Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letter to ISE

The following is a letter that many of the faculty on the voyage signed.  I will offer my own reflections later.

Because there will be no time for a review of the Fall 2012 voyage before we disembark in Fort Lauderdale, the faculty has collected thoughts into one paper, intended to assist ISE in its planning for future voyages.  We are mindful of the many objectives that ISE must pursue and thus offer this assessment as a way to enhance and improve future voyages as meaningful educational experiences for our students.  We believe that such changes over time would bring many more serious students to Semester at Sea and would increase the organization's reputation among universities.

Itinerary:  More thought should be given to a travel itinerary that allows for sufficient continuity in the classroom.  We were fortunate in Fall 2012 to have the Atlantic crossing to get classes started.  However, the many ports in Europe with only a single class (or less) in between  meant that sometimes classes did not meet for 9 or 10 days, breaking any continuity; each time the class met, it was starting over for faculty and students who did not remember previous lectures and were unprepared for real engagement in the classroom.  This was difficult on students and faculty alike.  A preferable itinerary would ensure that there were at least 4 days between ports so that two full sets of A and B classes could occur. 

We realize that visiting interesting cities is a priority but perhaps there can be a blending of the academic goals with those of learning from great places. Certainly we need more specific introduction to each city.    

In addition, while more ports may seem to make the voyage more marketable, the SAS brand offers experience of the world's cultures and its diversity in an academic context. SAS wants students on board who are looking for a life-changing experience while continuing their learning. In the long run, these students may look to other opportunities if SAS diminishes the academic and cultural elements.

Internet Technology:  The IT system is totally inadequate for the shipboard community.  Faculty cannot connect for classes, students cannot do research.  Often people do not even receive email.  This system must be upgraded immediately as a number one priority.  In the digital age, a floating university must have an adequate IT system if it is to attract students and faculty of the highest caliber.  The current situation is unacceptable despite the best efforts of an excellent IT staff (ship crew as well as SAS staff).

University Connections:  SAS needs connections with the University community in every port where we disembark.  Built into the program should be receptions, student-to-student engagement through seminars and field trips involving our students with their international counterparts.  This is a role that ISE could play more easily than depending on the individual faculty or staff members.  If this part of the program received more emphasis, it is also possible that SAS would over time attract students from these international universities as well.

Building community:  "Global Studies" is the one class in which everyone participates.  Eliminating it without considering how the shipboard community may be engaged as a community seems ill-advised.  To make Global Studies more acceptable for academic credit, finding a convenient rubric, such as Comparative Politics, Sociology, or Anthropology, would house it under a department for students seeking a comparable course. 

An alternative system would be to split Global Studies into two courses, each open to student choice until filled to the capacity of the Union: 1) Politics, Sociology, Environment, Economics, Current Events option ("Social Sciences"); and 2) History, Religion, Culture, and Arts option ("Humanities"), with appropriate overlap, e.g. politics and religion as sources of conflicts in history and the present.  That would facilitate some sense of shared intellectual experience, solve the space problem and would give the students some option without the potential disorganization of "lenses," which are bigger classes that teach broadly, as all courses and the ship should strive to do.

Current Events:  Expert presentations on key issues facing port countries (like the impacts of global climate change, which especially affect port cities) and relevant topics from international relations, especially those pertaining to upcoming visits, need to be a regular feature of Global Studies or whatever replaces it.  Were someone with broad governmental and policy expertise and skills tasked with providing port-by-port briefings for the shipboard community, we'd be well on our way in this regard.  With improved IT on board, students would be expected daily to read selected news sources. Further, faculty should be encouraged to incorporate as many current activities from the countries on our itinerary into their curricula as possible. 

Pre-Voyage Preparation:  Consideration should be given to creating a reading assignment and essay prepared before the voyage, with the essay distributed to instructors so that persons needing remedial writing can be identified immediately.  (The lack of writing skills is pronounced, with many students using the most informal style – following speech rather than written patterns.)    With a pre-voyage reading and essay, students would have the opportunity to prepare thoughtfully for the voyage. 

