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Entries Tagged as 'India'

Final Notes on India

November 4th, 2010 · No Comments

I never really wrote final notes on India, but a new volunteer wanted my input before she left for her volunteer experience:

I enjoyed myself very much in India. It was a life-changing event for me. I have to say that at first I was not happy at all, as I had not expected to do all English language teaching – I had had no experience with children. But I grew to love teaching them and interacting with them. Also, I hadn’t realized that they really expected 40 hours of work a week. I thought it would be a looser schedule, but Stephan wanted all those hours.

Despite the schedule, things pretty much go on India time. Be prepared for many last-minute changes. Stephan had to do last minute re-arrangements all the time. Stephan was also an amazing host, giving 200% to making sure you have everything you need. If you want to travel, he arranges everything. If you want to go to town, he calls the taxi. If you want a special food, you got it. By the way, the food was awesome.

Other notes about my trip:
1. Mosquitos were terrible and it was hot, but you will not be there during the hot or mosquito ridden times. (I was there in Late Feb)
2. You’re in Chennai suburbia, and there won’t be any beggars about, or not too much.
3. I didn’t see anyone starving, as a matter of fact there is an obesity problem.
4. The garbage is overwhelming and amazing. If you walk on any of the streets, it is pretty much everywhere and you might be forced to walk on it.
5. The air pollution is quite terrible.
6. The kids English is pretty good at the schools, but not so good at SEAMS.
7. What worked for me as far as teaching English at the schools was to play games with them. They love hangman and they also loved flashcards with pictures on them. I might load up on those before you go.

Last but not least – CLOTHES:
1. Stephan will insist that you not wear any shorts or skirts that are above the knee nor any top that reveals any cleavage. Indian women are very modest. It’s kind of silly, since women wearing saris have their whole middle section exposed, but that’s the rule.
2. I suggest loose light cotton pants and a cotton blouse. It will be cooler this time of year for you than it was for me but in the sun you will DIE in denim or anything polyester. The humidity is very high, Chennai is on the coast.
3. You can get clothes made there for cheap – the salwar kameez is comfortable and quite beautiful and COOL. Sheeba (Stephan’s wife) will make arrangements for you.
4. I went to downtown Chennai to the street markets to shop and bought some wonderful Indian style cotton pants that I LOVE. I wear them here in the states and get compliments all the time from men and women of all ages. I wish I had bought 50 pairs. You can also buy blouses, but Indian women are tiny and you’ll wind up buying XL shirts.
5. I really only took a few items of clothes and bought the rest of my wardrobe there. You can get the houseman Barnabas, to wash clothes for you for a small fee.

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Tags: India

Our Trip to Mysore and the Forest

March 8th, 2010 · No Comments

Kristina and I took the suggestion of Sheeba (Stephen’s wife) to take the sleeper train to the city of Mysore, with the intention of visiting the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, and the Elephant Reserve Kilamalai Reserve Forests.

We took the sleeper train to Mysore from Chennai, and this is a good way to go. It’s a 12 hour train ride, so if you can sleep through most of it, it makes use of time rather efficiently. Plus, you’re not wasting the day. I found the train to be very comfortable and on the way back, I slept the majority of the time, probably because I was tired.

Stephen made arrangements for a driver to pick us up (and surprise! he had a sign), and he drove us to the forest. Along the way, we saw numerous monkeys and deer. It was funny, the monkeys hung around the speed bumps (there are no speed limits and practically no traffic lights, even in the big city, so speed bumps are the only deterrent to fast driving). They knew the tourists would stop to see them and maybe throw them food.

We really hoped to see wild elephants or if we were really lucky, a tiger. We also had scheduled an elephant ride. Also, one of the fun things about this trip is that we got to sleep in a tree house. Yes, the house was at least 2 stories up in a tree, with branches through the floor. Amazingly, it even had a bathroom with a toilet and a shower. The view was nice and all of the walls rolled up so we could enjoy the breeze.

Since the town where the our resort was located was so close to the forest, almost every house and resort had electric fences to keep the elephants and tigers away. The elephants are pretty smart and know how to get through the fence: take a large tree branch and hit the fence until it’s down.

After we had lunch at the resort, we went for a mini-safari on a government vehicle which was so loud that I’m sure it scared everything but the monkeys away. We did, however, see a peacock. We then met with our hired safari driver who took us out to the Elephant Camp, where abadoned elephants were housed and cared for. One of their elephants was 75 years old, the youngest, 3.

My very first impression of Elephant Camp was the sight of a full size adult elephant, laying on his side in the river, having a bath by one of his caretakers. The elephants eyes were shut in pleasure, the caretaker was scrubbing vigorously. The elephant’s trunk lay above the water so he could breathe. We then saw the baby elephant in camp. We were told that she was abandoned by her mother. The elephant was adorable and reached out to us with her trunk.

