Monday, June 30, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays....

June 30, 2008-(Monday)- Palumpur, India
Today was a great day overall. I didn’t sleep all that great. The beds here are composed of a thin mattress on a wooden frame—no box spring. This makes for sore hips, neck, and shoulders, and some achiness. Soreness aside, I was excited to go to my placement today for several reasons. For one, we now had the new schedule and I was hoping things would go more smoothly. Secondly, I now had my custom made clothes and I was excited to wear them to the school. Any day—in my book—is better when you feel comfortable in your clothes. I arrived at the school and I was ready to work. I first met up with my friend, Minakshi. She is one of the English teachers. She is 23 and soon to be married. She is really sweet and I ask her all kinds of questions. This morning one of my questions was about the lyrics of the song that the children were singing during the opening ceremony. Minakshi said that the song was a prayer. The prayer asks God to help them with their work , their play, and in all the activities of the day. I was especially touched by the fact that Minakshi said that she was worried about me and had wondered why I was not at the school on Friday and Saturday. I explained to her that I ate something and got very sick. Her concern and apparent fondness for me touched my heart.
After the ceremony it was off to class. I first went to the 10th grade English class. There they were reading a poem in English. It was an older poem and unknown to me, but I was able to work with it anyway. I did wonder why they (text book author) used a poem which would have been challenging for English speakers, let alone ESOL students (English as a Second Language). The regular teacher gave me a book, showed me the page, and told me to teach it in the way I thought best. I began by having a student read the first sentence. After the student read the sentence to the class, I repeated the sentence correcting any pronunciation. Then I chose words from the sentences that I thought the students might not know. I then asked who knew the meaning of the words. Once we got through the meaning of the words, We went on to the next line. Some students needed help with meaning, some with pronunciation, some with both. At one point it got really fun because the word “Peace” was in the poem. When I asked what the meaning of the word was, they gave me the definition referring to a “part of a whole”. Here was my opportunity for a teaching moment. I explained to them, slowly and with words they knew, that the sound “peese” was spelled two different ways, piece and peace, and that each had a different meaning. Ironically the word “cricket” was also in the poem. When I asked them the meaning of cricket, they exclaimed, “bat ball” ! I laughed. No, I explained, the meaning of cricket in this poem is an insect which makes a chirping noise. That period went quickly. Next, I had Science, but I was called into the principle’s office. There we had a meeting and the whole schedule changed again. I hope this is the last revision as things are really getting confusing. During the meeting with the principle, I was given a letter requesting my presence at a ceremony to be held tomorrow. It seems that the volunteers had finished painting / renovating the empty classroom and they were holding a dedication ceremony. The letter requested that I be the person to cut the red ribbon at the conclusion of the ceremony. I felt so honored! I can’t think of any reason that I was chosen besides the fact that I am the eldest volunteer at the site. Based on their respect for age, choosing me would make sense. Whatever the reason, it is a big deal to them, and I feel very flattered. The CSS staff will be there and they will be taking pictures, and the event might even be in the local paper ! After the meeting I spoke some more with Rajesh, the principle. He was concerned that I did not go to the school on Friday and Saturday. He thought I was angry and that he had offended me in some way. I explained to him about the illness and assured him that it was nothing that he had done.
Following the meeting, it was on to the next class which was Minakshi’s class. They were working on verb tenses and I tried to explain to them, but I needed Munakshi’s help translating. In the end, I did a mini lesson in English, and she explained in Hindi. Based on what they were working on I decided on making up some worksheets for them for tomorrow. After this class I had a free period which I spent preparing a lesson and finding a place to use the bathroom where I wouldn’t fall off a cliff. Before I knew it, the work day was over and it was time to go. Right before I left, I invited Minakshi to tea on Wed. That should be fun. She is so nice and perhaps we can keep in touch and I can visit her in Australia someday.
I am really surprised with some of the volunteers. A few of them are major whiners, and I hate whiners. Some whine about the food, others whine about the placement, some about the people, some about the weather, and they don’t complain once and let it go, they go on and on and on…. I think back to my old saying, “If you have time to whine and complain about something, you have time to do something about it.” While it is alright to make a complaint about something to someone in order to change something, to go on and on about what’s wrong, instead of what’s right is a waste of energy. I speak to myself here as well since I sometimes whine for the sake of whining, but I think that I’ve grown past this for the most part. Well, I’d better stop writing about this since otherwise I’ll be doing it myself !
When we got back to the house I decided to take a short nap. This was very difficult as it was raining and it was Monday—(no reference to the song intended). Everyone was in the house and being very noisy. No fault of theirs as they were going about their regular routines and stuff, but the building is made of concrete block and the floors and stairs are made of marble—thus you have major echo. Everyone was at home instead of out and about because the village pretty much closes down on Mondays. It’s their day off, like we have on Sundays. Like in small towns in the U.S, not much is open on the off day. After about an hour of lying there, I decided to just go downstairs and work on email and my journal. I got some emails from Joel and Rachael. Joel’s especially worries me. I will have to write him back a long letter dealing with some of these issues. Rachael misses me a lot. She says she was crying the other day. I feel a little guilty for leaving her, but I know that 1 month out of her life is not much to be gone when I’m there for her all the rest of the time. Still—I feel bad. On a happier note, I received 2 encouraging emails from students in my online classes. This made me happy. I then made up the worksheet for English tomorrow. That done, I began another project. I want to help Rajesh find some grants to help buy materials for the school. I research some things online and submitted a few emails. I hope my efforts are fruitful. I imagine what a grant from a company like Cisco, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, or Microsoft for even a small amount like 5k, would do for the school. Electricity, clean drinking water, a toilet, and basic teaching materials would do wonders for this small community. While surfing the net, I also looked into how far away my Church’s mission is from my location. If I cannot find anyone to go to Amritsar with me this weekend, then maybe I can go to the mission and help for a day or two. I’ll have to wait for an answer from Vedek, the missionary there. It will mostly depend on how far away the mission actually is from Palumpur. Whatever I do in my free time cannot interfere with my volunteer duties, so I would have to be able to travel there and back in a weekend.
I have to say that I’m finally beginning to feel comfortable here. I can easily find my way around and feel pretty confident in what I’m doing. This is one of the reasons I chose to go for 4 weeks. It takes a week or so just to adjust to where you are.
Well, that’s it for now. Tomorrow we are going to Dharmasala after work for a lecture, shopping, and to see some of the temples and monuments there. I am looking at a Full day tomorrow, so I am going to go try to get some sleep.

