Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 33/end

"Ye mehra india, I love my India."
I am currently on the plane back to Umrika. This is probably the weirdest flight I’ve ever been on; only because it has cool TV options, with a touch screen monitor on the back of every seat. As soon as I got here, I began voraciously pressing buttons. The only problem is that the airplane is totally possessive of our attention. Every time an announcement comes on the movie gets interrupted by a boring detailed analysis of how the flight will go or whatever. I mean, it’s actually kind of nice that the pilot talks, but the flight attendant is like really bad at reading out loud. Plus, American voices can be harsh on your ears after 5 weeks in India.
I met two women in the airport named Geeta and June, because I was eavesdropping on them talking about what you do if you are going somewhere after going to Chicago, and what you should do with your luggage. June was Southern, white and wide and had apparently just met Geeta, when I heard her say, “No, I’m here all bah mahself. I’m doing somethang I’ve never done before in mah life. “ Upon hearing this, I promptly turned around. I was so abrupt about it that they noticed and talked to me. The two personalities before me couldn’t have appeared more different. Geeta was tiny and seemed very tired. She was Indian, and has lived in America for over 30 years, still sometimes saying sentences like “What school you are going to.” (I punctuate it with a period, because that is how it is said, it’s a common Indian English mistake.) By watching her speak, I could tell that she was reserved, and took time to phrase what she would say. When talking to her, she would often continue speaking after I thought she was finished. Some part of me felt like she was just being polite to Joan, but she seemed in spite of the reservation, truly interested. June, on the other hand, was loud, eagerly conversational, very large and very happy. And me, somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, and somehow not feeling out of place.
We discussed India, as June flamboyantly detailed her unpleasant encounters with the airline and with the non-toilet paper possessing bathrooms that are so prevalent, especially where she does religious missions. She would’ve been annoying, but she was just so endearing and so friendly that you couldn’t think a bad thought. She told us about how she gets flashes of the future, and how her friend who was her interpreter had a twenty minute conversation with Jesus, while she shrugged and modestly said, “I wish I could do that!” Somehow knowing that we could all sit there and talk about India and June’s cats, made me really hopeful for the human race.
And now I must tell you about my last couple of days; they have been filled with shopping. We bought kurtis and books, and I even got a new Death Cab CD. I am now totally worried that maybe not everything got packed… because I didn’t actually physically pack my own suitcase, Bhua did. I neurotically felt like re-packing it, but Bhua was getting upset. Oh I almost forgot. My hair is straight now. And it will be, for a while, which is hard to think about. I know it’s controversial to say, but I really liked having curly hair, and you know, it was kind of sexy, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so, but it’s also really nice to not have to touch my hair or anything and have myself still look presentable.
I’m watching Shrek the Third right now, so I’ll get back on this in a bit.
Okay I’m back. And it is more than a bit later. I am sitting comfortably in my study. I think it is time for me to tell you about my last day with the kids. My hair was newly straightened, and I was feeling really new, except I wasn’t wearing a belt with my outfit that really required one. Abhinav had developed photos of them to give them, and I woke up ridiculously early after having passed out during a conversation the night before. We didn’t have lesson plan. We didn’t want to try and teach them anything on my last day. It was fun.
Everyone was like, weirdly amazed by me. “Good Morning, ma’am, you are beautiful, ma’am!”
I ran around with the camera, videotaping the babies and children that come into the center and taking masses of pictures of the kids. They were so excited to see their photos, and even one of the women whose child was getting a checkup wanted to keep a picture of me and my grandparents. All the women at the center made a big deal about me, putting a sari on me, putting a bindi on my forehead, putting a chain across my hair. They painted my nails, while trying to set me up with my cousin, which gave us a funny story to tell my Bhua afterwards. With the both the boys and the girls, we had a little party where we gave them weird fruit cake flavored muffins which they loved and played with them. The boys all danced with me and tried to teach me their Bollywood moves. We sang Love Me Do, which I taught to them and is their new favorite song. I took about a million photographs with one of the most charismatic babies in existence and her mother. Throughout the day, I started feeling more like a giant ball of mush.
