Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Saga Of The Schools

Some of you may have heard that we have decided to home school our kids. I thought that I would use this space to explain why. When we got here we knew that one of our first decisions needed to be about about schools. We heard from the Americans that if we could swing the American Embassy School, that was really the way to go. They warned us that Indian schools were super structured, very high pressure and strict. We also heard that slapping and name calling were used as motivational tools. From the Indians we heard that they had a very advanced curriculum. They told us that foreign students often had a hard time keeping up, but that if they did, they would receive a superior education.

Obviously we looked into the Embassy school. Unfortunately it is extremely expensive. For Number One Son's Junior year it would have cost us $20,000. Mr. Smith's company would have covered 75% of that leaving us with only $5000. Unfortunately this would have maxed out our education money from the company, leaving us with %100 of the other six kids costs to cover! Next came the Indian schools. There were some very nice ones. We chose an international school with a good reputation, we thought that they would not have the same problems as other Indian schools. The classes were taught in English. All of the staff spoke English. We were assured that our children would be loved, protected and taught. Immediately our kids started complaining. Not a big surprise. But, with the exception of Skater Girl, it never got better. Star On Stage was constantly having stomach aches. Star On Stage and Glamour Girl both would spend time in the nurses office weeping. Homework always brought tears and concerns of doing something wrong. I kept assuring them that their teachers wouldn't get angry if something was wrong on their homework. I assured them that everyone understood that they didn't know Hindi and that it would take a while for them to catch up. My girls would not be consoled, and often after I put them on the bus I would go home and cry.

During the six week break for summer I asked my kids lots of specific questions about their class. Instead of asking "Do you like school?" I would ask, "Can you give me some examples of things that you hate about school? What things do you like about it?" Some of the answers I got were funny and some were serious, but after all of them, I just couldn't send my kids back.

First, the funny ones. Star On Stage had an art teacher that would constantly get after the students for using foul language. Curse words were simply not allowed in her class. Unfortunately this only applied to Hindi curse words. The kids regularly used the D word and the SH word and any form of the Lord's name that their creative little minds could come up with. The best though, was that the teacher herself did not even blink at using the F word! Another of the funnier problems was that my girls were very popular. Sort of. Every day girls would approach them, introduce themselves the say something to the effect of, "Let's be best friends!" "O.K." my girls would reply. Then the new "Best Friend" would run off, never to be seen again. A couple of times when I would go to the school, girls in the hall would stop me and ask if I was the mother of the Smith girls. After I told them that I was indeed the Smith girls' mother they would say, "Oh, I am their friend Manvie!" Only to later find out that none of them knew anyone by that name.

Now we come to the more serious problems. Star On Stage's Hindi teacher could not understand why she could not catch up to the other kids in Hindi. The teacher would send home worksheets to do that had the instructions all written in Hindi, then scold Star On Stage for not completing them. I explained that she didn't even know the alphabet and that perhaps she should be working out of a Kindergarten book. No problem. Except that the teacher never took any time to actually teach her out of it. She just kept assigning Star On Stage the same 2nd grade work. Finally I took out the Kindergarten book, ready to figure it out. Like the books in English, there would be a Hindi character next to a picture of a clown. Well, that only helps if the person reading the book ALREADY KNOWS the Hindi word for clown! Errrggg! Perhaps, if they are going to call themselves an international school and court students from other countries, they should have a Hindi as a second language program. You think? Next comes the slapping. Star On Stage was slapped for poor hand writing in Math, Glamour Girl was slapped for not learning a Hindi song fast enough, and Book Lover was slapped for losing her balance while learning an Indian dance. But as much as I hated the slapping, it was not, in my opinion, the worst part. The worst thing, in my opinion, was the labels that started to be applied to my kids. Book Lover's P.E. teacher would call her too fat in front of the class. You know how P.E. teachers are, they stand off to the side and yell encouragement, or advice. Everything is said loudly out of necessity, even the fact that he thought Book Lover was too fat. Star On Stage was told to stop being lazy about learning her Hindi. No matter that she showed no tendency toward laziness in any other area, it must be her lazy nature that was keeping her from learning Hindi. I finally concluded that you can take teachers out of the Indian schools, but you can't take the Indian school out of the teachers.