Field Labs:  These need to be better considered.  To be experiential means that they may not always directly relate to the class at hand, so this should be explained in advance to faculty.  A library of past labs and contact names should be maintained for the future so that a person visiting, say Rio de Janeiro, has a contact even if the person is not in his/her field.  The settings for the labs should also be noted.  In addition, more flexibility in including adult passengers who are serious auditors should be encouraged, without additional costs beyond the real costs of the trip itself.  Faculty should be free to decide on who might join their own field trips, including other faculty, spouses or partners who may well facilitate the trip's effectiveness.

Field Trips:  While out of our immediate purview, field trips should be better considered.  Many of us had unfortunate experiences where field guides were not prepared, vehicles broke down, and long trips on the road left little time for exploration at a given site.  Many faculty and students began to devise their own field trips rather than take advantage of the SAS ones because of the expense and the lack of good programs.  We have met many local guides and companies that we could recommend to ISE.  Field trips often attempt to do too many things, failing to show any one aspect of life very well.  In addition, in some of the venues where students were supposed to be doing service, the agencies were not prepared for the visits so that our presence was a distraction, not a service to the agency or school.

Administrative:  Our field office was terrific and we believe it should be empowered – in conjunction with the deans -- to make decisions for field labs and trips rather than go through the ISE office, which frankly was often bureaucratic and unresponsive to questions and decisions.  Our deans, LaVahn Hoh and John Tymitz also were very helpful in breaking the logjam and sometimes making executive decisions.  Many more tried-and-true formulas should be considered for inclusion, often at little cost, such as port home stays (especially if coordinated with local Rotary Clubs) or university receptions, where students could meet their peers in comfortable settings that might lead to further contacts, even during the same port stay.

Blending of Student and Academic Affairs:  Every effort should be made to ensure that student affairs and student programming encourages and supports the academic goals of the program.  In many of our home institutions as well as sometimes on board, academic and student life are treated as separate silos.  We want to encourage greater planning and coordination to make the two blend as they should, especially on the ship when the academic area along with the private lives of staff, students and faculty are so blended in the community setting.

We have prepared this letter to summarize our concerns, and we would be happy to meet with you or any other ISE staff in person or by telephone to explore any of these issues further.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.


Terry L. Bangs, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English and Communication (retired)

U.S. Air Force Academy

Warren Boeschenstein, Merrill D. Peterson Emeritus Professor of Architecture, University of Virginia

Darlene Campbell, Laguna College of Art and Design - Studio Arts

Sergio Carvalho, Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Manitoba

Leo Chavez, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

James Danziger, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Irvine 

Harry Freeman, Professor, Human Development and Educational Psychology, University of South Dakota

Michael G. Kaloyanides, Professor, Ethnomusicology, University of New Haven

Rodney Huey, Lynchburg College, Media Studies

Linda J. Kobert, Writer, Editor and Writing Coach

Paul Liebhardt, Brooks Institute

Patricia O'Neill, Professor of History, Central Oregon Community College, Adjunct Professor of History, University of Oregon

Erika Paterson, English Department, University of British Columbia

Barry Penn Hollar, Professor of Religion, Shenandoah University

Jane Edmister Penner, Director, Content Management Services, University of Virginia Library

Mark Peters, Adjunct Faculty, School of Leadership and Education Sciences,

University of San Diego

Allan A. Schoenherr, Professor of Ecology Emeritus, Fullerton College

Faye A. Serio, Retired Senior Lecturer, St. Lawrence University

John Serio, Professor Emeritus, Clarkson University

Larry Silver, Farquhar Professor of Art History, University of Pennsylvania

Katherine Slaughter, Adjunct Professor, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture, University of Virginia

Andrea Meador Smith, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Shenandoah University

Robert Smith, Geographic Consultant

Gordon Stewart, Professor and Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia

John Tymitz, CEO Emeritus, Institute for Shipboard Education

Gail Weigl, Adjunct Professor, Art History, Georgetown University

Robert Weigl, Director, Franklin Psychotherapy Center, Alexandria, Va., Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University.


