Sunday, August 12, 2007
For now, India, I will miss you terribly.
America, I'm looking forward to seeing you again.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
You might have noticed that I haven't spoken much about poverty or hunger on this blog. That was a choice I made early on, partially because that wasn't the tone I wanted to create and partially because I didn't know how to begin. Poverty is everywhere here. The slums of Phaltan are not hidden, and even more importantly, are not a huge step down from the rest of the housing and amenities in town. Five-year old girls carry bundles bigger than themselves, and their only response to a smile is to stick out their hands for money. It's ingrained into their muscles because they need it to survive. I see the same two girls pass the house every day, but I'm not ready to speak for them.
After I have some time to think I might have the words to describe what I have seen here. Perhaps then I can let myself feel the full impact of their shacks and the overwhelming smell, but I'm not there yet.
The kids spent the last week starting a brand new KNB bulletin (see ealier posts for info on the first one). The news items this time are:
--The bulbul bird that Pratamesh found and which is now living in the principal's office
--The water problem in the front of the building. [The next-door neighbor built an illegal wall which cut off the drainage system]
--The district volleyball tournament
--their work experience
--me. This time on my return to America.
This is the other 8th standard teacher, Raman Balkar. He is awesome and about as enthusiastic as the kids. Also he saves my butt in translation emergencies daily.
The play is going very well. They've learned their lines, painted a backdrop, and are busy collecting costumes for a sari-draped mayor and businessmen in Gandhi caps. None of them have much acting experience, and particularly not in English, but they are throwing themselves into their parts. One of the narrators, Moulik, is new to the class, and a very serious little student. He had his lines down the day after I assigned parts, in spite of the fact that he speaks for most of the show. After we run through the show and I'm slowly giving notes, I can see him mouthing my words to make sure he understands.
Here's Moulik (on the left) and Milind (my favorite monkey) on the right.
A sweet, shy girl named Akshaya is playing the village Mayor and is clearly relishing her part. As soon as I told her to act much more important than all the other characters, she puffed out her little chest and started striding across the stage like a miniature Napoleon Bonapart.
I was so proud.
-In Jaipur we met Ari, our tour guide, who immediately told that not only was he a member of a 85-member joint family, but that it was truly a "small piece of heaven." He also enjoyed telling us about his blissful life with a woman he married when he was seven and she was three.
--At the Jaipur Palace and museum we confirmed that India's largest carpet is long enough to decorate a football stadium and that Indian men have always dressed well. We also learned that the easiest way to keep the Maharajas straight is to refer to them, as Ari did, as the "skinny one," the "fat one" and the "very good-looking one."
-- The owner of a carpet shop gave me a free sample and told me to convince my father to buy a pure silk carpet for my dowry. Oh Daddy!
--Even after visiting the India Gate, Ambedkar's tomb, the site of Gandhi's cremation, a 12th century mosque, The Amber Fort, and riding a camel, I was excited to take a shower instead of my usual bucket bath. Sooooo excited.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Hello and welcome to the Cliff notes edition of the Carroll family rush through the "golden triangle" of India. In five days we covered Agra, Bahratpur, Jaipur, and Delhi and managed to stay alive and mobile for a good portion of that time.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
After the lecture the students surrounded me and actually asked for my e-mail and autograph! That part of the day was amazing but awfully surreal. They all kept asking about my favorite moments and the Marathi I knew, and then several girls asked if I would come over to their house right away for tea and a meal. Luckily, I had to get back to KNB after lunch for the 8th standard class after lunch. Together they and Maxine keep my head from swelling completely out of control.
As before, pictures will arrive when my pen drive feels better. Please wish it a speedy recovery.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
I just got back to Phaltan after a week-long whirlwind tour through Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi with my parents. They spent about half a week in Phaltan visiting the school and trying to get over jet lag. As if that wasn't enough, everyone I know wanted to host them and feed them enough sweet, fried and spicy Indian food to down a small rhino. They held up remarkably well, particularly at the school where they got attacked by the insane balls of energy known as the sixth standard. They all caught a glimpse from a distance and their little eyes all went wide. I could almost hear them thinking,
"Wow, the American was cool, but it has PARENTS?!"
Sadly, the pen drive which has allowed for all the pretty pictures on the blog is having temporary issues, so I'll get you all up to speed on the Taj Mahal and the Jaipur Palace when I have my technology back.
