Wednesday, 29 February 2012

World Thinking Day

Waaay back when I was a Brownie, I remember learning about the four World Centres as part of our Thinking Day activities. The memory is so clear, I can even picture us all sitting in a circle looking at the pictures in our Programme books! I don't think I ever really imagined that I would have the opportunity to be at a World Centre on Thinking Day itself, but when I was in the process of applying to become a Tare, that was one of the first things that crossed my mind.
I don't really have words to describe how it felt to be across the world, with my Guiding and Scouting sisters, celebrating the birthdays of our founders, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. So, I write this blog with a caveat that it isn't likely to be very eloquent... ;)

In true Indian fashion, our morning began with a flag and welcome ceremony in the campground under the jazzed up stage tent with 250 or so members of the Bharat Scouts and Guides from the Pune area. Then the Guides and Scouts participated in crafts and games activities organized by the event participants. As as Tare, I was a floater and so able to see bits and pieces of everything.
Throughout the morning various groups came and made presentations to the dignitaries on the stage, which ranged from modern dances, drumming, and traditional dances. I even got to try twirling a giant baton thing with some of the girls.
Our regular Wednesday Tare activities followed...Hindi lessons and rest (this week!) The evening was the highlight of the day for me as the Sangam Family (and we are indeed a family now) joined together with event participants for our special Thinking Day Ceremony.
Carrying the flag in the procession and representing Canadian Girl Guides with Olivia was an honour -- I hope we have done our organization proud during our time at Sangam.
The poolside readings and songs were thought provoking and setting our tea lights afloat at the end added to the overall ambiance. Our ceremony concluded at the Thinking Day tree, adorned with cards and letters from Guides and Scouts around the world.
It was truly a remarkable, memorable day. One for the history books.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Northern-ish Delights

Everyone loves a long weekend, right? Last week, eight of us Tare took a vacation from our "vacation" (working in India) and capitalized on Shiva's birthday, heading further north to explore the wonders of India. We touched down the first night in the super fancy New Delhi airport, however didn't stay long as our mini bus was waiting for us just outside. Hiring a car and driver is a fairly common way to travel here and surprisingly cost efficient. It also makes for an entertaining ride -- the Bollywood tunes were pumping into the night as we made the four hour journey to Agra. Even in the dark, the sights along the way were amazing. Sleepy little villages right next to massive, lit up temples and industrial parks or colleges. At about one o'clock in the morning we pulled over at a random little stand, that was not much more than a tin shed on the side of the road, and had freshly made chai while someone slept bundled up on a cot in another tin shed. Despite arriving at our hotel in the wee hours of the morning, we still managed to get up early enough to enjoy breakfast in the roof top restaurant and have a full day exploring the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. It's hard to put into words what the Taj is like, so I'll show you a photo instead:
It's a pretty amazing building from far away and the closer you get the more you are able to appreciate the details and craftsmanship that went into this marble monument to love. The story goes that after the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan had the hands of all the workers cut off so that they could never build anything as spectacular again. I don't know, maybe that's just an urban legend... Either way, it's size and solidity are indeed remarkable.
Our drive back to Delhi was more eventful than expected -- about an hour into the drive something blew in the engine preventing us from going any faster than 40km/hr. Now, many people might be frustrated at the slow pace (the rickshaws and horse-driven carts behind us for example) but I found it to be a great blessing. Instead of whirring past things at crazy Indian speed, we were able to have a leisurely, scenic tour of the villages and countryside we'd passed only two nights before. Rural India is something to treasure and I wish we'd had the opportunity to spend more time exploring this laid back part of the country. The tranquility was gone as we approached Delhi late in the afternoon...
Exploring the Main Bazaar in the Paharganj area of the city on a Friday night was an adrenaline rush and gave me many opportunities to fine tune my bartering skills. :) Another early morning departure for the first of three long train journeys and my introduction to the Indian Railway system. We're on our way to the deserts of Rajasthan! I love riding trains and wish I had the opportunity to ride them more often; it was one of my favourite things about living in England and travelling through Europe. Indian trains are quite different, especially if you go the way of the regulars and experience Sleeper Class. Despite the steady flow of people getting on and off, and lack of closed compartments, I had a decent amount of sleep on the overnight journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
I attribute this mainly to the lovely pashmina blanket I bought at a shop in Jaipur which shielded me from the wind. I am also thankful for Bec and her jasmine oil which, when dabbed on a scarf, helps to diffuse the horrid smells at the stations. Sadly, I can never use this scent again...
The excitement was building as we arrived in Jaisalmer, ready to begin our desert safari and camel trek. At this point, I'd like to give a shout out to Trotters Independent Travels, the best place in Rajasthan for authentic non-touristy camel trekking ("Unique Safaris from Half Day to 21 Days). The only other people we saw on our whole trek were across the sand dunes at least 5km away.
By far, the camel trek was the best part of this trip. I have done a lot of camping in my life but nothing compares to waking up in the desert to fresh chai after being tucked into bed the night before by your desert guides, with a vast sky of stars to put you to sleep.
Two hours of riding on a camel is more than enough at a time. I think I may still have some bruising. But, my camel Lilyia and my young guide Rohit were pleasant company. If it weren't for the occasional ring of a mobile phone, it was like I'd travelled back in time 2,000 years.
Our three Rajasthani desert men were fantastic guides. Their campfire chapatis and dal were the best I've had to date and we were all mesmerized by their traditional stories and songs.
But alas, all great holidays must come to an end. After 6 crazy days it was time to come home to Sangam.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Hindi 101

मेरा नाम नदिया है मई हिंदी बाल्टी हूँ मई कनाडियन हूँ मई संगम जाती हु अप हिंदी बोलती है

One of the great things about being a part of the Community Program at Sangam is all the extra cultural activities we participate in on our Wednesdays 'off'. A big selling point for me, when researching the program, was that we would get Hindi lessons. I love languages and wish I could be fluent in all but I will settle for knowing bits and pieces of a few.

