entering the land of the gods

a study abroad journey

Archive for the tag “India”

A Bowl of Compassion

Read about my return to A Bowl of Compassion!

Taking the Call

Slowly the train came to a halting stop in the gray fog of the early morning. With a yawn, I heaved my pack on my back and joined the cue of people waiting to disembark at Gaya Junction, but before my feet reached the platform I was pulled into Murari-ji’s bear-hug embrace. “Maria-ji!” He proclaimed with enthusiasm beyond the early hour.

The next 48 hours continued in the same manner – with shouts of joy and loving embraces of return – and each and every day of the week I remained in Bodh Gaya was filled with love in every sense.

Being back in Bodh Gaya, being back at A Bowl of Compassion (BOC), was like returning to a home. As I wrote before I left, BOC was a huge part of my initial study abroad experience and what nudged me to move in the direction of mission and…

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“Don’t Forget to Come Home”

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Originally published on Taking the Call:

Every place has a certain energy to it – an atmosphere that is rooted in a culture. The emotions that result can be positive or negative depending on each individuals’ personality and how the two consequent energies merge. I believe that what I actually see or do in a place does effect my overall perception of a place, but the energy of the place ultimately effects those experiences.

Have you ever been in place that fills you with vibes of energy? Not the chills of wonder or amazement, but waves of life and vitality? The atmosphere in India fills me with this life and joy. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes me feel this way – the chaos, the people, the colors – but it has resulted in significant moments and relationships, which ties my being to the land even deeper. (Read more…)

Before & After Photo Gallery


On the train in Hyderabad – Nampally to Lingampalli, February 2013                                          Vote for my photo here!

Some things never change!

You can walk millions of miles in a single life without ever touching the surface of the places, nor learn anything from the people seen. The sense of the travel lies in stopping to listen, everyone has a story to tell. –Anonymous

2013 (on left), 2016 (on right).

Halwa cooking at A Bowl of Compassion.

There is always time for Mr. Das!


Teacher of Hindi, cooking, and life – Bhavani-ji!

Indian godparents, Raman & Tarenjeet!

Lucky to have seen the Taj twice now!

On the Ganges, Varanasi.

Reuniting of scholars!

Friendships at Charminar!

And being dressed in a saree always seems to fit it’s way in. 🙂

Stories to come this week! Stay posted!

Maria and Kathie !

Maria is back! And she got great company this time 🙂 Three years ago in 2013, Maria Niechwiadowiecz from South Dakota was visiting India to study abroad and to backpack the country. She wanted to learn as much as she could from mother India with it´s huge and colorful culture and it´s lovely people. With a wide […]


re-entering the land of the gods

Originally published on Taking the Call. 

Three years ago, at about this time exactly, I was beginning a study abroad journey to India. I was a Junior in college seeking to study Indian dance, expand my knowledge of religious customs, and be challenged by the world.

I returned home, five months later, changed in many ways. Not only did I come home with an expanded religious perspective and culinary palate, but my view of mission and justice had also been challenged.

For the first time I really questioned what I believed and why, what others believed and why, and why justice looks different in every context. There are so many moments, so many stories from that experience that ultimately shaped me into who I am as a Global Mission Fellow today. Therefore, from the moment I stepped out of the country in 2013, India has continued to be in my heart and mind in various ways. I have always felt like I would be back someday…and now I am!

India’s close proximity China ultimately made returning to India much more feasible, yet it didn’t feel right to return until this fall when a door opened.


Cooking and serving lunch at Bowl of Compassion, May 2013

One of my many powerful experiences in 2013 included a trip to Bodh Gaya, where I volunteered at Bowl of Compassion, a local primary school and soup kitchen. You can read about my experience here, which began a long and beautiful relationship in many ways. I was inspired by the founder, Murari, and his sense of compassion and vision in the light of educational injustice in Bodh Gaya. This compelled me to share my experience and connect the children at Bowl of Compassion to First Presbyterian Church in Sioux Falls, SD (where I was working at the time). That year at VBS we raised almost $2000 to help build a new tile floor and an art building for the school. But even better, the kids were able to learn about each other and their differing cultures. For the past 3 years, First Presbyterian has been able to continually support Bowl of Compassion with various offerings, so when Bowl of Compassion reached out to me to return to Bodh Gaya, I immediately contacted Kathie Douma, director of children’s ministries, to pray about this opportunity together.

