Walk of Faith: Camino de Santiago, Spain

Before beginning this alluring journey to walk on the sacred path towards God, I had various concerns regarding how the journey would be like? Being a solo traveler, what kind of people would I meet? With just a handful of words from Spanish vocabulary, how would I communicate with the local community? Even though I expected my whole journey to unravel beautifully at different instances, I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. After finishing my journey, I can positively say that it has been one of the best trips I have had so far, and, one day, I am definitely going back to walk on the path of Camino de Santiago again.

El Camino de Santiago, in English is called ‘The Way of St. James’. It is a 100-year-old ritual. It is believed that the body of St. James, the Apostle was discovered by a shepherd in a field in Galicia in 9th century. The name of the route comes from the St. James’ name Camino de Santiago meaning Walk of St. James.

My curiosity to explore the journey began with my research on the walking pilgrimages of India. After studying the sacred landscapes in India, I wanted to experience Western pilgrimages, specifically Europe and build a study of contrast and similarities between the pilgrimages of both the continents. Camino de Santiago was on the top of my list because of its worldwide popularity and enriching walking experiences as described by pilgrims.

I attempted to walk the last 120 kms of the pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. I reached Santiago by a flight and then took a bus that took about 4 hours to reach Sarria. It is a picturesque village in the arms of Galician mountain range. I stayed at a small Albergue that was 5 min walk from the Cathedral. After lunch and a stroll in the village square, I decided to attend the evening mass in the cathedral. The whole mass was in Spanish and everyone around me in the Cathedral seemed to be in their 40s-50s. Though I don’t understand Spanish at all except “Hola!” and “Gracias!”, it was quite captivating and the aura of the place felt quite spiritual. My objective was also to talk to as many people as I could and learn about their journey, intentions of this pilgrimage and how did walking through these sacred landscapes evolve and affect them. I met a 25 year old man from France, named Florlan Ernesto, who had begun from France and been walking for 10 days to reach Santiago. He mentioned that this was his second time coming for this journey and that he was quite close to his deceased mother who had been doing it for about 50 years. He wanted to continue her tradition as a legacy and thus had started to walk on the pilgrimage a year ago. He also was a godfather to his son’s daughter and wanted to pray for her well-being that had inspired him to walk on this journey.

The next day, I stepped out of the Albergue with confusions as to how to move forward in the journey. The warden of the Albergue told me that the yellow arrows, scallop shell and a couple of other symbols mark the clear legibility on the way and GPS or any map is not required to reach the next destination which was a village named Portomarin. The scenic path towards Portomarin was through a dense forest, rolling grasslands with beautiful mountains around and meandering roads. I met a German woman, Wiebke, who must have been in her early forties. After introducing myself, I couldn’t stop myself but ask her about her reasons for doing the walk. She mentioned that her friend had done it a couple of years ago on the route that goes right outside her house in her hometown. She had seen the movie “The Way” and was also reading about personal experience of a man who had done the walk. This all inspired her a great deal that motivated her to give it a try. She had a family in Germany but she decided to walk by herself. She was a lovely companion. The journey was also made interesting by a group of young Spanish men I came across while walking, and who were singing lovely Spanish songs.

Portomarin is a beautiful village on a hill near the river Minho, 15 miles from Sarria. After walking for 15 miles, I was exhausted and drained with energy but the approaching view of Portomarin was profound. I met a Chinese girl in the Albergue who told me she had a few days off from work and this walk sounded adventurous to her that’s why she had been walking for 15 days and had planned to walk even further for 20 days. She wasn’t religious or soul searching, this was just a fun trip to her. A quick lunch and short nap later, I went to explore the village. It had an interesting spatial design with a big open square in the center and the cathedral, shops and restaurants around the square. The topography was a little steep with streets going up the hill towards the square.

Departing from Portomarin next morning, I began walking towards Palas de Rei, my next destination for the journey. This time, the route led me towards hill top and the view from there was breathtaking. The hill top was surrounded by open tracts of grasslands, trees and other hills with patchy farmlands and clusters of settlement at places. I could gaze at the view for hours if I stayed. Halfway through my destination, I was reunited with Wiebke, the German woman. That’s the remarkable thing about this journey. You see the same faces, who you started the walk with, at different instances of the walk. Apart from the signage that make one feel associated with the feeling of a pilgrim, the wish “Buen Camino” becomes a delightful tradition that you follow whenever you pass a pilgrim/pilgrims on the way.

