Monthly Archives: March 2012

Ananya birthday celebration

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I was invited to the 14th birthday celebration of Ananya School.  And just a reminder, if you had thought about donating to Ananya after reading my previous blog, you still can. Just click on this link.  The celebration included a slideshow, two plays, and then snacks.

The first play (below, left) was the  Wizard of Oz. The second (below, right) was a Kanada folk dance.

  

Shashi Rao, founder of the school, said some words to everyone when the plays were finished.

After that, Lokesh asked to use my camera. He was dressed up as a monkey (including facial makeup)  for the play and it suited his personality perfectly. He took over 200 shots of the event. It was great fun following him around the campus. Below, he provided a self portraits (left). On the right, I took a photo of him by some of his schoolwork.

  

Below, he took some photos of students and teaches in the open air classrooms.

  

As a part of the entrepreneurial coursework helping the older children to support themselves through selling things in the informal sector, the students sold earrings, fancy envelopes and decorated coconut shells. (see below)

    

Lokesh also climbed a tree to pick me the perfect mud apple–called a Chickoo in Hindi or a Sapota in Kanada. They were delicious–tasted like baked apple pie!

    

The snacks at the end consisted of muffins, samosas, cold buttermilk, and cake.

   

  

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Finding the school of my dreams in Bangalore

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I visited an alternative school north of Bangalore called the Creative School. I fell in love with this school–so much so that I wish I could have sent the kids here during their time in Bangalore. But it for sure would have been a totally different experience. Unlike most of the other schools that I have visited, this is a school that caters to wealthier Indian families with global interests. (Tuition is 55000 or 75000 ($1500 USD) a year.)

The focus is on the child’s emotional and spiritual well-being as much as academics. The school is in a residential/suburban setting of a house/garden. Only 30 students attend. They will meet capacity at 45 next year and are looking for a new location to meet the expanding demand.

In a class of five 9 year olds working on math problems in notebooks as they sprawled about the furniture, I heard this conversation:

Teacher: “Shankar, that answer is still not correct. I want you to go down stairs get a drink of water and take a walk in the garden. Then come back and see if you can focus on the work. Because I know that you know this problem but you cannot concentrate right now.”

When the child returned and immediately wrote the correct answer, the teacher said to him and to a girl, “Both of you came today and your bodies we feeling very cranky. We need to notice when our bodies are feeling that way and take care of it so that we can work properly. That is why we journal every morning. To get those feelings out and so that you are ready to learn. We need to work on you noticing these feelings and finding the best way to get them out of your body without me having to remind you to do so. That way you will be ready to learn.”

If only my children’s teachers here in Indiawould say and believe similar things instead of focusing on writing is a straight line and sitting up straight. No matter what!

The school does not follow a particular philosophy but takes concepts from Montessori, Steiner, Waldorf, and other traditions to design a focus that is child centered and loving and yet meets the academic demands of the ICSI the Cambridge curriculum.

I spoke with the founder for a long time. She was an executive in the IT word back in Seattle before stepping away to find her true calling. She funded an NGO to build schools in rural India called the Asha Foundation and finally moved back to India to build this school. She has currently designed it to break even. She is taking no salary and many other teachers are not either as they find their way. She is following her life’s dream of designing a school that she sees as an ideal space for learning. She is also running workshops and consulting with NGOS on how to impart life skills emotional learning and spiritual teachings (across all religions) that focus on the needs of the whole child.

I asked the founder how the Right to Education act affects her alternative school. First, she had to be certified as a Kannada medium school. She had to open up her school for inspecting and show how instruction was occurring. Most instruction occurs in English. The school is certified through grade 5 based on the Cambridge curriculum (ICSI). The school finds the Cambridge curriculum helpful in terms of a set of standards of what the children should know but they have their own ways to getting the children to those standards. Each child is known intimately.

With the RTE Act, schools must also have a certain number of “highly qualified teachers” which re defined as having education degrees. But much like Shashi Rao and Ananya, the heads of this school do not value the forms of pedagogy and beliefs that are required by the Indian Government. Thus they do not want their teachers to be working out of a traditional schooling background. This school has other individuals serve as the head teachers and the traditionally trained teachers work only as apprentices under these teachers unless/until they can unlearn much of what they learned in their training.

