Archive for March, 2014

March 23, 2014

Tourism, Schmorism…

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’m a terrible tourist. I hate traveling. These are strange words for someone who, in the first six months of 2014, has plans to visit Indonesia, India, Malaysia, France, Spain, Colorado, and – wait for it – Oxford, Ohio. But the truth is, I hate the process of lugging around bags, waiting for trains, haggling with a taxi driver, etc. And I’ve already seen my lifetime quota of caves, churches, temples, and waterfalls. Once I drag myself to a tourist attraction, I’m often quite happy to be there, but more often than not, in Asia at least, I’m hot, thirsty, and annoyed by all the people blocking my view and attempting to practice their English on me.

I love being in other countries, though. My favorite things to do in other countries are basically my favorite things to do at home – sit in a coffee shop, meet a friend for a drink, relax somewhere peaceful reading a book. I love going to the grocery store to see what they sell in whatever country. I’m always pleased if I can find almonds, peanut butter, plain yogurt, and the other foods I eat basically everyday at home. And I really love working in other countries. I love going to school here and helping the teachers with their English and computer skills. Last week, I started leading a series of workshops to help them develop a teacher evaluation system, and it’s going really well.

Some of the teachers from school

Some of the teachers from school

Sometimes I can work up the energy to be a tourist. I had an amazing three-week trip though Vietnam last summer. But tourism just isn’t calling me at the moment. I came to volunteer with Deep Griha, and that is what I want to put my energy into. I can come back to India one day and be a tourist. If I didn’t know myself better, I would think this lack of motivation was part of the funk I described a couple of posts back. But I know that forcing myself to go see some buildings or monuments isn’t right for me at the moment. So I’m not going to see the Taj Mahal. I’m not going to the Himalayas or Goa. I don’t even think I’m going to go to Mumbai, 4 hours away. If I wanted to, I could – I’m a volunteer here, after all, I could un-volunteer. But what I really want to do is go to school on Monday and help the teachers type their exam papers, then go home and play uno with the boys at City of Child. And I don’t feel even a little bit bad about that.

Better than the Taj Mahal anyways!

Better than the Taj Mahal anyways!

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March 20, 2014

Holi 2014

by Tabitha Kidwell

I wrote in my last blog how I have been in a bit of a funk. If any part of that funk had left me feeling that life is dull and colorless, I have been thoroughly disproven! Last Monday was Holi, a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of summer. Traditionally, there is a bonfire the night before, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. This is also a time to forgive others and repair relationships that have been damaged during the year. Then, people celebrate the next day by throwing colored powder and water at each other. Some people carry water guns or water balloons to add to the fun. We volunteers had a lot of confusion and questions about the day – can we go to the grocery store without being ambushed? do the colors stain? Should I wear a raincoat? – but in the end, we just decided to just go with the flow.

Our main guide on Holi etiquette was our friend Prakash, who lives at the Deep Griha Cultural Center with us and works as a sort of helper-guide-translator-house manager. He is 18 or 19, and used to live out at City of Child, but lives here while he is in college. At 7:30 on Monday morning, he knocked on all of our doors and greeted us with a supersoaker full of colored water. That was a shock first thing in the morning, but then we all went up the the roof and joined in the fun, pelting each other with powder and water.

Prakash gets a taste of his own medicine!

Prakash gets a taste of his own medicine!

After Holi on the Cultural Center roof

After Holi on the Cultural Center roof

David, Madga, Adele, and me

David, Madga, Adele, and me

Then it was 8:30 AM, and we had a after-the-presents-are-opened-on-Christmas-morning moment where we just looked at each other like “now what do we do?” So we took showers and went downstairs to have a nice breakfast together. Later on, we ventured out. Like so often in India, we didn’t have any idea of what to expect. We had heard vague rumours that Holi is often used as an excuse to have fun at foreigners’ expense, so we were ready for mischief. But everyone was incredibly polite – a couple of youths on motorbikes pulled up and asked quite kindly if they could put color on our faces, then continued on their way. We made a brief stop at the Irish bar for the requisite St. Patrick’s Day green beer. We thought it might be packed – double holiday! – but it was pretty dead. I think St. Patrick’s Day hasn’t caught on here, and even if it has, it probably can’t really compete with Holi!