So, that script above should say (if the 'type in Hindi' button was accurate) "Mera nam Nadia hai, mai hindi balti hun. mai Canadian hun, mai Sangam jaati hun. ap hindi bolti hai" which means "My name is Nadia and I speak Hindi. I am Canadian and I stay at Sangam. Do you speak Hindi?". I can also say a few other things and will now attempt to give you a quick lesson in key Hindi words:
  • jaldi -- fast
  • basa -- sit
  • kitna? -- How much?
  • ha (with a nasal sound -- yes
  • nahee -- no

Now for some important sentences:

  • mujhe _____ pasand hai.
  • I like....

For example: mujhe chai pasand hai. I like chai. or mujhe imli pasand nahee hai. I do not like tamarind.

I really could go on an on about all the great things we're learning to say but what I love most is that I'm starting to use it a bit with the students at Anand Gram as well as rickshaw drivers. We learned a whole rickshaw conversation -- provided the driver follows the script, I'll be good to go.

When I get home, I'd be more than happy to share with you my new knowledge... :)

Monday, 6 February 2012

School Days

It has been about three weeks since Elly and I started our volunteer work at Anand Gram and each day it seems there is something new for us to learn as we try to understand how this school is run.
School officially starts at 11:30 (although sometimes it is 11:15...) with a morning assembly on the outside stage which provides some relief from the heat in the summer. Here, the students are led in some quick calisthenics, they sing their national anthem (which I am slowly catching onto in Hindi!), and recite the Pledge of India. This is followed by Hindu chanting and meditation. Every now and again, a student or two will recite something in front of the whole school, and then we all clap for them. Did I mention that there are about 350 students at this school, only 8 teachers, and each class has anywhere between 40 and 65 students? Yikes! These numbers fluctuate daily it seems. Attendance is .... varied. :) Many of the students come from the villages that have sprouted up around the site as well as those that live at the orphanage there. (Check Anand Gram to get more information about this Society).

After this the students file back into the school and to their respective classrooms and the teachers go off into the staff room for bit. Around noon, the teachers make their way into class. As for our schedule, the teachers have asked Elly and I to teach English to three different classes a day for one hour each, covering Standards 3 to 6 (and now they would like us to do 7 as well). That's a lot of prep!! We've discovered that there are great variations in the English abilities between the Standards (as to be expected) but also huge differences within each class. Schooling in India seems to be mainly rote and the teacher in me struggles with that method, especially in light of recent coursework. However, given the class sizes, I can appreciate the need to teach this way although I suspect that it is easy for kids to slip through the cracks...

There are some other aspects of this school that I have found much more challenging than their methodology. Corporal punishment has been illegal in India for about five years now, but it seems that things are slow to change in this little school way on the outskirts of Pune.
The other week, as the children arrived and lined up in their class groups, if they were not in uniform (or the new one the had just been given) they were either slapped across the face, smacked repeatedly on the back, or (if they were lucky) sent home to change. I found this really hard to watch and it left us both very unsettled. I'm sure my gasp was audible to the students nearest to me. Despite this horrible start, the time with the kids that day was really great, we left feeling enthusiastic about what our impact on the students could be. Conversations were had when we got back to Sangam that day, in an effort to understand this discrepancy in punishment style.

The following Monday, the teacher who had been implementing most of the abuse, made a point of initiating conversation at lunch time about the reasons for this kind of punishment (a term that he used) at Anand Gram. While I do not agree, I a) appreciate his willingness to help us understand, despite broken English and b) recognize that this is part of the culture at Anand Gram particularly and that our Western 'punishment' (discipline, consequences...) wouldn't work immediately. There would need to be a huge shift in belief and practice. Elly and I felt more comfortable after this conversation, knowing that they were aware of our feelings towards such punishments. Conversations around this continued on Tuesday as well. Some of the teachers are curious about how we manage students in Canada and England without hitting them...

So now, I look to the next 7 weeks with mixed emotions. It's hard to feel like you can make a positive impact in a situation that seems to be stuck in the past. I am hopeful that between the two of us we can model some other teaching strategies that promote classroom environments based on trust and respect, not fear. For example, today I showed the teachers another use for a stick -- I made a star pointer to use in our vocabulary lessons. :-) Both the kids and the teachers loved it. Small steps....

All this uncomfortable stuff aside, the kids are generally really lovely and super keen to learn English. Naturally, every class has their clowns, hard workers, helpers, and mischief-makers -- just like at home. But, seeing their smiling faces and hearing echoes of "Good afternoon, Madam. Namaste." every time we walk into the classroom sure makes it all a little better. We've got some real characters that we're teaching and I can't wait to get to know them better.