This is the first post from Caroline Barker, who is the latest teacher to be sponsored by Language in Group to go to India and work at the Society for Poor People Development. Language in Dublin, Language in London and Language in Totnes all donate a percentage of every booking to help this charity and send teachers out there.
I can’t believe I have now been living in this beautiful and fascinating place for over a month. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and hard to put into words. Most days I have at least a moment or two of feeling that same incomprehension and vague panic as on the first exhausted morning when I rolled in after the two day adventure to get here. But then I’ll manage a Tamil phrase, or play a game with the kids, and it is enough to cancel all that out, and there is nowhere I would rather be.
My start here has been an unexpected one. I arrived clutching my first lesson plan, and ready to teach the very next day only to discover it was Pongal festival. The home was closed for the weekend, and I had to leave for a few days. I was lucky to tag along with a European Project group from Switzerland and France and we spent a great weekend in Madurai before I even met any of the kids here. Even after our return, the lessons were delayed again so I just became part of the European group’s programme and got to run some workshops with the children, as well as visiting temples, small businesses, schools and local areas all with a lovely and very knowledgeable guide. Thank you to the EU for this fantastic surprise!
The last couple of weeks, since the group left, the routine has settled down and my lessons have started. Although it means I have lots more free time, the time I do have is exhausting enough and it is nice to have the daytime to properly prepare and to explore the area a bit, usually on one of the bikes. Every single one of the children is fantastic, and it has been brilliant to finally get to know them properly. They are all so enthusiastic and always eager to talk English. Lessons are without fail fun and full of energy, occasionally entering into complete chaos, but I’m working on that . Whatever happens in the class, they always thank me at the end and often want a quick game of thumb wars or a special handshake before getting back to routine. As well as our classes together, they have shown me the Kitchen Garden where I help sometimes, but more often just get taught the vegetable names in Tamil; and I’m learning all the good playground games with them, causing great hilarity at how bad I am at them.
They work very hard here, starting at 5am most mornings, and they are so proud to show me their good marks at school. It is incredible to think that for some of them it was just months ago that their lives were so utterly different. Yesterday was a family visit day, which I think happen every couple of months. The children have such an ordered and routine existence here, and they seem to fit into it so comfortably, it is difficult sometimes to remember their stark and still very real realities outside of the Home. It was heart-warming and at the same time heartbreaking to see how excited they all were and how much some of them miss family members. The whole day was spent cleaning and putting on their best outfits for the occasion, and we even had a special lunch brought in by local college volunteers who served it to the children. They had a lot of free time during the day as well, so they could play and relax, which everyone was happy about.
My room here is luxurious. I have my own bathroom, a huge room and a balcony. I feel like royalty. And I haven’t mentioned the food, which is mouth watering. It is the same most days but I can’t imagine ever getting sick of Dhosa, chutney, Idly and those delicious sauces to dip them in. I also think the 11am and 4pm tea break is going to have to become part of my life in England. There is nothing better on a hot day than a lovely milky, sugary tea. And that is coming from someone who drinks black coffee at home. Oh how I’ve changed in only 4 weeks!
I had an adventure last week when I spent my day off in Trichy, the closest city. I happily set off with no map and just a vague recollection of a rock temple I had visited with the group, confident that it would all be clear when I arrived. One more example of what a novice I am at Indian travel. I jumped off the bus with everyone else in a huge busy main road, and soon realised I had no idea where I was (or even if this was, in fact Trichy) and that maps were definitely not available. But that is ok here. Wherever you are, there is always a tea and cake shop (another food I have become addicted to), and hundreds of new sights and sounds and smells. I just wandered around for most of the day, eventually even stumbling across the rock temple and the shopping centre we had been to together. I got the bus back in the afternoon, making the mistake of sitting in the front and being able to see the terrifying driving, but luckily I was distracted with meeting a lovely family and just about managing to communicate with a bit of English and lots of mime. Everybody I meet is so friendly and often really keen to practice the little English they do have, and I find I spend a lot of my free time having cups of tea with local shopkeepers.
As each week goes by I am getting more confident with the teaching and with the planning and through trial and error I am finding out what works and doesn’t. It really is a fantastic opportunity as a first experience of teaching, and although it comes with a lot of insecurity and mistakes, having Peter’s weekly suggestions is great, as is being able to send him my weekly rambling description of how the week has gone.
With all the stresses of being in a foreign place and not understanding a word of the language, being here is still idyllic. Every evening I lie on the roof and stare at a beautiful sky full of stars, listening to the frogs and the car horns which never stop. And there is always time in the day to sit on the balcony and read my book or practice my Ukulele, a Christmas gift that I’m trying to master while here. The place really is beautiful, and I am so lucky to have had this opportunity to experience it all.