six weeks on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Udaipur pics!

So I got up this morning, got all ready for school, and then was promptly informed that 'India is closed today'. I guess there's a national strike against rising petrol prices, so the majority of the businesses/transportation/schools/everything shut down in protest across the country. Since the Street Kids school is pretty self-reliant, the strike shouldn't have affected whether or not we can teach and they were going to keep school open. But then protesters in the southern part of the country set a couple of public buses on fire and stoned about a dozen other vehicles that refused to stop operating, so they decided to play it safe and tell us we're not allowed out of the house today. Everything's fine in this half of the country (India's pretty big) and it was just a really strict precaution, but being on house arrest can be kind of boring.

But on the plus-side, being stuck indoors gave me a chance to get an Udaipur album together! So here's the link:
Udaipur Favs

Udaipur + Just another day in the slums

Hi again! I just found out something pretty cool: there's a movie that just came out in US theaters called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that's set in a pretty familiar location. The film is set in Jaipur (where I'm staying) but was actually filmed in Udaipur, the city that I visited last weekend. So in both cases I'm familiar with the area, and I can't wait to watch it at home to see if they did a good job portraying the city and if I recognize any of the landmarks!

Speaking of Udaipur, I've decided that it's my favorite city so far. It's technically still in the desert, but engineers created a couple of man-made lakes in the 1300's that surround the city and allow it to be green and beautiful. It's especially famous for the Lake Palace, which was actually built right in the middle of the lake and is only accessible by boat. It's been called the "Venice of the East", which totally fits because it's very quaint and beautiful, which can be hard to come by in crowded, noisy, dusty Indian desert cities!

I spent a day and a half in Udaipur with another volunteer from Holland, and it was a ton of fun. We saw the City Palace (second biggest in India and famous for it's stained glass, murals and mirrors -- super beautiful), took a boat ride on the lake, visited a 500 year old Hindu temple, rode a  camel, explored a spice market, and had a great time just walking around the city. Of course, it took between 8 and 11 hours of driving by bus through the impoverished countryside to get there and back (everything in India seems to take a really long time), but it was still my favorite trip yet! Totally worth it. I'll post a link to some photos once I get an album together.

Speaking of photos, I'm also posting some photos that I have of the street kids' school! I took some of them but the kids get a real kick out of using anything electronic, so some of them were taken by them.

Today one of my kids came to school with a baby in tow. She's only about ten (most of the kids don't know how old they are, so we guess) and I hadn't seen her in about two weeks, so I wondered why she had gone missing and why she was now coming with this little boy. I found out from the teacher that her mom had gotten in an accident and has been in the hospital, and her father's been spending all of his time with the mom. So Pooja has had to stay home to cook, watch the baby and the other three children, and run the house (actually a tent) while her parents haven't been home.  She could only come today if she could bring the baby along because she didn't have anyone to watch it if she went to school. And then she showed up to school, did all of her math work perfectly, kept an eye on the baby and her younger brother and sister, and then marched back home again like this was a perfectly normal thing to do.

I can barely get myself together in the morning. I can't imagine running a five-child household on my own at ten years old. But here this doesn't really seem to phase anyone; it's just another part of living in the slums. Crazy, huh?

But anyway, here  are the photos I promised:

Street Kids School

Udaipur pictures soon!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hot and Getting Hotter

So after a successful weekend in Agra I came back home and promptly got really, really sick for about a day and a half: throwing up, fever, chills, the whole nine yards. But I just kind of rode it out and by this morning I was out school again, and other than being a bit more tired than usual I feel fine. I just finished doing laundry,  which in Indian terms means running water from the shower into a bucket, squirting in some detergent and rubbing the clothes against one another with my hands. I'm not really convinced it was all that effective, but now all my clothes smell a little like detergent so I can at least pretend they're clean!

Not many kids have been showing up to school so far this week because it's been so hot. I don't really blame them -- the electricity's been out at the school for the last couple of days so there's been no fan to even circulate the air and the weather today saw a high of 108 degrees. I feel so bad even trying to get the kids to learn in this weather. Imagine sending kids to a 108 degree school in the US? They spent half the day just laying on the ground and were actually fighting over the water cooler this morning.

It's hard to tell if the kids are sick or not because they're pretty full of life and most of them have runny noses all the time anyway, but today I noticed that one little girl had really yellow eyes and another boy seemed to be oozing out of his ears and nose. I feel like being here has really shown me that I definitely want to be a doctor more than ever, because all I keep thinking about is how disease must be rampant here and how stupid it is that so many kid's lives are ruined by things that we think are silly, like the flu or polio (which is still very much at large here).

But it's also crazy how inflated prices are in the US and other Western countries. My $10 leather shoes are considered 'very expensive' here, according to the teacher at the school, and my $5 shirt is considered out of the prices range of Pooni, who has a pretty good job as the housekeeper here. The really amazing thing is that processed food (like juice or canned food) is pretty expensive in comparison to everything else, but fruit is SO cheap -- it was about 37 cents to buy a large watermelon from the supermarket the other day, and that's more expensive than buying it from a vendor off of the street. I guess that's a sign that I've gone from an industrialized nation to one that's not nearly as modern, because here farms and produce are cheap while anything that requires machinery or power is much more expensive.

But anyway, done enough reflecting for today! Here's a link to some of the photos that I've taken so far:

India Favs


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hi from Agra!

Current location: relaxing in an internet cafe in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. 

It's 106 degrees and humid outside right now, so my two friends and I decided to stay inside for a bit until we catch the bus back to Jaipur in a couple of hours. The weather was the same yesterday and we spent the day walking around the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort and thought we were going to pass out from the heat -- this is the hottest time of year here and Agra is in the middle of India so it gets the worst of it. The temperature in Jaipur is the same or hotter, but it's less humid and much more bearable. 

It's perfect at sunrise or after dark though, so we got up at 4:45 am the last two days to go see the sun rise at the Taj Mahal. We had a great view of it from the roof of the hostel where we were staying and could've watched it from there, but it's not the same as it is up close. I got a lot of really amazing photos from today but I can't upload them at an internet cafe, so I'll have to wait until I get back to the volunteer house some time tomorrow. 

India takes some getting used to, but it's definitely an incredible experience. The school where I teach is really more like a cement shed with two rooms about 10 ft by 10 ft, with a class of 10 in one room and two classes of about 20 in the other. There is no toilet, so the kids just go to the bathroom behind the school, and there's one teacher and one volunteer (plus me) to teach all of the children, who range in age from about four to about ten. They don't speak English and the teacher's English is very limited, so I'm trying to learn a couple of important Hindi words and use some sign language to communicate. They're really affectionate though, and try so hard to understand, so it's totally worth it.

I'll post more when I can!


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Made it there alive!

Hi everybody!

I made it here alive! My flight got delayed at Delhi so I only got here about 10 pm India time (instead of eight, when I was supposed to). The flights were pretty easy but I haven't slept in about two days so I'm sure the jet-lag will set in soon! The house is in the middle of a neighborhood in India, and there's actually a cow laying down outside. I couldn't see much on the car ride over because it was dark when I arrived, but I'm sure I'll have more to talk about tomorrow. Just wanted to make sure everyone knew I made it!

View of the Himalayas (I think) from the plane!