Category Archives: Culture

Things I am learning about culture

well… happy new year!

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…a late one that is… (clearly i’m not disciplined enough for this whole professional-blogger thing, sigh.)

celebrating the holiday season in India was certainly not the same as being in the U.S. yes, people (in Bangalore at least) do celebrate Christmas in India. but no, it’s not the same without snow, real christmas trees throwing needles all over the place, cold weather, crowded malls, hot chocolate, or eggnog. my loving family members replaced some of this by sending nice cards, christmas decorations, hot chocolate mixes, and nice smelling christmas candles to brighten up my room. the person i’m staying with did decorate for christmas and it looked fairly festive inside the house (christmas tree, stockings, stars), but it wasn’t the same without cold weather. it genuinely didn’t feel like Christmas time here because, though a ‘bangalorean’ will argue, the seasons barely change here, at least through the eyes of a midwestern girl who is used to seeing all 4 distinct seasons; hot, sticky summer to bone-chilling winter. it is certainly cooler in the month of december here, even getting down around 50 (F) at night, but it still gets up to nearly 80 (F) in the daytime and the sun can be unbearable as we are elevated a bit here and therefore closer to the sun.

though the holidays were exciting, december was a bit of a month of falling into routines. the nice thing that has finally happened for me at school is that things have suddenly become organized and started running fairly smoothly (as smoothly as is possible for a special educator). one might think this all would have happened earlier as I’ve now been here 4+ months, but as is proven to me every day, establishing norms and routines in a special education classroom that has a huge variety of needs to address, not to mention the logistics of scheduling students’ classes, meetings with teachers, and time to organize and sort through paperwork, is a never-ending test in time-management and organization. the fact that we are in India certainly doesn’t aid in any of the routines we are trying to establish. though as we recently added 1.5 new teachers (1 part-time, 1 full-time) to our room, the workload has been more evenly distributed and now there are more brains there for our regular brainstorming sessions.

here’s the christmas season in short;

  • school: the month of december brings exam time. first something called the Asset which is supposed to assess where the kids stand in the curriculum and compare to other schools. unfortunately there seems to only be a loose connection between the actual curriculum and that which the test is based on. but that’s the story of any teacher at home as well (think ISTEP here). the last week in december brought regular term exams, which means those of us in the LSC, had to create our own individualized exams for our kiddos. luckily a chunk of them will be moving back to regular grade level work in January and therefore will be able to take the regular monthly exams their classmates take (if all goes as planned). also, we got the chance to have a little end of term celebration which was almost entirely organized by LSC students themselves. gave me that little taste of Christmas enjoyment that kids at home have… except that here Santa is referred to as “that Christmas thata” (thata= old man in Kannada).
  • home: on christmas eve, the family i stay with invited all of the people who work in the building (watchmen, maids, cooks, etc.) to bring their families for a nice Christmas lunch. it was really wonderful to meet the families of the people who i see every day, and great to see them being served food for once. everyone crowded into the apartment downstairs and ate on the floor the traditional indian way; on mats, eating with hands. it was a really great way to kick off Christmas! otherwise, i had a fairly quiet Christmas day and spent the evening Skyping with family members. we spent new years in and had a few friends over to celebrate and eat awesome food!
  • outings: of course i couldn’t sit around the house for a whole week, so NC and i did go on a few outings. the highlight, i would say, was spending a couple of days visiting the hostel. we went once on Christmas Eve and saw all the decorations, then got to accompany the group to Bannerghatta National Park (the zoo of Bangalore). otherwise, we met a few friends for dinner and tried to relax and put work out of our minds for the week.

the start of January has brought excitement for the quickly approaching CH Global Conference which is being held in Bangalore this year. the school is getting all prepared with performances and committee plans to make the visit a good one for all of our international colleagues and for Christel Ma’am herself (as children so lovingly call her). i’m excited to see the various staff from around the world and to get the chance to see some familiar Indianapolis residents.

hope everyone is well and that the new year has brought new beginnings and a fresh start for all of you, many happy wishes for health and happiness!

