Monday, July 05, 2010

India Week 2

O how the adventure begins! Our first full week in India has been jam-packed with school, site seeing, sampling of Indian delicacies, yoga, and much more. It’s been full of fun, yet a bit exhausting – needless to say we’re happy it’s finally Sunday, the day of rest.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first full week at the school. Everyday our morning begins at 5am when we get up to go walking with our host mother around the park across the street. After walking around 5 times (30-40minutes) we come home and get ready to go to school. Sarah and I usually make toast or cereal for breakfast along with fresh papaya and banana – the fruit here is soooo good! (we’re spoiled). We eat our breakfast on the rooftop terrace and normally read our bibles for half an hour each morning after breakfast. This has become a great new habit and one we hope to continue when we return home. At 7:25am we catch the school bus to school and take the half an hour ride through the busy and chaotic streets of Bangalore. Once at school, I go to assembly with the younger kids and Sarah goes with the older kids. As assembly with the younger kids we usually practice spelling and saying the day, week, and month, greet eachother, and either sing nursery songs, or do a small activity (such as passing a ball around or learning to blow out a candle). At the assembly for older kids they practice morning exercises, sing a short song, and hear a daily bible story. I’ve been working with the nursery age kids (age 4-8) and Sarah has been working with the kids in second standard level class. The little ones are a bit of a handful, they are always running around, it’s hard to get them to ever sit still, but they are a lot of fun. I have multiple biting and pinching marks as evident battle wounds of struggling to get kids to sit quietly even for a moment. Sarah has been enjoying working with a few of the students one on one teaching reading and colors. In the second standard level class there are 8 students, 7 boys and one girl. There are many more boys than girls at the school, as having learning disabilities is more common among boys (according to our host mom). In the class, Sarah sits between Aswin, a non-verbal autistic child and Mouly, a deaf child. Her work with Aswin is to encourage him to stay focused on the lessons and his class work. In the past few weeks Mouly has taught her the abcs in sign language. She uses that and pictures to describe the lessons and help him complete his class work. Manjunath struggles with reading, so Sarah has created a few worksheets that use the words learned in class and pictures to make sentences. The school has about 100 students, housing a large range of disabilities. Getting to know the teaching staff has been a great opportunity to glimpse another part of Indian culture. The school is very different from schools at home. It’s nice that the entire school is dedicated to special needs kids as it creates a large community and safe place for kids to feel accepted amongst each other and form friendship with other students of their same level of learning. The work is tiring, but the kids are very loving. Prayers that God may work in and through us as we form relations with the students and teachers.

In addition to attending school, we have also had the opportunity of experiencing a little Indian culture on a daily basis. School finishes at 2pm, so we usually have the afternoons open for exploring. The following accounts our daily adventures and new experiences throughout Bangalore. Some come as a bit of a culture shock at times, but we are definitely learning a lot from the Indian people, gaining insights to a different way of life.

Last Sunday we attended church with Prem and Rita (our host parents) at the Indiranagar Methodist Church. The service was longer than what we’re used to; there was even a 20 minute prayer! But the singing was very nice and the worship music was good. We were familiar with most of the worship songs – they were a little taste of home.  Also, for Sunday dinner we went out for Chinese food (our host mother doesn’t enjoy cooking…hahaha). The food was very good. Every restaurant here tends to be a bit over staffed however, there were 4 different waiters watching us eat (a bit unnearving, o well, must be a cultural thing…)

