Monday, January 31, 2011

attack of the monkeys

i thought that the meowing cats at our house in brazil were bad, but i've made new enemies.. the monkeys. before yesterday, they were just part of the landscape, laying around pruning themselves. yesterday was Sunday and we woke up to monkeys swarming our patio and fighting over a rotten papaya that we had forgotten about and meant to throw away.  Melanie wanted to make everyone french toast and bananas.  she had run down to get something from her room and i was in the kitchen washing some dishes.  all i heard from one of the teachers who was hanging her clothes outside was, "monkey!"  there just wasn't enough time for me to react and think about what in the world i would do to get rid of a monkey.  these monkeys are not little either.. the adults stand to be as tall as 3 feet or so (essentially a 1st grader) with big pink butts, nipples, and balls. these guys are not afraid of humans and clearly don't mess around. the monkey ran off with our dozen bananas!  they all feasted (as if purposely) in front our room hissing at us. no shame whatsoever. this battle was far from over.  i volunteered to go to the market to get more bananas.  except i didn't know how far or where. i gave it a shot, but once i got to a certain point i just turned around, not in the mood to face the honking cars, motorbikes, & mass of people.  so i ran by Nisha's house and she happened to have some bananas.  i arrive back upstairs to monkeys all over the place just waiting for someone to forget the door open.  we enjoyed our breakfast.. french toast w/ honey and bananas. after our feast, we decided to go bike riding.  we were getting ready to leave, anna and melanie were waiting downstairs, and i ran to the bathroom before we left. apparently anna had left the door open because i walked out of the bathroom to find a monkey holding my refrigerator door open and pulling out food.  i'm sure he was just as surprised to see me as i was to see him.  we both looked at each other and i just screamed and grabbed the broom.  the punk ran out with our bananas while dropping a few eggs and making a mess on our floor.  i could've killed the monkey! we now have a trap door -- a rope that goes across from our front door to the bathroom door, holding it shut.

anyways, our bike ride was so nice.  instead of going left toward town like last time, we went right, determined to find nothing but country.  what we found was the closest to country we have come.. the road was lined with big trees hugging the road, small homes with families outside in the sun, people working the land, and farmland.  anna and melanie gave up on waiting for me since i couldn't help stopping every few minutes to find something amazing to take a picture of.  a little boy getting his hair cut, some young girls in beautiful colors with their white horse, and people piled up in tiny WWII-looking vehicles.  we went through the town on the way back from our ride down the road to nowhere, bought fruit (oranges, apples, bananas and even a watermelon), and some other supplies. we tried to find toilet paper again but with no luck.. somewhere the translation got lost and we found ourselves with napkins again. at this point i'm used to the staring.  we go to buy some apples and suddenly i turned around and there are about 10 or 15 people just standing there staring at us.  i think i had about had it though when we were heading out of the town with my bicycle basket heavy with fruit, when a guy on a bike carrying long metal poles hit me from behind and i fell on the ground... again.  the fruit went all over the road, watermelon and all.. i was more worried that a bike or car was going to run over my food. luckily the food was still good but i was surprised by the fact that nobody helped the poor white girl running after fruit. 

today was the first day of my school week.  i finalized my schedule this morning and i'm really looking forward to working.  my photography class starts tomorrow that i'll be doing with the 5th grade class.  they are a small group, about 13 kids, and just a really great group.  i'm working with some of the english classes (various grades) in small groups doing conversational activities. capoeira was supposed to start today but i didn't have the music, so it'll start on wednesday.. today we just did the yoga portion which Anna taught.  the rest of my time (majority of my time) i'll be working with Gautam, the art teacher.  he's full of crazy / amazing ideas and i'm really excited about teaching with him.  we've already started discussing a wall sculpture project (to hang on a huge wall in the school) inspired by Vik Muniz's work, Wasteland.  we plan to use trash and recyclables as materials with the older classes to create a wall piece inspired by their country.  it's still in the works, but if it actually gets done, i know it will be great. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

india republic day

pushp niketan school (means "flower house school")

the front entrance
                                                      dirty little puppies that live here
                                                           the kindergarten classrooms
                                                                    the student garden
                                                        kids arriving on the school bus

