A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

The Holiest of Holy Lands

Visiting the Sites of Chennai

sunny 83 °F

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We arrived yesterday morning at 2am and stepped outside of the airport to the hustle and bustle of automobiles, buses, and motorized rickshaws. The smell of the streets was powerful and we were all guided sleepily to a handful of short-buses en route to the hotel. For the next few days we'll be staying at the Ambica Empire Hotel in the heart of Chennai. Our coordinators Ramakrishna and Latha are both wonderful guides. After a brief orientation this morning we set out to explore the city and saw many of the wonderful religious, political, and entertaining sights here in Chennai (formerly known as Madras).

Breakfast and Orientation (9am-2pm)
Overheard during breakfast: "Why does the sun never set on the British Empire? Because God is afraid of what the British would do in the dark."
Amazing breakfast - loving the curries, the dumplings, the spices. Everything is hot.

St. Thomas Mount (2pm - 4pm)
This beautiful mountainside church is located where St. Thomas, the Apostle, was understood to have attained martyrdom. The church, built in 1523 by the Portugese, is small and serene with a shrine dedicated to "Our Lady of Expectation" (Mother Mary). People say that the altar of this shrine was built on the spot where St.Thomas was stabbed in the back. At the northern foot of the mount, is a gateway of four impressive arches surmounted by a cross bearing the inscribed date 1547. A flight of 160 steps leads up to the summit of the mount. There are fourteen stations of the cross erected on the way to the summit. Fortunately, because of the heat and the size of the group we never ended up pilgramidging that far.
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St. George Fort (4pm - 5pm)
The East India Trading Company erected Fort St. George in the early 1600s to secure its spice market. As colonialism in India evolved, the fort became the head of the colonial territory of Madras. It is the single most important remnant of colonialism in Chennai today. When India was liberated from the commonwealth of Great Britian, Fort St. George became the seat of the Tamil-Nadu provincial government. The people of India used a symbol of colonialism and converted it to a proud symbol of self-governance.

Marina Beach (5pm-6pm)
It's beautiful to see a beach so crowded with locals. We were the only foreigners I saw my entire walk along the beach. Yet there were Indian families playing in the ocean spray, men riding horses, vendors trying to sell trinkets, games like pop-the-balloon and merry-go-rounds for the young children, and small meal stands where couples could go eat. It had an almost carnival feel to it, but more authentic and in the brisk salty air. The beach stretches 13km and is the longest in India.
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San Thome Basilica (6pm - 7pm)
San Thome Basilica is a minor basilica in Santhome, a smaller neighborhood in Chennai. It was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, over the tomb of St Thomas an apostle of Jesus , then it was rebuilt by the British in 1893. St. Peters Basilica (Peter), Santiago de Compostello (James), and San Thome Basilica (Thomas) are the only sacred churches built over the burial site of Jesus' apostles. While Peter and James traveled to nearby European countries and preached the word of God, James lost himself in India and devoted himself to converting a country of Hindus and Buddhists. Unlike the elaborate places of worship in Spain or Rome, San Thome is a pale white church that is understated. In the basement is a small chamber with the buried remains of St. Thomas. It felt truly holy.
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Kapeleeshwarar Temple (7pm - 8pm)
Probably my favorite site visit of the day, Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a temple dedicate to the Lord Shiva. The form of Shiva's wife Parvati worshipped at this temple is called Karpagambal (from Tamil, "Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree"). The entrances is startled by a gate and a tower of a 1,001 gods and goddesses. Smack-dab in the middle is a bright neon sign reading the name of the temple Tamil Nadu. It's that strange combination of tradition and technology that India possesses today. We walked through the beautiful temple at night lit by candles and hundreds of people getting ashes or leaving offerings. I can't even begin to explain how beautiful of a night it was.
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Eeeee Jet-Lag is catching up to me. It's the only reason I've been able to stay up this late and blog!
Here's one last photo of our country coordinator Latha & I. Aren't we cute. Cheers!
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Posted by Fabian1993 10:26 Archived in India Tagged temple india kapeleeshwarar st.thomas marinabeach fortstgeorge

And its off to India...

sunny 79 °F

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Posted by Fabian1993 20:56 Archived in India Tagged india departure darjeelinglimited

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans

A bittersweet goodbye

sunny 70 °F

No one says it better than Satchmo

Posted by Fabian1993 20:52 Archived in USA Tagged goodbye neworleans louisarmstrong

The Day the Levees Broke

Katrina and the 9th Ward

rain 70 °F

St. James Infirmary

In documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Spike Lee, the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis sings St James Infirmary. It's one of the saddest blues songs in the book.

I've been avoiding writing this post for a while. There's too much confusion. Too much anger. Too much sorrow brewing inside of me to even begin to express what Katrina was to this city. And I didn't even feel it. I didn't lock myself in the house when the winds started blowing, I didn't feel the water rise, I didn't get displaced from my home, and I didn't loose anyone loved ones when the leves broke. That booming crack - that resounding boom that so many residents of the Upper and Lower 9th Wards heard that night. I can't imaging what that's like, and I won't be able to properly convey the experience here, but I can't leave New Orleans without talking about Katrina. Here in this city here was before Katrina, and there was after.

