I am so proud of you.

At school we had a big fair with performances by all the students; the theme of the fair was “The Future.” For my younger class we discussed the future in relationship to many of our science topics, but I decided that in my English class of 5th and 7th graders it would be useful and interesting for them to spend some time thinking, writing, and performing about their ideas for their own futures.

Two weeks ago I gave them prompts to write about their dreams and goals, from education to career to family. When I realized most of them were writing down random degrees they had heard of, I gave them homework to find out the meaning of the sets of letters, and decide which degrees they actually wanted for their hopeful careers. In  class we edited and expanded their ideas until each student had a paragraph or two he was happy with.

Pramod, one of my 7th graders, said he really wanted to be a doctor, but had no idea which studies were involved. I assigned him some extra work: to talk to a local doctor and find out what degrees and studies he had done. Pramod originally protested, saying he was too shy to talk to a doctor, but he came to class two days later with a full paragraph constructed from the notes he’d taken. He told me he’d gone to the doctor’s office three times until the doctor had time to talk to him, and found out all about which degrees a doctor needed, how long the studies were, and what the degrees actually meant. As he explained the progression to me, he spoke with the confident understanding that comes from information discovered personally.

I had them tackle the memorization of these passages one piece at a time, saying, “when you eat dinner do you put all the food in your mouth at once?” No Ma’am of course not. “Right. You take bites. So it’s the same thing. Piece by piece.” I assigned each student one clause at a time, and they had to write it 5 times, say it 20 times, say it backwards 5 times, and say it forwards again 10 times. They sat at their desks or wandered around the room repeating that clause, and when they thought they were ready they came to me. If they could say the clause and their speech up to that point properly I underlined their next clause and the whole work started again.

For three days our class was a constant mumble of voices as they worked hard at learning these passages; the background noise was frequently punctuated by excited students calling me over to hear how much they’d completed. I spent most of the class sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, and my kids would line up eager to rattle off their sentences.

We had one practice run with a small audience three days before the actual show, and at that time students who’d recited their whole speeches to me minutes before tripped over their words, forgot entire sentences, and even froze up completely on stage.

Afterwards they all came to me upset.

“I know my speech, ma’am,” Kamlesh, the student who had completely frozen, told me, “but then my heart is going like this—” he hit his chest rapidly with his hand.

“It’s okay,” I told all of them. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I know you know your speeches.”

I was interrupted by a chorus of worried “but ma’am” protests. They were all really upset with themselves.

“But,” I continued a little louder, “you got nervous on stage. That’s o.k. Everyone gets nervous sometimes. Really truly it’s okay. Do I look angry? No. You all—ALL—did a good job. And we will practice more and more, and everyone will do better and better.”

Kamlesh was still really worried.

“I will practice ma’am,” he said, “but I know when I say to you, but still…”

“Yes,” I told him and the rest of the class, thinking rapidly about how best to approach the stage fright issue, “I understand. That’s why tomorrow when we practice, we will also practice how to walk on and off stage, how to not be nervous, all of that. And we will talk about what to do with an audience. Okay? So, do you know what I want you to do tonight?”

I knew they were expecting homework speaking or writing or even illustrating their speeches, all of which we’d done. But right at that moment I decided a different tactic would be more helpful.

“I want you to relax. Your homework is not to worry about the speeches. Put it away, and don’t think about it, don’t worry about it. And tomorrow we will start learning how to do all these things—not be nervous, more hand gestures, everything. But tonight I want you to relax.”

The next day we started strong as I tried my best to give them tools to overcome stage fright. One at a time I helped students decide how they could add movement, hand gestures, and props to their words. From the city campus I brought a broken computer, medicine bottles, and costumes for them to use. Over and over I made them practice walking on stage, breathing, and smiling. I taught them to look steadily at one person’s forehead, so they weren’t scared by meeting people’s eyes and didn’t let their gaze wander distractingly. As they said their speeches to me I constantly tapped my finger on my forehead to bring their visual attention back and remind them to focus. They practiced in front of each other and their teachers.

