Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A never quite typical day

An average day at Raja Bazaar

I don’t think I’ve had a single day yet that has had the same schedule. So far, each day has been a new adventure coupled with sleep deprivation. Today has been about as routine as any of them. This morning, I woke up only after hitting the snooze about twenty times (I know my roomie Shanta loves that about me). I walk into the bathroom and grab my toothbrush, reach for the tap and at the last second change course after remembering to use the bottled water next to the sink. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I sleepily walk over to another lfat where the other five volunteers live for yoga class (four of us live in one flat, five others live in another, and the CCS office is around the corner in a third flat of the same apartment complex, all within three minutes walk). I grumble my way through yoga, secretly resentful of our instructor for only being able to have class at 6:30 AM. Today of course was Tuesday and therefore I relished the extra hour of sleep. Shanta and I have worked out a system for breakfast, alternating making eggs and toast and doing the dishes. We sit down together and scan the English newspapers for interesting articles and the Hindi papers for words we can read while sipping our tea and pretending we’re awake. Then I run to flat five, meet up with Lindsay (the volunteer I work with) and hop in the car headed towards the Mobile Crèche headquarters (90% of the time I catch my long salwaar top in the door and try to pull it out without ripping it. So far I’ve been successful in keeping it one piece and today I even avoided getting it caught it the first place).
Sunil, our driver, hums along to Hindi radio stations that play a sort of Bollywood-1990s-boy band fusion with the occasional Guns and Roses or Katie Perry song (remixed with Hindi inserts of course).  I often think that India has only just now reached the 90s as far as Western culture is concerned.  After a few minutes of sitting in the Mobile Crèche office (known as the Raja Bazaar Crèche) trying to read more Hindi newspapers, our supervisor Sunita appears. She seems to be pregnant (we are afraid to ask in case we’re mistaken) and she tends to have mood swings, more often towards the grumpy-not-so-happy-to-see-us moods. I think she got a bad impression because one time we both misread the clock and started to leave an hour early. She thought we were trying to escape. Normally we spend an hour and a half working as teachers’ aides, drawing worksheets and making crafts that will go to the kids. Occasionally- depending on Sunita’s mood swings- we get chai (tea with amazing spices and milk and pretty much everything wonderful in it). After working in the office, we walk up the driveway to the classroom and help teach the kids math and English. Today though (since there is no such thing as a typical day), Sunita explained that we were going to visit another Mobile Crèche site called NBCC in the slums of construction zones.
The city of Delhi is constantly under construction. In preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games the entire city is being renovated, at least in theory. Grime-covered walls create “diversions” around the new and expensive metro system scheduled to be complete in a year. One professor explained that the capital is being built at the cost of the country.
Lindsay and I climb into the car and are dropped off without any explanation at one of the construction sites in the city. Mountains of dirt piled high with wires and bricks surround a small concrete building with brightly colored paintings on the side (the NBCC Crèche). One of the teachers greets us and gives us a quick tour of the classrooms employing her entire English vocabulary (all of maybe fifteen words). We settled in with the oldest group of kids who just happen to be doing math. Here I am thinking, perfect- numbers in Hindi have become my strong suit, I can handle this. Well, numbers up to twelve at least. These kids were doing long division and counting to 100. I strategically sat next to the smaller boys who were just writing their numbers. Despite my broken Hindi and confused facial expressions, one little boy decided to tell me what I pretended to be his entire life story. He talked to me in Hindi like we were best friends and after several attempts at telling him I had no clue what he was saying, I began making up stories in my head to go along with his theatrical gestures. I think there was a car wreck or maybe an explosion involved at one point in the monologue. The boys wrote down their names in Hindi for me to sound out (I can read Hindi now, but have no idea what the words mean yet) and got super excited when I wrote their names in English. I tried writing my own name in Hindi but forgot how to write an E so they called me Rin. Then my new BFF decided since I couldn’t understand him when he spoke Hindi, he would write a tiny novel on his chalkboard. I began sounding it out but again had no idea what it meant, though he didn’t seem to mind. Finally we found common ground in a game of tic-tac-toe. Unfortunately for me, the kids didn’t count three in a diagonal row as a win. I was sad to leave the NBCC site after only an hour and half. All the kids shook our hands and waved as we climbed into the car and drove back to our apartments.
Around 1 PM Lindsay and I met up with the other volunteers and the staff over at the CCS office in flat 5 for lunch. After lunch I attempted to get some of my work for the internship out of the way but at 2:30 CCS had arranged for the volunteers to visit the National History Museum of India. A former employee of the museum accompanied us as our own personal tour guide. I never caught his name but studied his face as he talked instead of listening. He was almost feeble and his big eyes were magnified by bifocal glasses but after spending ten minutes explaining the history of the History Museum, I could tell he was passionate about his subject. Later I learned he was the first assistant of the museum when it was created in 1947 after India’s independence. He dedicated 37 years to the history of his country and spoke of each artifact as if it were an old friend.
By the time we got back home and drank another cup of chai, dinner was ready. I was ecstatic to see that mashed potatoes were on the menu though they were still distinctly Indian. I enjoy the food here though most is a bit spicy for my weak taste buds. I have realized my love for potatoes and cheese transcends culture, however I’m still rationing my Teddy Grahams for a rainy day.
After dinner I finally have a little time to relax, read my email, procrastinate on homework, practice Hindi, look over assigned readings, and reflect on the oh-so-busy-always-an-adventure-crazy-wonderful-typical day.
PS if you want to read other perspectives on this trip, read Laiah’s blog:

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