Monday, June 6, 2011
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much out of the day. Birthdays at home have always been relatively simple- with the big deal being you have your choice of a dinner menu. I hadn’t told anyone at the school it was my birthday so I figured it would be a low-key day. And for the most part it was however, I found the presence of individual’s more meaningful as they learned of my birthday and truly went out of their way to remember me.
One of the school’s servants was the first to say something and her simple words in extremely broken English were the most touching of the day’s. As I seem to always be creating trouble for the students, it is this servant that always scolds the girls, so I just assumed she didn’t think very highly of me. However, on Wednesday she stopped in her tracks and waited for me to walk pass before mustering up the courage to say, “Happy Birthday.” While this was early in the morning, my day had already been made by her simple wish. Later in the day I shared my birthday sweets with the teachers, as it is an Indian custom for the birthday person to supply their own sweets. For the past year, I have been reaping the benefits of this custom but was excited to finally be the person to not only decide what the sweets were but also have the excitement of passing out MY sweets…EXCEPT, my cake was moldy. This was horribly embarrassing and it put a little damper on the excitement- but like so many other things my only choice was to laugh! The icing on the (birthday) cake was when I mentioned to my Malayalam tutor that I always have strawberry cake on my birthday and although I wouldn’t be there to celebrate this year my parents, they were still going to have a cake in my honor. An hour after off-handedly saying this she had gone out and gotten strawberry biscuits and wrapped them in newspaper. Her simple gesture was so thoughtful but eternally meaningful. I couldn’t stop smiling! THEN I went to the dining hall to find that my supervisor’s has a surprise birthday feast for me. The cook normally prepares our food with occasional supplements from outside restaurants but this night my supervisor had gotten chicken tandoori, special bread, and tomato and onion salad- my favorites and such a treat. I had not expected it and it made the surprise that much better!! While I may not have gotten to “choose” my birthday dinner menu this year- it couldn’t have been chosen better for me. I had a great day and will always remember my 23rd birthday in India!!
I must admit I wasn’t sure that I would have the amount of energy I do about this school new year, especially after spending the month of May at an amazing organization. After returning from our month long trip around India, I spent the remainder of the summer at a place called Mandiram; an amazing community that is home to a hospital, old-age home for paying and non-paying residents and an orphanage. I was immediately welcomed into this family and couldn’t have been more happy to spend the remainder of the summer months with this organization. I was struck with the idea of partnership from the minute I stepped foot on their campus. It was obvious that my presence had the potential to add personality to this organization and that I could further learn about life in Kerala through the individuals working and living at Mandiram. My expectations were fully met as I instantly bonded with everyone! They were eager to get to know me and I was equally as eager to learn about their individual families and lives, leading to further reflection of my year. My days were spent visiting with individuals, playing with the girls in the orphanage, being present during morning devotions, serving at meals and helping to plan the weekly English bible studies. It most definitely helped that I was able to walk into this organization with a handle on Indian culture and feel very comfortable making conversation however, the strength of the organization also was prominent. While my time at Mandiram was short, I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend their and will always remember the individuals who helped to make the month of May a memorable one!
But with the help of the girls, my excitement and energy around being back at a school setting is high! I’m excited to continue building relationships with the returning teachers and am looking forward to forming relationships with the new teachers. I know this next month will go by fast but I look forward to each day and the joy and laughter to be had!
-I took the pen out of many father’s hands today and placed it in the student's so she could write down the uniform needs and take responsibility...it may be a small act but one of empowerment nonetheless.
- Monsoon season where are you? I need you NOW this heat is melting me.
- I’m so thankful for my YAV-India family. Achen and his wife are extremely generous and go out of their way to make us feel at home during what could be lonely periods. And I couldn’t be luckier to have 2 amazing other volunteers experiencing this year alongside me!
- WahoOooOoo I met the fundraising goal!
-Got new glasses today and was able to skype my parents to show them!
-Madison and I ate a WHOLE jackfruit today, I hope we can do that again!
-Mathew Uncle’s perspective on life is so fascinating, he makes me think so much I often leave his room with a headache.
