Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chandelao -- Work and Play

Chota, one of the staff, rewinding his turban

So, now we are really getting settled in Chandelao and are both working quite hard on our various projects and activities. We are also getting to know the village and its surroundings.

Lin's Work
I am enjoying teaching at the local private school, though dread to think what the other two local schools must be like in terms of lack of supplies and facilities. The children, all 200 of them, sit on the bare ground, sometimes with a thin strip of fabric under them. The lucky teacher gets a plastic chair, but no desk. A couple of the classes have a chalk-board that has seen better days, and we seem to share a duster to erase it with, adding chalk dust to the clouds of dust that rise whenever the kids get to their feet. Ironically, the kids have to take off their shoes at the gate of the school... to avoid bringing in even more dust? A couple of lucky classes are under cover, but most classes are in the open air, so teaching oral language invariably means disturbing other classes. The six teachers were grateful to receive ball-point pens I had brought from Philadelphia. The kids have a book-bag to keep their books in, but there are no extra books around as far as I can see. Lessons involve a lot of teacher-reading with students answering questions or reciting by heart. Their daily greeting to me is a recital in English in which the word “welcome” recurs comprehensibly and the rest is a jumble of polite formality.
This week I arrived before 9:30 one morning, so was in time to witness the daily assembly at which the kids stand up to cough and splutter their way through the national anthem. Corporal punishment is used presumably as a deterrent...the culprit “assumes the position” by putting his head between his knees, and his hands behind his legs and up over his ears in an admirable if shockingly tortuous display of physical flexibility. He still doesn't escape a beating.

Sandy with the teachers at Lin's School
Otherwise there is a visible enjoyment of learning, and the teachers are thoughtful and cheerful. I am rewarded with a daily Hindi lesson in the school's lunch hour, and spent one session at the teacher's house drinking masala chai, meeting his family and viewing his album of wedding photos. More later on elaborate and expensive weddings which can leave a family in debt for years.

I plan to use my FSD grant money to purchase supplies that will be useful to the teachers and can be passed on to future teachers. I am also going to look into the possibility of providing something like carpet samples for children to sit on.

Sandy's Work
I am working on a couple of projects, one of which is moving along well and the other is going quite slowly. The web sites of the Chandelao Garh and the Sunder Rang ladies' craft center have not been changed for some years and are lacking in much important information. The hotel is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor out of all the hotels in Jodhpur, but is not well known or easy to find. So I am rewriting and redesigning the web site, and making sure that the hotel is listed with full information on other websites such as Frommer, Expedia etc. This is all going along quite well. The Sunder Rang web site is more problematic as it is hosted in Norway, and the user name and password are lost! I hope to get that one sorted out within the next few days.

Rajasthani ladies in their daily dress
I am working on a plan for the greenhouse project, which is much more complicated than I previously thought – that should not be a surprise. The idea is to build a pilot project greenhouse that will extend the vegetable growing season and demonstrate the benefits to local growers. So I am designing compost heap containers using local materials and creating instructions for the “operator”. I am researching low cost green house construction and operation in hot arid regions – I have written to experts in Oman, Nevada and New Mexico for advice. I have also visited the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur to get ideas. I think I will have a good plan together before I leave, but I doubt if we will have got far with construction.
I thought I would get involved with the local school in teaching one science lesson a day to the top class, but having sat in on one lesson – and learnt the names of all the planets in Hindi – I realised that it was not possible to contribute much with my limited knowledge of the local language and the pupils limited knowledge of English. I'll leave the teaching to my much more experienced and effective better half.

Daily Life
We are meeting interesting hotel guests from Britain, Brazil, Germany, and France, which has us practising our foreign languages and focusing less on Hindi as we socialize over meals, take them with us walks, or to the craft center, and show them some of the colorful birds from the rooftop. The hotel staff are friendly and attentive: after a week on our jute-filled mattresses that felt more like concrete especially in the middle of the night, we discovered that the other rooms have foam-rubber mattresses, so ours were replaced on request and we now sleep like newborn babies. We are learning the Hindi names of the dishes we are served, and feel generally privileged to be treated like the other guests. We have even joined in two birthday celebrations last week, one German and one French, with chocolate cake and candles. Today we did our first major clothes-washing, having acquired a plastic bucket, and bought some Tide in Jodhpur, and now have clothes draped around the furniture in our room which consequently smells like a Chinese laundry. Luckily in the bone-dry air they will dry in a few hours.

We can not leave the hotel compound without being surrounded by children, wanting us to take their photo and trying out their English vocabulary on us. Sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper. They mostly seem to have dropped the insistence that I repeat my name, so that they can giggle over its Marwari meaning. Some of them want to hi-five me, but I avoid contact with some of the more heavily dust-encrusted hands. So far we have not had any stomach ailments and aim to keep it that way.

The blue city of Jodhpur from the Mehranghar
Last Sunday, we took the local bus into Jodhpur (40 cents for the 1-hour journey) which was an entertaining experience. Some of Lin's pupils were on the very crowded bus, along with an assortment of turbaned and dhoti-wearing farmers, women in flamboyant Rajasthani costume with clanking bangles up their arms, and children and babies of all ages. Soon everyone in the bus knew who we were and we were grilled on why we were in India, who was paying us, were our children married, how much do they and we earn, why was our 24-year old companion Hannah not married, etc. Questions that would be considered highly intrusive in the US are asked as a matter of course here. We had a very pleasant day walking round Jodhpur, including a visit to the massive, imposing and beautiful Mehranghar – the ancestral home of the Maharajah of Jodhpur and the site of numerous battles, alliances, murders, betrayals, and treaties signed and ignored. It was a truly fascinating place with some wonderful art and beautifully carved pink sandstone.
Our trip back to Chandelao on the last bus was somewhat less enjoyable, if more memorable, than the morning journey. We were packed in like sardines with tired, and sometimes drunk people. There were more passengers up on the roof. Lin was chatted up by a young (-ish) man whose conversation seemed to be leading up to a marriage proposal, but communication fortunately failed before things became uncomfortable. It has to be noted that there was no light on the bus, so wrinkles were not visible and my dress does not denote marital status as is the case for local women, so she appeared to be unescorted.

Lin with some of her pupils by the lake
After work in the evening in Chandelao, the temperature is moderate, the air is clear and dry and the sun is slowly setting. It is a wonderful time for a walk, and we have set off on various farm tracks from the village, meeting elegantly dressed women with heavy water pitchers or bundles of firewood on their heads, goats heading home for the night and many beautiful birds, including large flocks of migrating cranes. The huge red ball of the sun sets behind the trees, and the moon, planets and stars appear brighter and bigger than they ever do in Philadelphia.

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