Brooke Ramsay

Brooke Ramsay

Namaste. I am a 20 year old Canadian girl who enjoys hiking, reading, and cuddling. I am embarking on my first cross-continental adventure- to India. I will be stationed mainly in Jaipur, working with a four-week Women's Empowerment and Development Program, and then taking two weeks to see more of the vast country!

A Snipet of May 30th Journal Entry

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 1:57 pm  India  Comments Off on A Snipet of May 30th Journal Entry
May 312011

Today was such a brilliant day at ‘work’. So much so that I was walking on sunshine while I ran my errands after school.

Remember in elementary school when you’d write your name vertically on the left side of a piece of paper, then describe yourself (without a trace of modesty, of course!) using phrases or words which corresponded with the letters of your name? Praise whichever teacher introduced me to this project, because it provided a fantastic day with the women and children!

As I have said, part of the struggle of this teaching atmosphere  is the wide spectrum of established knowledge (I’d like to refrain from calling it a spectrum of abilities). This is particularly true with the women. For this reason, we have worked one on one or with two students in order to supplement each individual learner. This is especially frustrating for students like Gora who feel left out. I also think it’s important that the women work together and socialize in this environment. A small art project which suited all levels worked very well. I was so happy to watch Gora beam at the words she learned in order to explain herself, and as we oohed and ahhed at her drawing! Mamta helped Ganga (who is just mastering her ABC’s and beginning to sound out words) to write words like “nice”, and even searched through our Hindi/English dictionary for her. I think I have mentioned that Mamta is likely the most bashful and self-conscious person I have ever met, but today was a different story. She completed a worksheet regarding location words (upon, inside, between, etc.), barely asking for help, and today hen she spoke she did not cover her mouth in her usual manner. Small steps…

To be honest, I think that knowledge of English is of secondary importance to self-confidence and world-awareness improvement for these particular women. Of course their English education, like all education, does this in a magnificent, powerful way, and goes hand-in-hand with more education. But, I am also a big believer that encouraging the women in other ways will have a direct positive impact on their lives. We have discussion topics one day a week. We pose some questions and give a bit of information and then the women discuss amongst themselves in Hindi. We hear as much as we can, but so much is lost in the translation. Last week we talked about the importance of education for their daughters. All the women encourage their daughters a lot in education, and I know that a small amount of girls are completing a bit of college before getting married now. The women in this way are like mothers/parents everywhere… wanting better for their children than they had for themselves.

The conversation branched into the topics of their daughters’ life before marriage. Before coming here I assumed that the people would recognize some aspects of their traditions are taboo in the Western world, and that they would shy away from conversations about them. But, this is absolutely not an issue. They are straightforward. The women are completely assured and open about the fact that they prefer sons to daughters, and one has even justified that to me because when Raksha Bandhan Festival occurs their daughters would be sad without a brother. (Raksha Bandhan signifies a brother’s lifelong protective vow over his sister and a sister’s wish for his well-being) Our group of women forthrightly said that it is “part of the culture” to, if their daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, either have the male’s family pay for an abortion, or “chop” the daughter up and tell everyone she is away at college or with relatives. They even said that if they didn’t want to kill their daughter, the culture reigns and they would have to follow tradition. It wins out in all situations. (I want the reader to know that I am not making generalized comments about all Indian women, just our small group in Ambedkar Nagar!) I know this topic is of lots of interest, but expressing it may be best done in person…

We were told that the reasoning behind recruiting international volunteers is that it means more to the locals to know that a Westerner would travel with the purpose of helping THEM. Now, to be honest, I don’t see the truth in this. While the justification of this philosophy was apparent to me on our church’s building trip in Mexico, here there are factors which don’t support it. A mix of the fact that our students don’t have a concept of the world around them (we taught the seven continents and most didn’t know they lived in Asia), and that volunteers from all corners of the world are in-and-out constantly, seems to make for a lack of any thoughtful consideration, on the students’ part, of the volunteers’ motivation. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the stereotype that all Westerners are wealthy. If students perceived the magnitude of effort many volunteers have to put forth just in order to come here, or that they choose the only vacation time they have to help Indians, wouldn’t there be more punctuality and attendance? But, around here we go with the flow… to put an Indian spin on things: the Taj Mahal wasn’t built in a day!

Our girls class has expanded and now regularly houses 10-15 girls aged six to twenty. It is a blessing that our youngest, Monika, is exceptionally bright and eager to learn- she surpasses the older students in some ways! Everyday she comes early with her cousins Shivani and Radhika (two intelligent sisterns who come from a family who affords their private education). Monika plops down and asks, “Brooke-mam?” while she holds her hands out ready for a clapping game. We play hand games to speedily count by odd and even numbers, and by five, and name all the English words we can under any chosen category. She always wants to learn- and I hope she is given as much opportunity as possibly to continue to utilize her potential.

Like clockwork as we walk to a tuk-tuk every afternoon, Susana says, “What a pity, so much wasted potential here.” She’s right.

