Thursday, September 24, 2015

Teachers Day!

If you are reading this, it means that I have finally pulled myself away from all of that important and necessary napping, reading and movie watching long enough to write. Over the last few months, we have all been hearing quite a bit about teacher’s day and therefore have been getting really excited. This day is all about celebrating teachers and what they do, and while we had to break it to our students that in America we did not celebrate this or Student’s Day, we could not wait to participate. Therefore many schools including St. Andre and Holy Cross, celebrated by having programs run by the students and dedicated to the teachers. For about two weeks prior, many of the teachers in our school tried to catch a glimpse of students practicing their dances or were found discussing what they would wear for the big day.
When Teacher’s Day finally came, we dressed to the nines, wearing local dress with cameras in hand and smiles on our faces…although Sarah and I have yet to perfect walking in Saris or Pasahras which made getting to the bus quite a struggle.  At school, many of us teachers took pictures/selfies while the students prepared. With a short pinning ceremony, we all paraded into the assembly square with the students cheering loudly for all of us (I think I know what it feel like to be a celebrity now).  
We knew it was going to be a great program when KG1 to class 3 students came out and did a dance to Barbie Girl by Aqua followed by some of the other young students doing a fashion show. While there were some periods of confusion along with some class 1 models crying, everyone still looked very fly.  After that there was a variety of dances and performances. Most of them were traditional Indian dances while some had a little western flare to them. Some class 11 and 12 girls who are from Arunachal put on a great performance representing their home state. There were a few Hindi dances that could have been taken straight from Bollywood and during one memorable Kokborok performance, one of the class 9 boys came out dressed as a very believable girl and fit in perfectly with the rest of his female classmates during a partner dance.
In the middle of the program the teachers got brought to the stage and had balloons tied to our feet. The goal was to pop everyone else’s balloon and keep yours full of air. While I expected to be great at this, I was very disappointed to find that I remained in the game for close to 7 seconds. After the winners were declared, teachers received gifts of mugs along with matching fabric (we are all getting teachers uniforms…pictures to follow when we get them).
And of course the day ended in an on stage dance party.
All told the program was really wonderful and it’s always very cool to see your students in a different light and showing off talents that might not be seen at school and its even cooler to see students who may not show interest in school, show so much joy and excitement up on stage. While I did not get to see the Holy Cross College Teachers Day, it sounds as though there was a lot of fantastic dancing and singing to be had there too!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nothing Beats a Sister in Action by, Jenny Bradley