vanakkam!
namaskara!
assalamu alaikum!
Sarah

Aside

i’ve been asked a few times now, exactly what language people speak here (“¿Indian?” “…no.”) so here is my explanation of that answer and why it’s difficult to learn.

short answer [i.e. you can read this paragraph, and have the basic question answered]: the “official” language of India is Hindi, but as this is traditionally, and historically a ‘northern’ language, it has not caught on in the whole of the nation, particularly in the south [where i am]. the language ‘officially’ spoken in Bangalore is Kannada (as Bangalore is located in the state of Karnataka), but as this large city is located fairly central to most of southern India, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi are also spoken, as is Urdu for anyone practicing Islam. in my personal Bangalore experience, the average person on the street will speak a minimum of 3-4 languages, even if they cannot read/write in any of them. in Bangalore, because of a long history of British influence, a great many people speak at least a small enough amount of English that i can get around with fairly little struggle.

the longer answer and explanation:
first off, what you need to know is a brief lesson in history. before ‘india’ became a major center for trade with european countries, the sub-continent itself was extremely diverse. one could move only, say 100 km and the language, culture, and customs would be quite different. in India’s long civilized history the sub-continent experienced a long list of different ruling cultures which influenced various aspects of Indian life, to varying degrees. because of the diversity of the place, one could almost argue that this vast place could have been made into 30 different countries (though this would require a whole other post altogether, and a great deal of time i don’t have at the moment for research).

not only does each individual state have its own official language, but those states [like, say, Orissa] that have large populations of tribal people have unending numbers of ‘dialects’ that have sprouted off of that language some hundreds of years ago. in all, i’m told, the number of languages and dialects spoken within the borders of this nation may number in the 400’s. though i seriously wonder how one does a census of such a vast and sometimes obscure place.

my [personal] speculation for how so many languages have been sustained over so many dynasties, rulers, and kingdoms is that for one, there is a very high value placed on the learning and procurement of languages. traditionally, the first language an Indian child will speak is their “mother tongue.” they may also learn the “father tongue” if it is different, plus the local language which is often something else. let me give you an example (not an actual story, just a compilation of various students i have questioned about it); i ask a 9th grade student which languages he speaks and how he learned each of them. his mother tongue is Tamil as his mother was born there, he also speaks Tulu (learned while living in Mangalore), Kannada – as the village he has lived most of his life is in Karnataka, he also speaks Malyalam as it is related to Tulu and he once lived in a place where it was spoken, somewhere along the way he picked up Telugu, and at CHI the students begin learning English in the 1st grade. in case you weren’t counting, that’s SIX DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. yes, maybe the person is not completely fluent in all of these languages and certainly not literate in all, but the thought of just speaking even 5 different languages in a half-way decent manner is incomprehensible to most Americans at least. (i could probably write a whole other blog about why i don’t think this should be the case, but i digress)

as i mentioned, the official language in Bangalore is Kannada, but Tamil, Telugu, English and Hindi are also common. the most common next to Kannada is definitely Tamil. and at CHI, a great many of the students claim Tamil as their mother tongue. politically and culturally, Tamilians are very proud and attached to their language and Tamilians have moved to give it a higher status in India as it has some 60 million speakers.
because of all of this, learning one specific language is difficult. though it would be advantageous for me to learn Hindi if i want to travel in the rest of the country, learning, and especially practicing Hindi, is not particularly easy in Bangalore. my current project is learning Tamil, as the children at school get extremely excited if i can even come close to mimicking something in their mother tongue [which they get scolded for speaking in school or on the bus]. personally though, where possible, i try to use their language, be it Tamil or Kannada, when i am teaching vocabulary because i am interested in attempting to pick up a few words myself. it also engages them more if i take an interest in what they speak.

well, there is your long answer, i’ll let you know when i actually pick something worthwhile up and can actually communicate 🙂
also; soon to come is a post on “Indian English” which is another animal altogether.