                                                    one of the classrooms (1st grade i think)

home for now

                                                the entrance to our room + terrace

                                                   anna resting in the sun on our balcony
                                                             our kitchen / bathroom

Day 5

i wake up for the first time in india.  it takes me a minute to realize where i really am... and what time it was.  for someone like me who rarely wakes up on my own in the morning hours, i knew it had to be early.  it was 8:45 am and i was wide awake.  i start reading since i was so cold i didn't want to get out of bed yet.  anna doesn't wake up for a couple more hours, and by the time she does i was outside on our terrace trying to warm up in the sun and looking around at our surrounding neighbors from the rooftops.  one guy down below looks like he just got up, shaving in the sink that is outside while standing in his underwear next to his two very well kept cows.  i scan to the other side to another rooftop and see a woman hanging clothes and some kids running around.  it's a peaceful sunday morning. Rajesh had invited us the night before to a birthday party for a little girl who's family is friends and teachers of a nearby catholic missionary school... this was interesting because i didn't expect my first experience in India to be in the presence of nuns.  the school driver took us there, but Rajesh had to stop in town at a store to buy the little girl a gift. i only got a glimpse of the town, and the only way i can describe it is like a maze.  it's made up of very small roads that weave around buildings that existed well before cars. the buildings sit on top of one another. the oldest buildings are the most beautiful ones (even as rundown as they are)... like a movie set.  our first day was nice and filled with lots of good (spicy) food..  we rested in the sun in the afternoon since we were still very jet-lagged and ended the night with dinner at Rajesh and Nisha's house.

i should probably preface my description of the school with some background information.  Rajesh and Nisha (married couple from Kerala - southwestern India) were hired by the sugar cane factory owners to run a school.  the family who owns the factory employs around 3,000 people and wanted to give back to the community by starting a school. when Rajesh and Nisha first started, their dream for the school was to bring progressive teaching methodologies to the area.. to create a school that goes beyond conventional teaching. the sugar mills fund the school so the school does not lack any materials.  although the students are required to pay a certain amount (not much), many are here on scholarship. the school is next door to what used to be (in the 80s) the largest sugar cane factory in all of India and has gymnasiums, a pool, squash courts, and recreational space for the entire community.  what is now the school, is what used to be factory labs/office space. they have an organic garden that is taken care of by the students and a large composting area. each grade has between 10 and 20 students.. some classes have up to 30 (mostly lower grades like nursery through 2nd grade). aside from being a bilingual school (english & hindi), they have theater, art, and music. you know how lucky the kids are to have this place and the best part is that you get a sense that they know it as well.

the first couple of days at the school were scheduled for us to observe certain classes and meet the teachers. so based on our interests, they gave us a schedule with the classes to visit and sit it on and talk with the teacher. the school is really amazing because of its inquiry/project-based methods.  instead of being taught to just absorb information, they're taught to question the material. it's really rare to have such a progressive dynamic in most school settings, let alone a small town like Dhampur.  they may expect to learn a lot from us, but i'm really thinking i'm going learn more from them. 

yesterday was a holiday.. India Republic Day.  there was no class, but we had a half day where some classes gave performances and sang songs, but mostly they just had relay games (what would be a field day in the U.S.).  it was fun to watch the little kids run around with bags on their heads (pictures to come). it was all over around 2pm.  Anna had the idea about going for a bike ride... the school has a couple of bikes for teachers and volunteers' use. only i don't know why there would ever be such a tall bike in this country of small people (much like me).. this bike was made for a viking.  i felt like a little kid learning how to ride a bike again.  oger-sized bike aside, our bike ride was out of a dream.  we were hoping to ride by mostly farmland, but beyond the acres of sugar cane fields outside the school, there was no escaping the never-ending crowded towns. i almost killed myself on that bike. i couldn't stop looking at everything and everyone we rode past. it was the late afternoon so the light had this magical quality, giving everything in its path a seductive glow.  the light here is unlike anything i've ever seen, only because it's filtered through this smokiness / fogginess that exists in the air here.  if we thought we were going for a relaxing bike ride, there is no such thing. this 1970s bike that i was on (probably made of steel it was so heavy), rattled past vehicles of all kinds.. some i had never seen before.. something like half bus, half tractor, half rickshaw.  as Anna and i rode off in an unknown direction, trying to stay on the road without getting run over by a motorbike, tractor, bus, rickshaws, or cattle, we ended up at the town again.  we unknowingly rode in a big circle and ended up at the old town.  it was too crazy to ride in there so we just walked our bikes inside.  aside from the chaos around, it was surreal.  i felt like i was in a movie. the whole ride was only about a couple of hours, but it felt like a lifetime. we somehow found our way back to the school and of course without fail, i got distracted looking at something and my front wheel hit Anna's back wheel and i fell off my bike! had to happen.  anyways, i couldn't believe i had forgotten my camera.. probably saw over a hundred good shots... next time.   