Some Random Thoughts & a Trip to Pushkar

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 11:29 pm  India  Comments Off on Some Random Thoughts & a Trip to Pushkar
May 282011

Each day in India is full of a myriad of moral questions. Not just about the life I comfortably lead at home, but also, of course, how to act here. Is it right to pay a man to pull me in a bicycle cart, and watch him strain through the heat as I sit? Is it right to ignore the beggars that approach me on the streets? Is it right to be feeling annoyed of all the times I’m stopped for a photograph or stared at? How do I respond when women share openly that if their daughter was to get pregnant out of wedlock the family would “follow tradition” and pay for an abortion or kill the daughter? Should I partake in religious activity at the temples we visit in order to experience the ‘culture’? Everyday here is a day of contemplation.

On Friday, Susanna was unable to come to our Hindi lesson, so I embarked on the little trip myself. As I stood on the side of the road flagging for the usual auto-rickshaw, a man peddling a cycle-rickshaw approached and convinced me to hop in for the 3 km ride. I was, before, quite sure I wouldn’t venture on the roads in one of those things, but the streetss are not as busy at that time, and I must have been feeling adventurous!

The ride was interesting. I felt completely safe, probably even safer than in a tuk-tuk, because the speed had a nice, calming effect. But, it was so awkward and uncomfortable to see this skinny little man in front of me exerting a tremendous amount of energy in 45 degree heat, sweating and never sitting on the bike seat, as he used his entire body to pull me along. I had such an urge to hop out and start pushing the bike, and can’t imagine how hard one would have to work to pull more than one person, or luggage. Every stop we made I offered the man some of my drink, but he always refused. Even with this discomfort, I ended up feeling better about riding in this way. Of course it is more ecologically efficient, but I also know that if someone did not desperately need a way to make money, they would not resort to this method of earning income. It is hard work, and it is honest work. I paid him more than we had initially agreed on when we stopped. I feel better knowing my money went to this man than to a man in a tuk-tuk- I think the cycle-rickshaw driver may just be the hardest working man in India.

This weekend Susana, Eli (Germany) and I took a day-trip to Pushkar, which is a town 130 kms away from Jaipur. It is a pilgrimage site for Hindus, as it holds the only temple in the world dedicated to Brahma (the god of creation). We were up early to catch the 6:30 am public bus. Here they joke though about running on Indian Standard Time- which seems to me to mean whenever is convenient! We arrived at the bus station at about 6:10. The site was incredible, and saddening, with over 30 homeless men, women, and families, laying on the cement floor of the complex. We had to maneuver around bodies to make our way to the ticket counter. As soon as we purchased tickets and got on the bus, it began moving. It was only quarter past six, but as I have said… Indians just rock on when they want to!  A good lesson for future bus-travel experiences!

A public bus in India is a hectic way to travel. Too many close calls, too many games of chicken. After we transferred buses at Ajmer for the 20 km remainder of the trip, we traveled one-lane, winding roads up a rocky mountain. I was reminded of Flin Flon on this leg of the trip- but the graffiti on these rocks was, of course, written in Hindi! And there weren’t hearts with lovers’ names inside! Apart from the large rock formations, the whole trip passed stereotypical desert scenery. The trip was bumpy but certainly more comfortable than I expected.

When we arrived in Pushkar we were dropped at the ‘station’, which was really no station at all, but a line of buses and people surrounded by fruit and drink stands. We could buy one-litre bottles of water here for rps. 10, the equivalent of a Canadian quarter!

The town is quite small, and we were able to walk entirely through it in four or five hours. It was nice to be in such a quiet place, a welcome contrast to the constant hustle and bustle of Jaipur. As it is off-season, we were some of the only tourists around. The shopping here was much different than in Jaipur, a real lack of bartering! The shopkeepers in Pushkar were fine to watch us go, and did not pressure sales in the least… maybe they are also enjoying a lazy off-season!

We were fortunate to be guided through the Brahma temple without charge by a young student of the temple, who may have just been excited to be with Western girls and practice his English! I would not have learned so much without the guide. I did my best to tour the temple with an open mind, but I find some of the idols of the Hindu gods to be disturbing to look at. The central Brahma figure was set up with a mirror behind it so that the faces were multiplied, and here our guide instructed us to place half of the collection of flowers he gave us at the bottom of the temple as an offering to Brahma. There were hundreds of Hindus in and out of the temple doing the same. After this we went to the basement of the temple where there is a “wishing room” which walls’ are covered with individual prayers and there is offering plates.

Upon leaving the temple we took the three minute walk to Pushkar Lake where we were each paired with a quasi-priest who led us through a prayer to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. I did not like praying and saying “Pooja” in worship of these gods I do not believe in. I suffered through trying to embrace the culture, but it was not nice at all! We each performed a strange ceremony with different significant powders and other symbolic items. I was told to name my family, friends, and “life partner” in order to pray for their well-being, and then after was treated horribly by the ‘priest’, as he told me that they would all have bad karma if I did not “give 500 ruppees to the poor, starving children”, and that my good life at home depended upon giving lots of money to people here. I finally had to tell him he was being mean. I should have had the guts to just get up and walk away once this started, because it was a very uncomfortable experience which I wouldn’t recommend, even if you do want to partake in the culture. I spent the rest of the day contemplating this strange occurance, and feeling like I needed to apologize to my God.