Teaching is both the thing I struggle with the most and the thing I love the most here. Which isn’t much of a surprise. I think that’s how I’m going to feel for most of my life. Because without a classroom full of children- whether they’re screaming, running, jumping, asking for candy, giving me flowers, or actually sitting quietly and listening to me- my life just isn’t quite right. It’s not full enough. Not in the way I know it’s meant to be. To me, kids fill up all the little holes there may be. They fix the aches and pains. They bring joy even when you’re on the brink of a breakdown. They’re loyal beyond reason- best friends to the end.
            Speaking of children and best friends, I had a recent encounter with one of my students that involved both of these things.
            I asked Riya, “Riya want to be my best friend?” (I don’t have favorites. Except for Riya.)
            Her response, “Alina!”
            Riya’s still working on her English. She thought I was asking who her best friend was. Or she was rejecting me with a huge smile on her face. I’m gonna go with the first option and save myself some hurt.
            For those of you who don’t know, Sarah and I have been teaching in the lower section, known as KG, of Saint Andre since April. This section of the school is set away from the main building which houses grades 4 and up, with our section having grade 3 and below. Since moving to the lower section our days have become a whirlwind of the craziness that comes with small children. And when those small children and you don’t speak the same language? Triple that craziness; throw in a few more tears (their and ours), and a lot more charades.
            To give you an idea of the craziness that we’ve delved into, I’m going share a few of our stories from a life in KG…
             It’s third period April 27, 2015. The first fifteen minutes of my class have passed by uneventfully. All of a sudden there’s a commotion on the left side of the classroom and a chorus of voices calling, “Miss, puking! Miss, puking!” I hurry over to locate the puking child and see what can be done. In this same moment the other side of the room erupts with voices yelling, “Miss Spider! Miss Spider!”
            For those of you who don’t know me, let me just be clear my fear of spiders far outranks my aversion to puking. In fact my fear of spiders outranks most things in my life, I am very much my mother’s daughter in this respect.
            Back to April 27th and the simultaneous spider and puking event. I move as far away from the spider calls as possible and focus on the puking child, a young girl in the second to last row of my classroom. And then what? I run.
             Don’t worry, I don’t run far. Just to the next class over where Sarah’s teaching KG 2 (Kindergarten 2) drawing. I bust into her classroom and exclaim, “I have a puking child and a spider. Help!” I then proceed back to the puking child, hoping Sarah will take care of the rest. In retrospect, I’m just like the children… Children: “Miss puking! Miss Spider!” Me: “Sarah, HELP!”
            My puking child manages to stop, and heads to the bathroom and eventually the nurse. Everything gets cleaned up and I gather all my strength to locate the spider. Which is perched on the back wall of the classroom near a few boys. I give them strict instructions to tell me if it moves. Which obviously it does.
            Within the next 60 seconds the boys are yelling, “Miss it’s moving! It’s moving!”
            Me: “Where?!”
            Boy: “It’s in my bag!”
            I take a deep breath and tell everyone to stay in their seats, except of course for my army of third grade boys who are facing the enemy. The few minutes pass with me in the front of the room trying not to run away while also trying to teach a lesson and periodically watching the struggle with the spider.
            And then one boy walks out from the others, clutching a crumpled piece of paper out in front of him; victorious. His name is Salim and I have since dubbed him, “Salim the Spider Killer.” We made him a sign and everything.
            Luckily my classroom meets spider incidents aren’t too frequent (spider meets bathroom MUCH more frequent). The only other time a spider appear in that third grade classroom, Salim took care of it nice and quick for me. Other classrooms I just avoid them while trying not to draw attention to myself. Aka walk around the classroom with my eyes on the ceiling monitoring their movement.
            Despite how it may seem, spiders do not dominate my time in KG. Children do that. Every morning as Sarah and I walk down to KG we are showered with “good morning miss,” smiles, giggles, waves, and bouquets of flowers. Even while we’re teaching (or reprimanding) we often find ourselves being offered flowers, drawings, pens, tiny plastic toys. Imagine trying to give a speech (aka yelling) about sitting quietly and listening to 40 plus small children and then there’s two kids at your side thrusting wildflowers and drawings at you. Clearly they’re getting the point you’re trying to make, right?
            While there are certainly days we leave feeling a bit downtrodden, they don’t compare to the magical moments that come with being surrounded by children. Nothing quite beats chasing my first graders until I can barely breathe.  Or hearing them scream with joy as I finally catch them and proceed to spin them around and tip them upside down. Or blowing them kisses as I walk by their classroom. Or watching them lead assembly, mistakes and all.
            The most magical thing of all? Perhaps in all the world? Sister Angelle running. There’s nothing quite like a sister in a habit chasing small children.

Friday, July 31, 2015

It's All About Changes

Posted by Michael.

Recently we have undergone quite a few changes here in Agartala. We have seen the departure of many of the Fathers in the area, specifically Fr. Jilson, the secretary of St. Andre and Fr. George Jacob the accountant at Holy Cross and with these departures come new faces in Fr. Binoy at St. Andre and Fr. Valerian at Holy Cross.

Along with the shifting of Fathers, has also come shifting of weather as we are now out of the impossible heat and have entered into a time of impossible rain. Monsoon is upon us and that means that there is about a 100% chance of rain at some point, everyday, usually at the most inconvenient times. This change in weather also means the mold inside the house is at an all-time high and our clothing never dries after being washed.  Not so surprisingly, drying your clothing inside the house takes quite a long time and the humidity certainly isn’t helping. I’m sure having damp clothing hanging about also contributes to the presence of mold.

