Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ship Shenanigans

 That day in the middle of the Indian Ocean when the captain fired up both engines to show us that our normal cruising speed of 13-14 knots was not as fast as a full throttle 27 knots. It was a nice recess from morning study hall.

 There be pirates in the Indian Ocean. Our ship can out run them, but just in case, hoses were ready to blast them away. This is the fifth deck where I like to jump rope and walk for my evening exercise. 

 Neptune day in which pollywogs become shell backs in honor of having crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere. This is an old naval tradition. It involves being doused in green water (instead of slime and entrails used in some rituals), jumping in a pool, kissing a fish, kissing Neptune's ring and then being pronounced a shellback with sword taps to the shoulders.

Will went twice.

One other tradition for Neptune Day is to have your head shaved. A few women did it too.

The splash from a flying fish.

 Sea Olympics day. Eight Student teams and the faculty, staff and families team compete in events like team cheer, team banner, synchronized swimming, volleyball, dodge ball, charades, chess, lip sync etc. Joel and Will competed in the frozen t-shirt contest where competitors have to thaw--by using body heat-- a solid block of water and t-shirt to the point they can then wear it. Joel also performed (he has some cool moves) with others from our team in the lip sync.

Being told that their team was first to finish. Will is wearing the once frozen t-shirt. Unfortunately our team was penalized with additional minutes because they started out the event by soaking the ice block in the wading pool (one other team did it too until both were told it was against the rules) which helped speed up the process. When asked why they chose that tactic, the boys and the one father on the team noted that the rules did not say it was against the rules to use the pool.

 synchronized swimming

A Day in Mauritius (Will's Report)

I teach on A day mornings from 8:00-9:15 (world geography) and then from 10:50-12:05 (political geography). I teach on B day afternoons from 1:00-2:15 (global cities). In between I work on course prep and grading. Marie's job is to home school the kids on A and B days from 9:00-11:15 and to then help with ship kids activities in the afternoon. It has been a challenge to keep Will engaged and so for the past two weeks I have been in charge of Will on B day mornings. Rather than go up to the dinning hall with the other kids, Will and I hang out in our cabin and work on his math workbook, cub scout requirements, writing (8 sentences a day) and social studies (yesterday we learned about apartheid and Nelson Mandela) followed by 30 minutes of reading time for him. (Marie does science later using home teacher provided powerpoints.) We also walk the 5th deck quizzing each other on spelling words. In between times there are moanings and groanings, protestations and down right belligerence (hence the decision to share the task). Math and writing are his two least favorite topics. He is very good at math and can often figure things out in his head, but writing it down and showing work is something he does not enjoy doing. Writing in general is not his favorite.

On the day after Mauritius, I assigned Will to write a report about our one day adventure (on a SAS field program of about 30 people) on a lovely island. I gave him a map to look at and that was all the help I gave. Here is his transcribed report--eight sentences exactly--which he did without protesting:

For Mauritius we climbed a mountain. The mountain was called Le Pouce. We started at 9 and ended at one. It was hard to climb. After that we went to a really good home with really good food. It was amazing. We went to the beach after. I got to snorkel. I saw a lot of cool fish. It was called Flic en Flac Beach.  

 Morning arrival in Mauritius. Capital City Port Louis (pronounced Louie) is in the center with the peak of Le Pouce (the thumb) rising above the city. It is the third highest mountain on the island (2,664 ft). Second highest Pieter Both Mountain (2,690) is the peak on the far left.

 Marie got a little faint after the first initial climb. She rested and drank some water under the care of one of the guides while I went ahead with our energetic kids. About two thirds of the way up, slow and steady Marie rejoined the group and then we all climbed to the top. Pieter Both peak is in the background. Charles Darwin climbed Le Pouce in 1836.

 Sugar Cane fields.

From the summit looking down on Port Louis

 There was just enough room on top for the 30 of us. The final assent (with the help of ropes) and the drop off from the top reminded me of hiking Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.

 Our delicious lunch of seven different Indian curries and fresh na'an was cooked and served by an extended family in their carport.

 Many of the corals surrounding Mauritius died in the 1990s due to pollution, dynamite fishing and other man made causes.  The boys and I snorkeled out about 200 meters in calm shallow water to the breakwater where eventually we found live corals and beautiful tropical fish.

Friday, March 20, 2015


 The pilot ship approaches

 Entering historic Kochi (Cochin) harbor

 Fishing nets

 Old spice warehouses

We spent our full six says in the Indian state of Kerala. It is unique in that it has the highest human development index of all the states in India and because it has a higher percentage of Christians than other states. It also has a long history of spice trade which has certainly influenced its religious diversity—Hindus, Christians and Muslims. 