Barry Penn Hollar
Professor of Religion
Semester at Sea, Fall 2012

 Semester at Sea blog:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Last Five Days

We left at Dominica at 8 pm on Sunday evening, just before the Memorial Service.   The next two days we had very rough seas!  Indeed, Barry thinks Tuesday was the only day he's really been affected by sea sickness on the voyage—mostly headaches.  We also had some stomach issues related to our malaria medicine, we think.

Monday and Tuesday exams were scheduled.  Barry woke up Monday morning at 4 am and got up to finish grading field experience papers.  All 90 of his students had had to write short reflection papers connecting material from their Religion courses to their experiences in port.   They were due at midnight on Friday night. He had graded all those that had been submitted early, but he still had about half to do.

Monday evening between exam days, Dean LaVahn Hoh hosted a "Refuse to Leave" reception in the faculty lounge for faculty, staff, and lifelong learners onboard.  Apparently he had carefully protected enough of his budget to be able to put on a really nice reception with what Barry though was some of the best food we'd had on ship. (There was lots of meaty things, so Jayne did not share that evaluation.)

Anticipating the quick turnaround between exams and the due date for grades (Wednesday at 4 pm), Barry had prepared mostly multiple-choice exams with only a few short answer questions.   The ship has a scan tron machine so grading didn't take long and all the grades were posted by noon on Wednesday.

Tuesday evening, after exams, was the Alumni Ball.  This is the big dress-up affair that culminates every voyage.   There are two seatings with reserved tables.   We had signed up to with the Orris family.  They have three generations onboard.  Milton is the grandfather.  He is a retired education consultant who is among the most active people on the ship: volunteering in the writing center, doing workshops on project management for students, and leading Buddhist meditation.   He and his partner Ruth introduced my World Religions classes to Buddhist meditation practices.  Jay and Christy, his son and daughter-in-law, are on board with their two boys, Luke (10) and Ryan (8).  They both attended Dartmouth Business School and are traveling the world for a year with their family after selling several businesses Christy had started. Christy is champion bicyclist In Colorado and is who provided the wonderful spin bikes that we have in the workout facility on board. Also, with us was Mark Peters, who is a Campus Minister at University of San Diego and an adjunct business professor.

After dinner in the main dining room on deck 5, we went upstairs to 6th deck dining hall for a dessert buffet!  Yum.

Students got dressed up for the occasion and there was lots of picture taking.

Here's one of Barry with a bevy of girls, including Jennifer McGrew and Maritza Miller, our two adopted daughters who go to Dartmouth.

Here are some of Barry's USD students.

Wednesday afternoon, we did a Memorial Circle for Casey Schulman.  There were orchids distributed and the ship did a 360 degree circle and we filed by and threw our orchids into the ocean. 


That night we had our convocation.  It was sort of mini-graduation ceremony.  8 or ten students will actually graduate from their universities once their grades from SAS are officially posted. They were honored along with the students who made Dean's list by making all As on the voyage.

Thursday was for packing, putting our luggage and boxes in the hallway for pick up by the ship staff.    There is lots of time for blogging, saying goodbyes, and taking pictures—including some of the coast of Cuba just to our south.

Here's the luggage ready for off loading.

We docked in Ft. Lauderdale early Friday morning.  We were soon cleared for departure and left the ship in groups.  A student had paid $1000 at the shipboard auction several weeks ago for the right to leave the ship first. Student have been divide into residential areas for the whole voyage and the first two groups that had finished first and second in the Sea Olympic some time ago were off next.  Then faculty and staff.  Parents were waiting to greet their students.

We were off ship through customs and to the airport before 11 am.  Unfortunately, we our flight wasn't until 6:00pm. So it was a long day in the airport. Fortunately, we had company. Jayne's Cultural Anthropology professor Leo Chavez and his wife Kathy were waiting in the same area and we enjoyed lunch with them and our ship clown, Barry Lubin at the Chilis in the airport. 

We arrived in Dulles around 9 pm and were home soon after 11 pm.   Evan Tucker, Jayne's cousin's son who had house sat for us, picked us up with his mother Dawn, who teaches math at Madison County High School with Jayne.  They caught us up on all the goings on at home.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The death of Casey Schulman

It is hard to describe, even now only a few short days past, the scene on the ship Saturday evening.  Of course, there was shock and sadness.  Soon after the general announcement, Barry learned that many of the group of fifty or so students who had been on the catamaran involved in the accident were on the 7th deck gathered in the faculty lounge.   He quickly went there.