On our last day of class we had rehearsal in the upstairs room where they would be performing. They all did fairly well, and I was especially proud of Kamlesh, who not only presented his speech nicely but also managed to do so over the younger students as they came in talking loudly. I told him if he could manage that feat, speaking to a quiet audience would be easy. Still, despite all the work and my praise, my students were not fully convinced they could do well in the performance.

On the night of the show Pramod and Kamlesh seemed happy, but couldn’t quite let go of their nervousness. I sent them to get dressed, then looked around for someone to tie their ties. Both Manoj sir and Vinay sir were busy, but the founder of the school, Nita Kumar, was happy to help. They were so intimidated by her that I had to guide them across the courtyard to where she was standing, promising that she would not bite their heads off.

Backstage all the students were incredibly nervous, some talking too much and others not talking at all. I walked over to the corner where they were and they grabbed my arms, trying to get my attention so they could practice their speeches one last time.

“Shh,” I tell them. “Breathe. You know your speeches, and I know you know them—just breathe.”

Priya took a huge gasping breathe and pretended she was setting the audience on fire with her exhale. They laughed a little. Again and again I told them to breathe; if I stopped they started getting all nervous again, so I stayed with them.

“Now tell me again, what do you do when you go on stage.”

“Breathe,” they told and showed me. “Smile.”

“And I look here,” said Pramod, tapping my forehead.

“Good. Breathe.”

When our group’s turn came they went out one at a time on stage. Priyanshu with his computer keyboard “I want to be a BIG man of India”; Sandeep “I will do doctor and police work. . . I will be happy in my life”; Pradyum, another computer engineer  “My family will live with me and I will have a child and then some of my family will not live with me”; Suruyabali “I will study bio science and be a doctor”; Saurabh “I will be an engineering doctor”; and Shubham, who begins by pretending to not notice the audience as he types on the computer “My children will be players or students? I think my children will study.”

Then it was time for my three 7th graders. Kamlesh was first; standing tall in his white clothes and tie, he really looked like the doctor he wants to become. “In hospital I will do operations which is very necessary. My mother and father support me, ‘you can do these things.’” He spoke clearly, his hand gestures understated but all remembered. He came back and looked at me.

“It was fine?” he asked.

I was beaming. “It was wonderful.”

Priya was next. Once shy and self-isolated in class, she has become so confident especially in her acting, and her speech was the most exhuberant, as she illustrated her words with big smiles and wide gestures. “I will teach small children Hindi, maths, English, and art. Sometimes I will also teach big children. . . . my family is very important to me. When I do wrong things, they will help to me to do my work.” We’d gone over that sentence many times every day, and while she still didn’t get it quite right, overall she did really well, and when she returned, I gave her well-earned praise.

Last was Pramod, who also looked very much like a kind and serious doctor. He took a breath and let it out with a nod before going on stage. His presentation was also amazingly done, every word correct, and I wondered if anyone in the audience knew how much the speech and information was  his own work.

After all the performances Pramod introduced me to his father, and I awkwardly spoke a few Hindi sentences of my student’s praise to the silent man.

“My father studied to 8th grade, but not English,” Pramod told me. “His sister studied to Interim, 10th or 1tth, and his brother my uncle studied to 11th grade interim.”

His voice spoke of the pride he has in his family’s education.

“And you?” I ask. “What class will you study until?”

“I will complete the courses of MD and MS to be a doctor,” he grins as he launches into his speech for the las time. “I will do the competition of MBBS. . . After studying I will work in a hospital. My family and my patients will be very important to me. All my patients will be like my family.”

As I told him then, I honestly believe he will do all this and more.

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the performance at the village campus

On Sunday  I’m sitting in the Bread of Life Bakery with a group of friends trying to decide which of their delicious but too expensive entrees I want to order when I get the text. “Hi  we’ll leave for Betaver at 1.” This evening is the performance at the Nirman school in Betaver village, where I work. Teachers and students have been working extra for the past two weeks to make costumes, set up classrooms for a mini open house, and teach and learn multiple plays and speeches in Hindi and English. I  spent the day yesterday at the city campus helping run the event there,  which went really well, and tonight is even more important for me as my classes will be performing. The teachers who work at the  village campus had originally been planning to take a car there from the city campus at 2:30. I still need to eat, go home, shower, collect some final supplies, and take a cycle rickshaw to school; it’s 12:15 now.