This entry is running long so I will end here. In a later post I will talk about our plans for schooling them at home. Wish us luck. Seriously.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hello Bucket My Old Friend

This evening (if you consider 11:00 pm the evening) I went upstairs to put the Monday morning laundry in the washer. This is a terrible habit I have had for about six years. Occasionally it backfires on me, as it did tonight. At about 11:15 I realized that while my washer was going through the cycle, it wasn't spinning at all. The washer would fill up, then 15 minutes later it would drain. Then it would fill up, then 15 minutes later it would drain again. With our vast combined mechanical knowledge, Mr. Smith and I figured it must be a broken belt. Good grief!

Out came the bucket we used for the first couple of months we lived here. As I sat down to do the laundry, India style, my sweet husband came in at sat down on the opposite side of the tub and prepared to rinse. Is he a keeper or what? So we sat there washing and complaining to each other. Luckily complaining to each other is one of our favorite pastimes. A few minutes later we were joined by Skater Girl, our six year old daughter. Of course I told her to go get back in bed and of course she ignored me completely. Right then I didn't care much. After a few minutes of quiet observation she commented, "I can't wait to be a mom, being a mom is fun, huh mom." Mr. Smith and I looked at the laundry bucket and at each other and laughed. "It sure is sweetheart, would you like to help?" So Skater Girl grabbed the front edge of the tub (it is a large round tub) and helped us finish up. As we were cleaning up the mess that doing laundry in a bucket makes, Mr. Smith said, "Now don't think I'm weird or stupid, but this is a nice way to end the day." I have to admit that I agree. It was nice to talk to him relatively uninterrupted. That doesn't happen much. Plus, Mr. Smith is always in a good mood when he is working, which makes him an excellent partner for projects.

I can see the appeal of going to the stream with your daughters and meeting the other women doing their laundry with their daughters. It is the perfect mindless work for conversation. I imagine a lot of gossip was passed around at the laundry spot. Don't worry though, I won't be making any trips to the river anytime soon. It's much dirtier than our illegal well water. I am sure that we will have our washer repaired and running sometime in the next week or so. In the mean time, I've got my bucket!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Things To Ponder

Lately in India they have been passing some new rules at the schools. First, colleges in the southern part of the country passed rules against male and female students sitting together in class. Colleges, mind you. Next, sex education was taken out of schools in several states. Frankly I was surprised to hear that it was ever in the schools. Most recently, two Mumbai schools banned boys and girls from touching each other on school grounds. No hugs, no holding hands, no high fives, no hand shakes. Nothing. They will even be penalised for accidental contact.

This is an interesting subject for me. I admit that I have conflicting feelings. At first it seems absurd. It even seems a little scary because it makes me wonder what, or rather who, is influencing such changes. As fanatical religious factions try to gain a hold in the country, this seems to be a sign of success. When the initial upset over the new rules dies down, what will be next? Will the girls' hair or faces be considered too much of a distraction? Perhaps they shouldn't be in school at all.

By the same token, many people consider me a religious fanatic. After all, I actually expect my children to abstain from sex until after they are married. I have all manner of rules that I expect them to follow during their youth that most people in the western hemisphere would consider unreasonable, or at least unrealistic. In this light I feel that I should be particularly careful when judging actions taken in the name of morality, or religious beliefs. Unfortunately religion and politics are so often intertwined (or disguised as one another), it is difficult to trust that the motives are so simple.

