Alternative Spring Break Day 6: Snow Day!

So, today was wonderful and sad.  Wonderful because we all woke up to snow!!

image1 (2) But sad because all of our site visits were cancelled for the day because of the ice on the roads.  Today, we were supposed to go back to the Rochelle Center (and I was really excited to serve in another room and have new experiences with new individuals) and go to a dress rehearsal for SENSE Theater (the theater that was started by the lady we received a lecture from yesterday at Vanderbilt).

So, instead of those two activities, we had a pretty lazy day.  We all woke up a bit later and went to one of the few places that was open: The Johnny Cash Museum. One of our group members, Sydney, was sooo very excited to get to do this.

Sliding on the beautiful snow-covered sidewalks of Nashville, we made it in one piece to the museum.

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Aren't they beautiful models?

Aren’t they beautiful models?

But not before I murdered Stephanie with an icicle (I was part of the Mafia the night before).

The murder weapon

The murder weapon

The murder

The murder

I actually really enjoyed the museum because they had a lot of videos of his songs to peruse.  And, they had a movie showing clips from all the movies and tv shows that Johnny Cash was in–that was pretty funny:)

image4 (2) Afterwards, we all went to the delicious Goo Goo shop.  They had free samples and a wonderfully funny guy working the register who enticed us all with his speech to buy some goo goo clusters.  If you’ve never heard of a goo goo cluster, they are the candy of Nashville.  Inside a layer of chocolate is peanuts, caramel, and marshmallow nougat.

Goo Goo Cluster Original 4

And because they sold them, I just HAD to buy a glass bottle of coke…

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Yes I was raised in Atlanta, where there is and should never ever be such a thing as Pepsi.

The rest of the day was pretty lazy: some of us stayed inside and worked on homework while other people visited some galleries downtown.  And then we played some Cranium and had delicious rice and beans made by Paige and Sydney.

Since this is a decently short post, I’ll tell you guys about some of the fun randomness from our trip that doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.

So, when we got to Nashville, all of us for some reason decided to adopt the most country accent you’ve ever heard.  But no one else took up this challenge as much as Stephanie.  Throughout the whole trip, she hardly abandoned her accent and she feared that it had become a part of her, or maybe that this was her true accent all along…

And we all decided, because of our incessant playing of it, that FourFiveSeconds by Rihanna is our theme song for our trip.

Oh, and some people received some awesome nicknames.  Kiana, one of our site leaders, was called Rihanna, even accidentally by someone outside of our group.  Rebekah got the lovely nickname of Becky, which can only be said in a loud country accent.

As you can tell, we were all good friends by the end of the trip:)

Alternative Spring Break Day 5: Music Therapy and Playground Psychology

This morning we went back to the Rochelle center to mainly observe a music therapy session.  As we crowded into the back of the small room, the young woman picked up her guitar singing “Hello, I’m glad to see you” to each of the individuals in the session.  These individuals were on the moderate to severe spectrum.  One individual would just smile up at the ceiling when she would sing his/her name, another would cover his/her face saying “Don’t scare me!” and another would acknowledge that she was singing his/her name but not want to interact with her.  There were about 5 participants.  During the session, she would do simple activities like “shake your tambourine when I sing the letter that your name starts with…and the letter is __”  Or “let’s shake our tambourines really softly…now really loudly”  While some had to continually have help to reposition the tambourine in their hands, one individual was so excited during a song that he stood up and shook his tambourine up high in the air.

I found it interesting that if any of the individuals touched the guitar while she was playing, the woman would say “I see you” and then put their hand back–affirming but also wanting them to know how to be respectful.

It was also neat to see that a popular song like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams could be used in so many different ways.  In one instance, I’ve seen how that song can bring together a community that I visited in Italy called Perugia, where they made a video with the song that indirectly celebrates their town.  Here at the Rochelle Center, it lifts up these individuals and makes them smile, or tap their feet, or even get up and dance around.

