Monday, May 31, 2010

Cultural awareness

Today the staff discussed with us specific cultural identities of India in the more rural areas. They said in the large cities, anything goes. Family is paramount, including very fringe cousins. Respect for elders is necessary from even very young children, indicated by touching the feet of the elders when greeting them. All people speak respectfully and quietly. The marriage age is 18 minimum with most who are educated waiting to 21-25. Women always wear the pants and long top with the scarf, although at home they take off the scarf. Men wear western clothes out but at home put on loose pants and long top. A bachelors degree is 3 years after high school and masters 2 years after that. At Grade 10 they take a nationwide test that determines what their future schooling choices will be. At that time they chose a career. Parents all hope their children will be more educated and do better than they have financially.

Sanitation: Most of the 2-3 I work with at GEPL like to stop at the hand sanitizer dispenser on the way out of story time. At daycare here, the "toilet" is a drain on the sidewalk outside, and there is no running water in the center. Water that is gathered each day from the leaking pipe across the road is used for cooking. (I personally walk to a nearby school for facilities.) There is a doctor in our group that says 90% of the illness she sees at the clinic is related to being unclean.

Trash: If some enterprisingly person wanted to make a LOT OF BUCKS they would bring public trash cans (and their maintenance) to India. I wonder at our willingness to export lots of snacks (let's not even talk about nutrition!) in plastic wrappers and not point out that dropping those wrappers all over the countryside makes it ugly.

Last week of teaching! Several of the children now bark when they see pictures of Brian's Dog, Munster. I THINK that is progress...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Temple

We finally made it to the Temple today of the Dahli Lama in McLeod. Lots of gold, reminiscent of Vienna! We saw a one hour film on the abuse of the Tibetans by the Chinese. They have been 50 years in exile in India.

Early this morning the clouds blew away and we saw the mountains. Rain here meant snow there, blizzards by the look of the peaks. Completely snow covered. But much cooler here so we are energized for teaching the last three days.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The sun is shining...

...except when a pre-monsoon comes through. We have had 3 times today when the rain and wind lashed the house and the thunder rumbled and echoed off the mountains. Within minutes it all stops, the sun comes out, birds sing. It is dramatic and fantastic.

At dawn (before the rain) I heard a monk chant and a cow moo back. This is India.

We traveled to Palampur today. From Wikipedia:"Palampur is a fascinating green hill station and a municipal council in the Kangra Valley in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, surrounded on all sides by tea gardens and pine forests before they merge with the Dhauladhar ranges. Palampur is the tea capital of northwest India." Visited a tea factory and had a wonderful lunch.

We are nowhere near the bombings, but read about them in the paper everyday.

Ah our day off last week: Buddha's Birthday is the major Buddhist festival of the year honoring the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the first full moon day in May. The celebration was not limited to Buddhists - everyone was off!

Listing things we miss (other than family): pets, highspeed internet, hot shower, cooking in own kitchen, convenience stores, beef, acessible water and ice. Funny no one mentioned American Idol.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The mountains are missing

Last night it rained and we are stuck on a cloud zone at the moment - no snow capped peaks or even foothills or valley below. Just cloud. It did mercifully cool things off a little.

Motorcycles turn off the engines to go down hill to save gas. Just think what San Francisco could save on fuel with that policy!

It took a week to mail my postcards: buy them, get stamps, not enough stamps, go back to PO and they are out of stamps, then a holiday, go back again and finally get them! And mailed the cards. That is pretty much how it goes here - not much gets done on the first try and noting in any hurry. Partly it is geography - it is hard to have the kind of hyperenergy we expect as Americans when it is so hot and there is no relief from it. Only 2 stores have AC in town: 1 electronics and 1 Nike brand stuff. Plus bad roads, little transport, and limited resources. Children who can leave, do leave, but not that many ever can.

