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I suppose that i happen to always come to India at the right time. Last time I was here during Dewali and now I am here for 4 different festivals! Sunday, the third, was Friendship Day. On this festival, friends give each other bracelets to celebrate their friendships. I received bands from 6 people! 

Today, Monday, is Teej. It is a festival celebrating women. It is mostly for married women, but most women celebrate it also. We get dressed in our best clothes, wear make up and get Henna (Mehindi) on our hands. Mala and Afsana did mine. I have not taken a picture yet, but I will add one as soon as I do. There is a special pattern of sari that married women wear for Teej. It is a colorful wave pattern (see the below picture) 

It is India’s Independence day on the fifteenth. And then, on the sixteenth, is a festival that celebrates brothers and sisters. Sisters send their brothers bracelets called Rakhis and their brother’s wives Rakhis to hang from their bangles. They also send  cousins Rakhis. We already went shopping for them!

 

The last time that I was here, I was friends with a girl named Nandani who attended Pratham Shiksha. She did my henna on Dewali (See the picture below). I have just found news that she is married and pregnant. Yet, she is only 16. She came by yesterday to give me a friendship band and I have seen her wearing her Teej sari and all of her married attire. I can’t believe she’s younger than me! And already pregnant, too? It is so sad because she can no longer go to school, and she is so young to be pregnant. If she does not have money to sustain a child’s life, why bring one into the world? The thing is, this is not very uncommon in the lower classes. Sumeeti explained to me that these people accept a child as g0d’s gift. They cannot even sustain their own lives, let alone another human being. Yet, the poor continue to have more and more children. Mala was telling me that she has four brothers and sisters. And they all live in the same room. I can’t even imagine! 

This is the largest problem in India now. The overpopulation of the uneducated. They do not understand the problems of having many children, only that there will be more hands to make more money. Yet, this money continues to be spent on the food all the children need to eat. These illiterate parents cannot afford to send their children to school, to clothe them, to provide a decent place for them to live. They vote for the corrupt politicians because they do not know better. And just because they can’t read? I cannot even imagine an adult human being who cannot read. It is hard just to process in my mind. It is so uncommon in the US. I realize now how hard it is not to understand a language which everyone speaks and reads and is on all the signs, etc. I cannot even imagine having the only language that I can speak and understand be all over buildings and on food packages and books and not be able to read it! 

 

This is why Pratham Shiksha is the perfect institution. Instead of just a temporary solution such as donating to a poor person on the street, it gets down to the deep root of the problem. Now these children will learn and be literate, and will hopefully pass this on to their children. While solving their own problems by getting a decent job, they are also helping their country by cleaning up politics and getting involved with a suitable knowledge of what is going on. And, if the country is better, we are one step closer to changing the world. 

 

Thus, I have renamed my journey: Changing our world, one Student at a Time.

 

 

  • The first picture is of Nandani, me and Mala. The second is of Laksheta (Poorvi’s best friend), Poorvi and Suhani on Teej. The last is a picture from the Pratham Shiksha’s Teej celebration. The kids are the winners of the henna competition. All of the teachers are wearing Teej Saree’s.

 

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Saturdays for Work

Another big difference: India has a six day working week. So, although today was Saturday, I still got to go to the school! But, we had a fun day, as it was Saturday. So, we made pictures out of felt: houses and balls. There weren’t that many supplies, so we had to glue everything and cut everything for the kids, on account of one bottle of glue and two pairs of scissors. 

Then, I taught the kids more songs. We worked more on Baa Baa Black Sheep, but it was hard because there was such a difference between the students. The older children got the song right away, but the younger ones still had trouble remembering all of the verses. We ended up giving up on Baa Baa Black Sheep and we moved onto “Down by the Bay,” which is a song that I was very fond of when I was little. Its not a traditional nursery rhyme, but it is fun and the kids liked hearing me sing it. Only the older kids could sing it and remember it, but it was a lot of fun anyway. Then we moved onto “One two, Buckle my shoe,” which was the perfect song. The younger kids could say the words because the verses were short and the older kids could completely remember it (which was a good feeling for them). When I made up hand movements it was even better, because it helped the younger kids remember the whole song and they all had a really good time doing them with me. Eventually we got up to “five six, pick up sticks,” and the word “Sticks” was very hard for everyone except the teachers.

By that time, we stopped because it was already 1 and one of the children began crying because he was so hungry. It was heart breaking. 

 

After most of the children left, along with the crying boy (a kindergartener), some of the older kids dragged me to dance. These were Lokesh, Haseina and Afsana. There were also a couple younger children. They turned on the radio and we danced. I taught them some step dancing and they were very excited. We did a lot of spinning and twirling. Then we played with some balls and the younger children. It was very fun!

 

For the rest of the day, I went sight seeing to places that I’ve never been in Jaipur. I visited Jantar Mantar, which is a bunch of astrological equipment that tells time and the positioning of the heavenly bodies. There is also one big device that is called “Stairway to the Stars,” and It is a huge stair case that creates a sundial.

