The End of the Beginning

My summer in Kasuva, Tamil Nadu India has come to an end. I feel like time has completely flown by since I’ve been here, and yet I have so many new memories and experiences to look back on that could easily fill up a year. I have loved immersing myself into this place and becoming friends with the children, teachers, kitchen staff, watchmen, and even dogs. I’ve made so many new and surprising friends that I am dreading to say goodbye to. Most importantly, though, I learned a lot about myself and the world. There are still kids out there that spend their free time drawing and riding their bikes around to neighboring villages to see friends and it’s been so refreshing to see. We haven’t had tv all summer except for the few weekend nights we stayed in a hotel and caught a World Cup game and that has been a really nice change, though I do miss CNN. My life has been so simple, challenging, and beautiful here and I am so grateful to these people for opening up to me.

These are just a few of the countless people and things that touched my heart these past few months.

.IMG_2056

Our village.

Our village.

Mangos. Enough said.

Mangos. Enough said.

My friend, Tiger. The best guard dog I've ever seen.

My friend, Tiger. The best guard dog I’ve ever seen.

032

My tenth standard English class. The woman in the blue is Shakti Miss, the official class teacher. She is 22 and such a beautiful person.

My tenth standard English class. The women in the blue is Shakti Miss, the official class teacher. She is 22 and such a beautiful person.

187

My sister and future archaeologist.

458 127 442 074 - Copy (2)

Kosi Miss, a care taker and also our acca (big sister)

Kosi Miss, a care taker and also our acca (big sister)

Kumar. His message for me every time he saw me was "Be careful, sister".

Kumar. His message for me every time he saw me was “Be careful, sister”.

Kati, the sweetest boy who was constantly sick

Kati, the sweetest boy who was constantly sick

071 (2) 057 (2)

Deva and Subash, two of the smartest beings I've ever met

Deva and Subash, two of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. They will do great, great things.

154

Sai, my tongachi (little sister)

Sai, my tongachi (little sister)

506 200

Advertisements

Bring on the Monsoon

*Sadly, I am now home from India but have a couple of blog posts I wrote over there that I was unable to share before.

We’re finally starting to get some nice weather in India! Monsoon season was really late this year so the rains that bring the cool breezes have been scarce. Right now I’m sitting outside enjoying probably the most beautiful morning I’ve had yet. The sun is shining, the sky is clear, but there is also a light wind swaying all the palm tree leaves and keeping me cool. Some nights we now need to cover up with our towels because the winds are so strong and we don’t have blankets (never necessary before when it was 95+ degrees). The nice weather is pretty short lived because by noon it heats up again, but it’s nice to go to bed cool.
This week we went to a volleyball tournament in a town about twenty minutes away. It was so fun to go cheer on about 40 of our brothers. We rode the bus with the boys and then watched the games outside for hours. This pretty much solidified our positions as having the worst farmer’s tans in history, but it was worth it :). We had so much fun cheering them on and treated ourselves to ice cream, soda, chips, and this bread/whipped cream sandwich thing from a shop down the street to cool us down.

I also had the best time talking to three of the young teachers at the high school. Two of them are 22 and 23 and I think the third may be just a little older. We started talking because I’m interviewing people for my honors project and they all speak good English but we got off topic very quickly. They all pulled up chairs next to me in the staff room after school was done for the day and asked me about differences between the US and India, my interests, friends, family, and favorite Indian food. They also said they would dress me up in a sari, the wrapped fabric or silk outfits that Indian women wear here once they turn 20ish. I don’t think there’s enough time left in my trip for it but the offer made my day.

 

Bus rides, one of our favorite past times

Bus rides, one of our favorite past times

064

After the volleyball tournament was finished

After the volleyball tournament was finished

Today we went on an epic cycle excursion to check out the area around our campus. We asked the office staff if they knew of any bikes we could borrow for a few hours and they immidiatly dropped their work to brainstorm who they knew that had bikes and called people on the phone to arrange them for us. One thing I really love about Indian culture is their generosity and hospitality. They will do absolutely anything for their guests and friends. Once we got the bikes we took off down a dirt road and explored around for hours through pastures, sand dunes, and little villages enjoying the scenery. It was so nice to get out and see the country side of Tamil Nadu before we leave in 2 short days. We saw some of our students riding around on their bikes enjoying the three day weekend we’re having and they were all so surprised to see us. We usually draw some attention when we’re in bigger towns so I’m sure it was quite odd for the farmers of the tiny villages to see four white girls riding bikes in the middle of nowhere. We also finished painting the mural of the world in the boy’s hostel. They did a lot of the painting and we aren’t perfect artists so things came out a little skewed (Florida is half the size of Central America, for one example) but I absolutely love it and it brings so much more color and life to their compound.