 

Palas de Rei was a bigger town than the previous two. The evening mass at the cathedral used to be the perfect way to end the day even though I didn’t understand what they said in the mass. I would always see lot of familiar faces showing up at the mass and it became an important pilgrim ritual for me. The next day, I left for Melide that was 12 miles from Palas de Rei. This part of the walk was mostly thorugh forests and farms. Even if I would walk alone, I never felt lonely or vulnerable in my pilgrimage. Beautiful rolling landscapes and Spanish villages felt safe.

Melide was more developed and bigger than all the previous ones. The streets were busier, there were more shops, restaurants, café and a commercial center. There were local markets and streetside vendors for clothes, food, shoes etc. that made the local galician ambience more vivid. I met two Spanish girls in the Albergue as we shared a room. They had come from Seville to walk the last 100 kms as they had graduated and wished to get a job. Through walking, they believed that they are paying respect to God who would fulfil their wish. One of them translated the evening mass for me in the Cathedral. The priest praised the pilgrims and congratulated on their journey so far. He said with each step, we were reaching closer to God. The small town square was enlivened after the mass with restaurants and coffee shops with pilgrims dispersed and explored their options.

The next destination was Arzua. What was surprising about one of the bars on the way was it had a slot machine. After reaching Arzua, I explored the town and local food, highlight of which was spicy fried green chillies. The next morning, I began walking towards Amenal. With reaching closer to Santiago each day, my curiosity was increasing to see the final destination. The spatrial fabric of the landscapes was slowly transitioning into more urban from country as the walking paths became wider, even the ones next to highways. Amenal wasn’t really a village but an extremely small settlement with a hotel for pilgrims to stay at.

     

The final day of my journey towards Santiago was very exciting. I reached a hill while walking from the top of which I could see Santiago de Compostela. Each walking step towards the city was pumping energy into me and my enthusiasm levels were at its best. My arrival was anounced by decorative boards along the roadside that were decorated by embellishments from pilgrims. After reaching the town square, I made my way towards the cathedral through through fervent crowd in the narrow streets. The first sight of the Cathedral was eternal. Beautiful scupltures carved all over on the walls described the story of years and years of pilgrimage the cathedral has witnessed and it stood as a palimpsest of built material and pilgrims’ emotions. The inside was equally beautiful. Main chamber was adorned with glitterinmg gold sculptures of Jesus, angels and other saints. The whole aura was quite heavenly. The evening mass was in Spanish and I could ony understand a handful of words but it still gave me goosebumps and I felt proud as a pilgrim. After collecting my certificate of pilgrimage, I started exploring the town that felt as if it belonged to a different era, with talented musicians giving a wonderful background score on the streets, local ice cream shops and restaurants with authentic flavors and a charming pink sunset sky. I felt light as air, melting slowly in the cool winds, absorbing my journey into my soul.

     

 

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Garba Raas in Champaign Urbana

Every year during the period of Navratri, the Indian Association at Urbana Champaign brings the festive vibe with Garba Raas and pooja. Garba is a form of dance that originated in the state of Gujarat, India.

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

It is usually performed for nine nights of Navratri around a centrally lit lamp or a picture or statue of goddess Durga, the feminine form of Divinity. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word Garbha that translates as womb, signifying ‘Source of Life’. Revolving dancers in concentric cycles represent the cycles of life, death, and rebirth with the only thing constant as the goddess, who represents the source of life.

The modern form of Garba is called Dandiya Raas which is traditionally performed by men using a pair of wooden sticks. Nowadays, Garba and Dandiya are merged together, creating a high energy dance form. The origin of the dance is traced back to the legendary myth of the fight between Goddess Durga and mighty demon king Mahishasura—the dance is an homage to their mythical fight. The dance sticks represent the sword and the dance form honors Durga’s victory over the demon.

Men, women and children wear traditional dresses with colorful embroidery and mirrors and dance to the music of the dhol, a type of double-headed drum, and Gujarati folk songs. The women and girls wear chaniya choli, a three piece dress with a colorful embroidered blouse decorated with mirrors, shells, beads and stars, a flared skirt and a long scarf wrapped around in the traditional way. They also adorn themselves with beautiful jewelry. Men wear a top called a kedia and pants known at pyjama, or a dhoti with an oxidized bracelet and a necklace.