We also entered a very modest Krishna temple on the outskirts of the town. Everytime we enter a temple where people are worshipping I feel intrusive, but the group of women with a few small boys were so thrilled we were there! They spoke no English, but performed a dance and song, motioning for us to their photographs as they laughed and held hands. It was an amazing welcome, one which I don’t think we would get had it been during tourist-season.

Religion is just so important here, and I have been enjoying reading Gandhi’s autobiography as I experience so much Hinduism everywhere. So many individuals here live every aspect of their lives (so it seems) according to tradition and to their faith. The different dress, diet, and lifestyles are all symbolic of people’s religion, race, and class. There are especially so many symbols for married women- many, many more than a ring on a left hand. Married women wear two (never less) toe rings, a red bindi, a red powdered line through their hair part (to signify a wish for their husband’s long life) and dress in saris everyday (as per most husband’s expectations). Even amidst all the modernisation I have seen, traditional ways dictate most aspects of behaviour. I was apalled at my Hindi lesson Friday when my teacher (who I had previously pegged as an elitist, there are always 5 or 6 servants around her pompous home) was explaining different ways of addressing someone in Hindi, and stated that the informal friendly way, “tum”, would be “improper for a street person to use this term, as they are uncivilised, not like us.” I stared back blankly after this comment.

Classes this week went well, although it is difficult to be in the uncomfortably hot classroom for four of the hottest hours of the day. I was so filled with joy on Wednesday- there was a special presentation of scholarships during classtime, a big procession for these children. The scholarships are used to send the children of Ambedkar Nagar slum to private school (the public schools here are notoriously awful). It was a nice little ceremony, sitting on the cement floor, with pop and cookies and many proud parents there with their children. The two top scholarships were awarded to Gora’s two daughters (who attend my afternoon class daily), and she was beaming as we sat together. How fantastic! In our discussion later I realized how much she believes in the importance of the education of her children, even when she has not had any formal education herself. As all the students went to accept their awards individually, they stopped to pose for a photograph with their award, having to force back their big smiles. It is rare here for anyone to smile for a picture, and I felt that in this situation it was such a shame! Each child, when heading back to their seat, grinned from ear to ear with pride. I held back happy tears.

I truly planned to write more about what’s been going on with school, but I have spent too long now at the computer screen! I am off to read more Gandhi and work on Hindi- I am writing short sentences now!

Will write very soon.


“Tomorrow I’m sick, but today I’m thirsty.” (Quote, Verena, fellow volunteer before accepting tap water!)

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 5:18 am  India  Comments Off on “Tomorrow I’m sick, but today I’m thirsty.” (Quote, Verena, fellow volunteer before accepting tap water!)
May 242011

So… on Friday we went on a fieldtrip! I must share a little background information to see why and where.

On Susana and I’s first day of school, we were asked many questions! One of them was, “Are you Christian?” (Shivani). She has a fascination with religion, a really interesting thing to see in someone of age 14. She has since been asking daily if we can take the girls to a Christian church. I was hesitant of this idea. As we are representing an Indian NGO, I was concerned that some of the parents wouldn’t want their girls to keep attending school if there was such field trips. I am glad Suzanne was so persistant in taking the girls on Friday, because it ended up being a very incredible day!

As I have said, 10 girls and 4 leaders piled into ONE tuk-tuk. I spent the entire drive thinking I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if anything happened to the girls and I hadn’t spoken up against the idea adamantly enough. Every little bump we hit I grabbed as many of the girls as possible and prayed! I also had to refrain from screaming at one particular driver who thought it was appropriate to ride our tail. I actually hate the lack of safety.

When we arrived at the Catholic church, it was closed! There were three security guards who said there was no way we could enter. After a bit of begging and the  look of disappointed childrens’ faces, one sympathetic guard unlucked the church. It was built in what looked to me to be a gymnasium. High ceilings but no peaks, and it was quite large. I had a feeling of being at home there, after being in temples and surrounded by idols of Vishnu, Ganesh, etc. But, I was struck by, after seeing these temples filled with icons, such a similar layout of the Catholic church. There were miniature statues of Jesus on the cross, stained glass depictions of the Last Supper, and large statues of David and Mary around one massive crucifix. I viewed these icons in a different light after I had reacted to other icons with odd feelings in the Hindu temples.