Kirsten and I also just had our third…or fourth change in our class schedules, hopefully the last time! Miss Papiya returned after her maternity leave and so the class schedules needed to be shifted in order to accommodate her subjects. It just goes to show that you should always be prepared for the unexpected!

Another change is that we all said goodbye to vacation! During the past few months we have had seemingly endless days of vacation and rather limited school time. This is due mostly to the fact that the summer months are the main time for vacation and since we teach at two different schools and had different summer vacation schedules, our house has been a revolving door since about May. Jess, Jenny and Sarah went to Thailand at different times, Kirsten met her parents in Singapore and Malaysia, I did some traveling in the North East to Assam and Meghalaya and Hadi held down the fort in Agartala. We will now be pretty consistent at school until Puja holidays in October but as we are entering festival season, sporadic holidays come up rather frequently, almost once a week, but only for a single day.

Perhaps the most significant change we have undergone is that we are no longer in the first half of our service year but we have entered the second half. Six, or in my case eighteen, months into the program and it was time for some mid-year reflections. We have weekly group reflections here in Agartala and that can mean anything from watching a movie or TV show together, delving into serious topics such as current events or culture shock, crafting letters to ourselves, playing the question game, sharing about an inspiring family member or even the much awaited night of star gazing (looking at you Hadi).

At last week’s reflection Jess came up with the idea to create a timeline of what we have done so far during our time in Agartala and to make a predictive second half of our year timeline. The activity gave us time to reflect on the things that have stood out over the past six months and when we shared we each noted things that we had forgotten and shared some laughs along the way. The second half of the timeline then gave us the opportunity to set some goals for what we hope to accomplish in the second half of the year. While we shared some similar things such as continuing to travel and celebrating Thanksgiving, we each also had individual goals that we hope to accomplish over the next several months.

While it will obviously be difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen over the next few months it was a nice activity to guide us as we move along. This is also a good time for personal reflections for each of us to make sure that we get as much as possible out of this experience and that we leave feeling like we have done everything we set out to do. It will now be full steam ahead as we head into the second half of our service year and as I know from experience, the second half of this year will be gone before we know it!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hadi's Stream of Consciousness

Since I am not really good at blogging, I am going to just start rambling and see what happens, and hopefully this blog post can give you a closer idea of what is on a Stnehill Corps mind these days...

Plub, Plub. Raindrop after raindrop—is the monsoon getting closer or has it come already? Does that mean the temperature is going to drop, or will it just get more humid?

Spider, Get the heck out of my room. Okay, maybe I will let you live, if you eat this mosquito invasion! But will eating make you even bigger? Oh God.

[While the community is leisurely watching a show in the living room] Hey look, a beautiful butterfl-Wait. Cockroaches have wings?! Evacuate the house everyone!

Cats or rats? Rule number 1: Kittens are not allowed in the house. Rule number 2: If nobody is looking, then maybe? Role number 3: Kittens are not allowed in the house. But, they are so cute! What are the American/German cat importing laws? Can I take one home with me? They are family now! Right?

GET OUTTA THE ROAD!!! Walking Steaks crossing the street? I must be hallucinating. Always thinking with my stomach... I wonder what food from home tasted like… Muffins, brownies, cupcakes, waffles, pancakes, berries… BERRIES! Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries strawberries. What else? The meat whose name I shall not pronounce… Burgers, Avocado, Sushi!!! Okay, I will stop here…

Mangos, Star-fruit, Jackfruit, Lichi, coconut water. Wish that stuff grew at home. Home? Home…

Rainy day, dream away


Sunny day, melt away…

What time is it? Better be on time they used to say! Or, should I take my time? Different philosophies I guess. Stressed vs. Relaxed? Productive vs. unproductive? There’s something to learn from each side.

Things are starting to take shape. Experience is slowly converting to knowledge, I think. Has it been half a year already? Time flies by, don’t be afraid trying to catch it.

Plub, Plub, Plub. Rainy day, melt away....

