Let’s Talk About Clothes!

You know how sometimes when you’re stressed out about something, you don’t realize it until the thing is gone and you feel the hidden weight get lifted? Apparently, school stressed me out. I know that I have to get back to work next week, but for now, I’m going to enjoy a little freedom.

This weekend, Ruth and I went on a little shopping trip to get me some Indian clothes! I love the clothes here. Everything is so bright and fun! I don’t think I’ve talked about clothes yet, so let’s do that now.

 

Me wearing a kurta and leggings. Also, this is a picture on our roof, and I want you to take a moment to appreciate the fact that they’re growing corn on the roof. That’s awesome.

Some of the clothing styles vary across the country, so I can only speak for the things that I’ve seen here. I’m also going to simplify this A LOT, but there are a few different styles that are most common so we’ll focus on those. Let’s talk about women first. In daily life, you can find plenty of women (mostly younger women and girls) in Western clothes, usually jeans and modest tops. For Indian clothes, I’m going to simplify it down to two categories: kurtas and saris. Saris are probably what you picture when you think of Indian clothes. Generally, these are more formal, but I don’t think it really matters. Older women especially will wear them all the time, though I assume you would save your sparkly and fancy ones for a special occasion.

 

One thing that varies based on where you are in the country is how you drape your sari. You have a blouse (often a crop-top length) on underneath and a petticoat, and then a long rectangle of fabric. I asked someone to explain the wrap/drape process for me, and she said that you wrap it around your waist, pleat it 7 times and secure it, then wrap and drape it back over your shoulder, pleating it 7 times again. So, there’s an example of one of the million ways you could drape your sari. Simple, right?

 

A semi-creepy shot that I cropped out of another picture to show you the other type of pants (salwar).

The type of dress that I see women wear most often is a kurta. They’re about knee length or a little shorter, and it’s like a loose-fitting dress with slits up the sides to around your upper thigh. Underneath, you wear pants. There are tighter leggings that are bunched up at the bottom (churidar) or loose genie-type pants (salwar). Most women also wear a scarf (like a summer weight fashion scarf), and every part of the outfit will be impeccably color coordinated. Beyond this, there are other tunic-style tops and other variations on a kurta, but like I said, I’m super simplifying and just talking about the things I’ve seen the most.

 

I got a couple kurtas and a pair of leggings, and they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s hands down the most comfortable clothing I’ve ever worn that’s considered acceptable to wear in public. It feels like you’re wearing a nightgown and some pajama pants, but you actually look nice. Plus, you could run or climb over a wall or be a ninja in them because of the slits in the sides and the stretchiness of the pants. I like to feel like I can move in my clothes. Why is this not a thing everywhere?? I’ve been told that saris aren’t as comfortable (and your mobility is definitely limited), but I haven’t tried one on so I couldn’t say for sure.

 

Awesome princessy little girl dress.

For men, the same goes with Western clothes in daily life. A lot of people wear jeans and polo shirts, and for looking a bit nicer, you’ll see normal button-ups and ties. The male teachers at school all wear dress pants, shirt, and tie to work, and the women wear kurtas or saris. On some nicer occasion, they might wear the male version of a kurta which is pretty much the same as the women’s but made for a man’s body shape, and they have similar genie pant or slimmerpant options to wear underneath. Then, there are tunic-style shorter length shirts and such too. I’ll be honest; men’s clothes aren’t nearly as awesome. Plus, I’m not a man, so I don’t pay as close of attention as I do to the women’s clothes. They do have cool clothes that people wear for formal occasions, but daily life is mostly boring pants and boring shirts that are just like what people wear at home.

 

Little girls have the BEST clothes. They can wear awesome Disney-princess-costume style dresses, and it’s totally normal here. This also should be a thing everywhere. They’re all so fun and shiny and sparkly, and I wish I was 8 years old again so that I could join.

Tonight, I’m packing up my new kurtas because… road trip! Well, technically… train tracks trip! I’m going to Darjeeling with a couple girls from church, Anisha and Neha. It’s a city in the mountains and is supposed to have some amazing scenery. More importantly, I heard you can see snow leopards there!! They’re my favorite animal. And when I say favorite, I mean like SUPER favorite. I love them. A lot. So yeah, I’m VERY excited for scenery and travelling and most of all, for my true love, snow leopards.

One more picture to attempt to show some clothing (I should have gotten some better pictures of people wearing different things before this post, but I did not plan very well). Anyway, the woman on the far right is wearing a sari, and same with the woman in red, four people from the right. As you can see, the guys are all in boring button-ups. Though sometimes they wear shiny shirts which are fabulous.