Sunday in the park

June 29, 2008-(Sunday)- Palumpur, India
Today was our first “official” day off of work. I slept until about 8am, then went to have tea. As people showed up for breakfast, I sat and talked with them. I think that I may just have to make an extra effort to be around everyone since I’m in a room alone. Perhaps I am trying too hard to find a special friend, or I’m imagining that others have done that, or I keep looking for it. I’m taking a different outlook. This is MY trip. I saved for it, and I am going to get the most out of it. I’m not going to worry about who likes me and who doesn’t, or whether I fit in or not. I’m just going to be myself, do what I want and came to do, and enjoy myself.
The function for today was a picnic. We drove out of town a little into the foothills. On the way to the park, we saw monkeys in the road again. This time there was a whole family ! The babies were so cute! I took a ton of pictures, but unfortunately, later on in the day I accidently deleted them from my computer…..I promise, there were monkeys ! What is worse, I don’t have the pictures of us at the park. (not an official park, but a beautiful open area with a little wood, a field, and a stream running through it.) Nothing could have been more beautiful. I will try to get pictures of this from some of the other volunteers. I wanted to kick myself for loosing the pictures! During the picnic, I splashed in the stream, sat with my legs in the water, pet a foal, and climbed some rocks. I even had a video for Rachael in all this. Darn ! Also on the way to the park I noticed that the driver ahead of us, coming our way, flicked his lights on at us. I know what that means in the states—slow down, there’s a cop up ahead, but I was curious to know what it means here. The driver told me that it is the other driver’s way of saying hello, since it is his friend. Where we might tap our horn, that wouldn’t work here as I explained, the horn is a major part of driving here. At the park, I sat and talked with Kavetta for a long time about the caste system, and I learned a lot. Although it is changing slowly, at least it is changing. I also asked her about Domestic Violence. She said that it is against the law, but that it is seldom reported. She said that it is very common. I am going to try to learn more about how the problem is dealt with here. I had a wonderful time at the picnic. I was asking a lot of questions of Kavetta, and was wondering if I was being a bother. I was therefore happily surprised when she remarked spontaneously, “I like your questions”. When I asked if she was sure, she said “that’s why I am always sitting with you”. That made me feel good.
We returned from the picnic about 5, and a few of us decided to go to town to shop around a bit. I was SO happy to get my clothing from the tailor’s. Now I understand how the Indian women can wear these clothes. When they are made for you they fit perfect, and thus feel great on ! It was almost time for dinner by the time we were done shopping, so we took an auto- rickshaw back to the house. It cost all of 50 rupees, a tiny bit more than a dollar.
Dinner was a surprise: Pizza-- Homemade pizza with lots of veggies. I haven’t said much about the food other than it is spicy, but actually I have found several things I really like for instance, Samosa, which I mentioned before, lentil soup, Rotti, chai, and a bunch of other stuff that I haven’t gotten the names for. I also tried a native fruit called leeche. It’s kind of like a grape that has a hard shell on the outside. You peel the shell off and there is fruit which is similar in consistency to a grape. The difference is you eat it like an olive which still has the pit because it too has a large pit in the middle. Leeche is very good! I wonder how they would taste frozen!
After dinner I went to call Joel and Rachael. They weren’t home so I left them a message. I then decided to walk up the street to the other house (there are two houses with volunteers, they are just a few doors down from each other). Walking up the street I saw something I hadn’t seen in over 30 years, fireflies ! I haven’t seen them since I was a little girl. I was just tickled. They looked like little tiny shooting stars. I wish there were some way to video them for Joel and Rachael. Because it is the wet season here, it is frequently overcast. Although I ought to be able to see bright stars, I mostly see only clouds. I am a little dissappointed by this, but perhaps we will have at least one clear night.
Although I’d like to go to Amritsar this coming weekend, I haven’t yet found anyone to go with me. I hope this changes because I really want to see the Golden Temple, and I don’t want to travel alone. This is one frustration being around so many young people. They don't plan. or maybe it has nothing to do with age... who knows. My only frustrations here are with some of the other volunteers, the political system, and the inability of the citizens to use trash cans !!!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Feeling Better

