Daisy is Queen in this place
Trip Start Jun 27, 2010
20Trip End Aug 07, 2010
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Where I stayed
The Gateway Hotel
And then it grew on me...It's probably because of the people that I met and the experiences I had, but if you can believe it, there was a provincial and conservative and homey feeling to the place that was quite different from the big city in Delhi and the mountains in Shimla. People were friendly and warm and quite engaging, and as always, that makes the experience richer. This was wayyyy off the beaten tourist path. Everywhere we went we made a splash. People congregated around us to gawk at us. The local television featured us and we were written about in the local newspaper
About my time in Ahmedabad. First of all it was darned hot and the noise and congestion were beyond belief. It was 100 and the humidity was 82%. We went places and were drenched in sweat within minutes of stepping out of the a/c bus. I have this nifty little bandana thing from REI that you soak in water and put it around your neck. What a lifesaver it was, although it only works for about an hour at a time. Better than nothing! I've taken to wearing scarves called dupattas. They look cool on the Indian women…for me, it’s like a sweat wiper! They come in the most beautiful patterns and fabrics.
There were many women in burkas as this was a more conservative place. There was the requisite black ones, but lots of women wear head coverings in gorgeous colors. I think it's mostly to protect them from the grime and dust and pollution while they are on their motor scooters or walking around. In this dusty country it is the color that sticks out for me. Even the poorest of women are wearing gorgeous saris.
The buildings were old and crumbly and there were cows everywhere. Many of the buildings had interesting fronts, but no windows and doors were often sheets of fabric
India is made up of states, and the states are all under the jurisdiction of the national government. The states also have provincial governments under them, which is why education is both nationally standardized for curriculum and assessment as well as individually responsive to the geographical area that it is located in. It's why some towns are progressive and others are still trying to work out the kinks.
And in the midst of all this chaos and dirt and grime and noise, we visited two areas that were arenas of respite and calm. One was an environmental education center with a botanical garden, an NGO. This is where artists work who put together displays for the national parks, and the place has an educational mission, which albeit small, has already reached 10% of the schools in India. They seek to create facilities for carrying out environmental education and to somehow infuse it into the schools. They are committed to teaching and working towards a sustainable future and the government is giving them funds to promote this
Why it has been so downtrodden and poor? Well, that was the next visit which was to Gandhi’s ashram. Wow! I felt the same way when I visited MLK’s home/museum in Atlanta, and it was a holy experience. I had just seen the movie Gandhi, so it was all fresh. At his ashram (yes, of course, I thought when I read ashram that this was going to be my long awaited yoga moment, but….) I learned so much about the man (including the fact that he took a vow of celibacy and then told his wife he had done so). Gandhi had a commitment to a way of life and to non-violence and to appreciating the uniqueness and equality of all human beings. He truly lived what he believed, and this is why he was such an inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr.. At my visit to his home, I’ve learned a lot about Gandhi’s fight to free India of the British rule, and how he changed from a lawyer to a man who brought about change in his steadfast and focused way.
When I truly think about it, India is, after all, a very new country (1947), and every day in the news (which is a lot like reading the Daily News or watching FOX news) we read about Pakistan or Kashmir, and I am very aware that this is a country that is still very much at the beginning of its development, even as a great deal of the world is light years ahead of it
As has been our custom in each town we met some great teachers and administrators, and this town was like that, too. The educational campaign is so much on everyone's mind (well, the people that we meet with that is) that everyone is excited. People proceed with patience and tolerance and compassion. They are so aware of the challenges, which are like the challenges that we face in the US, but are so much more complicated. Class size is, of course, a huge concern in the urban areas and it is obvious that unless this changes the by rote learning of India will stay entrenched
Many of you have responded to my comments about the lack of play and activity in the government or municipal classrooms. Discipline is very, very strict at home, and then it follows that it is like this at school. The teachers honestly say that the rote learning and discipline are inculcated from early on because there is no way that they could ever teach otherwise. Um, 80 kids in a kindergarten or first grade class? Everything is evaluated in grades here from early on, and the pressure to pass on tests makes rote learning the only practical way. I asked one group of fourth grade teachers about creative writing and they laughed. They asked me if I could imagine marking 80-100 creative writing pieces at a time? So the numbers and the textbook driven education presents another challenge. I’ve watched children at play with each other…but my sample is jaded. I looked in Ahmedabod, the city I’ve been in, and the Lonely Planet (I think) says that people are known to be more aggressive and meaner here. It’s also more polluted here (hmmmm, any connection?) So, the kids I’ve watched here seem to be more physical than I saw in Shimla which is where I first started noticing the lack of rambunctiousness or horseplay or just interactive fooling around. Yet, kids still are very well behaved for the most part, and lots of what is "play" is organized games or sports.