Next we rode along the river, where we did see some wild elephants, 4 of them, 2 adults and 2 babies. The safari driver told us the next day he would take us for a safari on some private land (you can’t go into the preserve without being in a government vehicle). So we went to bed early.

During the night, we were visited by loud chipmunks/squirrels who fought loudly over a granola bar in Kristina’s backpack all night long. I briefly considered putting in earplugs, but decided not to do it.

Early the next morning, we did go on the safari, but unfortunately did not see any animals except peacocks. However, we did go on a really elephant hunt, where our safari guide bribed a friend with beer to track down elephants for us. We saw fresh elephant tracks, huge stalks of bamboo that had been bent by elephants passing and pretty fresh dung. I am sure we were only an hour at most behind them. It was a nice hike through the forest in any case.

I really enjoyed the trip out of the city, it was so quiet and peaceful and you could even see the stars. One bad thing: the pollution from the big cities hung over the forest, just as if you were in Los Angeles.

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Tags: India

How to Have a Wonderful Time in India with the World’s Worst Tour Guide

March 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Today I went to Hyberabad, the capital and the most populous city of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It was quite the experience. I flew from Chennai over there (hey, India is a REALLY big place) on Jet Airways, which I would recommend.

Flying domestically doesn’t really pose any security risks, apparently, at least as far as liquids. I packed a full 1 liter bottle of water in my bag, and no questions were asked going through security. Other than that, I was one of the few women on the plane and definitely the only single women, a fact which gather disapproving looks from the flight attendants, all men.

I made arrangements with a local tour group to be picked up and shown the city – I had specific things I wanted to see. I was lucky enough to meet a guy named Sameer when me and Christina went to Mysore last Wednesday and Thursday, and he generously called a friend who set things up.

First problem: usually, when someone is being picked up by a tour operator or a being met at the airport by a driver, they have a sign with the name of the person they are meeting. Lashmi had no sign. Of course, I was easily the only blond woman in the whole terminal and she finally found me. She has apparently called Stephen (who is running the volunteer program here in Chennai) and asked him where I was and he said of course, on my way over to her. She asked if I had a cell phone and he said no.

I glossed over this part in the tour guide, but it did say that Hyberabad is a Muslim city. It’s not just the numerous fully veiled women running around that tips you off, but that almost every street in the city has streamers running over traffic bearing the Muslim sign of the crescent moon and star. Like lots of them.

Immediately the feel of the city is different from Chennai. Chennai is Hindu and almost every street corner has a temple, some of them humongous. In Hyberabad, every street corner has a mosque, some of them dating back to the 15th century. In addition, the humidity is low, even if the temperature is still hot. It’s a dry heat, sound familiar?

Next problem with my guide: her English was horrible. Hey, I don’t expect anyone in a foreign country to speak English, but when you’re hired as a guide for the day for an English-speaking tourist, it kind of goes without saying that it should be passable. Most of the time, I couldn’t understand what she was saying and she didn’t understand me. Well, at least I remembered to bring my tour book.

The first place we went was called the 4 towers, or Charminar. My tour guide told me it was built in 1951. I asked several times and she told me each time that yes, this was when it was built. Wrong! Try 1591. In any case, the towers were very impressive. My guide thought it might be a good idea for my to buy bangles (you know, shiny bracelets). She seemed highly displeased when I declined.

She was also displeased when I told her I wasn’t interested in eating lunch, despite the fact that “most people come to Hyberabad for its Chicken briayni (an Indian dish). I told her I’d that dish a few times already in my two week stay here. I told her I wanted to see the Golconda fort and the tombs of the Kings and Queens. Of course, when she took me to a museum and I told her I wanted to spend time at the fort instead, this didn’t go over well either. The fort and tombs is pretty far from the city, and I literally only had about 6-7 hours to sightsee and I didn’t want to waste it at a museum I’d never heard of (and didn’t have art).

The whole time in the taxi – the driver, who was violently Muslim, argued with Lashmi both of them in loud voices. When not arguing with the driver, Lashmi was talking to her friends about me on her cell phone, because I heard the word “American” several times and the dismissive clucking sound she made, similar to the ones she used to ignore beggars on the street.

I tried prompting her to tell me about the city, but she had nothing to say. When asked about an old building that we passed by, she simply said “that is an old building”, if you can believe it.

We passed by a statue on a street corner and when I asked about it, she said it was Neru, the first prime minister of India after its independence, and a close a associate of Mahatma Gandhi, largely credited with gaining Independence of India from Britain. My admiring tone prompted the cab driver to say (as translated by Lashmi) that I was “green if I liked Gandhi”. Great, now both Lashmi and the cab driver hated me.