“Oh man,” I tell my friends, “What do I do? We really don’t need to be there that early—why are we leaving so early? What do I do?”

Actually it’s kind of a stupid question, because I do exactly what I’d been planning and need to do, just much more quickly. I eat fast, spend 15 minutes getting  ready at home, and argue with a rickshaw driver who is convinced he knows better than I do where I actually want to go. I finally get to the city school at 1:20.

No one is ready yet, so I sit and discuss The Lord of the Rings with the other intern working at Nirman. We finally pile into the car at just about 2:30.

When we arrive at the village school I hop out ready to go. While I’ve always liked this place—from the view of the river to the smiles of the kids, it’s a welcoming environment—I feel the most confident I’ve ever been here, really thinking of the campus as my school, the 1st to 4th grade room as my classroom. I put the finishing touches on my classroom displays and help cut out letters for a sign we’re making.

More teachers, who work at the city campus, arrive on the bus, and my students start coming one by one. After a while, we start the process of getting them all dressed and ready for the show. These girls need help putting their saris on, those boys need to be given something to do, one kid is ready for makeup, the preschoolers need to be taken to the library, and two students need somewhere to change. I flow from one group of students to the next, never without some task. Show prep is a familiar scene for me, but for the first time I am the one directing this pre-performance drama. It’s crazy but I really enjoy creating order out of the chaos. My students trust me—I can tell them the order of the shows, find a way to get them whatever they need, bring them where they should be. For about an hour I am constantly moving from one side of the school to the other, upstairs and down. These girls need help putting their saris on, those boys need to be given something to do, one kid is ready for makeup, the preschoolers need to be taken to the library, and two students need somewhere to change. I flow from one group of students to the next, never without some task, and the whole time I try to exude the calm confidence I’m feeling.

After everyone is dressed and ready I go backstage, where I help keep children quiet, calm nerves, put on costumes, and watch my students perform. One at a time each group goes out and does a wonderful job, speaking clearly in Hindi or English and remembering everything we’ve practiced. I can’t stop beaming, and I tell each student just how proud I am.

“You are amazing!” I say over and over. “You did such a good job!”

“And me?” some ask. “Was my job good?”

“So so so good!” I tell them, spreading my arms wide to illustrate, and they smile back at me.

My pride in their hard work and successes is still filling me with joy almost a week later. I am so thankful to have had the chance to do this work, to help children perform on stage and share with them the energy and joy big events like this bring, and also to teach them every day and be even a small part of their lives.

falling with style

It’s hot, like 42 C hot. Don’t even want to think about what that means in Farenheight hot. “Pretend you’re on a tropical island,” my friend laughs. We’re in a cycle rickshaw and the wind is blowing dust into our eyes and mouths from multiple directions. I wrap my dupatta over my mouth and hold the end of it up to shield my eyes from the too-bright sun and flying dirt. Tropical island? I’m pretending I’m on a desert migration.

I scooch a little more toward the center of the rickshaw. I’m on the left side, and I feel a little unstable, like between my heavy backpack and the slippery seat I just might slide out. My friend and I keep talking about her work and the work she hopes to do there in our last month.

The rickshaw is yanked to a stop as it catches on the wheel of another stationary rickshaw. The rickshaw driver falls forward a bit but catches himself by holding on to the handlebars. My friend also takes a hard fall forward but falls onto the rickshaw driver, so she is safe although slightly embarrassed. I, on the other hand, am launched out to the side. I’m in motion long enough to observe my surroundings from the perspective of being in the air before I land on  my backpack like an upside-down turtle.

The Indian men on the side of the road looked on without much interest as my friend hurried to make sure I was okay, and I worried whether my camera was okay. Fortunately my backpack kept me from any injuries more serious than a few large bruises, and the books and magazines in my bag kept my camera from getting hurt. It all ended fine, but I still can’t figure out the physics of why I went the direction I did; I’ll draw a diagram for you all when I get home and you can help me sort it out.

moments from Holi

First Colors

Holi began this afternoon for me as I walked through a crowd of students joyfully milling around the Imperial Public School near my house. “Didi!” called a girl I’d never seen before, the joy in her voice making me feel like I truly was her big sister. She carefully applied bright pink powder to my third-eye and cheeks, then ran off with her friends.