Other challenges? The languages spoken by children. Each state has its own language that children speak in addition to the Hindi that many children also speak. There are 18 recognized other languages, and enough people speak each of them so that each of these 18 groups could individually constitute its own European sized country. English is supposed to be the language that children all learn in and are tested in so the children have to learn that, too. I’ve spoken to lots of children and they love to show me how they can count and say the names of colors, etc. Conversational English, however, is extremely tricky and I am stymied thinking of how these kids pass tests except that I know that the tests follow the same rote way that they have been taught so I guess they pass by mastering the formulaic way they have been taught in. Many teachers do not have a well-developed command of the English language either, so better teacher training is in order as well.
Another challenge I see is the lack of resources, which I’ve written about before in this blog. The sitting on the floor is typical, even in the best of primary schools---people are very flexible here—I don’t think bad knees are part of this culture! But there are no copy machines and the stuff that is just there for US teachers. Even the best of schools seem to be lacking in materials for interactive learning. It’s really only us though, the US educators peering in, though, who are taken aback by this. Many of the teachers I meet and whose classrooms I visit proudly show me what they have hanging up, in the same way I love showing off my classroom at home. We, the US, are a culture of plenty. This country is not, and they make due with sheer grit and determination.
I got a good long sobering look at the slums in Ahmedabad. About 40% of the city lives in slums. The poverty is rampant and I found myself both shocked and then avoiding looking. People sleep on streets under tarps, or live next to trash piles in what appears to be corrugated tins standing up in connected squares. When it rains and it does so in torrents (monsoons!) I just can’t imagine what happens to these people. The beggars’ eyes haunt me, especially the children and the old people. We are told that the beggars are part of a Mafia…like in SlumDog Millionaire, yet it is hard to avoid the eyes. I am going to start bringing granola bars with me and give it to them. I know that they have to give the money to their boss, but the food I hope they can eat. When they say, “Please, I’m hungry,” it breaks my heart. The children are dirty and I keep wondering how these children are going to end up in school. No one seems to know…or at least no one has successfully given me the answer to this.
Well, I must admit to you all l that I have contributed to India’s GNP this year through my visit to a women’s collective originally based in Ahmedabad but now located in other parts of India, too. Poor artisans are the owners of their textile and clothing companies, other women are in charge of vegetable distribution centers at the market, still others set up and control other businesses, and they are given a fair wage, insurance, and as a collective group wield power. This organization (SEWA) has grown and is a bit like the Heifer model, I think, in that they keep reinvesting in themselves and keep bringing more and more women under their wing. They also make um, VERY beautiful things, some of which have added weight to my suitcase! Listening to these women talk about the struggles of setting up their stand in the marketplace (being pelted by tomatoes, being bullied, etc) and then seeing their successful and beaming faces was incredible. (Seeing the market was an absolutely amazing experience, too…people carry absolutely everything on their heads, and the smells and visual excitement was intense---spices, vegetables, fruit, stuff…WOW---what colors! And yes, cows were everywhere darting between the auto-rickshaws and people pulling carts and others hawking their wares and food goods.)
India is a place where absolutely everything coexists. It’s a land of many, many contrasts and this strikes me especially as we come home from our days of exploration and are safely in the confines of incredibly luxury at these five star hotels. They say that a trip like this changes you…I hope that I can retain the sense of gratitude for what I have in my own life and couple that with awe about the world and appreciation for how unique we all are. I am very far from my comfort zone during a lot of this trip….and it is a privilege to be able to be a part of something like this experience.
Long enough for today…once I get started I realize how I am using this to reflect on all that I have seen and taken in. I send you all love…