Trip Start Jun 27, 2010
20Trip End Aug 07, 2010
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We watched as the teachers and students went about their lessons, and at one stop I sang songs with a group of first graders teaching them in "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." Because of the strike, or the general work stoppages in India in protest to the rising fuel costs only about half of the children were there. Uh, that would be about 35 children LEFT in each classroom. The classes were realy bare, but sunny, clean, orderly, with hand-drawn pictures on the wall illustrating the concepts that were to be taught. Every class in every grade teaches the same thing on the same day and the pictures on the walls were exactly the same, all colored and illustrated in colored pencil. In all grades except for the nursery children sit two or three to wooden desks. The desks are rather cute truth be told, but boy that is crowded when there is a full house I bet. The nursery room had an large old worn carpet on the floor where kids were gathered in groups touching plastic building toys (The teachers called it playing, but honestly, I can’t imagine how…there were so few things to work with so many children even today with half of the attendance there). The preschool classroom had maybe 10 toys for all 70 of the children to share. A playhouse, some stuffed animals, plastic lego like blocks…that’s it. There were no tables, just a teacher’s desk and another table in the back that held the teacher’s school supplies.
The materials? What materials. It makes me blush and cringe to think of my, errr, chock full classroom in Newton. The library? One rather small cabinet filled with old books that had to be shared by the whole school. The children were very focused on the lessons, and I don’t think it was because of visitors. Kids are still kids, and I saw goofiness and silliness, too, but they were listening to the teacher always, and when the teacher said, “Stand up to greet our visitors,” they did so immediately. When the teacher was talking to us or showing us around, the children sat or chatted quietly. It was amazing…really. I think of how I feel as if I have to keep children occupied with fabulous stuff 24/7 (or at least from 8:20-3:00) and with nothing there was still magic happening.
I saw four old Apple II computers in one of the rooms, and the language lab had a lots of ancient tape recorders attached to headphones. Every class of older children visits the language lab several times a week.
What was the most endearing however was taking photos of the children and then immediately showing them their photos. One of the teacher guides pointed out that many of these children have rarely if ever seen a photo of themselves…remember these are the poorest children in Delhi. They would gather around my little camera after each shot that I would take and oooh and ahhh. A Polaroid snapshot to have left would have been heaven!
But did I mention that the children looked happy? They were…smiling, inquisitive, sweet…and so were the teachers. They were smart, articulate, engaging, honest and we all gathered together and like any group of teachers, we chatted school. They face the same issues with parents that don’t respond or follow through, yet there is this positiveness that they all radiated. This school gets donations from Unicef (yep, this is where those pennies go!), and all students get one free uniform a year as well as health care as part of their schooling. Yes, I did see children whose uniforms were not clean, or who were wearing shoes but no laces, but most children came to school with a backpack and a pressed uniform, which must be a challenge given that they only get one a year. Lunch is provided for all children. School goes from 8:00-1:00 every day. The teachers told us that they loved what they did and they radiated that teacher love that we all have even in the face of challenge no matter what side of the globe we find ourselves on. The teachers honestly told us that this was a good job because the pay was good (about $6000 a year) and it allowed them the flexibility to be home at an early hour for their families, too. We were introduced to the founder of the school as well, and all in all, this was both humbling and exciting.
We had a bit of culture, too when after our school visits we were treated to a dance performance at the equivalent to the headquarters of the National Endowment for the Arts today by one of India’s premier classical dancers. I don’t think I ever appreciated Indian dance or its music, and I have only an inkling of how complicated and rich it all is. It’s the costumes that knock me out, as well. These colors! The jewelry!
And fun, fun, fun..(and for anyone whose traveled with me this isn’t a totally big surprise that something like this would happen to me!) I became a wedding crasher, too. Well, actually the Taj hotel encouraged me (really!) to do that at a ring exchange ceremony that was occurring last night. I’ll chat with anyone, and I was standing talking to the lovely security guard and she offered to walk me in. The flashbulbs went off, the people all welcomed me---and people shared with me that this was a good wedding because the bride and the groom came from such good families. And it was wonderful and I am so lucky to have seen this, even as an uninvited guest! More than 250 people were invited to this ceremony and they were decked to the nines, but that ain’t nothing because 2000 people will be invited to the real wedding in four days. The bride hadn’t arrived yet…so I didn’t get to see her which I would have liked to because I bet she would have been dressed spendidly, but the saris that I saw were gorgeous. As I understand it,wedding dates are set by astrologers who do all sorts of calculations to find the best day for the wedding to occur. They are usually 6 or 7 day affairs, so what I saw was the beginning. Once the rings were exchanged, as the guard told me, there was no backing out. Oh, the guard invited me to her wedding, too! I loved looking at the dowry that was displayed under one of four jumbotrons which were broadcasting the whole “tea ceremony” where the groom was being blessed. No dowries really happen except in spirit, but the amount of food and clothing that was being given to the sets of parents was astounding.
Speaking of which, the Sunday paper has a whole section that would make Match.com swoon with envy. People of all castes (even though discrimination by caste is not allowed people seek weddings with similar castes) advertise for a suitable bride or groom. Finding a good match is serious stuff here. I’ve met several young people here who are very happy that they have older brothers or sisters so that they do not have to be pressured yet into getting married.
Today I went to the market after our seminar! That was truly great! All sorts of colors and fabrics and scarves galore! We went to a tailor who took out all sorts of coordinated fabrics and they measure you to make outfits. What an interesting experience. And, yes…I did indulge. I’ll send you a photo of the Indian fashionista when the outfit is delivered and I try it on! You should have seen us all…a bunch of Anerican women descending on a teeny tiny fabric store! What fun.
I love hearing from you and wish I had the time to respond to each of you. I feel like you are all traveling along with me to this place that is so far, far away---yet in the case of the school, so very familiar, too. More from Shimla…enjoy the photos and forgive the typos!