 

The best bike rides are those taken in the middle of nowhere with friends and no shoes.

The best bike rides are those taken in the middle of nowhere with friends and no shoes.

227

296

We found a dilapidated park to have a mini picnic at.

We found a dilapidated park to have a mini picnic at.

252

 

Another Week Down

Just as I suspected, my last few weeks in India are flying by. More volunteers have been popping up at our organization and it’s been really interesting to watch them go through the initial stages of confusion and frustration that comes with living and working in a completely new environment. The more I observe their actions and listen to how their feeling the more thankful I am for our EdGe training, and I guess just my overall attitude towards volunteering. I know that I arrived pretty recently myself and definitely had my share of embarrassments at first, but I do feel like all the effort I gave to immerse myself and respect the people around me has counted a lot and has helped me connect more quickly and deeply with the people here. The most shocking for me is definitely the lack of effort, and it seems like many of the new volunteers are acting this way. Complaining about the food, not coming to meals, and not taking part of the Functional English program even though the staff personally asked us to gives off a really ungrateful vibe in my opinion. Most are only staying for 2-3 weeks- which of course causes a whole host of other problems. The campus is very large and teaches over a thousand kids everyday so there is work to be done if they want to put the effort in, but you could easily get by here with only doing very little. I’m just happy that I’ve been able to put together a routine that keeps me busy and satisfied every day. My schedule is now..

6:14 am: Wake up

6:30-7:30 –Bath the young hostel boys and girls and get them ready for school

8:00 – breakfast

8:30- Teach 14-15 year olds in the Functional English program

9:30-12:30- Pretty much the only free time of the day, work on interviews for my honors thesis, write/research for honors and capstone

1:00-lunch

2:00- English teaching to 12 year olds

4:30- Functional English again

5-6:00-Football time with all the kids after school. I’ve never been in to sports at all but I absolutely love running around with them. We also work on the heritage appreciation project during this time

6:00- Prayer time for the hostel kids. It’s called prayer but since Sevalaya encourages respect for all religions I think the messages are more about self empowerment. All the kids sit outside and chant and mediate for about 30 minutes and then get a snack.

6-7:00- Painting the boy’s hostel. Right now we’re working on a world map and are having so much fun getting the boys to help, too. It was pretty sad in there before because the walls were bare and all painted the same color so I think the change is going to be really nice.

7-8:00- Homework help for the older kids. They already know a lot of English but a lot need help putting written sentences in the correct order.

8-10:00 – Dinner, shower, then bed. By this time we’re so exhausted.

Of course things come up a lot to throw this schedule off but this is a basic summary of my day. Even though I feel frustrated sometimes about the lack of efficiency or impossible requests from the staff (like wanting us to teach four more classes in a row each morning when the text book is in Tamil and are already busy during that time..) , life is so simple here and I know it will be impossible not to miss.

2 Hungry Girls in India are Waiting For Me to Choose a Title For This Post Before We Can Go To Lunch

This week I got to experience some pretty amazing things. Last weekend we spent a few days in Tirupati, a major pilgrimage site for Hindus in the state north of Tamil Nadu. We went up to the temple where I got blessed by an elephant, saw the most beautiful mountain views, and bought some ridiculously tacky souvenirs. It was fun to visit such a loud and busy city but definitely made me appreciate our cozy little village so much more. I spoke with some volunteers from the U.K that were doing a gap year in the city and found out that the caste system is still extremely prevalent there. At the school that they teach at the children are publicly listed on the wall by which caste they belong to, even though it has been outlawed for decades. Girls also are not permitted to read for enjoyment or continue on with their schooling past a bachelor’s degree in something acceptable like engineering. This is such a drastic change from what’s encouraged at Sevalaya, which is equal opportunity for all regardless of caste, gender, and religion. Speaking with them made me realize just how lucky I am to be a part of an organization that it so revolutionary.

Last night I had one of the best experiences I’ve had while in India. A few of the kids in the 7a class we teach everyday (10 and 11 year olds) were performing a drama that they had been working on in a neighboring village and invited us to go. We loaded on to the back of an open jeep with the kids and a few staff members and took off on our ten minute drive. We had so much fun dodging tree branches, laughing with the kids, and watching the sun set over the palm trees. As we drove through the village they were performing in kids playing outside starting waving and running after the bus. We then got out and started marching through the streets singing and playing the drums and tambourine to get more people to come watch. So many of the kids we taught lived there and they were so happy to see us there. As we walked the kids would point out where their uncles, grandparents, and parents lived and would take us right up to them to be introduced even though most spoke no English at all. We got more invitations to eat and have tea with people than we could ever possible accept but we appreciated each one so greatly. Most of the houses were pretty small and some had no electricity but they still wanted to share what little they had with us. The drama was held in the middle of the street in front of a little Hindu temple by the light of a street lamp. By the time it was over it had attracted a crowd of at least 50 people. It was acted out in Tamil so we have no idea that it was about but everyone was smiling and laughing. We had time to have tea with one boy’s family before we had to load back on to the bus to go home for dinner. When we first sat down his mother gave us cold ice water (such a rarity here) and then gave us a mango and biscuits to eat while she made us the most delicious tea I’ve ever had. I had so much fun running around with the kids as they showed me such a major part of their lives.