Pastor Daniel and Ruth’s story

Since my time here is more than halfway finished, I feel like it’s past time for me to tell you a little more about Pastor Daniel and Ruth’s story, how they ended up here, and what work they’ve been doing in the community.

Me and Ruth

They met when they were studying at two different Bible colleges. I’m not sure about the details, but that’s not super important. Neither of them wanted to get married before finishing their studies, so they didn’t. Over the next five years, they studied, they graduated, Ruth got a job, Pastor Daniel went to school again, he graduated for the last time, and finally the wedding was arranged.

Now, both of them had been doing some thinking and praying about where God wanted them. Pastor Daniel felt very strongly that he was getting called to Bhutan. To put this in context, he and Ruth are both from South India. Bhutan borders India to the north, so going there would be a huge move that would take both of them far away from their families. At the time, the area of India near Bhutan had almost no Christians, and Bhutan itself is a Buddhist country (it still is). There was, and is, a lot of need in the area, socially, morally, and economically.

Back to what I was saying… Pastor Daniel was confident that he was being called to serve Bhutan. Meanwhile, Ruth had a friend from Bhutan, and the more she talked to her and prayed, the more and more confident she became that she was being called to serve Bhutan. At this point, neither of them had said anything to the other, but finally, Pastor Daniel knew that he needed to tell Ruth before they got married.

He told her, “God is calling me to Bhutan,” and he asked if she would go with him.

She looked at him. “God is calling ME to Bhutan.”

The view from the Bible school never gets old. Say “hi!” to Bhutan! Those mountains are all in Bhutan.

That’s how, two months after their wedding, they ended up packing up and moving to the border town of Jaigaon with only 10,000 rupees (about US$150) to start their new life. Ruth had a school connection who lived here, so the extent of their plan was to move, stay with him, and figure things out.

When they arrived, they realized that they need to rethink their plan, and quickly. The guy who they were supposed to stay with was having some family trouble and was not really able to host them. They were staying in a hallway in the guy’s house that also functioned as a church (a small house church), and they sat awake all night praying and wondering what they were going to do.

The next day, they found a one-room apartment with a shared bathroom. They had nothing to put in it, so they took what little money they had and bought only the essentials: a stove top, two plates, two cups, two bowls, a sleeping mat, etc. For the next 6 months or so, they got settled in the community and were doing some random ministry work, but they weren’t sure what the next big step was going to be.

They used to do prayer walks through the city, and Ruth said that they used to see tons of kids in the streets. They asked if they were in school, and the kids said no. They started giving free lessons and ended up with hundreds of kids coming, just through word-of-mouth. It was way more than they could handle, but they just kept working. Ruth also taught Sunday school in churches all over the city, and Pastor Daniel did ministry work in the towns around Jaigaon.

 

Assembly time!

Finally, there was a turning point. Ruth had another connection from college who had a plot of land in Jaigaon, and he wanted it to be used for some ministry purpose. He asked them if that was something they would be interested in taking on, and they said yes, but they didn’t have any money.

 

He said, “That’s not what I asked,” and just like that, it was settled! In the time that the land had been sitting unused, squatters had moved in, and people were trying to re-sell the land. The guy fought it and finally got the squatters removed and the land returned to him. He signed the deed over to them and fundraised enough money for them to build the first two floors of what is now the church/house building.

At first, it was school/church on the first floor and house on the second floor, but as the school grew, it expanded onto the second floor as well. They were living in just one room, they had a baby, and they were running out of space.

So. Many. Floors.

Never fear, though! God was still working things out for them, and they connected with another couple who believed in their ministry and managed to raise funding for a third floor. Even more amazingly, the lot across the street was for sale, and the couple bought and gave them the land to build a proper school. The school was built one floor at a time, started with just kindergarten, and grew as the first class of kids grew.

Now, they have up to class 10 and are hoping to add “+2” (11 and 12) in the future. The school has almost 400 students and is regarded as one of the best schools in the area. The families pay what they’re able, and most of the kids are at least partially on scholarship. They still run free basic classes for street kids, and the promising ones are given scholarships to school.

Ruth said that when they first started the school, most girls didn’t go to school. Girls are expensive to marry off, so why spend even more money on them to give them an education? One of her big missions is to teach people that daughters are a wonderful gift and it’s worth keeping AND educating them. I’ve been so encouraged by the way that women are treated in the school and the church. It’s so clear that women are incredibly respected and are seen as being just as valuable and capable as the men.

I love these mountains!

Besides the work that Pastor Daniel and Ruth have done to teach parents that their daughters are worthwhile and worth educating, they’ve also worked to take away some of the additional challenges that often hinder the education of girls. One of the biggest of those challenges is a lack of access to affordable and hygienic feminine products, so when girls are on their period, they don’t go to school. That means they’re missing 1 out of every 4 weeks of school! How is it even possible to be successful under those circumstances?

