Please More Naan
by Lauren Ebersole '07
The recent big news was my trip to India to visit my dad, who was there for a month volunteering. I went with a fellow volunteer named Samantha. The first thing that struck me about India was its similarity to Indonesia. It is crowded and dangerous to cross the street, it is dirty and there is so much pollution the inside of your nose turns black. Yet at the same time it is oddly charming and enjoyable. We spent the majority of our time in Delhi with a few side trips to Agra, Jaipur, and Amritsar. Like Australia and New Zealand I'll just hit the highlights.
- Obviously the Taj Mahal is number one on the list. The moment it comes into view it's a bit awe-inspiring. Who knew a building could have that effect, but it truly is as beautiful as people say and the photos look. The rest of Agra is a chaotic mess and not necessarily a place I would like to spend a lot of time.
- Pakistan-India border ceremony: Every afternoon the flags are lowered and the border is closed between India and Pakistan in a hilarious ceremony of "Anything you can do I can do better." Supporters of each country fill the seats on either side, waving flags, dancing, and alternately shouting 'Pakistan', 'Hindustan'. The guards march extremely fast, adding random high kicks for emphasis. Displays of machismo ensue. Just getting through the gate is a risk to one's safety; as the crowd pushes you through without doing any work on your own. Women and children are allowed through first; luckily Dad wasn't stopped by the security like some
other gentleman. Truly a unique experience.
- Amritsar: In Amritsar we were excited for a little bit of luxury in our hotel. Turns out pictures can be quite deceiving. The hotel was dingy and we got an overwhelming feeling that something was just off, like they were trying for something, but clearly not reaching it. The restaurant was empty when we arrived at 8pm and it did not appear that they were expecting or hoping for any customers. The taxi we arranged the night before did not come to pick us up. It took hours to get extra towels and once they arrived they were already wet. But even with the unfortunate hotel the Golden Temple was still amazing. The Golden Temple is to Sikhs what Mecca is to Muslims. A beautiful white building surrounds a 'holy pond' with the Golden Temple in the middle. We were one of a few tourists and so drew quite a few looks.
- Delhi sites and shopping: While Dad was working in the mornings, Sam and I spend the days touring Delhi's many ancient sites, temples, mosques, tombs, and such. My favorite was probably Lodi Gardens, a quiet park in the middle of the chaos dotted with tombs of rulers and mosques. You enter the gate and it is like a separate world from the ceaseless honking of the streets. We also did our fair share of shopping, even Dad. Delhi has an endless number of modern shopping centers and street markets selling fabrics, clothes, jewelry, bags, and things decorated with elephants and Krishna.
- Auto Rickshaws: The streets of Delhi are packed with all sorts of transportation and by far the most fun is the auto rickshaw. There must be thousands in Delhi alone and they are not just tourist transportation, but tourists get charged a higher price. The rickshaws weave through traffic and the open air is nice, until you realize you just inhaled enough pollution to shorten your life by a few years.
- Food: Indian food is so good. Like Indonesia, the staple is rice, but the rice is different. Rather than plain, white, somewhat sticky rice, Indians eat delicious steamed Jasmine rice. And along with that rice there is such good bread, which can be dipped in the numerous curries, lentils, or saucy goodness that covers most things. We also had a really good Italian meal, courtesy of Dad who paid for wine, entrees and dessert. (Thanks again).
- Nirvana Hostel: Our original plans for accommodations in India were to save money and utilize couch surfing, basically a website that has people willing to let travelers stay for free in a spare room. Sam arranged everything and said the guy seemed nice. After about 10 minutes I had decided I couldn't stay there for almost two weeks. We had traveled for 14 hours and arrived at 10 at night and the first thing our host wanted to do was listen to spiritual music. That might be fine for other people, but not so much for me. Long story short, we left after two days and found a hostel that was clean, quiet and had a great, helpful staff.
- Company: Traveling in any foreign country can be difficult, and is even more difficult in a country like India. My fellow volunteer Sam was a great travel companion, relaxed like me and completely capable of getting along in a hectic environment. And of course it was great to see my dad. He had been in India about 3 weeks before we arrived so he already knew the ropes and showed us a great time.
- The Delhi metro has lady only cars!
Other random stories of the past few months:
There is no honor among bugs. As I reached for my brush I almost instead grabbed the cockroach right next to it. Startled I put on some clothes and then removed my belongings from my dresser, giving myself more room to attack. Armed with a rarely worn shoe I swung and missed three times before connecting and sending the bugger flying to the floor, where he was left defenseless on his back, legs flailing. A few quick smashes and victory was mine.
You have to take the good with the bad. I let a student borrow a pen to finish his test. When he was finished he started writing the vocabulary words on his desk for his quiz later, with my pen of all things. When it was time for the quiz I moved him to the front with only his chair. Then I noticed he had the vocab. written on his hand. Seriously kid, A for persistence, but F for your quiz. A student wrote in her journal that I was her "teacher idol" and she liked having English with me and hoped I was her teacher until she graduated. I quickly forgot about the cheating student.
My host mother has been waging war against the mice in our house. For weeks she had been bested by the mice, prompting her to respond, tikus kuliah di amerika, or these mice went to college in the US. But finally she found the right product and within two days inflicted serious damage, two rather large mice and six other small ones. Unfortunately judging by the scurrying sound on the roof there are quite a few more left. The mouse I found in the bath water and subsequently showered with was also a good clue.
Not that I'm counting down but 7 more months until I'm back.
Now that testing is over the final step before the holiday break is compiling grades. Obviously each teacher keeps the grades for their classes. Teachers then must upload their grades into some internet system that our school purchased. Each grade for each student must be entered and then saved one by one. There is not one final grade for each student in each subject, but more often two to four grades per subject.
So it goes something like this: English-practicum grade- Lauren- 95-save, Steve-87-save, John-90-save. Then English- exam grade- Lauren-88-save, Steve-90-save, John-85-save. But because the internet and the program are not also so great, it usually requires hitting the save button multiple times. So actually it's more like this Lauren-87-save-no connection-back-save again-no connection-back-save again.
After all the grades are entered then they are printed and given to the "Wali Kelas", the teacher leader for a specific class. That teacher must then take all the grades that have been painstakingly entered into the online system and hand-write them into the students' grade report. Every student has a report book that has their grades from grade 10 until they graduate. On the last day of school before the break parents must come to school and get their child's grade report, they do not give it directly to the student.
And that brings us to Christmas.
Once again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Much love, Lauren