June 28, 2008-(Saturday)- Palumpur, India

After surviving the night of cramps and chills, I got up to hear the rain pounding outside. I washed up as best as I could and Gee Too took me to the doctor. I have to say that I was not impressed with the office which was just a little bigger than a walk-in closet. I was a bit afraid that the man was not a “real” doctor at all, but I was wrong. As soon as I got back to the house I took the 3 medicines he gave me and laid down. Within a couple of hours I began to feel better. As I am writing this at about midnight, I am feeling MUCH better. At around 4pm I went into town to do a little shopping. Everyone here is so friendly. At one point I thought I was lost, but I didn’t feel afraid because everyone is so friendly. I bought a tea pot, tea cups and some material to make Rachael a Punjabi dress. Although she probably won’t wear it to school, I bought very soft cotton that she can use for pajamas.
I am gaining more and more respect for the idea of arranged marriage. Talking with Kavetta (CCS volunteer from Palumpur), and other Indian women, I am jealous. To know that older and wiser individuals, (not only 2, but 4= parents from both families), come together and match couples up based on family, educational background, goals, etc. seems to make much more sense than the system (if you can call it a system) in the west. The divorce rate here is very low, less than 8%. Here it doesn’t matter whether you are a beauty or not, only that you come from a good family and are educated. I wouldn’t mind marrying an Indian man, as long as he knew that I wasn’t going to wait on him hand and foot. Unfortunately, no Indian man would have me once they knew I was divorced. I miss Joel and Rachael, but other than that, I’m doing ok. I’ve only been gone 9 days, but it feels like a long time.

I didn't drink the water !

June 27, 2008-(Friday)- Palumpur, India
I woke up in the middle of the night with diarrhea and a horrible sinus headache. In the morning I was not feeling well so I did not go to the school. By the time I was up and around, it was 10:30. Since I didn’t go to the school, and there was not a meeting, the day was pretty relaxed. We played Apples to Apples and Mafia. I started to feel better later in the day, but unfortunately, that was short lived. Around 8pm I began to get the chills and the diarrhea got worse. I was so cold, I needed 4 blankets on top of me and my teeth were still chattering! I called downstairs to get help and Swati (our resident medical student) came to help. I was running a fever and was freezing at the same time. I also had HORRIBLE stomach cramps. Swati called the CSS staff, and Gee too offered to take me to the hospital, but I couldn’t stay out of the bathroom for more than 5 minutes so I said I would go in the morning, hoping I’d be better by then. All night I had excruciating stomach cramps about every 10 min. I felt like I was in Labor, only in a different part of my body. Each time the spasm would end, I would have to run to the bathroom. When I didn’t have cramps or diarrhea, I had chills. It was an awful night.

Just another day in Palumpur !

