Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mosquitos: the epic battle

Okay, it's not so dramatic.  I did try geranium oil in a lotion medium today and it worked fantastically for maybe 3 hours.  It smells better, is less likely to give me cancer, and is cheaper than anything with DEET.  Soon I may even find empty spray bottles and try it in an alcohol medium.  Lavender is also on the list.  I'll keep you posted, 'cause I know you're dying to know the best naturopathic mosquito remedy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

South Africa

Just for fun, I grabbed a smattering of photos that Boaz took in South Africa.

South Africa Pretoria funny bartender

(Click the link to see them all)

First family visit and domestic travel

(At a south Indian restaurant in Lucknow, Brij's sister Rashmi; my mom, Ann; my stepdad, Brij; Brij's brother, Ajesh; his wife, Jyoti; Rashmi's husband, Arun; me; and behind the camera, Boaz.)

My parents had planned a trip to visit Brij's family before we moved.  So Mom spent a couple nights with us in Pune, before we all headed to Lucknow for a few days and then Delhi for a few days.  It was a great trip.  We visited a number of historic sights, ate far too much good food (Jyoti's cooking in particular is fantastic), and I got to meet the rest of Brij's wonderful family.  Many, many, many thanks to them all and Push for inviting us into their homes and showing us around!

Many more pictures to follow shortly.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In case you hadn't noticed

I've made some additions to the blog.  At the top of the page, under the big title, there is now a 'Blogs I Dig' page.  Go check it out.  It includes AIC's newish blog and the recently relaunched Celebrities Eating, both highly recommended.


After my post on subtle challenges teaching at AIC, I talked to Eric.  They do handle optometry.  In fact, they had an 'optometry camp' just two months ago and all the kids at the Education Center were checked out.  Probably the girl in my 9th standard class just missed that day.

I know she had been out of school for some time and only recently returned.  It was in the previous volunteer's report.  And she is very shy/quiet, but her English and reading skills are about as good as the other kids in the class.  I actually hope nearsightedness is a problem for her and that glasses will help her level of engagement/confidence in both our sessions and the rest of her classes.  (And not provide another source of self-consciousness.)

Why am I so uncomfortable?

I'm actually not at all uncomfortable with Shama (our maid-cum-savior) anymore.  I was uncomfortable with maids even back home.  Maybe out of being such a slob or mostly feeling weird about not doing anything while somebody else deals with my mess or knowing that it's not like I have more education than this person, but I make at least 4 times what they do an hour, if not significantly more and there's more variety and I hate doing what they are doing right now and how the hell is that fair?  This commonly applied while traveling for work and staying in hotels or even staying at my parents'.

Shama is college educated in hotel management and now works as a private maid largely because her mother can no longer manage the household, her daughter is now at college, and her husband has passed.  It gives her the flexibility she needs and working for foreigners affords her a pretty good wage here.  She's been a great help to me in getting more involved errands done and translating flashcard words for class.  She takes pride in what she does, and I do too now.  Whew!

I've run into a sort of similar problem with one of my lessons for the kids:  What do you want to be when you grow up?  I prepared flashcards in advance.  (I prepare everything in advance and make almost all of my stuff from scratch - from flashcards and bingo boards to worksheets - 'cause I'm obsessed.)  And here's where I struggled.  I want to encourage them to be anything and everything they want.  I also want to be realistic.  The word 'realistic' just used, right there, even sounds patronizing, bourgeois, classist - oh my god, I am the devil.  But I still want to be realistic.  So I am using a mix of occupations from tailor and driver and maid to scientist and teacher and pilot and actor.  Oh please, let me not be an asshole. 


No idea what the fireworks and loud music were actually about.  There is a tract of land near our house that often hosts carnivals or expos, currently a handloomed household goods tent.  Not just curtains and bedsheet sets, appliance covers for your fridge or washing machine are also very popular.  It is afterall a dusty country.  When we heard all the blasts outside and finally went up to the roof to investigate, we caught the end of the fireworks show and my camera caught a very ill-timed shot of the very last display.


The little cat had not been around for a while.  I'll admit I was pretty disappointed - I like the idea of having an outdoor cat that sits with me while I read and drink my morning coffee.  He's been back today.  He seems more afflicted by fleas than before.  I know one of the grocery stores stocks catfood.  I'm hoping they also have flea collars.  He obviously wants in the house now too, but so far I am successfully resisting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Speaking of subtle problems

As I mentioned in my first post about AIC, I figured there would be some subtle challenges to this teaching endeavor.  There are plenty of obvious ones:  limited time; potentially limited motivation; totally different style of teaching; 3rd language for these kids; I have no experience teaching kids, much less teaching ESL; etc. etc.  Eric has talked about the fact that it took them a little while to figure out that the Health Outreach program needs to work hand-in-hand with the Education Outreach program - kids that are sick or whose parents are sick cannot come to class.