The is somehow the best picture I have of the Bible school… I’ll need to work on that.

To combat this issue in their school, they bought a machine and materials to make thousands and thousands of pads. They’ve educated the girls in the school about what is happening to their bodies and how to manage it, and the girls can buy a pad for just a couple rupees (like 5 cents). This is a huge problem in developing countries across the world, and it’s super encouraging to see it being addressed here! In addition, the pads are made by women in one of the nearby communities, so they’re also creating jobs for women. Is this not the most awesome thing??

One of the small community centers/churches that they built in one of the communities near Jaigaon. This one has a farm too.

In conclusion, Pastor Daniel and Ruth have the coolest and most inspiring story. They went from 10,000 rupees and homeless to running a grade school, a church, a Bible college, a pad “factory”, and more, thanks to their complete trust in God, some divinely orchestrated relationships, and their many skills and gifts. I feel like I find out about another thing that they’re involved with every day. Talk about a power couple! I could ramble on about how awesome they are for a VERY long time, but I think I’ll stop it here because I’ve given you enough to mull over for now.

Last Day of School

Happy summer break!!! Today was the last day of school before a month-long break, so as you might expect, not much was accomplished. The whole day was a little weird for me because even though I still have 2-1/2 weeks left here, there are a lot of people who I’m not going to see again. Honestly, I prefer it this way because now I’ll have a much easier time sneaking out. I don’t like making a big deal over goodbyes and would much rather focus my energy on saying goodbye to the people who I actually built relationships with. If school was still in session when I was leaving, they would have said something at assembly, and I probably would have had to give a speech again. Since I’m not leaving yet, nothing was even mentioned to the kids. Perfect!

I think I would be in much worse shape emotionally if there weren’t summer classes with the class 9 and 10 kids. They’re the ones who I’ve spent the most time with, and I get to see all of them again (for better or worse). That means I’ll get a chance to say goodbye to them without the whole school around, so it can be simple and lowkey.

Each day, a different class is in charge of leading assembly. It’s cool because all of the kids get used to talking in front of a crowd and speaking into a microphone. The younger ones are so bold! They get up there and shout out whatever they have to say with no fear. The absolute best is when the upper kindergarten class leads. The kids are 4ish years old and are leading prayers and songs in English in front of the whole school like it’s nothing.

The class 10 boys leading the assembly, along with one of the teachers on guitar.

Anyway, today, the class 10 boys took the lead. It was so much fun watching them lead the little kids in the songs and dances. I felt like a proud mother watching them. They got so into it too! The day was also fun because the kids got to wear normal clothes to school, and the girls didn’t have to wear their hair in braids (usually their hair has to be in two braids, and they have to be tied with ribbons in their house color). It’s crazy how different people can look with different clothes and hairstyles! I loved seeing how at ease they were in their normal clothes, and it made me feel like I was getting to see their true personalities.

Assembly went a little long… if “a little” is 50 additional minutes (it’s usually 40 minutes long). That means first and second periods were both shot. That left me with class 9 English during 3rd and class 8 science during 4th. I spent a lot of time thinking about what we should do on the last day, and finally, I decided that we should play a game. Let’s be real – no one wants to do actual work on the last day before a holiday break, and any attempts on my part to make that happen would just lead to frustration. I wasn’t interested in that, so instead, we played Pictionary in both classes.

I eventually realized that even though I thought we were just playing a game to kill time, it’s actually really good for improving the kids’ vocabularies. I had to be very strategic about which words I gave to which kids because at the very least, the drawing kid has to know what the thing is. Mostly, I used animals and random objects. I made the mistake of giving one kid “doctor”, and he stood motionless at the board for at least 2 full minutes before refusing to even try and sitting down.

At lunch, the kids headed back into the chapel to eat all together. It was cool to see them sharing with each other and offering to share with the teachers too. I turned everything down except for this little cheeto-looking thing that was forced on me… and that almost burned my tongue off it was so spicy… which is precisely why I said no to everything else.

Pictionary is also good for developing creativity and critical thinking skills, which is probably why so many of the kids were so bad at it. They couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that they didn’t need to draw perfect pictures. They just had to be good enough for someone to guess the right thing. One kid panicked about the word “cow”, and I went up and told him to start drawing a four-legged animal, and someone would guess it. Sure enough, it worked. They’re so used to trying to get everything “right” rather than just trying their best and seeing how it goes.