We were blessd with an Indian nun who was so happy to explain many of the traditions of this church to the girls. While some were listening half-heartedly, I was honestly AMAZED at the reaction of one sweet girl, Pooja. Pooja is 16 and incredibly quiet. She is half the size of me, and is constantly hunched over. She has a lazy eye and is hesitant about any eye contact, so shy and frail. She is quite bright, but keeps her mouth shut so you have to really dig to discover this! At the church, she completely lit up! I was looking at a new girl, who seemed at home and uplifted! It was astounding. She was tugging at my arm and speaking to me in broken English, and I was so sad to not understand what she was trying to communicate. I told her to talk to the nun, and after found out some amazing questions she asked the woman. She was very thoughtful, asking, “How could a God be killed by men?”, about how Jesus could have fed so many with so little ‘chipatta’ (bread), and who Mary was. The uneasiness I felt about the field trip was washed away by just this one girl’s immense interest. I can still hardly imagine that Pooja, one of the most insecure girls I have met, was up at the front of the group asking direct questions to a nun! The nun was also gracious to sing a hymn for everyone (in English) and the girls were delighted. How exciting that these young girls are interested in more faiths than their own, and that their families are open to exposure.

Saturday at 2 am a group of eleven of us left for Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It is about 5 hours from here, and the ride was so cramped! We booked one ‘van’ and one car. I was determined to keep everyone as positive as possible in our too-close-for-comfort space… but I was having some claustrophobic issues! Thankfully, I have adjusted to the roll with it attitude and made the most of the trip… I knew it would be worth it once we saw one of the Seven Wonders of the World! Very glad we arrived in Agra around 7, because there was already a large amount of tourists. Foreigners pay 750 rupees for admission, and Indians pay 20. We were there at a time of mostly Indian tourists, and many, many foreigners were arriving as we left. I know that it is a tourist place, and people are familiar with seeing Western styles there, but I still could not believe what some females decided to wear- short shorts, tube tops. I found it very disrespectful. But I definitely saw  how white people stick out like a sore thumb, I understand why people stare at us everywhere we go! Haha.

The brilliance of the Taj Mahal was completely breathtaking. It’s so hard to imagine having the heart and vision to see a project of that magnitude out for over 20 years. It is perfectly symetrical and the colour of the marble is incredible. Unfortunately the fountains were not filled when we were there, but I can imagine how it would add to the structure’s beauty! At the centre of the Taj Mahal are the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, his wife who the mosaleum was made in dedication to. The ornate gem work within this area of the Taj Mahal was fantastic! There were six types of specifically-chosen flowers depicted with rubies and other stones, and they are crafted so that when sunlight hits the stone they colours of the gems shine through the opaque marble. In Marie and I’s case, we saw the shine by a guard’s small flashlight. We told him we didn’t want a tour (because we knew he would end up asking for money) and he insisted saying, “No, no, I am just a gate keeper.” Guess who held out his hand for rupees after showing us the tombs?!? It’s a crazy system of bartering and doing anything you can for a bit of cash here!

After stopping for lunch we were en route back to Jaipur. I really wanted to stop in Balaji, the site of a Hindu exorcism temple, and my group so kindly agreed. One of our new volunteers, Farhanna, is originally from Bangladesh and is such a blessing as she speaks Hindi! We were able to ask our driver to stop in the town. His vehicle would not be able to turn around at the end of the main road in Bilaji (it is a small rural town with one main street) so we hopped out and began to walk towards the end of the street, where the temple is located. What a walk! The Indians here stared much differently than do the ones in Jaipur, with an intense, inquisitive, almost angry focus. I doubt this rural town sees many tourists, and I certainly would not have wanted to walk down that road alone. We reached the temple which looked like a large hotel, and it was fully surrounded by men chanting and raising their arms, in line for the next exorcism! It was 3 in the afternoon, and this exorcism did not begin until 6 pm. I can only imagine what the swarm of people would be like when the event actually took place. While the group of us were gazing at the crowd, suddenly we were surrounded by about 30-40 Indian men. While I sensed a slight intimidation, I was too in awe of the mob mentality to feel frightened. Luckily again Farhanna was able to translate, and told us the men offered us “VIP Access” to see inside the temple- but no one was up for that! (We also knew this service would come with a VIP pricetag!)

Even though the pitstop was unsuccessful in terms of watching an exorcism on the outside flat-screen TVs, I am glad we went. What an eery, intense feeling this town had, and it gave me a different feel for India than the one I have had in Jaipur.

Classes have been going well. But, Gora has not come to the lesson Monday or Tuesday. She was by for the tailoring lessons and I told her we missed her and held her hand. I am not sure if she will ever be back. We do have a bunch of new students in our girls’ class, which has been very fun, but has broadened the class’ level scale even more. Four of the new students are 17, 18, 18, and 20, and I have enjoyed working with them. I can feel immense respect from them, but also that they want to be my friend. The eldest has invited me to her home, and I’m looking forward to attending tomorrow after school!

Tomorrow I am leading a lesson in creative writing. It seems that the imagination of these young girls is opressed. There is no concept of fantasy, and when students in our slum (those from the morning class and from my class) draw pictures, they copy out of colouring books or off of one another. I am hoping my lesson is a success. I have written a bunch of random scenes and characters which all the students will choose individually, and then paint and write upon the one-line scenario. For the more advanced students we will also look at the elements which make up a story.

More soon!


