20.10.2016 - 20.10.2016
I'd be lying if I said the last few weeks have gone smoothly. For sure, we've enjoyed a few trips away, the temperature has finally started to drop and we've even done some Punjabi dancing to a song in Bend it like Beckham; however, the real struggle has been in the classroom and in communication (with both students and teachers).
To give a vague sense of what school life here is like, picture the following:
- The daily timetable seems to change from one day to the next (along with the grades taught).
- On entering the classroom, students surround the teacher shouting 'Mam, may I go to drink water?' and 'Mam, may I go to washroom?', invading any semblance of personal space.
- Any students allowed to leave then appear at the door a minute later shouting 'May I come in?'.
- Despite countless patient explanations, students continue to stand up at random intervals as though their seat is suddenly on fire, blocking the view of those behind.
- The base noise level created by whirring fans and traffic means a loud voice is needed even if students are silent.
- Walking around the classroom and ignoring students who are shouting often results in them tapping your arm or hand for attention.
- Maids and other staff think nothing of entering the classroom without knocking to hand out worksheets and notices.
On top of all that, I regularly have 9-year-old students 'correcting' my English, telling me I'm wrong when I say the word 'pilot' does not have an E at the end. Confidence is not what they're lacking. A couple of moments I'm not so proud of: shutting the door quite forcefully in order to get the students' attention and consequently cracking the wall; and asking the Principle to help with a difficult class, only to watch as she repeatedly slapped eight students and asked me privately not to tell anyone. I'm assuming she won't discover this pretty quiet blog.
One further insight into the culture here can be seen in our Hindi lessons, where we learned the following on day one:
- Come to me.
- Auntie, bring me water.
- Bring me dinner.
- Listen to me.
- Don't disturb me.
- I want to talk to you.
No 'How are you?' or 'Where are you from?', just straight in with the commands.
Fortunately, amongst the headaches, confusion and chaos at school, we've been rewarded when venturing out on some weekend trips. In Rishikesh and Haridwar, we walked by the Ganges with mountainous scenery, saw thousands of people bathing in the holy water, and got chased by two cows who wanted a bite of our street food. We also realised that escaping the path of motorbikes and scooters was pretty much impossible, as even a bridge just one metre wide wasn't free from them.
In Delhi, I had my first heated shower in over 6 weeks, went to a football match (where they begin by shouting 'Let's football' - something even the Australian commentator on Indian TV does), and went 15 hours on two samosas due to our inability to find eateries. Admittedly, there was an area where kebabs were available, but there wasn't a veg option and there were more flies hitting my face than people in London on New Years.
We ended the day in a bar with 'live music', which looked at first to be karaoke with about 8 stationary people sitting on stage looking extremely bored. On closer inspection, it seems the richer patrons would request their favourite songs by sending a waiter up to the band with a handful of crisp 50p notes. The laptop (and their phone) was then used for the lyrics while the cardboard cutouts behind turned into musicians playing keyboards and drums. For some reason, we also had people trying to sneakily throw nuts at us for the whole evening, so when I stood to leave, it looked as though I'd just excreted 20 peanuts.
Travelling on trains anywhere is often an adventure and India is no exception, especially if you're stingy and only ever get the cheapest seats. Personally, I think if you pay more for a ticket, you miss out on some special moments: having a face caked in dirt flying in through the open window; the lack of personal space when non-paying passengers insist on squeezing into non-existent seats; sitting helplessly as the woman opposite puts her feet up next to you and threatens to rip a hole in your trousers with her crusty heels; watching the ticket conductor push an elderly lady to the ground and use a stick to get rid of a hundred people in an effort to control ticket-less passengers; being teased and hit on the head by eunuchs demanding money; and being able to rely on arriving at the destination at least an hour late. Living in a small town also means no one expects us to disembark here, and the train doesn't stop at the platform - meaning we have to clamber down to the tracks, up onto another train and out the other side.
Despite what a lot of the above might sound like, it's great to be here, and we're lucky to be around for so many festivals. Just last week, the streets were thronging with people from town and nearby villages to see the burning of demon Ravana for Dusshera; and yesterday saw many women fasting for their husbands (to give them a long life) and spending the day painting mehndi on each other. Diwali is just over a week away, so with any luck there might be a day off or two