On to the fort. Very impressive, from one side to another, it’s 7 km. A whole city has been built inside the parts of the fort that wasn’t the residence of the king and queen. The queen had 5 swimming pools, and an ingenious way to pump water up over 300 feet. The walls reminded me of a medieval Castle. Several people asked to be professional guides, but Lashmi waved them away, telling them that she could tell me everything. Yeah, ok. I purchased a guide book, which was helpful and amusing, written by someone who was blatantly anti-Muslim. At one point the book talked about how That Cult infested the city.

It was a hot day and my ever-chipper guide told me that “most people come at night when it is cooler and they can enjoy it more”. At this point, it’s pretty much FOAD (Fuck Off And Die) in my mind to my companion.

To get to the top of the tower there are 360 steps. “Ma’am, it’s so hot” Lashmi told me I had lots of time, and I could take my time to climb the stairs. I’m not in that bad of shape but she was huffing and puffing, so her concern was a little self serving. And dammit, it was pretty hot, and I just wanted to get the stairs over with so I could get out of the sun. Plus, it was fun to race up the stairs and leave her butt behind.

At the top of the fort, while I was admiring the view of the city below, she continued to talk to her friends on her cell phone. At one point, she handed me the phone and said that one of her friends “wanted to try out his English”. OK. So I tried to talk to him, but the best I got was a “hello – how are you – I am fine”. I think that’s what most people know over here as far as English. The professionalism was amazing.

After the fort came the Qutub Shahi Tombs. Now, these aren’t just any tombs. Every single sultan has this full-size mosque (could easily hold a couple of hundred people) for his tomb. Now that’s what I call a cemetery. A few of these tombs were over 1000 years old, holding the various sultans who had ruled the city Golconda, along with all their wives and children were buried there as well.

For about the 50th time, I was reminded that it was “very hot” outside, but I dragged Lashmi from one tomb to another. At one point she actually said “all these tombs are alike inside, we don’t have to go into every one”. She also suggested climbing one of them to take a picture of the whole grounds instead of visiting each one. At this point I was completely ignoring her or suggesting that if she didn’t want to walk with me, she could wait and I would come back. She wouldn’t do that.

A last desperate try to get any tour info our of my guide was when I asked about the smaller tombs in the park – I was told they were lesser people, not sultans. Great, I didn’t know that.

Also, while we were walking around “in the very hot sun”, she propositioned me for an upcoming tour that her company was booking. There would be “people of only your age, ma’am”. Funny.

They hurried to get me back to the airport, way too early, by the way, where I think all company was eager to part ways. I think she expected a tip – but not a chance.

Was I annoyed, yes, but – it makes a great, funny story. The hot dry weather, and no mosquitos was a welcome break from the hot humid weather in Chennai. The views and monuments were spectacular, and also were a nice break away from temples. I actually had a great time, and only wished I had a cell phone to text my exploits with friends as they happened. It was hard not to laugh at times.

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Tags: India

I Guess I’m not a Bad Teacher

March 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

I’ve been teaching on my own for the past three days at Grace School and I actually kind of like it. We having been playing games with flashcards. The kids love this game. They compete to see how many flashcards they could get right. They really loved this game and everyday, they keep asking to play it.

The third graders love hangman that’s their thing. It keeps the rest of the class occupied at the end where I am running out of things to teach.

The fourth graders want to play “straight” flashcards where they just compete on the number of cards right. I taught them a little more sentence structure and they have to take two nouns and make a sentence. I made them use the right verb form and prepositions if they were using them. The class divided itself into 2 groups, the “Golden Dragons” and the “White Rhinos”. In case you’re interested, the Golden Dragons won, 45-35.

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Tags: India

Short Little Post from India

February 28th, 2010 · No Comments

Today we went temple-hopping – a sport practiced here in the along the coast south of Chennai.

We went to the Ekambreswarar temple at Kanchipuram. This ancient city of temples is one of the leading centers of Shakti worship in Tamilnadu. This temple was part of a cluster of temples and was over 3000 years old. The temple was like a Greek temple, but every part of it, and it was all made of black granite was covered with different designs. Breath taking.

At Mahabalipuram near Chennai, is the Stalasayana Perumaal temple. Nearby are Tiruvidandai and Tirukkalunkunram, all three temples are over 1200 years old.The Shore temple once sat on the beach – but after the tsunami of 2004 – it sits back on the mainland due to the changed shore line.

Also at Mahabalipuram are the rock carvings. Oh yeah, so what, right? Rock carvings. Well – it’s actually astonishing. These guys carved an entire cliff wall into something resembling a Greek temple in Athens. How did they even know the thing wouldn’t collapse? We had packed a lunch for the trip and ate it in the shade of the trees and watched hundreds of Indian tourists go by.

There was more than one request for me to pose with the Indian tourists – so we were almost as big as an attraction. Everyone was staring and staring – most of the children would shout out “hello” or “hi” and want to come up and shake your hand.