June 26, 2008-(Thursday)- Palumpur, India
Today was pretty interesting all around. First it was off to the school. It was very hot, as usual, and I was soaked in sweat by the time we got there. (15 min drive). I was supposed to have the first 3 periods for planning, so I was not expecting what happened when I got there. The principle asked me to go into the 9th grade science class. I was prepared, I thought, but it turned out they were doing something totally different than what I’d been told the day before. I’d prepared to teach the Crebb’s cycle, and instead I was doing the circulatory system! Thank God I remember most of my biology!
After that class I had a break and talked to one of the teachers. She told me that she was engaged to be married in September to an Indian man who lives in Australia. As she was discussing the details with a total stranger, I gathered she was very nervous about the marriage. It is an arranged marriage, as is 80% of Indian marriages. The women here don’t think it’s strange at all and accept it as their duty to their family. Considering that their divorce rate is only 8%, (in contrast to Duval County, FL’s which is 62%) I wonder if it is not US who have it all wrong. She is very worried because she has only seen pictures of him and talked to him on the phone and computer a few times. She says he seems like a good man, but that he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. He gets upset about everything and is far too serious. She on the other hand, likes to laugh and joke around. I hope it works out for her. If a couple have problems, the parents of both families get together and try to solve them. In the rare case that they do divorce, the woman is unlikely to find another mate, as it is disgraceful. If the man is wealthy and has a good job, he will have no problem finding another wife. Just another example of the double standard that women everywhere have to deal with.
The rest of the classes went alright, but they kept changing things from the way they originally told me. I just went with the flow, and did the best I could. While it was somewhat frustrating, there really was no other choice. At one point I had to go to the bathroom. Unlike the place we are staying, the school doesn’t even have a bathroom, one just goes out in the yard, preferably far away from the building. When asked where the bathroom was, I was pointed down some steep steps going down into a gorge. I walked down to where I hoped I couldn’t be seen, and did what I had to do. At one point I almost lost my balance and would have ended up off the side of a cliff hadn’t it been for a strong plant stem ! By the end of the day we were completely drenched in sweat and exhausted from the heat. When it was time to go, I was surprised to see our CCS program directors at the school. Apparently they were going to have a long meeting with the principle and teachers in order to remedy the problems we were having. We headed back to the house, leaving the 2 directors to handle things with the teachers. After lunch, we left to go see some monuments. On the way to the sites, I saw a mama monkey with her baby on her back ! Unfortunately we were traveling too fast for me to get the picture, but I’ll keep an eye out! The first monument we went to see was a Hindu Temple for the God, Visnu. Here is some information about it I got off the internet.
·
http://123himachal.com/Baijnath/Baijnath_Temple/target36.htmlOne of the most remarkable monuments of the Kangra valley is the temple of Baijnath. Baijnath is situated East of Dharamsala on the main road that leads from the Dharamsala to Mandi. Baijnath is in reality the appellation of the chief temple dedicated to Siva Vaidyanatha (“Lord of Physicians”) by which the town itself has become known. The original name of the town was Kiragrama. This we learn from the two extensive Sarada inscriptions incised on stone slabs, which in elegant and florid Sanskrit verse give the history of the foundation of a temple, by two local merchants. "There is in Trigarata," we read in the inscription, "the pleasent village of Kiragrama, the home of numerous virtues where the river called Binduka, leaping from the lap of the mountain, with glittering wide-waves resembling playing-balls, merrily plays, like a bright maiden in the first bloom of youth. That village is protected by the strong-armed Rajanaka Lakshmana." The river Binduka, so well described by the poet, is the modern Binwa, a tributary of the Beas. The date of the inscription is expressed both in the Saptarishi and in the Saka eras. Cunningham first read the Saka date as 726, corresponding with A.D. 804. The true date, however, must be the Saka year 1126 corresponding with A.D .1204. The Baijnath temple is oriented due west. It consists of a puri or adytum. 8 feet square inside and 18 feet outside, surmounted by a spire of the usual conical shape, and of a mandapa or front hall, 20 feet square inside, covered with a low pyramid shaped roof. The adytum, which contains the linga known as Vaidaya natha, is entered through a small anteroom with two pillars in antis. The roof of the mandapa is supported by four massive pillars connected by raised benches which form, as it were, a passage leading to the entrance of the sanctum. The architraves resting on these pillars divide the space of the ceiling into nine compartments, each of which is closed by means of corbelling slabs. In front of the mandapa rises a stately porch resting on four columns. "The shafts of these pillars," Fergusson remarks "are plain cylinders, of very classical proportions, and the bases also show that they are only slightly removed from classical design. The square plinth, the two toruses, the cavetto or hollow molding between are all classical, but partially hidden by Hindu ornamentation, of great elegance but unlike anything found afterwards." Set amidst a backdrop of Snow-clad Mountains and lush green Valleys the temple is visible from a far distance. Close flows the Binwa Khund (stream), considered sacred by local people. The temple surrounding area has been developed into a beautiful lawn and flowerbeds so that the devotees are able to rest a while amidst congenial surrounding.
When we got there the first thing we had to do was remove our shoes and wash our hands. In the courtyard was an old man was playing on some drums and many sculptures and statues. One statue in particular was of a bull. The legend says that if you whisper a wish into the ear of the bull, while covering the other ear, Vishnu would grant your request. Of course I had to whisper a wish into the bull’s ear, just for fun. After making my wish, I went into the inner temple. Before entering the temple you are to ring a bell above your head. You can only imagine how many times I had to jump in order to reach it. Inside it was very quiet and still. It reminded me of a Catholic cathedral. I greeted the priest and turned around and left. Supposedly the priest blesses each person as they acknowledge him. While walking around the court I took many pictures of the sculptures on the walls. The temple had beautiful gardens around it, noticeably free of trash!
· After leaving this temple, we headed for our next stop, Tashi Jong. (Info below from the internet)In 1958, having foreseen the imminent coming of the communist Chinese, the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Kalzang Dongyu Nyima, left for India with a group of 16 monks and reincarnate lamas. In Eastern Tibet he had been the head of Khampagar Monastery, which had over 200 branch monasteries, nunneries and retreat centers. It was considered one of the foremost monasteries of the Drukpa Kagy├╝ lineage. In India, they settled first in Kalimpong in West Bengal, where many lay people from the Khampagar area in Kham came seeking refuge, and affiliated themselves with the newly formed community. In 1969, they moved to Himachal Pradesh in North India. There they settled in the peaceful Kangra valley on 37 acres of land, which was named Tashi Jong, Tibetan for Auspicious Valley. The late Tokden Amtin mentioned that at the time of the initial consecration of the land of Tashi Jong, both H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and H.E. the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche clearly felt this place to be the pure land of the Five Manjushris.
This monastery was awesome to see! While the colors of the buildings reminded me of Disney World, the atmosphere certainly did not. It was a very tranquil place with gardens, statues, prayer wheels (sort of like Catholic rosary) and other monuments. I took many pictures here as did the rest of the crew.
We were all drenched in sweat, there is no way to describe how nasty this feels. After returning to the house, I took a cold shower and a nap. In the evening I graded papers on Blackboard for my students online, and then went to bed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A typical Indian day