An Update…

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 1:44 am  India  Comments Off on An Update…
May 202011

I’m feeling more and more at home here in Jaipur. The daily routine involves waking up around 6 or 7 (the sun has perfectly lit up our room by this time), and getting together study materials or lesson plans. From 8-9 breakfast is served on the roof of our IDEX camp (see for information about the organization I’m working with). It usually consists of fried eggs, toast, and some type of melon. I am still on a search for peanut butter, but today I found some “Mixed Fruit Jam”- no information of course on what this mix consisted of, and when I opened the jar up it was actually jelly (yuck)… and it was so sweet! Tasted like I was eating gummy bears on my chipattas (Indian tortilla-shaped bread… thicker and less cooked than naan). Everything I have tried here in India is sweeter than what I’m used to- the lemonade, the candies, and the baked goods all taste like pure sugar to me- even “Sunkist” juice (the one I told you I was so excited about) is loads sweeter!

After breakfast Susana and I head to  our daily Hindi lessons, which are held about a 15 minute tuk-tuk drive away in a clinic. The short little Indian woman who teaches us is nice, but strict! Her husband is a doctor who runs the clinic, and everyday we walk through the small cement room to get to our ‘classroom’. It is the one private place in Jaipur I have been in where it is mandatory to keep my shoes ON. Our lessons are 1.5 hours long, and so far we are still attempting to master,  (visually, orally, and through writing) the 60ish-letter alphabet. After four lessons I don’t mind the progress, but I have the feeling that our instructor is wanting us to move a little quicker! I feel like I’m back in elementary school with a teacher correcting every line I make trying to write letters in my copy book! It’s a great experience for many reasons, but definitely because it’s helping me to understand how frustrating it must be for some of the women I work with as they try to learn the English alphabet. To me it seems so natural and so simple, but only because I had the luxury of being taught it at a young age. It is not a shock to come across people here who cannot read at all- in Hindi, a tribal language, or English.

After the lesson Susana and I walk two miles to our school. Monday we tried this for the first time and it went horribly! We got completely lost, and everyone we asked told us to go a different way- we ended up walking around in the 45 degree heat for almost two hours. I was ill once we got to school. But thankfully we now know our way- across huge piles of garbage, countless fruit, simosa, and soda stands, and one very busy, main road. Crossing the road is quite an event here in Jaipur. I must say that my heart still beats a little quicker everytime I have to do so! Drivers care zero for pedestrians. It’s quite comical that there are a faded crosswalk marks on roads throughout the city- they are pointless. The lack of concept of safety here is very bothersome to me, and while I am more comfortable with it, I am definitely not more okay with it. Beggar women wait at the stop lights of main roads and carry their babies, or send their small children, around to the idling cars, breathing in exhaust and stepping between vehicles of impatient drivers. Just yesterday I drove past a man welding on the side of the road, sitting on his behind, without a shirt or a shield on. Today we took a class on a ‘field trip’ (more on this later) and I had to restrain myself from yelling at a driver who literally pulled up five inches from our bumper (we were 10 kids and 4 adults in a tuk-tuk… needless to say I was not thrilled with this set-up, but I had to go along with it), where five girls were sitting in the open ‘bed’, shielded from the car by only a foot high piece of metal.

At school we first have a class of women. Encouraging punctuality and attendance is a bit of a challenge. There is very little structure to these women’s  lives, who are all housewives living in a slum (which I have learned is upscale compared to most) and don’t do many activities outside of the home. I am pleased that one of the students, 25 year old Mamta, has been on time everyday this week. One small positive! We have four regularly attending women and more that come off-and-on. They are all at very different levels, so we work one-on-one. Today was a difficult day with the women for me. All week I have worked with two of our more advanced students, Phoolwati and Mamta, who have quite a large vocabulary and are beginning to feel more comfortable writing and reciting sentences. We have had such fun! You can see the feeling of accomplishment and excitement that comes with education. They are proud to be able to help their own children learn shapes, colors, and the alphabet.

Today I worked with Gora, who, though she has been coming to this IDEX school for six months,  is very far behind. This woman has never attended school in her life. She was born in a small village outside of Jaipur and does not know her birthday or her age. We have guessed she is around 35, but chewing tobacco and the sun giver her the appearance of being well over 50. Gora is still struggling to learn the lower-case (‘choti) letters of the alphabet, so, in turn, she cannot read. She told our translator today that she is sick of learning “a, b, c, d..”, but I had to try to explain that without knowing them we will not be able to form words. The woman is so frustrated, and  I feel horrible about it. I showed her how I was struggling myself through the Hindi alphabet, and said I know it’s hard. The fact that our ‘translator’ is not a proper one and our messages are constantly misinterpreted, makes my empathy more difficult to express. I want so badly for Gora to know the alphabet, because of course she is hating class- she knows she is behind. I gave her some practice for the weekend, but I am doubtful that it will get done. In her case, I am struggling with the validity of the work I’m doing. She is never going to need to use the vocabulary she knows, and she doesn’t technically need to know how to read English because it is not going to get her further in life. While I believe for the others the learning is a huge boost of self-confidence and discovery, with Gora I am worried it is having the opposite affect. Prayers and suggestions appreciated.