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Tags: India

2nd Post from India

February 26th, 2010 · No Comments

Well, I made it through 1 week. I am resigned to the fact that I will have to go it alone with the kids next week and the week after. Christina has gotten our Global Volunteer leader to adhere to his promise of construction work. Even I will get to do a little.

We decided that if we were going to see anything of India at all we would have to be proactive. So we made a schedule for the week. Tonight we didn’t have anything planned, so I am writing this post.

Tuesday we went to go see this phenomenal Hindu Indian traditional dance at the student dance center. It’s called Bharata Natyam Dance. (For more details, see this description in Wikipedia.) The dances take 6 years to learn. Yes, you read that right – 6 years. One of the dances lasted for 20 full minutes and every step and facial movement had to be perfect. It’s such a difficult dance mostly because of the facial expressions that have to be precisely timed to the dance steps. Each eye movement has its own name.

The music included a live band and singer. At the end of the dance, the dancer graduated and received her certificate that she could perform the dance at a temple. The dances lasted for a total of an hour and a half. You’d think I would get tired of sitting still for this long for a dance. Nope. I was entranced.

While India is poor, we do enjoy many luxuries here. For instance, the house has our own private cook who cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner, unless we go out for a meal. When we go anywhere, we have our own private driver. The cost of a 45 minute each way drive into downtown Chennai to see the dance, plus waiting for us outside, plus taking us to the downtown temple and wating for us? 600 rupees, which is about $12.

We are chauffeured to all the schools as well, but it’s not a limousine, or even a car, it’s an autorigshaw, which is basically a 3 wheeled motor cycle with a cab over the top of it. Each side is open. We go through the crazy traffic in this little vehicle, surrounded by other autorigshaws, motorcycles, buses and cars.

Today I got an oil massage, and it was an extremely bizarre experience. We drove to the hospital, and the massage lady met us there. I was lead to a room where patients were recovering from treatment, most of them had IV’s in them. The massage therapist took my blood pressure.

Then I was led to a room that had what looked like an operating table, no sheet, no cushions. I was told to put on the equivalent of a loin cloth. The massuse poured hot oil on me and then 2 ladies rubbed me down, front and back, and I mean front and back. I got a facial and then was put in a box with steam that only had a hole for my head for about 15 minutes. It was slightly claustrophobic. I felt like one of those ladies who was about to be sawed in two by a magician.

We then went up to St. Thomas mount, where St. Thomas was buried. The church gets all the best real estate. We could see the whole city of Chennai. The road on the way up there was overrun with goats.

Though Christina does not like working with the kids, I am kinda of enjoying getting to know them. I am mentoring two boys who are studying to go to college and want to learn English. The older boy will be graduating from the 12th grade next year and wants to be an engineer. He is very determined and he will probably make it. I am also helping two older girls who want to go to college. The oldest girl knows HTML – so we may be having html classes at the dormitory as it has internet access.

College tuition is cheap by our standards; a good school costs $2K a year. Still, with the average income of $120 a month, this is out of reach for most Indians.

I like teaching at the Grace Schools. The kids are rambunctious but I like them as a whole. The third grade is the biggest class. It’s tough to keep 10 eight year old’s attention. The 4th graders are a smaller class, but their English is much better. The 5 grader’s English is the best but they can be the most difficult to control. I like all of the kids at Grace Schools. Next week I will be teaching them as well as spending time at SEEMS. I will also be teaching Shiba and Stephen to do HTML.

I wore my first salwar kameerz today and everyone loved it, especially me. I will wear my other one when we do the “Golden Triangle of Temples” on Sunday. I’ll tell you more later….

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Tags: India · On The Road

First Post from India

February 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

This vacation is not really much of a vacation – we are really teaching kids. Some of them know English and some of them are better educated than American kids of their same age (what a surprise, huh?).

We help with 3 organizations:

  • a Catholic children’s organization
  • a private school for kids
  • a children’s home.

The goal is to teach them all English to give them a better chance to make it in a college and job setting.

We actually have to plan lessons for these guys!

The neighborhood we are in is very poor, but safe. There is garbage everywhere and there are cows everywhere as a well. The rule of the road is: people yield to bikes, bikes to scooters, scooters to auto-rigshaws, rickshaws to cars, and cars to cows.

There is only one other person in the program for this term. Hre name is Kristina, which confuses everyone because our names are so close.

I did order my first Salwar Kameez outfits to wear – they were really cheap, about 1400 rupee (44:1 rupees to the dollar) for both of them and they are custom tailored to me. Here is a link to get an idea of what they look like:

This weekend, Kristina and I are going to go sightseeing on our own to see some temples and to Pondicherry (also on the coast).

More later…..

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Tags: India