Archive for ‘India’

April 12, 2014

What makes India so special

by Tabitha Kidwell

When people heard I was coming to India, they often said things like “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to India – the colorful saris, the delicious food, such a holy place!”

Well, yeah, I guess that is all here. Most older women do wear saris everyday, and they range from the sari equivalent of sweatpants to stunningly ornate works of art worn for special occasions.

All dressed up for the Annual Day Celebration

All dressed up for the Annual Day Celebration

Younger women often wear saris too, but for everyday, they are just as likely to wear a kurta-shalwar-scarf combo, or just jeans and a tunic.



And they do have amazing food. America’s take on Indian food that seems to be fairly accurate, unlike “Mexican” food, which is basically unlike any food eaten in Mexico. In nice restaurants, and at fancy occasions, you can find chicken tikka masala, mutton biryana, palak paneer, butter garlic naan, and all the other the delicious dishes you might find in the “international” hot food bar at Whole Foods.

Thali - a sampler dish of amizingness!

Thali – a sampler dish of amizingness!

But, for everyday fare, at least in Maharashtra, there is an unending parade of rice, dal (similar to a lentil soup), and chapati (basically whole wheat tortillas), with a different vegetable thrown in everyday. A cucumber and some tomatoes might make a cameo as a “salad.” It got pretty boring for me, especially when I spent weeks out at City of Child, and was basically eating “camp food.”

Surprise! Rice, chapati and dal... again...

Surprise! Rice, chapati and dal… again…

Lunch was a challenge, too. People take tiffins (lunch boxes, but really nice, utilitarian lunch boxes) to school or work, and typically have 2-4 chapatis and a serving of vegetable in there. Sometimes, the vegetable would be something closer to bean soup, and I would spend lunch time trying to scoop it up with a flimsy chapatti. Hard at first, but I got pretty good at it:

Take 1

Take 1

Take 2

Take 2

Take 3 - note the  "chapati cone" technique

Take 3 – note the
“chapati cone” technique

Take 4 - success!

Take 4 – success!

And lastly, how about India’s renowned holiness? Yes, there is something to it. Two of the world’s great religious were founded here. People have beautiful altars in their homes, and you’re likely to get a blessing and turmeric on the forehead if you stop in for tea. There are plenty of ashrams and meditation centers scattered around, and you pass beautiful temples all over the place.


But people also do mundane, un-holy things like go to work, go to school, go to the mall, do laundry, do homework, do exercise, show off their motorcycles, show off their mobile phones, throw trash on the ground, etc.

The common thread of a lot of my blogs recently has been the fact that I am just living normal life here – that I’m not heading out to be the tourist. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve felt a little guilt over this. I think it comes back to this expectation that people have of INDIA: The clothes! The food! The religion! This view, seeing the entire sub-continent as one big fabric bazaar/spice market/meditation center, focuses on India’s otherness. You can find those things if you’re interested in seeing what makes India different . But what has made India special to me are the things that are the same: the relationships with people, the everyday experiences, and the many ways it’s come to feel like home.

April 7, 2014

Thank You For Being Here

by Tabitha Kidwell

Next week is my last week in India, and I have a vague sense of regret – like I haven’t done enough things or gone to enough places. That’s probably true, I haven’t, but then, that’s not exactly why I came. When I plan trips as a tourist, I usually pour over Lonely Planet and Wikitravel, trying to learn as much about what there is to do and see. I circle fun bars and enticing restaurants, and daydream about walking tours. I dutifully read the entire “history” section. But I didn’t plan this trip as a tourist – in fact, even after being here 9 weeks, “visit India” remains on my bucket list. My main reason to come to India was to volunteer at Deep Griha, and that is what I have done. I’ve only been to Pune, and the couple of villages 50km east where Deep Griha has programs. I haven’t really gone anywhere outside the sphere of Deep Griha – I stay at the Cultural Center (the volunteer house) on the weekends, then come out to City of Child (the boy’s home) and Deep Griha Academy during the week. Given that India can also be referred to as a “sub-continent,” and it really seems like I haven’t been anywhere at all.