The third issue with RTE is the requirement of 25% of slots being filled by poor children. The founder is very interested in meeting this goal but sensitive of how to do so. She asked, “How do you have a child who lives in hut learning next to a child whose dad drives an Audi?” What supports must be given to the poor child to ensure that the child can thrive and maintain her self-esteem despite their differences? If we are going to do this it must be done thoughtfully to ensure we are helping these children and not making situation worse for them. ”

The children in the school older than standard 5 are considered to be in a coop/home schooled system. The children sit for exams as private students rather than as a school. I observed a confrontation/discussion between three of these older students, a teacher, and the cofounder of the school at the entrance of the facility. The teacher was telling the founder that these girls were not listening, coming late and otherwise being disrespectful of the class. The co-founder told the girls, “You get to choice your coursework. If this course was not a good fit for you, you need to come and talk to us and make wise choices about your learning But if you do choose to stick with a class, then you need to do so with respect and integrity of the class itself. With just two weeks left in the term, it is much too late to be having this conversation. You need to make wise choices and commit to the choices that you have made.”

The girls protested that they weren’t always talking or coming late although they admitted that they were late and talking today.

I was very impressed by the level of respect between the adults and youth in this school. The opinions of the students about their own learning were valued while standards of how to treat others were equally valued.

I talked with the founder about this tension faced in alternative schools. It as a tension that I see very visibly in Quaker schools and Quaker camps. Often the celebration of the voice of a child does not come along with norms of discourse and expectations for how to treat one another as loving and caring individuals. Individual needs trump communal caring and the place becomes a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere. A balance is needed between community needs and respect for others with meeting individual needs. I think traditional schools often do poorly with both or tip too far in one direction or the other.

As should be when visiting a special school, I left wondering how I should be parenting differently and thinking about what I wish for my own children’s education.

Waterparks, safety and childish men

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Todd went home on Monday the 12th of March. We had promised the kiddos that while Todd was here we would go to an amusement park. I had some people on the Ex-Pat website recommend Wonder La, a huge amusement park on the way to Mysore. We looked at the rides and discussed what we would do. Then I told my yoga moms about the plan and they told me I was nuts. The water at the park is dirty and the crowds are too big for safety.  Last week a 12 year old girl drowned in two feet of water during a school trip due to the crowds and lack of supervision. So, we nixed that plan.

   

Instead, we found Club Cabana-a resort very close to our house. You can buy day passes to resorts in B’Lore. For $20 US Dollars for adults, $10 US Dollars for kiddos, we had admission to the park plus lunch and high tea. And if we wanted,  we could add bowling, archery and other attractions. We just stuck with the water park. The facilities were clean and well-functioning. The park had three water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a waterworks. Plus shaded little cabanas for resting. Perfect! It wasn’t five star luxury but everything was in good shape and running order.  The kids had a blast on the slides. The food was good. They even made French fries for the kids. They came home tired and a little sunburned and I am quite certain we will return before we leave India.

  

      

We were the only family there on a Saturday. The place was rented out by corporations that arrived in large luxury busses. We though the corporate execs would be busy in meetings and team building activities (Saturday is a work day in India). But by lunchtime they had all moved over to the water park.

I have decided that male Indian corporate types are the bane of my existence. When my  dad asked how things were, I told him “Fun place, but there were 400 corporate men there.” “Yuck,” he said. “They are the worst.” Indeed.   My children acted far more mature than they were acting. Imagine a group of six year old boys. Or a drunk group of 16 year old boys. Total chaos and annoyance.  I saw grown men playing in the waterworks area.–swinging on the swings, sliding down the slides. And while people may do stupid things like that in the U.S., if they saw actual children heading their way toward a child-oriented activity, they would step aside. And maybe act a bit embarrassed. Not here. They’ll elbow my kids out of the way. We encountered them on our Safari acting just as juvenile.  Here is a photo of the kids trying to climb the nets and the men taking them over.

