Are we dying of heat? Possibly. Can we afford our A.C. bill this month? Remains to be seen.
Last weekend, Mina and I went out exploring in Jaipur. We visited the Hawa Mahal (wind palace), a major tourist destination in Jaipur’s Old City. Situated in the middle of a lively bazaar, this palace was built in 1799 to allow royal women to watch street processions without being seen. It’s a stunning example of Mughal architecture. We ghumed (wandered) for several hours, until I got too dehydrated and grumpy to continue. Yayyy Jaipur heat.
Earlier this week I ordered some stuff from Amazon Prime India. Yesterday, the postman called my cell phone to ask for directions to our street (speaking only in Hindi, of course). I had to try to describe how to find Mangal Marg in Hindi without knowing the postman’s current location. Somehow, I feel like this experience aptly describes my entire life in India…nothing is ever quite as simple as you expect it to be, even something as uniform as ordering from Amazon.
Mina and I currently live in a temporary apartment. We will move into our permanent apartment (same building) sometime next week. Anytime we leave a window open, the pigeons attack. It’s insanity.
On the plus side, having a gas stove allowed us to cook this wholly American delicacy for dinner the other night: scrambled eggs, toast, and Sprite. Dining like queens.
Anyways, time for me to go roast alive in my room for the evening. Here’s to monsoons and cooler (hopefully) weather ahead.
After three flights, two layovers, and zero sleep, I’m in India!
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistants arrived in Delhi on June 28th. The moment I stepped outside, I could smell India in the muggy air—a mixture of food frying in greased pans, trash, foliage wet with rain, and the cloying sweetness of flowers used for puja. Shrill horns sounded from the traffic clogging Delhi’s roads. I’d forgotten what it’s like to live in a constant press of bodies, of people rushing through the streets with an entirely different concept of personal space. I’ll have to get accustomed to the stray dogs and cats roaming the streets, their stomachs distended, and the hot water sluicing into my shoes during monsoon season.
Our Delhi-area group has been whittled down to nine from the original 24 India Fulbright ETAs: three in Dehradun, two in Jaipur, and four in Delhi proper. Getting to know the Delhi cohort has been the highlight of my first week here. What a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent group of people! I’m lucky to have their support as we move into our host cities. We spent the first few days attending orientation at the United States India Education Foundation headquarters, a gorgeous building situated in the heart of Delhi:
Orientation was a whirlwind of presentations and panels, similar to our pre-departure orientation in D.C. We had the opportunity to work with an English Language Training specialist, who will help us plan our lessons and cirriculum. I learned so much about the Indian education system during orientation. The introduction of English under the British Raj helped standardize education across India. While English is seen by many as a language of opportunity, at the same time, it’s brought enormous privilege to certain groups and helped entrench inequalities. Under the Right to Education Act of 2009, children in India are guaranteed free and age-appropriate education up until the age of 14; schools cannot hold students back if they do not pass their current grade level. We learned more about the different school systems and the logistics of implementing this act across India. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue my preparations under USIEF’s guidance, as I feel our teacher has provided me with essential context for my teaching endeavors. Vimukti Girls School is a Hindi medium school, with most lessons conducted in Hindi; however, they are transitioning toward an English medium model, with some lessons conducted in English. I hope I will be able to assist with this transition.
On our first night in Delhi, we went out to Nizamuddin Dargah, a religious site where one of the Sufi saints is buried. We gathered on a Thursday evening to listen to Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music. Worshippers purchased pink flowers glazed in rose water to bring up as an offering. We took our shoes off before entering, and the uneven stone floors warmed my feet as we wandered through narrow alleyways laden with market goods before coming out into the open air near the mausoleum, where people thronged to hear the music. It was a headlong dive back into everything I associate with India…a country rich in religious traditions, crowds, heat, and worship.