The weekend holds a day trip somewhere and last shopping. Wonder if the duty free shop will be open at the air port.....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Holy Thursday, Holy Cows

Our day off! Up a little later than the sun today and traveled to St John's in the Wilderness Anglican church. McLeod was a hill station when the English were here and this is the only church around. It is set in a pine forested area, absolutely typical Episcopal church of stone in a cross shape. It was the only structure in the area to survive an earthquake and lost most of it's windows, but the few that are left are Belgium design. Most impressive was the cemetery. Everyone born in Isle of Mann or some other English village was transported here with the military or government plus wives, succumbed to disease and died in Dharamsala, 1/2 way around the world.

Then a short hike, but action packed one! We saw a whole tribe (herd? flock? gaggle?) of Monkeys through the forest headed from one hill to the next. Moved too fast for a Kodak moment. Around the corner were some great cows who did not move fast at all.

I swear it was the same cows who showed up in McLeod as we waited for the Dahli Lama to arrive. Due at 2:30, the streets were packed along the route and we stood waiting in the sun for an hour and a quarter. It was the usual wild crowd: aging hippie men with Asian trophy wives, pierced hikers, groups (herds? flocks? gaggles?) or mid life women seeking enlightenment or husbands, red outfit, yellow outfit, red and yellow outfit monks, Tibetan shopkeepers in costume and the random cow who gets the right of way always. None of these folks had ever heard of the Midwestern 26 inches of personal space. Finally DL, in a closed and unmarked car, zoomed past. I may have gotten a picture if I blow it up. He moved faster than the monkeys.

We ate on the tree top - they built the restaurant around a tree and you enter at the base, go up 3 flights and the branches at the top come in through the awning over the table. Good food, too.

One last bit of excitement - they were filming a music video in McLeod. Not The Dalhi Lama sings Hits from "Hello Dalhi" (oh please - how long did you think I could resist that one?), but some cute girl lip singing something. Anyway 4 of us ambled down a street we were astonished was empty only to hear the director yell whatever "cut" is in Hindi and realize that 4 American were not the kind of foreground he wanted. Huh.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

lunch and the full moon

The moon is almost full - I assume we are all looking at the same moon - but here it means a holiday for all government workers and schools for a festival! Yippee no work tomorrow! The teacher at my Day Care had me write it down so I would not forget not to come in. Oh no - not a chance! AND the Dahli Lama is coming to McLeod Up the Hill - he has returned from the stress of Iowa and Indiana to these roads. I bet he closes his eyes when they take the curves. Anyway his car will pass through town (Lama Mobile?) tomorrow at 2:30. Whoa! Some folks are signing up for passes to see him. I think it will be like the Pope and the President - it is enough to know we are in the same time zone.

Lunch at Lily's dare care: chicken and noodles, blueberries, bread and butter, peas and milk. Lunch at Dharmsasala: beans. Some already sprouted. Steamed in butter. Yesterday was wheat cereal with sugar. (That day the director told use they were having Swedish food - who ludfisk? How international! Ah - "sweet-ish...")

It is hot hot hot - 100+ by the time I go to work. No idea what it is as I walk home at noon. The monsoons begin the first of July and I can see what everyone gets a little crazy to see the rain and have it cool off.

Shopping was even more insane in town today - the rush to prepare for holiday and the Dahli Lama at once brings out the aging hippies on rented motorcycles, the tourist cabs that only have horns and no brakes, and the cows who always have the right of way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Another rule...

This one is right, too. CCS told us to not bring any supplies from the US - no markers or books or anything - but to use only what was supplied by CCS.

"What is supplied" is of the most minimal kind - a few markers, lots of broken crayons, construction paper and purple and green and the rattiest of books. It was frustrating the first couple of day to work out how to tech with these materials but while you can buy Lays potato chips ever 1K or so children's scissors are impossible to come by. So make do we did. I have cut all kinds of shapes and used a smudge of glue for each child rather than his/her own stick, been concrete and creative with what there is. Even that is so much more than the day care kids have at the school.

Today we cut out letters and stuck them on paper, let the kids color, stapled the pages together and made an alphabet book for the class. We are a long way from Power Point Hey Diddle Diddle!

Anyway the teacher told me they were enjoying the lesson and added, "I could do that." Ah-ha! If I brought bells and whistles from the US there would be no hope of her trying to replicate.

