Adjusting to temperature, culture and early mornings...
One and a half weeks after arriving in India, I'm sat watching the National Geographic channel with a fan spinning at full speed above and AC blowing cold air from the right. I don't think 6 days on the breezy Kerala coast did much to prepare us for these northern temperatures of over 38 degrees. We've been assured however that the temperature should drop come October, so until then, days will likely consist of the short 30 second walk to and from school, multiple daily showers and recovering in the haven that is our air-conditioned room.
Having not received much (if any) information regarding our school or placement, we assumed we'd find out more on arriving. As it happens, we're still not entirely sure which age group we're teaching, the syllabus or even when we'll actually start teaching. One of the plus sides to this lackadaisical approach, is that we were able to spend some time in the southern state of Kerala. Boating along the backwaters, riding a very hot and crowded train in the cheapest seats and yellow stained fingernails from eating thalis with hands, it was great to experience a bit of southern culture (and food) before heading north.
The journey from Trivandrum (now technically known as Thiruvananthapuram, but even after being there for a week, the pronunciation is beyond me) to Barnala involved a rickshaw, two 2-hour flights to Mumbai and Chandigarh, and a supposed 2-hour taxi which actually took 4 hours without a loo break. Arriving at around 10pm, we were taken straight to our homestay where we were cooked an amazing meal and given a letter telling us to be at school the next day for 7:45am.
A few power cuts and a hot and restless sleep later (the AC turns off with the power), we were observing the morning school assembly and having tea with the coordinator. As the students (or 'scholars' as they are referred to) have exams for the next few weeks, we won't actually start teaching for a while. But it's still been pretty interesting to observe lessons and school life.
The entire school uses English to communicate: there are signs everywhere reminding students to speak in the 'international language', and just this morning teachers were being reminded (or rather scolded) by a senior member of staff to use English at all times and set a good example. Every class has an 'English communication' lesson every day, and all other lessons are taught in English. It's great to see, but does make me wonder - why are we here?
It might now be worth pointing out that the English being used and spoken isn't entirely correct or understandable (to my ears anyway). When the senior staff use phrases like 'It's like this only' and 'It's more better to meet at sharp 8 o'clock', it's not surprising we often can't understand what the students are trying to say. So maybe our job will be to try and help with grammar and pronunciation - then again, if the purpose of learning English is to communicate with other Indians, teaching British pronunciation won't be of any use.
On Saturday (a normal working day for teachers), we attended a workshop on time management, which ironically took much more time than necessary. Alongside watching time allegories like filling jars with stones, sand and water, the trainer explained how experienced she was with teaching, training and other pursuits. It came as quite a surprise then, when she prepared to tell us something she never knew whilst completing her degree, teaching or even after: lessons should be planned ... with an ordered list of activities. So apparently lesson planning doesn't constitute part of education training, nor do teachers need a teaching qualification to teach here.
As for the homestay, the family hosting us are really lovely and we are lucky enough to have the entire 1st floor to ourselves. It seems we will never have to cook, as the family have two maids who bring us all our (delicious) meals, including a daily chai break at 4:30pm. They also have two children, one of whom is teaching us some Hindi and loves to tell us stories in English. The only slight downsides are: the wifi doesn't reach our room, and leaving the room means entering a sauna; and mealtimes, chai breaks and cleaning happen at differing times each day, so we always have to be awake and free to open the door on a moment's notice. Of course, being treated like royalty and with no chores to do, we can't complain!
So until we start teaching 6 lessons a day, I'm going to enjoy spending time in the air-conditioned computer room at school, read books by Indian writers, and drink as much of the water and chai brought round to the teachers every 15 minutes as possible. There's no chance of us not getting our 2 litres a day