As I turned the corner, two girls who live near to us greeted me happily as they do every day. Their smiles grew even bigger when they saw the color on my face.

“Didi, wait. One minute,” the smaller of the girls told me as they ducked inside their house. An older woman outside found that hilarious, and kept repeating it, “Didi wait.” They soon emerged with their bag of pink powder, and added their own marks to the grinning canvas of my face.

I didn’t have any return color with me, but no one seemed to mind. There was a heartfelt joy in the exchange that I had not anticipated—I’d been expecting more joking, war-like playing, which will probably come later. For now though, before the battle starts, I’ve seen Holi’s love.

At my homestay

As soon as I got home with color on my face my homestay sister made me wait while she ran and got red sparkly powder. She put some on me, my homestay brother added some, and I put some on both of them and the girl who works for the family. I ended up with a design that looked something like war paint.

School Games

Friday afternoon went by slowly. My class, 5th and 7th grade students, really didn’t want to do much work, and I chose not to force them. After all, it was the beginning of their Holi holiday. We did some work, then the students wrote about and drew their plans for Holi.

At 2:15 I had to run over to the preschool classroom, where the children had taken advantage of their teacher’s brief absence and started throwing yellow powder at each other. It took a few minutes to restore order.

Finally 2:35 came and I turned my class loose. They milled around for a little bit before one by one heading outside. While they chased each other around the courtyard, I kept two of my older students company inside.

Many of my students came to put tika on my forehead and a little color on my cheeks as well. I had thought this would be a “ha ha I get to throw color at my teachers” type of thing, but instead I was amazed  by the amount of affection and respect in the gesture. Some of them even touched my feet.

After cleaning up we drove back to the city school where the festivities should have been long done, but the students and some teachers were still playing full out. There the game was of a different style, and I got covered in various colors—red, pink, orange, yellow, dark green, dark purple—all over my face and neck and arms and hair. I even ate some of the powder, and it tastes nasty.

On the Roof

For Holi itself we slept over at a Banarasi friend’s house, then played on the roof with students and foreigners from various different groups and organizations. Although I took a while to decide to go up on the roof, once I got up there I had a fair bit of fun. Weapons included the powders, colored water in water guns and buckets, and occasional water balloons.

After a fair bit of time, we laughed at our purple clothes and skin and spent a while basking in the sun before helping clean up and taking a shower—the first of many before all the color would finally come out.

Visiting

That evening we followed proper traditions and went out to visit our teachers and friends. We applied tika color to their foreheads and were tika-ed and fed in return. The woman who cooks for us was verysurprised and  happy to see us, and we spent a while sitting and talking with her. I arrived at one teacher’s house at the same time a small elephant did.  I was lucky enough to give him a tika as well, although I had to keep him from eating my bag of green powder as I did so.

I don’t have any deep conclusions to offer you about Holi, but I really, really enjoyed all the different aspects of the festival and would love to share in its celebration again.

Impossible

It’s Monday so in my 5th grade English class we’re learning our weekly vocabulary words, all from the book we’re currently reading, the first Magic Tree House book. The second word on the list is “impossible.” Kya matlub, Ma’am? What does it mean? First I try to explain in English.

“Impossible means… not possible. Means, you can’t do it. At all. So it means… not… possible…”

The English explanations work better for some words than others. Plan B is explaining in Hindi.

Ho sakta nahi hai,” I say.

“Oh! Sakta nahi hai, nahi sakta hai,” they tell each other.

Yeah.

“So, for example, if I tell you, Pradyum, you have to write a whole copy, a journal that fills ALL these pages—” I say, flipping through the pages of his notebook “—in five minutes, go.”

They laugh.

“You would say, ‘Ma’am, that’s impossible,’ right? I can’t do it, it’s impossible.”

Impossible. They like the word, and the example. I wonder if I’m going to hear it during tests or about future homework assignments, and I grin. It’s good for them to have vocabulary to complain with.