The following evening, we had dinner at the U.S. Public Affairs Officer’s house in a gorgeous Delhi neighborhood (home to many embassy officials), which stands in stark contrast with the poverty and malnourishment that is so visually apparent in nearby parts of the city. The Public Affairs Officer was kind, gracious, and so welcoming to all the Fulbright scholars. We got to hear about his time with the Foreign Service in different countries across the globe. He told us that the world is much smaller now than it was before…when he first lived abroad, he was mostly cut off from friends and family. I am grateful that the Internet allows us to so easily share our experiences abroad, fostering discussion about the diversity we encounter in countries far from our own.
Our time in Delhi culminated in a night out dancing with several current Fulbright research scholars. The next afternoon, Mina and I departed for Jaipur with Pavitra, one of our Fulbright program coordinators. Jaipur has a different feel than Delhi. When we arrived, Mina exclaimed that it was beautiful…it’s strange, because I hadn’t really thought of Jaipur as beautiful for a long time, maybe because I’m used to its architecture and famous pink buildings (they don’t call it the Pink City for nothing). It’s a reminder, I suppose, to try to see this city through fresh eyes. This is not Delhi, that’s for sure.
On Monday we visited our schools. Mina’s school is situated in a mosque in the Old City, reached by a narrow staircase that opens directly into the main bazaar. The students seemed bright and eager to meet their new teacher. Nobody in her school speaks English…the language barrier will be a challenge for her, as it will be for many of us. Next, we took a trip out to Sanganer to see Vimukti Girls School. I found out only recently that my school has moved to Sanganer, which is a more rural area outside of Jaipur; previously, the school was housed in Tilak Nagar, a neighborhood near the center of the city. Because Vimukti is an NGO school, they must rent out facilities for classes. They are currently housed in a broad, spacious school building surrounded by sprawling fields (very different from Mina’s school), and girls from Jaipur’s slums are bussed out daily to take classes. This means I will have a fairly long commute compared to Mina. Although I was supposed to teach middle school, I’m actually going to be teaching third and fourth standard. I will be expected to teach English grammar as well as conversational English—another surprise. This is typical of my past experiences in India…nothing is ever quite as expected, so flexibility is key. My coordinator and principal both seem like wonderful women. Although we only visited for a half hour or so, I got to peak into the classes where I will teach, and seeing the girls got me excited to meet them and start our work together.
Mina and I began Hindi lessons this week at the American Institute for Indian Studies (A.I.I.S.), the same institute where I studied Hindi through the Critical Language Scholarship. For the next month, we will be taking Hindi classes and observing in our respective schools; we won’t start teaching until August. I was so excited to see my A.I.I.S. teachers again—Sunita-ji, Pramila-ji, Babulal-ji, Anjani-ji, and others. They’re the best! They wasted no time in noting that my Hindi is very kharab (bad) right now. I’ve lost so much. It’s frustrating knowing that I used to be able to express myself so easily on so many topics, but now the words just won’t come, although I understand well enough when others speak. But slowly words have begun to float back, as if they’ve been swimming in my subconscious, just below the surface.
I can’t write a blog post without a shoutout to my fellow Jaipur ETA, Mina, who is the best adventuring partner/roommate I could’ve asked for. We’ve already encountered setbacks since arriving in Jaipur, and I’m so glad to have someone who will share this crazy journey with me. We also owe so much to Pavitra, who fed us, guided us, and put up with our teasing as we apartment-hunted and settled in Jaipur. She’s been an invaluable resource and a great friend.
