Monday, December 31, 2007

Home in Vermont

So here I am; I’m home and everything is the same. Sitting in my dad’s remodeled living room and watching the snow fall, I must admit I feel rather relieved. The first breath of chilly Vermont air was, put simply, invigorating. My body is slowly coming back to life. My hair is softer, my skin fresher; the Indian grime is slowly coming out from under my fingernails and the deep-down phlegm is dislodging from my lungs so my voice is rising to its normal pitch.

The morning after I arrived home, I took a shower at my mom’s house and suddenly realized that I could relax my jaw. And I opened my mouth and took a big gulp of beautiful, clean water. After a week at home, I still experience a moment of hesitation before brushing my teeth. "Where’s my water bottle?" Coming home means appreciating routine.

Throughout our preparations for going abroad, the Fulbright crew was warned about the "re-culturation" process. They told us that many times reverse culture shock is actually worse. So I came home anticipating something, and I’m afraid I’m just too comfortable to experience it.

Jessie and Patrick always called me "unflappable," but sometimes I think this was a disadvantage. What I saw in India was shocking, particularly on a humanitarian and environmental level. But the problem is that when you live in a place, and must make it your home, you begin to accept everything . . . at least I do.

My reaction to new situations is to come to equilibrium as quickly as possible, accepting every new person and new problem at face value. This helped me live in my Indian community, but now I wonder if it really helped me analyze and critique it fully. For example, on the way to my bus stop, there was a large heap of garbage. It was separated from the road by a stone wall, but it towered above it. I always tried to cross the road before coming to this mountain of refuse, but I would always look over to see the garbage man who was usually found picking through the pile.

I was relating this scene to my family during Christmas Eve dinner, and they looked at me horrified. As I stared at their faces, I realized, to my chagrin, that it didn’t even occur to me that I should be disgusted. My dad blurted out, "I hope you got a picture of that!" And I, embarrassed, replied that I thought I had. But, to be honest, I must admit that I didn’t. It didn’t even occur to me when I lived there that this might be noteworthy. It was just normal. It was life. It was India.

But how could I accept such a grossly inhumane situation as "just life." What happened to me in India that this could be normal?

These thoughts come to me as I again settle into my life in the larger Rutland area. I’m really looking forward to diving back into my school system and digging my fingers into curriculum and NEASC and even grammar. I’ve got friends who are getting engaged, adopting babies, and becoming pregnant. I don’t want to be half a world away.

Although I’m home and the year is turning over, I think I’ll continue this blog a little longer. I’ve got some saved drafts that I want to finish about Hyderabad, and I’ll also be doing some more reflective pieces. So stay tuned, and happy new year everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Morning Assembly & Eating in India

Here are the other two pieces that were written by my students. Aparna is in class 8 and Anushree Roy is in class 7.
Our Morning Assembly
By Aparna Sarwade (the girl on the right)

Every morning each and every student of all the schools is very much eager to attend school. We students of Kendriya Vidyalaya Kanchanbagh are some among them. After entering the school, we leave our bags and lunch boxes in our classrooms and move in a straight line to the playground. Each and every student gathers at the playground and stands in a row. We have two rows for each class, one for the girls and another for the boys. We all stand according to our heights. Every class has a student monitor who is responsible for the discipline of our class. The class monitor looks whether we stand in a straight row.
Students who sing well stand on the dais and they are called our chorus group. Other students play instruments like tabla, congo, harmonium, and synthesizer. A few in-charge teachers along with the principal sir stand on the dais with the choir group.

We start our morning assembly sharp at 8:30 a.m. We start our morning assembly with a prayer in Sanskrit which means:

"Oh God! Lead me from the unreal to the real
from darkness to light
from death to immortality
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, hi!"

Here Shanti means peace. After the end of our prayer we have a silence for about a minute. Then we have our pledge. A student will say the pledge in English, Hindi, or Sanskrit, and all the other students repeat after him. We hold our right arms straight out parallel with the ground during the pledge.

One student presents the thought for the day along with its meaning. Then we sing a song in Hindi called Vidyalaya Geet. This song on the whole means that students of Kendriya Vidyalaya will make India feel proud. Then two students say the daily news. After the news, we have our special item where students exhibit their talents. Different students are given opportunities to recite poems or stories. They ask us a quiz or sometimes say some interesting facts.
Then we have the community song which could be in one of many languages like Marathi, Hindi, Kanada, or Gujarathi. Then we celebrate the Birthdays of students. The students are given a Birthday card, chocolates and a blessing from the principal sir and their class teachers. Then our principal says a few words regarding discipline and other school activities. At last we sing our national anthem, which we feel proud to sing. We stand with our arms at our sides and our hands in fists.

