I have been meaning to post this for quite a while -- I actually wrote the bulk of this post last week -- but laziness prevented me from uploading it until now. However, a series of excellent updates on a lot of my favourite blogs have inspired me to get off my behind and write something.
It feels like a lot has happened since the last blog update, and at the same time it feels like there's very little to write about! I have certainly not gone on any crazy trips since being to Goa three weeks ago.
I guess it's good, in a way, since most of my blog posts have been about travelling to some far-off place and not really related in any way to my placement. Since I like to flatter myself that my work/life here is pretty interesting, I'll write about that for a bit.
As for the life part, I'm still staying in the hostel. This involves waking up at about 4:00 to the first sounds of activity (I'm not honest enough to say what time I get out of bed, though). Since breakfast and lunch are cooked at the same time, the older kids have to get up insanely early to prepare meals. There's usually an adult who does most of the work but lately the kids have been doing everything on their own. I'm pretty amazed at the energy of these kids – I mean, even the smallest kids are up and doing chores by 6:30 and the bigger kids (by which I mean, ages 12-16) pretty much run the hostel on top of doing their studies.
Part of my living here is that I eat my meals at the hostel as well. Breakfast is usually uppuma, which is cracked wheat boiled with spices and eaten with sambaar, which is like a really soupy dal (lentils) with some vegetables. Dinner is ragi mudhe, which is a big brown ball of ragi, a local grain. That too is eaten with sambaar. Lunch, which I eat at the school, is rice – also with sambaar, as well as yogurt (or curd, which is just really runny yogurt). Aside from the ragi, which is a bit of a shock at first, I guess my diet is not as exotic as some folks out there. I am sort of missing cooking for myself and keeping my own house, but the advantages of not having a mountain of dishes to wash and not paying for food or rent are so far winning out. Also, my diet is conspicuously heavy on grains, and low on everything else (except chillies, getting lots of those). A few weeks back, I got pretty unwell and since then I've been stashing some 'supplements' in my room at the hostel, which means mostly a lot of fruit and nuts, plus, of course, some awesome junk food.
The school day here starts around 9:30 with a series of prayers/songs. Then class is from 10-4, with a lunch break of an hour and a half (!). Up until this week, I was observing classes, meaning that I sat in class and watched how things were going and took notes and wrote about the new curriculum and methods. I guess we figured after 8 weeks of that, I'd pretty much gotten the hang of how the place worked, so now I'm teaching a class! Turns out the principal here was teaching like three classes herself so we spent the last little while putting together a new curriculum for the grade 5/6 class (which is a continuation of the curriculum we have for K-4 here), and hey pronto! The class is now mine to teach. How will these tender young minds be affected by being exposed to my tutelage? Only time will tell, folks. I have to comment, though, that these are some of the smartest kids I've seen anywhere. Class is mostly in their second language (even when it is not me teaching), and the material is far from easy.
After school, the kids have a while to play before they go home around 5. There's usually something to keep me busy after school. I keep a running documentation of the progression of the curriculum from K-6, help write and rewrite the curriculum itself, since it has only just been introduced, and, lately, help with some proposals. We've been planning to expand the school to the point where we can rely on fees from students' families to cover the main operating costs of the school, all while keeping about a third of the kids here on subsidized/no fees. The fees for the rest of the students would be as low as possible while still maintaining class sizes and being able to pay the teachers. It also means we need to apply for funding to increase the school's infrastructure to the point that it can handle this number of children, hence the proposal writing. That's been a fun, engaging project – on a related note, if anyone knows of any Indian/western agencies that fund this sort of educational/infrastructure work, give me a shout. I'm a little out of my league on that one.
Usually I finish at the school at around 6-6:30 and head back in the night. Often, while walking back, I am reminded of my pre-departure medical briefing that I went to with my friend Richelle, now in Sri Lanka. The doctor told us both, point blank, that the greatest risk to both of our lives on placement was late-night traffic, especially motorcycles, and especially in rural areas. Well, doc, thanks for the heads up – motorcycle dodging at night after work on the hilly, curvy roads that lead me home is something a daily routine. Though to be fair, buses are far worse – motorcycles don't push you off the road!
At night, I have been developing a few habits. Once I get back from the school, I play with the kids for a while – they have an undying passion for climbing me, being lifted by me, or playing games or singing songs with me (I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that none of these things are homework). Sometimes they also borrow my camera and take a couple hundred pictures – the kids here have taken over seven thousand pictures since I got here. I also have a few personal time things, for example my newfound ability to relax with a movie for a while. But not just any movies – the only way I can justify burning valuable time like that is to make sure that I am watching movies conducive to my Tamil or Hindi learning ability. That has meant a lot of Bollywood, as well as, lately, a bunch of 'multi-language' DVDs – at the bus stop in Dharmapuri, there's a stall that sells English movies that have been dubbed into Tamil, Hindi, and Telegu. Most of them also have subtitles in English. Most of them are action flicks, meaning that the language is mostly pretty simple. Oh, and they cost less than a dollar so there's that too. So far, I've seen Tamil dubs of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a mountaineering film called Vertical Limit (tagline: 'it'll leave you hanging....'). Since writing this, however, my DVD player has met with an untimely demise. Dear HP: if your products can't survive a two-foot fall, then I can really never be a customer of yours. This is a serious stumbling block in our relationship. So I am currently without any of my DVD awesomeness. I've discovered Tamil music, however, so that should be an adventure!
I usually end the day accessing the internet after 10 PM, when it is free for me. As previous blog posts have indicated, this involves a complicated setup involving the roof of the hostel, the scaffolding of our water tank, and duct tape.
I'll try to upload some more pictures of this by the weekend, so that you all can get a glimpse into my daily life. That's all for now!