June 25, 2008-(Wednesday)- Palumpur, India
I had a good night’s sleep last night. I think I’m finally really adjusted to the time. I got up pretty early, around 5am. It gets light here very early in the morning, and I can’t sleep after it gets light out. I went downstairs and sat on the porch for a little while and played with the dog whose name is “mee too”, which means sweet in Hindi. He is just a puppy and belongs to the people who own the hotel. He reminds me of Midas, who I hope is doing well. I then went upstairs to get ready for “work”. While some of the rooms do have western type showers, mine does not. Instead they have a large bucket which you fill with water and a smaller one which you use to rinse your body. There is also a little stool which is used to sit on while ‘bathing’. Although this is different than what I’m used to, and takes a bit more time, it conserves water and is actually more relaxing because I can sit and take my time. Then it was time to get dressed. While I bought one outfit in Delhi, I have been borrowing from others because my clothes will not be ready until Sunday. I think that these clothes are much more comfortable overall, but so hot! If only we could wear shorts under the Courta (long shirt), instead of long pants called Salwa. Then there is the Dupata, which is a type of scarf. While very pretty, I find it so cumbersome and it keeps falling off and trailing on the floor. I think this is partially because the one I bought in Delhi is so large/long. I will buy shorter ones to match my outfits on Sunday when I pick them up. I really like the clothes and fabric here. Everything is so colorful.
After getting ready, I ran down to breakfast. Instant coffee, (God help me!) cereal, tea, eggs, and an assortment of fruit. And I mean fruit !!!! -- Bananas, mangos, plums, peaches, etc. I am taking advantage of the mangos while we are here. I eat two each morning, but you need to know that they are much smaller than the ones we get at home, these are the size of apples, and of course there is still the large pit in the center, so it’s not really that much food. I also usually just eat cereal, unless they have scrambled eggs.
At 7:45, it’s off to school. That morning Gee-Two, one of the program managers went to the school with us to help iron out any misunderstandings and to help us understand what was expected of us. After several hours of conversation, we thought we had a workable schedule. During the ride in I overheard a couple of the girls volunteering at the school with me mention that the teachers didn’t like them and were rude to them. They also said that they thought that the teachers were laughing at them. When we first get there in the morning there is an opening prayer ceremony. During the ceremony, I noticed the teachers standing in a circle talking and the volunteers in another circle. I realized that perhaps due to their age, perhaps due to their lack of social skills, the girls had not approached the teachers at all. I immediately went over to the teachers and introduced myself and talked to them about the school and their teaching methods. I also asked them to help me with teaching the children as I know little Hindi. After that, as far as I was concerned, the day went smoothly. The teachers know much more English than I originally thought and were very friendly with me once I made the effort. I even am going to try to have tea with some of them in the near future. I think there is so much I could learn from them about Indian culture. I think the other girls are having trouble because they are so young, and because their attitude is all wrong. I would say something to them, but I don’t want to get caught up in the “them vs us” mentality.
The work day, 8-11:30, went by very fast. Teaching subjects in a language where the students don’t understand what you are saying is mentally draining. I thought I would be teaching English, but they also have me teaching Science, and I was even placed in an Art class once! Despite the fact that their text books are in English, the kids don’t understand as much as one would expect. For instance, in the 3rd grade English class, the children can read the words out loud, but they do not know what they are reading.
After work, I went for a walk into town with a couple of the other girls as I needed to get some more clothing made. I went back to the same fabric store and got some more material and then went to the seamstress. This time the shop wasn’t so crowded and she took time to talk with me and I also was introduced to the owner. The owner was an older woman, 60, and she asked a lot of questions and talked about her life and children. It was so nice to go somewhere and feel welcome when I was 8000 miles from home.
Once I got back to the house, it was time for our Hindi lesson. I am so glad that they are taking the time to help us. The CSS staff is really great. If things continue to go this well, I will definitely go on another volunteer trip with them next year.
During our off time, I worked on my blog, checked email, and straightened up the room. When I checked my email I was happy to see a note from Rachael. She really misses me and I am worried about not being there for her. I uploaded some pictures for her and hopefully she will be alright for the next few weeks without me. I am planning on calling her soon. After dinner I worked on lesson plans for the next day. Then, about 10pm, it was off to bed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Palumpur

June 24, 2008-(Tuesday)- Palumpur, India

I woke up about 4:30am, then I got up, dressed and ate breakfast, all in preparation for my first day of volunteering.
Once at my placement, I became a bit confused. The name of the school is Gayan Deep Public School, and it is located in the village of Arla. The school is run by a man who started it in hopes of bringing affordable education to the poorer citizens of Palumpur. His name is Rajash Shearma. The school was unorganized, lacked even basic resources, and the teachers were without experience. To make it more difficult, the teachers spoke little English and the students, although they had supposedly been taking English courses for years, knew few phrases and words. I did what I could, but I was feeling very inadequate for the task. I was put in with a class of about 10, 9th graders and attempted to converse and teach them a bit about the U.S. The kids were very respectful and curious. We traded questions and answers until it was time to go back to the home base for lunch. After lunch, we had another meeting to debrief from our first days as volunteers. I was not too surprised to find that my experience at the school was not unusual and the program manager promised to help clarify things for all of us tomorrow. After the meeting we were put into groups of 2 and given a task in the city. Each group had a task such as: Find out where the post office is and how much it costs to send a letter, or find out where to buy a phone card and how much it costs in Rupees. Me and Becky had the task of finding out how much material costs and the price for having it made into clothing. This was great as I needed some clothes made for my size. I got a great deal on the cloth and tailoring and will pick up my outfits on Sunday. (total cost for 2 outfits- hand made to fit me: $20) Palumpur is a quaint little town. the people are really nice. The only thing that I just can’t get used to is the filth. Open sewers, garbage everywhere, broken down homes, half- built homes, and animal feces everywhere. I frequently ask myself why they don’t clean up the place. I am hoping to instill into the children at the school a respect for cleaning up their country in order to preserve the beauty of it. I want to start by getting them to clean up their school and the area around it. I will talk with Rajash tomorrow. Well, after dinner I was here, writing this journal/blog. It’s late now, I’m going to bed !