Mom thinks that part of their childish behavior might be due to the fact that they never had waterslides when they were kids. Or climbing nets on a safari. Even if they came from wealthier families, such locations simply didn’t exist a generation ago.  I think it also has to do with being boys in a culture that spoils them rotten. In a traditional Indian family, the boy eats first, then the father, the mother and then the daughter.

While times have changed, the gendered roes in India seem to be the last to shift. For example, a recent Penn State grad acquired a tenure-track position in a business school here in town. Top of her class, great job, rising star in her profession. And all her family does is nag her about when she will get married. The pressure is so intense that she is considering moving back to the States just to get away from the pressure. The need to “marry off” a woman continues to persist even when they have Ph.Ds.

At the water park, thankfully the male corporate exec tended to move in clumps, so when they went to the wave pool, we went to the slides and vice versa. But they were obnoxious. And many were quite drunk.  They shrieked like children as they came down the slides. Kaden thought they were hilarious. I heard two nodding in Kaden’s direction and saying “American’s are quite brave, aren’t they?’ as Kaden came barreling down one of the slides without a peep out of her mouth.

Worse than the childishness, they didn’t follow any modicum of safety. Not that there seemed to be any rules or at least no enforcement of rules. After riding down a water slide, they would sit in the pool at the bottom and float in it, often right in front of the slide.  At one point there were ten men floating in at the bottom of the slide. Then a monkey ran buy and scurried UP the edge of the water slide. Ah, India.

   

I hollered at the “life guard” to get the men out of there. But let’s be realistic. The “life guard” was a man in navy blue trousers. The only thing he seemed to be policing was making the men take off their shirts to go down the slides. Women could wear whatever. Most had on t-shirts and pants. Some of the men seemed to be in their underwear. But as long as they took their shirts off they were okay.  And the lifeguards/staff were few and far between. They let the kids and I slide down the tubes holding hands—something strictly forbidden in the U.S. My cousins and I got thrown out of an amusement park in Ocean City for doing just that years ago. This Club Cabana was mostly an unsupervised water park. Which is fine since we watched our kids closely. It was really fear of others making stupid decisions that worried me.

Todd commented, reading my mind, “The reason why we have such safety standards in the U.S. is fear of litigation.” And a lack of a justice system that would allow the park any real authority to throw people out/give many consequences for in appropriate behavior. I think the U.S. system is way too litigious. People sue for anything these days and we all pay the price for it. But India shows the other extreme—whither some fear of sanction there is little incentive to monitor safety issues closely. No wonder that girl drowned at WonderLa. And the park still keeps running. Nothing was shut down for an investigation. Is a modern society necessarily a litigious society? No so in many European countries where trust is much higher and community is strong. But with trust being low here anyway, I suspect that the litigation will continue to increase as the infrastructure is built for the justice system to enforce concerns.

Holy Holi!

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March 8 marks the day of the Holi holiday in India. It is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the arrival of Spring. It is mainly a Northern India  extravaganza. People throw powdered colors and spray colored water on one another. In Calcutta, where my parents are right now, you just don’t leave your house unless you intend on getting doused in color. Here in Bangalore it is more celebrated in controlled celebrations in apartment complexes and schools. Driving into town for some lunch and shopping, we saw some college aged kiddos having fun dousing each other at bus stops and street corners, but otherwise it was business as usual.

Both kiddos learned about Holi in their Hindi classes this week. Kaden can tell you the whole story about the gods and goddesses behind the Holi story.It is a very long story and suffice to say, they tried to kill this woman many different ways and she wouldn’t go down.  Carson can tell you about how the colors used in Holi stand for blood and the bonfires lit the night before stand for the fire in the story.

In terms of celebrations, according to Wikipedia, “In most areas, Holi lasts about two days. One of Holi’s biggest customs is the loosening strictness of social structures, which normally include age, sex, status, and caste. Holi closes the wide gaps between social classes and brings Hindus together. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this joyous day. Additionally, Holi lowers the strictness of social norms. No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is filled with excitement and joy.”