Then we leave our playground by moving in the same lines to our classrooms. In this way we start our day with such a beautiful assembly which makes our day go smoothly.

Eating in India
By Anushree Roy (the girl in the middle)
India is a country in which every day the sun rises, every day flowers bloom, and every day people as usual get up and go to their work. But even though India is the same as some other countries, it is one in millions. I feel very proud and happy as I am also a part of this exciting country. Wanna know about my experience? OK! Come with me.

I live in Hyderabad city, which is located in Andhra Pradesh, a state of India. I come from a very simple family. My mother is very fond of cooking. She is a very good cook too. She learns many types of dishes from the people of different states and she also makes her own experimental dishes. I am also an expert in EATING food. I like the food that my mother makes, especially the ones that are her own experimental dishes. Here’s one for you. It’s very quick and easy but very tasty, and it is in the list of my favorites. The recipe goes like this:

Palak Poories (spinach poories)
2 cups chopped spinach
2 cups wheat flour
2 tsp. sesame seeds
oil as needed
2 tsp. curd (plain, whole-milk yogurt)
salt to taste
2-3 green chilies
3-4 garlic flakes

Place the chopped spinach in a bowl and steam it.
Chop the green chilies and then add both the green chilies and the garlic flakes to the steamed spinach and then grind them in a mixer and make a paste.
Pour the wheat flour in another bowl and add salt and sesame seeds one by one and mix them.
Add two teaspoons of oil and curd to the mixture and mix well.
Add the paste and make a tight dough by mixing all the things nicely.
Keep the dough aside for two hours so that it becomes a little harder.
Now make small balls out of the dough, roll them and deep fry them in a deep frying pan.
Serve hot with ketchup.

So how did you like the recipe? Isn’t it tasty? Please do try them.

I go to school by bus every day. The bus stand is located nearby our house. I reach the bus stand by 8 a.m. Then I wait for the bus there with my mother. I don’t think that anyone would like to wait for anything, but I do like to wait for the bus. This is because a tiffin center (small restaurant) is located by the side of the bus stand. The preparation of the food starts there in the early morning at 4 a.m. I have already told you that I am very fond of eating food. That’s why I like to stand in front of the bus stand and wait for the bus so that I can take in the beautiful smells coming out of the restaurant. The essence of the food made there really refreshes me as it contains the beautiful smells of the freshly made breakfast and the hot and sweet spices mixed in the food.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A North-Indian, Hindu Marriage

I gave my 7th and 8th class students a project to write a piece about their personal lives in India. Since everything in India is about competition (which really makes sense as there are so many people), I told the students that the best essays would be submitted for publication in an American newspaper. I chose three pieces to send to my city newspaper, and about a week ago they were published. My dad is sending copies to me in India, so I can present them to the students during the morning assembly.
Here is the first winning essay about an Indian marriage ceremony.

A North-Indian Marriage
By Arpit Awasthi (the boy in the photo)

In India, most of the marriages are arranged marriages. An Indian marriage is different in different parts of the country. I have written about a North-Indian marriage.
Conversation Between a Boy and a Girl Before the Marriage

Ayush: What are your hobbies?
Anu: Cooking and designing clothes.
Arush: Which college do you attend? What are your studies?
Anu: D. A.V College. My subjects are Hindi, math, and history
Ayush: (shyly) What are your expectations from a husband?
Anu: He should be loving, caring, and understanding.
Ayush: One last but very important question. Being the only son, I’ll always stay with my parents. Can you adjust to the family?
Anu: Yes, sure.

The Engagement
The engagement is the first ceremony in India done by the couple together. In this, the bride and bridegroom exchange rings. This ring is the symbol of love between them. And after that there is a reception where we can have a chestful of food. People give gifts to the couple and wish them a happy married life.

Wedding: Arrival of the Bridegroom
After selecting a good Muhurat (time) by the priest, the date for the wedding is fixed. The bridegroom, sitting on a horse, comes to the bride’s house. On the way to the bride’s house, all the friends and relatives are dancing. When they reach the bride’s house, there is a grand welcome from the bride’s side. The bridegroom and his family are provided with gifts and the others are given packets of sweets. The bridegroom is presented with a garland made up of Indian notes. All are happy and the music there is so cheerful that everyone would like to dance.

Beginning of the Marriage: "Saat-phere"
A cloth known as a "chunni" is tied to the bride and groom in such a way that they are joined. This cloth is tied to each of them by the bride’s sister-in-law. Then they take seven rounds around the burning flame and while taking the rounds they promise to each other that they will be together for 7 births. The Pandit (priest) is also performing all the rituals and reading all the important Sanskrit slokas so that both of them can lead happy and prosperous married lives.