later that night, two more volunteers arrived.. Catherine, from the U.S. who has been traveling in India since october, and Melanie from South Africa.  they were tired of course after arriving but we had some hot toddies (whiskey & hot tea w/ honey) at Rajesh & Nisha's house with them.

today is only day 5.  i went around to the younger classes today to observe and meet more kids.. i don't think i'll be working much with the younger kids (below 3rd) since they don't speak English yet & i don't speak much Hindi. at this point i have somewhat of an idea of what i want to be teaching.. of course i will talk to Rajesh tomorrow to finalize my plans.  i have chosen to work mostly with the 5th graders.  but for now, i hope to have a photography class with the 5th graders (Anna is going to pair that with a writing class), teach one or two art classes and assist in others, teach a 5th grade English class and assist in two others (1st & 2nd), and a Capoeira class with the 6th & 7th graders. outside of the classes that i teach, i will mostly be working with the art classes (all grades).  of course, all this is tentative but hopefully next week i can start teaching.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

53 hours later

traveling to the other side of the world requires one to throw out all concept of time. i arrived in dhampur, india on saturday evening around 7pm local time. i flew from atlanta to houston, houston to doha (qatar), doha to delhi. i finally arrived in delhi at 3am after being on & off of planes for something close to 24hrs.  i was supposed to meet my fellow volunteer in the airport around 8am once her plane landed... so i had to wait. i realized how the time difference was really getting to me when i ordered some chicken and rice dish at this place at the airport at 5am (getting interesting looks from the guy at the counter). finally after a few more hours in the airport, i met Anna, and from there the trip really started.  we got in our beautiful cab that was like a temple inside.. it had ornaments, colored tapestry & shag!  this man was weaving from one side of the road to the other, bypassing motorbikes, bicycles, cows / donkeys pulling carts! they don't just drive on the left side of the road, but all over the road. my eyes could not keep up with all there was to look at.. so many people, cars, smells, sounds .. so much going on at one time.

we arrive at the train station and are suddenly in a huddle.  the gringo parade has arrived and everyone wants to see the white people and all their luggage. we had people from every which way asking to take our bags to help us.  i have one huge bag, a duffel bag, a backpack, and a ukulele.  Anna has two small rolling suitcases.  this guy, who we thought worked at the station, tells us our tickets are not confirmed and to go to some other building.. then deciding to show us.  as we lug all of our things up to some random office across the street, we realize this was all a set-up.  they tell us our tickets are "not for tourists! you need nice car to take you.. this ticket is for local train and will take extra long to get to your destination."  a load of crap.  after realizing the trap, we lug all of our things, cross back over the busy street and walk to the train station again. we then find out that the platform for our train is all the way up a million stairs, over some bridge, then back down a million stairs.  Anna and i put on a great show.  i now know what it feels like not only to look like a complete idiot, but what it's like to have a thousand Indians staring at you.  the platform of people became a circle of people and we were in the middle while everyone just stared.  it was great.  i just stared back because everyone was just as interesting to me as i'm sure i was to them.  after about an hour and a half, the train arrived and we got lost in the bustle.  people every which way bumping into one another.. if i didn't push, i would get pushed.  Anna and i were some team. our tickets were for the sleeper cart. Anna, who had less to carry, got inside and grabbed us a seat as i shortly followed behind with the 50lb luggage and assistance of some other passengers. the worst was over and we were on our way to Moradabad, where some people from the school were to meet us.  we were squeezed into a tiny corner (luckily next to an open window) surrounded by people in all directions, even above in the bunks.. our next challenge was to stay awake the next 4 hours so we wouldn't miss our stop.. of course, we both did just that.  we fell asleep but luckily woke up only two stops before we had to get off.  woo! 

