India blog part 11

What I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post was that being Shrove Tuesday (or Fettisdagen as they say in Sweden) our meeting was followed by an hour or so of drinks and chat, accompanied by semla , which is to the Swedes what the pancake is to us Brits on Shrove Tuesday. The semla is a bun which has had the top sliced off and the inside scooped out, mixed with milk and sugar and reinserted into the bun, then topped with cream before the top of the bun is replaced and dusted with icing sugar. They were delicious, and more than made up for missing our own normal Pancake Day tradition.

The days have been getting milder while I’ve been here, but today was the first one that could really be called warm. I went out in a long top, cardigan and jeans, and soon had to take off my cardigan. The girls had a day out, and after debating with myself whether I could afford to abandon the preparation for the 3 remaining talks I have to give, I decided to fling caution to the winds and go out with them. The outing involved a mile or so walk to the station, a death defying dash across the main road to the bus stop and a very long bus ride across the city.

Commuters in India seem to work on the opposite principle to British commuters. At home everyone adopts the pose of an ironing board and endeavours not to have any contact with the next person if they can possibly help it. Here everyone squashes up against everyone else without apparently a second thought. The bus ride was followed by all 14 of us squeezing into 3 E-rickshaws for the remainder of the journey to a huge mela, or craft and food fair.

G, the lady who stays with the girls overnight every Wednesday to allow E and S to go out to the church Bible study, was waiting there for us. She spends Wednesday evenings doing lessons with the girls, teaching them among other things cooking. The idea today was to let them look around the stalls and then visit the food court where she would let them watch various foods being prepared, and talk to them about the techniques used.
Hand painting of plates at the mela

The mela was a real feast for all the 5 senses. Beautiful clothes and fabrics, intricate handicrafts, elaborate carved furniture and ornate jewellery greeted the eyes. (Not having bought myself anything so far this trip, I indulged in a couple of pairs of earrings.) Tempting smells lured us in every direction. thumb_IMG_0497_1024Different types of music met us in the different areas of the huge grounds where the event was taking place. We came to a stage with audience seating in front of it where an event was preparing to start, so we sat down to watch. It turned out to be a performance on Japanese instruments. It sounded strange to western ears. I really tried my very hardest to appreciate it, but I have to confess I found it painful to listen to. So, apparently, did a lot of other people, as about a third of the audience got up and walked out, including us, I’m sorry to say. A little later we heard some lively Indian music coming from the same place and so we hurried back in time to see an intricate and entertaining dance by 4 performers, to an animated musical accompaniment, much more popular, and easier to listen to.
Indian dancing

Continuing on through the mela, I must confess I was tempted by a Nescafé stall, but not wanting to be separated from the others, I tore myself away. We came to an outdoor café where food was being freshly cooked to order. We sat down and ate steamed chicken momos with red chutney – piping hot, spicy and delicious. thumb_IMG_0437_1024The lure of the Nescafé stall became too strong and I went with the Australian volunteer and a new staff member to buy coffee. No, it wasn’t up to Karuna Coffee’s standard, and yes, I had vowed never to give another penny of my money to Nestlé, but in times of desperation needs must, and I have really missed my regular cups of coffee. I assumed this café stop was lunch but I was mistaken. After wandering around some of the remaining stalls of the mela we set out back to G’s house for lunch. I wondered why we were walking down the middle of the road with our backs to the oncoming traffic when there were perfectly good pavements on either side that we could have walked on, but when I mentioned it from time to time no one seemed interested, so I thought, “when in Rome…” and continued dodging the cars and motorcycles with the rest of them.

We arrived at G’s house to find her husband waiting to give us the warmest of welcomes. He had already arranged enough chairs for the 15 of us, and as we took our seats, he chatted to each of us in turn, taking a very genuine interest in each of the girls, volunteers and staff. G had prepared a meal of chicken biryani which she now produced and we all ate our fill. We seldom have dessert here, so it was a real treat to be given custard topped with pomegranate seeds and apple. After lunch her husband took out his guitar and led us in a time of worship then prayed over us before we set out again, and G walked us to a place where we could get bicycle rickshaws back to the bus stop. I felt very sorry for our rickshaw driver – with four of us on board it took all his strength to pedal, and at one point he had to get off and drag it up the hill. I felt we should have paid him an extra premium for the fat English lady on board.

The bus ride home was interesting. Three of the girls were travel sick, and they kept vying for turns at the open window, not always with great accuracy I’m sorry to say. The bus passed the ruins of a large fort and I noticed monkeys high up on the walls above us. That’s probably the nearest I’ve got to doing any sightseeing on my two trips here. We all arrived home tired and happy, with a healthy ache in our legs from having been on our feet all day. Before long the girls had rustled up chai for us all and we relaxed and chatted over the day. I can only say there are 3 girls I love at home and 11 girls I love here, and I’m going to be so torn when I go home on Saturday.
We had a really inspiring Bible study at church this evening about how the Body of Christ should work, with all of us making the contribution God has given us. And now I’m back home finalising my preparation for tomorrow, a conference with teachers from state schools across the city. Apparently the final numbers are in and we are expecting about 60 teachers. In the morning I have to speak on teaching ethics. In the British syllabus we teach a wide variety of philosophical and religious views, and equip students with the critical thinking skills to evaluate them and decide which they agree with, but what we don’t do is tell them what to think or which mode of ethics is best. Whereas here what they want to know is how they can guide their students towards making good moral decisions and developing a moral compass that will make them socially responsible citizens. So although much of the material that I draw on will be what I was teaching in the UK, the way I apply it will be very different.

Then in the afternoon I’m speaking on teaching disabled students, and again it will be quite difficult to adapt what I know for the Indian context. For me, the basic tool for planning and assessing the disabled child’s progress in learning is the Individual Education Plan. But I’ve been told there’s no point trying to explain this here, because I will be talking to teachers who have 70 in a class and may never manage to learn all their names, whose parents all want them to get top grades and will not be impressed if they take time away from the syllabus to devote individual attention to students with learning disabilities.

It’s hard to see, in that context, how the needs of disabled students can be met, so I’m going to focus more on how, if you design your lesson plan for the student with difficulties, all your students will benefit, and instead of planning a higher level lesson and differentiating for the less able students, you can design your lesson for the less able and provide extension work for the more able students. It’s not ideal but in the context here it’s probably the way to begin. I take heart from the fact that there have been demonstrations in some Indian cities while I’ve been here by disabled people demanding equal rights, just as we saw in the UK in the 1970s and 80s. If that movement gains momentum as it did in the UK, in years to come the situation here will almost certainly improve for disabled people as it has done at home.

I’m indebted to my Australian fellow-volunteer for today’s photos, as I forgot to take my camera out with me.


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