Saturday, 28 January 2012

Busin' About

An exceptionally empty bus!?!
When I was preparing to come to India, it never really occured to me that I would have to take the bus anywhere. But, as it turns out, Elly and I are the two Tare who ride the bus each day to our Partner site, Anand Gram. Perhaps many of you have an idea in your head of bus travel in India. If it looks anything like this, you're on the right track.
Fortunately, this type of scenario seems rare in Pune, although it is very common to find 4 or so people holding on in the rear stairwell because there isn't room elsewhere on the bus. Why, just last week that was me! Thankfully, it wasn't for very long -- after a minute or so things shuffled enough that I could push through the crowd and actually be standing in the bus. My general rule when I'm riding on the stairs of the bus (yes, I have a general rule for this now) is to hold on tight and don't look behind me at everything we're zooming past.
Somethings to note about riding buses here:
Everything is written in Marathi. I don't read Marathi, so this is a challenge. Our typical tactics are to flag down any public bus that is coming and as it slows down (they don't really stop) we shout "Alandi?!?" to the conductor at the back and if he bobbles his head in that lovely Indian fashion we run and hop on. Yes, run. The other day, I still had one foot 'on the ground' (mid-air) when the bus picked up speed. After successfully boarding a moving vehicle, it is then time to communicate with the conductor our destination. Me: "Kate Vashti, 2." "Kaste Vashti?" "Ha." (This means yes in Hindi) Money is exchanged and we hold on for a wild ride. Of the 20 or so bus trips we've had to date we've been able to sit for about half. A few times some courteous locals have given up their seats for us. This is because they want to talk to foreigners. :) There is definite crowding, although nothing like 'super-dense-crush-mode' which, believe it or not, is a form of measurement for train carriages in Mumbai. I await, with trepidation, the summer season when things really start to heat up. What will the buses be like then??
So, as our stop approaches, we begin to make our way (if possible) to the front of the bus where exiting is meant to occur. Thankfully, the conductor rings the bell to let the driver know he should slow down -- just a bit -- because two people want to get off. The cool thing is that this bell is really a bell, on a yellow rope, that hangs the length of the bus and jingles just above the driver's head. Truthfully, I'm not sure how he hears it over the roar of the engine, grinding of gears and squealing of breaks... We brace ourselves for the hasty exit, fearful of getting left hanging mid leap.
This is Elly and I on our first bus ride. It's blurry because it was fast and bumpy --going over speed bumps it felt a bit like the downward motion on a roller coaster where you're kind of hanging and gravity hasn't kicked in yet. But hey, at least we're sitting.
Another thing to note about Pune buses, is that most don't have doors. On Friday afternoon's bus, some of the vertical bars weren't attached to the ceilings anymore... that made for an interesting ride.
I wish I could share some more photos of our bus rides but, quite frankly, I need to hold on with both hands. :) The good news is that I am starting to enjoy this daily routine and it gets easier each day. We've yet to get on the wrong bus, so that's always a bonus. I have conquered rickshaws and buses; next on the list is trains...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Indian Essence

What's the date today? I can't believe it's the 22nd of January and I've been here almost one month. The time has just flown by in a whirlwind of activity, so I thought I'd take a moment to reflect upon some of the highlights of my time in India so far. Pictures included, of course. The Tare (pronounced Tar-ay, in case you were wondering like I was at the beginning) had the benefit of participating in the Essence of India event as part of our orientation, and what a great event it was. (Thanks SVs!!)
Here are just a few of my favourite things we did:
1) Sari, bangle, and bindi shopping on Laxmi Road
2) Exploring Phule Nagar, the neighbourhood across the road from Sangam
3) The Pune Challenge -- a bit like The Amazing Race (minus the whole "last team to check in may be eliminated" thing), where we had to navigate our way to specific locations via Rickshaws. Everytime I get in a rickshaw I feel like I'm on The Amazing Race a) because I'm never completely sure they've understood/know where I want them to take me and b) I have this crazy urge to shout "Jaldi! Jaldi!" which means "Fast!Fast!" in Hindi.
4) Visiting an Indian Family for dinner and having spicy food. The food at Sangam is farely tame, due to the 'international flavour' of the place.
5) Our Indian Afternoon, complete with a lesson in tying our saris (and then wearing them), chai (yum!), mehendi, and a traditional Maharastrian Wedding Feast -- and I mean feast! There is no end to the food. Oh yes, and playing badminton in our saris. I realize this is not particularly Indian, but it's really worth trying.
6) Learning about some of the WAGGGS initiatives to do with gender equality and the other UN MDGs.
7) Bollywood Dance lessons and a Bollywood movie night. We watched an Aamir Khan movie which in English is called "Every Child is Special". Not your typical bollywood flick, but sooo great. To all my teacher friends: you need to see this film.
At the end of the two weeks it was hard to say good-bye to Maxine, Anne, and Christine; they felt like part of the Tare team. But, the great thing about Guiding is that our paths could very well cross again.
Onto the next part of the adventure...the Community Program!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Childrens' Camps Continued