After music therapy, we all split up and went back to our same rooms from the other day.  Walking back in, I felt a lot more comfortable because I knew more from my previous experience.  We sang and played musical instruments and once again the two most engaging songs were “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and the “Hokey Pokey.”  We also sang some Disney songs.  However, after a while, it felt very strange singing these children’s songs to these old adult faces—some of which were probably 60 years old or so.  Though they look this old, their severe disabilities create a mindset of a baby or a toddler.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the beautiful campus of Vanderbilt to the John F. Kennedy Center.  There, we met Dr. Blythe Corbett, who gave us a lecture on her clinical studies of playgrounds and her theater she started.  When we entered the room, it felt like stepping into an important university seminar, with only our group in attendance.  She had handouts of her research, play programs, her card, and stress balls.  In the back, someone was recording the lecture.  

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Outside of the Kennedy Center, they have a small playground with cameras where they note the movement and interactions of children with and without autism, all who have fanny packs that record audio.  They also have a volunteer called a confederate who has a bug in his/her ear to hear instructions given by Dr. Corbett and her research assistants.  Even before this project, Dr. Corbett was interested in the interactions of individuals with autism and their typically developing peers.  Before coming to Vanderbilt, she started a non-profit organization called SENSE theater.  They produce plays with psychology students at the school, children with autism, and typically developing peers from schools in the area.  Throughout her talk on her theater, Dr. Corbett continually stressed the importance of pairing individuals with autism with a fellow peer in a safe environment where no one will bully them. 

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Before dinner, we had a reflection about our service yesterday.  In order to help us all not fall asleep, we played this activity called Bird on a Perch.  We were all paired up with one person being the bird and the other the perch.  During the game all the birdies and perches would look at their feet and wander around the room.  When a leader called out “birdies find your perch” the birdies would run to their perches and jump up on them.  The last couple to do so would be out.  Rebekah and I almost won with our piggy-back perch style.  

During our reflection, we talked about how everyone is disabled in some way–some people (like me) can’t whistle, some can’t form strong relationships, some have trouble expressing their feelings.  We all talked about that as humans, we have a need to categorize and fit everything we come across or think about into a box.  So using the term disabled is our way of fitting these individuals into our worlds.  Looking at some quotes about disability, we came across a good-ole Mr. Rogers one that fit what we were discussing:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately

suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that

many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or

talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive

ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong

relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives,

or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and

bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are

the real disabilities.”

At the end of our reflection, we had to come up with an elevator speech about something we had learned so far and give it to a partner in the elevator.  During my elevator speech, I talked about how I feel like I need a lot of information before I go into anything slightly new.  But sometimes, I really don’t need as much information as I think I do and it’s okay to be uncomfortable at times.

After discussion we all played this hilarious game where you try to make other people laugh/smile by saying (for us, typically in a southern twang) “darling if you love me won’t you please please smile.”  And then we ended the night with an all too real game of Mafia where Emma set the scene of the murders in Nashville, or in our hostel, or in our kitchen in the hostel.

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With the potential of snow looming over us, we went to bed.

Alternative Spring Break Day 4: Hands-on Service Day

Today was our first day of intensive service.  In the morning, we drove to a day home for disabled individuals in what almost looked like the middle of a neighborhood.  When we walked into the Rochelle Center, we were all immediately thrown into a very new and uncomfortable setting.  After we signed in, we found the main office empty.  One of the nurses saw us and told us that we could divide up and go to certain rooms.  Not feeling comfortable enough to be thrown into new service without an introduction, we waited for the lady who was supposed to meet us.  She came only a few minutes later because she was wrapping up a meeting.

She briefly explained the different rooms at the center that we could volunteer at and quickly divided us up.  So we still felt thrown into it.  Because we plan on coming to the Rochelle Center the rest of the week and rotating rooms, I’ll just talk about the room I volunteered at first.  As she was describing each room, I thought, “I’d be okay doing either of those first two rooms she described but probably not that last one.”  Which room was I assigned to you ask?  Yup–that last room.  God was basically saying, “oh thanks for thinking that–I know exactly where to put you now.”  