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Easter Holiday Excursion

Lotus Temple, Bahai House of Worship, Delhi

While our families were gathered around dining room tables eating home-baked apple pies and Easter ham dinners, Kirsten, Jenny, and I found ourselves taking selfies in front of one of the seven wonders of the world. The Easter holiday allowed our group the time to do a bit of traveling for two weeks. While Sarah joined her family on a tour of India, Hadi made a trip to Nepal, and Michael stayed in Agartala, the three of us became travel partners.  When planning, we debated between doing the traditional tourist “triangle” or getting off the beaten path a bit. We made our journey include the best of both worlds and it all started in the beautiful capital city of Delhi.  Naturally, I will take you on our journey starting from our ride from the airport to our “Smyle Inn” hostel.
Sarah Dillion (left) and Kirsten Arvidson (right) enjoying milkshakes in Khan Market
                For the first time in months, we were halting at stop-lights; something that almost the entirety of Agartala lacks. It seemed as if instead of flying only 4 hours away, we had arrived back home because New Delhi is a very modernized city. We walked around on fully paved sidewalks admiring blooming gardens that occupied multiple blocks of land. We also enjoyed the helpful directions from the friendly residents. For dinner, we dined in Khan Market, a very wealthy shopping area that President Obama had visited during his time in the country. Childishly sipping our chocolate milkshakes, Indians around us sipped Corona’s and smoked hookah; two things which we almost forgot existed.
Jama Masjid from afar, India's largest mosque
                In the next two days, we would scramble around the city to see as many historical sites as possible. First and foremost, I want to give Delhi props for their clean, safe, and easy-to-use metro system; they even have a women’s only section We were lucky enough to have Sarah join us on our first full day in the city and we began in Old Delhi. Our first historical visit was to the majestic Red Fort, dating back to the time of Mughal emperor’s reign.  It was fun to roam around and rewrite history for each of the sites including the Pearl Mosque and royal baths.  Still in the heart of Old Delhi, we enjoyed a wonderful Indian lunch right outside of the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque and waited for the day to cool down so we could explore it. After throwing on giant floppy robes and surrendering our shoes, we stepped inside the ancient place of worship constructed of red sandstone and white marble. After an exhausting day in the heat, all four of us squeezed into a cycle richshaw and with two of us dangling out the back, made our way back to the hostel. We wished Sarah farewell and went to Sam’s Café for dinner. Yes, I said “Sam’s” café and we soaked in the fact that we were no longer Indian residents, but tourists, as we ate western meals.
                Our last day in Delhi, we visited Akshardham Temple, which was built only in 2005, and made us all feel like we had taken a trip to Disneyland. However, the colored sandstone and marble was beautiful and we walked around the gardens that featured statues of important Indian historical figures and deities. Then we made our way to refreshing New Delhi to visit Humayun’s tomb.  It was another example of the mesmerizing Mughal architecture and was built by the second Mughal Emperor’s wife. We ended another tiring day watching the sunset outside of the Lotus Temple, a Bahai House of Worship. We went back to Main Bazaar and ended the day

with some low key shopping and a giant plate of the best Tibetan steamed dumplings by the name of Momo’s. We hit the hay early in anticipation of our Taj Mahal Easter Sunday.
You already know...