After this class an Indian seamstress comes to teach the women tailoring, in hopes that this could become a way of earning income. While the class is going on, Suzanne, Susana, our translator Sonu and I sit as far back on the cement floor as possible and lay out newspaper as a tablecloth. We eat from lunch kits which employees at camp pack for us every morning. Lunch is usually chipattas, lentils, and cucumbers. I have been eating like a bird here and it’s making me realize how much I consume at home. Here, I have a pretty strict schedule of only breakfast, lunch, and dinner… where as at home I am a snackaholic! Being here certainly makes me appreciate the magnitude of ‘stuff’ I have at my disposal in Canada.

Following lunch we have a class of about ten girls, aged 6-16. Again, there is a wide range of skills. We have done some very fun lessons this week- giving directions was particularly fun. We set up a small obstacle course in the classroom and had the children instruct one another how to get through it, using “left”, “right”, “beside”, etc. We also drew maps and had them search for a ‘pot of gold’. While most are very, very shy, we have been able to encourage more participation through these types of activities. They also enjoy sitting in a circle and trying to express as many English words as possible by speaking in order and coming up with a word that begins with the last letter of the word that was said previous.

Susana, Suzanne, and I each come up with individual lessons for every day and then the other two act as helpers while one is the main instructor. I have enjoyed teaching grammar, and am surprised at how much the kids are interested in it. Grammar is so often considered a boring subject, but they actually seem to think full stops, exclamation points, and question marks are fantastic! Next week I am doing a lesson on creative writing. It is amazing how much lack of imagination these girls have. In their school systems, there is a focus on repetition and black-and-white answers. Even when we do art projects they want to copy out of a book or off of their neighbor’s paper. There is one highly advanced girl in the class, Shivani, who is 14 and going to a private English school thanks to a scholarship from IDEX. I have focused a lot this week on how to challenge her. She LOVES doing homework… the first time I sent her home with two pages she came back and asked for more the next day! But again, she is mostly concerned with right answers. She doesn’t like when I don’t put check marks next to her correct answers… I guess I relate to her a bit, because as many will attest to I am a touch obsessed with grades! I am excited to help supplement her private education in this class.

Well… I have so much more to say! Every night is some new adventure… a couple of nights ago we were all (20ish volunteers living in camp) invited to a wedding by the Headmaster of a school for disabled children where two of the volunteers work. I felt like I would be imposing by attending, but it was insisted upon us, and I’m so happy we had this experience! It was quite fun that evening getting all dolled up- I felt like I was with a bunch of girlfriends getting ready to go out dancing! One of the girls was blasting club music from her computer as we did our makeup and hair (well… everyone else did their hair, of course!). After this, an Indian woman who works at our camp, Sangeeta, was a complete doll to wrap ALL of our saris up- not a small task, and one that we would have been lost at!

The wedding was incredible, like nothing I have ever experienced. It was a Jain (a minority religion here) wedding between two Brahmans- these are members of the highest distinction within the Indian caste system. While the wedding went on for a week, we attended the night of the ceremony. First, a crowd of over 1,000 people walked and danced the groom, who was atop an adorned white horse, into the field where he would be wed. The bride was hidden the entire night until the ceremony. Once we had danced our way through the gates, disco lights, loud music, and food and drinks EVERYWHERE created an amazing party scene! There was a DJ and a lit dance floor where the guests dragged us up to dance with them! I got a real kick out of the music… a mix of Hindi tunes with Backstreet Boys and Missy Elloitt! Surrounding the entire wedding plot were dozens of people cooking food- I have never had so much spice and so much sweetness in one meal! I did discover one way I LOVE chipattas… deep-fried! I refrained from drinking anything as the cups were being washed in brown water- the concept of hygiene here is only slightly more advanced than the concept of safety!

The ceremony was beautiful. I stood a bit apart from the formal seating, but a middle-aged woman got out of her chair and nearly begged me to take her seat.  I instead found another chair and brought it to sit with her. Every time someone she knew would walk by she’d yell out to them (in the middle of the wedding procession) to meet me! It was really just one big social event! She had me take photos with all of her family, and told me that we are both Indian women! This is  just one example of the amazing welcome we had at the wedding- we were assigned waiters who were constantly checking our plates and making sure we were comfortable, kids coming up to touch us and proudly using English phrases, and finally the greatest honor of all- being invited on stage with the newlyweds! After they had been wed (unfortunately I could not hear/understand the ceremony) the bride and groom, in ornate gold-and-red dress, sat atop two thrones and had photos with their families. Then, they asked for the group of us ‘white people’ to join them on stage. It was a full-on photo shoot! My eyes were hurting from the bright lights! As we were leaving, they had a translator tell us, “Thank you for being at our wedding. You have made it high-class now because our guests will be talking about us having white people at our wedding.” Can you believe that! Young men were telling us that we were the “VIPs” of the wedding. Had the bride and groom not personally loved our presence, I would feel so intrusive. Can you imagine bringing 20 additional guests, unannounced, to a Western-style marriage?!? What a blessing, though, to have witnessed this happening!