I also feel a bit like I haven’t done anything. Coming here, I had an ambitious but ambiguous plan to do “curriculum revision” or “professional development” or “materials design.” Basically, I wanted to do whatever I could that would be of help to the teachers and the school. The first few weeks of my plan were set aside for an initial “relationship building” and “needs assessment” phase. This plan, however, was complicated by the fact that I was here during the final 10 weeks of the school year, which were busy with end of the year performances, parent-teacher meetings, and exams. This is not a time for big projects in any school, let alone here, when each day has been more oppressively hot than the day before, and no one has much energy left for anything. The weeks slid by and I seemed to be stuck in that initial phase. I built relationships – I chatted with the teachers in English, went to their houses for tea, gave some English lessons. And I didn’t so much assess needs as help with emergencies when they erupted (Can you copy this DVD? Teach us an American dance! Why isn’t the printer working?). I would go to school and be busy all day, but my work here didn’t end up as cohesive as I had planned. I substituted for absent teachers, gave IT support, checked English grammar, and coordinated other volunteers’ visits to the school. Finally, after 6 weeks here, I was able to start my “teacher development program.” We had 9 workshops focusing on best teaching practices, and worked together to develop a teacher evaluation rubric. The teachers spent a lot of time discussing what successful teachers do, and I think having the rubric will help them grow in the future. I think it was really useful work, so I guess I did do something, even if it was less than I had hoped.

But, in the end, what I did (or didn’t do) and where I went (or didn’t go) won’t be what defines this experience in my memory. Halfway through my time here, the school had it’s Annual Day, a performance for the parents. Each class did one or two numbers, and I had helped (finding the music, writing the script, or choreographing the dances) for 5 different numbers. At the end of the performance, the MC was giving the farewell speech (which I had edited.) She said “To Miss Tabitha, thank you for being here…” page turn and realization that the sentence was not over… “And helping us.”

She could have stopped at the page break. I suppose I’ve helped the teachers, here and there, but the important part of my being in India seems to be just that: I have been here. I didn’t need to go anywhere special or do anything important for this to be a meaningful experience – all I had to do was be. When I look back on this time, I won’t think about the great program I did or the amazing trip I took; I’ll think about the little moments that, added up together, make daily life. Sharing lunch with the other teachers. Dodging a cow on my morning run. Waiting to eat while the boys sang their dinner prayer. It’s enough. In fact, it’s more than enough. Living in India has been an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

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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!

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.



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!”


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!

February 27, 2014

Everything is Temporary

by Tabitha Kidwell

Living at the Deep Griha City of Child and working at the Academy, I’ve pretty much lost control of my life. I get e-mail on my phone, and facebook for about 5 minutes on the road to school everyday, but otherwise I have no connection to the outside world during the week. To get to school, I take the schoolbus, so I leave and return on that schedule. The aunties at the boys home decide what and when I will eat, ringing the dinner bell and packing my lunch box. Everyday, the kids on the schoolbus commandeer my attention: Miss, colors! Miss, fruits! I’ve decided it’s easier to let them quiz my Marathi vocab than to try to ignore them. I have very little control over the details of my life, so I’m doing my best to just let go of my need to control it. This makes me feel like this:

In the past, this would have been unbearable to me. If I had shown up in Indonesia or Madagascar and told that these were the terms of my stay there, I would not have put up with it. But for two months here, it seems okay. Having the mindset that this is all temporary makes it totally bearable, even novel and fun. Of course, my stays in Indonesia and Madagascar were also temporary – two months or two years, in terms of a lifetime, are not all that different. Something I’ve been realizing recently is that everything is temporary. This is nothing that wise people before me haven’t acknowledged (this too shall pass; the cycle of birth and death; valar morghulis), but it’s new to me.

