Posts tagged ‘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.

See?

See?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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:

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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: http://deepgriha.org/index.php/get-involved/donate/online-giving-centre I know of few organizations that will use your donation more meaningfully!**

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