Finally, on a purely cultural level, I really don't get India. Most single adults live with their parents. There is little if any dating. Most marriages are arranged. They have laws against kissing in public, men and women don't even hold hands in public. Aspiring judges make names for themselves by making headline grabbing decisions, such as issuing an arrest warrant for Richard Gere after he kissed Shilpa Shetty. The vast majority of films don't even have kissing. The few that do are very controversial. Modesty is a must. Midriffs can be exposed, but legs are covered. In some parts of the country it can be down right dangerous to be seen in what is considered immodest clothing. Yet they have perfected the art of every other type of almost-sexual behavior. In films, the leads dance or romp, often while soaking wet, in such a way as to leave no doubt as to what is being represented. Commercials and print ads are so suggestive in the manner of dress and poses of the models that even I, a desensitized American, was surprised. Apparently modesty and morality don't apply if commerce is involved, but then, that is nothing new.

I know that the US is full of it's own unique contradictions, but they are the contradictions that I am used to. It is very interesting to see things from the outside. It leaves me wondering how foreigners in America see our culture. Perhaps one of them has a blog I could read....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays

Someone who was familiar with 70's pop might think that the title of this blog entry means that I am feeling a little down. Not at all. I am actually quite happy. The only things that should be deduced from the title are: 1. It is raining. 2. It is Monday. & 3. I recently spent $16 on iTunes purchasing Carpenter's songs. I don't really have any feelings on the subject of Mondays, but I love the rain and I love The Carpenter's, so today, life is good.

It is my firm belief that the rainy season has started. You might think that my first clue was all the rain. Not so. My first clue was that when I stepped out of our house to go to church, my glasses fogged over completely. It was like coming out of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride without someone asking me to remain seated in four different languages. Luckily my lenses cleared in time for me to find my way to the car without any injuries. Surely my second clue was the rain. Unfortunately no. I seem to be a tad slow. No, the second thing
that clued me into the change in the season were the beautiful blooms on the potted plants on our porch. I had no idea the these plants were anything other than nice green plants. They didn't look like anything that would bloom. But as you can see they do bloom and they are dramatic and lovely, befitting their home in the jungle.

Finally we come to the rain. Much like the rain in Arizona, it starts quickly. It will be a bright and clear day, then within thirty minutes it is dark and the rain starts. Some times it lasts a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. It is really quite fabulous. The weather cools and all my kids run out to the porch to play in the rain. Of course it causes it's fair share of problems too. For instance, we have a door on our roof that lets the rain in. It streams down about 5 steps, then pours over the side of the spiral staircase, forming a charming waterfall for those on the first and second floor. While this is nice to look at, it is a bit dangerous because marble is very slippery when it's wet. Not so good on stairs. So far we have had no serious injuries. On the up side marble is also very easy to clean. The yuckiest problem by far is that two of our bathrooms have floor drains that back up with sewage when it rains hard for very long. Eeew. Once again, I am very glad that marble is so easy to clean.

I would like to thank Mr. Smith for the great picture of the blossoms. And while I would like to thank him for the cool picture of the rain in Delhi, the actual photographer might not appreciate it, who ever he or she is. I found that one on the Internet.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Really, That's Just Too Kind.

The people of India are so kind and accommodating. Seriously. I have been thinking for some time that I need to write an entry about the electricity here, but I just didn't have that much material. So the Indian people got together and provided us with some fabulous stuff.

It all started last week when I went out to dinner with other American/Mormon women in the area. We do this about once a month and though there are about 10 of us, usually about 6 show up. One of them (a new girl) started telling us her harrowing story about a fire they had in their electrical box. After listening politely, we told her that we had all had a fire in our electrical boxes, and that it would probably happen again. That is the nice thing about these dinners. Nothing is new to them. They understand the craziness and can tell you how to deal with it or tell you to get used to it. But either way, you feel better knowing that they have all done it.

So the next night around 11 o'clock, there was this loud popping sound outside and our electricity started to fluctuate. Then I saw the sparks. Mr. Smith and I ran outside to see what was going on. The power line right across the road from or house had snapped and was jumping around, throwing off sparks. Eventually it dropped and was laying across a parked car. We made some calls, but they just don't have the 24 hour hot line like they do in the US. (Ironic for a country full of call centers, eh?) At some point one of the people we called told our guard to keep an eye on the line through the night, and they would notify some one in the morning.