As the girls started arriving (they come from school in groups of two or so), Anjali handed me a beautifully decorated card that said “I miss you I love you” . On the inside it said, “Thank you teach me English. I will never for get you. You are beautiful.” She shoved a pair of earrings into my hand. I thanked her and I gave her a kiss. I like these kids better than a lot of people, they legitimately cared, and they showed it. When Saima came in, she handed me a letter that was similarly filled with short, meaningful sentences that make me tear up a little when they’re written. We didn’t get to have much of a party with the girls as we did with the boys, because they had to finish their meeting, and I’m only there for the first half of their day. During their meeting, Jyoti performed her duties as president, while putting mehendi on my legs. It kept on accidentally getting smudged by hand gestures and people’s shawls. With five minutes left before Bhua was coming, and Jyoti just starting on my second leg, I started to become frantic that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye properly to the girls. Abhinav handed me the phone and made me talk to a frantic Reenu Bhua who thought the mehendi would get all over the car if it was on my legs, because she still believes I’m seven years old. Meanwhile, a little kid handed me a pair of earrings and a bracelet and said, “it’s from Heena.“ I asked where Heena was, and she said, “Oh, she left.” Abhinav tried to chase her down, but to no avail.
As Jyoti finally finished I told the kids I had to go, and that I loved them, and thank you for all the amazing times, and that I loved being their teacher and that I loved all of them. I don’t know if I actually said all of this, but this is how I felt. This all happened in like one minute though, so I probably didn’t say it all. The little kids at first were like, “Okay, see you tomorrow” and then they realized it was my last day, and they all stood up. I said I would miss them, and they said they’d miss me, and I started leaving the room and they followed me. I went and hugged Anita and the staff, and the kids swelled around us like a symphony. Anita started to say goodbye, and that I should come back, as all the kids were shouting, “Goodbye Ma’am,” “Come back ma’am” and then one child said, “Don’t go, Ma’am.” Then they all started asking me not to go, saying “Please don’t go, ma’am!” Suddenly it was just a burst that happened inside of me, and I just started to weep, because I didn’t want to leave. I loved these kids, even only after two weeks with them. I loved them and their incredible potential, their willingness to learn, their resilience, and their love of life. I loved that they had opened up their world to me, they had talked to me like I was one of them, they had learned and loved “Love Me Do”. They didn’t really know what to do when I started to cry, except Sweeta, the program coordinator, gave me a hug, and Katherine gave me a hug, and Sinku gave me a hug. Then I started gingerly walking to the car with the mehendi still on my legs, wearing just one shoe, as the children followed after me. They came up to the car, blowing me kisses and telling me they loved me. Bhua, unphased by the 25 or so young children bidding me farewell told me not to get anything on the car and scolded me for getting mehendi on my legs, while the children waved and waved until we drove away.
I guess I’d never really felt that way before, as if someone really needed me or wanted me in their life, enough to feel my absence when I’m not around. I mean, of course, my family. The children had enjoyed me, they had found me to be a good role model and a good teacher, and with all my clumsiness, I never thought I could be.
If you want to know, I’m glad I went to India. In fact, I’m infinitely glad I went. It has given me the most perspective I could’ve asked for. Just to see how the life is, how so many centuries of wisdom coexist together, how the culture evolves, yet stays the same, how a value for material things makes service better, how people can solve the world’s problems and still ride around in a three-wheeled vehicle peddled by a man on a bike. It’s surprisingly akin to me. I feel like this big vast multicolored quilt is very close to me. When people would ask me how I like India, and if it was different from home, I’d say, “Yes, it’s different, but it’s still my home.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