Day One: Our ship docked near the historic port of Fort Kochi where for centuries spice traders from all over the world have come and gone. We started our first day with a taxi ride to the Lulu Mall (new, large and upscale) to find what google listed as the only Apple (not official) store in the Kochi area. We found the store, but it was not equipped for repairs. But happily they tasked one of their workers to walk us out of the mall and down some busy streets to a companion store that focused on repairs. I offered to pay our guide for helping us, but he refused. Once there we were told restoring Will’s passcode locked i-pod would take all day. I explained that we had come by taxi from the port and was there any way to do it while we waited. The nice clerk agreed and within an hour a happy Will had a working i-pod. When asked how much, I was told nothing. Nice. We walked back to the mall where we all enjoyed veggie burgers (chicken was the only meat available since cows are holy in India) and fries at McDonalds. The masala sauce on the burgers was quite spicy.

Waiting for Will's i-pod to be fixed.

 Most forms of transportation paid homage to either Christian (most common), Hindu or Muslim deities, people or places.


Our cab driver had indicated he would be waiting for us in the parking garage where he dropped us off—and he was. We had intended to go back to the ship and then take a ferry over to Fort Kochi, but the cab drive mentioned that he could take us to see some elephants all congregated for daily parades as part of a local Hindu festival. We thought that sounded fun so off we went. We all enjoyed seeing about a dozen big elephants all shackled and munching away on palm fronds (amazing what one trunk can do in terms of pulling and breaking and inserting food) as they waited to be painted and decorated for the evening parade. Our driver then dropped us off in Fort Kochi where we visited two historic churches dating back to the Portuguese and Dutch periods. We also visited the Chinese fishing nets and enjoyed sitting in the shade of the large rain trees (saman). At 5:00 we went to a local Katakali performance (ancient tales of love and good triumphing over evil which are danced and sung in elaborated costumes). It fulfilled a requirement for Sarah’s world performance class. It was not as entertaining as the acrobats of Shanghai or water puppets of Vietnam, but it was still enjoyable.

 In Jew Town (the center of the spice trade)


  St. Francis Church

 Kerala has a strong and influential communist party.

Day 2-4.  We caught another cab (I had thought we would ride local buses but it was too complicated) to Marari Beach about an hour south of Kochi. We checked in to the Abad Turtle Beach Resort—a nice find on Expedia, and then headed out to the beach. The palm treed lined white sand beaches was certainly idyllic, but it was a steep entry into the water which meant waves broke very near to shore. No rolling waves for body surfing and no shallow water to play in. It did make for fun wave jumping for the boys and once past the pummeling waves I was able to stand neck deep and bob up and down with the waves. We cut our final morning at the beach short because of much rougher waves. Once we tired of the sand and waves we swam in the pool. We spent parts of three days and two nights at the resort. We enjoyed god food, a few soccer and cricket games on TV, walking the beautiful grounds—complete with an impressive butterfly garden, and slow but steady internet in the veranda of the check-in counter where I was able to upload photos for blog posts. The only other night we have spent off the ship was in Kyoto. This escape was a much needed mental health reprieve. It also served as a nice place to be together as a family and remember my mother. As pre-arranged, our taxi driver returned to pick us up at 11:00 on the third day. On the drive back to Cochi we passed two elephants in the street and we stopped to see cashews growing on a tree. That afternoon we took the ferry (one ticket line for women to keep them out of the push and touch of men) across the harbor to Ernakulam. This is the busy commercial center of Kochi. We wandered through town looking for dark glasses, a barber and a nativity. We lucked out when we happened upon the Christian heart of town with several Churches, Christian schools and Christian stores. After visiting several stores—which did carry Italian-looking, made in China nativities, we found a locally made brightly colored ceramic nativity—with lots of sheep and shepherds that was so very cheap that we could not resist buying it. Marie and Sarah checked out a bookstore while we three boys got our hair cut.

March 9th was the day of my mother's funeral. There was no way I could feasibly fly from Cochin via Delhi to Utah for the funeral and then get back in time for my required field lab on the last day (March 11th) in Cochin. Mom was not a big fan of funerals anyway and we knew she would understand. I had thought that we would just have to listen to a recording of the funeral when we got home. Then it hit me on our last morning at the beach that if Joel could Face Time his friends from our various ports then I could us my phone to Face Time the funeral. With Joel's help I gave my brother Jake a "ring". It worked! Our whole trip had been beset with technological challenges. Then all at once in far off India, a tender mercy came our way. Technology sided in our favor. That evening at 10:00 pm the five of us crowded around the tiny table in our cabin where my i-phone was propped and we watched my mother's whole funeral (less than 60 minutes as she requested) loud and clear as Jake and others held up his i-phone to be our eyes and ears. It was a wonderful celebration of a life well lived. We also got to visit with family members and see the graveside service. A tender mercy indeed.