The temptation is HUGE to bundle up a box of $1 store supplies and ship it back after I go home. Don't even get me started on books!

For some reason that passes my understanding we are having Mexican food tonight.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where have all the hippies gone?

Found them! Huddled around the Dala Lama in Exile in McLeod just north of here. North meaning 2000 M up. The first time the roads have been traveled enough to put up signs about curves - in case you can't see the cars directly above you going the other way. As you travel up the road the shop faces change from Indian to Tibetan and the shoppers are European, American, Asian seeking enlightenment. And shirts that say "Free Tibet." Needless to say the beggars are more active - although they still do not rival parts of Rome.

The teacher I work with was talking about beggars today. She does not like the one who come around the local market because "they are from a different state." They travel to Dharamsala knowing the generous foreigners are there, they beg a bunch of money, wire it home and come back for more, after keeping a portion to eat and drink well. She helps out in her father's restaurant and sees them come in!

She is a widow but since her in laws were not living she was allowed to return home to her family to live with her tow children. At first she said people said mean thgins about a "woman alone" but she worked to complete her MA in history. I asked when she will do when her parents die - if she can continue to live with her brothers family. She said, "Oh by then my son will be grown and I will live with him." Women - even educated ones - still are dependant in this part of the country on the men they are related to.

We were watching an Indian Soap today - someone asked what was going on. I said, "That is the evil women(note the arched eyebrows) and that is the good woman (pure, wide eyes) and Evil is battling Good over - imagine this - a man!" One of the Indian staffers said, "Yes! How do you know that?" Same same in South Africa and China. We all Search for Tomorrow!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The rules and why they are hard to keep

Since the first booklet from CSS there has been a page in every communication with lots of large type instructing us not to give any thing to or buy anything for the day care or the kids in the day care. I thought I knew that from traveling in South Africa and understanding (a bit) the concept of partnering rather than donation. There are lots of good reasons (spelled out in detail, signed off and reinforced verbally): it is unfair to other children so breeds jealously, the parents/day care center will take whatever it is and sell it to use the money for themselves, once the volunteers leaves the supply is cut off and they look for other ways to get it. Yep - I agree. It all makes sense.

Until this week. There are 8 little duckling in my day care, and each brings a backpack with his/her food dish (which are filled once to eat there and filled again to eat or share at home) and whatever else children have in backpacks. (In this case, not much, although one kid does have a plastic pencil sharpener.) I KNOW at Walmart I can get 8 brand new backpacks = probably featuring that great literary character Sponge Bob Square Pants - and ship them here for so little! So little for me - one new special thing for them! I know they would smile. And heck isn't a New Backpack a rite of passage for every kid every fall?

And the rules? - oh hang the rules I think! But to think that the joy of a new backpack for a child would fade if family or teacher takes it. They would almost certainly get it stolen by another older kid. And when it wore out who would buy the next one? My heart aches at that reality, even as I realize it is my feeling of generosity that would benefit rather than their situations.

So I'll leave what I brought: time, energy, English, the Hokey Pokey, my presence and attention, and it will have to be enough.

Weekend 1 = sort of

Well, actually we all worked today because we were traveling on Monday. Next weekend we get S/S off and can go on an expedition. So I was back in the classroom with scissors, paper and clay teaching shapes.

A couple of the mothers stayed to "talk" today = I showed them the picture book of family photos. The women were our daughters' ages so they could relate to everything but the blond hair and blue eyes. On the way out, one tried her first words in English: thank you. She did fine, but it brought on a fit of hysterical giggles!

News from home: If the CUBBIES are winning I'll never know. We get BBC which may or may not be in English = what is a "boot" on a car? hehehehe Then we get National Geographic in Hindi, but snakes swallowing rodents twice their size translates well. We get the Indian papers in English but it is all about the news of the Indian states and politics and economics. We did get a picture of the Obamas when their Protocol chief slipped in her dinner gown. I thought she landed quite gracefully and did not deserve international coverage. We also heard about redefining "nude" = alert the Crayola people that "flesh" is out, too.