Namaskara,
Sarah

what the **** language do they speak there?! …and are you learning it?

now for 1,000 words on October…

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oops 🙂

obviously i seem to have been neglecting my blog and as one might expect in India, quite a bit has happened since september!

here is a quick run-through of all i’ve been up to in the past month and a half:

  • the first week of October was spent on the South Indian holiday of Dhasara. since we had an entire week to ourselves, NC and i decided to spend a couple of days in Pondicherry. Pondy was originally a French port and the small area near the ocean is very reminiscent of a small european town. many people even still speak French here. though, as is most of india, Pondy was most definitely HOT. though we got some relief from the heat by visiting the home of an acquaintance which was right on the beach and very peaceful with a nice sea-breeze. sitting on the beach and putting my feet in the water was one of the most relaxing things i’ve done in a while. i definitely wish i could have stayed there a bit longer, but we came back on a friday to greet a friend of NC who was just starting a tour of india. it was nice for us to show someone else around for a while, made me realize how much i’ve learned about where i am and how to navigate the city.
  • after a week back to the grind of school, we spent a nice weekend socializing with some school colleagues and visiting homes of some of our students. its a truly unique and enjoyable experience to be welcomed into an indian home, and most of the time they cannot wait to stuff you full of biryani, or chicken curry, or kebabs, or just rassam and rice. and obviously something is wrong with you if you deny a second helping, literally they will pile your plate again and say you don’t like the food if it’s not sparkling clean by the end. we also got the amazing experience of going to our first official indian festival. though a little late for Dhasara itself, we went with a colleague to the place where he has lived his entire life in Bangalore for the most unique experience i think i’ve had yet. we didn’t even arrive at the thing until 11pm and apparently it was “just starting.” I can only liken it to a stationary parade with “floats” built and funded by family and neighbor groups. each with a special seat for a hindu deity statue. apparently at some point in the night the floats actually make a trip around the central blocks of the area… but we were there until 4am and saw no movement. YES i was out on an indian street, at a festival, until 4AM!! the strangest part was the families with small children were also out enjoying festivities, shops were open selling snacks and chai, and large drum groups were egging on festivities and copious amounts of dancing. it was beyond incredible, to say the least.
  • the second half of October was slightly less exciting except that we had two working SATURDAYS in a row which was painful to say the least and one thing i don’t appreciate about indian work culture (working a couple saturdays in a month is standard for most jobs).
  • Diwali, however was a bit of excitement in that final week of the month. being the Hindu “festival of lights,” Diwali involves copious amounts of oil lamps, candles, and especially fireworks (aka “crackers”). in the way people celebrate, the holiday is similar to an American Christmas celebration in that it involves getting together with close family and friends. Hindus perform special poojas (prayer ceremonies) on this day, burning oil lamps to invite the goddess Lakshmi inside the house, and bursting crackers to frighten evil spirits away from the home. i got to spend this lovely holiday with a small group of friends in the home of a Gujarati couple (Gujarat is a state in western india). the evening was definitely enjoyable and almost made up for my missing the 4th of July at home, though there weren’t any large gatherings for professional fireworks displays. we had a very nice “savory and sweet” meal and enjoyed watching everyone set off extremely loud and bright crackers on the street.
  • unfortunately diwali was followed by yet another working saturday and utter disorientation as to what day it actually was (we had 3 days off for diwali, then 2 working days, then 1 sunday) especially since the following week we had tuesday off for the celebration of Karnataka’s statehood.
  • throughout all of these weeks, NC and i have started spending sundays at a boy’s hostel where about 10 CHI students stay. the hostel is very near to CHI itself and about a 20 minute walk. we have also been commissioned by the Father there to help a few of the older boys (who do not attend CHI) with improving their English. the time we spend at this place is like nothing else i’ve experienced in india. for one, the place is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, with a small, rambling, mile-long dirt road, for which “pot-holed” is not nearly an accurate descriptor. the hostel itself is a fairly large 4-story building that has the beginnings of a school within its walls. thus far, the school only extends to the 3rd grade, hence older boys go to CHI or other nearby schools or PUCs for the older ones (in India, Pre-University College is the format for the 11th and 12th grades). i’ve found that the utter peacefulness that exists at the hostel is an extremely welcome break from the chaos of the city. also, there is a certain amount of simplicity of life there that makes it a breath of fresh air. the boys all have daily jobs/chores and there is a fairly regular schedule followed which daily includes recreation (usually football [soccer for my american friends], sometimes cricket). though it’s not perfect, as nothing is, the work that the Father does here is nothing less than highly admirable. the boys that stay there come for a wide variety of reasons; many are from small villages and were looking for better education, some want to become priests, others come from homes that simply cannot support them in some way. whatever the reason they are there, most of them refer to one another as ‘brothers’ and treat each other as such. the family camaraderie is what makes it so enjoyable to visit and to see some of the students outside of the school atmosphere.
  • most recently, this past week the school celebrated Children’s Day with a “special assembly” put on by the teachers. yes, i participated in a short indian dance with some of the other teachers. the program was enjoyable, though i did feel bad for the students as they pitifully wilted in the hot sun for nearly 2 hours, but i believe it was successful none-the-less, and i discovered just how musically and theatrically talented some of my colleagues actually are.