डे 31 और डे 32

Because I haven't had a USB camera cord in so long, I thought you deserved some pictures.

Days 3-5 021
Sonu Mami's painting on the veranda

Days 3-5 085
Guitar store in Bengalaru

Bangalore and Delhi 005
Malvika on Guitar

Bangalore and Delhi 014

Rooftops in a Middle Class Neighborhood in Bengalaru

Bangalore and Delhi 085

Nana cutting a mango
Bangalore and Delhi 092
My fabulous majestic Nana

Bangalore and Delhi 015

A young child I saw on a corner

Bangalore and Delhi 026
On my long rickshaw ride to a children's school

Bangalore and Delhi 045

Malvika and I in her apartment (taken by Akshay)

Bangalore and Delhi 069
Nana got invited to tea with the queen

Bangalore and Delhi 075
Nani leads others by example

Bangalore and Delhi 096

Bangalore and Delhi 105

Bangalore and Delhi 189

Bangalore and Delhi 219


Opening Books



Present Tense

Jeevan Nagar








Fufu Leans Back

Why So Serious?



The End!!

Photos available on Flicker
and they sell prints in good sizes (mummy and papa).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Day 27.28.29

Day 27/28/29
So here is how it all went down. It is Monday and Abhinav and I are getting up and going. W are also exhausted. We get to Asha and find that the boys class is having a meeting. They have a meeting once a week to discuss one public health issue and one social issue. I was very tired and so was Abhinav, so we kind of sat there and watched until I sort of nodded off. I mean, it was all cute and everything and it’s really great that they are educating the children about things like contaminated water and gender roles, but when they just keep saying the same things over and over again in Hindi you start to fall asleep in your chair. Which is what I did. It’s kind of the same reason I don’t go to Hindi movies that often.
Then anyway, Abhinav and I were like, they’ve been having their meeting forever but we’re still here… can we take their class or leave or something? And then Anita (the principal of Balmandal) said, “You can take them now.” So we took them and we taught them prepositions, which they are really damn good at. The boys can be really intelligent to the point that they wow me. Of course there are one or two that don’t understand it as well, or don’t understand anything. Abhinav and I decided to split up their classes. The Asha Health Center is very small and open to the outside, meaning there is no door, but just a part where you walk inside. This means that random civilians can hang out in the schoolyard, usually in small groups of slum children. There are these big windows in our school room with little box shaped bars to shield from the outside, but no windows. Occasionally during class, small children will put their hands on the bars from outside.
In the lag between the boys and the girls, I left the room to play with the cute babies whose mothers take them to the center for free vaccinations. After I was done with the babies, I went to the computer room to play solitaire, at which point Abhinav entered the room and asked, “Where’s your bag?” I thought he was teasing, because he always makes weird jokes like that, so I was like, “I don’t know, where?” and he said, “It’s not with you?”
We went back to the schoolroom and looked all around for my purse which was nowhere to be found. Abhinav asked Anita to look for it, and she was like, “You kept it by the window? Someone must be taking it.” I became really annoyed because everyone was staring at me and saying that I should’ve known not to put it by the window in their broken English. As time passed, everyone was talking about me and my purse in very apparently. The girls were all chatting amongst themselves and the little girl who says rude things about me said more rude things about what I was wearing, even when I told her I could hear her. The kids were in general, really nice and tried to cheer me up by making me ride a bicycle that didn’t have breaks. I kind of refused… not wanting to add injury to insult. Kiran’s husband, Freddy, made a call to the center and said a few things to make me feel better.
So we left and I called Papa and had him cancel my card. And Bhua pulled this horrible prank by telling me that the wallet she gave me was a Louis Vuitton worth 15000 USD. She laughed and laughed at me after I felt all horrible. We went to a restaurant called Kitchen and got comfort food and then went home and I ate some kind of bread pie that Bhua made. After that, Abhinav and I went to Mocha (this really hip coffee joint that looks like a harem and has hookahs and sheesha) with Abhinav’s friend Ishan. That was okay, but the crème brulee they served was not actually crème brulee but peach yogurt with brown sugar on it. It pissed me off beyond belief. Just as much as the cheesecake. It started to rain when we were leaving and my sandals with the cloth soles got soaked.