On Monday we were back to school. Monday afternoon was had quite the fun cultural experience! We went shopping for our very first saris! Our host mom, Rita took us to the silk and sari shop where we were quickly overwhelmed with a multitude of colors, choices, patterns, and designs of fabric. At the sari shop, they sit you at a table and then start pulling out heaps and heaps of different sari fabrics spread across the table. You simply shake your head yes or no and they continue to pour out more fabrics from the large display of folded saris that runs against every wall of the shop room. We were shopping for saris to wear to the upcoming wedding we will be attending next week! I was so overwhelmed with choices, I thought I wouldn’t ever be able to make a decision. Sarah was a bit more decisisive, but in the end, we both ended up purchasing beautiful saris. Sarah’s sari is deep magenta with fabulous gold trim and lots of sparkly accents – a perfect sari to wear to a wedding where the goal is to “see and be seen” according to Rita. My sari is deep purple (true husky purple pride thru and thru ...hahaha) and is trimmed with a simple gold floral design – chic and sophisticated. After the silk shop, we had to go to the Jeweler to get the appropriate bling to wear with our saris to the wedding. The jewelry is very lavish, yet extrememly inexpensive. It is strikingly similar to jewelry you might wear to play dress up as a child. It’s perfect for the wedding.  We each bought matching purple and maroon bangles. Also, the necklace and earrings come as a set, so we each got blinged-out, diamond-encrusted sets. The man at the jewelry store kept trying to convince me to buy a dangly head piece to wear on my forehead as well; I politely refused. With bangles, earrings, necklace, and sari to match, I didn’t want to over-do it any more than necessary. After leaving the Jeweler, we were off to visit the tailor! Each sari dress must get a custom made belly shirt top, known as a blouse, to match. Thus, at the tailor, they only measured from the bust line up. Hahaha. The front of the sari is covered by drapey fabric, but the back is open. We each got to choose a different custom design for the cut of the back of the blouse. This was a lot of fun.

On Tuesday, we ventured out on our own! After reading the detailed guidebook section on Bangalore, we decided our best option was to visit one of Bangalore’s main attractions, the Botanical Gardens. We took an auto (small taxi rickshaw) to the gardens, which was a bit difficult, seeing as we’re obvious foreigners, so everyone always wants to rip us off. But luckily our host mom has taught us all the tricks of the trade, so we managed to get an auto for a decent price (still a bit over charged however…haha). When we arrived at the gardens, we followed the guidebook instructions, and hired a buggy tour guide to drive us around the whole of the gardens. The gardens are more than 96 acres. The buggy guide man took a huge liking to us! This was wonderful! He offered to hold our cameras and take our photos for us at EVERY SINGLE stopping point. It was a bit ridiculous to be entirely honest, especially seeing that there were at least 6 other people on the same buggy ride as we were, and he didn’t offer to take their pics nearly as often, it ever. At one point, while we were trying to take a photo of ourselves by outstretching our arm, he snatched up the camera and took a photo of not just Sarah and me, but of the whole buggy ride gang (!), forcing everyone else on the tour to stop and pose for my camera! O gosh, all I can say is he was most flattered when I asked to take a photo with him; I thought his eyes might have begun to tear up. All in all the gardens were a lot of fun. In addition to the attention we received from our guide, we also attracted lots of attention from other people passing through the park. Multiple people came up and asked to take photos with us! And lots of people tried to take sneak photos of us on their cell phones and cameras. People came up and asked our names and wanted to introduce themselves. At one point, a man asked me to hold his baby daughter and pose for a picture! He was so excited I couldn’t refuse. I felt like we were celebrities or something.

After we left the park, we caught an auto home and did some running around with Rita. We went to the grocery store and stopped along the street to drink fresh coconut milk straight out of coconuts! The man simple cut a hole and dropped a straw inside so we could sip on the sweet milk. After the milk was finished, we passed the coconut back to him and he sliced it open to reveal fresh coconut meat/cream for eating. It was delicious. I felt like we were in the tropics!

On Wednesday afternoon we decided to go exploring with Rita. There is a small lake located fairly close to our house which Rita said had recently renovated with the addition of walking paths around the lake. We all jumped into an auto and went to the lake to take a lengthy stroll around. We started the journey around the lake, but after only 20 short minutes of walking, we encountered a slight problem. Come to find, the path we had thought encircled the entire lake, in fact only went half way around. Our 20 minute walk had landed us in the middle of a garbage pit and 12 foot fence with no exit and nowhere to turn but back the way we had come. Hahaha. I guess it was a naive to assume the renovation would have made a path that went around the lake, why not only half, that’s far enough I suppose. After our half-walk around the lake, we went back home and went out for Indian kabobs. Once again we encountered 5 waiters staring at us eat, I guess we’ll just have to get used to that…but after dinner, we stopped at the sweet shop to sample some Indian delicacies. Most of the candies here are milk based or rice based, as is every food in India. I had no idea you could use rice is so many different new and creative ways; rice cakes, steamed rice, vegetable rice, rice tortillas, rice dessert, rice milk, on and on and on. People who can’t eat wheat/gluten would be in food heaven here!