Don Gogniat, the geography professor from Penn State who teaches our global studies class, was really exerting leadership.  He was in the middle of the group of twenty or more sobbing and wailing students talking to them gently.  He encouraged them to talk about Casey and to share their memories of her.  It was probably too early and too quick for that, but they were able from time to time to escape their grief if only for brief moments and to laugh.   

The trip had been organized by a student from the University of San Diego who is in both of Barry's classes.    Many of the most grief-stricken students were from USD and Mark Peters, who is a business professor there and on the ship (and a full-time member of the Campus Ministry staff at USD) was also in the room providing support.  Renee Kashawlic of the student affairs staff was also on the scene providing great, great support for the students.  (We are so pleased that she has just gotten a job at Virginia Tech starting in the spring. She is from Detroit and is one of the people on the ship we are always delighted to see!)

In every port, students and faculty organize their own trips rather than taking advantage of the ones provided and sold by Semester at Sea.  This is both good and bad.  It's good because they often find better prices and, sometimes, different experiences than are available through the SAS trips.  The bad, of course, is that the tour operators the students find are not always the best AND there is no supervision of SAS faculty or staff on those trips.

In this case the students had found a great tour operator for their snorkeling expedition. (Indeed, our friends Leng and Rupert had looked into a whale watching trip for Jayne and I with this same company.)  Unfortunately, they could have used some adult supervision.   Apparently, when the accident happened mid-afternoon there was one group of students who were actually on a beach, some passed out, while another group was still in the water swimming.  Casey Schulman was part of that group.   For reasons we don't understand, the catamaran had gone to shore to pick up food supplies for the group and it struck Casey as it was backing away from shore.

We had planned to go on a SAS sponsored dolphin and whale-watching safari on Sunday morning. Rupert and Leng were going to show more of the island's beauty in the afternoon.  We were going to cancel both trips, but the student affairs staff and counselors thought it would be good for us to be on the safari as a number of students were signed up for it and they thought it would be good for us to be with them for support.  We did stay on the ship in the afternoon.  Barry spent most of the afternoon finalizing arrangements for the last ecumenical Christian worship service of the voyage and writing up the remarks he would make at the Memorial Service that night.

Our worship service is normally held in a small classroom, which is sufficient for the 15-20 people that normally come. At some point, we were asked to move it to the Union, the largest room on the ship.  In part because lots of students had gotten up to go to Sunday morning worship services in town, there was an expectation that we would need a bigger room. 

We had a faculty meeting at 5:30 to discuss the decisions that had been made with respect to how to handle exams.  That went on a bit longer than Barry had anticipated and about five minutes before worship was to start, someone came and got Barry to tell him that the Union was full of students waiting for the service.   We had decided to have an ordinary Advent service, so we read the lectionary readings for the day and sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.  Of course, we had an extended time of prayer before closing out with Hymn of Promise, a beautiful contemporary hymn that we first got to know because it was sung at Jayne's father's funeral.  One of Barry's student's, a music theater major at Elon College, also sang Amazing Grace without accompaniment.  It was beautiful and the shipboard community seem to appreciate the opportunity to find comfort in the worship.

After a short break for dinner, we reconvened with the entire shipboard community for the official Memorial Service that had been organized by the executive leadership on the ship.  There was special music by students (the famous Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" and "Amazing Grace" again), and statements by several of Casey's closest friends on the ship, each of whom were marvelous in bearing witness to her qualities and honoring her memory.  The Executive Dean, Academic Dean, two professors, and finally Barry spoke.  We posted Barry's remarks earlier.  He said that Casey's death was a reminder that precious things are fragile and must be cared for.  He encouraged the students not to abandon their adventurousness but to balance it with great care.  He warned that suffering was the price we pay for caring deeply and assured them that God is with us in our suffering and promises us a way through and beyond it.

It was extremely well received.  Significant numbers of faculty, and staff told him how much the words meant to them.

