California beach famous for bridge formations carved by waves, and as a winter resting place for migrating monarch butterflies. (Click for slideshow)
The smell of the cleaning oil–cloying, heavy citrus–works its way through my nose, and I’m driven out the chapel door only a few minutes after I entered. I sit outside in the San Buenaventura mission’s remnants of a garden, sad for its diminished size, annoyed by the plastic quality of the refurbished buildings, and slightly uncomfortable from the wind that carries the coldness of the nearby ocean without any of its refreshing saltiness. Disappointed, I wander back into the chapel, and this time sit long enough that the citrus abandons its assault, fading to a complexity of subtler scents–the heavy oil layered on the old wood beams and the deep cool musk of the adobe walls. Last to reach my noise is a small whiff of sweetness from the hothouse flowers being lined up in front of the altar by a man who pauses to cross himself each time he passes the central painting. Beneath one statue, lights flicker in a tricolor set of candles, a glowing, misshapen French flag inside this Spanish house of worship. Through one door comes the sound of water flowing, from the other, a more monotone hum of flowing traffic.
This place feels heavier to me than San Juan Capistrano’s chapel. Perhaps it’s the lemon smell–no longer consciously noticed, but still hanging in the air. Or maybe it’s the graphic nature of the paintings, scenes from Jesus’s death lining the walls, and the large statue of a bloodied Christ. Even the colors–somber pink between brown beams painted to look like wood–feel too heavy on my spirit. I miss the soaring open stones of Capistrano, where I truly felt like a bird return to a splendorous home.
A black and white map, laminated so it can be written on fresh each week, that used to be full of brightly colored table numbers marking the locations of the different summer camps. As she shows it to us, she notes that the system has become obsolete: this year, with only one or two camps per week, we can choose our own sites. The black outline of trees and benches folds up and slides into the back of the filing folder.
0640 The alarm beeps faster and faster. I hit the snooze button and manage to return to my dream before my four minute respite expires. I push off my layers of blankets and wind through my cluttered room to brush my teeth.
0640 The alarm beeps faster and faster. I hit the snooze button and manage to return to my dream before my four minute respite expires. I shift aside my thin sheet and tug my way through the mosquito net. Grabbing my yellow water bottle and toothbrush, I walk around the corner to brush my teeth, then return to trade the toiletries for my towel and take a fast shower.
0645 Back in my room, I pull my drawers open and grab jeans, tshirt, and a sweatshirt.
0650 Back in my room, I turn to the wooden table across from my bed and pick out a salvar kurta dupatta set. I pack up my backpack and bookbag with textbooks, papers, craft supplies, and journal, and close my door behind me. On the second floor landing I lace up my shoes and wrap my dupatta over my arm to keep it from trailing on the stairs. My homestay mother, sitting on the window seat, gives me a small smile as I say “I am going. I will come back this afternoon. Bye.”
0650 I slice a piece of bread and start the toaster. Two slices of turkey bacon provide extra protein.
0700 Turning a couple corners, I walk out to the slightly larger street and up to the blue tarp-ed front of the neighborhood yogurt shop. “Bada walla,” I tell the man, and he pulls one of the larger clay pots down from the shelf and scoops white spoonfuls into the pot until it balances with the one kg weight.
0710 While finishing my breakfast, I check my email and two of my favorite websites.
0715 Upstairs at our program house, I take out a metal skillet and start toasting bread on it. I peel an apple and scoop out a small bowl of yogurt.
0730 I leave for work.
0745 I leave for work.
0800 I arrive at the park and drive up the hill to our camp’s center. I pull my boxes of supplies and craft ideas out of the trunk and carry them over to my camp’s picnic table. This week I’m teaching a physics camp, so I need a few extra pieces of equipment for our experiments and projects. Glancing at the day’s plan in my notebook, I go into the “craft closet,” a small room full of various equipment and materials, and take out colored paper, plastic cups, string, toilet paper tubes, and bendy straws.
0800 I arrive at Southpoint school’s city campus after a cycle rickshaw ride and a walk down the last street, still under construction. I sign in and pick up the ten sheets of paper I issued from the school’s cupboards yesterday afternoon. As soon as the other teacher who commutes to the village school is ready, we get in the car and drive out.
8:30 The aide assigned to help me with my camp arrives and we set up the days activities (all related to sound) on the table.
