The last couple weeks in India have been a whole new adventure. We started off in the volunteer house of the organization we’re working with for the first few days, with an orientation to Indian culture, Hindi language classes and an explanation of the work we’d be doing for the next month.
We celebrated Christmas all together, with a mini plastic tree, Secret Santa gifts, a bunch of Christmas movies projected onto the wall (that we watched with all 19 of us cuddled up into two beds), and a midnight mass that was entirely in Hindi in a church covered in balloons. Christmas day we went to the Jaipur City Palace, which is in the old city where all of the buildings are pink. The old city also has tons of markets and shops that have been super fun to visit too.
After that we moved in with our host families, which involved three hours of confused driving around the city in our van and a minor motorcycle accident but ended up alright. Mara and I are living with a super sweet Auntie and Uncle (basically an affectionate term for any adult in India) and two host siblings named Tanu and Neha. Our Uncle used to be a policer officer and worked as a Peacekeeper in Sudan, but now is a lawyer. Our Auntie runs a dorm house in the top three floors of our house for twenty girls from around Rajasthan who have come to Jaipur to go to finish high school or to go to university. The majority of the girls are med school students, but some are studying engineering or management which is so cool. Most of them speak English pretty well and it’s been super fun to have twenty sisters/friends living with us! We all have dinner together around our living room every night and they’re very into an Hindi soap opera about women who turn into snakes and also there’s a dramatic love triangle but that’s all that I can understand.
Mara and I are teaching a fourth grade class together in one of the public elementary schools in Jaipur, along with four other TBB friends in other classrooms. We’re teaching math and english, which has been a great experience because the kids are super fun and eager to learn, but we also feel weird about it because we’re taking over a classroom with no teaching qualifications and a very limited Hindi vocabulary. The permanent local teachers aren’t teaching in their classrooms anymore and also have no input in what is being taught while they aren’t there, since we get no real instruction what or how to teach. I can’t help but feel like we’re consciously or subconsciously imposing our own values and methods of a western education system in these classrooms, which is so dismissive of local culture and methods, but we have no way of learning about them except through the kids we’re working with. Each day we split the class of 16 in half for math class, where Mara is now teaching her kids about fractions and I’m working on a range of levels in basic multiplication to long division with my students. English class has been different each day, but we’re teaching the kids about opposites, pronouns, and general adjectives through games and stories that we’ve come up with ourselves. The workbooks the students have for math and English also have examples of these, but a lot of them aren’t necessarily correct or have complicated explanations and stories that are very hard for the kids to understand. With the vocab words that we’re teaching, we write the on the blackboard with a little picture next to each, and try to learn each of the Hindi words from the students along with them. Since the school we’re teaching in is public, all of its funding comes from an NGO (aka western money) which has certain expectations for its education methods and standards of English classes, even though that’s not what the teachers have training in, if they’ve had training at all. Many of the “permanent” teachers at our school are 18-20 years old and this is their side job in order to pay their own way through university, but most have no interest in teaching later on. It’s been a great learning experience for me and I’ve gained a lot of perspective on how oppressive western aided development can be. It’s become much more clear how intricate the Indian education system is and how connected it’s issues are to deeper complexities of society, and I realized how completely unqualified I am to even think that one month of teaching in a classroom of 16 has helped in any way.
There’s no chickens or roosters outside our window like in Ecuador and Thailand, but the streets are full of cows (and goats and dogs and pigs and horses and camels and monkeys). I know you probably know that cows are sacred in Hinduism, but they’re literally everywhere. Taking a nap in people’s front yards, hanging out on the side of the road, stepping out right in front of tuktuks, causing traffic jams and accidents because they casually decided to cross the highway… Also each time a batch of chapatis is made, the first one is put out on a plate in front of the house for a cow to eat. And I’ve seen people selling vegetables at markets/on the side of the road feeding like half of their produce to cows nearby. The cows also are owned by families but they live freely around the city and are fed by randos and come to sleep at home at night (also it’s one of the greatest sins if a cow happens to die on your property, and you have to visit all of the holy cities in India if that happens).
The food has been spicy even when it’s not spicy, but I’m learning. Mara and I realized that basically all we’ve eaten for the past three weeks has been like 50 different kinds of (vegetarian) stews. And every meal consists entirely of mini sandwiches, since each bite is a piece of chapati (or naan or parahta) with a little bit of the stew. Also chai three times a day and pomegranate in everything has been absolutely wonderful (also rice pudding and fruit raita and paneer).
Altogether India has been a super overwhelming but also amazing experience so far, and I’m excited for the next few weeks. More updates to follow!