Dharmasala

June 23, 2008-(Monday)- Delhi, India
Monday morning I was up early as I have still not fully adjusted to the time change. We had breakfast, eggs with spices, toast, and of course- coffee. (A note on coffee. There is no “real” coffee here. It’s all instant coffee. I’ll DEFINITLY want some fresh brewed coffee when I get home!) Then we packed up our things and got them ready to go to the airport where we would take a plane to Dharmasala, then a car to our placement in the city of Palumpur. Palumpur is divided into villages. The home base where I will be staying is in the village of Lohna.
Before we left for the airport, a retired professor of History from Jawahar Lal Nehru university, Mr. Ray, came to give us a lecture about India and its political and social history. The lecture was wonderful and I would have liked to have been able to stay and ask many, many, questions, but after 1 ½ hours, we had to leave for the airport.
Here is my summary of the lecture:
· Mr. Ray said that we must first begin by giving up our hopes of “understanding” Indian culture. He told us that Indians themselves do not fully understand it. India, is a contradiction. Saying that India is an “under developed country” is both correct and incorrect. While it is true that India is still behind the west as far as technology and wealth, we must remember that culturally, it is far ahead of us in the United States. The U.S. has only been a country for a little over 200 years, while India and its culture have been developing for over 10,000 years. Some of the things done traditionally may seem irrational to us, but they have rational reason from the past. The problem is that the traditions are so deeply ingrained in the culture that they are difficult to change, both in politics and in the hearts of the people. A good example of this is the laws concerning the killing of cows. First of all, Indians do not ‘worship’ cows, they honor them. Centuries ago cows were honored, and for good reason. They represented the survival of the people. From the cow came milk, a source of protein. The cow was also used to plow the fields, the produce of which was their livelihood. If a child was born, and the mother could not nurse, the cow’s milk sustained the child’s life. For these reasons, and more, the cow became an honored animal. While it appears irrational today to ban the butchering of cows that are plentiful and roam the country freely, while Indians die of starvation, it is a tradition that will just not die in the hearts and minds of the people. Another example is the caste system. Originally based on occupation, this system was not meant to debase people, but to help classify their livelihood. Over the centuries it has become a prison for some Indians who will not even try to escape it due to their fear of jeopardizing their prospects for the next life. Recent attempts to elevate the “untouchables”, the lowest caste, have proven mostly unsuccessful because the untouchables themselves are fearful of doing anything that would go against the system.
Another of the contradictions about India is that what we consider Indian culture as so foreign to us when actually; Indian culture is a product of the many European, Mongol, and other conquerors which inhabited the country over the centuries. Also, there is no one Indian culture. India’s regions are very, very, diverse. States are divided up linguistically and culturally, rather than by economics or arbitrary boundary lines. There are 15 different languages spoken in India, and there are over 1,800 different dialects of these tongues ! There are also many different religions in India including Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam. Up until recently, all of these religions and cultures have existed together peacefully. Unfortunately, political administrations have put India’s people at odds with each other and intolerance has grown up.
A short political history of India will answer many questions concerning its people. Prior to 1600’s, India was a land of diverse culture and religion, all living together more or less peacefully and independently of each other. There was no central structure. Then Mongols conquered from the north and united the different factions. This brought political and economic unity for 200 years. In 1689, Vasco De Gama, a trader, brought Europeans to the region who eventually colonized different parts of what is now India. The Mongol empire began to crumble from within due to a tyrant king. The British approached the Mongol king in order to ask for trading rights, but the King would not even grant the British audience. The Mongol princess became ill, and the British told the King that they had a doctor who could cure the princess. In the end, the Mongols gave trading rights to the British East India Company in exchange for helping cure the princess. Over time, the Mongol empire crumbled and the East India Company became strong; so strong that they conquered the Mongols in 1757. In 1857, a hundred years later, a rebellion was waged by the Mongols who were still living in India. The rebellion was crushed, and is now known as the 1st war of Independence. In 1858 the British officially took over the country from the East India Company, transferring the capital to Calcutta. In 1911, in an effort to strengthen the central government, the capital was moved back to its original location in Delhi. English became the national language. The British plundered the country, and then slowly pulled out leaving behind “educated Indians” to rule in their place and under their jurisdiction. They created universities, hospitals, etc. Once it was clear that India could not be ruled by one central government overseen by the British, hundreds of miles away, the English formed a feudal system of “Princely States”. These princes could rule as they pleased as long as they submitted final authority and allegiance to England. In the end, these princes created a super rich class, and masses of poor. The poorest areas located in the interior of the country where there was a lack of resources and educational institutions. Most recently, the educated classes began to think for themselves and rebelled against British rule. Mahatma Ghandi encouraged the people’s fight for independence through non-violent rebellion. As a result of this and the pressure the Brits felt as a part of WWII, India was granted its independence on August 15, 1947, but not before a group of Muslims asked for, and received land for a separate country for Islamic Indians and the country of Pakistan was created. Later, India became a Democratic Republic on January 26, 1950 with the induction of its constitution.

After this incredible lecture, we had a snack, Samosa (potatoes and peas in a crispy, deep fried shell) and tea, and then went to the airport and took the plane from Delhi to Dharmasala. The ride was uneventful, but then we loaded our luggage into cars and took an hour ride through the mountains to our placement in the village of Lohna. What a difference from Delhi ! The air was MUCH cooler and thinner. There were mountains all around us and the house that we were to stay in was used at other times as a hotel. The house, the scenery, -- all were picturesque. We settled in, had a short meeting about our volunteer placements, and then sat down for dinner. I ate dinner (6:30pm-ish) and went to lay down for a short nap, but woke up at 2am. I took some medicine for a headache and went back to sleep.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

One more note...for today

I'm getting ready for bed as it is almost 11pm here in Delhi. As you may have read earlier, I was feeling a bit homesick. It is AMAZING how it changed once I was able to get online and view my mail and "chat" with my family and friends. Now that I have this outlet and mode of communication I don't feel so isolated. I feel at peace now and can continue my trip knowing all my loved ones are just a few keystrokes away. Don't forget to write ! I love you all !