Barry decided that his Liberation Theology exam on Monday was optional.  Students were able to take the grade they had already based on the four papers they had written.  So many of the students in his Liberation Theology class were part of the trip on which the accident occurred.  One had organized the trip and was feeling terrible guilt along with his grief. At least three others in the class were involved in getting Casey out of the water after she was struck by the propeller and providing emergency care on the catamaran.  There was simply no way they could have prepared for the exam or performed to their potential on Monday afternoon.    It was surely the right thing to do and the students appreciated it.  Interestingly, several of the students who most needed the relief from the exam told Barry they were concerned that it was unfair to the other students for them to be exempt from the exam. Barry told them not to worry, that they needed at this point to think only of themselves and he would try to figure out what was fair.  That admirable concern about fairness was also part of what motivated him to make the whole class exempt.

Neither of us really knew Casey Schulman at all.  From what we heard from her friends and several members of the faculty, that was truly our loss.   She was apparently and extremely diligent and capable student.   One faculty member told us that she was clearly more mature than the typical student onboard. And another, who had a number of her friends in his class, said that he was impressed that her friends were his very best students and he thought that reflected her own qualities.  From what we heard from her friends at the memorial she was a person with an infectious smile, who was always energetic and engaged in what she was doing finding a reason to be enthusiastic and joyful even in the midst of challenging situations.

Yesterday in going through pictures from earlier in the voyage, Barry found the picture at the top of the page.  He took it at Morning Star School in Accra, Ghana.  At the time, he didn't know who the SAS student was.  It seems to capture much of what we have heard about her.

We surely hope her parents can find some solace in the warm regard with which she is remembered by all.

Dominica Day 1

Our last stop on our Atlantic journey was the tiny Caribbean island, Dominica.  It is north of Venezuela and east and south of Puerto Rico, between Martinique and Guadeloupe.  Does that help?

Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week on which he spotted it, a Sunday (Dominica in Latin), November 3, 1493. Its pre-Columbian name was “Wai‘tu kubuli”, which means, “Tall is her body”; describing the long, narrow island shape.

When he returned to Europe, Columbus was asked to describe Dominica; he took a piece of paper and balled it up, then dropped it to the table.  He said the island looked just like the paper – not a smooth spot on it! According to a popular West Indian belief, Dominica is the only New World territory that Columbus would still recognize.  There has been very little development on the island.

The island is lush and green, no wonder, this island is one of the wettest places on earth – average rainfalls ranges from 200 to more than 300 inches per year!  There are so many native plants here that can be eaten, we tasted many and saw many more.

Long before we left for Semester at Sea, our friends Jim and Johanna Perry had put us in contact with a childhood friend of Johanna’s from Malaysia named Leng Sorhaindo.  Leng has lived on Dominica for forty years with her husband Rupert, who is a native of the Island.   She is an acclaimed music educator and he was former head of the educational system and Dominica’s Olympic committee.

A funny story about their prominence on the island:  The ship had organized a clothing drive.  People on the ship donated clothing they didn’t want to take home. Jayne had arranged places to donate the clothing through Leng.  Because of her roll, Jayne had to meet with customs officials who had boarded the ship when we arrived in Roseau, the capital.  They seemed not terribly cooperative until Jayne mentioned Leng.  “Oh, Leng, made the arrangements!  That’s okay then.”  Everything after that went smoothly.  Where ever they took us around the island everyone seemed to know them.  (If doesn’t hurt that his brother Crispen Sorhaindo was President of Dominica from 1993-1998.  Interestingly, the population is mostly people of African descent, but the Sorhaindo’s came to the Island from France from which they were exiled because of their Huguenot faith)

Jayne waiting for Rupert to pick up the clothes.

After Rupert took the donated clothing back to their house, Leng took us to the local market.   There we meet a woman whose husband wrote the Dominica guidebook we had been told on the ship was the very best.    

We also meet the man who is heading up the Dominican artisans organization.  (We were warned that most of the tourist stuff being sold near the ship was made in China!  Made me wonder about things we bought in Manaus and Tema! 