Education in India is very much like China in some ways. The kids are taught very logically and formally with little room for imagination, creativity, or even critical thinking. Bodh Gaya is particularly stuck in this traditional system being in one of the poorest, illiterate, and corrupt states of India.

As children’s ministry lay people, Kathie and I are being asked to train the teachers some more creative ways to teach the kids in order to allow for imagination, creative thinking, and activity! We don’t know exactly how this will go – but we have a bag of tricks that is bound to help. 🙂

And thus, next week, I will re enter the land of the gods. I will spend almost an entire month in the country! After volunteering at Bowl of Compassion, I will do some traveling, first heading to Varanasi and New Delhi, then heading south to Hyderabad (where I studied), west to Mumbai/Pune, and finally, north to Amritsar. It will be a journey of old and new places, old and new connections, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Most of all, I hope the Lord will continue to shape me. I pray that he may allow for continued processing of my experience three years ago and provide the space for new insights, challenges, and growth.

Going to India in 2013 was a part of my call story to becoming a Global Mission Fellow! Please help me share my story by voting for my #IAmCalled Video! Click HERE!


Sensory Overload

Night one of sleep felt real good. I was surprised at how dark my room was-literally pitch black- the way I like it so my sleep mask really wasn’t necessary! The beds are very thin, stiff, and hard so I slept like a rock from 9pm to 1am. After a trip to the bathroom I slept until 6am and finally got out of bed at 7am.

The morning is grey and foggy, just like yesterday. It makes me wonder if there ever is a sunrise here in Hyderabad. As I roamed the halls I was happy to see I was not the only one awake. Other students read books and sat on the balcony of the house, a perfect time for quiet reflection and meditation. While I feel a touch of homesickness, it is mostly due to the fact that I am in a room with an empty bed.  If my roommate does not come today I need to move in with another person! It is nice to have my own space but a space for two is awful lonely. I miss you my dearest Emmalee!


With another free day I was excited to meet more students and explore a little more. Little did I know that we would truly experience Hyderabad! A few of us decided to walk to the campus shopping center and ended up merging with a few other students! They were going to take a bus into Hyderabad to go to the zoo so we spontaneously joined, making us 11 total. Outside the main gates of the University we caught bus 216 heading to Koti, a “district” within Hyderabad.  Then in Koti we caught bus 95 to get to the zoo. However, we were then informed that the zoo is closed on Mondays. I was excited for the chance to live in the moment (plus I wasn’t super excited about the zoo anyway 🙂 ). We got of the bus and went to plan B. Having seen a museum, we headed back in the direction we came.  Soon we arrived at the Salar Jung Museum.

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Salar Jung is a museum of art history and contains pieces that represent all parts of the world. It is also 1 of 3 National Museums in India. The place was hopping with Indian travelers who got in relatively cheap compared to the “non-Indian fare.” Clearly this was a place to see across India! Here are some of the galleries we saw:

–       Ivory Carvings

–       Iron & Bronzes (This was my favorite gallery! There were some beautiful tea sets, rose water containers, and even   hookahs!)

–       History of Calligraphy

–       Arms & Armor

–       Miniature paintings

–       Eastern Porcelain

–       Musical clock from Cook and Kelvey of England. (Every hour, a timekeeper emerges from the upper deck of the clock to strike a gong as many times as it is the hours of the day. People literally wait for each hour to arrive and crowd the seating area to see it dong.)

See more at the website: http://www.salarjungmuseum.in

By the time we left it was around 2pm and I was museumed out J We found a bus stop again and got back on bus 95 to Koli. But once we got dropped off at Koli we struggled to catch bus 216. Here are 11 Americans standing on the side of a frantically busy street waiting for the right bus. We stuck out like sore thumbs and everyone was noticing us, but it was different than the stares I received at the airport. Everyone smiled at us, waved, and laughed (probably at how pathetic we looked-haha). We finally realized we were not going to catch a bus in this location, so we began walking in the direction a kind man pointed us to. All along the way we were engulfed in the smells, sounds, colors, and sweat of Hyderabad. Some people welcomed us to India or took my hand to shake. In my new Indian outfit I felt like I was well respecting the culture and the environment. It is all so overwhelming in a sensory-overload, and we had no idea where we were walking, but we finally found the bus stop. Lesson learned; when a Hyderabadi person tells you something is right around the corner, the corner is much farther away than you expect. Anyhow, we climbed onto the already packed bus for an hour long ride back to campus. In this time I was able to do some reflection. This was another seemly stressful experience, yet I was so calm. I didn’t care that we didn’t know where we were going or that we walked and waited forever, or even that we were drenched in sweat. Similarly, we had no expectations to be anywhere. Therefore, why stress? We lived in the moment and I loved it! I wish I could explain the kind of depth and diversity of the city…but words are escaping me. Maybe after I get over this sensory overload I will be able to describe it better but it is one of those things you simply have to experience.