Putting of "Sindur"
While performing the marriage rituals, putting "sindur" is very important. Sindur is red colored powder that a husband puts on his wife’s forehead, on her hairline. Now, according to the custom, the wife should daily put the sindur on her head. The husband also puts a chain called a "mangla sutra" on his wife’s neck. The wife is supposed to wear the mangla sutra every day as the mangla sutra is a symbol of love between a husband and a wife.

Putting of the Garland
There is one garland putting ceremony in which both of them put garlands on each other. This is one of the funny things. The bridegroom’s friends encourage him to raise his chest so that the bride finds it difficult to put on the garland. The bride’s relatives then will tell her to jump and put the garland on, but she will not. Then, in order to help his sister, the bride’s brother comes and picks up his sister and thus the garland is placed.

Stealing of Shoes
There is one more funny custom in an Indian marriage. The bride’s sister steals away the bridegroom’s shoes and asks him to pay for the return of the shoes. The sister will try to take a large amount for the shoes. This is known as the Juta Churai. Juta means shoes and Churai means to steal. And at last the bridegroom agrees to pay the demanded money and the money is distributed among the sisters. They get their payment for their hard work, because it is not easy to steal away the shoes, since their rival is always aware!

Leaving of the Bride: "Vidai"
Now comes a time full of grief when everyone in the bride’s house is unhappy, especially the father and mother. Even the bride does not like to leave her parents, but now she is married and she has to go with her husband. The bride will be continuously crying and will not agree to leave her father’s house, and then the bride’s brother with come and pick her up. Then he will take her near her husband and then she will settle down in the car and leave to her husband’s house.

Scene at the Bridegroom’s House: "Swagath"
The bride is welcomed at the bridegroom’s house as a new member in their family and the mother-in-law welcomes the bride at the door. Now her husband becomes her god and she has to live with him throughout her life. She has to make the husband happy and take care of her father-in-law and mother-in-law. And thus comes the end of the marriage ceremony.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


So I'm not usually one to show off my hands, but check out my Mehndi! My landlady is starting a beauty parlour, so her ladies took me over one afternoon to apply this henna-based paste on my hands. It took about an hour, and then I was left immobile in my apartment to wait for it to dry. . . a good excuse to catch up on my film viewing! Married women always have Mehndi (on hands, arms, and feet), and often women who attend weddings will also apply it. I think it's also done just for fun around India, however; I've heard that teenagers are having "Mehndi" parties, which sounds so much healthier than those "spin-the-bottle" parties that I remember.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jingle Bells gets funnier

(Don't get excited; I stole this photo from the internet, but isn't it perfect!)
Oh my goodness, I've just got to share this teaching moment today.

So I was asked to teach a group of students two carols for the Christmas celebration on December 22 (which also happens to be my last day in India). So this afternoon I spent some time teaching my classes Jingle Bells. It was fun! I've never had the opportunity to sing, let alone teach, any Christmas songs in my school back home. In fact, I felt like someone was going to burst into the room and arrest me for singing "round yon virgin" and "Christ the Saviour is born." But no one did, and the kids just loved it.

After writing the words to Jingle Bells on the board, I drew a picture of a sleigh and an(unfortunate looking) horse. We discussed the meanings of the words, and of course the "bells on bob tail ring" came up. I gave the students a minute to dissect the suspect "bob tail" word to see if they recognized any parts of it.

And my dear, eager, little boy in the front row lit up. The conversation went like this:

"The horse's tail has bells on it!"
"You've got it; nice job!"
"And!" (he smiled with pride) "And the horse's name is Bob!"

I wish I could say that I respected the kid's effort enough to stifle my laughter. But I didn't.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ellora and Ajanta Caves