The Indian Association of Urbana Champaign strives to provide a common identity for the local Indian community and facilitate cultural, social and educational services and opportunities for cultural integration for people of all ages. They also foster those activities that enhance mutual understanding and appreciation between the Indo-American community and the mainstream American community. They organize Garba and Dandiya Raas usually on the second weekend of Navratri. This year, it was at ‘Brookens Center Urbana Park District’ on Sep 22nd and 29th, Friday and Saturday. I was delighted to be part of the celebration this year. The event began with the opening prayer to Goddess Durga which included lighting the lamp and singing religious songs. The dancers began gathering around the statue of the goddess in concentric circles and started dancing to the Gujarati folk music played by the DJ. There were men, women, children and elderly people, all decked out in beautiful colors. With the soft beats, people started matching each other rhythms and following a pattern. It was amazing to see how they could sync with each other’s movements in an orderly way and generate a beautiful dynamic form.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

 

Traditional Attire

Traditional Attire

Everyone was enjoying the dance form and participated with full spirit. Often women lead the men in the dance. They would clap their hands, step forward and backward, swirl around and move ahead repeating the pattern. Even the elderly were dancing passionately! Apart from the Indian families in attendance, there were a lot of U of I students that excitedly participated in Garba Raas. A lot of those students weren’t part of the Gujarati community, but had come to celebrate the auspicious time of Navratri and to experience the pleasure of this traditional dance form. Experts in Garba including both students and adults, were there to teach to the rhythms of Garba to the uninitiated. Even the newbies were merged into the circles and helped them grow larger and larger. I was keen on learning these fascinating dance steps and was guided well by friends who were skilled at it. Soon I could swing like other dancers and became a part of the concentric formations of dance.

The newbies trying to learn to dance

The newbies trying to learn to dance

After a while, the dancing switched from Garba to Dandiya where people started using sticks, holding one in each hand, and dancing around the idol. I was excited to try the colorful sticks for dancing. There were several smaller groups that began creating their own rhythm with sticks clashing against each other on the beats of the songs. I started dancing with 5 other people, forming pairs within the group and continuously switching partners while dancing with the music. The songs were mostly fast paced now, with swift movements and changing partners after every beat or two. Beads of sweat glistening on almost every dancer’s forehead, the enthusiasm was too high to tire them. Those small groups merged into one big circle that was creating a spiritual energy focused in the center of the hall towards goddess Durga.

Dancing with Dandiya

Dancing with Dandiya

There were refreshments too including lemonade, savory Indian snacks like samosa, and desserts like gulab jamun and kheer. Set up on a table in one corner, whenever the music would get a little low, people would take short breaks and refresh themselves with food, feeling all the more energetic for continuing their dance.

The whole dance session came to end with an elaborate worship ritual of the Goddess Durga by everyone. A priest, with a plate containing flowers, a fruit and an oil lamp offered the Goddess his and everyone else’s devotion and prayer. All of us sang the devotional songs in unison and thanked the goddess for the blissful life, family, friends, and a chance to celebrate these auspicious days with them.

Worshipping the Goddess

Worshipping the Goddess

The celebration brought students, families and even non-native Indians together, irrespective of which part of India or the world are they from. No one identified there as a Gujarati, Bengali or Punjabi, but as someone who came to immerse himself/herself into the magnanimous aura of the Goddess Durga and the power-packed dance form. Many Indian students and family here miss their country, hometown, and families– most especially during Navratri and Diwali.  This is the third year that I am away from home for Navratri and Diwali celebration and this period always makes me wanting to go home but the celebration made me feel as if I have a family here as well that celebrates the festive spirit with such love and warmth. Events and celebrations like these bring us closer and let us form one big family here, away from home, rejoicing in our culture, traditions, and values no matter where we are in the world.

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References:

 

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Celebrate WTD: Travel Sustainably!

Do you enjoy seeing the world?  Exploring your country?  Maybe just visiting the next town over?  No matter if you prefer traveling on or off the beaten path, you have reason to celebrate…

Just this past year, over 1.2 billion travelers made their way across international borders in search of adventure, with that number expected to grow by more than 600 million over the next three years. (Rifai, Official Messages on World Tourism Day, 2017)   It’s no surprise, then, that we find tourism sitting pretty as the world’s 3rd-largest industry (Rifai, 2017), nor that big of a stretch to guess that you, or someone you know, thoroughly enjoys traveling.

But what does it mean to travel?