It was such a treat, for example, to come to Indonesia for just one month. The many daily inconveniences that often drove me off the edge last year were much easier in small doses. I was friendly to the kids shouting “Hello Mister,” patient at airline baggage claim, and okay with eating rice 2-3 times a day. The temporariness of my stay helped me enjoy the time in Indonesia much more.

The loneliness and boredom that came with living at home for 6 months without a job… the frustration of spending hours constructing giant snowglobes that would last only 6 weeks at Christmisc… in fact, the futility of putting up any Christmas decorations at all, just to take them down weeks later… the whole world seems to be conspiring to teach me this lesson, that everything is temporary.

And now at home, someone I love is dying – my step-father’s mother. My mom has only been remarried for 9 years, so I didn’t grow up knowing her, but I came to admire and adore her and call her Grammy. She had been a teacher for many years and always asked about my students and classes. She was so excited to hear that I was planning on getting a PhD in education. In the last few months, when she was in the nursing home, I went and sat with her, transfixed by her stories. Unlike my Nana Bets, Grammy’s mind had remained sharp, and I loved hearing about her kids when they were young, about our church 50 years ago, and about how she had gotten sick of bridge luncheons and decided to go back to working as a teacher. She’s been declining the past few years, and has been sick and uncomfortable as she neared the end, but she was still kind, caring, and sweet. Though our relationship was short, I’ll still cherish getting to know her. Not quite everything is temporary – death is very, very permanent, and I wish it weren’t time for Grammy to go. But she, along with the rest of the world, it seems, are helping me to see that even if life and the turns it take may be temporary, we can still enjoy it, we can still be loving towards each other, we can still build meaningful relationships. In fact, if we do, life becomes a little less temporary. I’ll carry my memories of Grammy the rest of my life. Maybe those kids on the schoolbus (Miss, Animals!) will do the same for me.

February 14, 2014

First Week of School at Deep Griha

by Tabitha Kidwell

After I spent my first week getting a feel for Deep Griha’s many projects, I realized I would be most effective out at their rural school. The school opened 7 years ago, and has expanded one grade level per year since; they now have 340 students from pre-school to grade 6. Their goals are ambitious; not only are they offering an alternative to the rote learning typical in many rural schools, they also hope to expand to serve as a community center, agricultural resource center, and rural health clinic. I don’t know much about most of that, but I think I can help the teachers improve their practice by sharing some of what I have seen in classrooms around the world.

The school is a 90-minute drive outside Pune, so I moved out to stay at City of Child, the orphanage they operate nearer to the school. Not all of the 42 boys are orphans – many come from single parent homes in urban slums where they can’t get the care and educational opportunities they can at CoC. It’s pretty intense staying out there – the electricity is intermittent, the mosquitoes are fierce, and the showers come in a bucket. And I certainly can’t pop out for dinner or shopping with the other volunteers to let off steam. Oh, and no internet. Ouch. But it’s peaceful and quiet, and I’m happy to be embedded in a local community.

To get to and from school, I spend an hour on the bus with boys from CoC and other kids we pick up along the way. During that time, I practice my Marathi alphabet and get high-energy vocabulary lessons from 4th graders. So far, I’ve mastered colors, fruits, domestic animals, and vegetables. I’ve been told that wild animals, actions, body parts, emotions, flowers, and birds are coming up soon. In fact, they would have taught me all those already if I had not limited them to one vocabulary topic a day – which is already more than I can absorb.

My dedicated teachers

My dedicated teachers

Once we get to school, I go hang out in the teachers lounge, where we open our “tiffins” (lunch boxes) and eat breakfast and chat. Well, they chat in Marathi and then someone usually translates into English for me. This is the first of three times we open our tiffins, which is an eating schedule that suits me just fine! This first week, I’ve just been observing classes, getting a feel for how everything works at school, and trying to build relationships with the teachers. That’s not too difficult since they’re mostly women in their late twenties and early thirties who are planning weddings and having babies and are basically just like my friends back home. Yesterday, there was an event at school to inaugurate the new library and the teachers were all planning to wear nice saris to school. They were dismayed to learn that I had no saris or even bangles to wear, but promised me they would bring me everything I needed. When we got to school, a group of giggling teachers herded me into the restroom, inserted me into a sari, and swapped out my jewelry. They suggested not-so-subtly that I comb my hair (wavy hair doesn’t seem to be appreciated here) but were appeased when I pinned it back. I’m not sure if I’m “in” their community yet, but I sure do look the part:


Next week I’m hoping to have an informal interview with each teacher about their backgrounds, frustrations as a teacher, and ideas about how I could help them. We’ll see what direction that takes me – maybe planning some workshops, maybe doing observations and instructional coaching, maybe sharing materials and activity ideas. To be honest, if I just help them improve their English by chatting with them in the teacher’s lounge and over lunch every day, that’s enough.

So, between work at the school and time spent with the boys out at City of Child, I think the next two months will be very well spent! Plus, think of all the random Marathi vocabulary I will know by then. I’m pretty sure none of the vocabulary lists they want to teach me will be “conjunctions” or “verb conjugations,” so I might not be able to string together sentences. But I’ll identify flowers with the best of them!

February 7, 2014

First impressions: Week One in India

by Tabitha Kidwell

I can’t believe I have already been in India a week! Whenever I go to a new place, I feel like time is simultaneously slipping away and lasting forever. The days are so full of new experiences and surprises that they fly by while seeming longer than normal. In the same vein, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot but haven’t done much of anything. Everything I’ve done is small but very important: meeting people, getting cell phone service, figuring out how to bargain with a rickshaw, learning to say “what’s your name?” in Marathi. If I do one or two things a day, I’m making important progress towards living comfortably here for a few months, but it feels like I’m not making any progress at all.

In any case, it has been a great first week! It helped that I had good guides as I began to explore. There are 11 other international volunteers staying at the Deep Griha house at the moment – from Canada, the UK, Australia, Italy, France, and Poland! Some of them have been here as long as two months, and some will be here the remainder of the time I’ll stay, so they are a ready-made community of really lovely people. As often happens in intense experiences, I feel like I’ve known them much longer than one week!

Besides the other volunteers, Deep Griha as an organization has provided a great community. Within the first two days I was here, I had already sung “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” at a pre-school, gotten a dance lesson at an after-school program, and drank tea with aunties in an urban slum. I’ve been amazed at all the good work that Deep Griha is doing. The organization was founded in 1975 by Dr. Neela Onawale and her husband, Rev. Bhaskar Onawale, as a medical clinic. Dr. Neela saw that many of the patients were suffering because of malnutrition or misinformation, so the clinic expanded to offer nutrition and health education services. Many of the mothers that came in wanted to work but had nowhere for their children to go, so they opened a nursery. Some women who wanted to work had few skills, so Deep Griha began to sponsor women’s empowerment groups. As needs in the community came up, the organization did what it could to help, and Deep Griha is now amazingly multi-faceted, with projects addressing women’s empowerment, child development, healthcare, education, AIDS awareness and prevention, and family welfare. They are making people’s lives better, little by little, step by step, year after year. I learned about Deep Griha through my church’s ongoing partnership with them, and I am thrilled to be able to report that our sponsorship is helping accomplish amazing things. My heart is full of happiness at the moment, and I think this cheesy housing complex billboard explains why:


I really feel that I am just where I need to be at the moment. So many factors have played a part in my being here: First Community Church’s involvement and the grant they gave me to come; my experience with teacher development in Indonesia; the fact that I have a free year before starting grad school. I feel like the fact that I am able to be here at this moment in time is a small and magical miracle. Still, it is tiny compared to the miracles that Deep Griha is performing everyday. I feel honored to just be a part of it all, doing whatever I can do to help, little by little, day by day. Hopefully, after ten weeks, that will amount to something very meaningful!

**Want to help, too? Consider donating to Deep Griha here: I know of few organizations that will use your donation more meaningfully!**