India -- here I come !

June 22, 2008- Delhi, India—7pm Delhi time
After my shower I went with the other girls in my apartment to breakfast. We had eggs and toast. The eggs were scrambled with some type of herbs in them. They tasted very good, but spicy. I have a feeling that everything is going to be spicy here. Everyone is very friendly. At breakfast we got to meet the other volunteers who arrived during the night. We are all a bit disoriented and sleep deprived, so we ate sparingly. After breakfast the Delhi organizer, Bella Singh, gave us a short lecture about some of the cultural differences between India and the U.S. First of all, Indians who live outside the city have a negative stereotype of American women being “loose”. That is one reason that we need to dress more conservatively in the villages than perhaps even the villagers themselves, we want to dispel those ideas. Another big difference is the perception of time. In India, as in Peru, no one hurries like in the U.S. People show up for appointments 15, 30, even 60 minutes late and it is considered “normal”. Expecting anything but planes and trains to be on time is “abnormal”. This is especially difficult for me who is always looking for the most “efficient” way to accomplish things. Time is VERY laid back here. As a matter of fact, this meeting started over an hour later than was originally posted ! After the meeting, we paid for our plane fare to Dharmasala and then got our things together to go shopping. I thought it was going to be very casual and laid back. I’d heard stories about how the merchants would cater to the customers. Instead, after another life threatening ride to the store, found something totally different. The store, located in the heart of the city, was small and very crowded. I was very confused about what I needed to buy and a bit disappointed that the experience was not more relaxed. Like most of my shopping trips at home, I felt frustrated because things didn’t fit the way I wanted them to. I felt that the clothing was all too large (long) for me. It was also VERY HOT and I was sweating and wondering how I am going to function in these clothes in this temperature. I finally chose something, just to have something to wear, but I wasn’t feeling good about it and determined, again, to lose 20 pounds before I left India. On the drive back to the ‘flat’ (their word for apartment), I saw the extremes of rich and poor played out before me. Zooming by – at incredible speeds—were little cars and large sedans. On the same road, a man literally carried two sofas on a three wheeled cycle! On the side of the road were shelters made of scrap wood and metal, and not far away walked a beautiful woman in elaborate dress and jewelry. Delhi is a dichotomy as was Cuzco with the extremes of rich and poor. The saga of “haves” and “have-nots” seems the same in this country as in Peru. While I am glad that I will be able to help in some small way, I so wish I could do more. After we got back from shopping, we had free time so we went back to the apartment. Some read, some talked and some, like me, took a nap. (And you all know how I love naps!) For the first time since I’d gotten here I began to feel sad and homesick. The reality that I am 8000 miles from home began to sink in as well as the fact that I am ‘stuck’ here for a month. What was I thinking? How could I have signed on for this? While I’m pretty sure that it is just hormones, I am feeling that this was a horrible mistake. I want to go home. I want to see Joel and Rachael. I keep looking around and feeling like I’m dreaming, like the whole day was surreal. I woke up from the nap feeling a bit better, but a little sad. I went over to dinner but just tasted the food. It was rice, chicken, and vegetables and was delicious but very spicy. I ate only a few bites—just to taste it. Now we are sitting at the table and some are playing a game called Mafia. I am looking on and trying to learn the game. I am hoping that after a good night’s sleep I will feel better and more sure of myself. Tomorrow morning we pack up, go to a class about the political situation and history of India, and then board the plane to Dharmasala. I am sure that after a few days I will feel better, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one feeling homesick. ---- Later, after a game of "Mafia". I have to say that I am feeling much better now that I am able to access the internet. This was my first connection with home, and I feel much better now. Hello to all of you! Shame on you Joel and Rach for not emailing your mom ! Tomorrow, once we get settled in Dharmasala I will upload some pictures and video. For now, I'm going to sign off and say I love you all and wish you were all here with me !

