Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some pictures for you!

I've had access to high-speed internet over the weekend, so here are some pictures I uploaded!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am surrounded by little children

Hello again!

Well, this week was the official first week of placement times (edit: first two weeks, I was a little late in posting this). I've started work and it's been fun, if slow at times. I think that I will write more about that in my next entry, once I have more of an idea of what I am doing.

Another important detail of life is that as of Tuesday, I have the internet where I'm living. It's a pretty sweet hookup, it gives me just-faster-than-dialup speeds in the middle of nowhere. However, I have to hold it as high as possible for it to get signal, which has meant duct taping it to an old water tank when I use it. Whatever works, I guess. Also, it gets broadband speed in all major cities in India, meaning that if I spend a weekend in Bangalore or something, I can skype people after 10 PM India time.

My living arrangements have been the most noticeable change so far: I am living in the school's hostel, where schoolchildren live whose families live far away, or whose families can't keep them at home, or who otherwise don't have a home to go to while they are at school. It is worth noting that these children are the hostel's sole residents, making the maximum age here around 14, with many as young as 3 or 4. The only exceptions to this rule are myself, and a lady who does the cooking. However, the cleaning, washing of clothes, upkeep of the garden, and all the rest of the hostel's maintenance is done by the work of the children who live here. Everyone, down to the smallest toddler, has some sort of work to do. The kids also do a good deal of the cooking, which leads me to believe that if all contact with the adult world were to be broken, these kids could probably run the place pretty decently without resorting to a) some kind of lord-of-the-flies-esque power struggle, or b) starving.

They all live in two main buildings, and in pretty close quarters. I am the only one here with my own room, which comes pretty decently equipped, with its own bathroom, balcony, and, wait for it, rooftop. I am currently writing this entry from the roof of the Puvidham hostel, with a pretty sweet view of the surrounding valley.

The kids have taken pretty well to me. It's fair to say that the last place I expected to be was in a place where I would be surrounded by children, but things are working out pretty well. I am, thus far, a constant source of novelty. Every day has had some sort of theme associated with it, which has led to constant amusement for the kids, and a mix of jetlag and exhaustion (and also some amusement) for me. Day one was “Uncle!” in which they find a new big person in their midst who doesn't speak Tamil, and make him teach them things like duck duck goose and skinni mirinki dinki dink (is there a better name for this song? Also, any suggestions for new kids songs? I could only think of the wheels on the bus and row row row your boat. Pity me, I never went to a real summer camp).

Day two was “Uncle has arms!” in which the discovery that I could lift them pretty effortlessly led to swarms of little children pulling me down to the ground. Days three and four were “Uncle has a computer!” and “Uncle has a camera!” respectively, where they played games and took pictures (SO MANY pictures. Some of them have actually gotten pretty good at the camera.) under my very watchful eyes. If any of you have ever seen a toddler playing with a piece of electronic equipment, you will understand my horror at the prospect of these things being at the mercy of a few dozen very hyperactive pre-teens.

I've been able to get to Bangalore on my last weekend, and next weekend I'm travelling with work to Chennai, to do some serious curriculum development (I have no idea what that means, but I will be doing it!). It's been nice to have a change of scenery every few days; I think that these days, I like to have a balance of urban and rural living and so far placement has given me just that!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Good Times in Bangalore!

I'm writing this with about half an hour to go before we leave Bangalore for Dharmapuri. I've been staying with my family here in Bangalore for the past week, getting my feet on the ground and getting over my jetlag (an excruciating 9.5 hours, which is still not as bad as the folks in Vietnam and China—I don't know how they do it!).

Part of the reason I stayed in Bangalore so long was that this Saturday was Eid, the festival that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. I'd never celebrated it with my family, so I was pretty pumped to stick around for it. Wwe got up for prayers in the morning—I was told that they start extra early and to get ready first thing in the morning, with the result that I was changed and ready to go by 7 AM, around the time that my family was waking up!

The prayers were in Arabic and the sermon was in Urdu, so I understood very little, but it was interesting to go to nonetheless. All the men were on one level, and the small children were on a different one (I was on the men's level, if you're curious). We stood in rows and went through the motions of prayer. There's a set etiquette as to when to do what, which meant that I was concentrating pretty hard on what the guy next to me was doing.

The rest of the celebration consisted of eating a lot of biryani, which I enjoyed. Elonnai, another IDSer who is working in Bangalore, came over for the festivities. True to embarrassing form, the family album was brought out after lunch and we got to pore over pictures of my uncles and aunts in their youth. Luckily, none of my photos had made it this far, so I was spared.

Before I leave, I have to tell one other anectode from my time here in Bangalore. On Tuesday, I called the woman I'll be working for at Puvidham, just to tell her that I'd landed and would be coming after Eid. She mentioned that there was a woman working at the school whom I should meet, as she had been developing the curriculum that I would be working with. However, she would be leaving this week, so I'd have to make a day trip.

The trip itself was pretty neat, I met a bunch of people and found out a) that I had a job, and b) that it would probably keep me busy, and c) that it would involve a lot of learning Tamil. More on that next time.

The adventure started on our trip back. One of the teachers at the school was heading in to Dharmapuri, the main town, so he gave us a ride. We found a bus pretty quickly, this one was pretty no frills and stopped in most towns, so it was pretty cheap, and a really nice ride. Also, by 'no frills,' I mean that there was still a TV blasting Tamil and Hindi music videos the whole time, so there's really no cause for complaint. Anyway, I mostly slept for the first little bit, while my cousin, who was there to make sure I didn;t get horribly lost, got more and more bored. He briefly got off in Hosur to go to the bathroom, telling the bus driver to wait for him, the driver said he would, he got off, and the driver promptly left.

