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Almost Around the World in 120 DAYS

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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In one Ghanaian Pentecostal church on Easter Friday in the city of Takoradi, dapper men and women of all ages dressed in white jumped in praise of God while surrounded by hundreds of fellow worshippers in a tent. This reminded me of many of the Portmore tents of worship at home. In the Ghanaian gathering various clans were called by the pastor to shake their tambourines and bodies for the Lord. Shake up, shake down, and shake it all around! Our band of four joined this joyous dance as prayer.

In Fes, Morocco, we had to peep from a distance. As women we could not join in the worshipping. We peeped through the archway in the Medina and got a glimpse of dozens of devoted Muslim men and boys diligently washing their bodies in a fountain and others performing the bowed ritual of prayer in the mosque. Women and non-Muslims were not permitted to enter.

Cleanse yourself for Allah or shake your booties for God. Invite strangers to join the celebration or keep them at bay. There is something to admire in all the ways of worshipping.

The Semester at Sea is a study-abroad programme spanning 14 countries in 120 days in the spring and fall; an intense travel experience which reveals the variety of ways humans approach life. There was so much to see and learn from each culture. Ghana was the 10th place we visited and Morocco 11th on this eye-opening voyage of cultural blending.

In the Torgorme Village near Takordi, independent six-and-seven year-old girls watched over the village babies who were only a few inches smaller than themselves. These same little ladies submerged themselves deep underwater; bucket in hand, on head top, and emerged with the bucket full, balancing it safely from shoreside up a hill. A fascinating and distinct set of social and cultural norms. Jamaica was a long way away.

In Myanmar, boys as young as seven, will leave their homes to grow as novices in monasteries. They study Buddhist texts, meditate, do chores and fast from noon until sunrise every day. Can you imagine the discipline of these seven-year-olds? Who knew that children could inspire us all?

In the East, traditional Chinese medicine treats the body with awareness of its energy. Energy channels grant access to the internal organs by massaging the hands and feet. For example, to squeeze the heart, simply squeeze the palms.

In Hong Kong, an 80-year-old tai chi master shared ancient techniques on balancing the body's energy or chi. “Imagine water purifying your minds and flowing through your body to alleviate the pain,” urged Carl (his western name) as he danced with the air across the park.

Tea is yet another traditional Chinese medicine. Various tea leaves have a wide range of benefits in mental, physical and spiritual health; from improved blood circulation to increased mindfulness.

We don't have to believe in universal energies to use tai chi for arthritis prevention or be Chinese to drink tea three times a day. To see, to adopt and integrate the things that can improve one's own daily life.

Many people know that Hindus worship God in various forms, but how many have adopted the Hindi tolerance of every individual's personal truth and way of coming to know God? Perhaps, if we traded around qualities here and there around the world, we would come closer to understanding each other and having a more peaceful world. Everyone's path is different and should be respected.

A trip to the Ghats of Western Kerala in India revealed a compassionate relationship with nature. Our hiking guide challenged us to raise our feet high in the air before each step up the mountain. He intended to cast a shadow on the ground, as a warning to small animals that they should run away from his approaching boots.

His carefulness with life on Earth stems from Buddhism. All humans should aim to be as harmless to the environment as possible. Do no harm!

And what is there to say about the women in Myanmar who spend hours pedalling at these wooden machines to make longyi clothes under a hot sun? No vacation days and no working hours, just do as much as possible. They possess unparalled patience and determination which is not easily found in even industrialised countries. One can observe these women to get a sense of what hard work really is. Their efforts are humbling.

When crossing the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, you are forced to step bravely onto the road and stride across a raging river of whizzing motor vehicles. God bless you; the traffic does not stop. To wrestle with the traffic for a few days in Vietnam is to wake up a sleeping consciousness. Survival requires active engagement.

In Japan, many view the world through animism, believing all objects and beings possess spirits. As we departed Mount Koya, the monks in the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist temple performed a fire ceremony. The chief monk chanted into a dancing fire while flapping a long scroll of text — sutra. The sutra itself is alive. Taiko drums roared and Buddha watched the scene with his fruit offerings from behind the flames. The monk was “activating” the wisdom of the sutra so that we could receive its guidance. The text is sacred. Respect it as you would a person sharing their knowledge with you. Take care of the books. Do not leave them on the floor. Stop eating while you're reading. Respect the spirit of wisdom that runs through all literate compositions.

Leaving our comfort zone and the world we know widens the imagination. We can be creative and vivacious with our love for God; dance for him in open air like it's a fete. We can strive to preserve nature in our everyday life. To travel is to experience and observe our diversity and potential as human beings manifested in various forms.

Five hundred and thirty-six college students, four college credits and 14 countries in four months and we learnt that if we watch, if we listen, if we love, if we learn, then we might be able to come that much closer to the abundance of love, harmony and happiness that we all seek. Namaste. Amen. Shalom aleikhem.

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