Today was our first day of the summer school for pluralism, development and social change. There are about twenty of us and we come from Indonesia, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Netherlands. Yesterday all of us arrived at the airport of Bangalore, thereafter experiencing a taxi ride through one of India biggest cities.
For those of us who were able to keep our tired-from-travel-eyes open, the traffic was quite an experience. Arriving at the host campus, which is part of the Azim Premji Foundation, we got our entrance cards, keys to our private rooms (something none of us had expected), and some food. The next day the summer school officially began, and we will all take turns in writing this blog.
Let me tell you about day 1. And let me start with the food: it is just amazing! Three times a day we are spoiled with a luxurious buffet. The Indian food is incredible (nan bread, curry, butter chicken, masala dishes), but those who want to can stick to European and other dishes as well. The facilities on campus are really good. The Wi-Fi, however, is confined to the learning centre. Already some start to show severe addiction signs, but others welcome the detoxification from having internet continuously. For our fix we can always go to the learning centre.
The learning centre is where our classes take place. The first day started with ways of getting to know each other. The teachers introduced themselves and expanded upon their theoretical foci: Caroline Suransky (Identity), Sitharamam Kakarala (or, Ram) (Democracy and Social Change), Henk Manschot (Sustainable Development) and JC van der Merwe (Reconciliation and Social Cohesion). Thereafter we interviewed one of the other participants, whom we then had to present to the class. I interviewed Leo, an Indonesian lecturer in religious phenomenology, whose Christian faith we traced back three generations to Dutch missionaries. Myself being Dutch, it struck me by surprise that Leo was very thankful for such a colonial inheritance.
In the afternoon Caroline put down a collection of photos picturing themes of the summer school’s subjects, from which we had to choose one and present our answers to two questions: why we picked the photo, and what it meant for us. It was startling to see what surprising things we read into the pictures, how thoroughly involved with social improvement and both physically and emotionally touched many of us are by injustice, and how personal some stories already become. For example, Anne from Kenya showed a photo of an African boy with a Dutch ID-card, telling us about the ‘paper identity’ that everywhere seems to be more important than our human identity. Even in coming to India, herself being African, she had to identify herself with paper and more paper because she is African, and because she is black.
Game of prejudices
We finished with a game of prejudices. We were grouped according to our countries and had to come up with our (country’s) prejudices for each of the other countries. We weren’t nice… Indians smell and are dirty, living among cows and rats. Africans still live in huts and wear leaves. Sometimes we were nice, as we called Indonesia paradise (there had to be some colonial guilt involved there). In doing so we learned that we all have our prejudices, that they arise from our longing for superiority and fear and inability for understanding that which is different from ourselves. These prejudices are enforced by media, education, history and colonialism, wars, religions, trade, travel and much more. Prejudices seem to pervade our human practices, all the more reason to be very cautious. But this summer school we might overcome some of these prejudices, as we are an interesting, well willing, kind, enthusiastic, activist and intelligent group led by an experienced and driven team of teachers. Now, let the games begin.
Charly Bos is pursuing two master degrees; one in Humanistic Studies at the University of Humanistic Studies and one in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Both universities are in the Netherlands