But a new generation of Indian children have now been introduced to "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" so all is right in the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Where we are NOT

We are not in the bad storms on the coast or where the Naxals are blowing up things or where 2 people were trampled when a train changed boarding platforms. (Well we were in Delhi that day but went by air.) Up here it is just another sunny day at the foot of the Himalayas.

At school the classroom teacher had a meeting today so I was flying solo again. (There is an aid.) We are singing every song I know without a CD player! How is that possible? Today I actually risked the glue sticks and most of them knew not to lick it...

I walked home alone from daycare today = about 1km = but hardly a straight path. There are no straight paths. The hairpin turns are tight and right in the center of town. I only made two wrong turns. Anyway the teacher aid could not believe that I had access to a ride and choose to walk. When I thought about that, it made a great deal of sense she was amazed. For women, walking is the only option unless you unless you are going far enough to go on the bus or have a male who will drive you. When I see couples on motorcycles he has a large protective helmet and she has a veil. On the tip of my tongue was "It is good exercise," but I realized how even more amazing the concept of "needing to exercise" would sound.

I have seen lots of cows - one in the epicenter of a massive traffic jam - plus chickens, horses and dogs. Not a single cat. (Or a married cat for that matter - heheheh) There are supposedly 56 birds that are only found in India. I probably saw at least one.

I am not even remotely afraid here - I wasn't in China either, but in South Africa I never went out at night and did not even walk 1/2 block between houses on the advice of the locals. Here everyone is enormously respectful. The children love to try out a little English by yelling "hello." People always respond to my "namaste ji" with the same words and a smile.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Drop off

Yesterday our cultural excursion was being dropped off in a nearby town and having 1 hour to find the post office or a bank or some other assigned spot and make a transaction. So we are set for shopping now!

In teaching, colors today was stickers and markers. Two new students. Apparently when word gets around that an American is here teaching English, even 2/3 year old registration and attendance increases quite a bit. I'm not sure where we'd put more than 10, but it is good for the teacher. Who in fact took the day off so I was alone with my stickers and markers. When I think that at home my 2/3s have power point, CD player, puppets, brand new books...But it turns out Ring around the Rosy is universal! Why is a song remembering the effects of the Black Death international?? So far I have not heard any Wiggles or Barney.

Bathing - a bucket shower. OK - shower is in name only. There is a raised spigot but it has been disconnected. So there are two taps with a drain below, a large basin, a cup, and a bucket. Fill the bucket with water, wash hair first and rinse into basin. Then get into basin and wash self by pouring water from cup. After the bucket is empty and the basin is full, you are clean so dump basin down drain. The entire bathroom is now awash so grab the industrial sized squeegee and clean the floor. Rinse out everything. (I am actually afraid when Bob realizes how much water this saves it will be instituted at home!)

It is very nice being with a group of volunteers doing different jobs. Good interaction and always something going on. The food is absolutely fantastic!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stretching percieved limits

So yesterday I had a choice of a nap or keeping my body in tune with today's young people and scaling the local mountain to see a temple. I set off with 4 college kids and slowly slowly - with a fair amount of heavy breathing on my part - we made it to the top! One guy has a fancy watch with all kinds of dials and measures but claimed it was calibrated to his home in Alaska. So maybe it was 200 feet up via mostly rocks and either "a few" or "6K" stairs. Down was easy! And at the top we found a cafe...with cars in the parking lot from driving up the other side! But where's the fun?

We work all morning and have classes in Hindi, discussions and Cultural Experiences in the afternoon plus a fair amount of reports to fill out since we are all working with NGOs and that means paperwork. Dinner is at 7 - today is Tandoori Wednesday and we are all excited to get meat! Well chicken.

Today the little girls in class wanted to wear scarves because I was. Their teachers wear them all the time but so easily they are not noticeable. I was noticeable since I kept adjusting. But when I put it over my head they did too and we all laughed.