My group that had the same assignment as me timidly peeked into the room at the end of the hall.  This room had day patients from a center called Clover Bottom Developmental.  These individuals are on the most severe end of the spectrum of intellectual disabilities.  Most all were in chairs and a couple were hooked up to feeding tubes.  The staff and nurses introduced us to all of them and their little quirks: someone didn’t like to be touched, someone laughed when you pretended to trip, someone loved to tap their feet to music, someone would want to just to be left alone.  Overwhelmed, we tried to think about how we could do the coloring craft that we brought.  Sensing our uncomfortableness, one of the nurses Monique asked us if anyone could sing.  I shot my hand up into the air–this was an activity that I was comfortable with.  All my group mates agreed that they would prefer to do songs instead of coloring.  As they handed out cymbals and tambourines, I pulled up children’s songs, camp songs, and Christmas songs to see the lyrics on my phone.  The best songs were “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “Hokey Pokey.”  One of the individuals actually tapped her feet when we sang the verse “if you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet,” and another individual laughed so much when he saw us spinning ourselves around for the hokey pokey.  When we couldn’t think of a song, Monique really helped us out by leading us in song, which made all of us more comfortable.

Later on in the day, we went back to Leisa Hammett’s house to help her with her daughter’s art business.  When we arrived at her house, she was in factory-mode.  Her whole house was a workshop of different stations to label, fold, collate, or package cards and tiles of her daughter’s artwork.  As I was sticking labels onto tiles, her daughter Grace arrived home from a transitional school.  Right when she got in, she ran around the house to see what everyone was doing, with a big smile on her face.  And when we left, she wanted to give everyone a hug.  

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Because we heard it was national pancake day and IHOP was giving out free short stacks, we just had to stop by an IHOP.  While waiting for two tables for our party of 11, some of my group noticed this guy outside reading.  Apparently, there’s this instagram profile that some of my group follow called Hot Dudes Reading.  The captions to these pictures are the best part and they ask for donations to provide books to kids in need.  Check them out on instagram @hotdudesreading

My friends snapped a sneaky picture of this IHOP guy to add.

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On the way to our next service site, we had a mind-blowingly, fun, let’s-all-sing-the-songs-of-our-childhood sing-along in the car.  It was too awesome, really.  Britney Spears.  Avril Lavigne.  Hilary Duff.  Gwen Stefani.  Gretchen Wilson.  The list goes on.

Though we had to get out of our party van, the music fun didn’t stop.  Our next service site was taking part in a dance class at the YMCA.

When we got there, the class was already dancing.  There were a few girls in skirts and a guy, pirouetting and looking like they were having a lot of fun.  After they finished their number they were working on, our group got to sit down with them.  One of the leaders then led us in an exercise.  We thought of different shapes and what feelings we might associate them with.  For example, a square was mad while a rectangle was happy.  Then, we got into groups with at least one dancer and one alternative break member.  We got two ribbons and, when the dance instructor started the jazz music, we made the shape that best described our feelings about the song with the ribbons in our group.  After a few songs, we all got ribbons and got to dance around to more jazz songs.  I’m usually uncomfortable with the way I dance, but I felt very free to dance however I wanted because all the dancers in the class didn’t care about how anyone danced–we were all just having fun.

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During our dancing activities, one of the leaders filmed us.  Our activity is part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of this organization called VSA which is a state organization for arts and disabilities.  This video will be exchanged with a partner in Austria, who is videoing a similar jazz activity.  These videos will be put up online as a lead-up for the main celebration in July in DC.  We are one of sixty countries represented in this celebration.

Then, we did a similar activity with visual art.  We made a list of colors and associated different feelings with each color.  Then, as the instructor played some more jazz, each group got to color a white poster with whatever colors described their feelings towards the songs.  It was really neat to see each groups’ posters at the end.  Our group all stayed within our own areas while other groups crisscrossed other people’s drawings.

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We may feel like the most important service is the one that we get the most positive feelings from, but service isn’t about us or about us feeling comfortable.  We have only a glimpse of the potential impact we are making each time we serve.

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Alternative Spring Break Day 3: Food, Inspiration, and Fun (which is probably going to be everyday I’m finding out…)

Today was our first day of actual service.  Though it was fun, it wasn’t quite what I expected.  We woke up really early to get to this dee-lih-shush and super cute ‘n quaint restaurant called Crumb de la Crumb to meet a special advocate.  With the wind biting at our cheeks, we stepped inside this adorable place with rustic tables and mismatched tables.