-Great bible study! I have never considered the Trinity to be a hierarchy but the conversation really forced me to articulate what I believe.
- Madison, you are so good at articulating just what I need to hear!!!
-I went to the new hospital ward inauguration only for tea but there wasn’t any. :/
-Is it better to fight this and say women are just as entitled to be near the altar as men or is this something I should just accept living in India?
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
It is the end of March, which means our all India tour departure date has arrived. Included in the YAV India year, is a month long tour around the country. Our supervisor gives the volunteers a stipend, the responsibility of arranging and executing all of plans each year. This month long tour is seen as an educational experience rather than a vacation, as we learn about the various cultures, experience life in different regions and see the amazing sites in this vast country! But of course, we will make learning fun!!
While I am very excited, I must admit I am a little nervous as well. Madison and Jim joke that I’m a hygiene-freak and that my Type A personality often clashes with Indian life (admittedly, both are true (but HAVE gotten much better after 7 months)) I don’t have enough clothes to last the month, let alone underwear. Additionally, my plan ahead personality is being tested as the adventures that could ensue are unfathomable. However, this morning I went to the doctor and stocked up on all medicines (homeopathic- simply to defy the notion that Americans take so much medicine!) that I may need. I even picked up a strand of rope and will take along some Breathe Right strips just in case! This month will surely put my personality quirks to the test, as long hot days and little sleep often cause Maggie the beast to become active. Despite all of this, a grand adventure is on our horizon and I am looking forward to it!
I have included an outline of our itinerary so you are able to follow along. I would recommend pulling up a map of India if you are interested so you can trace our exact travel places, as the place names probably won’t mean much. Prayers for good health and travel mercies would be appreciated for the 3 of us!! I will return to Kerala on April 24th…until then, peace and love!
March 31st Fly to Delhi
April 1st Day in Delhi
Sleep in Delhi
April 2nd Day in Delhi
Sleep in Delhi
April 3rd Day Fly to Srinagar
Sleep in Srinagar
April 4th Day in Srinagar
Sleep in Srinagar
April 5th Day in Srinagar
Sleep in Srinagar
April 6th Day travel to Jammu
Sleep in Jammu
April 7th Day travel to Dharmasala
Sleep in Dharmasala
April 8th Day in Dharmasala
Sleep in Dharmasala
April 9th Day in Dharmasala
Sleep in Dharmasala
April 10th Day travel to Amritsar
Sleep in Amritsar
April 11th Day travel to Delhi
Sleep in Delhi
April 12th Day travel to Agra
Sleep in Agra
April 13th Day travel to Agra
Sleep in Agra
April 14th Day travel to Jaipur
Sleep in Jaipur
April 15th Day travel to Jaipur
Sleep to Jaipur
April 16th Day to Jaisalmeer
Sleep in Jaisalmeer
April 17th Day ride a camel
Sleep in Desert
April 18th Day in Jaisalmeer
Sleep in Jaisalmeer
April 19th Day in Train to Mumbai
Sleep in Train on way to Mumbai
April 20th Day Fly to Goa
Sleep in Goa
April 21 Day in Goa
Sleep in Goa
April 22 Day in Goa
Sleep in Goa
April 23 Day in Goa
Sleep on Train to Kerala
Back in October I was supposed to run a marathon with an Indian friend from Xavier. After having to cancel plans due to my crazy eye, I was able to visit with him and his family this past week! And what a ball we all had together!
It was quite the experience and shed light on a whole different side of life in India. India is a vast country both in size and diversity. Getting out of Kerala and being surrounded by a very affluent community gave me the opportunity to experience a whole different perspective allowing me to further reflect on my time in India.
