Routines and Surprises

Wake up at 6:45.  Count the number of new mosquito bites I have.  Turn on the hot water geyser, hope that it works today.  Take a bucket shower.  Eat breakfast and pack up for work.  Walk down the road and flag down a rickshaw.  Cover my face for the congested drive down the Mumbai-Pune Highway.  Wave to the guards and head into the office.

I typically spend my mornings conducting classroom observations at one of Akanksha’s four Pune schools.  Recently, however, I have been spending more time in the office.  Yesterday I was greeted by a group of girls waiting to practice their ballet routine for the International Festival (an all-day extravaganza of informational booths, skits, and dance performances on Sunday, November 13).  Their group is representing Russia, and I was given the distinct honor of preparing four young ladies to learn and perform a dance after just a few hours of practice.  I find myself turning into my ballet teacher from childhood, Ms. Candy, screaming about pointing toes and keeping arms rounded.  I can see I have taken much of the fun out of this endeavor.   I try to turn it around by videotaping the girls with my camera so that they can watch how far they’ve come in just two hours of lessons.  It works.  Energy is restored and the girls get excited about discussing possible costumes.  I’m always surprised by how excited the girls get over these mornings we spend together.

Wait hungrily until the cafeteria opens at Thermax (they provide Akanksha with space for our office).  Convince the man behind the counter that I do not have change and pay him with a hundred rupee note (I need this change for my rickshaw home).  Stuff my face as I watch music videos on TV.

Two weeks ago, I spent a day with a school social worker as she conducted home visits.  These particular visits were aimed at ensuring students were doing their homework during the Diwali break.  We walked through the community as people poked their heads out of their one room homes, stopped washing the clothes or dishes in basins out front, or woke up from naps to greet the social worker – they were excited to see her.  We find a few kids and help them connect with their homework partners.  After finding most families away for the holidays we head down the road to “the building,” a multistory complex built through a slum redevelopment project.  I learn that families were offered apartments in the building if they could show that they owned their “huts.”  I also learn that kids who live in the building like to go play in their old neighborhoods and that their mothers tend to also spend their time there – they think it is more fun.

We spend half an hour helping a third standard student complete his math homework.  His younger brother, a kindergarten student, has been having trouble talking, and the family and social worker discuss visiting a doctor.  I am offered chai and a variety of sweets by the family that I could not speak a word to, but we exchange many warm smiles.  I’m always surprised by how friendly parents are to anyone who is involved in helping their kids learn.  I’m also always surprised by how erasers are prized possessions here, guarded and held by the adult in the room and asked for when needed.

Drink chai.  Check Facebook.  G-chat with Mandy.  Fill my water bottles so I have drinking water at home.  Look at what the job market is like at home, note organizations to apply to when the time comes.

Last week I took part in a meeting with all of Akanksha’s school principals from both Pune and Mumbai.  They are in the process of designing common English, math, and science student assessments to be used by all schools for kindergarten through third grade students; I just joined the team that will be designing the language assessments.  We get into a fairly heated small group discussion about multilingualism in the classroom, the best methods for teaching English to non-native speakers, and what it means to be an English medium school.  People speak candidly and passionately; they disagree with one another.  Our facilitator is a very skilled teacher from the US that I am excited to work with over the next several months.  I’m always surprised by the level of talent that Akanksha attracts from near and far.

Try to make a balanced meal without exceeding my daily food budget.  Fail.  Hang out with friends.  Speak to Lauren.  Watch some American TV shows I would never watch at home.

My days are full of routines and surprises.  I sleepily pass the same closed shops every morning on my way to work.  I am surprised by Diwali fireworks still being set off until 4 am.  I am excitedly greeted by classrooms of children screaming “good morning Didi.”  I am surprised by all the Hitler references I see on a daily basis.  I easily guide my rickshaw driver to my apartment in Hinglish.  I am surprised by how familiar Pune seems now. I sadly recognize the smell of what kind of trash is being burned on my street.  I am surprised by how difficult it often still feels to be here.

Wash face, brush teeth, scrub feet.  Scrub feet again.  Rub on Odomos.   Miss home.  Wish I had fast enough internet to video chat with my boyfriend, friends, and family.

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