My #7 child said BLUE today - that is the first word she has said ever in the school.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day Care

I started work today at a daycare. Only 7 students, 2-3 years old. I was dropped off at 9, went down the outside stairway under a store to a lower level room no larger than 8x10 with two small tables, rugs on the dirt floor, a single light bulb, some alphabet posters, a shrine area featuring what the teacher's call an Alien - apparently a free give away from a movie of outer space. One small set of plastic blocks. No paper, crayons, clay, pencils, scissors, glue or space to do anything but sit. They are not allowed outside because we are right under a curve in the main road. All cars and trucks speed by honking and we have to have the door open for light and air. We did see horses go by, too, and that was fun.

I started at 9:15 and by 9:30 the teacher said, "OK - you go ahead and do what you want." I ran through every song I had listed, all the pictures I had cut and put in photo albums. By the end, 6 of the 7 children were responding - doing "hands in front, hands behind..." and the last one actually gave a little twitch that might have been a smile. (Sort of like what Bob makes when I get mooooving on the cow jokes...) At noon we ended and I felt like I had done a week's worth of teaching. I hope they want to hear the same things tomorrow.

Outside it is cool and gray - I hope the sun comes out to get some pictures of the mountains and do some hiking.

Monday, May 17, 2010

from my window

snow capped mountains! The Himilayas are outsdie the back door. We took the 1 hour hop to Dharamshala today = more time in the airport than on the plane. Then a 40 minute ride up the side of the mountain with curves to rival anything I saw in Yellowstone = narrower lanes and no rails. Honk and dart method of driving in and out of the cities. But actually less traffic = and fewer people = than in China. I think there are more rural residents here.

Dharamshala is a wide place in the road compared to Delhi but on both sides of that road are colorful items for sale in the tiny shops. Auto parts, bottled water and chips, fresh fruit, shoes and locks with keys. Or keys without locks. Their primary work is support for the heavy touris in the next town up the hill, McLoed, the home of the Tibetian government.

It was 100+ in Delhi = much cooler here with a breeze. Cloudy over the mountains at the moment, but we can see enough to know we are close.

We start work tomorrow!

The language is smooth and the people are so polite and intrieging. It is a wonderful adventure already!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Learning to fit in

Today was country orientation including 2 hours with a history professor. Good thing I did the pre reading since he vaulted through 10k years and untold foreign occupations. A lot of pieces from fiction books and legends fit together. No wonder India is fascinating.

A lesson on traffic rating "Most likely to be hit": pedestrians, bikes,bikes pulling carts, motorscooters, cars,trucks, buses, COWS. no one will ever hit a cow! The trick is to find one crossing the same intersection...

First real Indian food served on banana leaves.

Shopping for Culturally Appropriate Garments. Choices of pants, tops,scarves at an off the rack place. I hope I don't regret the pink pants...

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Oh the places you go - in 13 hours, in and out of a day and several time zones to India! Surrounded by the language it is mellow and gentle. No gutteral sounds. We are in a guest house with AC -it is stillover 100F at 9 pm. If it is 9pm. Or Saturday.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Count Down

I am ready and so anxious to see and experinece everything in India. You are invited to surround Flight 292 to Dehli departing at 7:20 Friday night with prayers!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The chance to make a small difference

I am totally thrilled with my India assignment! It is a huge job, but just what I love doing.

Anganwadi (Day Care centre) Khaniyara Road
Child care, Pre-school teaching – Taking care of infants/ children

Their mission is to:
1. Lay the foundation for the proper psychological, physical and social development of the child
2. Improve the nutritional and health status of children below the age of six years
3. Reduce the incidence of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school
4. Achieve effective coordination of policy and implementation among departments to promote child development.
5. Enhance the capability of the mother to look after normal health, nutritional and development needs of the child, through community education.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

10 days!

I don't have my actual job assignment yet but there is a conference call tomorrow - with NY not India - so I hope to know more.

I have seen the travel warning.

We land in Delhi, stay a day or two to acclimate and then fly on to Dharamsala. But I drive on the Eisenhower and went to seminary in Hyde Park so not much rattles me. Nonetheless, prayer is always a good thing.