The next morning I began to feel really upset about this whole thing. We were running late and we got stuck in traffic three times. I was filled with fear that they would hate us for being so late and that Katherine, the girl from Harvard who has just come back, would outshine us since I’m late and I was stupid enough to leave my purse in sight of a window. When we arrived twenty minutes late, I was surprised to see all the children sitting in the room with Anita. When they saw me, they all jumped up and smiled. “Mil gaya!” Anita told me a long involved story about how she had seen my face after my purse was stolen and how upset I was, and that there has never been a robbery at the school before. She said that they went to the schools and took all the boys out and asked them if they knew anything. All the children insisted that they respect me and Abhinav and wouldn’t take my purse, but some thought they had seen a certain kid, who used to go to the school, but was kicked out for being too naughty, on the roof. On the roof, they found my purse, empty and in a water tank, and they tracked down the kid who said he hadn’t done it. After meeting with his parents, the five ladies who were searching retrieved my wallet, cell phone, medicines, and debit card. The only thing missing were a few makeups and all the money in the fake Louis Vuitton wallet (about 1500 rupees). I was so moved by the fact that these people would care enough to do an investigation to find my meager little purse. As Anita and the women handed me my purse, the boys jumped and hooted for me. They asked me if I was happy, and I said, “Bohuth Khushi Hai.“ They locked it up for me and told me to be very careful in future.
After that, everything was good at the school. Katherine came and taught the boys with us and we got to know her a little bit. She is tall and blonde and goes to Harvard. She is also trying very hard to learn the Hindi alphabet and read and write Hindi. She is picking it up very fast for a foreign person and I would know because I myself can’t even read Hindi. (It’s really easy, but if you don’t take the time to memorize the letters you will be screwed.) The language is very straightforward, but there is a letter for each sound, so it’s harder to remember all of them. Even some of my Indian family don’t remember all of them. Katherine is cute. She knows a few Hindi phrases that she mispronounces, but her point gets across and that’s all that really matters to most people. She is very teacher-ly unlike me and Abhinav-- we tend to be more like Didi and Bhai to the kids. We discussed the children and how some of the girls are less advanced than the other girls so it’s hard to know what to teach, and we split them up into two classes. The little girl who insults me actually started to read and I think it made her a little less ill-natured.
After we get back from volunteering and eating a little meal, we come home and we have tea. Mariam gives us these awesome cookies that we dip into our tea that taste really good when the tea hits them and we lounge around on Bhua’s bed and Abhishek comes home and hangs with us too. Abhishek is a neat fellow, I think he’s more reasonable than Abhinav and Bhua sometimes, because they get hooked onto little details and jump to conclusions sometimes, and he tends to take the opposite viewpoint, which can be refreshing. He told them that they shouldn’t take me out for desserts and then tell me that I shouldn’t eat sweets, which I found to be quite an astute observation.
Today I started walking the stairs. This is because I am sick of eating, but sometimes can’t get out of it. I went to visit Nana and Nani today and got stuck in traffic on the way there and back. I started to get a sore throat in the car on the way there and we stopped at one of the ice cream stands. Then I got to their house and they gave me kheer and chaht. I didn’t eat a lot to compensate for eating the ice cream. When I got home an hour later, Abhinav wanted to get an oreo shake because of his birthday tomorrow…. And of course I couldn’t be like, “No I don’t want one” because then he wouldn’t want one anymore and I still have a sore throat, so I said all right. Then we got back and they offered us more food. So I had some raita and rajma and chicken that I could’ve done without and then I felt sick for a little while and started to write this post and fell asleep for a while. But I’m serious, I’m going to stop eating so much because people expect me to. It’s really a problem. I just find it really difficult to say no. Tomorrow is Abhinav’s birthday. Meh, I don’t know where this sore throat is coming from but I get the feeling it’s because of the constant temperature changes and AC.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Day 27/28---Not Yet!