At a long country farm table in the back, we meet Leisa Hammett.  Leisa is the mother of an artist with autism, the one who runs her daughter’s art business, and a volunteer advocate for issues dealing with artists with disabilities.  As we ordered our food, she started to talk about the start of her realization that her daughter had a passion for creating art and about starting her daughter’s business and the obstacles that she has overcome.  She talked about how difficult it is to be running a business and raising her daughter by herself. She also talked about how difficult it is on the national level to find support for artists with disabilities: she is thinking about how she will combat the laws against getting disability support if her daughter’s business starts making too much money.  What was really neat was that she did talk about disabilities, but she was talking like any other art business manager would be about his/her origins and issues.

Also, before I forget, the food and drink at Crumb de la Crumb was awesome.  I had a German pancake (this light, lemony, crepe-like pancake) and Happy tea (it had strawberries and jasmine green tea and green rooibos).

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After breakfast, Leisa invited us back to her house to see her daughter’s artwork.  Her work included colorful abstract watercolors and vivid strokes of tempera or acrylic.  If you want to see her work, here’s her site (go to the gallery tab): http://www.gracegoad.com/

Grace's label

Grace’s label

Then, we zipped down the road to the Legislative Plaza downtown.  After an extensive checking of our purses, we made it through security and walked down the hallway filled with very professional people in suits rushing around doing important legislative things.  Near the end of the long, 70s-style building, we met an intern who was tasked with bringing awareness in the Legislative Plaza to individuals with disabilities on Advocacy Day.  She and another university intern had collaborated with a public middle school and a senior center to create a big art piece to hang on the hallway. (http://vsatn.org/americans-with-disabilities-act/) The middle schoolers created individual pieces while the senior center wrote down some text on top of their pieces, which the interns had sewn together with some yarn.  On either side of the piece, the interns had information on the Americans with Disabilities Act in print and Braille.

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Though both the interns and our group realized that we had way too many hands for the job, we showed enthusiasm and rotated helping to hang the piece and information panels.  Even though I didn’t hear much of their conversation, some members of our group struck up a conversation with one of the guys that passed us in the hall and showed an interest in our gallery.  Kurt had been a volunteer advocate for a while.  When he got into an accident that created some physical and mental disabilities, he became even more passionate of an advocate.  He said that he comes here everyday as a volunteer to advocate for individuals with disabilities.

The rest of the day was filled with a city scavenger hunt.  Our group of three went to the symphony hall and the Johnny Cash museum to see if each building was easily accessible for those with physical disabilities.  Each had either flat levels or ramps for the doors but no doors with buttons to make them automatically open for wheelchairs.  We also noticed that some, though not all, intersections had different pitched beeps that told a visually disabled person when they could cross.

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Booootssss

There are so many of these stores here…

Along the way to our scavenger hunt sites though, we had to stop by the Goo Goo Cluster Factory shop and this awesome vintage clothing store called Tatyana’s, which I’m definitely going back to and buying something from.

After a lovely supper of homemade chili, we had our first post-service reflection.  We all agreed that we were slightly disappointed by how today wasn’t as hands-on as we were expecting at the gallery hanging in the legislative plaza.  But we know how important it is to just have a presence there to bring awareness to and to support issues concerning the arts and people with disabilities.

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Alternative Spring Break Day 2: Cultural Day

So our first official day in Nashville started out great: Sam, one of the members of our group, played Saints of Valory (because we are going to their concert here in Nashville on Friday!!), my favorite band of all time, during breakfast and I had Frosted Flakes. And, our learning partner, aka advisor, Meredith gave us all homemade peppermint chapstick!

Chapstick party thanks to Meredith:)

Chapstick party thanks to Meredith:)

After breakfast, I went downstairs to the awesome lobby of our hostel to get some tea.  I got my mug from the fun selection of kooky mugs, and waited with another guy for the hot water boiler to heat up.  He turned to me surprised and said, “I didn’t think Americans drank tea,” in a British accent.  I replied, “This American does.  I basically have a tea shop in my room.”  Which is very true–I have green, green antioxidant, earl grey, emperor’s chai, chai-chilla-mint-nilla, madagascar vanilla, raspberry leaf, peppermint, and ginger.  Anyway, I asked him why he was in Nashville and he said he was just traveling around by himself and going to the places that people recommended to him.  I told him he had to go to Charleston.  When he asked what’s there to do in Charleston, I excitedly replied that it was mainly for food.  And, then I remembered to say that all the houses are historic and its very quaint.

