An Update…

 Posted by Brooke Ramsay at 1:44 am  India
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!



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