The surge from Katrina physically flooded the city of New Orleans. But it was the federal government that destroyed New Orleans. It was the federal government that destroyed the faith of our people in this country. That destroyed the international community's perceptions of America. And swept away so much. It exposed the deep racial fault lines of the city and our country. It brought out the best and the worst in people. Yet somehow, almost 8 years later New Orleans has staged a comeback and is more vibrant than ever. Yet the scars are still there.

As our professor put it, imagine placing your house in a glass tank and filling it up with a garden hose. Imagine filling up your neighborhood with a garden hose. Imagine flooding your city (your schools, your libraries, your hospitals, your offices, your home). That's how bad Katrina hurt.

Sorrow

Just a few raw facts:
- In the City of New Orleans, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees (It was the worst Civil Engineering Disaster ever Recorded in the United States)
- By August 31, 2005, 80% of New Orleans was flooded
- By August 31, 2005, 100% of St. Bernard Parish was flooded
- Some parts of the city were under 15 feet (4.6 m) of Water
- Final Death Toll from the Louisiana Department of Health: 1,464
- Yet there are said to be many more that died of lack of services, post-traumatic stress disorder, and heartbreak.

I remember Katrina as a child with a lot of sorrow - images of black suffering. People pushing their loved ones on make-shift rafts and getting lifted off the tips of buildings in helicopter baskets. Yet, I always thought that the federal government and the people in charge were doing their best to help the people of New Orleans. You can't get angry at a natural disaster.

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Anger

But now, knowing what I know (seeing what i've seen) I can't help but get angry at the people in charge and the deep racism that was exposed when the levees broke. Just a deep anger that climbs the ladder from the New Orleans Police Department, Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, and Michael Brown (the head of FEMA) to Michael Chertoff (the head of Homeland Security), Vice-President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. It was the type of disaster expected to be seen in a developing country, not the U.S. It reaffirmed not only our government's tendency to prioritize business over people, but also the underlying racism of our country.

Here are a few of the stories that stuck me:
- The Corps of Engineers built the levee walls 10ft. instead of the intended 17ft. as a way of saving cost.
- The federal and local government were warned about a potential breech well before the hurricane hit.
- Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco contacted business leaders before ordering an evacuation, because they did not want to "cry wolf" and interrupt business. This delayed the emergency evacuation order until less than a day before landfall.
- The formal evacuation plan was ignored, and Nagin ordered residents to a shelter of last resort without any provisions for food, water, security, or sanitary conditions
- Buses were not used to assist in evacuation. (There are media images of buses just laying around the city of New Orleans before the storm).

- Homeland Security waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance, instead of declaring it when the levees broke.
- For three days FEMA failed to provide support or supplies to the people of New Orleans.
- Racial violence erupted throughout the city - we watched clips of white men returning to the city with their guns and a testimony from a black man who was shot randomly when found outside another man's home.
- Instead of dealing with violence and looting, some policemen were recorded leaving stores with DVDs and electronics.
- Dick Cheney is recorded calling the manager of the Southern Pines Electric Power Association and ordered him to divert power from hospitals to electrical substations in nearby Collins, Mississippi that were essential to the operation of the Colonial Gasoline Pipeline.
- Bush was criticized for not returning to Washington, D.C. from his vacation in Texas until two days after the disaster.
- Instead of landing in New Orleans to show solidarity when the flood first settled, Bush flew over the city of New Orleans. When Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson touched ground in the 9th Ward, raised a flashlight to his face and spoke to the American people in solidarity.
- In his 2007 State of the Union, Bush failed to recognize the hurricane recovery efforts.

These stories of recovery are devastating, at a time when we should be coming together, things fell appart.

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Visiting the Lower 9th Ward

I felt strange visiting the lower 9th ward. These are people's homes, this is their neighborhood yet there are disaster tours that go up and down the streets photographing homes and the people that live in them. That's why I only have one photo.

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We visited Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground, both committed to reconstructing the Upper and Lower 9th Wards and bringing people back to this culturally rich residential neighborhood. A lot of green houses have been put up by celebrities like Brad Pitt. A lot of effort has gone into fighting against the lack of flood insurance and legally supporting the rights of people to own their homes. A lot of effort has been made by musicians like Marsalis to revitalize the community with subsidized musicians housing and a cultural center. Yet, there is still a lot of work to be done. The streets are still pretty torn up and there are some houses that haven't been touched since the storm. It's heartbreaking. It's been almost 8 years and theres still so much work to be done.

Posted by Fabian1993 19:37 Archived in USA Tagged katrina anger neworleans 9thward sorrow st.jamesinfirmary

New Orleans by Daylight

Catching Up with the City

semi-overcast 72 °F

I know I've been posting a lot lately- but I'm trying to catch up with everything before we head off for Chennai, India. On that note, here are a few photographs of the city I've grown to love so much.

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Posted by Fabian1993 22:49 Archived in USA Tagged neworleans

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