Back at school, I've hit the ground running with the new realization that I only have two weeks left. In that time I need to give lectures in the ninth standard and at the college, write two articles, continue work with the 8th and 10th standards, and put up an entire play.
Oy, but this is fun.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
There's a lot going on here at KNB these days. Here's a few tidbits:
On our first day with the script they were so excited they refused to go on their break. When we got to the stage direction where the monkeys were supposed to hoot and yell, a rowdy classroom suddenly became very bashful. After three good tries to get them going I asked, "Who's brave enough to hoot like a monkey?" A room full of faces held their breath, until a short, bright boy near the front of the room looked up at me, smiled, and started hooting. Suddenly the entire room was full of hooting, laughing 8th graders. Thank you Milind. You carried us into the animal kingdom.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I also forgot to mention that the Dani's son, Rushikesh, who works in Saudi Arabia was visiting for the week. He gets to come back to India to see his family for three months each year, so we were even more social than usual. Even the Mayor of Phaltan ws happy to see him. Now we've dropped him off in Pune so he can spend his last few days in the country with his wife and children. He heads back to work this Friday.
And no, I am not the only one who thought so.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Now I'm with the 8th standard Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; with the 10th standard Monday-Friday; with the teachers working on conversation for three or four class periods a week; and spending two or three periods a week tutoring a young woman named Shalini who has just started working with the Apli Shala, a supplementary school in the poorest area in town. I'm generally at the school from 9:30-12:45, when I bike home for lunch, and then I return from 1:45 to 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
Generally, 1st-4th standards have class in the morning and there are two teachers to each class. The 5th-9th standards run from 11-6 pm, and the poor 10th standard kids have class almost all day, including Saturday.
I work with Maxine and (more commonly) a man named Raman Balkar in the 8th Standard English classes. The classes run for 90 minutes with a five-minute break in the middle. Usually, we spend the first half of the class working as a full, 33-student, group and then we break up for small group work after the break. For example, the huge rainfall became the unofficial theme of everything for about a week after, so we recently spent the first half of class coming up with vocabulary and phrases about rain, and the second half in small groups trying to turn that vocab into correct sentences.
We just finished my first project, a wall-posted newspaper called the “KNB Bulletin.” We broke the students into six groups to write on what they considrered the biggest news stories at the KNB: the rain, the construction for new classrooms, the two boys which just jointed the school from a smaller town called Aina, the notebooks the school has started producing, the exam results, and me.
The two boys from Aina, Mahesh and Sanjay, are in the second row.
Prinali and Akshia were really excited to type up their finished articles on the school’s ancient computers.
See their uniform colors? That was Maxine's little joke.
Here's the whole group including the girls who went to visit, the new mother, and several neighborhood children.
While we ate our western meal, I had a long conversation with Shobah's sweet little mother, and reflected on how my middle-class host home sat so securely between the very high and the very low extremes. In our kitchen, a grinding stone sits by the gas stove. We watch dvds while drinking water from earthenware pots, and watch young men avoid hitting cows with their motorbikes. The ancient and modern intermingle without any sense of conflict. It's both a chosen and forced mix, and it isn't just in our home. The veggie seller I pass on my way to school has a cell phone and she's more likely to have a TV at home than running water. Coming from a country where the past is placed on a separate, venerated pedestal, it's fun running into 1000 year-old temples in the middle of two-lane intersections.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Do know that I still love all of you, will try to write as much as possible, and love to hear what is going on in your lives!
A steady stream of past 10th standard students and their parents return to the school to thank their teachers, celebrate with the current students, and discuss the next step. Some hand out sweets as a way of sharing their joy. For many of the poorer and scheduled caste families, their children have just earned their way to better opportunities than their parents or grandparents ever dreamed of. Some will find good jobs in Phaltan or other local towns, others end up in Pune or Bombay, and a few --like Madhura's sister-- will do grad school in the states.
The house didn't have any permanent furniture yet. Instead, one room was covered with pictures of gods and saints, garlanded with flowers. In another, bowls of different colored grains filled the floor, as gifts for the gods next-door. In the center of each wall, someone had planted two red handprints, symbolizing the gods' universal protection. I kept doing double takes as I noticed what looked like a bloody handprint by my ear. Any space without a god or a gift was occupied by food and people eating it. Bowls piled high with syrupy sweet ladu's or spicy green chilies came around again and again, and their carriers looked almost heartbroken when I had to start saying no to "just one more." India is going to kill me with wonderful food.
