November 20th: Meeting the Students

This morning’s walk to school was less stimulating than yesterday. I negotiated that I would come to school later and avoid deadly rush hour. I arrived at school to find the remedial kids playing concentration games with the head of the department Mrs. Lakshimia. The word for Mrs. isn’t used at the school the teachers are referred to in Kannada as Brother/Ana and Sister/Aka. The game was Whisper Down the Lane, which was not only English pronunciation and listening practice, but a bit of moral education about the risks of gossip and the validity of word of mouth. I liked that the teacher’s role included raising the child. I felt sorry for the kids who had to play with me. My accent confuses them. I am the weakest link.

For many of the children their parents are too concerned with family survival to spend time passing on social advice, especially to the girls. The school gives a preference to girls for admission to help the girls who suffer the most in Indian society. The school is wonderful because it only admits children at a young age to, “ educate the slum out of them”. This insures that the students have a generally common experience during their twelve years in classes. The school started as an outdoor classroom on a roof and now has four centers and even has to reject thousands of applicants a year. This is a tough decision, because in order to truly help some children some children cannot be admitted. This is a consequence of over population, which keeps the masses under educated.

At lunchtime I was surrounded by 3rd graders who laughed at my fork and thought my chicken kebab nuggets were cookies. They confused America and Africa. They discussed among each other how strange my African customs were. One of the girls assured them that I must be from Australia. The confusion arose because “America” is called “US- Eu-es” in India. The noun Eu-es doesn’t take a “the”. When I tell people where I am from I say, “I am from Eu-es”. Then they give me a bobbly smile and I mimic.

The periods after lunch were spent with Harsha. Harsha is a bright boy, who needs some extra time to be brilliant. We spent the afternoon playing games about singular and plural pronouns. I enjoyed the games and how free I was. I loved educating in the relaxing atmosphere. There are no helicopter parents, no tests, no expectations, nothing to prove to anyone. Just a man giving his small knowledge to a boy. We play on the dusty slate floor. We discussed the stations of the sun during twenty-four hours and we went outside together just to look at the sun. What a regrettable activity.  Harsha immediately liked me because I lifted him up and give him high-fives. I liked him too, he learned so quickly that it made me happy. The other teachers stared at us as we learned. He demonstrated what he learned and the other teachers were impressed. We spent three hours together just learning and playing. One of the mothers/maids gave me coffee and chai during the afternoon. I was relaxed. Its wonderful to have your work be a respite from your life. Isn’t that beyond ideal.

The day ended with the kids, Lakshimia Aka, and I playing a game where Harsha and the other students had to explain and imaginatively act out the preparations for a monkey’s birthday.

After class ended, I went with the Sri Lankan-Canadian volunteer……………………………………………….

At this moment we just had a forty-five minute power outage. An outage will probably happen five times a week and last for about forty-five minutes. I keep a flashlight on my front door handle. I comfortably waited out the outage looking out my window listening to audiobooks. People carried on as usual. Some shops started generators and turned on floodlights, but the rest closed to wait it out. After some time the street fell silent, people stopped going out. Now that the power is back on the night is once again filled with beeping cars. A power outage is like a contemplative time-out forced on rowdy India by Mother Nature for being too noisy.

After class ended, I went with Sasha, a Sri Lankan-Canadian, volunteer to her apartment. She is in her mid-thirties volunteering during the day while her parents have relatively inexpensive medication procedures done in Bangalore. I will move into Sasha’s apartment in one month when she leaves. The school will have many volunteers come in December and I will have to move from my mansion to make space for the new people. There will be a Dutch man returning to volunteer for a 2nd time. They say he will be good company for me. I welcome the company, but I also like the breathing room.

Sasha’s father who must be in his sixties was a banker for forty years, twenty of which he spent in Dubai, and he has a wealth of knowledge about South Asia to teach me. Tomorrow I will go with him and his wife to a flea market. Sasha’s father was educated in Sri Lanka when the government mandated English and his English is native. Her mother was born only one year later when the government switched the language of instruction to Tamil. She is high level from living in Canada for nineteen years, but there is palatable difference. It will be nice to learn whatever I can from these people. Plus they seem happy to have someone to talk with, and remind them O Canada.

I went with Sasha to the Gold’s Gym. A Eu-es franchise that opened in Bangalore. The gym was state of the art with wonderful facilities. The price was high for an unemployed volunteer. The gym gave me another glance of the contrasting development. The Gym was high in a glass building. The machines and rooms and showers were marvelous, however the devotees looked out of the glass panel windows onto the rooftop of a poor domestic building with people doing laundry. Outside the gym the streets were abysmal… You have never seen that word spelled before!

The trainer who was trying to bro me up to joining had worked in IT had an American accent. He called me, “ Man ” and said butter rather than the British ButtA. I declined joining because without an income I need to be careful. I think I may join the gym eventually, because it could be a good way to meet wealthy, digital-age people. Also I need a place to go. I only declined because they couldn’t offer me a monthly rate and they required that I sign up for six months at a time. Since there is nothing to do for entertainment in my city, it might be a good idea for my soul even if it punishes my wallet.

I came to India with 600 U$D. That became 32,000 Rupees (RS).  My Indian friend told me 32,000 should last me for three months if I have few expenses and don’t travel much. To think that I could have this amazing Indian adventure and only spend 600$ in three months is wild. Considering that in Japan my monthly rent alone was 26,000 Rs. When compared to the OECD nations India is inexpensive. A pineapple is 50 cents, a forty minute taxi ride is under ten dollars, A meal at a restaurant is 3-7$. All things are relatively cheap. When you run into OECD prices you know you are in the realm of the wealthy.

Disheartened by the gym, I went to the grocery store. I decided to cook an Indian meal. Understanding goat ghee, soya curd, and grinding spices looked like too much for me for one night. I decided that I would learn to cook Indian breads. Just like a sushi chef must spend years sniffing rice, I too must take baby steps into Indian cuisine.

I came home by auto-rickshaw. Now called rick for short. These are dangerous and ubiquitous. I returned to my building and gave my doorman a green (formally known as an orange). He apologized for yesterday’s aggravated sorcery and magically wobbled his head. I climbed the stairs wondering what spells a toothless wizard would have to conjure to peel a green.

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