This past week i've been settling into my teaching placement in Madurai. I took a few days over the weekend to see Kodaicanal, a hill station that mostly attracts Indian honeymooners and, I guess, American girls looking to live for a few days among the clouds. The bus ride up the mountains was magic. I could feel the temperature dropping as we climbed higher up the jungle covered hills overlooking valleys where villages surrounded plots of farmland. But no, it wasn't magic. That implies something unnatural. But this was pure, unadulturated nature soaked in beauty. While in Kodai, we went to a few lookouts and explored town a bit. At night we relaxed on the back porch of our hostel by a fire, overlooking a valley of twenty villages lit up like a thousand small fires burning through fog. It is so nice being a part of this makeshift family of foreigners- as if being in India werent enough. It brings comfort to share the experience of frustration and awe, confusion and inspiration, that in isolation it could potentially drive you bonkers.
As I spend more time teaching, I am coming to terms with the unsettling reality that is the Indian education system. It is rewarding in small, short lived ways but it is an uphill battle that begins again every day. I was up last night thinking about it, and realized why it is so frustrating, besides the lack of interest-
They deserve better.
I have grown up in a society with a sense of entitlement that only a country built on the phrase "manifest destiny" can muster. In my second week in India, I wrote in my reflection journal how "refreshing" it was to be in a place so devoid of the sense of entitlement that seems like second nature to an american, almost a pre-requisite to citizenship. Only now am I realizing the debilitating reprocussions of this: A system of education that has given up- taking pride in the few who have figured our how to get by, and herding the remainder into the worst, darkest, most crowded rooms with the poorest, most impatient teachers. The inconsistency is staggering. My 3rd graders, placed downstairs in the stadium seat lecture hall filled with light streaming in through tall windows, can read every word I write while my 5th graders, crowded upstairs in a dark room that holds four other classes, get by on rote memorization. When I changed the order of "father" and "brother" not one of them had the slightest idea. Not one.
And it is these kids, the ones who frustrate me the most, who deserve better. Curriculum without basic grammar errors, or teachers who recognize basic grammar errors, or even teachers who acknowledge their primary role as educators instead of diciplinarians. A room where you dont have to yell to spell out words because the class next to you is divided by a thin partition and their teacher decided to play a game for the entire morning.
And it is here when I ask if our sense of entitlement should not be exported, free of trade barriers like lack of government funding or international support or terms like "politically possible" and look instead at what is needed. "When something is needed, it can and must become possible."*
Moments like these- in the middle of this country, so very present- is when I look for narrative of my own experience to bring others in to what I am seeing or how I feel. But I come up short. I know eventually I will establish some narrative, pick off a few moments which I feel are either entirely representative of my trip or (more likely) what I wish were more representative. It's inevitable for me to try to condense and find meaning, all with good intentions. But this is a sad process because while you experience it, the meaning you find seems so bit. Then you return and try to find words that wrap around your memories perfectly and intricately that you end up with a few stories that, though true, are only pieces of the truth that approach but never succeed in capturing the whole. Falling into the trap of misrepresentation could be fatal, turning a month and a half into a few cheap stories reading like a self-help book or religious experience. Because it was neither. It was a million different heartbreaks. A million different moments of clarity. A million different things that knock you off your feet.
I read a speech by David Foster Wallace this week, per recommendations my another volunteer, which he gave as the commencement address to Kenyon College a few years before his death. I firstly would like everyone to go and read this, because it voices so well what I have been struggling to put words to, though much more eloquently and straightforward as only Wallace can. He tells of two fish swimming along who encounter an older fish who casually asks how the water is. The younger fish stop after a bit, stunned, and ask "What the hell is water?" He goes on to describe the process of awareness that takes a lifetime, requiring incessant reminding that you are not (despite what your senses allow you to believe) the center of the universe. We must begin to see life as the conversation it is- an ever-revolving series of experiences and perceptions. I've recently started visiting an Ashram nearby of a fairly renowned yogi in the evenings. He sits outside with his long, gray waves of hair to match a slightly darker long wave of beard, waiting patiently for someone to come along. His "office" is covered with photos of his guru and himself in positions that made me hurt just looking at them. The session left me feeling completely at peace. As I hopped on a bus (which never really seemed to stop) to go home, I realized I felt perfectly at home and adapted at that moment. The hard part is over, though just in time for me to appreciate it for a week or so before I leave. And I am reminded of those wise words again- this beautiful process of learning and (finally) embracing. I don't pretend that I've figured it all out, but when you've been reaching for that first wrong on the ladder for so long and finally feel a grip, you can't help but beam. I am finally feeling that I am moving on to that point of convergence between old perceptions and new experiences and, flawed though they still are, it is a hopeful step in this life process of awareness "of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us all the time that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over
This is water. This is water."
*A quote by the profound and inspiring Jeffery Sachs, whose book "The End of Poverty" has accompanied me here and provided a framework for thinking about need and development that I am extremely grateful for.