I truly want to tell everyone about today’s field trip… but I cannot right now- it’s dinner time and then I will be preparing for a trip to the Taj Mahal! Next time I will tell you how we took the girls to a Catholic church right here in Jaipur. I know many of you will be interested in this story…

Thank you for sharing in my adventure!


“Driving in India like video game.” Quote: Randeep, Tuk-Tuk Driver

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 4:33 am  India  Comments Off on “Driving in India like video game.” Quote: Randeep, Tuk-Tuk Driver
May 152011

This weekend has most certainly been one to remember. Everything goes by so quickly, and yet so slowly here. One minute we are flying down the streets, or watching monkeys dig through trash and swing from buildings, and then next I am comfortably laying beneath my mosquito net ready for a six hour sleep. I arrived the same day as three other travellers- Susana (Spain, 43), Marie (Canada… my travel buddy, 21), and Cait (US *note that she is from California and it makes me feel at home to be around a Californian, 27) and we have been lucky enough to be taken under the wings of some seasoned volunteers, who organized an outting for us on Saturday.

We all travelled to Amber Fort (pronounced Amer), which is a 600 year old fort in what used to be the capital of the state of Jaipur. For the first time I saw a snake charmer! He asked me to sit beside while the snake was rising out of his basket, but I was having none of that! I stayed a safe distance away (your welcome, mom). A couple of the girls chose to ride an elephant up the 300+ stairs to the fort itself. There were many elephants, with colourfully adorned trunks and  ‘drivers’ steering by foot. Susana is a vegan and certainly did not want to ride the elephants, and I agreed with her sentiment that the elephants are not well-treated (which surprises me, as elephants are symbolic in Hinduism, and represent wisdom for Indians), and was happy to trek up the steps! We were all taken aback, once we reached the top, at the magnitude of the fort. The two most striking facilities for me were the Turkish bathing quarters, and the “womens’ apartments”. The marble baths were connected through tunnelways, and culminated in one huge (at least 10 feet deep) bath, in a circular room with windows overlooking the nearby lakes and desert mountains.

The womens’ apartments housed the twelve wives of Jai Singh I (a most celebrated ruler, to whom the locals still refer to as a ‘genius’). The women were constantly separated from all the men of the fort. This mentality today takes a different form, but is still quite evident. The only women I have seen on the streets, aside from those begging, are in vehicles or riding motorcycles sidesaddle behind a man (actually now I recall one woman driving). Of course the gender distinction is no where near as great as it looks when out in public- I believe the split nationally is close to 53/47 males to females.

But anyway.. time at the fort was well spent. When we walked back down to the tuk-tuks we had hired for the half-day, our drivers were no where to be seen. While we waited, the group of us was swarmed by salesmen- particularly memorable were two young boys (13 and 11) who began trying to sell us postcards and handmade trinkets, but were much more pleased when we began showing them we could count to ten in Hindi (ek, do, teen…) and asking them what languages they could count in! While they began as persistent sellers (the presence of which is so great here), the boys were easily distracted. I truly enjoyed the time we had with them- what happy boys! It is an internal battle not to simply just hand them some rupees… we have been firmly instructed to not do so, and also question how much of the money would go to the boys. These boys still have it a thousand times better than many their age- while peddling small goods sounds like an abhorrable lifestyle for a Western boy, these boys (in school, fairly clean, not living on the streets) seemed to have some of the better circumstances than other I have so far come into contact with- we will save that for another entry.

Today the four newbies travelled to Jantar Mantar- and this was INCREDIBLE! I loved it, I would even go again tomorrow! Remember Jai Singh, well he was the ‘genius’ who created the masterpiece observatory in the 16th century (over a period of six year). We saw the world’s largest sundial, which keeps time to two seconds, as well as a smaller sundial which we physically learned how to read (how exciting!) and many more instruments, spanning about two acres, for calculating longitude, the sun’s degree position, and also for astrological purposes. Twelve marble structures, one for each zodiac sign, were constructed in order to produce horoscopes based on a child’s birthdate, place of birth, and time of birth. Even writing this now I am amazed thinking of the mathematical and architectural skill involved in the construction of this observatory. A truly unique sight… many of you will be recieving post cards from this place!

While I do have so much more to tell, I must get to bed! Tomorrow I begin Hindi lessons in the morning, one and a half hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Then, off to the slum for teaching English- first, to a group of women aged 30 and up, and second, to a group of girls ranging from 6-14. Myself, Susana, and Suzanne (Ireland, 23) produced our lesson plan earlier today. I trust that you reading will wish us luck in sharing the lesson (as of right now I feel we need it, it is a daunting task, especially when wondering if you will have a translator or not the next day)! I am excited to tomorrow truly begin this, the most significant part, of my journey.