So what’s it like, living in Jaipur? This blog post is already too long, but I’ve included here some observations I jotted down last night before bed. Jaipur is greener than I remember, even if it lacks Delhi’s rain. Palm fronds and pink flowers shade narrow alleyways. Within a one-kilometer radius you can find pits of trash stewing in the mud and gorgeously carved buildings in shades of pink and yellow. Cows wander the streets freely, and autowalas chug through the morning haze. Carts bearing fresh fruits and vegetables line the streets. Traffic is typical of India—chaotic, noisy, and filled with cars that seem to defy physics by slipping through the narrowest of gaps at speeds that are (frankly) terrifying. There are no seat belts; driving in India is an experience unto itself. When we push through the markets of Raja Park or the Old City, stares follow us, and sometimes men call out. I am never more self-conscious of my body than I am here, of being female. The heat is at times oppressive, pasting sweat across our skin like a sticky, ever-present blanket, but the rains came early this year, so it hasn’t been too unbearably hot. Unlike Delhi, the smells in the air don’t seem to coat the insides of our lungs, clinging to our hair and clothes long after we pass by…that’s a function of Delhi’s humidity. Instead, smells come in waves, receding as quickly as they arrive: mithai sweets flavored with saffron, exhaust fumes, curries swimming in oil, raw sewage, and swollen monsoon season mangoes. At lunch we scoop up dahl with floury roti flatbread (the A.I.I.S. cooks are fantastic, whipping up a mix of thalis for our afternoon meal). Our plates overflow with spicy chana (chick peas) and fried aloo parathas stuffed with potatoes and poha rice. We drink chai three times a day at least—milk boiled with masala tea, ginger, and cardamom. Tea and biscuits are a staple of every house visit, no matter how short. After signing our apartment lease, we stopped off in a narrow roadside store, where a dukanwala pressed fresh pineapples and pomegranates into juice before our eyes. When we missed America, we ordered pizza for dinner, only to realize that Indian pizza doesn’t much resemble pizza from back home. I searched the nearby bazaar for peanut butter and pasta sauce, looking forward to the day when I can move into my apartment and cook something bland and wholly American, sans masala. I relish having cold coffee with my breakfast—milkshakes can be found almost everywhere we go. It’s a rich, bustling, beautiful, dirty, fascinating city, and I know I’m gearing up for a year that will both enrich and offend my senses.
I am overwhelmed. I am excited. I am living an adventure in Jaipur.
One of my best friends, Jennifer, lives in Portland, and we’ve been camping buddies for several years now. Our ultimate goal is to visit every single National Park in the United States. The camping trips we take always seem to frame important life events—graduations, getting sick, receiving life-altering news, getting well, and, finally, my trip to India. When Jen told me she planned to visit Utah before I left, I thought it would be too hectic to arrange a camping trip so close to my departure date (she planned to visit June 24th-26th, and I left the U.S. on June 27th). But I make not-so-great life decisions sometimes. Especially when camping is involved. So on a whim, we decided to pack my car and head down to southern Utah on the eve of my year in Jaipur.
And what a trip! We got in a good 15 miles of hiking, and I managed not to drive us to our deaths off the edge of a rather scary cliffside road in Escalante National Monument. We also checked off one more National Park from our list—Capitol Reef. From scrambling up slot canyons to wading in gorgeous waterfalls, it was a trip to be remembered. Jen is one of my few close friends with medical school aspirations, and I love how we can talk for hours about what medicine means to us and how realizing this dream of being doctors will fulfill us in essential ways.
Here are some photos of us exploring, feat. the My Little Pony bandaid they gave me at the Department of Health when I got the aforementioned typhoid fever shot (refer to previous post).
Camping is probably my favorite escape from the stress and pressures of everyday life. When you’re exploring the red rocks or stargazing in Joshua Tree or taking inappropriately long hikes through the Tetons, the outside world seems so far away. I don’t know what to expect in India—there are so many unknowns. But I’m glad I’ll still have camping with good friends to return to once I’m back in the states.
So now I’m off! I’ll check back in soon, assuming I haven’t melted in Delhi’s summer heat.
Well. This is it. In seven days, I’ll be leaving the country for approximately a year.