Me with some of my teacher friends! People here love to take pictures at every opportunity, so this is our “the kids are eating lunch” group shot because that clearly cannot be allowed to pass without documentation.

In Science class, I mixed things up by adding in words like “global warming”, “acid rain”, and “eutrophication”. The girl who drew eutrophication did an incredible job… I should have taken a picture. The kids knew exactly what she was drawing but couldn’t remember the word (of course).

All in all, I would count the day as a big success. For the first time, I had the attention of every kid in both classes! I know that sounds like a lame thing to celebrate, but kids who haven’t participated AT ALL for the last 5 weeks were engaged! It felt like a huge win, especially after I convinced myself that they were learning, and we weren’t just killing time.

Now, I’m going to enjoy my one week of class-free time and get to work on my architecture project!

Lark-itect

 

I have a new project to work on! Since we’re off school today, Pastor Daniel took me to the Bible college in the morning to check out the construction work they’re doing. There are four buildings on the campus, and they’re currently adding a second floor onto one of them. The first floor is a big assembly hall, and now the second floor is going to have a conference room and some classrooms.

Work in progress… the part I’m supposed to be designing would be on the top of this building.

My task is to make a plan for the third floor. One of the ways they’re considering using the space is by creating mini-apartments that can be rented out to people who are travelling to Bhutan. Since we’re right on the border, hotels and short-term housing are in high demand, and this could be an easy way to generate some revenue for the school and the ministry.

That means I get to play architect again! I’ll probably give some lighting recommendations too, but I’m sure they’ll do whatever they were going to do anyway. I think it’s funny that whenever I say I’m an architectural engineer, it’s like people get bored and stop listening after I say the “architect” part.

Me: I’m an architectural engineer.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Well… not really. I’m an engineer specializing in lighting and electrical systems in buildings.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Yes.

The construction site. Not quite what you’d see in the States, but this definitely isn’t the States so it’s about what I expected. Watch your step!

Luckily, we did take some architecture classes, so I usually know enough to be able to satisfy whatever thoughts they have about what I can do. Plus, I DO have a minor in Architecture which is basically the same thing as a bachelor’s, right? (By the way, the answer to that is no, not even close.) Anyway, usually I’m fine. This task, for example, is simple. It’s not like they’re asking me to design the structure or anything (which is something that everyone assumes an architect can do on the spot… but like, there are structural engineers for that). I don’t have to tell them how to build it. The local builders know, much better than I do, how to build things here. What they want from me is more like the solution to a puzzle or a logic problem than a true architectural question: fit as many comfortably sized rooms as possible in this predetermined space.

 

Roof with a view! These roofs are my blank canvas. Imagine the possibilities!

Once again, I’m comforted by knowing what the alternative to me doing this would be. Like in the school, the alternative to me being the English Lit teacher was no one being the English Lit teacher. Here, the alternative to me designing the layout is someone with literally zero training just making something up. I can at least do better than that.

 

*Note: I know the title is dumb, but I think it’s funny so that’s all that matters.

Holiday Eve

I can’t believe it’s already the last week of school before the holiday! Part of me always thinks it’s kind of stupid when people say that. Like what, do you not understand how time works? Do you not remember living through all of the days and weeks that got you to this point? Then why should it be unbelievable? The other part of me, clearly, thinks it makes perfect sense.

Well, believe it or not, here I am. Tomorrow is a school holiday, so that means only two more days of classes until the “rainy season” holiday break. I don’t think I ever explained this, but the schools here are confusing. Every school has different breaks and different beginning and end dates for the school year. To give you an idea of just how different they can be, this school starts the school year at the end of March. Myra, little sister #1, goes to boarding school in the south, and her school year starts in mid-June. She’s been home since mid-April when their last school year ended… three weeks AFTER the new school year had already started for the kids here.

This rainy season break is the first of two month-long breaks they’ll get during the school year. Well, the younger kids get a month-long break. Classes 9 and 10 have extra classes! They all have a week off and then for the following two weeks, they have class from 9-12 each day. Jenrika and I have the class 10 kids for three days of three hour English classes on Monday-Wednesday and the class 9 kids on Thursday-Saturday of the first week. We’re currently trying to decide how we should spend that time, but I’m just happy that I don’t have to do it alone!

Tomorrow’s holiday is Buddha Purnima, a Buddhist holiday (obviously). It commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Gautama Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). Buddhism was formed based on his teachings, so as you can imagine, it’s kind of a big deal festival day. As far as I know, people usually go to the temple to recite verses and listen to talks. It will be interesting to see if it’s obvious from the sounds of the city that it’s a holiday. Either way, I’m happy for a day off from school!