Leaving tomorrow for the big trip to India!
Having only just finished exams today, I madly packed everything this afternoon- I'm quite sure I will have forgotten something. I suppose I'll find out when I get there what I needed to bring :) May have only just purchased insurance and got my last injection today...yes, I know- I am very prepared for this trip. To be honest, between exams and work I havn't had a chance to even think about what I am about to be doing for the next 4 weeks! It really hit me on the way home when I realised I wasn't ready physically (not packed) and mentally (my mind has been cramming in a semester's worth of knowledge the past 3 weeks). Now I am sitting here in my plane clothes already- a 'lil early but it's the one thing I seem to get excited about for some odd reason. So! For the next two weeks me and my boyfriend, Matt, will be starting off in Kolkata, heading up to Darjeeling (to visit the school I volunteered in a few years ago) and then off to Varanasi, Agra, Rhajasthan, Mumbai and maybe Goa. Whilst it does sound ambitious Matt and I are rather speedy travellers so we should be ok :) After Goa we will end up in Bangalore where Matt will fly home to Melbourne and I will fly to Madurai in order to undertake my projects abroad Medical Placement. It's all very exciting. I am extremely excited about the medical experience.
Well, I'd better race off and finish packing- I'll keep in touch about the upcoming adventures!
Projects Abroad | India organised the veterinary camp for the animals at Poikarapatti...Our Veterinary volunteers took part in the camp and vaccinated the animals at the village.
The reason behind the camp is to help the village people in vaccinating and treating the domestic animals in the village which is not affordable by the village locals. About 300 animals got benefitted by the camp.
Our volunteers got an hands-on work experience in the areas of - vaccination, de-worming, priliminary diagnosis of pregnancy in cows and artificial insemination. In turn the local village people got benefitted by the camp.
Contributed by Nadia - India Social Manager
This week I said some bitersweet goodbyes to Chinnupatti and my eco-development project and took a car to my new placement in Madurai. The last week has been a lot of outreach work consulting farmers about the transition to organic fertiliyers and natural techniques, going to an orphanage to plant a plot for them to make use of, and visiting a school to promote environmental awareness. Now in Madurai I am teaching English at a primary mission school funded by the government. I was originally placed at a care, education, and therapy facility for phzsicallz disabled bozs but there were complications arising out of appropriateness of a volunteer seeing the treatment used here (many times harsh beatings that I cannot sit idly by and watch). Today was mz first day teaching and I had two fifth grade classes in the morning and the first graders in the afternoon. I really enjoy my first and last classes, though they are still challenging to break past language barriers (the little Tamil I speak is not nearly enough to explain grammar).
My host family is a retired couple who live in a beautiful home about fifteen minutes walk from the school. They introduce themselves only as "amma" and "appa"- mother and father. I feel so incredibly lucky after living in the village only to get another family just as caring. As much as I love moving on to a new adventure, I already miss the mountains, coconut trees, and community the village provided me.
Being here has made me incredibly aware of my relationship to the earth. While here, I have read bits and pieces of the writing of the Japanese man who founded natural farming in the 60's. I have come to realize that modern, scientific agriculture has given us an illusion of dominance over nature that is as ignorant as it is counter-productive. In his book, The One Straw Revolution, he writes insightfully that "the world today is in such a sad state because man has not felt compelled to reflect on the dangers of his high handed ways." This quote says a lot more about man than just his agricultural practices- the extent of which I am discovering more and more. It seems that we have not quite grasped the complexity of people, eco-systems, or governments and fail to approach problems arising from our own ignorance in holistic ways. We must begin to see people, events, and circumstances in the context by which they arise. By looking to analyze and break down the world into small fragments, you distort it and are left with a distorted interpretation because you have removed it from its context. When we come to see ourselves as diagnosing and fixing the world, we are forgetting our smallness within it and miss the point. By acknowledging our own human limitations, we are stepping into an acceptance of our own smallness. Many times all this means is understanding that we cant fully understand. It is an especially hard lesson for people like me, who want life to be broken down into parts to analzye and study and digest, but that would just be too simple, wouldn't it?
Heres where I get quietly off my soapbox, to those who where kind enough to finish that. I am safe and sound and happy. Very very happy. I hope summer is treating you all nicely and I will be there soon to join you with stories and lots of love.
We were feeling very apprehensive about spending two months here after touring in Delhi and Agra. We were preparing ourselves for the worst, but have found that Madurai is a much more pleasant area. Our host family is very nice and they take good care of us. Saucey, our homestay mom, is a great cook and we much prefer Southern india food to that of the North. Our room is very nice and we have a western toilet and a shower!!! It is very hot in our room but we put mosquito netting over the windows so we can leave them open for air. We have a great ceiling fan over our beds. Our homestay dad, Dr. Muruganandan is a veterinarian and has been kind enough to show us around multiple farms in Madurai. We visited a goat farm, chicken farm, and dairy farm. The egg poultry farm is similar to those in the United States, but is outdoors and nothing is automated. The dairy farm was very small and all milking is done by hand. I was surprised to find out that the bull calves are raised for meat, and are slaughtered here. My mom commented that the cattle walk better on lead ropes than my show cattle did; we then realized they had a rope strung through their nose.