On Thursday afternoon we went to Rita’s friends house to attend a yoga session. Although we were looking forward to experiencing authentic Indian yoga, we couldn’t have been prepared for what the session had in store for us. The yoga instrucot insisted we come early to the session so he could introduce himself and meet both of us. What this really entailed was the instructor giving us a long-winded lecture on the philosophy of life and how it’s only through yoga a person is able to experience inner peace and happiness. Sarah’s brave soul was quick to counter his argument, stating that we find peace from Jesus and contentment with His plan for our life. This was not acceptable to the yoga instructor. He has been teaching yoga for 36 years and needless to say is a very eccentric man. No matter what we could have said, I doubt he would have listened to a word of it. After our awkward and slightly uncomfortable introducing, we proceded to the yoga class. This was held on the rooftop terrace and we sat on reed mats. It was lovely. Except for the fact that the yoga instructor kept picking on both of us throughout the entire session; there wasn’t one exercise we did correctly the whole hour! The session was more religion focused than anticipated (I have an inkling he was trying to convert us to Hinduism…haha), and the instructor was very intense about breathing properly. Hmmmm. It was a bit odd to say the least. After the session was over the instructor approached Sarah and me and proceeded to look us both up and down and then began evaluating us! I was in complete and utter shock. He told me I have funny spots under my eyes and that I have poor blood circulation and other physical things I should try fixing. He recommended I eat more fennel seeds and a bunch of other jibberish home remedies. The audacity of this man was simply outrageous! Sarah told him thank you, but surprise surprise we were happy with ourselves and our bodies before he began evaluating them and we weren’t in need of any of his advice! Hahaha. I was so happy when it was finally time to leave. I don’t think we’ll be returning for future sessions…

On Friday we went to school and then had a very relaxing afternoon. We did a bit of shopping around when we live. I purchased my first India outfit (for daywear, not a sari) and we bought some pirated movies on the street. :) It was a nice afternoon.

We woke up very early on Saturday because we planned a daytrip to the neighboring town of Mysore. We booked the trip through a guided tour bus and were eager to meet the other people traveling on the bus with us. Since it was a guided tour, the only natural assumption was that there would be other tourists from around the world on the bus. I was looking forward to traveling with other American, European, or Asian tourists, so we would better blend in crowds of people. WRONG! When we arrived on the bus, to our great surprise we were the ONLY non-Indian tourists and the ONLY young women on the bus! We couldn’t have been more naïve in our assumption. It turns out Bangalore isn’t a very popular place among tourists and the schools in the northern part of India have summer holiday during the months of June and July, so many of the other people on the bus were Northern Indian Nationals. I have never felt like more of a minority. It’s exhausting always standing out from the crowd, never feeling like you really fit in, and receiving ceaseless stares from onlookers. But that aside, the day trip ended up being a lot of fun. Our guide took a liking to us (we must have looked like lost puppies on the street) because at every tour destination spot, he came and personally delivered the instructions to us, making sure we fully understood and guiding us through the security, camera checks, etc. We visited a beautiful palace, a Hindu temple (one of the eight most holy places in all of S. India), the botanical gardens with a light up dancing fountain, and the silk and sandlewood factory (what Mysore is known for). It was a very long day, but luckily we had packed plenty of snacks for the bus ride and took lots of great pictures. The only slight detraction was the constant haggling of street vendors. They are very persistent and would follow us for ages shouting prices for goods over and over again. Finally I told one man I thought his carving was very ugly and would he please go away. This didn’t work. Our tour guide was able to shoo off a few of the hasselers for us, but the day would have been much less stressful without the constant oncoming of vendors; we must look like easy targets.

That concludes our daily adventures for week one in India. It’s been quite a ride. 

Prayer Requests:
Prayers for good health as our host dad was been a bit under the weather and Sarah missed one day of classes due to pink eye last week. Also, prayers that we may connect with the other teachers at school and form friendships with not only the kids, but with the teaching staff as well. Thanks to God that we are getting along with our host family so well, they are wonderful to us! Prayers for safety. Prayers that God would continue to open our eyes and hearts to a world outside our own; that we may be open to new experiences and learn from different ways of life. Prayers that we adjust to being starred at all of the time and don’t get discouraged or frustrated by this.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read our blog and thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.

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