Random fun fact of the day: Light switches are done much differently here. At home, you’ll have one light switch that controls a bunch of lights. Here, there’s one light switch for each light, each fan, etc. As you might imagine, that makes for A LOT of switches. These are some of the switches for the chapel (the bottom ones are to control the fan speed and the top 3 rows are all on/off for the lights and the fans), but since the room is big, there’s another bank of switches halfway back from the front. You also might be thinking that this seems like a lot of switches to remember which controls what… and the answer to that is yes. No one knows what switch is for what, so anytime someone has to turn something on or off, they stand there switching things on and off until they eventually get to the right one. You can see that someone tried to label some of these, but the labelling doesn’t make any sense (at least as far as I could tell), and it still takes everyone an eternity to find the right switch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone pick the right switch in one of these ridiculous switch boxes a single time.

Saturday Surprises and Arts and Crafts

Sorry I kind of fell off the map! It’s been an internet struggle-filled couple of days! The power was out for 5+ hours on both Friday and Saturday, and the internet has been wacky ever since.

Saturday was full of more surprises at school. I feel a little better though because I’m starting to realize that even though I probably know what’s going on the least out of everyone, no one ever really knows what’s happening. In general, there’s one person who knows what the plan is, and it’s the person who made the plan. Everyone else finds things out at the last second.

Communication and planning are two nearly nonexistent concepts here. A couple weeks ago, Jenrika was telling me a story about something that happened, and I was baffled by it.

“I’m confused,” I said. “Isn’t that something that would have been planned out?”

She looked at me and laughed, “This is India. There’s no such thing as ‘planning’.”

Oh… I see. She explained that things are usually somewhat “planned” (using that word in a much looser sense than you’re thinking), but then, someone will change things at the last second and not tell anyone until the moment when it’s happening. So even if you think you know what to expect, there’s a good chance that it’s going to get changed without you knowing. That means I’m not the only one who gets stuck doing surprise speeches and taking on last-minute responsibilities.

Jenrika and I, along with one of the other teachers, have been working together to plan the chapel program for the kids each Saturday. I’ve been placed in charge of storytelling every week which doesn’t completely make sense to me considering the kids don’t understand a word I say, but that’s beside the point. The point is, this week, we all thought chapel was happening, so we made a “plan” (as in, a loose plan but one requiring us to prepare a bit before Saturday). We all found out that chapel wasn’t happening during the assembly on Saturday morning. Helpful, right? No. The answer is no. Helpful would have been finding out before I spent any time getting ready, but that’s just the way things go here.

We also found out that the kids had a dictation test (spelling test) that morning, but since neither Jenrika or I knew about it and we’re the English teachers for classes 9 and 10 (because why bother telling the English teachers about an English test?), we hadn’t prepared anything. We quickly threw together a list of words from the story we read last week, and I went to give the class 10 kids the test.

You may be wondering, shouldn’t the kids know the words ahead of time for a dictation test? That was precisely my question. It was then explained to me that yes, normally that would be the case, but this was just a practice test. The kids were grading each other’s papers (and I was warned that they would try to change their friends’ answers to help them out while grading. I’m shocked… not), and I spent at least 5 minutes trying to understand if I was supposed to collect the papers and record the scores or if the kids were supposed to keep them. (I still don’t know the answer, but I decided to just collect them to be safe.)

There were 80 minutes allotted for a 20-word dictation test and answer review. Yes, that’s way more than necessary. After the test, Jenrika came into the class to help, and we spent the rest of the time playing boys against girls hangman where the theme was “Whatever Big Word Pops into Lara’s Head First”.

Here are the baskets. We made the little ones because they were waaay easier to manage than the bigger ones. All of the teachers were really into them too and have insisted that I teach them how to make them. Gotta love arts and crafts! You’re never too old for crafting.

After period 2 ended, Jenrika and I found out that there wasn’t a plan for class 10 for the last two periods of the day. Luckily, I had pulled together a newspaper craft just in case (things I learned abroad: you never know when you’ll need a good craft idea, so it’s best to keep a few in the back of your head), so I spent the next hour and a half attempting to teach the kids (and Jenrika) how to make a newspaper basket. It was quite the adventure, but it actually turned out much better than I expected. Some of the girls even stayed after the bell rang to finish their baskets! You know that a kid is enjoying herself when she stays at school even a second longer than she has to.

For a day of making things up on the spot, I’d say we did pretty well. I was very much encouraged by the fact that Jenrika and I were both completely in the dark about the plans for the day. For once, I didn’t feel like I was the only one making things up as I went along.

Surprise!