We move on to the next word, but for the rest of the day my mind keeps coming back. Impossible. What does it mean? What examples are there, really? What  is impossible? I learned as a kid that “nothing is impossible”—isn’t that why I had the guts to come here? To say I could be a teacher before I’d finished being a student? To leave my home, my family, for an entire nine months to do something completely unknown, to live and eat and breathe unknown, and learn to like it too—I came because I believed, no matter how different or crazy or difficult, that it was not impossible. Never impossible.

In my time here, though, some things have happened that until they happened or I found out about them, I didn’t think or believe would be possible.

A mouse in my room, at first a dirty and slightly frightening (though small and fuzzy) intruder, now a co-renter—Impossible—for  me to just accept a mouse in my room and pooping on my stuff, but we have worked out a schedule between us and really the only problem is when I disrupt our time-share program by being in my room in the afternoon.

Sitting on a train for an entire day without going completely crazy, and then choosing to do it again—Impossible—once, and at most for the obligatory return trip, would be painful enough. Yet we’ve done seven long train rides, plus one return trip by bus, and some parts of the ride are even enjoyable.

A litter of six puppies—dirty and flea-bitten from the day they were born, cute faces and wagging tails not holding off skin diseases. Only three left, a month and a half later. Motorcycle, starvation—each in its turn sprawled on the garbage heap till morning, when they’re taken away with the plastic bags and food the cows didn’t eat. And so it goes with dogs all over the city—Impossible—I wish.

Me, a disliker of gaudy clothing and hater of pink since before I can remember, buying and wearing a flaming pink sari for an entire day, and not feeling awkward or uncomfortable at all—Impossible—have I lost any “fashion sense” I ever had?

All the little gullies and twists and turns, and then even the larger streets that all looked the same with their rows of billboards. On a tour my first day in Banaras, I was told I’d learn my way around pretty quickly, and I laughed—Impossible—I have horrid direction sense, and there aren’t even street names I can memorize! Yet I feel more comfortable navigating and giving directions in my spheres here than those I live and work in at home.

A road dug up, torn down, then stacked in sections with rocks and dirt and rocks again. Months of disjointed work and teeth-jarring travel later, the road finally being covered in asphalt and smoothed dusty black—Impossible—surely it couldn’t have turned out so neatly, with all the people and layers and pieces.

An 18 year old girl with so little experience teaching a class of mixed ages and levels in 3 different groups simultaneously and trying to communicate with them in a language she started learning only a week before she became responsible for their education. The idea that she could successfully impart knowledge and joy to them—Impossible—yet somehow, some days, it seems to be happening.

A three foot tall Shivaling made of solid mercury—Impossible—pure mercury is liquid at room temperature, no matter how much time and faith you spend on it. It must be an alloy, a compound, a joke, yet Swami-ji is so sure that this long alchemic process created something “western science” cannot, and the mercury in his temple is not only solid, it’s safe to touch.

A cousin, away in China, not so close but still a relative, a proud role model, suddenly gone in a night—Impossible—we both should be with our families, me to help them through the loss and him to make the loss not true. But we were both expanding our words “overseas,” and now only I can send letters home.

Another boy, a class 7 student, with a constant sunny smile. Healthy one afternoon and dead “of cold” the next morning—Impossible—as we tell his classmates the sun is throwing heat at us. Even the later explanation, infected bite or cut that caused a fever that traveled to the brain, cannot explain a mother who wails her mourning song, an older brother who bikes to school alone to continue his studies in a now smaller class. That they should be left with this hole, so suddenly—Impossible—please, God, make it impossible.

The Ganga River, curving serenely across my view. Grey, dark and animated during a storm. Harshly shining in the middle of the day. Disappearing into the otherworld of mist at night. Despite all the trash and sewage dumped into it, so pure and holy for the people of Banaras—Impossible—how can beauty and faith make the water clean?

The idea that in just nine weeks we’ll be leaving Banaras, our schools and work and homes and friends—Impossible—there’s so much more to teach, to explore, to try… How will we ever pack up and go?