The CIS school were to celebrate Holi on Friday after school. So, Todd and I had to go on a mission this week to find Holi guns. We tried several shops/shacks/counters in Yelahanka. We finally found what we needed at this little hut called Krishna’s Gift and Fancy store.  We bought one water pistol and one pump for each kid. Thankfully, our driver came in to ensure that they shopkeeper didn’t double the price for us Americans!

These are the packs of powder that you throw at one another!

      

Friday after school was time to “play Holi” at CIS. We all arrived to pick up our kids and drive them down the road to the Tennis Academy where the melee began. The kids were to arrive with “clothes that you are ready to throw away, water pistols, a towel, a snack, and a bottle of water.”  At the advice of the yoga moms, I also coated the kids’ hair in baby oil and also covered their bodies in it–these dyes can stain for quite a few days!

They PTO had set up buckets of colored water and lots of colored powders as well that you throw at one another. Kids brought water guns and these big syringes called pichkaris. Luckily we bought both yesterday!  The kids had a blast. Kaden was the last one left standing I think–covered in color from head to toe. She was so busy that I hardly got any pictures of her.

   

  

Me and my yoga mamas– Kathryn, me,  Helen and Anne.

Below: Carson with a direct hit! and me with another yogini–Meena!

      

Lunch time at the Canadian International School

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We went to join Carson for lunch. We often do this back home but haven’t here in India since it is harder to get to school given the distance and the driver arrangements.  We were 15 minutes late because we were stuck behind  Air Force guys running/training on the road en route to school.

When we arrived, we saw that Kaden still hadn’t made it to lunch yet. She was walking very slowly with her friends. Kaya is from the U.S. and Gabby is from the Philipines most recently. She is moving to China next month.  She waved hello but certainly did not want us joining her!

  

All of the kids eat lunch at once, and it does not seem like there is hardly any supervision at all. Here is a video of the chaos, including a boy in yellow shoving another kid if you look to the right of the video.  As we were leaving the cafeteria we saw the headmaster and his wife, the dean of students, coming in. “Is it crazy in there?” he chuckled.  The man did not seem concerned at all about the lack of safety. I felt very concerned.

The food at lunch varies depending on the day. Continental on Monday and Wednesday (European–definitely not American. No chicken nuggets or pizzza at this school. Instead, pasta with cream sauce, beef stew, etc.).  Tuesday is Oriental day (their word, not mine), Wednesday is Indian day and Friday is Mediterranean, which most often means Middle Eastern. We arrived on Continental day, much to my dismay. Baked beans, a mac and cheese of sorts, a potato soup.  Some veggies. BUT also fresh lettuce and the first Balsalmic vinegar that I have seen since leaving the States! Joy!

  

Carson was almost finished with his meal when we arrived.By the time we got our food he was ready to run out to join his classmates in a game of soccer. That is a LOT of kids playing with just one ball!

Wednesday is House Day, which is why the kids have four colors of shirts on instead of all wearing red!

Carson models the new Moose Mascot hat for the school. He loves this hat!

After lunch Todd and I had a meeting with his teacher. With just three and a half weeks to go before we go back, Carson is just ready to be done with school here. The teacher is a firm believer in neatness, staying within the lines, writing small. That seems to matter as much as the content of the work here. Plus, Carson is having trouble getting started on his work which means that he is not getting it finished. He promised to start his work sooner. But honestly, he is learning at an early age that if he is outta here in three weeks, there’s not much the teacher can do if he just doesn’t want to do his work. If Carson could go home with Todd, he would–other than the cricket match coming up next week. But even that isn’t enough to keep him. Problem is, Todd came on a different airline, plus my stipend is dependent on the kids staying for 80% of the time, plus we’d have to arrange childcare back home. It would be several thousands of dollars for him to go back six weeks early. I tried to communicate to the teacher that he needs to follow directions but we also just want her to focus on having the end of this experience be a positive one. We’ll see how it goes. Kaden is happy to be here  a few more weeks, thankfully.