Days two and three of our Children's Camp were indeed much more successful! We rearranged the schedule to accommodate the heat and energy levels of the children and things ran much more smoothly... The children from Tara Mobile Creche were amazing! During our biscuits and juice two of the older girls sang a beautiful (albeit long!) song for us in Marathi. Then, it was on to the games. At our Sports station we decided to finish with playing on the playground and this was definitely the highlight for me. Their shouts of 'Didi, Didi!', which means Auntie in Marathi, filled me with joy as we all played together. The children from Mobile Creche rarely leave the construction sites where they live and go to school; so a playground, something which we may take for granted, was a real treat for them.
Adri joining in the see saw fun.
The merry-go-round was a popular choice -- even for Alison!
I enjoyed hanging out on the monkey bars with this character!
On our last day we welcome the children from Door Step School and Deep Griha. Door Step School provides non formal education and study classes for children who would otherwise miss this opportunity. Deep Griha is an organization that provides various programs from health to education for adults and children living in the slums of Pune.
This day was much different from our day with both Anand Gram and Tara Mobile Creche -- it was easy to notice that these children had had less exposure to structured activities. However, despite the challenges of organizing this group and maintaining some sense of order it was still a great day. These children, too, were experiencing many things for the first time and the smiles they left with were even bigger than the ones they arrived with.
Bollywood dancing was a fantastic end to each day!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Children's Camp --Day 1

Today we had the first of three Children's Camps with some of our Community Partner Organizations. This morning 40 kids arrived from Anand Gram (my placement) for a day of games, songs, and crafts.
It's been awhile since I've helped lead a day camp and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a challenge! The language barrier also added to the challenge of the whole day. Here are some photos of the kids and what they did at our "Sports" station. Boy, do they LOVE cricket -- I actually learned a thing or two from them, when they were willing to let me have a turn, of course.
All in all, it was a great day. Some kinks were ironed out during our debrief this afternoon and tomorrow we get ready to welcome 40 more kids from Tara Mobile Creche.
Parachute Games -- they loved playing Cat and Mouse!
Washing up for lunch
Enjoying a delicious meal was spicier than usual today.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Community Partners Visit

This week we set off to visit our Community Partners for the first time. Myself and Elly from England are placed at Anand Gram, which means Village of Joy. Initially this organization was established to provide a community for Lepers and their children where they could become self sufficient and educated, despite being ostracized from the mainstream community. Now, Anand Gram's primary focus is on education of their students, as well as those of the nearby village.
It was certainly an eye-opening experience as we were given a tour of the site and met some of the older residents and children who live there. I realized that my Western self will indeed be learning a lot, which is a good thing. The quality of living there is unlike anything I am used to, yet the people have all their needs met and appeared truly happy.
The school at Anand Gram has approximately 300 students (maybe more) and there are six teachers, which means each class has anywhere from 30 -50 students.
This is a typical classroom at the school. There are no smart boards or even whiteboards, just a chalkboard. No space for centres or storytime, just bench tables. The style of teaching in India is primarily rote, which will be a shift for me. However, I can appreciate this style in a situation
where you have 40 students. Hopefully I will be able to learn from the teachers at the school and also share with them some other strategies.
These are the on time students lined up to start their day with an assembly. School starts at 11:30am here. This teacher is reprimanding the students for not having the stage swept and being late and out of uniform. The amazing thing is that he just came out and calmly started talking and they all fell into line and were attentive. Would this happen at home? Not so sure...
After their assembly where they recited school rules, said prayers, and other stuff (all in Marati) some of the students went off to class and the younger children stayed with us to play games. We had a great time teaching them the hokey pokey (0r the hokey cokey as it's called in England) and Duck, Duck, Goose, which they loved. I'm sure we could have played for hours as these kids seemed to never tire. But, as I was 'goosed' many times, I was somewhat relieved when it was time for us to say our good byes and head back to Sangam.
There will certainly be more posts and pics to come as I get to know the students and teachers at Anand Gram.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Really Awesome Rally

On Wedneday, January 4 we all had the MOST amazing opportunity to visit a Scout and Guide Jamboree just outside of Pune. The Bharat Scouts and Guides is the national organization here in India and the Maharashtra state puts on a massive rally every four years -- there were over 10,000 Scouts and Guides from around the state camping at this event. The fact that it was happening during our own program at Sangam is amazing.
So, mid-morning 17 of us piled in a bus and drove for just over an hour up into the hills outside of Pune. We knew we had reached our destination when we saw the rows and rows of canvas tents with uniformed children roaming about.
Knots, just like home -- except for the Marati writing, of course.
This began our day's adventure.... We met our tour Guider and it was soon announced over the loud speaker that "foreigners are visiting the rally today." We certainly felt like celebrities with all these people following us around. If we stood in one place for more than 10seconds, we were swarmed! "Picture please, Madam!" "What's your name, Madam?" "Madam, where you from?"
While this aspect was certainly overwhelming, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to witness this giant event. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and seemed like they really wanted to get to know us and hear about our own Guiding experiences back home, as well as what we do when we are not "Guiding". The director of the camp came and spoke with us and shared a bit about how such an event is organized. It reminded me a lot of SOAR -- just on a much bigger scale. Aside from meeting all the Guides and Scouts, the best part of the day was when all of us were presented (in an impromptu ceremony of sorts) with the official necker and woggle of the event.
It's opportunities like this that make me really proud to be a Guide.
The crowds following us -- everywhere!!