So, How’s India So Far?

Elizabeth Farrell - India


October 14, 2018

The view beside my school one morning before work

“I just realized I have not been on this good earth for so long..”
something my host sister said in response to finding out I was born in 1999
the first time we hung out together.

This statement of hers encapsulates exactly how I felt the first time I
crossed a road full of Indian traffic. However, this blog post is proof
that I have survived the human Frogger and have now been living in India
with a host family for a little over a month!

So, imagine this – but with my human life at stake and 10x the cars,
rickshaws, busses…

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I would write in my
first blog post after arriving to India. How should I go about telling
others what I’ve seen, smelled, heard and overall experienced during my
past month in a new place? And to be quite honest, I still don’t think I
know exactly how to do that. I’ve experienced so many new and exciting
things that I don’t think I can just wrap them all up in a bow and hand
them to you so easily.

However, I can describe how I feel: thankful to be here and not in school!
I’ve been pursuing formal education for the majority of my young life. It’s
one of the things I know best and I worked my butt off the last two years I
spent at UWC-USA. Therefore, suddenly stopping my education in its most
formal sense for just a moment has been a change in pace. It’s been a
really good challenge to stop and just take a moment to breathe and do
something completely different.

My host grandma checking my Hindi homework after Hindi class one day

This is not to say I am no longer learning anything. Quite the opposite! I
am still receiving an education here, just one different from what I would
receive in school. Some of the lessons I’ve learned so far have included
“How to get around a foreign city when you’re lost, and your phone is at
20% and you still don’t actually know where you live”, something which
happened to me on my second day living with my host family. I’ve also been
learning the importance of the Indian head shake when talking to my
students at school because they can understand my body language and my
actions, but not my Canadian accent. I’ve learned how to hail rickshaws and
enjoy the rides which sometimes feel like they will be my last, based on
the speed the driver is going. Disneyland’s Space Mountain has nothing on
the thrill level of a death defying rickshaw ride!

Me and my lovely host family

I’ve learned (and then often immediately forgotten) the names of many of
the new dishes I’ve tried since arriving here. I’ve learned the basics of
bargaining, though they seldom work for me and I often get the ‘foreigner’
tax added on to my purchases (auto-rickshaw rides, stuff I find street
shopping, etc.). I learned the Hindi alphabet and am working daily on
reading what surrounds me in order to expand my vocabulary.

A temporary temple set up for Ganpati – the festival where Ganesha is
worshipped

I’ve really been enjoying and embracing all the ups and downs India has
provided me. I started working with Teach For India (TFI) as what is
essentially a teacher’s assistant in a nearby government school. Here in
India, government schools are the least funded of all the levels of schools
(government, semi-private, private) and often lack many resources many of
you would consider to be absolute basics. TFI is an organization that works
to bridge the divide in education inequality in India by placing incredible
young teachers and professionals in schools that might otherwise not have
access to the individuals TFI connects with schools.

A classroom bustling with what can often feel like too much excitement when
a class is beginning

The school where I work in sits in a square U shaped building with two
other schools on top of it. I’m in a grade three classroom with just under
40 students. The school lacks a lot of what we consider basic amenities
such as a functioning bathroom, enough desks for all the students, basic
school supplies, janitorial supplies, a sink that doesn’t fall off the wall
when students use it, non broken windows, etc… However this lack of
materials and facilities doesn’t stop kids from wanting to learn
whatsoever. These kids have such an excitement and a passion to learn and
have so much love (and many, many snacks from their lunchbox) to share.
Every day I walk into the school yard it’s only a matter of moments before
several children are holding my hands, trying to carry my lunch, other
materials, and myself to the classroom before morning assembly at 7am.

Common questions from my students include

  • What shampoo do I use to get my hair this colour?
  • What’s my dad’s name?
  • What’s my mother’s name? (before I know it they’ll be asking for my
    social security number)
  • How do you say ‘hello’ in French?
  • When do you come back?
  • Will you sit with me?
  • Hey, isn’t that funny how I just punched -insert students name-? (It was
    not, and I don’t have enough Hindi to tell them so I have to go ask the
    actual teacher for help).
  • Etc…

While the apprenticeship and other aspects of the program have been
challenging for me, I enjoy each time I walk into the school courtyard and
am greeted by a chorus of “Good morning Didi!”, the Hindi name for older
sister which is what we are called by the students. I enjoy returning home
to my host family’s house and drinking chai every afternoon at around 4:15.
I enjoy each time I finally understand something new which encourages me to
keep trying.

I am looking forward to the many more lessons I’m sure my time here will
hold. I can’t wait to see what new surprises and what difficulties I’ll
face along the way.

Now that I’m finally feeling settled and in the groove of life, expect more
frequent blog posts about a variety of topics regarding my life and my time
spent here.

All the best,

Libbie

Bonus pics:

Indian bulls all dressed up!

Me and my host sister having fun

Elizabeth Farrell