I also visited Hawa Mahal (Hawa = wind, Mahal = palace), which is a large palace that one of the princes constructed. It is a large screen overlooking the city which acts as a wind tunnel almost, and you get a huge amount of wind, which is so relieving. It acted also as a place for ladies to go and overlook the city’s processions. At the time it was built, ladies could not show themselves in public, so thus it acted as a screen so they were not seen. There are pictures of me in Hawa Mahal and overlooking the city below.

After those two, I visited two temples. One was in the mountains and was for the g0d Hanuman and the other was in the city and for the g0d Krishna. The latter had a ton of monkeys, which were rather terrifying.

Here are the pictures:

Opening Eyes

My stellar English class training has finally come in handy! Throughout my journey, I have noticed a common theme: eyes. 

My trip has opened my eyes to a bigger world, rather than the small bubble I usually live in. In fact, I have opened the eyes of everyone I have come in contact with. As I learn about India, they learn about the US. One of the first things that we are taught in life is to color in the lines. Do not stray from the line, do not stray from your path, do not stray from your parents, etc. Day to day, we wake up, shower, do our work, eat, go to bed. In our habits and rhythms, we don’t move around. All we think about is waking up, showering, working, eating and sleeping. While I’m in school, stressing out, I rarely look outside those lines. Whether they are physical or metaphorical, my lines block me from being able to expand my thinking.

My trip has allowed me to break those barriers. My mind has taken in knowledge of other places, other traditions, another culture, and other ways of life. And now, I can spread my knowledge to people who don’t know about this other culture. By this, we all become a little bit more tolerant of one another, creating an understanding that can hopefully help us get along better in the world. Because in today’s times, especially in the US where diversity is such a big factor, we don’t have time to not get along.

Here are some of the things I have noticed that distinguish India from the US:

In India:

– There are so many colors, you are almost overwhelmed by them all

– They learn the UK English. Some notable differences: Z is pronounced as “Zed” rather than “Zee,” Math is called “Maths” rather than simply “Math”

– Their schooling system is completely different: the competition is huge, the only decent schools are private ones, schools end relatively early (around 1 or 2), their summers are in May and June rather than June, July and August, and they begin specializing in a subject before college.

– The traffic here is terrible (see below post from last trip)

– The government here is democratic, but very corrupt. The high ministers don’t care that much about the people and they don’t keep up monuments, sewer systems, or public schools. Two days ago, it had rained very hard and the entire roads were flooded in some spots because there were no good drainage systems.

– There is so much more poverty here. I think in the US, there is still a considerable amount of poverty (i.e., homeless, etc.) but the government hides them by providing shelters and other things. Here, the poor live in tents on vacant lots or on the side of the street. Its pretty shocking at first, but then you get used to it.

– I always feel like I say thank you too much, because people don’t say thank you very much. Maybe they do and I just can’t understand.

And there are so many more. The thing is, it is hard to compare the two, even though you can come up with many similarities and differences. The history here is so much different than the US. But as my trip goes on, I realize that the US is actually different than everyone else. We are the only country that has so much diversity, and we are the country of immigrants: there are very little Native Americans left. Our country is so young, we have relatively few traditions compared to other places around the world. Here everything has a traditional meaning, and I think Indian people must feel like they belong and know where they come from. I think American’s have a harder time with this point just because its hard to decide who you really are, where you come from, what your traditions are, etc. At least I feel that way. 

Every day here, I feel like I see more and more. I do physically see more things, but as I begin to understand more Hindi, I unlock a world which was formerly just gibberish to me. Now I can sometimes understand what people are saying to me, and this helps me understand who they are and what they do. 
This is my deep blog for the night. To tell you a small bit about my day, I went to the school late on account of jet lag. I met the new principal, and taught the youngest children “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” They didn’t really understand that “have you any wool” was only in the first verse. Then I  went shopping for presents and then went to Chokhi Dhani, which means “Good Village” in English. It is a remake of a traditional Indian village, similar to something like a Renaissance Faire, where the people dress traditionally and there are games and dance shows and traditional foods, etc. It was very interesting to see these traditional things, which has partially spurred my writing above. The houses were originally made of cow dung (the houses in Chokhi Dhani were only made to LOOK like they were made of cow dung), there were man operated ferris wheels (I rode one, it was very fun), camel and elephant rides, many different types of dances, traditional handicrafts, and a traditional dinner. It was very enjoyable. I love learning about old history and the way people used to live in simpler times. 

Here are the pictures of the day (all from Chokhi Dhani):

Jaipur, Day 4

Today, I have again gone to the school. Since it is the last day of the month, the end of the working month, the school celebrates by having a fun activity day where the senior students (fifth grade) become the teachers and the teachers take a break. They deserve it!

The kids were supposed to play outside in the park (there is one close by), but it rained so hard that we couldn’t go outside. Instead, we sat in the main room of the school and the kids taught me Hindi words and songs. I learned words for fruits, questions, and a song. They asked me to teach them English songs, but I couldn’t remember any! And, of course, I remember them all when I’m not at school. So, I have been keeping a list of them. 

