Thursday, 27 June 2013

'Hi my name is Lucy and I'm an elephant"

Evening All,

I hope you are well wherever this finds you.

Since my last blog entry, my status as an English teacher has become more cemented. I have been teaching since 12th June as opposed to starting on the 17th June when I had indicated I would feel most comfortable! These concerns were disregarded within a matter of days and I was immersed into a classroom and staffroom existence! In many ways being thrown in does have its advantages because there is little point in protesting but instead focusing energies on surviving the 40 minute lessons. 

My daily routine begins with a short walk from the Principal's home to school at around at 0845 and upon my arrival so the shouting "Lucy Ma'am" starts. Initially I failed to respond, not computing that the children are in fact talking to me but now I have adjusted and feel overwhelmed by the big Colgate smiles that radiate from children as young as 5!  
There are approximately  700 students who attend Apex Public School and are supported by approximately 35 other teachers. The bell is rung promptly at 0900 whereby a Prayer is read by a nominated student over the public announcement system and thereafter followed by a Pledge.

 As I observe the Pledge being read, each and every student can be heard reciting their devotion to this beautiful Country and confirmation of the respect to be shown towards elders including teachers (although this is not always the case!). During this brief recital, the students are seen with their right arm outstretched in military fashion and for a split second you could be excused for thinking you were witnessing a scene from Sandhurst!  The military approach continues most days with a retired Indian Army officer (now PE teacher) blowing his whistle to round up the troops (sorry I mean students) as though he is summonsing help in an emergency and this I must say does get a little tiresome especially if you happen to be blasted inadvertently from close range!!!! It certainly has the desired effect on me and I find myself hop, skip and jumping off to class!

There are on average two classes per year which are called standards and the division of  classes are labelled A, B or C depending on the numbers. I have so far taught standards 3 to 9th which incorporates ages of 7 to 16 years old. I have expressed an interest to teach in the older classes so ages of 13 up to 17 as I find the 10 - 12 year old boys, in particular, hugely challenging.  Since being here, I have often thought that somehow representing ill educated, badly behaved rogues is far easier than teaching children because at least with  client's trust you can strongly advise them and importantly they will accept and respect that, whereas bringing under control a bunch of hormonal, mischievous, Indian teenagers who can demonstrate their displeasure with actions alone, is in my opinion a far greater challenge! If anything, this adventure to date has proved that I do not have the ability to carve a career out of teaching for the simple fact that I lack patience and tolerance which are two crucial ingredients required! To further exacerbate matters,  I am living in a predominantly Muslim community and therefore no alcohol is available unless I travel 30 km to the nearest city. Whilst I am not yet at the stage of knocking on 'Alcoholics Anonymous' door I was after my first day, considering sipping from my antibacterial hand gel that contains traces of alcohol just to be able to enforce some sort of relaxation!   

It is not all bad and I must emphasise the positives that I gain each day. I am greeted with enthusiasm and excitement every day.  Without fail I am given flowers, both fresh and artificial, chocolates and random gifts. I have also been asked to sign several copies of students books which was incredibly strange but knowing how clever the Indians are I have probably now implicated myself in some multimillion pound scheme!!! So far I have received a pretty bracelet, rubber, a couple of pens, notes stating their love for me and a story book for 7 year olds. Perhaps the student in question was trying to tell me something about my mental age I don't know but it was very bizarre all the same. My desk is beginning to look like a funeral directors  with an array of beautiful but artificial flowers! 

There are 8 lessons held every day, each 40 minutes long interposed with two ten minute tea breaks and a lunch break of 50 minutes. There is always a flurry of activity and students are always coming up to me asking me "What is madam's parents' names?" "Is madam married?"and "Where is madam's home?" 

Freedom is given to students at 3.40 after they have all stood to observe the National Anthem in silence and then given a cheer to mark the end! The school is an institution which instills discipline and patriotism which is both inspiring and commendable. We, the teachers are released finally released from Daddy Day Care at 4pm so all in all a very respectable working schedule. By the end of the day, it is difficult not to feel weary but on the whole I very much enjoy this daily challenge. The one aspect I cannot cope with is the lavatories. By the end of the day, the hole in the ground has been so overused without the sophisticated use of a flush that the smells as a result are quite simply the most pungent I have ever encountered.  I am finding that in emergency situations the squat bog is used but otherwise the Western throne is relied upon more often than not! The men and boys reading this back in England have no idea as to how lucky you are only having to 'point and shoot' - lucky buggers!

As you are probably aware we are in monsoon season and have been since the beginning of June. Although it does not rain 24 hours a day, it is hoped that the ceaseless torrent of rain when it does start, will finally dry up around August time.Fortunately we have not yet faced flooding and are only too aware as the sheer devastation it has caused people not too far from here. I have been told that in years gone by boats have been used to get students to school but I do hope that I won't witness that sight this year! Somehow the lack of RNLI does fill me with some concern! 

The presence of spiders has increased since the downpours and a gigantic spider presented itself in the kitchen during supper a couple of nights ago. My hysteria caused great amusement to the family here but as I shot across the kitchen to escape it, so the bastard thing ran furiously towards me. I was pretty distressed by the time it was splatted against the wall and sacked supper half way through as I was almost consumed by the eight legged beast.