This leads me to some words on the bus system in response to the New Delhi bus affairs. Please know (father dear), that the Hyderabad bus system is SAFE! 🙂 Initially, I felt safe traveling in a group of men and women. But in riding the bus, I found that single Indian rode the bus all the time. Even school-girls rode the bus without an adult. There is also an unspoken norm that women sit at the front and men in the back. I felt very safe and welcome on the bus and will definitely continue to use it. However the buses are tricky in the fact that the routes are not posted anywhere. Therefore, the only direct way to find out which bus to take where is to ask someone.

Subsequently, it was a long day out which none of us were expecting. Hoping for a little rest before dinner and then see what the night has in store for New Years Eve!

Eat of the Day:

At the museum I ordered Dosa. It is basically a large crepe-like bread; very thin and pliable yet crispy. You rip off pieces and dip it into various sauces. I received a spicy orange chili sauce and a white yogurt dip.  In doing some research I found that the batter is made of fermented rice and lentils. It is commonly served for breakfast or on the streets. Dosa can be filled and wrapped up and can be served with sweet or savory additions.



(Stuffed Dosa)




I also may have ingested some of the “fresh water” offered free before realizing it was from the tap. But so far so good!

24 hour Reality Check

The presents are unwrapped, the lefse is devoured, and today, I woke up to a gorgeous South Dakota snowfall…what a perfect day for packing 🙂 Image

With less than 48 hours till departure, I figured it was a good time to tackle the pile in the corner of my room, that is, after I shoveled the snowy driveway. I turned on Hindi Beat radio on Pandora, brewed a cup of coffee, and got crackin’.

Many people have been asking what I am packing. Well here is a rough list:

  • Cotton tshirtsImage
  • Cotton capris
  • 1 pair of jeans/ 1 pair of cargo pants
  • Tennis shoes
  • Boat shoes
  • Shower sandals
  • Leggings
  • Undergarments 🙂 Socks!
  • Light sweater
  • Sunglasses
  • Travel toiletries
  • Umbrella
  • Outlet adapter/cords
  • Malaria medicine
  • Other standard medicine (ibuprofen, etc)
  • Pens/pencils/notebook
  • Passport pouch
  • Address Book and Notecards
  • Bible with a list of favorite verses of my friends and family (best Christmas gift ever!!)
  • NWU pennant (Yay Marketing!)

For my carry on:

  • Travel documents; Identification
  • Books (mostly on India :))
  • Travel toiletries (3 oz or less in a ziplock baggie!)
  • Daddy’s homemade dried fruit, almonds, dark chocolateImage
  • I-Pod; earphones
  • Laptop
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Travel pillow and face mask
  • Earl, the squirrel

Needless to say, I made it into one suitcase! I feel better now that most everything is in my suitcase, but I can’t help but wonder if I am bringing too much or too less! 24 hours from now, I will literally be sitting on the plane ready to depart…whoa, reality check!



New Regulation in Bihar

“Bihar Village Bans Women and Girls From Using Mobile Phones”

In this article posted on India Ink today, the gender gap is still very prevalent. In this case, unmarried women have been banned from using cell phones because they “promote extramarital affairs and unsanctioned marriages and erode the moral fabric of society.”

Bihar is located along the NE boarder (in red).


Celebration Chai!

Celebration Chai!

I woke up this morning to an 18 degree, Nebraska morning. The sun rose to reveal frosted leaves on the ground and chilly air tickled my nose. Sitting down to the NY Times on my laptop, a thought suddenly occurred to me…it is November 28th. What is so special about this day, you may ask? One month from today, I will be flying to the “land of the gods”….India!! To celebrate this glorious day, a cup of Chai was in order. Granted, it will probably be the worst cup of Chai after returning from India but man, it hit the spot this morning 🙂
The countdown begins….

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