My friend Ashwin graduated from Xavier with his MBA in May of 2010. During his 2 years on campus he easily became the most well-known, life of the party, willing to do anything for anyone, charismatic, involved in every extra-curricular, not able to go anywhere without knowing someone Indian charmer. The minute I met Ashwin at the Hyderabad airport, I could tell that the Xavier Ashwin I knew was no different from the Indian Ashwin. Everywhere we went, Ashwin knew at least 5 people. While I lost count of the number of people I was introduced to after 250, I think I easily met more than 700 people during the course of the week. 2 lavish weddings, an engagement ceremony and a birthday party helped contribute to the insane amount of people I met. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. All week I was surrounded by people who worked for their very successful individual family businesses. Ashwin’s family makes the liners for pistons (during the course of the week I learned so much about car engines I can now maintain a conversation with anyone about car parts!!) I was given a tour of a liner factory and met lots of people in the industry. It was interesting to watch and take part in the conversations that mainly revolved around work and subsequently profit making. This was a very different experience from my past 7 months at my site. Furthermore, two days before I left to see Ashwin, I was told the annual income of a teacher at Nicholson- spending this same amount of money for 1 dinner for 4 was hard to swallow.
Another interesting experience was interacting with men. For the past 7 months the only male gender I have interacted with consistently have been 2 men by the name of Tim- and that has only been over the phone. This week was the complete opposite; I was in the company of another woman once. At first I was hesitant to talk and assumed an Indian woman’s position amongst the group of men- but then I pinched myself and joined in; a person creating change doesn’t conform.
I really enjoyed my time with Ashwin and his family. I am grateful that I was able to see a different side of Indian life as it reaffirmed the work I am doing in Kerala. As I sat talking to Ashwin’s friends, all I could think was, ”Someday, I hope the girls at Nicholson have the ability to feel comfortable and confident to go out alone with a group of guys.”
X for Xavier Nation!!!
Right now in Kerala, it is HOT! I know I said it was hot when I came back in September, but that seems like sweatshirt weather compared to the temperature now! It is just plain HOT, hence, the commencing of summer vacation here in India.
The education system is very different from ours in the United States, with its own strengthens and weaknesses, I have gained a new perspective on our education system in the United States. In India the whole month of March is dedicated to exams. At the beginning of the month, I was so confused on the logistics of the exam schedule- thinking every standard was on the same schedule, however, as the end of the month approaches I have finally figured out the schedule and now understand a little better the exam schedule here in Kerala.
Just like in the US, with the end of exams comes the beginning of a break. For the students here in Kerala, that break is their summer vacation, fitting because it is so HOT! The school will re-open again in May with the majority of classes beginning in June. For the month of April I will travel and May my time will be spent in various parts of the state visiting and being present among the people here in India.
Friday, February 25, 2011
During my fieldwork senior year of college, I became very interested in different faiths and cultural practices related to death, as I worked at a Jewish nursing home. I was fascinated by their customs related to death and have since taken interest in different religious and cultural beliefs surrounding death.
Since my work is primarily with children, I didn’t come into this year expecting to be exposed to many death practices in India. While I feel it’s a little morbid to say I enjoyed attending the funerals, I am grateful that I was able to experience this and learn about the different religious and cultural rituals here in India.
The most recent funeral I attended was for a family of the Hindu faith. While I had watched a Hindu funeral on TV, experiencing it first-hand made my understanding more clear. Like other faiths, Hindus have viewing hours at the house the day after the person has died. The body was laid out on a wooden bed-frame covered in a plain white sheet. Friends come to the house and bring flower arrangements which they place directly on the body. The mourning people gather around the body, singing songs and paying respects to the body for the last time. Particular to the Hindu faith, men will remain outside of the house while women sit inside, around the body. After several hours of singing and having friends come to the house, the body is carried outside and placed on a cut up mango tree. The oldest son of the family is expected to cut down a mango tree from the backyard and prepare the spot where the body will be cremated. Ghee (or melted butter) is sprinkled on the white sheet covering the body and the body is then lit on fire. The body will burn for a few hours as people standby. A couple days later, family members will take a few bones from the ashes and go to the temple to pray before throwing the bones into a sacred river.
The Christian tradition is similar and shares many of the same traditions. However, instead of the body being laid on a bed, it is placed in a simple wooden casket (I think Americans should adopt this simplicity as the wooden box is all the body needs.) All dead bodies in India are displayed so the face can be seen one last time, no matter the condition. Indian-Christians also place flower arrangements directly on the body. Little to no receiving line exists like in American culture.