Day 27/28
Soon to come. I’m sorry. I really apologize. But I have to go to bed. Like for real, otherwise Reenu Bhua will murder me with an ax. I know I’m behind. But this is a great story (sort of) and I want to do it justice.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Day 25

Day 25
I know that this is my fault. I was supposed to be going to sleep, but instead I didn’t. I have a headache and I don’t want to post right now. But you want one, so here goes.
Ye List of Day 25 or 25 things about Day 25 (and 24)
1. It is freezing in Delhi. It is so cold everywhere, because it is so overly air-conditioned in every establishment and everyone is used to it and enjoys it. For example, if I sit in my perfectly normal temperature bedroom with no AC and no fan on, people come in and ask me why. When I tell them that I feel fine, and this is the way I like it and that the AC makes me sneeze they walk away with confused looks on their faces.
2. The cheesecake in India is not the same as the cheesecake in the US. It is made out of some weird whipped stuff that people abroad do not like, because it is not actually cheescake. Unfortunately, it looks just like normal cheesecake.
3. Mocha and the Big Chill are examples of how India can be much cooler than America. Nowhere in America can you smoke Apple flavoring. Nowhere in America does a coffee house also sell pasta and crème brulee. Also the Chinese food is better.
4. Indian clubbing is not nearly as cool as American clubbing. Despite the fact that my 19 year old cousin can get underage alcohol, all you do in Indian clubs is lounge around.
5. Kids are great, unless they don’t know you understand Hindi. There’s a little girl who doesn’t understand English who thinks that because I suck at speaking Hindi that I can’t understand it, so she talks about me in front of me, which is annoying but makes me feel oddly powerful. Also, I’m her teacher. So yeah.
6. Weight loss tip: If you don‘t love the food you‘re eating at a restaurant, don‘t finish it. Have it packed. Then give it to beggars.
7. I don’t like having maids. Because they come in and “clean” and then I don’t know where anything is.
8. Don’t do anything incriminating or say anything too cute. It will get repeated to every member of the family.
9. Everyone here thinks I’m totally fat and cute. They continually pinch my cheeks and talk to me in a baby voice.
10. People also have a tendency to assume I don’t like Indian food. Like Miriam, the maid, she was like, What do you want to eat, because I can’t give you daal and roti. And the little kids were like Do you like burgers or hot dogs? They get all surprised when I say I like curry.
11. I am trying to do SAT prep by reading these “SAT Skills Insight” things about what skills you should practice to score in the next band of math. Only I started at the lowest one to make sure I don’t miss any. I told Abhinav to administer an exam for me.
12. Tomorrow Reenu Bhua is taking me for a haircut and straightening. I am scared, because many people I know have expressed deep love for my curly, thick hair, and maybe it will become straight and thin after this cut. I hope it looks okay.
13. Sparkly makeup is unappealing at most times, unless used in very small amounts. This is because sparkles are impossible to get off.
14. When you’re really fat and lose a ton of weight, you don’t lose the skin that housed the weight. So then you need to lift weights or get the skin removed or something.
15. Nobody stops talking about weight over here. It’s like everyone’s favorite topic.
16. I don’t know if you’d know this, but Indian phones are backwards. The off button is where the on button would be and the C button tries to delete things. I think this has something to do with the whole driving on the other side of the street thing.
17. I think Abhishek hates me, because he hangs out with his friends all the time and hasn’t spent more than a half hour in my presence at a time.
18. Abhinav does this thing where he pretends to take a picture of you with his phone and then says, “Nice picture,” and makes like he’s showing you your picture and he shows you a picture of the dog.
19. My new nickname for Reenu Bhua is ReeBhu.
20. I don’t like sweets as much as my family thinks (this is a general statement not applicable to my current habitat). It’s just that Papa and his side of the family think I like sweets like a lot, but I actually hate them in most cases. (The cases involving over-decorated cakes and super sweet cookies, and large portions of ice cream and brownies.)
21. We are “clubbing” with Abhinav’s friend tomorrow.
22. Also, I have to go back to work tomorrow which I am sort of dreading. I doubt my ability to wake up in the morning. Also, the girls are not on the same level with each other, so it’s hard to guess who’s at what level. I am thinking of doing some private classes with people. Also, it’s really awkward sitting around for our lunch break because there is open space for like 2 and a half hours, which would be a great time to sleep, but we don’t get to because we’re in a school and people can see us. Also, I just started the last three sentences with the word also.
23. The dog, Bruno, is very cute and probably a bit cleaner than Ivy. Little did I know, he gets his baths in my bathroom.
24. The car is entrapped by precipitation and condensation sometimes, because it is very cold inside and very warm outside. Arun Fufu spent like twenty minutes trying to get it to stop yesterday night to no avail.
25. I like it here. I know it doesn’t sound like it because I keep talking about being fat. But it is nice to be with family especially Reenu Bhua, because she is big and cuddly. Abhinav would be too, but he’s skinny now.