I’ve been lucky enough to study abroad in both Cuernavaca and Barcelona; to explore with my family a swath of Western Europe (Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy); to present at a conference in Finland; and even to spend nearly a year living and working on my own in Buenos Aires.  Each trip I took was motivated by a unique mix of goals and desires, and I’ve no doubt that the same goes for anyone else who has found themselves on a journey abroad:

 

 

Sometimes we travel to study, to immerse ourselves in a fascinating culture and language.

 

 

 

 

 

Other times we travel to learn about ourselves, find our limits and step outside our comfort zones.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe we travel for the adventure, the thrill of encountering the unfamiliar and reveling in its newness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we travel to escape, to get away from it all and relax for a while.

 

 

 

All too often, however, travelers focus solely on what they will get from a trip abroad, forgetting that they, too, have an impact on the places they visit—travel and tourism is not a one-way street, after all. With this in mind, and in celebration of #WTD2017, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has released a variety of resources to help travelers be sure that their impact is a positive one.  Click on the pictures below to check them out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately, if we can remember to TRAVEL, ENJOY, and RESPECT, we can be sure that we are having a positive impact on the economy, environment, and, most importantly, the people of the places our travels take us.

 

Resources

Rifai, T. (2017, September 27). Official Messages on World Tourism Day. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/official-messages-world-tourism-day

UNWTO. (2017, September 27). Tips for a Responsible Traveler. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/official-messages-world-tourism-day

UNWTO. (2001). Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: For Responsible Tourism. Retrieved from Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/docpdf/gcetbrochureglobalcodeen.pdf

UNWTO. (2017). World Tourism Day Homepage. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/

*All photos unrelated to the UNWTO and World Tourism Day are the personal property of the author.

 

 

Erin Shores

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Climate Change and Feminism

By Aminah Koshul

http://www.predictions2016.com/2017/01/27/five-technological-innovations-identified-to-tackle-climate-change/

The pervasive nature of social justice is such that it demands we connect the two seemingly unrelated issues of climate change and feminism. A surface-level analysis of both issues does little to reveal the extent to which the two are related. However, it is important to recognize that an integral component of sustainable development is curbing climate change, which we erroneously view within the framework of technological advancements alone.

It is true that technology may mitigate problems related to climate change, but to propose an effective solution with both short-term and long-term goals, human activity must be distinguished as the root cause behind it. Social issues such as overconsumption and overpopulation are primarily responsible for driving the negative effects of climate change. Accordingly, it is necessary to seek out solutions that are not based in technology alone and are preventative rather than reactionary in nature. Carbon tax and solar panels may be a good start, but they do not even begin to combat the deep-seated social issues, such as poverty and gender inequality, which contribute to climate change.

http://womengenderclimate.org/category/news/ and http://www.soroptimistinternational.org/advocacy-roundup-si-un-reps-help-give-a-global-voice-to-women-and-girls/

Climate change and feminism can go hand-in-hand if we empower women with work and educational opportunities that diversify their role in society beyond wives and mothers. This facilitates population control by reducing birth rates, which is essential to maintaining current rates of consumption without depleting resources. Such initiatives can be introduced in both the global north and south by granting women bodily autonomy at the policy level, as well as at the social and behavioral level.

http://web.unep.org/gender/

The United Nations Gender and the Environment Program (UNEP) promotes a gender-inclusive approach geared towards sustainable development. It recognizes that sustainability requires the inclusion of all sectors of society, especially those that are most vulnerable to climate change. UNEP has adopted gender mainstreaming policies in which women’s interests are recognized in the implementation and evaluation of programs in political, economic and social spheres.

 

https://www.facebook.com/WhatToDoAboutClimateChange/

 

This is obviously easier said than done, but it provides a more sustainable solution to climate change that can be affected in both large-scale, institutional and small-scale, individual scenarios. Countering climate change requires an agenda more comprehensive than engineering affordable green technology, and by aligning the goals of sustainable development with social justice, we can envision a world which manifests the principles necessary to build a brighter future.

References

Loring, P., Boucher, M.J. (2017, March 21). Climate change is more than a tech problem, so we need more than a tech solution. Retrieved from Eco-Business: http://www.eco-business.com/opinion/climate-change-is-more-than-a-tech-problem-so-we-need-more-than-a-tech-solution/

United Nations Environment (n.d.). Welcome to Gender and the Environment. Retrieved from United Nations Environment: http://web.unep.org/gender/

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr