Man working on a wooden fishing flatform. Kerala, India.
Bruce Spinney is a Tumbler Ridge pastor, teacher, truck driver, troublemaker and traveler. He is currently in India where he be teaching in Christian Schools for the next year.
For the last week, I have been in the state of Kerala. It is on the south western coast of India and has one of the most interesting histories I have ever heard. At the same time as Paul was starting churches in Greece, Saint Thomas was starting churches in India, specifically an area just south of where I am now.
Thomas, the doubting one, traveled to Kerala because there was a large Jewish community there. This community was started as a trading outpost during the time of Solomon and was developed, along with the Arabs, because of trade winds that allowed ships to sail east in one season and west with the next. During each successive expulsion of the Jews, a number of them followed the trade route to Kerala. The early church records this trip by Thomas but there is no written history of what exactly happened.
The first European explorers were Portuguese and they record a primitive Christian church that had survived for 1500 years apart from the familiar Roman Catholic fold. The connection was with the eastern and Syrian Orthodox church but once even this connection was broken by historical conflict, the church became stagnant and weak. What survived was a rich oral history, kept alive by songs and pageants, recording the names of the first converts and a general history of the church. I have seen some of these songs and dances.
People here are exceedingly friendly and concerned with my comfort and wellbeing. The chapel that I attend has the ubiquitous white plastic lawn chairs we are so familiar with. The ones at the back are reserved for staff and faculty but I was warm (as usual) and decided to sit under one of the ceiling fans farther forward.
This caused some concern and one of the students wanted to bring a larger chair for me. I asked him why and he told me that it was sturdier. I pointed at one of the larger students who was at least equal to me in weight and said “what about him?” The student looked at me and said “he is expendable”. That student did not understand my laughter.
Tomorrow I am taking the overnight train to the city of Bangalore where I will teach for another three weeks at a larger school. The last few weeks have been great. The people are so gracious here. One almost disregards the complements but I simply refuse to because it builds my ego so much. I accept their worship as valid and deserved.
I have been trying to go for walks when the time is available and today took my last stroll through the rubber plantations in the area. It is unbelievably beautiful and I managed to take a few snaps. I was about to turn for home and the skies opened up and one of those warm tropical rains started to pelt down.
This was not a real problem and I submitted myself to getting drenched and very likely had a goofy smile on my face. As I was passing a small house I was greeted and invited to come inside out of the rain and, on the spur of the moment, decided to accept. It was a truly delightful hour. My host did not speak very much English and his mom spoke none and yet we were able to find out a great deal about each other. His father’s death last year, his family nearby, his grandfather turning 87, and so on.
Tea plantation and lake. Kerala, India.
He is a 22 year old Syrian Orthodox Christian along with the rest of his family apart from the aforementioned grandfather who at some point had turned Pentecostal. I received the usual look of astonishment when he found out that I was single. It is simply unheard of here in a land of arranged marriages. I think my parents must have tried but I was a hard sell. Too much baggage and not enough valuable luggage if you get my drift.
The last time I was in India there were no televisions available but I have been staying at a hotel with some English channels. The movies are in English but the advertising is in either Hindi or Malialum (the local dialect). I have noticed something interesting. I do believe that advertisers are about the best diagnosticians of culture simply because their success depends on them attracting the culture to the products that they are selling.
In Indian culture the actors, stars, and cool people using the products look more like me than the average India. I am referring to skin color rather than handsomeness. Apparently, when an India wants to look good they have the image of a pale European in mind rather than a dark Indian. I find this a bit sad.In the west we find the darker the tan then better we look but in other countries it works the other way.
Indian people are handsome and the women are beautiful with very nice teeth (something I always notice). In general, the higher caste people have lighter skin and so this might be attributed in part to that, but the people on the adverts are even whiter than that. It is sad that a people as good looking as the Indian people are do not see that in themselves. I suppose this is a universal thing. The skin is always better on the other side of the world.