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Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's in a day? Part 2

I've described the first half of the day; now let me continue...

1:45- I walk to Chetna Bharati. It's about a 10-minute walk, through the compound where I live, then up the road, then along a narrow path. During my walk, I pass multiple cows, maybe some goats or a pig. I always receive unwanted stares from others walking along the road or from people in passing vehicles. There isn't another foreigner for many miles around, so sometimes people gawk. My presence has even been the subject of several articles in local newspapers, some more accurate than others. I have copies of 5 of them. I know there are at least 2 more where I am either talked about or in a picture. Who would've thought?

Anyway, when I arrive at Chetna Bharati, I am greeted with even greater enthusiasm than when I walk to school in the morning. "Good afternoon, didi (the affectionate word for sister)!"  The girls are often finishing lunch when I get there, so my arrival prompts a flurry of activity as girls finish eating, wash their plates, and come up to class.

The girls living and studying at Chetna Bharati are grouped according to ability: there are red, yellow, and green groups.  I teach the girls in the green group.  They range in age from, I'd guess 7 or 8 to maybe 14. I haven't taught them what in the U.S. would be a normal introductory question: How old are you? Most do not know their age, nor do they know their birthdays. When they were enrolled in the program, if these facts were unknown, their ages were estimated and each was given a "birthdate."  I was talking to someone here about birthdays and was told that celebrating birthdays is a fairly new thing in India because community has always been more important than individuals.  I know there was more explanation given, but that's all I remember.

2:00- Class starts with the ringing of the bell, again a metal disk that is hit. I greet the girls and ask, "How are you?" Most now answer, "I am fine, thank you," but some enthusiastically say, "I am thank you," which I then correct. Incidentally, I have recently taught them other words to answer this question, so after the rote group response, I ask individuals the same question. "Happy" is a common response, especially because I ask a follow-up question like "Do you want to dance or jump?" (Those are thing I might do if I'm happy.) After they answer, they get to do that action.   For a laugh, someone may answer, "I am sick," which prompts me to ask, "Are you very sick?" If the answer is yes, then there is a vomiting gesture made by the "sick" girl, causing great merriment for all.  If someone answers hungry, the follow-up is something like "Do you want to eat an elephant?" The whole class, 2 hours long, goes like this. Lots of laughter, lots of movement, as they act out vocabulary or stand and practice new questions and answers with each other. I've also taught them Simon Says and Mother May I?, both of which are wildly popular, especially when I let them play the part of Simon or Mother. We sing, too, the most recent song being BINGO. I'm sure the teacher next door is not too happy with all the noise we make, and I do try to quiet the girls down sometimes, but honestly I don't want to dampen their joyful spirits or enthusiasm for learning. As far as I'm concerned, if their noise is in English, it's fine by me! I have only had to be stern with the whole group twice over my three months and rarely do I have to say anything to individuals about their behavior.

3:00  There is a 5-minute break in the middle of class, and we often don't even realize an hour has gone by until the other groups walk through (they have to go through our room to get to/from theirs). Those who want a break go and come back quickly. Many choose not to go and will check out whatever I may be getting out of my basket for the second half of class.The second hour goes equally fast.

I have to say the two hours at Chetna Bharati are usually the best hours of my day. I am continuously amazed and crazily proud of how much English the girls have learned. I'm told that my teaching-style is quite different from the average Indian teacher. Knowing that some of my girls will get the opportunity for further schooling, I only hope their enthusiasm for learning is not squelched by more conventional teaching styles.  My results have been so positive that I was asked to lead several teacher trainings while I've been here, an unexpected and wonderful honor.  I have also been observed numerous times by various teachers. My success makes me realize just how much I have learned from my own teachers, teaching colleagues, and students and I am ever grateful to them for helping me become a better teacher.

4:00- When class ends, I drink tea, usually accompanied by good conversation with any of several people working at Chetna Bharati. This is usually a time when I hear and learn about the social activists and movements going on in India.  Topics might include right to education, land rights, women's empowerment, or more recently, the emerging details of the murder of a nun working for the rights of coal miners. She was brutally murdered on November 15. Investigations are still going on, but one of the contributing factors leading to her death may have been that on November 16, she was going to help a rape victim file an official report denouncing the rape. As I'm typing, I have to stop because I don't even have words to express the horror of it.

4:30 to 6:30- After my tea/social justice education, I return to the compound and convent. By this time the cows and goats may be on their way home, sometimes with obvious human accompaniment, sometimes without.

Often when I enter the compound, the girls from the hostel are cleaning the campus. This includes picking up trash, sweeping all areas, whether paved or dirt, burning trash, and preparing their dinner.  Some of the youngest girls will come running up to me to have the privilege of carrying my basket back to the house. If there are more than 2 girls, I'll hand out individual items until they all have something to carry.  When I arrive back to the house, the sisters are usually sitting at the table having their tea and chatting, so I often join them for the conversation, not the tea. Of course, if there are good snacks, I may eat something!

After tea I usually go to my room and check email. If I washed clothes in the morning, I take the dry clothes down, fold them, and put them away. Sometimes I'll read or write a little.

6:30 to 7:30- We gather in the chapel for evening prayer. Before entering we take our shoes off. Many of us sit on cushions on the floor (sitting on the floor is standard practice in many situations here);  some sit in chairs. There is a rotation for leading prayer. Each of the 8  sisters and the 2 candidates takes a turn. I also joined the rotation after I'd been here awhile. Prayer is conducted in English, though sometimes Hindi songs are used. Usually there is a lot of quiet time for reflection and there is always time to share our prayer petitions. I am so grateful for this time. I am particularly grateful for this time on the days when I walk into the chapel ready to scream. I always leave feeling much better than when I enter. I hope I will have the discipline when I leave here to continue making time for quiet reflection.

7:30- Dinnertime. The meal includes leftovers from lunch, some new vegetables, and, once or twice a week, meat. I am vegetarian, so there is a paneer (mild Indian cheese) dish for me when the sisters eat meat. After dinner, as at the other 2 meals, fruit is served.  Because the weather is cold now, hot water is served to drink. Most of the sisters don't drink it until after they've eaten. I usually drink cold water and drink it throughout the meal. After dinner everyone participates in the cleanup, clearing the table, washing and drying the dishes, and putting them away. There always seems to be laughing and joking going on during this time, but actually there is a lot of laughing and joking at most meals or any time a few of us are together.

8:15ish to 10:30ish- After dinner, the sisters watch the news, sometimes in Hindi, sometimes in English. After the news there's a soap opera some of them watch. I may watch the news, but always go to my room before the soap. I get ready for bed, which lately includes putting up the mosquito net, something I didn't have to do often when I first arrived. Then I'll read, write, maybe listen to my iPod, and go to bed. And after sleeping, it all begins again...

The description that I've given here is a workday. It seems that almost every week, we have a day off for a holiday or a special program. This week we didn't have classes Monday because of the English medium Annual Day program Sunday. Friday we only had a 3-period day because of the high school's sports day starting in the late morning. The school week is supposed to be a 6-day week (with a 1/2 day Saturday) but most often the school week is 4 or 5 days, at least while I've been here. I am only scheduled to teach Monday through Friday anyway. I go to Chetna Bharati 4 days a week, whether school is in session in the compound or not.

That sums up "regular life" here. Of course, traveling interrupts the routine.  This weekend I'm in Mokama  for the SCN bicentennial celebration and in a couple weeks, I will be leaving Chatra to travel a little more in India (including going to a wedding!) and then Spain, ending any sort of "regular life" until I get settled in Palestine in mid-January.

Until I go, I'll enjoy the last few days of the routine...

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