Hard to believe "Kiss Me, I'm Tipsy" Green Beer Day was 10 years ago!

Hard to believe “Kiss Me, I’m Tipsy” Green Beer Day was 10 years ago!

Then we walked around a bit more, and made some new friends for Holi part 2.

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The next week, we got to play at school, too. It was so sweet playing with the kids – they had so much fun, and loved coloring their teacher’s faces. They were (mostly) really polite with their color and always said “Happy Holi.”

Okay, there were some ruffians, too.

Okay, there were some ruffians, too.

"Happy Holi, Miss!"

“Happy Holi, Miss!”

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I’m pretty sure now that Holi is over and I can go out without worry that I will be pelted with color. A few items of clothing are ruined, but that is a small price to pay to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and to welcome the summer. Summer is definitely here now – it’s getting hotter everyday. Some days, I think a little super soaker attack might be nice… maybe just skip the color.

March 15, 2014

There’s no time like the future…

by Tabitha Kidwell

I had a lot of confusion as I started this “transition year.” I thought I wanted to get a job, even found and interviewed for two jobs I thought were PERFECT, even accepted then un-accepted a Peace Corps position. Throughout the fall, I was pretty miserable and cranky. Now, though, I’m glad that it worked out the way it did. For one, I got to become an expert on ugly Christmas sweaters. For another, if I had applied to and gotten in to some of the schools I thought I wanted, I would have totally ended up in the wrong place. I’m glad I had time to visit schools, take the GRE, and put effort into my applications. All the acceptance and funding info came through in the past month or so, and I’ve decided to go to University of Maryland College Park, just outside of DC! I’ll be in the department of teaching and learning, policy, and leadership, studying second language education, teacher education, and professional development. I’ll live around Columbia Heights, and will be able to take the green/yellow line right out to school. I’m really excited to move there in July and unpack the boxes that have been in my mom’s basement for the past three years. Who knows what treasures they could hold!?!?

But I’m also really excited about the next few months. I have about four weeks left here, then I’ll go meet my friend Jess in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’ll watch her do a half ironman, then we’ll go to the Perhentian Islands for some scuba diving and relaxation. I fly home the day before Easter Sunday, through Beijing on Malaysia airlines, so my itinerary includes the-flight-formerly-known-as-MH370. I got an e-mail last week saying my itinerary had changed, but they had only changed the flight number. Come on, Malaysia Airlines, we know what flight we’re really on. I’d rather keep the original – what are the odds of it going astray twice?

Anyways, my flight home also has a leg that departs Beijing at 10:10 AM and arrives in Chicago at 10:05, so I’m really looking forward to experiencing time travel. I’ll be home for two weeks, then I fly back to Chicago to celebrate my friend Chris’ wedding with all of my college friends! After that, my mom, step-dad and I fly to Paris for a week of sightseeing before mom and I visit my friend Suzi in Dijon then go to pray at Taizé for a week! Then, I drop mom off in Paris and take a train down to Pamplona to walk the Camino de Santiago for a month. Then, I’ll fly home just in time to meet up again with my college friends for our 10-year reunion in Oxford. And then I fly to Colorado for the inaugural Davis-Murphy-Kidwell-D’Ardenne family vacation, including husbands, wives, and dogs (none of them mine). And then I move to DC! I couldn’t plan a more exciting 3 months if I tried!