                We woke up before dawn to catch an early train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. If you have ever heard the rumor that this world wonder is in the middle of a wasteland, it may have some truth to it, but we were also lucky enough to see a lot of the positive things about this city. We hired a local rickshaw driver by the name of KK for the day as our personal taxi and tour guide. We got to see many of the overlooked Mughal wonders of Agra including the Baby Taj Mahal, which had floral paintings more impressive than the Taj’s, private Hindu shrines owned by families, the Taj Mahal museum, the Agra Fort, and more. The Taj Mahal was OBVIOUSLY incredible but we were happy to escape the crowds that same day to get on a nighttime train to Jaipur, Rajasthan—known as the pink city. 
Hawa Mahal Palace, Jaipur
View of Jaipur at Sunset
        Jaipur was Northern India’s first planned city and the wealthy kingdom painted the whole city pink, the color of hospitality, to welcome the Prince of Wales. We got into Zostel late but already noticed what quirky, fun lodging we would be experiencing for the next few days. We were greeted in the morning to friendly staff that was a huge help in helping us plan our day and even called their favorite rickshaw driver to take us around for the day. Asif would first drive us to the Monkey Temple and it is exactly what it sounds like; a Hindu temple full of monkeys that loved to eat nuts out of our hands. In the Hindu religion, monkeys are considered sacred and their presence in temples is highly accepted. Next, we explored the Amber Fort which was even more amazing than the one in Delhi and situated right on the water. We walked through the maze like structure and learned about how the royal families lived hundreds of years ago. We then had the luck of watching Jenny’s dream come true; Asif brought us to an elephant farm and Jenny got to ride one.
Our last destination was a restaurant/fort on a mountain that would allow us beautiful views of the entire pink city at sunset. We met our friends that we made at the hostel there and all went back for the evening to hang out and get to know each other in the common area. This is by far one of my favorite things about traveling; spending time with people from all over the world while sharing a little bit of their lives with one another. We bonded with people from Australia, London, Denmark, Canada, Belgium and India.
                The next day in Jaipur we went to City Centre; famous for its shopping and palaces. After exploring Hawa Mahal, a five story palace, us girls were eager to hit the shopping plazas. We haggled and shopped until we couldn’t anymore and got some great deals on real precious gemstones that Jaipur is famous for. Did I mention the amazing street food that helped fuel our day? We indulged in pani puri, kachori, and more. That evening, I would split up from Kirsten and Jenny for only a few days and catch an overnight train to Rishikesh—yoga capital of the world. I would hope to find a trekking group to join from there. However,  first, I spent 5 days there and Jenny and Kirsten met up with me.
After enjoying a waterfall in Rishikesh
A view of Rishikesh and the Ganges from "Buddha Cafe"
                Rishikesh is where we slowed down from the craziness of Indian cities and relaxed a bit. The beautiful, mountainous city is set on the Ganges River. We would spend the next few days relaxing in cafes, meeting new friends, swimming, hiking to waterfalls, discovering mountain top villages, practicing yoga and enjoying the scenery. After Jenny and Kirsten left, I was lucky enough to hire a local guide 8 hours north in the Himalayas for a two day trek.
View of gardens from Amber Fort
Our two week voyage exhibits a taste of the immense diversity that India has to offer; from snowcapped peaks, to bustling cities and relaxing valleys set by holy rivers; we enjoyed it all. However, nothing beat the feeling to coming back home to Agartala to see the smiling faces of Mukta, Hadi, Michael and the local community. There is no doubt we were ready to be back; there is no place like home.
Jenny and Kirsten enjoying the monkey's in Jaipur

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Happy Belated Holi!

Holi is a Hindu Holiday that happens annually in late February or early March depending on when the full moon falls. Most commonly known as the festival of colors, it celebrates of the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring and is attached to a few legends involving the Lord Krishna.  As the festival has become more popular, Hindu’s and non-Hindu’s alike celebrate by jubilantly throwing colors in water or powder form on friends and family to recognize the end of the dark cold winter and the beginning of beautiful colors to come as the weather warms. I say this sounds like more fun than ground hogs day…

This year Holi fell on March 6th, and we as a group were ready for our holiday off of school with our packets of vibrant colors! Stonehill Service Corps India celebrated with some of our neighbors in the comfort of our own yard. The initial honoring of the holiday is a more intimate experience in which friends place some color on the faces of the other and offer greetings of “Happy Holi”. This was followed by the exciting and playful hours of dancing to Hindi and American music while throwing powered colors, and unfortunately some water guns of colors, onto our formerly white clothing. Our celebration lasted throughout the morning and into the afternoon, However, in some parts of India, the celebration can last for days if not weeks! 

Some of us did experience the aftermath of the Holiday when teachers at school approached us saying “Oh I can see you played Holi yesterday.” There was no denying that as our scalps, faces, and other body parts were died pink and green among other colors for several days after.