It hasn’t been easy to accept what I thought was impossible as true; some things I still struggle with, and maybe I always will. I do believe it’s a gift India has given me, to take these beliefs I didn’t even know I had and turn them upside-down, to show me just how possible the “impossible” could be. After all this thought, I think I’m now even less sure about what the word truly means. For my class though, I have just one example: Impossible is me being unchanged by my time in Banaras. Impossible is my forgetting you.

when we fly

January 14th was the holiday of Makar Sankranti, also known as Kitcherie, which the men and children of Banaras celebrate by flying kites. The skies are speckled with kites of all colors, many of them trying to cut others down. In the afternoon of Kitcherie I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time on the brand-new roof of my friend’s homestay house, where I received my first kite-flying lesson.

The first time her homestay father Devanand handed me the string, the black and green kite which had been peacefully soaring in the air spun and toppled, dropping rapidly despite my wild attempts to somehow tug it back into place. Devanand grabbed the string back from me and quickly put the kite to rights.

“That’s okay,” I said, laughing along with the others at my failure. “I’ll just take pictures for now.”

I watched as the men and boys sent kites climbing into the air, or dropped them down the cut the strings of rival kites.

“Kuta hua!” (Cutting happened!) We would all yell out when a kite was successfully kite. At least I think that’s what we were yelling—I had a bit of trouble hearing the words through the cheers. “Happy Kitcherie!”

I tried to figure out what the expert kite fliers were doing, but it seemed to be an inexplicable combination of tugging the string up and down, and just holding the kite in the air. My friend and I also couldn’t figure out how the kite cutting actually worked, as each person gave us a different answer.

As the light started to go down, one of Devanand’s friends handed me the kite string again. And again, the kite plummeted.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry!” I said while he patiently tugged the kite into the air again. “I don’t know what to do!”

The man said something, and Devanand translated for us. “When the top is up, pull the string.”

Okay…

I took the string and tried one last time, tugging the string in towards me when the top of the kite was up, and the kite did in fact climb. The kite starting spinning and I flinched, pulling a little wildly.

“No, no,” the kite fliers told me. “Up, top up.”

Right. Up. I watched the kite’s spin more closely, and tried to only pull the string when the top of the kite was pointing up. And, to me magically, the kite’s motion came under control, and it once again hovered fairly steadily in the sky.

I learn to live and balance in Banaras much the same way as I tried to balance kites in the sky.  There are people around who make it seem so easy, from the everyday routines that I often struggle with to bigger events like proper pujas, marriages, and deaths. At times I feel like I’m completely out of control, spinning or falling and just waiting for someone else to grab the kite string out of my hands and set everything right. But occasionally the right thing clicks, and I figure out what I’m supposed to be doing—how the constant tugging in different directions is supposed to work.

When things are going well, when the top is up, that’s when you pull hard, work hard, to keep flying higher. But what happens when the top is down? I asked my kite-flying teachers this when the issue came up, and one demonstrated by twitching the string sideways, causing the kite to spin once more, then again pulled on the kite when the top was up.

Just sitting in the sky isn’t enough. I have to be willing to occasionally lose control, to spin, in order to straighten up and fly higher.

my work at Nirman

Alright, time to explain my service work in more detail. All five of us work at different sites—mine is a school called Nirman or the Southpoint School. “Nirman” means progress, but I’m still working on figuring out the second name.

Nirman has two campuses, one in the city of Varanasi and the other in Betaver village, about 45 minutes drive outside the city. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings I take a cycle rickshaw to the city campus, and at 8:30 Sunita ma’am (another teacher) and I get into the school’s care and we make the trip to the village campus, picking up some students along the way.

The school in the village is spacious and right on the banks of the Ganga River—absolutely beautiful. The school day begins with an assembly where the children sing and hear any announcements. Then my first class starts.

The village school is small, so the students are combined into just 3 classes; my morning class is grades 1 to 4. Besides the varied ages, the children also have a wide range of English skills, from beginning three-letter words to writing full, mostly correct paragraphs.

We start our morning with one minute of silence, then go over who is in charge of different duties that day—opening windows, sweeping the floor, cleaning the blackboard, handing out pencils, putting up chairs, and overall in charge. Then it’s English time. The students are split into three groups—Peacock, Tiger, and Cobra—based on their English skill level. Sunita ma’am takes the Peacock group to work on very beginning English. I teach the other two groups, giving one work while talking to the other, back and forth. We read stories and base grammar work, vocabulary, and projects on their subjects. Recently they’ve also done work writing about current holidays and their experiences on those days.