Unfortunately, the bad thing about an exciting 3 months starting 4 weeks from now is that I’m feeling pretty distracted from life here. Which is crazy, because I an in INDIA, which is super exciting in and of itself. For normal people, living in India would be the most exciting part of the year! For most of my normal years, it would have been. It was really exciting at first – I was blissfully happy, actually. Now, though, the initial thrill has worn off, and the things that are annoying about life anywhere have started to catch up to me. (Why is the checkout so slow? Why is dinner late? Why isn’t it mango season yet?). I’m still happy to be here, but I’m in a bit of a funk. The school schedule has changed to half-days for students because summer is starting, so I’ve started doing a workshop series for the teachers in the afternoon. I’m excited about the work we’re doing, but part of me is already day-dreaming about springtime in Paris, planning my walk across Spain, and scheming about the scooter I will buy in DC. With so much excitement coming up, I kinda just feel like shutting myself up in my room and reading. I’m pretty cranky. I haven’t felt like blogging, studying Marathi, or doing much of anything. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned from this year, it’s the down times, like the amazing, exciting times, are all part of the journey. And sometime the moments when you feel most miserable and cranky lead right into the blissfully happy times. So I’ll make the most of the rest of my time here. It would just really help if mango season would start already!

March 9, 2014

Love Marriage and Children

by Tabitha Kidwell

India has this crazy concept called a “Love Marriage.” We have this in America, too, but we just call it “Marriage.” I find it charming that this term even exists, that there is a need to designate a marriage built solely on mutual affection. I knew that arranged marriages were still a common practice in India, but I had the impression that it was restricted to ultra-traditional families and very rural areas. But almost all the teachers at school are married (or in the process of getting married) to someone their family found for them. When I expressed surprise at the number of arranged marriages, they looked at me like I was crazy. When I tried to explain that in America, we have only love marriages – no, none, zero, nul, nada arranged marriages – they realized that it wasn’t me that was crazy. No, all Americans are crazy.

The line between arranged marriage and love marriage does seem to be increasingly fuzzy; it’s really rare that the bride and groom don’t meet until their wedding day, or that someone is forced to marry someone they don’t accept. More often, someone’s parents or aunties will find a nice boy and they’ll invite him over to meet their daughter, or maybe they’ll set the two lovebirds up on a blind date. That doesn’t sound all that arranged to me, and it certainly sounds like a much better plan than going on The Bachelor. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes the two end up very much in love. There is none of the confusion of dating, fear of commitment, being at “different places.” When single people decide they are ready to get married, their family will start the “process,” and the wisdom of the aunties often brings people together who will be really happily married.

“You’re still single because you want a love marriage,” one of the teachers at school told me the other day. “Why don’t your aunties find you a husband?” I told her that most American families don’t feel comfortable meddling in their children’s love lives, and that it is important for me to be in love with the person I married. She looked at me disdainfully, like I wasn’t even trying (she should read singlenomorein2010), and asked “Don’t you want to get married? Don’t you want children?”

The truth is, I really, really do want to get married. I’ve wanted to get married since I was 15. Read my journals and you’ll see “Tabitha’s wedding plans” written out in my best school cursive (which wasn’t very good). Those wedding plans, though, are as obsolete as my carefully looped Ls and humped Ms have become. Almost all of my friends are married. I have been to so many weddings that the variations on dress, cake, decorations, colors, etc., no longer charm me. Chicken or beef, red velvet or french vanilla, ivory or eggshell – these are some of the most meaningless choices we will ever make in our lives. While out thrifting for ugly Christmas sweaters this year, I came across a vintage knee-length white dress. I bought it for $8, and may one day wear it to the courthouse.

And I do want children. My ovaries have faithfully been dispatching half of a potential human, month after month for the past 20 years, all to no avail. In the past year, five of my close friends have had babies. If I was caught up in wedding mania in my 20s, I’m caught up in baby mania in my 30s. I’ve done a lot in the past year – ran a marathon, dressed up as a Javanese princess, traveled around Indonesia, Vietnam, and India – but all that doesn’t even remotely compare to my friends who have made human beings from scratch. I don’t even bake cookies from scratch! I’m simultaneously in awe of and annoyed by my friends who have joined this motherhood club and now talk about breast-feeding and sleep schedules. But I’m mostly jealous of them and this tiny human they get to snuggle with. Sometimes I think I want a baby more than I want a husband, and I consider freezing my eggs, adoption, getting knocked up by a stranger, or snatching cute babies from carts at the supermarket. I mean, I don’t seriously consider all those things, but the thoughts have maybe crossed my mind. Compared to all that, arranged marriage sounds like an increasingly good idea. My aunties are going to have to step up their game. If they don’t, now I know some experts I can call in.