After my tea, I wanted to get some pictures of the hostel for you guys so I had the lovely Rebekah model for me:

Rebekah in the Kitchen

Rebekah in the Kitchen

Rebekah Walking in the Kitchen

Rebekah Walking in the Kitchen

Rebekah at Table

Rebekah at Table

Rebekah Playing Foosball

Rebekah Playing Foosball

Rebekah Playing Pool

Rebekah Playing Pool

Rebekah Playing Piano

Rebekah Playing Piano

We went back up to our little breakfast room to have our first reflection.  Our site leaders Kiana and Laura led us through these really neat reflection activities.

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Using these cards (called Soularium) of pictures taken in New York, we had to describe what service means to us and what we are most excited about and most nervous about for our trip.  For example, I picked this card to describe what service means to me:

For me, service is providing our time to free others to be there best, most free selves.

We also talked about why each of us decided to go on this specific alternative spring break trip through CofC.  Our answers ranged from light to serious: “this seems to fit with what I want to do with my life” to “I know someone who got into an accident and is now disabled and I want to connect with them through art.”

After our reflection, we hopped in the car to go to the Parthenon!  Squishing in the mud, we walked through the park up to the massive building.  Oh and this twisted tree looked too cool so I snapped a picture for you Dad:)

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Once we took some fun pictures by the outside of the incredibly accurate facade, we walked down below into the museum.

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Inside the basement, we got a tour from the director of the Parthenon!  She was so excited and knowledgable about every aspect of the history of this site.  For those of you who don’t know, Nashville had an International Exposition in 1897, celebrating its 100th year of statehood.  Huge temporary buildings representing and celebrating cultures from around the world were built.  Everything from pyramids to the Parthenon, fair games to exotic cafes, and a women’s building to a Chinese village were constructed.  Though this fair was supposed to be a way to educate people who might never get the chance to travel, accuracy was not emphasized but rather our American stereotypes of different cultures.  However, the main focus of the exposition was on the idea that Nashville is an “Athens of the South.”  Thus, when the six month fair was over and everything was torn down, the city left up the Parthenon.  Finally, the city decided to make remake it into a permanent building that was as accurate as possible inside and out in the early 1900s.

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The director then walked us upstairs to the interior of the Parthenon.  (Side note: This is where they filmed a scene from the Percy Jackson movie.)  It was amazing!  Though the building materials weren’t the same as the original Parthenon, the design was well-researched and awe-inspiring.  For the most part, it was an empty space with double stacked doric columns forming walkways on either side of the hall.

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But the end of the hall was filled with a massive 40 foot statue of Athena holding Nike.  Though the original Athena from the Parthenon in Greece has never been found, they used descriptions and sketches to recreate this imposing statue.

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In the room behind Athena, they had plaster casts that they used to recreate the pediments on the outside.  They actually used casts of what’s left of the originals in Greece.

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I could go on and on about the Nashville Parthenon.  It’s such a neat place with such a rich history.  And, they also have this gallery of American paintings that was donated from a collector.  And, they have an exhibit room that changes every so often.  This time it had black and white paintings of photos of civil war hospital patients after their surgeries.  So, it basically has everything.  At least everything an arts management major interested in museum studies would want:)

After our wonderful visit, we parked back downtown and went into some of the shops on the famous Broadway street.

Our best cowboy impressions

Our best cowboy impressions

Next on our wonderful cultural day list was Bluebird Cafe.  If you’ve never heard of it, its basically the most amazing place for music-loving people.  Only 200 people are let in each Sunday: 100 at 5pm and another 100 at 7:30.  On Sunday nights they have lots of singer-songwriters come in and play three songs each.  They also serve pretty decent food.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We got there right as the doors were opening for the 5pm show….and we didn’t make it.  Debating whether to stay for the next show in two and a half hours, we decided that this experience would definitely be worth the wait.  So, half of our group picked up some frozen yogurt to eat as we waited in the cold and rain (not the best idea for the weather but it was still yummy and held me over ’til we ate).  To pass the time, we played Heads Up.  A kind of charades guessing game.  It was a lot of fun when we did the music categories and tried to sing the songs without saying the title.