The kids have all seen that I am still wearing Mala’s green bracelet. I have already received a bracelet from a girl named Haseina, earrings from a girl named Afsana and another bracelet from Mala. I feel bad accepting the gifts, as the children do not have that much money and have obviously spent much buying these things. I love them all nonetheless and continue to wear them a lot. There is a picture of Haseina giving me the bracelet (shown below). I am also wearing the earrings that I received. 

The rain continued and the electricity went out. I took many pictures and a video of one of the Hindi songs. 

Here they are:

 

And the video:

Jaipur, Day 3

I am almost completely used to India. I have started integrating Hindi words into my daily vocabulary, just about gotten over jet lag (I still go to bed late), and am used to the food, sights, and smells. I would say it takes about a week. That’s why short vacations never work. 

Today, I have gone back to the school. I worked with all three classes. In the kindergarten classes, I helped draw work sheets and went over letters. In the 1st and 2nd class, we worked on basic words, spellings, and counting orders. In the last class we worked on math. At one point, I made up my own activity and the kids didn’t get it at first, but once I showed them they figured it out. The coolest part was that no one had to translate for them, we communicated completely on our own. By the end of the lesson, they were all very excited to participate and laughing at my funny accent when I said yes and no in Hindi. 

Here are some pictures with the older class. It was a bummer, one of them wasn’t zoomed out. The good thing is that I have two and a half more weeks to get a good one!

Jaipur, finally!

The place I dream about being. Seriously. I am so happy to be back. 

My first day in Jaipur consisted mostly of getting over jetlag. I slept in late, read my book, played with Poorvi and Suhani (Sumeeti and Puneet’s children, 2 girls of 4 and 7). I also went shopping for my first Indian clothing, Salwar Suits.

It is surprising how easy it is to get used to something if you have already done it before, even if only for a short time. The drives, the smells, the sights are no longer shocking to me. Instead I notice things like the expressions on people’s faces as they continue to stare even as I shake my head in hello, which still shocks me. In the US, we have so many “taboos” on certain things, such as staring. Most are understandable to me, but that is probably because it is to me, rather than to someone who is not American.  That is something I have noticed from international travels in general. Every country has a taboo, and it is hard to figure them out. Sometimes I think things are different, but then I think about how people feel when they look at the US from the outside and then I don’t feel so different. I also visited a beautiful temple when the weather was nicer in the evening. 

Today, I got to visit the school as I woke up early enough. There were familiar faces and new faces, but all were shining and of course, staring. I said hello as the children waved. I visited all the classrooms and I looked for the students that I had remembered over such a long time away. They were in a new building with marble floors, but about the same size as the other school. Although the fans were on, it was still very hot. I worked with the eldest class, reading english stories and doing math problems. All of the kids were very excited to read for me or answer problems. It was very flattering. I finished the day by correcting spelling. Tomorrow I am helping the youngest class, making worksheets  for the ABC’s. 

I hope to be able to go to the school everyday that they are in session. It is hard to communicate, because my Hindi is very limited and very bad. I try to understand, but everyone here talks very fast and it is hard. It is only my third day, so hopefully I will catch on and do much better. 

I am very excited for what tomorrow will bring. I will post more then. It is very late, and I am very tired. 

=]

Delhi and Gargaon

Upon arrival at midnight, Om Prakash and Shushee flagged me down in the airport and guided me to our car. Walking out of the airport was like having a flashback, but with all new appliances. The airport was remodeled since November and the exit is much more appropriate and convenient than it was before. The smells, sounds, sights that I came in contact with outside of that airport brought me back to the first time I had that same feeling. 

To keep it short, we drove to Sumeeti’s parents house. I was welcomed, as hospitable as ever by her mother and sister-in-law. I went to sleep on a very large, hard bed seeing as it was already very late. I woke up to the sounds of my door being slammed against the wall and the cries of “Shubh, nahi [no in Hindi]!” And there Shubh was, Sumeeti’s nephew, staring at me from my doorway. 

Then, I met Samir, Sumeeti’s brother (Shubh’s father) and Sumeeti’s father. Everyone was so friendly and wonderful. They made me a great breakfast with so much food; there was no way I could possibly finish. These efforts soon to be something I have become very much used to (already after only 3 days). Their hospitality was more than I could have ever asked for. It was wonderful. 

We then visited Qutub Minar, the only monument I did not see in Delhi on my last trip. It is a tall tower, designed to see the entire city from the top. It started raining very hard while we were there, another weather temperament I have become used to. We also toured Gargaon (the city they lived in, right outside of Delhi). Apparently, it is the new and upcoming spot in India, only five years old, undergoing a lot of construction. In fact, they were explaining to me that there is an entire street entirely devoted to shopping malls! We drove through it. Huge! I don’t know how they all compete with each other!

We embarked for Jaipur around 4:00 in the afternoon. The drive was four hours, but there was traffic, as expected, and we stopped at a Hotel/rest stop area for a little while. I slept for most of the time. As I began to see familiar sights through my window, I knew we were getting closer and closer to Jaipur, and my excitement built. We didn’t arrive until 10:00.