see when I first got here in India. Then over time my eyes began to adjust to the environment, I began to see new things. Similar to taking a different route home from work or walking somewhere instead of driving, the view changes and details begin to emerge; you begin to see what has been staring you in the face all along.

I needed it pointed out, but now I see it everywhere, the ugly rather unsettling face…

And once you see it you see it everywhere. In construction lots,

In front of the Dealership

This face is to ward off the evil eye. It looks evil and ugly; and I guess that is sort of the point, it disrupts the evil, envious or overly doting gaze that causes bad things to happen… or so it is thought.

Some will call it superstition, but I think that there is some truth lurking in the evil eye at least within the widely held Indian understanding…

And that truth being that we do often look at things and people with envy, jealousy and even malice.  With that envy, jealousy and malice; love, hope and peace don’t come easily. My envy and jealousy can easily disrupt my own peace. The evil eye, it is believed, sends that negative energy to the object of envy resulting in misfortune and illness for the object. So many people do many things to protect themselves from the affects of the evil eye.

Some use a more artistic rendering of an eye looking back at you…

And others use a simple black dot on the forehead or cheek of a child

Whatever the mode of dealing with the evil eye, it all points to a real acknowledgement that we can be jealous and that when we operate out of that mindset, people can be affected.

I’m not a fan of the evil eye but I love the willingness to acknowledge that we are human and our lives affect one another.

How is your family?

Many said to me before I left, “If you get invited to an Indian wedding you have to go.” Only four days in India and there I was … at an Indian wedding … I was wrapped in layers and layers of yards and yards of fabric with a sparkling necklace and matching bangles on each wrist, all acquired on the first day of my arrival for about 900 rupees (that’s about $20 USD.)

The wedding was held at the largest Arcot Lutheran Church in town. The bride was the daughter of the senior pastor of the church. There were about 800 – 1000 people present. It was a pretty big deal, as I understand all Indian weddings are … lots of ritual, lots of food, lots of glitz.

One of the ladies here at Quo Vadis Vimala, explained to me that you need a crowd at weddings because the size of the crowd has something to say about your relationship to others. Those present are offering support and blessing to the couple and the family just by being present. It’s a very communal concept, not at all individual, just the way everything else Indian is here. (There are many westerners here, in later posts I’ll comment on that reality and their approach to Tiruvannamalai.)

The idea of individuality is quite literally a foreign concept. Where in the west one might greet another with the question, “how are you doing today?” Here in India the question would not be asked, and if you did you the person being asked the question might not even know what to say. Instead the question of greeting is, “how is your family?” It’s not about me, it’s about the family of which I am a part.

So, how is your family?