I’m surprised…very surprised by India. I’m surprised that I have adjusted so easily…dare I say it – but India was actually a very easy transition for me. Sure – as we drove from the airport to the flat on Saturday morning we dodged the cows in the road, I saw people sleeping out on the streets…we drove down the wrong side of the road most of the time, and ignored stop lights…but in my world these days…that’s all normal. I think I can finally call myself a seasoned traveler. However, what hasn’t been easy is the transition from vagabond to responsible worker. Simply typing the word responsible worker makes me cringe.
It’s Independence day here in India…the 60th Anniversary of their freedom from the British. It’s a national holiday – yet we’ve been instructed to stay close to our flat as the possibility of violence is heightened during this joyous time…which is par for the course in the ‘country of contrasts’ – India. So I sit here – filling my time with eating, reading magazines, writing, preparing lesson plans, and getting to know my new flatmates. There are 5 of us living in our flat – all Americans, all women, all over 30. Maybe volunteer vacations are the new mid-life crisis for women. Men buy a porcshe and have an affair, women go to third world countries and volunteer…go figure. We never seem to be on the same planet do we?
The most stunning thing I have learned so far is not that the cows roam freely everywhere …and I mean everywhere – but instead – I was stunned to find out the Code of Conduct for Cross Cultural Solutions does not allow any alcohol to be consumed during the weekday or in the flats. Somehow they left this out of the brochure. I know that I wouldn’t have missed a statement like that….no alcohol…the red warning light would have went off in my head for sure.
Since I have arrived, we have completed our orientation for our volunteer activities and have been set loose at our NGO’s. I have been assigned to the Habitat Learning Center – an oasis in the world of NGO’s. It’s an oasis because it’s a posh campus-like setting – with modern buildings, air conditioning, cafeteria, and computers. While my fellow flatmates are in mental institutions in the middle of slums, or teaching how to make jewelry in a hut in the slums – I’ve got it pretty good. My first surprise came when I found out that myself and another volunteer are to teach not one, but two separate classes of students – English and computers. Yesterday we went to meet our volunteer coordinator at our site, and my worst fear came true…she wasn’t there…but the kids were. Originally – we weren’t supposed to be teaching that day – simply meeting with the coordinator. However – before I knew it I was standing in front of 15 kids, and 2 mothers…all eyes on me – waiting to drip on my every English word…and I had no idea what to say. I hadn’t prepared anything to teach that day….but there they were – expecting us to teach. So – I did what I do best – think on my feet…starting with teaching the phrase “My name is ….” I hate being unprepared. Even with thousands of miles logged in my life this year – I am still a perfectionist…I can’t seem to shed it – no matter how hard I try.
So – I spend my day off trying to prepare without the internet at my disposal…which really makes me feel lost. I have spent the last hour pulling photos of Lions, Elephants, and oranges from my travel photography to help teach the English alphabet…reminding myself that it didn’t have to be perfect. I lay awake at night trying to sleep – but consumed with thoughts about how and what I will teach for 3 weeks with no real direction, no good grasp on teaching grammar, and no understanding of Hindi…I wanted a challenge – and I found it.
Now – if I could only find a beer…that would most certainly help me sleep at night!