Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tales of a Freckle-Faced Kid in India

I feel it’s only fair to start this post with a word of warning: I’m currently feeling quite brain dead. My first week as a ‘real YAV’ has resulted in a state of mental exhaustion that is not particularly conducive to blogging. Thus, I apologize for any incoherence on my part. Also, this is a rather incomplete portrayal of my first week, but it’s a start . . .

Monday morning, after sending Ariel, Becca, John, and Lindsey to their various sites 2+ hours south of Alwaye, Achen and Kochamma put David and me into a taxi and sent us on our way. I arrived at Christava Mahilalayam at 8:30, and found a gaggle of smiling, 13-year-old girls, waiting to welcome me at the school’s gate. I had barely introduced myself before they bombarded me with questions about my family, where I’m from, and how I like Kerala thus far. Their greeting was demonstrative of the general excitement that has permeated the Mahilalayam student body; every time I step outside the staff room, my students receive me with eyes of wonder and the phrase, ‘Good (insert time of day here) Miss.’ I’ve spent the first week visiting classes to get a sense of each standard’s (grade’s) knowledge of the English language . . . These visits usually result in students standing up one at a time to recite (quite speedily) a list of important personal information (name, hometown, names of every family member in household, and favorite hobby), or in the teacher allowing the class to bombard me with questions. Family – just so you know, basically every Mahilalayam student knows all your names and occupations (since this seems to be the first point of curiosity). In general, the students’ communication skills are better than I expected; this, along with the enthusiasm surrounding the presence of an alien redhead, makes me more excited to actually assume the ‘teacher role’ tomorrow morning.

One of the best parts of my day comes with the morning/evening bus rides to and from school. Christava Mahilalayam is only about 20 minutes away from Chacko Homes via Auto-Rickshaw, but my school bus stop is one of the last on a long and windy route through the streets of Alwaye. Thus, I get plenty of time to chat with my students and the other teachers who ride the bus. On the first day, the staff pointed out the one little girl who boards the bus at U.C. College – a talkative and enthusiastic 8-year-old name Affra who dutifully makes sure I get off at the right stop. For the rest of the week, I also met her at 7:50 and sat next to her on the bus, hearing all about her family and learning whatever Malayalam words she and her two best friends choose to throw at me. After school on Friday, Affra invited me to her house for tea, and I proceeded to spend the rest of the evening with her wonderful family, who welcomed me in with the open arms I’m finding to be common among Malayalees.

Yet, despite both the overwhelming generosity I have received and the excitement that has met me, this has been a week of ups and downs. While the extrovert in me loves to be meeting new people and answering the questions of eager students, the introvert in me finds it exhausting. In addition, because everyone with whom I’m interacting is using his/her second language, I’m constantly aware of the speed at which I am speaking and the words I’m using. This is causing my brain to work overtime, and contributing to me fried mental state. It’s in situations like these where I truly miss the ability to recharge around those who already know me, and who will understand the super-speed of my colloquial English. Thankfully at least, I have not yet faced challenges that I wasn’t expecting . . .

And, in closing, here’s a couple other random tidbits from my first week:

1) Jaco and Anne were right in telling me I would receive comments about my freckles: In multiple conversations with various people, I have received questions about what they are and whether or not I have a skin disease, and been given the suggestion that a certain facial cream will clear my blemishes right up . . .
2) If Miracle on 34th Street were set in India, I’d cast one of my Chacko Homes ‘honorary grandpas’ as Kris Kringle. Hands down.
3) I rode the bus yesterday all by myself! I made it into Alwaye town without any glitches, and met David for some shopping and exploring. On the way back, I may or may not have boarded the wrong bus and then had to get off and try again. Oh, life in India.
4) A discussion about American music in my 9th Standard class resulted in me singing ‘Mamma Mia’ with a 14-year-old boy in front of the class.

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