Last Monday, I took a red-eye to Washington, D.C. for the South and Central Asia Fulbright orientation. Needless to say, it was an intense week of trainings, seminars, and panels about living and working in India. I’ll be placed in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where I will teach English at Vimukti Girls School, an NGO school serving girls who live in poverty. India has significant gender disparity when it comes to education; according to UNICEF data for 2008-2012, for every 100 literate men in India, there are only 67.6 literate women. One of my greatest passions is women’s rights and healthcare, so I am excited to be placed in a girls’ school. In addition, I will have the opportunity to work at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital, a nonprofit hospital with a number of exciting outreach programs. They help provide free prosthetic limbs to amputees, and they do significant philanthropic work with anganwadis (mother and child care centers) in rural Rajasthan.
There are 24 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in India for the 2017-2018 year, scattered throughout the country. Orientation gave me the chance to meet the other ETAs. They are incredible people with so many different backgrounds and interests—music, law, medicine, sustainable development, and more. My roommate Julia and I both love creative writing, and we made plans to form a virtual writing group in India this year. Although my roommate-to-be Mina and I are the only Fulbright scholars placed in Jaipur, I am looking forward to visiting my fellow ETAs in Dehradun, Delhi, Kolkata, Santiniketan, Pondicherry, Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Hyderabad.
Orientation brought up a lot of questions I’ve been pondering these past few months. As foreigners in India, how can we approach our jobs with sensitivity toward India’s fraught history with the English language and colonialism? How can we empower our students to take control of their futures, knowing that they face trials we can’t fully comprehend? I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I do feel grateful that orientation allowed us to discuss such issues. Many high-paying jobs in India require English proficiency. By educating girls, Vimukti Girls School aims to “combat and overcome the vulnerability of these girls through literacy and education and to make them self reliant and self employed citizens.” If I can contribute to this mission in some small way, then I will consider my Fulbright experience a success.
For me, learning Hindi is a big part of showing respect for the people of Jaipur. At orientation, we talked about the importance of studying the local language, both for practical and cultural purposes. We also got to speak with Fulbright alumni from India, who shared their thoughts on assimilating into Indian culture and engaging our students. Two experienced English teachers conducted teaching workshops for the ETAs, including an amazing mock lesson in conversational Swahili. It was truly an eye-opening and inspiring week…days later, I’m still reeling from all the new information. I’m glad I will have the support of the other ETAs and USIEF as I jump into teaching formally for the first time. Shoutout to my roommate Julia for making my orientation experience that much better. We wrapped up seminars on Friday, concluding the pre-departure orientation.
I haven’t been back to D.C. since the summer after graduating college in 2015. After landing a job at the National Cancer Institute, I convinced/bullied my best friend Katie into moving to D.C., and we spent a whirlwind three months sharing a single bed/dancing around our kitchen/living off ice cream and Easy Mac. Sometimes people ask, “What do you miss most about living in D.C.?” and the honest answer is, our landlady. After orientation ended on Friday, I got to spend a couple days with our old landlady, Emily, who put up with our ridiculousness and somehow doesn’t think Katie and I are totally crazy. We adore her! Catching up with Emily was one of the highlights of my week, and I’m so grateful Katie and I had the chance to know her as we floundered (okay, I probably did most of the floundering) into post-graduate adulthood.
Summer 2015 was a hot mess of a summer for a number of reasons, and being back in my old D.C. neighborhood got me thinking a lot about how lucky I’ve been to have such supportive friends. I’ve never liked change, and in the past few years, I feel like I’ve lived multiple mini lives—my life at Oxy, my life in D.C., my life in Utah, and now a new life in India. Each transition has been fraught with anxiety and exhilaration in varying proportions. But my close friends have been a welcome constant throughout these years, and change has gotten progressively easier as I’ve come to realize that it does not have to be completely unmooring. I’m looking forward to forming new relationships in India, and although I’m sad to leave people behind in the U.S., I have great faith in the ability of friendships to withstand time and separation. Thank you to everyone who has lifted me up and supported me these past few years. I wouldn’t be on this adventure without you!
So here’s to change, friends, and a year of surviving and (hopefully) thriving in India. Here’s to the students I can’t wait to meet. Here’s to somehow acquiring the typhoid fever vaccine I didn’t know I needed in the next few days.