After our visit to the market, we spent some time visiting with Leng and Rupert at their home on the mountainside overlooking Roseau before heading out to a sulfur spa. It had five pools of water ranging from very hot to cool- the hot pools are heated by geothermal heat, from the Earth's mantle.  (Dominica has several active volcanoes.) The cooler pools are created by mixing the cool streams with the hot water.  This one had at least 14 different minerals in it, mainly sulfur as the name indicates.  Many people think the water and minerals help with aches and pains.

 Rupert, Leng, and Jayne.

After enjoying the spa we went to a lovely restaurant.  Its quite well known and even Oprah Winfree and Martina Navratilova have eaten there.  Barry had a local dish featuring the flying fish we’ve been seeing so many of from the MV Explorer.

 In the afternoon we drive way up into the mountains to a fresh water lake.  Rupert identified every edible plant and the poisonous ones as well.  We actually ate some sprigs of watercress from a stream running near the road. 

The views up and down the mountains were gorgeous.

After a wonderful day with Leng and Rupert we returned to the ship.  We noticed a group of very tired students with back-packs getting off a bus and we rushed to get across the pier to the ship to get through security without getting caught up in that large group.  We noticed when we got on that there were several very troubled looking students.  Soon we learned that a student had been killed in a boating accident and before long we were all called to the Union where the tragedy was announced to the entire shipboard community.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Memorial Service

As some of you know, a student on Semester at Sea was killed yesterday in a tragic boating accident.  We are having a memorial service tonight for the entire shipboard community.  I am the final speaker.  Here's what I will be saying:

The thought that has been running through my head since soon after I learned of Casey's death is this: precious things are fragile things.  And the more precious they are, the more fragile.

That seems to be a truth of our existence as inescapable as the laws of thermodynamics and the slow working of evolution.   We may not like it; it may not be the best of all possible worlds; it may not be the way any of us would have made the world if we could have our way.  But its true isn't: the more precious something is, the more fragile, the more vulnerable it is.   Our earth is precious; eco-systems are precious; our bodies are precious; our souls are precious.   And they are subject to decay, to injury, and to death.    They must be cared for.

Last night, one of you said something to the effect that  people of your generation tend to believe that they are indestructible.   She was suggesting that what happened yesterday was a tragic and shocking reminder that it isn't so.

And surely, it isn't so.  You are not indestructible.   But I hope that you have not learned that lesson too quickly, And, I hope you will not give up your illusion of indestructibility without a fight.  I say that because I believe it is a part of the source of your exuberance, your courage, and your sense of adventure.

It was that exuberance, courage, and sense of adventure that made it possible for you to choose to spend this semester at sea.  It was that exuberance, courage, and sense of adventure that had you couch surfing around the Atlantic, and doing homestays in remote villages in Ghana.   It was that exuberance, courage, and sense of adventure that had Casey out snorkeling yesterday.

And it would be a tremendous loss if you were to abandon your exuberance, become fearful.   Life isn't worth living if it's lived without joy, without enthusiasm, without passion, without adventure.

But, of course, there must be balance.   You are precious; each of us is precious!  And because we are, for better or worse, we are fragile.  WE must be cared for.

You are precious so you must take care of yourself and let others care for you.

And continue to take care of each other as you have been.    Remember the lesson of Ubuntu:  I am because you are.  As Bishop Tutu has said, "We don't come fully formed into the world. We learn how to think, how to walk, how to speak, how to behave, indeed how to be human from other human beings. … We are made for togetherness, we are made for family, for fellowship, to exist in a tender network of interdependence."

Because we are precious we are vulnerable; we must be cared for; so we have been made for each other.  So balance your exuberance and sense of adventure with a deep sense of care.  

 And channel your exuberance into caring.   Throw yourself full force into some of the things you've tentatively begun to commit yourself on this voyage. Dare to believe you can help end hunger and poverty in your life and throw yourself joyfully into it; dare to believe that you can help to discover a cure for cancer or HIV.  Dare to believe that you can learn three more languages so that you can truly connect with and care for more people.