March 2, 2014

Language #6… if you don’t listen too carefully…

by Tabitha Kidwell

I speak 5 languages.

Ha! That’s not true. I mean, I say that sometimes, but it’s really not true. I have studied 5 languages, but most of what I have studied is lost to me. Malagasy, so painstakingly acquired while buying mangoes, trying to teach English, and sweating on the Mozambique Channel, only comes to me in random words and phrases. Mahay. Te hihinina. Olom-belona tsy akoho. Much like my favorite red flowered dress from that time, I cannot believe I allowed myself to lose it.

I’m pretty sure Indonesian will also disappear. It came back to me while I was back there in January, and I might find Indonesian friends at grad school, but I probably won’t find many opportunities to use it, and it will also get misplaced in a junk drawer somewhere in my mind.

Of course, I can still say that I speak those languages because I will almost never say it to someone who will be able to test me. French and Spanish I do still speak, and am functionally conversational whenever I run into a French speaker or wander through a Spanish speaking country. But I studied both languages for long enough to know that my grammar is atrocious, full of mismatched endings and haphazardly formed subjunctives.

So that makes three languages I really speak, though I speak two of those rather poorly. And my English is even peppered with international oddities – should I say cell, mobile, or hand phone? – and I tend to throw in an alhamdulillah from time to time.

Nevertheless, I’m working on language number 6 – Marathi, which is basically only spoken in the Indian state of Maharastra. This gives the impression that it is a useless, provincial language (which it might be), but it is spoken by 73 million people – more than Korean, Vietnamese, or Turkish! After teaching and learning so many languages, I’m no polyglot, but I’m fairly good at the process. I know what I need to learn right away – subject pronouns, basic verb forms, question words – and I have 5 previous languages with which to make mnemonic devices. I’m pretty comfortable with grammatical forms that deviate from English (Gender? No big deal. Inclusive/Exclusive we? Got it).

But Marathi presents a new challenge; because it’s the first language I’ve learned with a new alphabet. I observed a 1st grade Marathi class and was super jealous of their neat handwriting and ability to sound out words. Learning to read in a second language is really interesting for me as a teacher. I understand better what it must be like to be 5 years old, looking at a text, and able to pick out one word. I’ve been studying flashcards of the letters and practicing writing them out. I’m at the point where I can copy words and read v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, and I’m thrilled about that. I feel like I now have first hand understanding of education-y words like “decoding,” “deciphering,” and “meaning making.” There are 45 (or maybe 49) letters, and each of the 12 vowels has two forms. Though they actually aren’t even letters, because it isn’t actually an alphabet, it’s an abugida (Since you want to google that anyways, click here). It seems complicated, but it’s actually really nice because it means that each letter/syllable will always be pronounced in the exact same way, so pronouncing words correctly is just a matter of reading them correctly. Take that, French!

In the ten weeks I am here, I won’t make much progress, but it’s fun for me to try. Three weeks in, I’m starting to be able to read and write, but basically all I can do is tell the names and ages of my friends, family, and myself. This isn’t so useful when my family is 10,000 miles away and I only have like 10 friends. I enjoy the process, though, and it’s teaching me ore about how languages and learning work. More importantly, it’s a good gimmick – a party trick, really – to help me build relationships with the teachers and students at school. They’re tickled at my fumbling attempts to introduce myself and identify school supplies. It’s helping me grow closer to the people around me. Which, I guess, is the whole purpose of language in the first place. I may not really speak 6 languages, but they still have helped me make friends all over the world!