as you can see, the month of october was a banner month for indian culture and experiences. i have immensely enjoyed most everything. not to say i haven’t had my bouts with homesickness, but keeping myself busy has gone a long way in keeping my sanity. i have friends and especially NC to thank for keeping me centered and focused on why i’m here… CHI and the kids. that’s why i came back and why i can keep myself balanced. i love what i’m doing and am rewarded everyday with the relationships and academic successes i see in my students. more on all this later, hopefully you all can feel updated now.

thanks for reading 🙂

Sarah

one heck of a month!

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i can now say that i have settled into my little life here in Bangalore. the only thing left to do is pick up my foreigner’s registration from the local immigration office… which was a task in itself that should, with a little luck, be accomplished very soon.

after arriving very early in the morning on the 24th of August, I attended school and jumped back into the work i’ve been doing in the resource room. the school has felt very much the way I left it. my relationship to the school is slowly changing. i’m starting to feel much more a part of the staff and system here. everything is starting to come easier for me and the inter workings of school-bureaucracy in India is coming a little more naturally now.

the week i arrived, i got wednesday through friday off school because of Ramadan and Ganesha Chaturthi (Hindu elephant-headed god’s birthday celebration). I got to spend that extra long weekend visiting with friends, having some truly wonderful food, and reacquainting myself with the city.

teacher’s day was directly after this holiday and though we were in school, i’ve never known any school to show so much appreciation for teachers than an indian school. each teacher was given the equivalent of about $100 worth of gift cards to a good department store here in Bangalore. plus a nice box of sweets and a small piece of jewelry, as well as some very kind words from the education and finance directors. the students were especially excited to stop teachers in the corridors and wish them a happy teacher’s day and shake hands. it was truly a day that i was proud to be a teacher.

life in general has been extremely busy. i’m now lucky enough to have another foreigner, NC, from the U.K. in the school for about the same length of time as i am. about a week after i arrived a female volunteer from the U.K. was here for two weeks and NC and I were both really excited to be able to show another person around, which is something neither of us had the first time we came to India. the experience of showing someone else around showed me just how much i have learned and grown since my first arrival in India. especially being able to understand more of what people are saying is a huge realization. my first two weeks i had difficulty even being able to tell if someone was speaking english to me because i was not accustomed to the accent of an Indian-English speaker. sharing experiences with these two companions has made my first month back an easy transition. finding my way around the city has become much less of a hassle and i really know where i’m going most of the time.

besides foreign friends, i have really started to develop friendships with many of the younger teachers at school and have been officially invited to 3 homes now. its exciting to have social breakthroughs when there are often misunderstandings from both sides that can be the root of many misunderstandings. also my own natural tendency toward introvertedness has been a slight obstacle to immediate friend-making, through slowly but surely i’m definitely feeling more connected.

about two weeks ago i got to go to one teacher’s home for a Malayalam (people from Kerala) harvest festival known as Onam. we had amazing food and ate on the floor with our hands… the traditional way 🙂 it truly is amazing to be welcomed into an Indian home.

I’ve had an amazing first month and will tell you all about our school trip to GOA in my next post (to come soon). I’m going to attempt a once-monthly blog so friends at home can keep track of what i’m doing and where i’m going.

much love.
Sarah.