Check out Joel's new hat--bought under the trees at the Chinese fishing nets.



 We bought the locally made Indian nativity in the lower right.

The Deseret Book of India. Religious kitsch knows no boundaries.

 Post haircut head massages are a good thing.

 Ernakulam water front.

Day five we participated in another SAS Impact Field Lab. We travel by bus to the village of Chendamangalam (an hour north of Kochi) to learn about a Keralan development initiative called Kudumbaaree. Started by the local Catholic diocese, this program groups 10 women together to share ideas, offer support and learn money making skills like organic gardening, rosary making, weaving and handicrafts. They meet weekly as a group and they regularly pay small fees which are used in micro-financing projects. The state government broadened these groups to include all religions and now administers the small loans. 

Here is how the trip was described in the SAS literature: You will be welcomed to the village with traditional hospitality, including chenda melam (drums), jasmine garland and tender coconut water to drink. Then you will have a cooking demonstration where you can participate if you choose before feasting on Sadya, a vegetarian meal served on banana leaves. After lunch, watch handloom weaving by skilled villagers; weaving is a primary source of income for many of the families in the village. Explore the winding roads of the village and spend time interacting with the villagers and sipping lime tea before returning to Cochin.  

Added to this description was a welcome dance by a companion Hindu women's group from the same village, getting a tour of the family garden where every tree and plant seemed to have a purpose including cash making crops like black pepper vines and nutmeg trees, visiting with the daughter of the host who just completed her BA engineering degree in England, and having hot lime water to drink for our family in place of tea. I had imagined that this field program would expose out children to some of the poverty of India, but instead we saw modern rural homes with cars and scooters in the carport and we visited with educated women who are working hard and supporting each other as they seek to improve the lives of their families. It was a delightful experience. 

 Our delightful host (we gathered in her front yard) and head of the women's group.

 Cooking "pancakes"

 Nightstand reading.

Nutmeg fruit

 Nutmeg with read sheath of mace.

 Nutmeg trees.

Black pepper


 Our host's daughter (far right) just completed her engineering degree in the England.

Sarah after having been taught by our nice hosts how to put on a sari.

For our final day in Cochi, I joined with my 30 world geography students for our required field lab (20% of the grade was based on this outing). Our quest was to better understand about the historical geography of Cochi as it related to the spice trade and the coming of many religions and political powers and to learn about modern efforts enacted to raise Kerala’s level of human development. We started out visiting the Dutch cemetery, the Portuguese built St. Francis Church (1503—India’s oldest European-built church, there are many Syrian Orthodox Christians in Kerala who came long before European Christianity), the Dutch built Santa Cruz basilica, and the Jewish cemetery and synagogue (Jews may have come to India as early as the first temple destruction or at least by the second temple destruction). We had a delicious lunch of ginger fish and curries at the Ginger House Restaurant in Jew Town (the main spice trading area). The restaurant looked out on the waterfront and was housed in an old spice trading warehouse. After lunch we visited the Mattancheerry/Dutch Palace (a gift to the local ruler by the Portuguese and then renovated by the Dutch to secure spice trading privileges) and then stopped by a spice warehouse. Our final stop was at a hotel (happily air-conditioned—we had one student faint at the second church) where academics from the Kerala based Center for Public Policy Research spoke to us about the Kerela Model of development which has included land reform, universal education, anti-caste movements, poverty alleviation and free health care. The local communist party often played an important role in developing these progressive (particularly in India) policies. Throughout our travels in Kerala we noticed many hammer and sickle flags and banners. 

While I was doing my duty, Marie and the kids took the ferry from our berth on Willingdon Island (a land filled island built by the British when they dredged the port in the 1930s) to Mattancherry/Jew Town where they spend the morning also visiting the synagogue and palace and then doing some shopping. My field trip was the last of the passengers (with approval) to embark right at the 5:00 pm deadline. 

 Dutch cemetery.

 Santa Crux Dutch basilica.

 Jewish cemetery.

 Roman numerals on this side of the clock tower

 Indian numerals on this side.

 No inside photos allowed this time around so here is a photo from my previous trip to Cochi.

 World geography students after a very hot morning.

 Our happy bus driver.