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.