I don't suggest that any of this will keep you from feeling the pain you are feeling now. Hey, if you want to make sure you never feel again as awful as you felt in the last twenty four hours, then learn how NOT to care about yourself, about others about the earth; abandon you joy, forfeit your commitments.

 Your pain is the price of your caring.  I wish it weren't so, but I think that's just the way it is.   

 So how do we find the persistence to carry on in such a world is this. In the face of the fact that everything precious is fragile and most be cared for.  How do we go on living with exuberance and joy if inevitably pain is the price we must pay for caring?

Each of us has to discover the answer to that question for ourselves.  But one of the ways we care for each other is to share whatever works for us.  So let me share with you what is working for me based on how I've come to understand the story that lies at the center of the Christian faith tradition in which I stand.  It is the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, who we believe to be the incarnation of God.

For me that story is the source of my conviction that God is with us; that God bears and shares with us all the pain that accompanies our precious vulnerability and the that intensifies as we learn to care.   And God has promised that the way to whatever joy, fulfillment, and salvation is possible for us is only through suffering and not around it.   And it is this conviction on which I draw as I struggle to care even as I understand that such caring puts me at risk of great pain.

My hope and prayer for you is that you find your way through this season of suffering and come out the other side with deeper love, deeper commitment, and deeper joy because of it.  I believe you can.  I believe you will.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Manaus-Day 3

Our last day in Manaus we traveled, in the little blue boat here in the picture, from the ship to an indigenous village probably ten miles up the Rio Negro from Manaus.

After a very fast forty-rive minute trip upriver,  we had to disembark across this very rickety pier because of the low water.  From there we had a fifteen minute walk to get to the village. 

We were hosted by the community in this grand lodge.

According to our tour guide, this community is a made up of several indigenous families that separated from their tribe further up the river in a reservation.   Outsiders are not allowed in the reservation.  The village had discovered that a significant way for them to support themselves was by hosting tour groups to whom they display some of their distinctive customs and rituals.   (There were other Semester at Sea groups that spent the night in the jungle outside the village, hosted by the villagers.   There was also a large group of German tourists there at the same time as us.

This isf the village chief.


He explained the various dances and songs they performed for us. Most notable was the welcoming ritual that he said under normal circumstances would last up to twenty-four hours.   Visitors would themselves participate in the dancing and so, of course, they invited us at one point to join their circle where we all tried, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to imitate their steps.  Another song and dance, performed only by men, was part of a ritual remembrance of a particular aspect of their mythology.   At first, apparently, the Creator God had only created a few people.  After awhile those people needed others with whom to mate.  So, they petitioned, in song and dance, for the Creator God to make some new families.  (Barry thought this was particular interesting.  After all, and oft noted "weakness" of the Biblical creation story is the obvious omission of any explanation for where the Cain and Abel got wives.  At least these indigenous Brazilians had the sense to recognize the problem in their version!)

Barry was able to interview the chief a bit further, with the help of our guide, about some of their beliefs.  They belief in a single high God, the Creator, who they call the Great Grandfather.  The "first world" or spirit world is inhabited by lesser gods or spirits and ancestors.  We live in the "second world."   I asked about contact with the spirits in the first world and the chief explained that on the first day of the year (July 1) there is a special ceremony that involves the use of very special herbal tea.   On that day, people from the second world may actually experience the first one, communing with the spirits.  Or, spirits may dwell temporarily that day In the ordinary world with us.  That must be some good tea!

These pictures show the rattles around the chiefs ankle and the paintings on one of the legs of the male dancers.


This is Barry with the chief and his niece who was Barry's dance partner in the welcoming dance.

Along the way to the village we passed some boys fishing. They had caught a beautiful peacock bass.

It was a very interesting, if superficial, introduction to the world of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.  Barry has commented a number of times that he wishes that Semester at Sea had deeper affiliations with colleges and universities in the ports we visit.  Scholars there might have been able to give us a better knowledge and experience of indigenous reality that the tour guides.

Both two and from the village we passed under this incredible bridge that has recently connected Manaus to the other side of the Rio Negro.

We are now in the last week of classes.  We arrive in Dominca on Saturday and leave their Sunday night.   Monday and Tuesday next week are final exams.