Unfortunately the fun stopped once we returned home and found that all the power was out in our room. It was so hot that we decided to sleep outside, which was surprisingly uneventful apart from an attack by a massive flying cockroach. Tomorrow we’re going to Chennai to celebrate Hilary’s birthday weekend and hopefully I’ll have enough internet connection to be able to upload some pictures finally!

Mid-trip Slump

 

This week I did a lot of reflecting on how exactly I want to spend the rest of my time in India. It’s so crazy to think that I’m pretty close to hitting my half way point. I studied this country for so many months before coming (and am still reading India books here during my free time) that it’s sad for me to realize that very soon I’ll no longer be a part of it. For future Scholars, I would definitely recommend trying to plan your trip for as close to three months as possible. With only two months it really does take a few weeks in the beginning to get in to the swing of things, and then by the time you’re able to start really appreciating everything you only have a few weeks left. We’ve been keeping very busy by picking up more spoken English classes every day before and after school. On top of that, we’ve finished almost all of our interviews we needed for our heritage appreciation project and my own honors project is coming a long, as well. I’m interviewing a lot of the staff members and the language barrier makes it pretty difficult to convey exactly the question I’m trying to ask, but the personal stories they end up telling me are so interesting so I think I’ll be able to still pull some stuff together.

I already know it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to the kids. We’ve become really close to a few of our students and the hostel kids, and every few days they ask when we are going back to America and when we will be back here. They are so smart and creative and always get the biggest smiles whenever they see us. Right now they’re in a gift giving mood so everyday someone will bring us a drawing or paper animal they made. Because of the kid’s strict schedule we really don’t get to spend too much time with the hostel kids unless they’re in our classes. They get about an hour of play time after school to play hand ball, throwball, and soccer before they have to start studying for the night but this is normally when we’re talking with the old folks. At first their schedule seemed really extensive, and I guess it still does, but I do realize that the staff are just trying their best to let these 80 or so kids succeed. And, honestly, the kids that live at Sevalaya probably do have it better than a lot of kids from poor families that live in the nearby villages. They get fed three huge meals a day, have a very safe place to live, are around educated people all the time, and are really motivated to do well- even if I might think it’s a bit much sometimes. There are so many topics I wish I could explore with them, like getting the perspectives of both boys and girls on the common practice of arranged marriages, but with the time restrictions this will probably be impossible. I would really love to do a big group discussion with some of the older girls and boys and get their opinions on a bunch of different issues so I might try to set something up like that. I’m still really enjoying my time here and hope the end doesn’t get here too quickly. 

3 Weeks In

We finally were able to start our heritage appreciation project this week! After spending some time at Sevalaya we’ve decided it would be best to change our initial idea a bit. We are now spending afternoons with the seniors and recording short biographies about them to display in the communal dining hall along with their picture. The hostel children will be helping us collect these and also help us to write both English and Tamil versions of the biographies. It took a lot of effort to get things moving but we’ve now completed about 20 interviews. The kids are actually really interested in participating, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Every day the hostel kids go to school from about 9:30 am to 4:30, then they have about an hour and a half of play time before they have to start homework and eat dinner. We’ve been speaking with the seniors in the Old Age home during play time so that some of the kids can come with us and also help us translate. It’s crazy that their willing to give up the only time they have to run around to come talk to old folks with us, but I think it really says a lot about their curiosity and willingness to learn. Another weird thing is that the kids that have been helping us are boys about 12-13 years old. We really thought the teenage girls would be more interested, but we’ll take any help we can get! And even though we’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed with teaching four classes each morning, most of the children that are helping us have been our students so I don’t think we would be having as much success without the buildup of teaching rapport. It’s been really cool to see the childrens’ eyes light up when a senior says that they’re from a state far away from Tamil Nadu or that they like cricket too (all the children’s favorite sport). Most volunteers that come to Sevalaya spend a majority of their time working with the children, which is understandable because 60 senior citizens that don’t speak too much English can be kind of intimidating. I really think the old folks are enjoying the new attention, though, because by the time we’ve completed a few interviews ten more people usually come out of their rooms to gather around us.

