Hi! My name is Nicole Eitzen and I am a junior from Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. I am a Literary Studies and Communication and Culture major and look forward to sharing my college experience with Bethel’s blogging community. This semester I will be studying abroad at the University of Barcelona located in the northeast coast of the region of Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain. Having lived in Mexico for most of my life, I am thrilled with the opportunity to reconnect with the Spanish roots of my Mexican heritage and learn from the richness of Barcelona’s unique language and culture. My journey with Brethren Colleges Abroad begins September 2nd and until then I will be in the North Newton area to visit with relatives and friends.
This adventure is drawing to a close and the students are tired but still in good spirits. They continue to work well together, engaging in conversation with each other, exhibiting kindness, putting individual needs aside for the needs of the group. They continue to ask probing questions, engage in conversations with local people, and exhibit flexibility in their sleeping and eating experiences.
It had been my goal to publish this blog on a regular basis, but access to the Internet was sporadic at best. At the mission, Internet was often down for days at a time, while sometimes it was on in the morning, but off in the afternoon. During our last week, our travels led to remote locations that did not have access. In their journals, students commented that they found it freeing to be disconnected from technology.
Something that is exciting when traveling is the idea of being able to experience and try new things, especially food. A memory that I will bring back from Africa was our traditional Zulu dinner. We had sweet potatoes, some type of a root, tripe (cows stomach), chickens feet and gizzard, spinach, cabbage, corn, beans, steamed bread and SOUR MILK.....that was actually good.
No matter if there were things on our plates that did not taste very well, it was fun to eat things that we would never eat back home. And no matter if we did not like the food, people really love'd to see us let our guard down and experience their way of life. If any of you ever travel abroad, just remember to keep and open mind and not to pass judgement before you try new things.
Today we traveled to Maletsunyane Falls arguably the most beautiful place in all of Lesotho. Approaching the falls the landscape seems plain with rolling hills and small mountainous outcrops. Only until we were right on top on it did we see the deep gorge and the water falling 669 ft. It was a beautiful sight to see but we wanted to go down into the gorge and swim in the pool below. The hike down was questionable at best. The only path was a herd boy path that is frequented more by goats than humans, so in places the path narrowed to 6 inches of loose dirt on steep inclines. We all made it safely down and were met by the cold refreshing mist. The water was cold but how often does one get to swim in Africa's tallest vertical falls? It was magnificent to swim in the pool and look up and see only the water pouring down and the sun and white clouds. On the hike up it was easier to find footing after seeing the terrain once, but hard having to leave. Oh by the way it happened to be my 21st birthday.
"I'm beginning to think the best things in the world come at the end of dirt roads." Says Bill as we round the corner for our stay at the hot springs. Our first re-encounter with first world, consumeristic life. It was glorious to eat whatever I wanted, again, to cleanse myself with an endless flow of rain pouring from the bathroom ceiling as opposed taking a bucket bath with only a few cups of water we hiked half a mile with on our heads to retrieve.
Although the shower was luxurious, I was disappointed to be leaving such a small taste of a balanced lifestyle behind. Work took all day because it was interspersed with play and social life. The daily walk to the tap is filled with invested small talk and smiles, kind of like on a small college campus, but more genuine, more invested because there is no hurry, nothing more important to do. The water is pumped by a children spinning and giggling on a contraption similar to a merry-go-round. Their work directly affects them. They work to enhance not only their own livelihood, but their self-worth comes from working for each other, for love. I asked some children what were their favorite things to do, and the unanimous reply was "cooking, sweeping, going to fetch water.
I spent that week in Lesotho completely awe-struck. The lush, green hills clothed in quaint rondavels, animals and people sprinkled about, coexisting in gardens, under trees, the sound of women ululating in the distance. Sounds like a dream, reminds me of the gloriously simple life of a hobbit.
The breathtaking topography is freckled not only with flowers, but trash, everywhere. Littering is norm in Lesotho. A local told us that they have to litter or the government won't send people to clean it up. I mentioned to Bill how strange it was. He pointed out that our own society was in a similar state a hundred years ago. Yeah, but there is no way there would be that much trash everywhere. The sustainable lifestyle of the Lesotho is not something they want. Being able to waste is a sign of affluence. The American dream; a consumeristic lifestyle, is sought after. During a stormy afternoon of some super sugary Rooibus with my host sisters between the singing, silly faces, and giggling, conversation kept returning back our class differences. I'm sitting in Lesotho, with some of the people who are doing way more living than anyone I know and they are wishing upon a car, dreaming to someday be my 'kitchen girl' back in flat, disconnected first-world, Kansas.