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When we finally got in, we found two tables near the front of the cozy cafe.

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Though I’m not a big fan of country music, I loved the show and most all of the singers.  My favorite was this one girl named Bela Kawalec who had moved here from Poland.  Here’s her website with some music if you want to check her out: http://belakawalec.com/

I also really enjoyed this guy named Bill DiLuigi who actually has a song that has been featured on the tv show Hart of Dixie called Great American Song.

During the show, the host who would introduce each group was hilarious.  He kept making jokes with our table especially (apparently Stephanie and I were only to clap when he told us too).  He also sang this funny, ludicrous-speed song about Harry Potter.

Then at the end, they had a special guest.  I’m too young to appreciate him fully I suppose, but I recognized some of his songs.  The famous Roger Cook was our last singer of the night.  He brought a ukulele to play his songs.  He had wonderful control of his light, pleasant voice.

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Overall, a very very successful cultural day:)

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Alternative Spring Break Day 1: Nashville, Welcome to Nashville!

This week, I’m participating in what’s called an alternative spring break. Through CofC, I along with 10 other ladies are heading to Nashville to work with and learn from art organizations that work with people with disabilities.  Our trip is called Artistic Abilities (our insta tag is artabs:).

Though Nashville is approximately 8.5 hours away from Charleston, I loved our trip there. After an early morning pre-departure picture (we weren’t quite awake yet), one of our site leaders Kiana hopped in the driver’s seat of the big black mini van while I got in the driver’s seat of the other car fondly named “little red.”

Leaving Chucktown!

Leaving Chucktown!

After about two and a half hours of Madeline-with-little-sleep driving, I was thankfully relieved of driving by Sam. A little while later, we arrived in Asheville for lunch.  I already know I want to go back to Asheville when I have more time and the sidewalks have less snow. It reminded me of a California of the South. An eclectic city with awesome food but also cowboy hats and country music.

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For lunch, we went to this locally-farmed fast food restaurant called Farm Burger.

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The fast food part is only in reference to how fast the food came out, definitely not in reference to the quality. Right after I ordered, got some water, and sat down, a waiter put both my entree and side dish in front of me. In two wooden bowls were a superfood salad (kale, beets, cranberries, tahini dressing, carrots, and whatever nutritional yeast is) and anson mill smoked gouda grits with a bacon apple chutney.  

Rebekah, me, Sam, Steph

Rebekah, me, Sam, Steph

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Needless to say, I fell I love with Asheville after my meal. Then with everyone’s at first hesitant then excited agreement, we walked down the block to a french chocolate shop.

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Overwhelmed by all of our choices, most of us chose something I’ve always wanted to try: sipping chocolate. I ordered what’s called a pure dark liquid truffle drink: it was basically a rich and creamy melted dark chocolate bar in a cup with a spoon–this is the way that all hot chocolate should be made! 

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Switching to our third set of drivers with one of our awesome co-leaders Laura driving “little red”, we sadly departed America’s voted “coolest city.” 

After much napping,

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we arrived in Tennessee, which as we just found out is coincidentally the volunteer state.

photo creds to Rebekah

And then after more driving (8.5 hours is longer than you think), we finally arrived in Nashville!

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After parking in a very poorly designed, scrape-the-bottom-of-your-car parking garage, we walked down to the street to our hostel.  Now I’ve never been in a hostel, but this one is pretty swanky and clean.

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Right now, two of our lovely group members are at the store getting food to make a spaghetti and meatball dinner!  And then tomorrow is cultural day!

Adventures with Adam: Hare Krishna Temple

When my good friend Adam got back from a year in Australia, I heard all about his adventures. Most were sketchy, many scary, and all very adventurous. During some of the more, in my opinion, sketchy times, he said that he found good food and good people in a group called the Hare Krishnas. So, when Adam found out that there is a Hare Krishna temple in Atlanta, he convinced me to come on an adventure one Sunday:

After a scary car ride down to Atlanta (Adam was driving), we pulled up to this unassuming house with a golden sign saying we had found the right place.

