Monday, January 16, 2006
back to India
i think the toughest thing to describe in words for me is my experience at Panskura. Panskura is a small, rural town in West Bengal. We came there to participate in an English camp. I don't think any of us knew exactly what that meant and i venture to guess, that even after we left, we were not quite sure what it was we accomplished.
I came in with a group that was two days late for the openning ceremony and the initial orientation. The day we came in, the classes were already done and i played outside with children and the other JETs. The most common sight throughout our days at the school were circles of children and villagers around one or several JETs. Whenever i saw a gathering, i was sure to find a foreigner in the middle of it, leading a game, signing authographs, taking photos and showing them off, or just chatting.
Second day was the 24th. Kelly and i taught three classes that day. We did them on the fly. We had flashcards and ideas, but we had no idea who we would be teaching. Kelly had taught a group of 11-13 year old girls inside the school building on the previous day and suggested we go to them again. We walked into a cement room with drab walls and a portable chalkboard leaning against a lonely chair. The girls were standing on mats that looked like potato sacks, perhaps they were. Eager and anticipating they were waiting for our instructions.
"Miss miss miss miss miss miss miss miss...." we heard that word so many times, it was like a non-stop ringing in our ears. We tried to teach them emotions by mimicking them. We tried to teach them to read the words by having them find the emotions. The girls were competitive and eager to please. They would tell on their peer if the girl cheated. They would scream for attention to make sure we saw the one giving the right answer.
It was exhausting and yet pleasant to have such a ready audience. I think we did all right that day--we certainly felt that our lessons went well, even though i felt that was i losing my voice and sanity towards the end.
During lunch, the group discussed how the morning went. What classrooms could be switched up..who was doing what where.
We were served our usual boiled veg on plates sown from banana leaves (that was the last day of those plates...after that we got paper plates once and banana leaves the rest of the time).
The ladies who would serve us in the basement room came around with laddles and buckets. Every time they scooped up something on the plate, we said "thank you."
One of the ladies got so used to it, that during the rest of the time, she would come up to one of us with a laddle and say "thank you?" as she got ready to pour out the veggies, rice, dahl, or noodles, whatever was served that day.
The food never bothered me too much. It wasn't the most extravagant and certainly didn't strike me as particularly tasty, but it was filling and there was usually plenty of it.
One day we got fried eggplant for dinner. I have never seen a group of people get so excited over one piece of friend eggplant. It was as if we had received a gift we had most desired and the high anticipation for a second helping was hillarious, but i felt it as much as anyone.
The night of the 24th people gathered in the girls dorm room at the guest house to wrap presents. Each orphan received three presents and we had also wrapped a bunch of smaller presents of pencils, pens, and erasers to give out to the school children that would gather in the afternoon of the 25th.
Here's an entry from my journal on the 25th:
Every minute is precious here. Every moment wants to be special and remembered. In the morning we watched the school children race in a sports event. It was somewhat reminiscent of the Japanese "undokai." .... Panskura is rural and without industry [as far as i could tell]. They are farmers and merchants who are scraping by for a living. Yet they are people of such spirit and joy towards others. Their eyes show such depth and beauty.....The joy we've brought to these people by paying attention to their children is apparent without words.
Standing in a small school room on the third floor. Looking out through a window at a field filled with trash with JETs behind me decorating it for Christmas events.
[after the Christmas day events] It seemed that things were chaotic and unorganized but the children loved every moment. It was a bit strange singing songs with everyone and yet i felt joy and love. So much love is radiating in this place. It's no surprise people are drawn here for spiritual guidance and awakening. It's not fully for me but i appreciate it and cherish the moments that are given me.
The girl grabbing my hand and wanting my attention. All they want is attention: a smile, a hug, a lift, a shake, and acknowledgment that we, strange foreigners, see them and like them.
We decorated the tree [ouside] and kids kept running back to me for ribbons so that they could be lifted up by one of the guys to hang them on the tree. When the lights came up, we had gone through five or six renditions of "Jingle Bells" and once through several other songs and carols. It's bonding and necessary for everyone to feel at home in a forign land. At x-mas most kids [JETs] here are homesick for families and warmth and by coming together for this holiday in a very giving cause, they are filtering through the love they feel for their families.
Every day i learned something. I learned things about myself, how i am probably meant to be a teacher, but i also like to be a part of organizing the chaos.
Malati taught us about the projects she is involved in, and the slideshow she showed us was very intense. Some photos she showed us were no different from the things we've already seen at the school, but she told us some stories, especially the ones about the repression of women that were hard to believe. It's difficult to fathom how women live in India--the stories of bride burning are incomprehensible to me.
I was sick for a couple of days. Had to miss school one morning, but really needed the rest.
Felt bad for missing opportunities to teach but at the same time, needed to get away from the intensity of the chaos that reigned at the school the entire time.
There was one room in the school that members of the group retired to for a bit of shut eye and chat. Didi's room had in it two beds with about a meter of space between them. Sometimes 6 to 8 people would gather in it to step out of the constant attention spotlight that followed us everywhere we went.
I don't know if i'll be able to sit down to write more about the trip.
I have put up all of my pictures, even the ones that i thought were lost to the system were recovered, thanx to John.
More pics from others in the group are being put up daily and hopefully once all of them are up on-line and accessible, i'll be able to give you a password to see them.
Chris and John are working on DVDs with the digital movies and photos that were shot by all 23 of us. It's a huge undertaking and they're wonderful for doing it.
There are moments from the trip that float up into my mind's eye throughout the day. Images of the pond in front of the school with people in front of it. The image of Dan and i on the stage giving an impromptu speech to the Panskura community.
Orphan girls posing in their dance costumes to my camera. Walking through a quiet village with Kelly and three lovely guides we met there.
On the bus, on the way to the hotel in Kolkata at 1am. Watching Yasemine make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the bus stands in the middle of a dark, unknown road and the bus driver is out looking for someone to give him directions.
New Years at the rooftop restaurant in Kolkata. Holding hands and mouthing "Auld Lang Syne."
Chatting with Ben in darkness of the night on a boat in the middle of Ganges. Teaching a few more friends how to play, "beat off" on the floor of the Delhi airport, waiting for our flight home.
Standing on the steps of our guesthouse in Panskura, with rose petals in my hair, surrounded by the best group of people i could have ever hoped for to share this trip with, singing, "I like the flowers, i like the daffodils; I like the mountains, I like the rolling hills..."
I barely wrote in my journal during the three days back in Delhi, mostly because they were a much quiet time--we stayed in a more quiet part of town and did a bit of sightseeing, ate some western food, and went to markets.
I did enjoy this trip..i loved a lot of it and it was difficult to get through some moments. I would like to go back to India with more time and a bigger say in the planning of the trip. But with the same group of people....anyone keen? :)