We also had the thrill of seeing Kaden in an interhouse soccer match. Kaden was chosen to play for the red team. They played the blue team. The game ended in a 0-0 draw, so it was on to penalty kicks. I’ve never seen such leadership from Kaden. She immediately raised her hand for the first penalty kick and volunteered to be the goalie as well. She saved every shot. AND scored the winning goal of the game!

  

During the house soccer tournament, Carson practiced his cricket batting with his cricket coach.

Favorite snacks

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I have discovered Chat. Love it. Chats and Sweets is a common sign that you see on roadside corner. Chats are more savory snacks, like samosas, fried foots, and the chaat that I like which is Bhel Puri. I hadn’t had any before because I can’t eat at those roadside stands without fear of getting sick. But I visited my friend Meena’s apartment after yoga last week and she had her cook mix up some Chai and Chaat for us. It was delicious. You throw all of the grains and sauces from the mix together with tomatoes, cilantro, and red onion. I made it last night and Todd and I had so much, we just called it dinner for the night!

   

We are also such a huge fan of the mint chutney that we are putting on everything these days. Here’s a slice of Sbarro pizza that Todd got at the Mantri Mall the other day–and he smothered it with chutney!

Kaden has not added many (any?) foods to her repertoire here. In this photo she is giving thanks to the portable packets of Heinz ketchup that we bring when we travel. Heinz ketchup is a way we can get her to eat rice. We took this photo because we are thinking of sending it to Heinz as a testimonial of her loyalty to the product!

The kids and I are also starting our list of foods we will miss when we leave. For me these will include mint chutney, murgh chicken on the tandoor, fresh naan, and the drink “fresh lime soda sweet.” And I will miss getting served Chai absolutely everywhere. In china cups at fancy restaurants, in little tin cups at schools, in paper cups by shop keepers. Always with steamed milk and sugar. Bliss. Below is chai served in a paper cup with “high tea” at the water park!

Kaden will miss the frozen hash browns and Baskin and Robbins Ice Cream. Carson will miss the fresh lime as well.

And foods we can’t wait to eat when we get back:

Kaden: frozen buttermilk pancakes

Carson: Pretzels

Me:  medium rare steak salad with feta cheese, balsalmic vinegar and spring greens

Todd:  hot beef from Maple Restaurant in Ambridge

We also have agreed that our first restaurant stop will be the Waffle Shop, unless we go to get ice cream first. We are undecided if we would go to the Creamery or Meyer Dairy first.

In other very random news, our apartment community put together a testimonial about the place and we are featured in it. (click to see link)  I was a captive audience in the swimming pool–hard to say no. I am thus sporting my oh-so-fashionable swimming outfit. My yoga friends say I should start wearing my one piece suit. People will stare anyway. Might as well be comfortable. Apparently everyone here also always wears a swim cap to swim.  I’m just not willing to go there!

And lastly, I am falling in love with some of the street dogs. Really want to take one home with me. Seriously. But apparently they are almost impossible to train. If you live on the street, you survive if you are independent and strong willed I guess!

Hanging out in Jew Town (yes, that’s really what it’s called)

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On our last day in Kochi, we hired a car/driver to visit the historic area of town called Mattancherry. We visited “Jew Town”, the area of town that has the oldest synagogue in India. They didn’t allow photos, but here is a picture from the internet of the inside of they synagogue. The chandeliers were very unusual and the blue tiled floor was beautiful. While this area used to be the largest Jewish population in the country, the synagogue now only has 6 families attending. For some ceremonies, this synagogue must rely on Jewish tourists to have enough people to properly conduct the rituals.

We also visited the Dutch palace (to the right). It was half under renovation and not really worth seeing. Then we walked around Jew Town, with tons of shops (above). We got some fun treasures including a new Elephant tea cozy, a pashmina, and some gifts. We found a lovely European cafe (below) where we had Swiss Cake and some delicious drinks before continuing our shopping.

  

On the way back to the hotel, the driver suggested that we stop at the Folklore Museum. The building was pieced together with parts of old buildings. The whole museum is the private collection of one man. Very extensive!

   

Lots of statues and great masks for dance and theater performances!

  

The top floor was a beautiful auditorium for performances. Would have been great to see one here!