Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Change Is Going to Come

The question is, to whom? India or myself? Let’s look at the odds. India is 63 years old in name, centuries old in reality, and has over a billion people behind her. I am young and alone. Oh yeah, I’m also a foreigner and let’s not forget that I’m a woman in a hugely patriarchal society.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess whose going to win this war but let me just be clear about something, it is I who am choosing to let India win. Actually it’s come down to an ultimatum of sorts, change or suffer the consequences. Over the past week, I have been suffering at the hands of India. But what’s worse is that I’ve been making others suffer too. Suffer the consequences of my diminishing patience, my increasing frustration, and a feeling of helplessness that seeps out like a poison in the form of bitterness to nearly everyone and everything around me.

It’s not good. Not good for me or for India. And with four months left, things can’t continue as they are. So, I’m going to do us both a favour, stop trying to change India, and start changing myself instead. I will be patient. I will smile through my frustration and laugh through my anger. I will not expect anything to happen on time. I will handle miscommunications with ease. I will forgive what I view to be incompetence in others. I will bear in mind that I neither know nor understand everything and will withhold judgment. I will breathe deeply, contain the poison, and eventually banish it altogether.

I hereby congratulate India on her victory and vow to graciously accept defeat. However, India be warned, just because you’ve won the war doesn’t mean I won’t triumph in a few carefully chosen battles!

Monday, July 19, 2010

On a Bad Day . . .

. . . my feet are always dirty.

. . . the wet, muddy streets splash all over the backs of my freshly cleaned pants and even as high as the bottom of my kurta and chunni.

. . . the skies open up and rain down on my twenty-minutes-away-from-dry clothes.

. . .my kurtas are too big and I look and feel about as attractive as if I were wearing a paper sack. Actually, a paper sack sounds pretty good.

. . . fire ants hunt out whatever treat I have stashed away to savour between trips to Hyderabad.

. . . the same ants, having devoured my chocolate/sweets/biscuits move on to my toes/legs/arms.

. . . I get locked out of my house at night and have to either spend five minutes trying to wake the owner or scale the walls to the second floor.

. . . my laptop cord has fallen from the outlet during the night and there’s only one hour of charge to last through the next eight hours until power comes back on.

. . . the electricity, which has been on for the last two hours while it was light, goes off now that it is dark and I am in the shower.

. . . someone keeps moving the buckets and jugs I have strategically arranged to catch the 3-4 constant drips in the bathroom. It’s okay, I’m sure the mosquitoes breeding in the puddles on the floor aren’t malarial.

. . . I have to battle a fist-sized spider for use of the bathroom sink.

. . . breakfast is upma for the fifth time in a week.

. . . dinner is bitter gourd, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t make me vomit on sight.

. . . the chapatti looks like it was bathed in grease. No really, it’s fine, my arteries could use a little clogging.

. . . the bugs come out in full force and suddenly my dinner looks like I just ground fresh pepper over it. Protein, right?

. . . Gmail, which has been working just fine all day, won’t allow me to access my account only at the moment when I need to meet the deadline for a document.

. . . nobody understands a word I’m saying to them.

. . . I don’t understand a word anyone is saying to me.

. . . my bus is half an hour late but it’s actually okay cause the train is 2 ½ hours late. And that’s okay too, cause I didn’t really need to get anywhere.

Of course there are good days too, this just happens to not be one of them . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Many would envy my commute to work. After all, I can see the school from my bedroom and it takes me approximately two minutes to get to class. However, on the evening journey home I often hit traffic . . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kitchen Remedies

It’s been a rough few weeks health-wise. First off my appetite has been suspiciously absent ever since I left India. Initially I chalked it up to change in diet, climate, and time zones; then the emotions of leaving Seattle once again; then to adjusting back to India. Eventually I was forced to admit there must be something more going on and made the decision to terminate my anti-malarial medication. Now crossing my fingers that a later blog doesn’t detail the trials of malaria!