I have been able to enjoy some cricket with the students during school hours and outside of the timetable. The schools grounds are similar to that of clay courts in the French Open and trying to bowl in conditions where the bouncy cricket ball shoots off in all different directions is at times impossible. Sadly I have not yet represented womens cricket particularly well but hopefully with time I will lose the reputation, I have myself created, which is similar to that of "playing like a girl"!

I have been teased mercilessly about England's defeat to India in the ICC Championships Trophy and having stupidly boasted that we would kick India's ass, my forfeit was to distribute half the sweet supply of Kerala to a number of classes at school. Not a very smart move on my part so now I shall keep my mouth shut between now and December just in case!!!!

Talking about humiliation, it reached an all time low last weekend when I was asked to make a speech at a parents meeting. There were approximately 300 - 400 parents in attendance plus my fellow colleagues. I thought I would be clever and attempt to speak in the local language (Malayalam) just to introduce myself to intrigued parents. The intended message was

"Hi my name is Lucy, I am here to teach English" and then to finish up I think I said "India is a beautiful country!"

However in true Linington fashion I got the pronunciation wrong and said "Hi my name is Lucy and I am an elephant!" Not my finest hour and I now understand why parents looked at me with some surprise and in some cases with some distain! During the disastrous speech, the power was cut which happens several times a daily and I should have taken that as a sign but no I carried on making a total fool of myself! What an elephant sized mistake!!!

So as you can see I am continuing to enjoy myself and feel very at home here. Of course there are some days when I am screaming out for a hot bath, cold beer, spaghetti bolognese and a washing machine but aside from the quirky ways of India, this is a Country which gets in the blood and I am extremely happy.

It goes without saying that I send you all my love and miss you all

Lots of love Luce (CiCi) xxx

Saturday, 8 June 2013

"Lucy Ma'am", "Lucy Miss"


I hope you are well wherever this finds you!

I have now been in India almost a month and in some respects it has flown by but in some parts it has dragged! I say that because since my arrival here on 13th May, I have been waiting for the School to open and my teaching adventure to begin. Unfortunately the opening was delayed by an additional two days as there was insufficient water to be able to function. Here in India, water generates electricity and in the absence of H2O, Indian normality cannot prevail! We continue to experience several power cuts daily but that is one of the endearing aspects of India! It's not a big problem to overcome unlike the bogs which I continue to struggle with.   (We do not appreciate at times how lucky we are at home!)

Apex Public School, Eranhimavu, finally opened on Wednesday 5th June and my introduction into the Indian education system got underway. It is a fee paying school with approximately 700 students ages ranging from 4 up to 18 years. Amongst students there is a strong display of many different religions with Islam, Hinduism and Christianity being the main denominations. Irrespective of the student's beliefs  they live side by side harmoniously and put the likes of the UK and France to shame where extremists taint the true meanings of their respective religions. Whilst religion for me is not a consideration, I can't help but to respect the people here because they are truly dedicated to their own beliefs and with daily attendance to Mosques, Temples and Churches, their commitment is entirely unfaltering.

The school's opening was an unforgettable and humbling experience which will stay with me for a long time to come. I arrived at the school to be stared at and then greeted by students and parents respectively. One child in particular was so shocked to see me that as he was walked away from me whilst staring, he walked into the wall. I couldn't help but laugh but at that point I began to understand how curious they really are about Westerners! 

My ability to make children cry continued as I ATTEMPTED to sing "twinkle twinkle little star" to a class full of 4year olds, to which one little boy looked disgusted and promptly burst into tears. Needless to say he has avoided me like the plague since then. I have always known that I can't sing - that was evident from a school report " Lucy's tries very hard"  or perhaps it should have read, "the noise she makes is very trying" but never have I honestly caused a child to cry off the  back of my 
screeching! A little later I overheard the same class quite happily singing "tvingle tvingle little star" and realised at that moment that my time here would be a challenge to redress their pronunciation! I've always been up for a challenge!!!

The 4 year olds were experiencing their first day of school and so as you can imagine there were some distraught children. Fully understanding the upset this causes the children, the Principal and staff made every effort to welcome the children. Balloons were put up outside their classrooms and toys and sweets were handed out. Each child of that year group was given a toy car and told that if they return the following day they would be allowed to keep it. Some of the children weren't bought so easily and disregarded the sweets in an attempt to break out and find their parents who were hiding around the corner. I must confess that I found it very difficult not to cry on two levels because it is upsetting for the children seeing them so upset and irrespective of the fact that I am 31 years old, I had a moment, relating to their upset knowing that its 6 months until I see the Wizzbang! Get a grip 