9:00 The warm air and bumpy roads have made me fairly sleepy by the time we reach Southpoint school’s village campus. I look through the windshield at the trees framing the Ganga river, so pristine here upstream from the city, and smile to wake myself up. As I walk to my classroom, students call out “Good morning, ma’am!” I take my shoes off at the door and put my bag behind the small table that serves at my desk.
9:00 Campers come up to the table at their parents sign them in. Those who can remember it greet me by my first name. My aide and I pin on the kids’ nametags and get them started on their first activity.
9:05 My 1st to 4th grade students start their day with one minute of silence, then split into their three reading groups (cobra, tiger, and peacock) for English. The students in the peacock group, with the lowest-level English skills, go to the next room to work with Sunita ma’am on the ‘o’ sounds. I give the tiger group spelling exercises to work on and lead the cobra group through the second section of the Goldilocks story we’re looking at this week. As each student finishes their work, they bring it to me to check.
9:05 As soon as everyone arrives, I have them line up and play with string and a slinky as I talk about sound waves. They sit at the table and make a simple straw instrument before we grab our bags and go on a hike.
10:30 The English period ends, my peacock group students come back into our room, and we switch over to science. We’ve covered different types of animals throughout my time here, so now they’re working on a final mini-research project on one animal of their choice. I hand out the picture books about horses, dogs, and alligators and write the next group of questions on the board. Two of the fourth-graders are ahead of the rest, so I give them some guidelines to find extra information.
10:30 I pass out worksheets to talk about the different parts of the ear, and use a balloon stretched over a plastic cup to show how the eardrum works. Later the campers sit quietly for five minutes and draw on a paper the different sounds they hear around them.
11:15 One student tries to take another’s book, and I cross the classroom to pull them apart. Two of the youngest children are playing the game where you draw lines to make squares, and I take the paper away and make them return to the task at hand.
11:45 We sit in a circle on a blue tarp under an oak tree to eat lunch. I pull my red lunchbox out of my backpack and finish my pita sandwich and berries in five minutes. When the kids ask, I open water bottles, plastic packaging, and listen to stories.
11:45 I go to the kitchen to get my lunch from Usha didi, the school’s cook. She puts rice, daal (lentils), a potato and tomato sabji (cooked vegetable dish), and two rotis (flat round breads) on a rectangular metal plate. I eat in the teacher’s room, talking a little with the other teachers in a broken mix of Hindi and English. Students come in to get board games and balls to play with. I eat as quickly as I can, but it still takes me almost the whole 30 minute lunch period to finish the meal. I return to the kitchen to wash my plate and carry my books over to the 5th and 7th grade classroom.
12:15 We talk some about the physics behind different kinds of instruments, and then I lead the campers through making a “glove-o-phone.” My camp aide and I circle the table, handing out pieces of tape and helping with assembly.
12:15 The older students finish their games of tag and run to get a drink of water before class starts. The 5th graders work on word order for questions and I sit with the 7th grader students to review the half-chapter of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe they read last night. One of them understood it completely, and another got most of the plot and ideas. They help out the other two, and then all four write about what they read as I switch over to read the last chapter of The Magic Treehouse with the 5th grade. After English time is over, I help them their social studies units from the beginning of the year.
1:00 Camp ends and parents come to pick up their kids. I answer questions, hand back crafts, and wave goodbye. Once all the campers have left, my aide and I start collecting markers and cleaning up craft supplies.
2:00 School ends, and I check to make sure I have all my books. I talk to the 7th grade students as they straighten the classroom, asking about their plans for the afternoon, answering questions about myself or America, and just joking around. As with every day here, I drag out leaving as long as possible to have just a few more minutes to spend with them. Finally the other people returning to the city school insist that we leave, and I get back into the car as my students leave two on a bike or walking.
2:00 Cleanup finished, I sit in the teacher’s room and work on my lesson plan for the next day, testing experiments and collecting materials. The other camp teachers also get their work done, and we share ideas and stories and joke around.
3:00 At the city school I head up to the library. I adjust my lesson plans if they need to, and track down Mira didi who is in charge of supplies if I need more materials for something special. If there isn’t much to do I work in the library or just sit and read.
4:00 I drive back home.
5:00 I leave school, walking down the broken-up road and dodging cars, bicycles, piles of trash, and dogs until I get to the larger road. I climb into a rickshaw and tell the driver to take me to Tulsi ghat. “Assi ghat?” he asks. “No, Tulsi ghat. Assi ke pass,” I tell him. It’s near Assi.