 

atlantaharekrishnas

 

On the porch, we met two guys waiting for the discussion at 2:30 to start. One of the guys, with a distinct African accent, started to explain a tenet of the Hare Krishna movement. Gesturing excitedly, he told us about the difference between the body and the soul. He told us that the soul is like the driver of a car (the body). The driver does not and should not identify as the car, because he/she uses the car only as a means to get around.

 

Leaving our shoes on the porch, we stepped onto marble floors and were offered seats right in front of the discussion leader. The leader made sure to get our names and handed us copies of the Bhagavad Gita. Basically a Bible study, we read Chapter 13 together and the leader guided us into a discussion about what we had read. Now if I understood correctly, the Bhagavad Gita is set up where it has what Hare Krishna said in Sanskrit followed by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s interpretation (the one who founded the Hare Krishna movement) explaining what that verse means. Sort of like taking one Bible verse at a time and having an important religious leader explain what the verse is trying to tell us.

 

Chapter 13 was another lesson about the difference between the soul and the body. This time, however, the analogy wasn’t driver versus car, but it was knower of the field versus the field with God being the supreme knower of the field.

 

Another part of Chapter 13 was that we have 2 souls: our individual soul and God’s. They believe that God expands himself into each of us (he doesn’t divide himself into pieces for each of us). It’s an interesting way to think about it.

 

I noticed that many of their teachings have a physical or tangible aspect to them. Every religious movement has their own way of wrapping their head around their beliefs. For Hare Krishna, it seems to be using simple, tangible analogies.

 

During the discussion, I didn’t really ask any questions; I just observed. Adam, however, jumped right in with lots of questions. Getting wrapped up in his thoughts too much, I sometimes acted as translator for his questions.

 

After discussion, more people came into the temple. The temple, as I should have mentioned before, was a long room with checkered marble floors. At the back was a scarily life-like statue of their founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada sitting in a chair. At the front, there were drawn theater curtains.

 

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

 

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Some men started to chant and play drums as everyone began to dance in a circle around a table. The table had a plant on it and some people came up to put a spoonful of water on the plant.

 

The rest of the service was a mix of dancing, study of Sanskrit verses, reveal of deities, and offerings to the deities all interlaced with the same mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This mantra basically translates to “Dear God let me be your servant.”

 

 

The most interesting part was the reveal of the deities. Mid-way through the service, they opened the curtains at the front of the room to reveal a blindingly colorful scene. Small dolls with painted masks were dressed in bright purples, greens, blues, and yellows.   I gathered that they believe there is one supreme being, God, but that they also believe there are lesser but important beings that were represented in the figures on the stage.

 

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What was even more foreign to me was how they offered up gifts to these deities. One person would go around the room offering a flower for all of us to smell and then throw the flower onto the stage on the figures. And, at the end, everyone filed up to the stage so that a guy with a silver bowl could place it lightly on your head. As strange as this was to me, I kind of thought it was a unique way to get people involved in offerings. We were physically contributing ourselves to the offerings.

 

Quotes-by-Srimad-Bhagavatam-on-Offering-Everything-to-The-Lord

 

After the service, we got our shoes and went out back for food. Adam and I stepped up to the closest line for some yummy homemade vegetarian Indian food. However, one of the leaders came up to me and said I needed to get into the other line, the women’s line. As I walked over, I couldn’t help but be irritated by this division. The food was the same, the amount of food given to us was the same, but they still divided us. I also noticed a more subtle separation during the service. As the service went on, the men gathered along the left side of the temple and the women on the right. Also, only men played instruments and only men lead the rest of us by microphone in singing the Hare Krishna mantra.

 

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After getting paper plates filled with food and cups of a mint watermelon drink (I need that drink recipe), Adam and I made our way to some picnic tables.

 

We sat by this one guy who was Roman Catholic and Hare Krishna. He explained that he could be both because Hare Krishna is a movement that aids people in getting closer to God. He told us that there are many paths to God and that all are to love God.   

 

As foreign as this experience was to me though, one thing felt very familiar. Several people in the congregation were exceptionally nice to Adam and me. One girl found us booklets that translated some of the Sanskrit readings. The discussion leader put me in the front of the food line. Though I felt as if I had stepped into another country, my experience at the Hare Krishna temple in Atlanta was enlightening, fun, and overall pleasant.  Thanks Adam for taking me on one of your adventures!