So I’ve been really bad about updating the blog on my travels. We had a four-day weekend over the Diwali holiday, and my adopted family and I met up with another Fulbright teacher, Rod, in Aurangabad. We took an overnight train there, and dozed in our five-star hotel (yeah, I can barely afford it here) for a few hours before beginning our first adventure.
We rented a car and driver for the weekend, and on the first day drove to the World Heritage-listed Ellora cave temples. Over a 2 kilometer stretch, 34 Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves were cut out of the rock, each with detailed sculptures. It was a brilliantly sunny day, and we did our best to stay hydrated and sun-screened.
The pinnacle of the trip for me was seeing the Kailasa Temple, the world’s largest monolithic sculpture. This temple is a giant representation of Mt. Kailasa, Shiva’s home in the Himalaya. It covers twice the area of the Parthenon and is 1 ½ times as high. 200,000 tons of rock were removed by 7000 laborers over a 150-year period to create this ridiculous structure. I realize I am simply quoting statistics at you, but it really is just too impressive, isn’t it? The facts speak for themselves.The next day we visited the even older Ajanta caves. These date from 200 BC to AD 650, which is a period of time that is hard for me to fathom. (I kept staring at them and being like, "These are really old. No, really, Erin, REALLY old.) The caves were cut into the steep face of a semi-circle gorge with a river at the bottom. Dramatic, to say the least! These caves contained sculptures as well as paintings, and Evan had a great time running from cave to cave exclaiming, "Another Buddha!"Dare I mention here that I became a bit of a beast during this afternoon? It was a long ride into the caves, involving numerous entry fees and a bus ride, and there wasn’t an opportunity for food during our caving expedition. . . .and those who know me well know what happens when Erin is hungry. For some reason, my travelling companions didn’t seem to notice the fact that it was becoming later and later in the afternoon, and we still hadn’t eaten lunch!
I must admit, I wondered if they were human when we were coming up to my long-awaited restaurant on the ride home, and they questioned whether we should WAIT UNTIL DINNER to eat. The normally placid and easy-going Erin was not having any of THAT. Life became more pleasant that night when I slipped out to the pool for a few laps and a few more fireworks. Diwali was in full swing in Aurangabad, and it is rightly called the festival of lights. Constant explosions were going off all around me, and occasionally a firework would stretch over the tree-line. It wasn’t exactly peaceful, but it was rather boggling to think of how many crackers were going off all over the country. I guess the air-pollution on this day is staggering, although I don’t have a mind to remember the numbers.

Two Incidents from School

Incident 1: My normally quiet and well-mannered 8A class was uncharacteristically naughty in a not-so-nice way the Monday after I got back from the Fulbright conference. They had been a week without any English classes, and there was certainly no call to be bored today, so I began whipping out the threats, acting very angry, and singling out students.

But even after some of my best Indian-style maneuvers, I began to read aloud and the murmur started up again. I glanced up quickly and caught a small student in the back row talking to his neighbor. That was it. He was going down. So I called to him, "You, come here." (As you may recall, I don’t know all of their names.) His eyes widened, but he didn’t move. "Get up here, now!" He stood up but didn’t move, frozen. After a few more pleas, and a few more shuffled steps forward, I walked back, took his arm, and led him from the room. I told him to go down to the principal, tell him what happened, and bring me a note from him. (This had been my earlier threat, so I was going to follow through and be sure my 8A class would come back to its angelic state.)

I closed the doors to the classroom and continued the lesson, but I knew he wasn’t moving. After reaching a stopping point, I gave the students an assignment and went out to talk to the boy. I told him again to see the principal, but he clearly wasn’t taking me seriously. So I again took his arm and started leading him down. When we reached the top of the stairs he started moaning and crying. "Please, madam. I’m sorry, madam!" I didn’t relent. "All you must do is explain to the principal your behavior, and then you can return to class." "No, madam, please!" Then he fell on his knees and started begging me, tears coming down his face. I told him to get up, and he did, but he wouldn’t move. Then I looked down and realized his legs were actually shaking! And I thought, "Shit, this kid’s going to pee his pants right here!"

And I relented. I don’t like to do this as a teacher, but I suddenly realized that this incident just wasn’t worth it. I’ve never seen the principal actually carrying out a punishment, but the students are clearly terrified of him.

Incident 2: This one happened today, also in class 8A. I gave back the half-yearly exams to my class yesterday, and unfortunately there were a few failures as well as a couple incidents of cheating. (By the way, failing is getting less than 26 out of an 80 point exam . . .pretty pitiful? Yes, in my opinion.) Today I was on my way to the class after lunch, when a group of girls and a parent stopped me outside of the classroom.

One of my girls had gotten a 24, and was upset, particularly because she had lost 4 points because someone had cheated off of her. I explained to the parent (with the help of the girl’s friends, as her mom didn’t speak English well) that I could not give any credit to either student for that question, because the two answers were exactly the same and clearly copied. She had only lost 4 points this time, but it is important to learn that giving or receiving answers is not OK. The mother was not aggressive, but she smiled at me and requested that I give her daughter 2 more points. I told her that I do not give points, I only correct what the student has earned. I pulled out all the stops, calmly explaining that her daughter needs to stay after school for more help and ask questions in class. I was sure that if she did this she’d do better on the next exam.

Now up until this point, you might be wondering why I’m telling this story. . . It’s a pretty typical parent-teacher exchange. But then her mother threw a new one at me, "My daughter hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday. She won’t eat."

And what do you say to that? I tried to play it cool. Calmly explaining that this particular test was not going to change her life. In a year, she wouldn’t even remember it. After a few more appeals by the mom, I decided it was time to end the conversation, and told her I must begin class now. Time to make a quick get-away.

The really scary part is that if this girl is this upset over a test in 8th grade, how’s she going to hold up in two years when she’s taking board exams that will put her onto a path for life? I hate to think about it.