I also got to meet most of the English faculty at the local college and they've asked me to give a lecture! I'm not quite sure what that means, but I'll go visit a class first and get a sense of what they would like. Any ideas for what I could tell Indian undergrads about America?
Since this first day, I’ve also been to a party for the entire female faculty at Madhuri’s college and to see a newborn baby with six of her former students. [I'll get some pics up as soon as possible.] India is turning me into a social butterfly.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I wish I could write out some of our late night conversations. Without the constant invasion of tv, computers, and homework (at least on my side), we've gone on for hours on everything from "The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock" to our blood types. For the most part, we like the same food, we're both late for everything, and we keep to similar night-owl schedules, although she has been beating me in that last regard. I've crashed into bed earlier than her every night and she wakes me every morning. Plus, she must be working on six different projects, for the school, for their foundation, and for the new literacy center she and her colleague are working on creating. In a couple days she's off to Bombay and then back to host more people. She's even volunteered to host my parents when they come to visit in July. I don't know how she does it.
On Monday I officially moved from one my temporary home to my more permanent home with Madhuri and VJ Dani. They live closer to the school and this will give me a much more authentic experience in India, so I'm glad for the move. That isn't to say I won't be back though. Maxine has invited me for weekly dinners and I'm pretty sure that I'll be at her house more often than that, to use the rowing machine, say hi to Nanda, or for some good conversation over tea and biscuits.
Here’s a sampling of my baby talk, with English transliterations for the Marathi:
This is accompanied by a head waggle that everyone in India uses constantly. I even noticed it in Bollywood film before I arrived. It replaces the Western nod. You quickly bounce your head from side to side, right ear towards right shoulder then left ear towards the left shoulder. Repeat ad nauseum.
brown sugar= gaul
Recently, I got up to help make pasta sauce for dinner --Maxine typically has Indian lunches and Western dinners-- and Nanda made me sit right back down. I hadn’t finished my lemonade yet.
Friday, June 22, 2007
First thing this morning, we visited Nanda’s house (she’s Maxine’s long-time cook and helper) to make sure that her family was ok. Her house has been leaking recently and she lives fairly close to the river. Luckily, she was on high enough ground to escape all but leaking damage, but it must have been hard to live in that house while it poured all last night. Right now, the local authorities who would usually deal with this situation are on vacation on the coast, so the families with a great deal of water damage, blocked transportation, and compromised sewage systems, will have to manage on their own.
Don't worry. I am in no danger.
pictures to come.
The list of things I’ve done wrong is endless and to be expected, after all, my list of firsts is also growing by the minute:
first bucket bath
first mass bucket laundry (buckets are big here)
first several meals of rice, sauce, and vegetables, eaten entirely with my right hand
first ride on an Indian motorcycle (my ride home from school)
first lizard running across my bed
first time trying to speak Marathi and using the masculine form very incorrectly
I’m expected and expecting to do everything wrong at first, but it’s those things that shouldn’t be new that will come back as funny stories at the end of my stay. Yesterday, I put my dessert on top of my dinner, thinking it was a garnish, and then asked about the delicious looking “circles” on the stove. They were the dog’s food.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
So today, five of us packed into a mini-van while the rest of the former classmates rode motor scooters to the neighboring town where the ceremony would take place.
Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan
Ring Road, Behind Adikargrah, Laxminagar,
Phaltan 415 523, Maharashtra, India.
I'd love to hear from everybody and I am very curious to see how long it takes for letters to arrive. Weeks? Months? Place your bets folks.