After a period of singing in the person’s house, the body is transported (usually in ambulance vehicles) to the person’s church. I have found the funeral services to be very similar to our culture’s except for the photographing element. Right before the body is carried out, family members pose with the body as someone takes pictures. During this time, family and friends view the body one last time often caressing their face or kissing their forehead. At one funeral, I even witnessed a person lift the body up out of the casket to give the man a kiss. These pictures are very special to families and I have had many students show me pictures of their deceases loved ones (You may imagine that at first I was a bit caught off guard and even a bit creeped out. What is an appropriate comment in that situation?)
The burial of the body takes place the same day as the viewing (most cases this is the day after the death) and most people will attend the burial after the funeral service. Once the burial has taken place, tea and snacks are provided. It has been interesting to watch the grieving period unfold. Emotions can be high during the viewing and funeral service, but after the burial, life returns to its normal pace.
Two of the 5 funerals I have attended have been for a parent of girls at the school. These were particular difficult and sad situations. I found the school’s support as well as the support the girls provided for their classmates to be very touching. At times I have felt very bad about attending these funerals, as I felt I was using the deceased loved one as an educational experience. However, with my own Grandma’s death, these experiences allowed me to process her death as being far from home often makes is hard to deal with the realities.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Having said this, I try to prepare creative activities that will allow the students’ to think on their own and use their imagination. At first, there was much hesitancy and I really had to encourage and help the girls tap into their creative side. However, as the days have gone by, I have slowly witnessed them crawling out of their shells. Some days my lessons work better than others but I try to create games that will force the students to talk and use English. Group works well as they have more confidence to speak in a group however, I often wonder if this is the most beneficial for them individually. I have found listening activities and speaking activities to be the most challenging but also the most rewarding for me…if they work. Overall, I try to vary the activities we do- using my creativity to help them utilize their creativity while building their confidence and English skills.
Here are sample Haiku’s my Standard 8 (8th grade) wrote:
We do all the days
For health peoples runs the way
Without this health will loose
Work hard together
Unity is strength
There will be success
Indian eyes (not quite the pattern but the creativity was great!!)
On a small white road
A pitch black sparkle shines
Running all around
Sunday, January 30, 2011
I’ve come to realize that I enjoy this time mostly because I feel like their big sister rather than a respected elder. Barriers are broken that need to be their during the rest of the month solely because of the numbers. For example, letting all the girls into my room during the normal part of the month would be a DIASTER. However, during these 2 days, letting the girls hangout in my room is much more manageable and a treat for everyone.
This past weekend, among our time hanging out the favorite joy was watching “love stories films”, as they call them. I’ve come to learn that no matter the culture, little girls are infatuated with love! I remember the times growing up when my friends and I were obsessed with chick-flicks, played imaginary love stories and even proposed to each other with Ring-pops (Jess- will you be my wafflely wedded wife?) Surrounding myself with these girls warms my heart as it brings back memories of my childhood.
We watched the films on my lap-top and spread out their beds so everyone could be comfy. While I did have to explain the story-line of the movie, the joy came from watching the girls watch the film. Their comments on outfits or giggles when 2 characters kissed warmed my heart and brought joy and laughter to me! To them, watching a film is a treat- to me however, having someone to watch a film with and remind me of childhood is the real treat.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Explaining one’s culture is more difficult than it seems, especially when the question why is involved. Why DO we do it that way? …we just do. Talking about our culture brought about many emotions for me. At first I was anxious that I might upset someone so I had to choose my words wisely. Then a feeling of “Wow, I miss that” lead to, “I wonder how that came to be,” ultimately leaving me with “Culture can shape a person’s behavior just as much as their personality does.” The experience of explaining one’s culture was a good exercise for me as it allowed me to reflect on how differences and mis-understandings can easily occur between God’s children.