So things got interesting. I had no freakin' clue what to do or what to say. I was frozen in my seat and really freaked out, and stupidly said nothing to the driver. I formulated a plan on how to get home--I would get off in Bangalore, call one of my relatives, get directions and hail an auto. Seems straightforward, right? Well, after getting off in Bangalore, I looked around for an phone booth, to no avail. Okay, I figured that I'll find an auto driver, and ask to use his cell. So I did that--the dialogue went a little like this (original Hindi included to showcase just how lost I truly was):

Driver: "Auto sir?"
Adam "Haan. Ganganagar, CBI?" (the location of my uncle's house; Ganganagar neighbourhood, near the central police station)
D: (vague agreement, gestures to get in>)
A: "haan. aap ke paas fon hai?" (do you have a phone?)
D: (gives phone)
A: (get out my phone to see azeem's number)
A: (phone dies completely, can't read number)
A: (give phone back, get in)
D: "ganganager, CBI?"
A: "haan" (yes)
D: "250"
A: "nahin, nahin. 200" (no, no. 200.)
D: "220. (something along the lines of, it's dark and my meter's broken)"
A: "okay okay. 220." (apparently, the upper bounds of what one should pay are more along the lines of 150 rupees, but i really wanted to get home)
D: "fon kijiye?" (you want to make a call?)
A: "nahin. mujhe number nahin malum hai" (no, i don't know the number)
D: "aapka fon me hai?" (is it in your phone?)
A: "haan. lekin fon dead hai" (yes. but my phone is dead.)
D: "aah. card me hai?" (do you have it on a card?)
A: " nahin" (

Okay, so at least I was in an auto by this point. I even managed to get him to the house with minimal getting lost (the one notable exception being my telling him to go the wrong way on a one way street, with excellent consequences).

In the meantime, of course, everyone had been panicking and they were overjoyed to see me. My cousin had called at about 8:15 and I got in at 10, so the family was on emergency standby for about two hours. My family's capacity for freaking out is pretty legendary. One of my aunts went to the bus stop to see if I would get off there (I didn't, the driver let me off somewhere completely different). My uncle sat next to the telephone for two hours while assuring everyone "hey, he's travelled before, he'll be fine!" and pacing up and down.

At the end of the day, it was all a little discouraging because it really shouldn't have been a big deal, but because I wasn't confident enough to express myself in a language that wasn't English, I ended up getting totally lost. Oh well! Hopefully this will get better. Next time I update, I'll have started work!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Trip!

Well, time just flies, doesn't it? The last time I wrote here I was busily preparing, impatiently awaiting my departure from Canada, and now here I am, seriously jetlagged in my aunt's place in Bangalore! Getting here was an adventure—international travel always is—so here are some highlights:

10 AM – 2 PM: Frantically finish packing, shopping, doing all manner of last minute things. Those who have seen me before I travel (mercifully, not many people have) know that I tend to get into a kind of 'zone' just before I leave.

2 PM: Little brother leaves for Vancouver, accompanied by my luggage. I was told that there's only enough space in the car for me or my luggage, not both, so I saw him off from the house.

2-3 PM: Naptime. Possibly the last time I slept until now.

6 PM: Get dropped off at the airport and say my goodbyes to the family. My bag got searched as we went through security, by an overly polite customs official who apologized when she didn't find anything. I love this country.

6-7:30 PM: I spent my last hour and a half in Toronto... deciding what to do with my last hour and a half in Toronto. As soon as I start reading (The Satanic Verses), the plane starts to board.

8 PM (EST) – 8 AM (GMT): Flight to London. Mostly consists of me trying to sleep. As soon as I give up and start on the book again, we land. I think Rushdie must be cursed.

8 AM – 1 PM: London's Heathrow Terminal Five is another world. There's a full mall (complete with three duty free stores of the same name) and enough seats for a small city. There's a seafood/caviar bar. There's a cafeteria named 'eat' (I ate) and a Starbucks where all their espresso is Fair Trade. Since I am a creature of suggestion, I ordered one and concluded that it was far superior to the North American variety. Britain has an abundance of fancy chocolate and tea, of crackers in tins and everything else in tins (sometimes the tins look like double decker buses). They have a curious overabundance of gingers (it is noticeable). I paid five pounds for under an hour of internet because unlike any civilized airport ever, Heathrow does not have free wi-fi. I'm far more indignant over this than I should be—my lesson here is to not promise my family any contact until I'm at my destination.

2 PM GMT – 4:30 AM India time: Three movies and multiple failed attempts at sleep later, I once more picked up Rushdie's Verses just as we get in. I highly recommend travelling with this book; it makes planes reach places faster (ie right when you start enjoying the read). I've gotten through the first fifty pages and it's still weird. I can't see why it merits a fatwa, aside from the atrocious number of made-up words it uses.

4:30 – 5:30 AM: So I go up to Indian customs. I've got my passport, I've got my visa. Actually, I've got a step up from a visa, namely a Person of Indian Origin card, essntially a multiple entry visa that lasts for 15 years. Pretty sweet, right? Well, the officials didn't seem to think so; upon seeing it the first guard informed me that I would have to step aside with his colleague to clarify some things. Shit, I thought. I am going to be the first ever IDSer to not even make it to placement. I am going to be deported. This is what is happening.

As it turns out, that is not what happened. Mostly I had to show all my documentation several times to several different officials, who let me pass, after repeated head-nods and queries of where my mother was from and whether I spoke Telegu.

Anyway, I got out of the airport and met my uncle and cousin who were waiting for me, and I've spent the last few hours driving around the city and sleeping—mostly sleeping. I think I might just do some more of that right now. Peace out!