Happily eating again I, of course, contract a nasty stomach bug. It knocks me out for a few days but as I’m preparing to medicate, my body prevails at last. Then I wake up with a sore throat and realize I have caught Suma’s cold. As the cold takes over I’m feeling a bit hopeless, stuck in a village, still weak from the stomach bug, lacking the right medicine in my vast collection. Then I remember . . .

Digging through my shelves I open a bag from last year. Inside is a small Tupperware containing oma, an Asian spice known most commonly as “ajwain.” I toss a handful of these cumin-looking seeds into my mouth, tuck them in my cheek, and bite down on a few. As I swallow the sharp, bitter juice it brings almost instant relief to my sore throat and coughing. Then I head over to the dining hall and, with Urmila’s help, boil water and mix in black tea powder, a little sugar, and freshly crushed black pepper. This concoction doesn’t taste amazing and it stings a bit but in a good, slightly numbing kind of way. The best medicine, however, I save for last.

Zinda Tilismath is a self-proclaimed “Panacea for several ailments” including: “swine flu, cough cold & coryza, throat trouble, stomach troubles, dysentery, malaria, cholera, breathing trouble of children, headache, toothache, ear trouble, pains, and scorpion sting.” Talk about a miracle drug! (P.S. not sure why there's an African warrior on the box...)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Electricity On a Schedule

I remember a time when electricity came at the flick of the switch, ever available and reliable. And on the rare occasions that the power went out, the magical effect of candlelight was accompanied by the excitement of a thunder and lightning storm. Long gone are those days!

I am still learning the intricacies of when and how the “current comes” out here. Kalleda shares electricity with three other villages. At the moment we have power every night from 6pm to 6am. There are eight hours of power cuts each day, the schedule of which changes each week. This week, for example, our four hours of daytime power are from 2-6pm. What a fortunate serendipity that Mac designed their batteries to last eight hours!

Today I learned about the phases of power. Phase I is enough power to run small household appliances; Phase III is enough to run farm equipment; Phase II doesn’t exist, go figure. Rural areas are allotted seven hours of free power provided by the government each day in order to operate bore wells, irrigation systems, and the like. In order to switch between Phase I and III, the power plant has to shut down everything for one to two minutes, producing the consistent nightly power cuts I’ve long wondered about. Another electricity mystery explained!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Youth Empowerment: Take 2

I am so excited to be back in the classroom and teaching my second Youth Empowerment class! The first time around was a great success, but I feel like with that experience under my belt, this class will be infinitely more productive. I am using the lessons I learned to create an adjusted curriculum designed specifically for Kalleda’s own unique circumstances but also, I hope, to be used more generally at Bridges sites working with similar language barriers.

My current class is ten students, five new and five returning, who are in 8th, 9th and 10th classes. We are going to spend the first month building general skills in photography, English, public speaking, self-expression, storytelling, and investigation. Only then will we begin to explicitly address social issues. In the second month the students will pick a social issue to focus their digital stories on and put their new skills to use. The goal is that by the time they start the digital stories they will be so adept at the technical side of production that more time can be focused on investigating the issue, fleshing out the story, and getting creative with the photographs.

The organization that it will take to accomplish this goal is much assisted by the fact that I have my own laptop and classroom this time. At the very least I know that there is one computer with internet access everyday and our photos won’t have been deleted. Plus, having space to display the students’ work and our class goals is a great way to give them a sense of ownership and keep them on task. There’s also something inexplicably satisfying about walking into the classroom everyday and seeing our Youth Empowerment board!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Political Pollution

At last! Here, for your enjoyment, is the tangible result of the Youth Empowerment class that Liza and I led at Kalleda School. Using a curriculum provided by Bridges to Understanding, we worked with the students to produce digital stories. Each group picked a community problem, documented it with photographs, interviewed people in the villages, and wrote a narrative detailing the issue and possible solutions. My group, The Tigers, started out investigating water pollution, but as they delved deeper, their story took an unexpected turn . . . click "Play" to find out how!