I'm hoping this means that they can address optometry as well.  One of the girls in my 7th/9th standard class is obviously nearsighted.  I do some 'fill in the blanks' grammar work with the older kids, which I prepare before class on a large sheet of paper.  She cannot read it from the back of the class and is too shy to want to come sit closer.  There's also a girl in my youngest group who wants to use the book on the few occasions that I write the text on the board to copy.  I am thinking because she has trouble reading the board.  It could also be my handwriting.  Add that to the list of subtle challenges.

Where to sit?

So the kids here just sit on the floor for class.  They have little clipboards or clipboard like things that they use for writing surfaces.  The teachers all sit in plastic patio chairs.  (Yes, those ubiquitous mass produced ones you're thinking of.)  I don't usually sit in a chair, despite many efforts to get me to do so.  It's akin to trying to refuse food in any Indian home.  I'm usually standing at the board, crouching with a book, or sitting on the floor in a circle with the kids.

Usually during my second class the cook (I think she's the cook at the center) brings us tea.  Today they were out of tea masala, so it was hot, sweet milk instead.  I was sitting in a circle doing the 'How are you?' exercise with the kids and not paying attention to her talk with the Marathi teachers.  I don't know if she had been trying to ask me if I wanted milk or what.  But she walked right up to me, grinning all the time, and pinched my cheeks really hard.  Maybe she thought it was cute that I was sitting on the floor like a child.  I'm really not sure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Screw you, banks

As if the total collapse of Wall Street, ensuing economic disaster, and total lack of justice wasn't enough reason to hate banks - there was probably enough reason before that too - now my bank is finding new ways to mess up my day/week/month.

Despite alerting them that I would be in India for the next 6 months, my account has been frozen by the fraud detection unit and I can't do anything about it over e-mail.  I have to call, on a phone, like this is 1890.  I can't call because we don't have a functioning phone.  It turns out our phone was shut off because the alternate phone number provided is in the States and Idea! does not authorize branches to make international calls.  Maybe I need a new tag for Frustration.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Shama's home

Pune India alley auto rickshaw 

After Boaz and I suffered greatly and failed miserably at the task, Shama was kind enough to track down a merchant with the kind of mosquito nets we wanted.  After cleaning today, we hopped in a rickshaw and headed to Camp.  First she needed to drop off her things at home, so I got to meet her family and see where she lives.  The little alleys snaking toward their home are charming, colorful, tidy, filled with plants and drying laundry.

Shama lives with her mother and daughter in a one room apartment.  It is utterly adorable, complete with a divided cottage style door.  I can't imagine living comfortably with three people in such a small space though.  They were incredibly hospitable, serving tea and pastry and white pumpkin dal.  Shama's daughter is currently studying science at a college here in Pune and hopes to go on to medical school.

Phones, phones, phones

Getting a cell phone here is a pain in the ass.  After many struggles with AirTel, Idea! finally seemed to be the winner with a phone that has been in service for over a month.  It has now been shut off due to yet more paperwork problems or something (like mismatched signatures).  Frustration abounds.  Not having a phone for myself was bad enough.  No phone at all is totally unacceptable.  Prepaid sim cards are kind of the way to go here and I think it may be time to just ask Shama (our maid) to get one for me in her name.


Okay, okay, I finally signed up for that Facebook nonsense.  The blog will automatically post as Notes there.  So if you prefer Facebook for that sort of thing, you can add me as a friend and get all the updates that way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Little monsters

I mean that affectionately, of course.  Housie is so popular I have created a problem for myself.  My 6th standard class was so obsessed with getting to the game, I almost had to skip it.  I still think it is a great tool for reinforcing the lesson.  Hopefully as the game gets harder, they will see that they have to pay attention to the lesson in order to even play.

I am trying to integrate motivation for the whole class to pay attention during the lesson/activity (even when a student is not active) right into what we are doing.  To teach different ways of answering "How are you?" I had my 3rd standard kids sit in a circle.  I passed out flashcards with the different answers, a picture of it, and the Marathi word.  Going around the circle, each student asks the person to their left "How are you?" and they respond with the word on their card.  Then we each pass the card to the next person and start over.  These are also the pictures/words in the housie game at the end of class.  The kids want to be sure they know how to say their word even before it is their turn, but they would not listen while the other kids were talking to hear how it is said.  Hopefully as they get used to this activity, it will eventually motivate them to listen.

Starting to get hot

Apparently it reached about 95 degrees today.  I had class, so I was out at the hottest time of day and in small, unairconditioned, unfanned rooms filled with warm little bodies.  Fortunately I wasn't miserable.  Unfortunately it means it is still going to get much hotter.