To say that this week was challenging would be an understatement. I am nearly to the one month mark for my stay in India and it has been a hard, frustrating, exciting, and beautiful experience and this week was no exception. Since the summer vacation has ended, most of the projects are starting back up so there has been a lot of work and stress due to lack of funding. Wednesday, I was informed that the children who live near me and I have gotten to know over the weeks are forbidden by their parents to come to our evening school. This is because they are of the highest caste in the village and we allow children of the lowest caste to attend, and many parents do not want their kids interacting with the lower castes and do not allow the other children to enter their homes. This upset me tremendously. I was frustrated because the kids don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to come play and learn here. Although I knew about the caste system before arriving, I had no idea the extent to which many people abide by it. Up until ten years ago, those of the lowest caste were not allowed to wear shoes in the street or go to the same temples as the higher castes. I also didn’t anticipate that the line between the highest and lowest castes would be so unclear to me. The highest caste children still are living in what I see as extreme poverty, yet they are in the top percent of society because they have houses made of cement and are able to afford private school tuition, which costs about five dollars a month per child.
Also on Wednesday, I ate bad fish (surprisingly not borderline street food this time) and spent most of the night wishing I has only eaten 2 pieces instead of 5. A donkey ate through the armpit of one of my shirts, I ran out of bugspray, and I made a baby cry from my “whiteness”. It was a rough day. Dhanduboni (I got a lesson on how to spell his name last week “DEE-YACHE-YAY-YEN” etc) had a rough day as well because he and all his siblings got freshly shaved heads for the first day of school and he had this great hair that was his pride and joy. We recovered surprisingly well though and Thursday was a much better day. My new friend Rajeshwari who recently started working at the center gave me henna and taught me how to make chapatti, my favorite Indian food. My girls are getting better with their English and my Tamil is improving, so it is easier for us to communicate. The attendance for the evening school is up to about sixty kids, ranging from ages 5 to 14. It is sort of wild because the ratio doesn’t really work in my favor, but they are all great and energetic and very easily excitable. A man came to the center a few days ago and said that his 11 year old son really wanted to learn English. So, Thursday I met Logeshkana who wants to be a doctor and is so eager to learn English it is unreal. I told him to write a few sentences about his favorite things and he came up to me beaming with a piece of paper that said “My name Logeshkana. My favorite food rise. My favorite animal goat.” I laughed and told him he was in the right place if he loved rice and goats and he just smiled and nodded. It is hard to know where to begin teaching them because most of the lessons the kids have for homework are things that I was learning in English class when I was their age, but the majority of them say “Sure!” when I ask how school was today. Yesterday I had to read and explain this very detailed story they had for homework about the “detrimental effects of pollution on our planet” after teaching what a noun and a syllable are. The younger girls are probably the most precious humans ever. They come to school early and bring me flowers for my hair and teach me secret handshakes. I am pretty proud of myself that I have learned about 75% of all their names in three days, which is not an easy thing when Prishina, Boomika, and Pothumponi are considered common.
Thursday night Dhanduboni invited me to the temple with him and his friends after the evening school and I walked there with half a dozen 7-14 year old boys holding my hands and arms and talking constantly in a mix of Tamil and English. At the temple, there are different statues of different gods, and you walk around counter-clockwise either one or three times, stopping at each god to pray and light a candle or put holy powder on your forehead. One of the groups of statues represents the planets and you circle around then nine times. At the statue of another god, you hit the ceiling, walls, and floor three times while praying. Apparently I was very fast at this and everyone clapped for me after. They took turns blessing me and putting holy powder on my head and walked me home, only dropping my hands to kill a snake in the road.
I’m not sure the term “struggle” could accurately depict how my week went. Each day there were at least 5 things that frustrated me, but also 500 things I found that I love. If someone had waved a plane ticket to America and a sausage dog in my face Thursday morning, I highly doubt I would have turned it down. Thankfully, these things were not presented to me, because I wouldn’t trade my temple adventures with my 6 small Tamil boys for anything. As someone articulately wrote in both Tamil and English on the notice board at the center this week, “No Pains, No Gains.” All my love!!