An Anthropologist’s Paradise 

At the beginning of November, I traveled to northeast India to attend a faculty enrichment program called “Better Christian Teachers: An Enrichment Program for College Teachers.” It was sponsored by the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE) and the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI).

Tokyo to New Delhi (9 hrs), New Delhi to Guwahati (2 hrs)

I felt like I had traveled far from my home in Inzai City . . . until I met two Indian Mennonite professors who had taken a 6-hour bus ride, a 44-hour train ride, and a 3-hour taxi ride from south India to be at the conference.

Ask ahead which side looks out over the Himalayas, and take along a map so you can pick out Mt. Everest

India’s northeastern states feel somewhat removed from the “mainland.” That’s not just my impression. Some of the southern and northern Indians with me said they felt like they were in a foreign country. They stood out among the “tribal” peoples of the northeast (though I stood out more), and some of them had obvious difficulties communicating with the locals (though I had more).

India’s northeastern states border Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Bhutan, Tibet, and China

Northeast India is a fascinating place. I could only visit two of the seven sister states: Assam and Meghalaya. But I feel drawn back to also visit Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh (Arunachal Pradesh is making headlines this week because of the Dalai Lama’s visit). The biggest draw for me to any place is usually the people. All of my current Indian students in Japan are from India’s northeast (mostly from Manipur), and on this trip I met more interesting people from most of the northeastern states, as well as other parts of India.

One of the trip’s highlights was a visit to the Don Bosco Center for Indigenous Cultures in Shillong. With 17 galleries spread over 7 floors, it far exceeded my expectations and gave a thorough introduction to the northeast, which the center describes as “an anthropologist’s paradise.” I think that’s probably a fair description.

The road from Shillong to Jowai

I’m the sort that comes away from a family event or outing with dozens of pictures. I knew that if I took my camera, I would view far too much through a tiny screen. So I decided to leave my camera at home. I don’t regret my decision because I brought back lots of vivid images. Still, I would like to share some of them, so here are a few tweet-size “pictures” from my trip.

Imagine with me…

…an Indian nun toting Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life” (at a prayer center in Meghalaya)

…200 female students facing me at left, 100 male students facing me at right (at a college chapel)

…an almost prayerful silence after my failed attempt to open with an “American joke” (at same chapel)

…dusk over the city of Shillong (from Shillong Peak, 2000 meters above sea level)

…two small children scavenging for discarded fruit that’s still somehow edible (Shillong’s Police Bazaar)

…4 young women from Tripura dancing on jars with flaming candles on their heads

…driving on the road to Shillong that would make a NASCAR driver squeal in fear

…my look of gratitude when a storekeeper gave me a discount though I’d offered to pay the tag price

…sunset over the Himalayas (from my airplane window)

The last rays of sunlight on Mount Everest (not from my airplane window)

“Hinna gam ah hin Lalpa phatna mu kinem lo leng chu basam ta’ng ka.”  (Psalm 27:13 from the Vaiphei Bible; with thanks to N.V., one of my students)