Sunday, December 26, 2010

Field Trip number two!

Dear readers,

The last two weeks of my life have been pretty hectic! A couple of days after the field trip mentioned in the last blog post, I headed out to visit another school in Andhra Pradesh for a while. After coming back, everything was a rush of activity as my parents, and then my brother, arrived from Canada (woo!) and we've been showing them around. Tomorrow, we set off in a giant 12-seater van for the second ever epic massive road trip to Hyderabad, compliments of the Shaik clan (aka my mother's family). The first ever was during my last visit to India in 2005, and the Andhra countryside has only just recovered.

But first things first. My visit to Andhra two weeks ago was pretty amazing, so I'll start there.

When I started working on an 'alternative' curriculum project back in September, it did not take long for us to realize that I could not really understand a large part of the exercise, since I had no idea of what 'alternative education really meant, in an Indian context. We decided that the best thing to do would be for me to visit a number of other schools to figure out how things ran, so that I could better understand the environment in which the school operates. So far, I have vaguely-formed plans to visit a few schools all over the map, but the first one to work out was one called Timbaktu, in Andhra Pradesh. After a few phone calls and e-mails and setting of dates, away I went!

The Timbaktu Collective is a pretty amazing organization, and the Timbaktu compound (for lack of a better word) is a pretty amazing place. It is in a pretty dry area of Andhra Pradesh, known mostly for its groundnuts. You immediately know you've arrived at the collective's area when the hills around you start to look very, very different. They look different because they, unlike their neighbours, have forests growing on them, the culmination of almost two decades' worth of land regeneration work. In talking with one of the directors – all of whom live in the same compound as the children and staff – I learned a great deal about the Collective's activities, which reach beyond the school itself. Since the conversation was, admittedly, brief, I will forward interested readers to their website, where you can see their projects in greater detail.

Since I was there to observe the school, I spent most of my time with the kids. Since I arrived on a Saturday, the children were enjoying themselves – I joined a game of cricket which I failed miserably at, so I mostly stuck to the sidelines. The kids here seemed really comfortable with me as a visitor, which I imagine must be because they get so many of them. I was a little disappointed, though – I was demoted from my post of 'uncle' for the duration of my visit. Instead, I was referred to for the whole visit as “Adam brother!”

Linguistic aside: most Indian languages have some titles of respect for those older than you. People slightly older than you will be called 'big brother' or 'big sister,' while those a little more old will be called 'auntie' or 'uncle.' If one's proper name is used, it will be in conjunction with one's title, like 'Adam uncle.' For aunts and uncles, most languages also differentiate between those older or younger than your parents, or those on your mother's side or your father's side. I have steadfastly refused to learn these distinctions in any language.

The rest of the week, I sat in on classes and did some teaching wherever I could. Mostly I stuck to the odd game of hangman, or teaching some English songs – mostly Christmas carols and 'skinni mirinki dinki dink,' which I have decided is my key to communicating with small children all over the world. I also gave some of the dramas that the Puvidham teachers had written and used, since they were curious about the teaching material that we were making. Mutual learning for the win! It was a really positive experience and I learned a lot. I hope to be back there for thesis research at some point, since I would like to look at the different teaching methods employed by alternative schools, and the choices behind those methods – but that requires me writing a proposal, now, doesn't it...

The ride back was eventful, in that I ended up taking a bus to a place I had never heard of before. There were no direct Bangalore buses, I guess. That and I ended up walking through Bangalore to my family's place at past midnight. I'm really enjoying all the random bus travelling that I am doing, much to the surprise of most people I meet, who generally do everything in their power to stay out of buses and bus stands in general. It works for me because it requires little planning, is cheap, and completing a bus journey makes me feel good about being able to get around in a language I barely speak (if you want linguistic confusion, try asking someone for directions in Tamil while trying to read bus signs in Telugu in a city where most people speak Kannada. Thanks, Hindupur!).

Anyway, that was Timbaktu! I have spent the last week since then hanging out with my family, and showing the place in Dharmapuri to my family, who just arrived. Tomorrow we head to Hyderabad, so I am going to sleep now!

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