There is an ancient, lost, natural wisdom the people of Lesotho embody, but they don't even know how lucky they are. I feel as if our clocks, our every man for himself mindset, our separated, industrially focused lives have tainted our minds. We have been robbed of our nature, and brainwashed by the need to succeed, in order to be good enough. The truth is, what it takes to be good enough, is not to be better, or more talented than others. All it takes is the ability to rest in our small, vital roles in the universe. It requires the sensitivity to listen to the Earth cry when we mistreat the very soil we will inevitably become. We must be mature and vulnerable enough to become part of the darkest, most uncomfortable parts of ourselves and of the fragile world we live in.
Be free, be good, and take care,
I began this trip open minded, not expecting anything, but hoping for everything. Hoping to experience as much as I could, though I was blind to depth of what these experiences may be. Now that this trip is near its end, I have time to reflect on my journey. Africa has blessed me interactions with the most honest, genuine, hard-working, and thankful people that I have ever met. Africa has also blessed me with personal experiences of emotional pain and physical suffering, as well as with experiences of genuine faith and meaningful prayer. On this trip I have learned the dynamics of agriculture, Gods farming vs. Contemporary farming, as well as how conservation agriculture can be accessible and beneficial to the people and the earth. This Journey has affirmed my decision to partake in biological and agricultural studies, as well as use my talents as an artist to observe and communicate with the natural world and with people's of many cultural backgrounds. I am thankful for the growth that I have gained through this journey through the mother land. From this Journey I have been inspired to compose a bit of poetry:
Borrowed breath's, I have taken deep
Resting bodies on a mountains peak
Plowing fields until arms are weak
With a daunting hope for a harvest to reap
Prayers are given to God for growing
Respect to the ancestors for they are still glowing
The wonders of earth, in my sight, unfolding
This life I live is mine for molding
The people I have met while I WALK this journey
Keep proving to me that all life is WORTHY
Worthy of interaction, not to be hurried
Affirmation that LOVE is the essence so purely
From all beings I can LEARN
Real knowledge is rightly earned
A wise being leaves no bridges burned
Life lived IN LOVE, is a life Fluid yet Firm.
Samuel "Naleli" Agoitia
One thing that has stood out to me during our stay in Lesotho/ South Africa is how welcoming the people are, and how they incorporate song into their lives. The first afternoon that we were at Tlokoeng, the women of the village took many of us girls aside and showed/ taught us traditional Lesotho song and dance. They even had dressed Terra, Natasha, Camile, and Emma up in traditional dresses.
The songs they sang were beautiful. There were no instruments used besides buckets that the elderly ladies used as drums. They sang in harmony and we all held hands. The women would bring some of us forward into the middle of the circle. We sat on our knees and waved our wrists in a hula-like movements. Another part of the dance was to shift shoulders back and forth so their chests would move forward (however you were not supposed to use your torso). The women were very inclusive in making sure everyone was dancing. They brought a thin blanket by and threw it over Camille's head and we all danced and sang around a bamboozled Camille. Eventually Bill and some of the other girls came and the women of the village encouraged us to dance up to Bill (because he is supposedly our chief) on our knees and give him a gift (but all they had handy as a makeshift gift was toilet paper- it was all very funny).
These women were very adamant about us learning their songs and dances. When some little kids pulled Amanda and me away and we sat and talked with them, the women came up to us and told us we were lazy for not dancing, and for hanging with the little children instead.
It became apparent to me that singing and dancing is an integral part of community, establishing and strengthening the interconnectedness of this vibrant mountain village.
We are nearing the end of this first Bethel College Interterm adventure in China! After a little extra sleep, we enjoyed another fine buffet breakfast at our comfortable Longmen Hotel. Then it was on the bus for our international departure point, Shanghai’s modern Pudong International Airport. Our first stop was the Longyang Road Station where we made a brief visit to the Mag Lev (“magnetic levitation”) Museum, then boarded the Mag Lev train for a very, very fast trip to the airport! Our luggage would remain on the bus to be picked up later curbside at the airport.
This technological wonder that is the Mag Lev train is being employed operationally for the first time in the world in Shanghai! The basic principle involves magnetic forces to both propel the train and hold the carriages a fraction of an inch above the steel rail while the train is moving.
This was our last full day in Shanghai—and the last day of our China Interterm adventure!
We were met as scheduled in GM’s modern office block by a lady who showed us a scale model of GM’s facilities at this location and, to our pleasure and surprise, invited us to do a walk-through of its assembly line.
Our Guide, Jack, also noted that GM is a generous employer in terms of year-end company bonuses paid just prior to New Year festivities. This year, reflecting a record sales year, most GM employees will get a year-end bonus equal to 16 times the workers monthly salary! The general comment from our group as we completed this 45-minjute walk-through was that the GM visit was one of most interesting of the China Interterm experience.
This afternoon was “free time” for the Interterm group. A few of us visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center on People’s Square, a high-tech facility that depicts the past, present—and planned future—of one of the world’s most dynamic cities.
Looking back over our five day stay in Shanghai, we were impressed with the city’s dynamism.
Jim from Shanghai