First Post from Jaipur

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 1:09 pm  India  Comments Off on First Post from Jaipur
May 132011

What an adventure this has been already. My senses are overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, and temperature of Jaipur. Poverty (as I have never seen it before) amongst grand buildings, incredibly busy streets (taking a bit of getting used to) with constant honking (I think around here it’s less rude than it is somewhat courteous… to say “I’m coming! Get out of the way!), an odour that comes and goes in different areas, of garbage and urine and cows, and 47 degree (Celcius) heat are just some of the myriad of completely new experiences for me. I can’t comprehend a place more different than Canada. I am definitely still adjusting to the culture shock, and yesterday shopping at “Big Bazaar” was quite good for my spirits- inside was my first encounter with air conditioning here, there was music playing, and I purchased Sunkist juice! What a funny place to feel at home (it had the air of a Walmart), but there was comfort in familiarity.

There has been so much going on the past few days- so far have been to a few bazaars, two days of volunteer training, and a cricket match. Amongst all that, bucket-washing my clothes, showering also from a tap and bucket, and getting to know the 20-30 other volunteers staying here at the Idex camp- many from Germany, a couple from the US, and more from Switzerland and the UK. The staff is so friendly, and while communication is not easy, it is so nice to visit with them. A young man, Pramod, has taken special care of us, walking Marie and I and helping  us bargain for our first “tuk-tuk” ride alone, and making sure we get enough to eat. He gave me a gift today- noticing I didn’t have sunglasses the other day, he has given me some aviators! I was quite touched by this. All of the Indian people are so social- even on the plane here, people would just strike up a conversation, asking Marie and I everything about ourselves and our trip! It would be nice if in Canada people were so friendly!

Now the cricket match was quite an experience. One of the volunteers from Britian organized this outing for all of us, so 18 volunteers piled into three tuk-tuks (gasoline-powered rickshaws, without windows, sort of golf-cart style transportation) and traveled to Sawai Mansingh Stadium to watch Rajasthan (the largest state in India, where Jaipur is located) play Bangalore. When we got there, we walked through gated lanes towards a security  point. I was near the front of the line upon finding my camera in my fanny pack, the female security guard said, “Not allowed”.. I couldn’t get into the game! All of the other girls behind me, though, also had cameras. What a shame it would be for us to have to turn back! After some pleading, we somehow got told to “run for it”… none of the rest of our group was checked, we simply all went in a mass through the security. We had made it! But then, another security point! At this one, the men and women broke into separate groups (I was embarassed to first go into the wrong line!). The men passed through without being searched, but all women went behind screens where two women patted- like REALLY patted us down. Again, they found our cameras, sunscreen, deodorant, and gum… and none of these were to be allowed! Some of the girls were able to get their cameras through, but many had to throw away the other items, told that they could use them to “throw” if a riot broke out! (Now I was alarmed at the suggested frequency of riots!). I was pleased to keep all my items- I had a unique experience that while I was being checked, one of the head officers, a male, came behind the sheet and told the women, “She is a friend of India, here to visit so she goes through.” Well… things are certainly done differently in this country!

I quite enjoyed the match, although it was about four hours! I did not know the rules of cricket, but they were explained to us, and we cheered right along with the crowds when Rajasthan scored fours and sixes! We made up probably 90% of the female fans there, I only saw one woman at the game, with who I assumed to be her husband. The males were having a great time! Whenever music would come on, many were standing on their seats, dancing like crazy- hip-shaking, hand-waving dancing. I tried to imagine this happening at a hockey game at home… never! Us girls got into it as well, we painted blue across our cheeks (the home team colour) and many were given team flags by men in the stands. The stares at the game were constant, as they are every time we are out on the street, really. At first the staring was a bit unnerving, but I have gotten more used to it. At the game, these same men and boys who were staring, eventually visited us- asking what countries we were from, our names, even if we were “on Facebook”. Once again, I was struck by the outgoing nature of the Indian people. They just wanted to learn about us, and joke with us, and definitely did so without shame!

 Today I am off for my first day of volunteer work. Unfortunately, myself and the two ladies I am volunteering alongside (a 42 year old from Spain and an Irish girl I assume to be around my age) have not such a good shift! We will be working during the hottest hours of the day- 12-4. We have a twenty minute tuk-tuk ride to the particular slum we are working in. I visited it yesterday, and the ‘classroom’ where we will be teaching English is about the size of  a North American master bathroom. I am feeling anxious and definitely a bit nervous for this first day, and meeting the women which I hope to learn from, and teach.

Hopefully this entry was not terribly long… I will try to keep my posts relatively short so that the reader does not fall asleep! =) I look forward to writing about the specific volunteer work soon. As it is Friday, I will wait until next week, when I will be more familiar with the situation, to try to explain it to others. This weekend will be full of some touring around the massive city of Jaipur.


Days from Takeoff…

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 2:24 pm  India  Comments Off on Days from Takeoff…
May 062011

They say a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one single step- I must say I feel that I have taken quite a few steps already; but the official ‘hopping-aboard-a-plane’ mark has yet to occur. I have been busy, and at times, stressed, preparing for this six-week adventure in India! Months worth of vaccinations, Visa applications, and information collection are all coming together. Now that the bag is packed, and I am tying loose ends, time is devoted to reading and preparing for the culture shock I will be faced with this coming Tuesday.

Wish me luck! And I will do my best to keep you updated. =)

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