getting off was worse than getting on.  there is no waiting for the other person to get by you policy.. it's i will get by you even if i step on top of you while your face is pushed up against the wall.  i didn't know if it was the exhaustion or hunger or thirst that was contributing to the nausea but i think i had finally hit my wall after that train ride.  we were so happy when our group found us.  they were wonderfully welcoming and took us to a restaurant to get some food.  the ride back to the town was about two hours of the driver constantly honking his horn (because everyone just goes wherever there is space on the road) and weaving through buses, cars, people on bicycles, motorbikes, donkey-pulling carts, cattle-pulling carts.. insanity! we both fell asleep and arrived at dark.  it was cold.  Rajesh and Nisha (directors at the school) welcomed us and helped us to our room.  then they invited us for a quick snack and tea at their house (right in front of our building).  Anna and i share a room on the top floor of this three-story building where each floor has about 2-3 apartments where teachers live with their families.  the top floor is all ours.. we're on the terrace/roof where everyone hangs the laundry.  we have a front small balcony where Anna and i have been laying in the sun in the afternoons to get warm.  we have a small kitchen area and bathroom up there too.  the tea and snacks were great at Rajesh & Nisha's house, but i was getting too tired.  I went up to shower and go to bed while Anna stayed a little longer. 

It's cold here at night.  Days get up to 70 degrees but then get cold fast.. and when you don't have heat, 45 degrees becomes bitter.  our water heater takes a while to heat up but i got in the shower anyway.  the water doesn't get hot.. just warm.. but i didn't care since it had been 2 days of traveling without a shower.  of course, one minute into the shower and after i had shampooed, the power goes out!  i thought, oh well, i'll just hurry up cause it's dark... then i realize that the power being out meant the hot water turning into ice water.  i had never been so cold and so determined to finish my shower.  in minutes i could see my breath.  the lights went back on but i was already out.  going to bed with a wet head of hair only made it worse.  the two layers of pajamas, sweaters, and socks didn't seem to help much.  i was so tired i fell asleep at 9pm the moment i hit the pillow.

Friday, January 14, 2011

traveling again and heading east.. slowly

at least for now, i have not been able to shake my wanderlust. after living in Brazil last year and shortly after settling back into the States, i found the Pushp Niketan School. a non-profit supported by a sugar mill, it began as a pilot venture to bring in high quality thematic/inquiry based, child-centered education methodologies to small towns and rural settings in India. it is located in Dhampur, in the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh (about 6 hrs northeast of New Delhi). from January until May this year, i will be teaching art and ultimately plan to establish a photography course with a few 35mm point-and-shoot cameras.

i was supposed to leave today.. because i live in the South and Atlanta proved no competency for dealing with 6 inches of snow, i am now scheduled to leave in a week. i leave Thursday, January 20th, and arrive Saturday, January 22nd.. slowly but surely.

looking forward to sharing my stories..


this was one of the best times there with the kids.. they all got dressed up and had makeup done and their hair done.  another NGO down the hill also joined us and had crazy costumes.  there are also some pictures of the kids in class during activities..  this was the last week i was really with the kids everyday and it was a great way to end the program. 

                         the kids from the NGO down the street

                              evelyn in her hair and make up

                            our kids with the group down the street

                   getting ready and playing some music

                        my girls - our last group picture together

more pictures from the project at the Morro da Formiga in Rio.. from Jan-March 2010

the following pictures are from the project supported by the church and private donors.  they had many more kids (around 30) there for the after school program and i decided to work on restoring / repainting the mural there with the kids..

                           davidson and his little brother..
                                       view from the NGO of the community
                                        water play once a week

                            i was never able to get pictures of mural completely done,
                           which is a shame cause it looked so much better finished, but
                                    you get the idea here.

                                               me and one of the girls
                                             my trusty ride down the hill!