For our second weekend in India we took a trip to Mamallapuram, a beautiful little beach town about three hours away from Sevalaya. We went by standard class bus and train, which I really enjoy because I’m able to see so many different towns, villages, and people out the window that you can’t if you ride first class with AC. The inn we stayed at was right around the corner from the beach and only 5$ a night per person. We had so much fun seeing the ocean, shopping for Indian clothes to wear, and going to some of the area’s archaeological sites. We also had the best traditional North Indian food!

The shopkeepers there were much pushier for your business than any other place we had gone to. This was because Mamallapuram is really only a small tourist town and it’s currently off season, so everyone is desperate for your money. There were so many talented artists selling their paintings and marble carvings everywhere, some working outside so that you could stand and watch them. This place definitely had the most tourists I’ve seen so far, but nowhere near enough to support all the businesses.

This week I’m going to start working on my personal project for my honors thesis. It’s a bit trickier than Hilary and I’s joint project because my questions are a little more complex, but I’m hoping things will turn out okay. I’m loving India more and more every day and am so happy I’ve been able to experience this country first hand. It can be incredibly frustrating sometimes- especially with language barriers and differences in time concepts, but most things can eventually just be laughed off. I really love how open people are to talking with you. Most people would probably find it annoying to be constantly asked what country you’re coming from and why you are in India-and maybe I will, too, by the end of the trip, but right now I’m enjoying chatting with people about America and getting their opinions on places we must visit. With so many beautiful things to witness and stories to hear, India is definitely an anthropologist’s dream location.

First Week Wrap Up

So far I’m really enjoying my time here. My first few days at Sevalaya weren’t the best but thankfully things are much better now. I’m pretty sure I got food poisoning from a restaurant the day we got in to India and could barely leave my room at first (please guys, be smarter than me and don’t order garlic mushrooms outside of the states lol.. ). That was pretty hard for me because I really wanted to show my appreciation for being there and eat meals with everyone and teach our classes, but it just wasn’t possible. Definitely not the first impression I was going for. On top of that, the heat was a bit extreme at first. There aren’t any thermometers but it’s definitely hotter than any Florida summer I’ve had. It’s been six days since I first got sick though and I’m now feeling a million times better. Even the heat isn’t really bothering me, so I think our bodies needed time to have their own culture shock period as well. I can now easily wear the traditional leggings and a long top or long baggy pants all day with no problem 🙂

Our accommodation is much more than I would expect for being in a rural village in India. We have our own bathroom with a western toilet and shower, a king bed we share and a pretty powerful ceiling fan. We’re fed three times a day huge meals of rice and vegetable sauce that the staff grows and prepares daily. It’s not exactly my favorite but I’m definitely warming up to it. It’s actually really amazing the amount of people they are able to feed for free a day, it has to be close to 200 hostel children, old age home residents, and staff members. The portions are massive and they also give seconds if you want them. I haven’t been able to finish my first plate yet but I’m sure by the end of the summer I probably will. We also all eat only with our right hand- no silverware at all. I’m actually getting used to this and I’ve heard once you’ve mastered it you can shovel food in way faster than with a fork.

All of the staff, residents, and children are so sweet and helpful. Communication really hasn’t been too much of an issue for us. Everyone knows at least a little bit of English, and some of the children know an almost scary amount. For the Social Science classes we’ve been teaching we’ve been doing some lessons on America because all the children seem really interested in it. The first few days everyone drew mini American flags, then they each wrote some facts about the country and we had a few mini discussions on what they already know about it. They all said things like “America is so beautiful!”, “America clean, India dirty!”, and “Obama! Obama!” They also thought everyone was white and spoke English. We tried to explain that America is diverse just like India, but I can understand how it would be hard for them to imagine when they’ve only ever heard and seen pictures of the most lavish parts of our country. Another project we’re going to be starting to hopefully help open up the children’s eyes to other parts of the world is making models of each of the Seven Wonders and writing up histories and facts about them, and hopefully when that is completed other volunteers can make more models of other great things around the planet. Doing this for some of the amazing sites in India would be great as well.

There are a few other volunteers with us here, but the campus is so large that we all are able to easily pursue our own interests. Three siblings are here from Utah doing eye glass clinics and then there are two girls from London and Scotland here on there “gap yah”. They’ve already been here 9 months and after speaking with them our little summer visit seems so short in comparison. This is the kind of place that you definitely need to be shown how to get to the nearest town and what kind of things are safe to eat and drink for foreigners, so I’m so happy we’ve been able to meet them.

In summary, I think coming to Sevalaya was a really good choice for me. It has its challenges but there’s also so much potential to learn everywhere I look, which is exactly what I wanted out of this experience.

Image

This sign is painted in English and Tamil outside the gates of SevalayaImage

Meant to post this last time! Last year’s Global Scholars Katrina and Lee Anne came to the airport to send us off ❤