Madurai does not smell as bad as Agra and Delhi, and seems safer than the other cities we visited. People take no for an answer most of the time, and there are not nearly as many beggars. There are quite a few people here that speak English and a lot of the signs are in English. There are four major bus stations in town and a ton of bus stops. It is very challenging to get around by bus because we are never sure which bus to take. If we look clueless, somebody usually comes along and asks if we need help. We have been in several auto rickshaws, but these cost more to ride in than buses. We also rode in a normal rickshaw but the guy follows us now, so we will never do that again.
The veterinarian we were supposed to work with is having back pain, so we visited a veterinary dispensary today. At this dispensary, the treatment costs nothing to the owners, and artificial insemination of a cow costs 10 INR which is about 25 cents. We are not allowed to handle the animals there because there is a high risk of Rabies and Leptospirosis transmission. We also saw a cow with Foot and Mouth Disease. Many of the cases involve poor nutrition and bites by stray dogs. We aren't sure why, but the veterinarian will not allow us to take any pictures of the clinic. We are going to another clinic tonight to observe for a couple hours.
Here comes the interesting and welcomeable announcement from Projects Abroad | India...All the volunteers who are all doing Care placement in India starting from the month of June will get a chance to attend the Cultural and Language Workshop as a part of their orientation procedure.
The reason behind this is - we(Projects Abroad India) found that these workshops will definetly help the volunteers a lot to mingle with the local community very well.These workshops gives a brief overview of the cultural things that has to be followed by the Volunteers during their stay in India. Also we teach you - the basic and necessary tamil words ingeneral.This helps the volunteers to move freely with the Children in their placement.
Contributed by Anantha Subramanian - Care Program Manager
I'm not even sure where to begin... The flight here was long, but the days spent here seem longer. My mom and I are having trouble adjusting to the heat, the humidity, the noise, and the smell. On top of it all, we are constantly followed by beggars, shop owners, and street sales people. People follow us because of the way we look... They even want to take pictures with us as if we are celebrities. The picture-taking doesn't bother us, and neither do the stares, but the constant following and begging is hard to deal with. I am finding it especially hard to say no to the children. They are so persistent and it is so sad; my heart breaks for them.
The streets and train stations are filled with people, including babies, sleeping on the cement. From the train we saw people bathing in green, sewage-looking water and cows eating from piles of garbage. The streets are filled with honking cars, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, people, cows, and stray dogs, all fighting to get around each other. In Delhi, there is a lot of traffic and the roads are like bumper cars. In Agra, the cars move faster, and do not use the lanes; they play chicken with oncoming traffic. Riding in the cars is scary, but relaxing compared to walking around on the streets. We are always relieved when a vehicle has air conditioning.
We have not been able to eat much here. The nauseating smells and the heat leave us without an appetite... I am almost out of Goldfish and cookies. Thanks to the smells, the heat, and the Doxycycline, I have upchucked in public, including our hotel elevator and Agra Fort. At Agra Fort, I was put on display for all to observe my misery. Our guide and a couple of strange Indian men helped me to cool off. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll make it through two months of this.
On the bright side, we stayed in a very nice hotel the last two nights. Our room had air conditioning and a western toilet. We are very grateful to have internet here, but are leaving for Madurai today, so are not sure when we will have internet access again. We were pleasantly surprised by the inside of the hotel. You wouldn't know by looking at the inside that the street we are on is narrow and filled with beggars, sewage, sketch street shops, and people sleeping on the sidewalk. We haven't been brave enough to venture outside on our own, and probably won't until we reach Madurai.
Yesterday we visited the Taj Mahal. It was amazing, but we were overwhelmed by the heat. We also visited Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. We got some great pictures... The trip was well worth it. I even rode on a camel!!
My placement will be at a wolrd class hospital in Madurai. I will be volunteering my services to help Meenakshi Mission Hospital improve on its systematic functioning. To learn more about this charity watch this informative video.
The Green village modelfarm volunteers under the head of waste water treatment internship students from Netherlands - TIm ,Frank and Teun launched a signature hunt programme in the village sof chinnupatti and rettiyapatti
It was on behalf of a petition explaining the health disorders resulting from logging domestic waste water and plastic bags spread everywhere in the villages
It demanded the instalation of garbage bins for biowastes and plastic wastes along with that frequent removal of collected wastes also.
It also demande dthe urge to recycle the domestic waste waters also .
All the 7 volunteers actively involved in the hunt , explaine dthe people with tamil and english version notioces and then asked for their support .The people in the villages readily agreed as they agreed with the petition.
Contributed by Raisa Dawood - Conservation Program Manager | India
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