Out of all of the surprises and “wait, no one told you?” moments I’ve had since I’ve been here, today definitely wins the award for catching me off guard. The only reason the surprise even surfaced was because I was chatting with Jenrika during lunch about the things that classes 9 and 10 need to work on in English and how the curriculum for the younger kids might need to change based on what we’re seeing in the older kids.

Totally typical conversation for us… until she said, “Well now that we have an extra week with them during the holiday, we can work on some of those things.” Wait. Pause. WHAT? I must have given her an extremely confused look because she said, “Wait, no one told you?” I shook my head (please, of course no one told me. That’s how this works). APPARENTLY, there’s a proposal in the works to have a week of classes during the upcoming month-long holiday, just for the class 9 and 10 kids. This news was released at a teacher’s meeting and my name was listed as one of the teachers who would be participating. Oh, okay.

Random roof view! But these mountains don’t get old (especially on the days when you can actually see them because the rain has cleared the smog).

I know I should be happy about having more time to work with the kids… but like I’ve said before, I don’t know that this teaching thing is really for me. I have been counting down the days to the holiday like my life depends on it. I was excited to have some time during the break to help out with projects that don’t include me trying to entertain 20 teenagers. You know, maybe even a project where I don’t have to interact with any people at all.

Okay, I’ll admit that’s an extreme. This teaching has really been wiping me out though. I’m an introvert, and by the time class is over each day, I just want to sit alone in my room and release my feelings. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have a super strong urge to create things. That’s the only way I can clear my head and calm myself down (if I don’t, my brain starts feeling twitchy). Sometimes that’s me journaling, sometimes it’s drawing… and currently those are really my only two options because I don’t have paint or glue or scissors bigger that children’s safety scissors with me here.

Sorry, MAJOR sidetrack. But yeah, so that’s the surprise of the day. An extra week of school! We have school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday next week (there’s a Buddhist holiday on Wednesday), and then the break starts on Saturday. We’ll have a week off before the bonus week, so at least that’s something. I pitched the idea to Jenrika about working together to plan and teach the classes that week, and she seemed like she might be into it. I have my fingers crossed! It would be so much better to have a partner… better for getting the kids interested and involved, and better for my mental health. Plus, I think we would work really well together.

A very small part of the school’s potted plant collection.

Random fun fact of the day: There are potted plants all over the school as part of the gardening classes the kids have on Saturdays. Today, each kid was supposed to bring two potted plants to contribute to the school’s collection. Obviously, everyone didn’t bring them, but I was very interested in what the plan was if everyone DID. There are almost 400 kids in the school… what on earth would they do with 800 POTTED PLANTS? Am I the only one who thinks that sounds completely insane? And potted plants take effort. Maybe I’m just baffled by this because of my complete lack of plant-growing skills (and abundance of plant-killing skills), but I think it sounds ridiculous no matter what. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome. Just also insane.

So. Many. Languages.

Today’s adventure in teaching included me, a smartboard, and the story of Cinderella which I partly stole from the internet and then mostly rewrote myself. I didn’t really like any of the options that I found, and I tried to change the wording so that the kids would actually understand the story. I was hoping that some of them would know it already because we’re working on practicing visualization. It is so hard to teach people how to do something that you now just automatically do in your brain! For those of you unfamiliar with the official English teacher terminology, visualization is when you read something and make mental pictures to go along with what you’re reading.

“The little girl stopped to pick the wildflowers that grew by the side of the road.” I’ll start you off with a good one.

We’ve been working on this for a few days now. I tried to explain it to the kids as “making a movie in your brain”, and I got the “you’re insane” blank stare/eye blinks from most of them. They had homework last night to draw pictures to go along with some sentences I gave them, so that’s the artwork you’re enjoying in this post. Some of them were awesomely well done, and some of them were just awesome for other reasons… hehehe. I was laugh-crying in the staff room as I graded a few of them. I know that’s not very nice, and I shouldn’t be laughing at the artistic skills of my kids, but please, just give me this. I need something to get me through the day.

Anyway, today was Cinderella, our first attempt at visualizing something longer than a sentence. To help you visualize class, just imagine me solo-acting the entire story of Cinderella. I was Cinderella. I was the fairy godmother, explaining to the class what a “wand” is. I was ugly stepsister #1 AND ugly stepsister #2. I was the prince. In my opinion, I gave a very compelling performance. The kids even laughed at me at some points which I see as a positive because it means that they were paying attention (also, this is a total sidetrack BUT… I was thinking today about how much I don’t care if they think I’m ridiculous because I’m twice their age. And then I realized that I literally am TWICE the age of some of them. You know what though? I think that’s kind of awesome).

“The crowded street was filled with people, cars, and motorcycles.” Id like to draw your attention to the people who are face planted in the top two streets.