The next morning we heard the popping and the power started to fluctuate again, so we all ran out on to the balcony. The transformer around the corner was sparking and on fire, and so were the many bushes around it. The volunteer fireman in Mr. Smith had him out the door and around the corner in no time, but luckily there were several men (including two policemen) near by when it started, so the fire was already out. Mr. Smith told the officers about the downed line by our house, but of course they couldn't understand him so they started to leave. Kirpashankar (our driver) stopped them and explained. Soon there were men guarding the transformer and the downed line and all the power to the Sector was shut off.

This was just the most recent event. When we visited India last August we actually stayed in this house. That was when we had our fire in the electrical box. Another time Number One Son was plugging in our TV and was shocked bad enough to throw him back a bit. A few weeks ago our house keeper was cleaning a ceiling fan that was, of course, turned off, but it still managed to shock her pretty badly. And, on a daily basis there are some outlets that when you plug something in you always hear a sizzle or a pop. Once every couple of weeks an electrician comes to the house to see if everything is working. Last time the twins room had no lights. The breaker was on, but still no electricity. I told my dad that if we get home without someone being electrocuted it will be a miracle.

P.S. When I ran a spell check on this entry I found that I had spelled the word "electricity" several different ways, all of them wrong. I guess there is a short in my brain!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pick A Euphemism

Among our expat friends (others who have left their homelands to come to India) there are a few phrases that describe the kind of day I am having. India day, cultural experience, and opportunity for growth are my favorite. They all mean the same thing: Today is the day I wish I lived somewhere with DVRs and root beer. Netflix at the very least. There is no catastrophe, just several little things that are all so much easier in the US.

I noticed that there was no water upstairs, no big deal, I just headed downstairs to turn on the pump. Camla (our housekeeper) had beat me to it. Cool. So I went into the front room where there is an AC and tried to cool down. Then a few minutes later Uday came in in to get me. He wanted to show me something, but what? "No water" he said. Hmmmm. "Is there water in the underground tank?" I asked. Blink, blink. So I headed out to check the underground tank. Unfortunately there were discarded bathroom cupboards on the lid to the tank. Then Uday started gesturing towards an outlet near by. I'm not sure why, because it is not hooked to the pump and, as far as I can tell, there is no connection to water and this outlet. He started explaining in what he was sure was English, and I was equally sure was nothing close to English. Then someone on the roof started yelling something about "bani" which is water, so Uday said, "is O.K., is O.K." What's O.K., do we have water now ? I don't know and no one can explain it to me, so I smiled and went inside. Later I discovered there was still no water, so I made Mr. Smith move the cupboards and we looked in the underground tank. It is full of water, that's good news. The water's full of termites, both alive and dead, that's less good. And the pump doesn't work, bad, bad, bad.

After some phone calls a man from the office comes. I try in broken English and charades to explain that the pump isn't working correctly and that even if it were, the water is full of termites, so using it for cooking or laundry really isn't going to be a good thing. Then our guard, Kossel, comes running back and speaking to the man and gesturing to the mystery outlet again. Seriously, what is up with the outlet? No one can tell me, so, having done my part I smile and go inside. Eventually all is well, water is running. I am assured that the pump was working the whole time (this is a lie that they tell me to keep me happy) and that there was sediment (I'm guessing termite bodies, but sediment sounds nicer) in the faucet screens. The explanation seems to be over at this point, so I smile and I walk inside. As soon as I am out of sight, the man from the office starts explaining something to Uday and Kossel in a hushed voice, so just for fun I poke my head back out and sure enough, they are gathered around the damned outlet! Come on! They all look up guiltily, I still smile and I still walk back inside (what else?) but this time I roll my eyes real big while I'm walking.

After the man from the office left, I went to see Uday. He and our driver will always tell us what actually happened. Everyone else gives us the version that they think will cause them the least trouble. The pump has been fixed, and all three of our water tanks will be cleaned. Soon. And the outlet? The switch next to it turns on the hidden pump to our illegal well. Ah ha!