June 22, 2008- Delhi, India—5am Delhi time
Once we got to the airport in Delhi, we met up with the CSS staff. They were very nice and realized how tired we were. We changed money and got some water. Looking around things didn’t seem too different than an American airport under construction. The air was heavy, and I was surprised to see that it was dark even though it was 8:15 local time because it is light until around 9pm at home. I was so tired; tired of being cramped up in that plane! Once we got our luggage, we headed out of the airport and found our transportation. We would be traveling in several cars, so we couldn’t ride all together. The driver’s side is on the right like it is in Europe. Our driver was very nice but spoke very little English. Our Hindi was lacking as well. Now we were in for our first adventure—driving through the streets of Delhi! First of all, even though there are some lines on the road, no one pays attention to them! There are as many lanes of traffic as the drivers decided is needed! Cars move in and out and sometimes almost touch! Horns are honking constantly and we had to laugh at it all to keep from being in fear of crashing! I never knew a simple car ride could be so entertaining! We finally made it to our apartment in Delhi where we will be staying only 2 nights until we get our next plane to Dharmasala. The apartment complex is “gated” and in a middle class neighborhood. The buildings themselves are simple and ancient. In American standards – a dump. Everything is so cramped and close together. Inside the apartment, it is simple and comfortable, but definitely different from what we are used to. Even at 11pm, it was hot and muggy. There isn’t A/c in the whole apartment, but thankfully there is in the bedrooms. I brushed my teeth and went to sleep. I woke up around 4:45am and here I am ! I feel rested because I slept on the plane and then again here; the equivalent of sleeping for a whole day. I feel a bit disoriented due to the time change, but I’m sure that it will pass. I’m going to hop in the shower—so to speak, and get ready for my first day in India !!!!
June 21, 2008—In flight to Delhi
I slept pretty well last night considering all the excitement. The kids seem sad and not themselves. I know they are happy for me, but I know that they will miss me as well. Lying in bed this morning I realized that it would be the last night in my own bed for a long time. I took my time getting up. Once I did the hustle and bustle started immediately. Everything went smoothly. We arrived at the airport, said our goodbyes, and we were off to security. Of course I had to unpack my laptop, take off my shoes, etc, but I was excited so it didn’t bother me. We were early enough that there wasn’t a long line so that made things a little better. Once we found the gate, it wasn’t long till we were boarding. I was so happy when I saw that I had the asile seat and that Mary had the window. We thought that no one would be between us--- but we were wrong! I’d just gotten settled in the seat when a HUGE man with a pilot’s uniform asked me to get up so he could slide in. He tried to get one of us to switch with him, but we didn’t budge. Truly, the man needed 2 seats. The remainder of the flight was uneventful. We arrived in Newark about 3pm. We got some lunch, and settled in at the gate. It wasn’t long before we started seeing some other people in our group. First came Jules, then David, then Brenda, and then another blond (can’t remember her name at the moment). We all talked and got acquainted. I hadn’t realized how much time had gone by. I showed some of the videos the kids made and we laughed and talked amongst ourselves. We met a Seek by the gate who works for IBM in India. It was his first time in the US and he was now headed to Delhi. He seemed very friendly, but later he tried to become a little “too friendly” so we were glad that we weren’t sitting anywhere near him on the plane. After several of us indulged in Ben & Jerry’s for dinner, we were told that there had been a gate change. 2 from our group were still gone finding something to eat. We waited until it was time to start boarding then we took their backpacks and headed to the new gate. When we got there we made an announcement for them to meet us at the new gate #. Soon we saw Brenda and David coming down the stairs and we relaxed. I felt familiar with David right away, but I didn’t know why. Once I thought about it I saw that he looks a lot like Joel and acts like him too! Looking at David is like looking at Joel only a few years older ! (David is 19). As I anticipated from the prior emails, I’m the oldest in our group so far. Mary is 19, Allison is 20, Jules is 18, and Brenda is 20. I do wish there were a few older people in our group. Maybe more will be there in India. At present it is about 9am in Jacksonville on Saturday, June 21, 2008. For us on the plane though, we some how “loose” a day. Right now in Delhi it is 6:30pm on Saturday, June 21. When we land, in about 2 hours, it will be 8:30pm (Sat). This plane ride has been a bit uncomfortable, but not as bad as I’d thought. I slept for a long time… about 7 hours, watched a movie, ate dinner, and now I’m typing this. Mary was nauseated earlier and threw up, but she seems a little better now. I feel fine, a little stuffy nose, but pretty good. I got up and walked around a little and stretched. I am getting anxious to finally arrive now. I can’t believe that when I step off the plane I will be on the opposite side of the globe from where I started ! Well, I can smell coffee coming my way… time to pack up the laptop till the next installment!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Travel Preparations

Hello virtual travel companions! I'm getting ready to leave and am getting a bit nervous. Some of you have asked "Why did you choose India for your trip ? " And the answer is--- I don't know. Ever since I came back from Peru last year I have been struggling to learn Spanish thinking I'd go to another Spanish speaking country. Some time around January, I just got the "idea", message, whatever you want to call it, that I should go to India. I still don't know why I'm supposed to go to India, but I have to say that the destination is correct. This week I am in Kansas City, MO working for ETS (Educational Testing Service) grading exams. Wouldn't you know, my roommate is from INDIA ! What are the chances of THAT happening? and then the strangest thing happened. I was telling her about my trip and that I would need to wear the traditional clothing while at my volunteer sight-- she then said that she bought a Pungabi dress (what they wear in Darmasala) as a gift for a friend during her last visit to her family in India, but that she was not able to contact her friend and that she would like to give me the dress ! She said that she would FedEx it to me so I'd have it for my trip !!!! (now comes the strange part), I got a really funny feeling when she said this and so I asked her, "Is it green?"-- "Yes", she said, "How did you know?"... I didn't know-- it's just that my favorite color is green !!!! These kinds of things show me that somehow I am on the right path to be going to India. I'm not sure what I will find there, or what I need to learn by going there, but obviously a higher power is at work here. Over a month ago I was at the library looking through the audio books-- no specific order, just browsing. I saw the book, Anna and the King of Siam, and thought it looked interesting. Wouldn't you know it's about a teacher who goes to Siam (near India) and helps bring change to the country through her influence on the royal family! While I don't aspire to being able to change a country, I hope to change the lives of the people I help in a positive way.
Only 10 days till I leave.... what will this adventure teach me? I can't wait to find out !!!!