A Carleton student named Eberly is in India visiting her host family from last year and we should be going sari shopping in Pune sometime soon. Older women and some younger ones wear them all the time in Phaltan, so I’ll look for something I can wear on a regular day as well as a dressy one for special occasions. Salwar Kameez is much more comfortable than Western clothing for the heat and humidity, and it’s easier than a sari, but I can’t help but miss my waist. My current clothing skips directly from shoulders to hips, without referencing any variation in-between.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
This shot (through the front windshield) shows what the streets were generally like in Mumbai. They pack in cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrians, and these three-wheeled contraptions called auto-rickshaws, with handcarts and give everyone a close relationship with their horns. To call it hectic and noisy would be something of an understatement. What we could call a one-way, one-car street in Minnesota holds three cars, two directions, and no line dividers here. Sometimes the travel was really fun as we dodged a bus on one side and then a cow on the other. Also, notice the billboard on the left side of the mirror. That’s one of the political signs that seem to be everywhere in Mumbai, but particularly in the poorer areas. They’ve only recently become popular, but now they are up constantly.
Phaltan streets sound and look much like a mini version of the large cities. Replace the buses and most of the cars with animals of all sizes and you’ll have a decent idea. The numbers on the street aren’t even close to the same, but somehow they make a huge, wonderful racket.
We stayed at Maxine’s friend’s home until Sunday, when we rode first to Pune and then to Phaltan. She had a taxi drive all the way from Phaltan to pick us up and then bring us back, waiting patiently while we ate lunch, did some shopping, and visited a friend in Pune. We didn’t reach Phaltan until Sunday evening and we both crashed. On Monday, I got my first taste of the school and those kids got their first taste of me. Maxine had the 10th standard students interview me and then, one after the other, every student had to introduce me to the rest of the class. After about twenty: “She is Rachel Carroll. She comes from Superior, Wisconsin in USA. She is here to help teach English and she will be here for eight weeks,” I have no doubt about who I am and what I’m doing here.
One girl asked what I thought of the school. However, since I had just walked from the car, to Maxine’s office, and then directly to the classroom, I couldn’t give her much more than a big smile. I told her that it was a very good question and promised to answer it better later. Then, when we left the classroom, she smiled and waved. I think I made a friend.
Today I got to try again with the 8th standard, only this time we had quite a bit longer and, naturally, the kids were more apprehensive. They got into groups to formulate questions and I got to draw my horrendous map of the US again (the United States of chalk blob). Then they went all around the room asking questions. I made up my favorite bird and sport off the top of my head (the Eagle and Frisbee—that was a new one for them). After class, one giggling girl came up with a group of friends and said, “I like you!” and another asked for my autograph.
I know I am going to be old news soon, but right now this is fun.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Around the time when I first heard about Maxine and her school I was also reading The Cost of Living by Arundhati Roy for a "Religion, Politics, and Culture of South Asia" course. Her writing is uniformly stunning, but one particular moment stuck with me.
While trying to explain her concept of success to a business-oriented friend, she jots down her ideas on a paper napkin. This is what she writes:
"To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget."
Her friend isn't impressed.
Monday, June 11, 2007
On Thursday, June 14th, I'll leave from Duluth, USA and head towards Mumbai, India. I won't arrive until late on the 15th (local time), but on Thursday, my adventure begins! For eight weeks, I'll tutor English to seventh, eighth, and ninth years at the Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan medium school in Phaltan, India.
I can't even begin to explain how awed I am by this remarkable school. In a country where it usually takes money and influence to buy a solid primary education, Maxine Berntsen and Jai Nimbkar make learning available to a student body which actually reflects the local population. Formerly untouchable children work with Brahman children, boys work with girls, and all in an innovative and secular environment. I can not wait to see how this place runs.
For more details, and fawning over the school, check out this online review by Dilip D'Souza. After History Prof. Emeritus Eleanor Zelliot suggested that I apply to volunteer at the Kamala Nimbkar, this is one of the pieces of information that made the decision much easier.
From our e-mails, Maxine seems like a very well-organized person with a dry wit and a lot of experience. For the past several months Maxine, Eleanor, and I have been e-mailing back and forth and around to get me up to speed. The list of "issues" to deal with seems endless: Gifts, food etiquette, bathrooms, phone booths. And I'm pretty sure I'm still clueless on most areas of rural Indian life, but I would like to thank Chapati's (restaurant in Northfield, MN) for providing such a lovely location for my education.
Phaltan is just south of Pune, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. If you want the full background, here's the state's wikipedia page.
By the way, Bombay, home to Bollywood, massive inequality, and official corruption, is gigantic. At over 14 million people, it is the largest city in the world. If, in 2004, it had been its own country, it would have ranked as the 54th largest.
After I arrive and spend a day sleeping, that is where I am buying three months worth of saris.