At around 11am, an assembly was held for the majority of the school  where the Principal officially opened the school. There were approximately 500 people present and with military precision, students were told to stand to attention and then at ease! I don't think I was meant to laugh out loud but it did appear pretty amusing. There was a unified recital of the National Prayer and Pledge which demonstrated the patriotism and discipline that had been instilled into one and every student. Aside from the amusement, it was highly impressive to watch. After such a display, INTRO "Lucy Miss" or "Lucy Ma'am" as I am also known as, to introduce myself. I thought that being a Court advocate that I could handle most public speaking scenarios but this task had taken it to a whole new level! In pigeon English, I addressed the school on my new role as a teacher of Apex Public school! How weird that sounds still!  Can't imagine that on reflection it was a particularly inspirational speech but if 50% of the hall understood me I consider this an achievement. After I had finished making an idiot of myself, the Principal announced that I spoke like BBC News English reporters so if students wanted to try and understand me they should follow BBC World news! I'm not sure News presenter Huw Edwards would be too impressed if he knew that we shared the same accent but it would of been rather amusing speaking with the Pompey accent "going round the roundabout" - perhaps they would have understood me more clearly! 

For the remainder of the day, little work was done as students and teachers familiarised themselves with new classrooms, textbooks and timetables. As I drifted around the school, I was followed constantly and children kept asking me to visit them in their classrooms. 

Since Wednesday I have been observing lessons and it is hoped that I will begin teaching week commencing 17th June, once I feel suitably confident. I have been given ages 7, 11, 13 and 15  year olds to teach the main syllabus but in addition I am also taking "communicative English" where I chat to the students. 
The communicative English applies to students ages 5 - 10 years old which in some respects will be more challenging because the younger students have very little understanding. I fear that my 'stunning' singing voice may have to be used to develop the vocabulary! If nothing else I will spend my time cuddling the younger children who are utterly divine. Their smiles light up like Christmas trees and some of them are definitely coming home with me in my backpack and suitcase. 

(Bella, you are still CiCi's favourite and always will be. I treasure and carry the little heart you gave me EVERYWHERE I go! Xx)

My colleagues are delightful and always keen to help even if it does take three times to understand me or vice versa! The students are all very polite, courteous and incredibly respectful.  The smaller children are incredibly sweet and very giggly! However little do the students know what will descend upon them week commencing 17 June!

I am still staying with the Principal and his family. They are very kind and hospitable and their home is positively palatial by anyone's standards!! Despite this, the washing facilities are basic and resemble something out of the Water Aid advert with one tap and a bucket! My clothes are soaked in a bucket, washed with soap and repeatedly slapped against a large concrete block, soaked once more and then hung on a washing line. No ariel stain removing gel liquid tabs, colour catchers or lenor lurking around here!

I am experiencing some amazing food and continue to eat using my RIGHT hand only! I dropped my game a couple of days ago when I was caught out drinking with my left hand but I don't think it's a hanging offence - I'm still here! I am told that my ability in this department is similar to that of a young child learning for the first time. I tell them that I am embracing their culture and there is a lot of laughter on the back of this!!   Only a few days ago I was given biriyani biscuits with my afternoon cup of chai! They were absolutely delicious! I was also very pleasantly surprised to be given an omelette for breakfast - it contained coconut, fresh chilies and other un identifiable ingredients but delicious nevertheless! 

Fortunately the lavatorial facilities here at the house are Westernised and so I am able to sit on a throne (not that regal as there's no bog roll!) as opposed to using the Indian lav - renamed by me as a "squat bog"! Their loo is a hole in the ground accompanied by two foot plates just in case you need guidance as to where to stand. In my case, the one and only time I used the squat bog was at school when I was, to put it simply, desperate. It is arguably the most unpleasant feature of the Indian culture. It certainly doesn't lend itself to those who struggle with dodgy limbs and although I ski every year with my troublesome knee, lowering yourself those extra degrees is near on impossible for me! Coupled with that, the stench is putrid and with no flushing facilities the odour becomes positively unbearable as the day progresses. I am working the pelvic floor muscles extremely well and waiting until I literally run back to the Principal's home to spend all the pennies in the world! 

Lowering the tone further,  I have been asked by a number of people whether I've had an attack of the Delhi belly but so far (fingers and toes crossed) my constitution has coped very well with just a couple of controlled explosions!!! (Sorry Gran probably too much information!) Moving on.......

I was very amused to be shown video clips of Charlie Chaplin and Mr Bean by the Principal's children. Of course it shows that facial expressions and actions alone can communicate perfectly well without the power of speech but what amazes me is how far and wide this material travels! Hopefully I won't become the equivalent to Mr Bean or that of Charlie Chaplin in trying to interact with students when overcoming the language barrier! I would at least make the students laugh if that was the case - time till tell!!

In my assessment, almost month after my arrival, it may be that India has  a population of over a billion people, be categorised as a developing country but they are most certainly a developed country in many other ways. For one, they are a smiling, happy, kind and mostly peaceful nation. Of course there are a number of people who I'm sure can dispel my observations but for the most part I have been enthralled by their ability to laugh, care and demonstrate such genuine respect. Already I have had invitations from parents to visit and stay with them and colleagues are keen for me to visit their homes, 3 days after the start of term! 

India, you've got my vote!

As Huw Edwards and his  BBC colleagues would say "thank you for 'in this case reading' and good night"!

Miss you all and lots of love to you all

Luce (CiCi) xxxxx