5:00 After eating a snack, I spend time on the computer checking email, editing photos, and killing time on the internet. I talk some to my brother and mom about my day.
5:15 The girls who live at the corner next to my homestay house greet me enthusiastically. As I open the door to my house, a loud six-year-old voice calls down “kon?” who is it? My homestay brother meets me on the steps and demands to know whether I have Hindi class tonight and, when I tell him I do, why I can’t skip it. I rinse off the sweat and dust of my day, and sit on my bed and write some before joining my homestay brother on the roof. He runs around rolling tires and building bird shelters out of leftover construction materials as I look out at the river and watch the sun go down.
6:15 I carry dishes and food over to the table and my family sits around on padded chairs to eat dinner. We have salad, artichokes, chicken wings, homemade bread, and berries for desert. I drink milk out of a coffee mug and keep a paper napkin in my lap. At the end of the meal we all clear our dishes and put them in the dishwasher.
6:15 I leave for Hindi class, taking the back way because it’s faster and quieter. I walk down cobbled roads winding between three-story buildings until the gullies open up onto the ghats. I follow the curve of the river past water buffalo, small one-room homes, and a snack stand tucked into a niche in a brick wall. My friends meet me at Hindi class and we spend the next two hours practicing verbs, vocabulary, conversation, reading, and writing.
7:15 I finish up one last worksheet for camp tomorrow and spend some more time on the computer talking to friends and writing.
8:30 A friend and I walk the streets back to our houses together, sharing stories from our day. We stop for a mango smoothie on the way. I tell her I’m irrationally worried my students will forget me or like next year’s teacher better, and she says she’s having the same issues. We talk about our families–the ones in Banaras and those in America.
9:00 I watch a movie or an episode of Farscape with my parents. Cold air blows in through the windows, so I wrap myself up in a blanket.
9:00 I tell my homestay family I’m back and go up to my room. The fan on full-blast, I listen to music as I write some, and fight to stay awake.
10:15 I go to take a shower and get ready for bed.
10:15 My homestay mother yells my name to tell me dinner is ready, and I stumble down the stairs to the kitchen. I sit cross-legged on the kitchen floor and she hands me a plate with sabji and rice on it. She quickly spins out circular rotis and holds them over an electric cooker until they’re the right shade of brown, then drops them on my plate. My homestay father walks into the kitchen and asks in a booming voice, “khana accha hai?” Is the food good? “Accha hai.” I tell him. “Bahut accha hai?” “Bahut accha hai.” Yes, it’s very good. “Us ko nahi pasand.” She doesn’t like it, he jokes as he sits between my homestay sister and me and receives his plate of food. My homestay mother pours filtered water into metal cups and continues serving until everyone else is done before she takes her own plate of food. I talk to her a little longer before heading back upstairs to bed.
10:45 My cat Jack follows me around my room as I turn my alarm on, turn off the lights, climb into bed, and pull my many covers over my head. It takes me a little while to fall asleep.
11:00 I brush my teeth and set my mosquito net back up around my bed. I turn out the lights, turn my alarm on, and crawl into bed. I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
This is my home. It’s the place I’ve lived my whole life, and completely what I’m used to. Only occasionally it’s like an overlap picture, like something that is normal also isn’t at the same time. A moment of confusion and disorientation that I watch as it hangs over me for a bit and then moves on.
The streets and traffic lights and cars and highways. The size and shiny colors of the cars, the way they drive inside the white lines, the speed.
My clothes, so many different tshirts and jeans. Why do I have so many jeans?
People wearing short shorts and tank tops, especially packs of middle school girls all dressed the same way. They look like clones of someone I don’t remember.
Showers confuse me too. Hot, high-pressured water, and I can take a long time–so many luxuries, and yet I’m convinced I’m wasting time and water. I know I don’t need any of it; I know I can do just fine with a quick rinse in cold water. I feel good, relaxed, and at the same time guilty and unhappy.
Me. I confuse myself. My reactions to people and materials. Sometimes I’m really quiet and sometimes I can’t stop talking. Sometimes I dwell on Varanasi and other times I push it away. I feel strengthened by my experiences and I’m convinced I should have done something more, different, better. I confuse myself when I do things differently than I used to. I even confuse myself when I’m the same as I’ve always been–sometimes I think I should have changed more.