I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I felt okay about how things went. When something happened in the story, I asked how they thought certain characters felt about that thing. That’s an area where they were really struggling a couple weeks ago. To be able to understand how a character feels, you need to have a decent understanding of what’s happening in the story and who the characters are. That means that you need to see it as more than just words. It needs to be a story that feels somewhat real, and the characters need to be people/creatures with thoughts and hopes and feelings.

Anyway, who really knows? All I can do is try my best and hope that something sticks.

“The two friends walked through the scary forest in the middle of the night.” Check out the ghosts in this one.

Also, I was thinking about it and I realized that with as much as I complain to you about the kids and their English skills, I need to make something clear. Yes, some of them stink at English, but they, in general, are still way more linguistically accomplished than I’ll ever be. Most of the people here are amazing, in my opinion, when it comes to languages. My favorite question to ask people is how many languages they speak. In India, there are SO MANY, and the people I’ve met generally know at least three pretty well. The states all have different languages (and more… there are over 100 languages spoken in India and over 1500 dialects), the two national languages are Hindi and English, and in Jaigaon, there are so many countries close by that it helps to know some of their languages too.

More scary forest!

So for example, here, it would be normal for someone to speak Bengali (the state language), Hindi, and English at the very least. Then, many people also know at least some Nepali because that’s very prominent here. After that, they might know a few more. Most people I ask know somewhere from 3-6. They usually say that they know three or four well and the other 1-3 aren’t great but they can get by.

This one… facepalm. My sentence literally said “in the middle of the night”. That is definitely a sun. A HUGE sun.

Want to guess how many Pastor Daniel can speak? Ten. That’s including Korean though, and he said that he’s not fluent. Ha. He’s in the process of learning #11, one of the major languages of Bhutan (Dzongkha). Ready for what I think is one of the craziest things? The church service here is advertised as “Hindi and Nepali”. After weeks of wondering and since I can’t tell the difference, I asked Ruth how it can be both. She said that the songs are a mix, usually the scripture and prayers are in Hindi (but maybe Nepali if that’s what the person is more comfortable with), and when Pastor Daniel preaches, HE USES BOTH. For the entire sermon, he’s translating for himself! Am I the only one who thinks that’s insane?? Ruth said that he’s so used to it now that he doesn’t even need to think about it. That’s crazy!!!

This girl is my hero. How beautiful is this???!!! I gave her a 6/5. She deserved like a 10/5.

She. Is. Amazing. I love this. I love it!!!

Oh! Another thing… Ruth and Pastor Daniel grew up in different states which means that their families and the languages they grew up speaking are different. Okay, that’s not SO crazy, BUT… then they moved here and had kids, and their kids don’t know the languages that either of them grew up with because no one speaks them here. Let me try to create an incredibly simplified semi-equivalent for you. I speak English and some Spanish. Imagine that I marry someone who speaks French as his first language and also some Spanish. Then, he and I only speak in Spanish to each other because that’s the only way we can communicate. When we have kids, they learn Spanish, and they also learn German and Italian because a bunch of people who live near us speak those languages. We don’t bother teaching them English or French because no one around speaks either of those except for us. One difference between my attempted equivalent situation and the actual one is that many of the languages have different alphabets too, whereas all the ones I listed use the same one. So there’s another level of complexity to add on.

Anyway, everyone here is so nonchalant about languages. “Well, I know three fluently and can read and write too. I am okay with three more, but I’m not completely fluent yet. Oh, and there are two others that I can understand but can’t speak. What about you?”

That’s when I lie, and imaginary Lara is completely fluent in English and Spanish and at least 50% fluent in Armenian. Actual Lara is fluent in English, a generous 50% in Spanish, and an extra generous 2% in Armenian (but I can read it, so we’ll bump me up to 3%). And everyone THINKS that I can speak Nepali, so that must count for something, right?

May Day

This has been such a fabulous weekend, but all good things must come to an end (I actually don’t think I agree with that saying in all situations, but they must when the good thing is a weekend). It’s back to school tomorrow! I could tell you about the weekend, but I’ll be honest… mostly I slept. I recovered like 95% from my cold last week, but I wanted to give my body plenty of time to rest so that I could get rid of the lingering stuffy nose and cough.

I was SO excited about today because I could actually sleep in! Every other day there’s either school or church. My plans to sleep until noon were foiled by some 8:45AM pounding on my door, courtesy of Anika (little sister #3), to tell me that breakfast was ready. Whomp. So much for sleeping all day. When I got downstairs, Ruth said something about how “everyone slept in today”. We are definitely not on the same page about what that means.

So, I did what anyone would do in that situation. I ate breakfast and then I went back to sleep for three hours. Ah, perfect.