Around 10:45 we switch to science class. I teach using the blackboard, stories, pictures, their workbooks, and little experiments. We’ve covered insects, the weather, spiders, birds, dinosaurs, and plants. Our current until is about water—how we use it, the water cycle, and water pollution issues. As I teach I translate the information and questions into Hindi, often stumbling over word order or verb tenses, and my older students help me explain what I’m really trying to say.

All this sounds very fluid and organized, so now I’m going to admit—it’s not. I am still a very beginning teacher, and while I do have decent knowledge of fun writing projects and science activities I am still below novice on issues like long-term planning and classroom management. Which means that no matter how hard I work, on any given day there is always someone who is bored, someone who just can’t understand, occasional small fights, and a fair bit of talking while I’m trying to teach.

I tell myself every day that I am getting better, and tomorrow will be better, and someday, some year I will have enough experience to be the teacher I wish I could be now. And I work really hard to make up for my shortcomings.

12:15 to 12:45 is tiffin time; I keep confusing people by calling it “lunch”. Mondays and Wednesdays I spend this time being a house advisor—the school is divided into four houses who compete in environmental work and various competitions for points (think Harry Potter). My free lunch times I talk to the other teachers as I eat my often very spicy sabji (vegetables), dhal (lentils), rice, and rotis (flat round bread).

After lunch I teach the other class, grades 5 and 7 (there is no 6th grade for some reason). Again, much of their English studying is based on stories, although sometimes I choose grammar topics they seem to need help with. So far we’ve covered irregular past tense, possessives, and some parts of speech. This term I decided to have them tackle actual chapter books instead of just short stories, so 5th grade is reading the first Magic Tree House book, and 7th is reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Last period I teach social studies to just 5th grade. I’m effectively a long-term substitute for this period as one of the teachers left a few months ago, so we’re mostly just continuing work in their book. At 2:35 school is over and I go back to my younger class to help them pack and clean up. We get back in the car and arrive at the city campus around 3:30, and if I’m not completely exhausted I meet with the principal, plan, or do library work (or help Joe and Andrew teach basketball on Wednesdays) before going home.

On Thursdays I don’t go to the village school. I stay at the city campus and help the houses with their various projects during their environmental work period, giving ideas and making sure everyone has something to do. The rest of my time varies: I do some planning work, help set up science activities, sub classes, or work in the library. I generally work about four hours on Thursdays.

And Saturdays are teachers’ meetings and planning time from 8:00 to 1:00. It’s a little odd to be the only student in my group who works on the weekend, but I’ve gotten used to the schedule, and the block of time to talk about upcoming events, issue materials, and plan is incredibly useful.

So that’s my week, as far as the service work goes. I’m gettting so much out of my time at Nirman; I can only hope I’m giving them some small help in return. The kids I work with are absolutely amazing, and even when they’re driving me crazy I love them so much. It’s hard for me to accept that I won’t be coming back to teach them next year.

first post

Okay so it’s a little late—like 5 months late, but my friends convinced me I should start a blog, because I’ve been writing a lot recently and I’m overflowing the yak board. I’m not going to post all my old material because it’s way too much, but I will put up a couple recent yaks. I’ll post more here than on the yak board though, at least until we leave for the mountains.

In case you’ve missed the news so far: I’m in India, specifically in the city of Varanasi, also known as Banaras and Kashi. It’s located in Northern India and is a more “traditional” place than Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, etc. I am here on a program conceived and financed by my university, and run by a program partner in Varanasi. My group is comprised of four other students and our group leader. I’m here to do service work, to learn Hindi, to learn about different cultures, to grow personally, and hopefully to bring some intangibles back to my college to repay them for this amazing opportunity. I live and eat with a family here, work 40 + hours a week, take Hindi lessons, and try to explore Banaras and hang out with my friends in my free time.

Anne Lamott wrote an essay about the idea that 80% of anything—sincerity, compassion, etc—is enough, and the rest of the time you get to be yourself (I am  badly paraphrasing, but hopefully you understand). Anyway, my life here is so crazy, and 80% of the time I love it.