However, the best story from my Tuesdays with the Achen’s is the day I was corrected on how I was pronouncing a word. Before each week’s class I am given a book with material on pronouncing different words (similar sounds) with an American accent. Since English is my native language, never, before this year, have I sat down and read pronunciation material, let alone explained it to someone. While it is fair to say, English was never a strong subject, it is also no means an understatement to say I am AWFUL with pronunciation- always have been. I took Latin and Sign Language solely because I didn’t have to worry about pronouncing words to pass the class. So there I am, in front of a group of older men pronouncing words and then having them repeat the words back to me when one of the men politely raises his hand and asks why I pronounced cat with a long a sound when the book denotes it having a short a. As you might imagine I turned bright read and the next words out of my mouth were pure word vomit. It was a moment where I just had to laugh at myself.
I know my strengths and weaknesses well and in one’s own culture it is easy to hide your weaknesses. However, when you are thrown into another culture and have expectations placed on you, hiding those weaknesses is more difficult. While I have learned many things about myself in the past several months, the most difficult thing has been working through my weaknesses and learning to be confident in who I am even when I may not be the best at some particular thing.
6:25- Lead morning exercises
9:15- Morning prayer
9:30- Morning Chapel
10:00- Classes Begin
4:30- Play in the schoolyard with the younger girls/garden with the older girls/carry on conversations
6:30- Malayalam Lesson
7:15- Evening prayer
9:30- Morning prayer
9:45- Morning Chapel
10:00- Classes Begin
1:30-5:30 Visitation Hours Begin (this is the time I run errands)
6:30- Malayalam Lesson
7:15- Evening Prayer
6:30- Leave for Church
9:45- Morning Prayer (with teachers)
10:00- Sunday School (with students)
3:30- Choir practice
· On Tuesdays after morning prayer I head to town to teach priests English.
· On Wednesdays I go to a YMCA to help students with disabilities.
· On Wednesdays morning I take early morning devotion for the girls at 6:45am.
At first I was very conscious about being polite and letting others go before me but I’ve learned that you will just get trampled on doing so. It is important to make your body as big as possible and look out for yourself. Also, walking with your elbows out creates a little more personal space for yourself. It also makes it convenient if you need to throw a subtle elbow if someone gets in your way. I don’t think Indians expect me to know how to ride the bus, so when they see the American following the cultural standards they often stare in amazement.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
On December 23, Jim and I started our Christmas break by attending Madison’s school’s Christmas program. Except for the guest speaker who spoke WAY to long, it was a great last Christmas program before we headed to our supervisor’s house to celebrate Christmas. The highlight of the program was Madison dancing in a sari with her fifth grade girls…everyone in the audience loved it!!
Christmas in India is very simple compared to our celebrations and traditions in the States. Decorations consist of a large, single star hung outside of the house. In my opinion these are much more tasteful and classy then the gaudy lights with which Americans decorate their houses. People do carol however, churches use this time as a way to collect money so the purpose/meaning behind caroling is different between the two countries. On Christmas Eve it is common for churches to hold a Carol Service, however this year we did not attend a service on Christmas Eve. We did however, spend the night with Achen’s family sharing food (delicious cashews, I could have made a meal out them alone!!) and conversation.
Our Christmas day began with what seemed like a louder than normal Call to Prayer and the viewing of a Hindu burial service on TV. While the day was filled religiously diverse experiences, it was nonetheless a relaxing day complete with a simple communion service held at Achen’s house, ‘stockings’ or Santa filled hats, light Christmas music played throughout the house, and lots of skype dates! The simplicity of our Christmas day was something to be treasured and be remembered for Christmases to come.
A couple days after Christmas, Jim, Madison and I ventured to Goa, a state north of Kerala known for its beaches. This was our first over-night train experience in India! After 17 hours of travel (and to truthfully report, I decided to fast to keep the toilet usage to a minimal) it was exciting to arrive at our destination…an old Portuguese house! A family-friend of a YAV owns this old house in the middle of the state. The location was perfect as we were able to use it as our home-base and travel to different beaches each day. One night our adventures took us to a private island, where we stayed in a tikki-hut with no electricity and a broken toilet. Depending on the tide the only way to the island is by swimming…this made the experience that much memorable.
After spending 6 days relaxing under the sun it was back to our sites we went. The first couple days back were rough, I had a bad case of the post-holiday blues but thanks to lots of Christmas care packages, cards and emails, I was able to shake the blues away and am looking forward to what is in-store in the coming months!