When I woke up, I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to spend some time actually being productive, so I watched a movie and then got to work (I know, I know). Joke’s on me though because post-movie, I only had 2 hours before it started POURING rain and the power went out. Also, I’m going to amend my earlier statement about how every time the power goes out it’s a power cut. I think that we have both power cuts AND power outages. That pretty much guarantees that something is happening to make the power go out each day. Anytime there’s a storm, especially when it’s windy, the power goes out for at least an hour or so. Today it was out for almost five, and the internet is still not working (speaking of which, I’ll probably have to post this tomorrow).

This week on “Lara Gains 500 Pounds in India”, we have chocolate chip muffins, cookies, and best of all, cheese.

As you might expect, that cut into my productivity a bit. On the bright side, it also made it so that I couldn’t keep eating cookies all afternoon because I keep them in my fridge, and I didn’t want to open it and let the cold air out. I forced myself to plan for classes tomorrow and grade the rest of the monster stories by lantern light, and now here we are. Time for bed!

Ruth and I are re-starting the workouts tomorrow morning. I received another delivery of muffins and cookies this weekend, so trust me, I NEED to do something. It stinks that this is the rainy season because there’s at least a 60% chance (I just made that number up) that it’s going to rain in the morning. I guess if it’s nice we’ll walk, and if it’s not, I’ll have to get creative. I could probably jump rope in the chapel.

Also, I realized that I haven’t taken many pictures to help you imagine my living situation here. Like I said, I’m basically living in luxury. Here are some pictures of my room:

My beds (where I sit when I don’t actually want to get work done)

My desk (where I sit when I actually want to get work done)

I know, right? Mini-fridge, TV (that I don’t use, but that’s beside the point), tea kettle. Craziness!

My sparsely populated closet

My sink with running water that I will never again take for granted

I take bucket showers here, but I really don’t mind them. I mean, I have my own water heater which means I don’t even have to use my tea kettle for a hot shower. Bucket showers are way more efficient too.

 

Monsters

My project over the last few days has been trying to force creativity out of the class 10 kids. For the most part, they aren’t very good at making things up and using their imaginations (there are a few exceptions though). I personally think those are some very important skills, so I tried to come up with an activity where they couldn’t help but be creative. I had them make their own monsters.

It’s so hard to come up with things that they don’t think are stupid. I knew that I had to make it as easy and guided as possible so that even the boys who hate everything would be interested enough to turn something in. Then, I gave them class time to work on it because as soon as you say “homework”, you lose at least half the class. Finally, most importantly, I hovered. A lot. Here’s my strategy:

This thing is terrifying looking but apparently is very nice and just wants to be friends.

I walk around the room and start peeking at people’s papers. They’re all panicked for some reason as if I’m grading them on the spot. I go up to a kid who clearly is not working and say, “how’s your monster coming? Do you need any help?” He looks at me like I might be brainless because he obviously has done nothing. “Can I see what you have so far? Where’s your notebook?” He gets out his notebook and shows me a blank page. “Oh, it looks like you have some work to do still. Do you have any questions? Were the instructions unclear?”

“No, ma’am,” he says, trying to get me to leave ASAP.

“Okay, I’ll come back in a few minutes to check on you.” And then I just keep standing there until he starts working.

The dog-bunny-bird thing is creatively named (x+y)^2 and is a nice monster who helped a lost time traveler.

I can’t say it completely worked because I still had some people turn in practically nothing, but I think there’s only so much you can do about that. The important thing is that the people who DID turn it in actually did a decent job! After imagining and drawing their monsters, I told them to write a story about them too. I knew that was a stretch.

“I want you to write a story about your monster. I don’t care what it’s about, as long as your monster is in it?”

A girl comes up. “I don’t know what to write about.”

The girls were really into monster vegetables. Super weird.

“You can write about anything… like the first time your monster meets a human, the best day of your monster’s life, your monster’s first day of school…”

“Monsters don’t go to school.” *Mental facepalm*

“But maybe they do. Maybe they go to monster school.” Blank stare. “Orrrr maybe not. Just write a story with your monster in it.”

Really?? MONSTERS DON’T GO TO SCHOOL?? As if that would be the most unbelievable thing in a story about an IMAGINARY CREATURE.

Anyway, all I can say is, I’m happy it’s the weekend. Despite having school on Saturday, at least we don’t have English class. Oh yeah! And guess what today’s surprise was! I assigned some homework to class 9 and said, “this is due on Monday.” And then they said, “we don’t have school on Monday!” Surprise! To be fair, this actually was on the school schedule. Either way, it was a surprise to me! Happy Weekend!