Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Mussoorie

Hi everyone!  Sorry it’s been a while.  No internet, and very little time.  I’ve been typing up entries in word and saving them though, so, enjoy!

June 5th 2011

Today was a day of welcomes.  We had welcome remarks from Dr. Diya Dutt, the Deputy Director of the United States India Educational Foundation, and from Michael Pelletier, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the American Embassy, New Delhi.  Both spoke very highly of the ETA program, stating that, very often, it is in the primary and secondary school classrooms that Fulbright’s goal of promoting mutual understanding through cultural exchange is best accomplished.  They spoke of the earnestness of Indian youth, of their curiosity and their zeal for learning, and contrasted them with American students who, though often just as earnest, are more likely to take their educations for granted.  Both of these high-ranking people sang the praises of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program in India.  I only hope that I can live up to these expectations. 

Today was also a day of house hunting.  The Delhi cohort of ETAs was carted round the city, along busy streets and narrow neighborhood streets.  We saw enough houses for me to lose count.  I must admit that it was nice to get away from the un-Indianness of the Taj.  We passed by some cows, breathed the smog, and got to see some accommodations that actually belonged to reality (as opposed to the heavily air-conditioned fairytale world of the Taj).  Driving through the winding streets made me, unfortunately, quite nauseated, so I probably wasn’t quite as discerning as I should have been about the apartments we saw.  I think they were all nice though…

Little else to report.  Here are some snapshots:

1) USIEF is being very good about feeding us.  Our dinner especially was huge: we all tucked into a huge meal at a kabob restaurant in Connaught Place.  After the attentive waiters loaded our plates with various kabobs and rotis, we were stuffed.  Then we realized that our “meal” was actually only the starter course.   Biryani, naan, daal, paneer, and four different kinds of dessert followed.  My belly is still recovering.

2) I swam in the super fancy Taj pool!  I’m trying to get in all the swimming I can before we get out of here.

3) I got to practice my Hindi with a rickshaw wallah.  After we talked about our families, he declared himself my bhai (brother).  It’s nice to feel the Hindi slowly coming back.

4) I had idli with sambar for breakfast!  Yay South Indian food!

July 11, 2011

Hello everyone!  Sorry for the delay; internet access has been a bit spotty.  Anyway, I, along with my fellow Delhi ETAs are now in Mussoorie.  For those who may not be so familiar with Mussoorie, it is a Mountain town in Uttarankhand, and was a hill station in the days of the Britishers.  It is truly beautiful, and a nice break from hot, smoggy Delhi.  Usually, it is a very touristy area, but we are currently in the off season, so it’s not too bad.  Unfortunately though, there is a very good reason that this is the off season: the daily torrential rains.  As my semester in Hyderabad happened between December and June, I did not get to experience much rain.  This trip to India will therefore provide me with my first monsoon.  To be honest, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of all this water soaking through my shoes, my jeans, and, well…everything.  Intellectually though, I understand that the monsoon is extremely important for farmers, animals, plants, and the whole ecosystem, and I do hope to come to a less grudging appreciation of it.

Something that might be worth mentioning: Several days before we left for Mussoorie, I visited the school that I will be teaching at once I return to Delhi.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous, so, in the hope of making a good impression, I dressed up in my nicest salwaar kameeze suit, and made sure that my hair was neatly braided.  Mansi (our Fulbright ETA coordinator) introduced me to the Principal, and the Principal immediately told me: “You look so Asian!  If we give you a bindi you will be Indian!”  She then went on to tell me that this might make things easier for me; previously, she had worked with an a light-haired blue eyed American English teaching assistant, whose features had been a distraction for the children.  I honestly don’t know how much this long black hair is going to help me, but I’ll take any advantage I can get. 

After meeting the principal, I met my coordinating teacher, who was really friendly and wonderful, as were all the other teachers she introduced me to.  Everyone who met me commented that I looked very young, and far more Asian than American.  We sat in the staff room and discussed my time in Hyderabad, all the dishes I hoped to learn how to make, and our families.  We had a very interesting discussion about parents’ duties to their children, and vice versa.  In India, it is the norm for children to live with their parents until marriage; quite different from the American ideal.  I think I surprised them with my information about America, even as they surprised me with their belief that parents really should support their children for as long as was necessary—provided that the children were working hard.  What in America is “failure to launch” is, in India, simply good preparation for true adulthood.  Speaking with these women may not have changed my mind, but it certainly opened it up!  In addition to pleasant conversation, I was fed rajmah dal and chappathi (the woman who offered it kindly translated chapatthi as “tortilla” for me), as well as samosa and gulab jamun.  Apparently all the female teachers pack lunches and share everything with one another.  It seems that the teacher community is very close-knit and friendly, and I’m looking forward to joining it.  And the most important part, the kids?  The teachers told me that the children are “naughty, but very affectionate” and that I would “love them.”  All in all, a great visit.  I know it will be challenging, but I am definitely looking forward to teaching.

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