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[teacherartexchange] Christmas greetings from India


From: Melissa Enderle (melissaenderle_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Dec 15 2008 - 04:06:26 PST

Christmas greetings from India

Greetings from India! In a few hours I’ll be leaving for the airport,
head back to cold Wisconsin for Christmas. I have Christmas songs
playing from my computer, but looking out from my balcony it certainly
doesn’t feel like Christmas. Right now it’s 84°F (29°C) and the
coconut palm trees are actually swaying in the breeze.

It’s now been 4 ½ months since I arrived in Chennai, the capital city
of Tamil Nadu and largest city in southern India. I don’t think I’ll
ever get used to the sheer numbers of people here in this expansive
city, along with the maddening (and crazy) traffic and incessant
humidity. I enjoy being outside right now, as it is actually pleasant.
That will definitely change in a few months when the ghastly heat
begins its duet with humidity. I still am working on getting my
bearings in the city, where to find what, where certain sections are
located, and how to get there.

Walking is my preferred mode of transport, taken when running local
errands and for my morning walks (I walk at 5:30 with another
teacher). When going to school and for longer breaks, I use an auto
rickshaw, otherwise known as tuk-tuks. These drivers don’t use their
meters here, so you can imagine how they jack up their prices
especially for foreigners. Negotiating is a must unless you enjoy
getting ripped off royally. I have also taken a few local buses, taxis
(you call to get one), and intend on trying the train soon.

I live in an apartment building with four residential levels (cars and
scooters are parked on the ground floor), with an Indian family and a
widowed dual Indian/American citizen as my neighbors. They have helped
me a lot in my adjustment and in answering my many questions about
Indian culture and festivities. In return I bake them cookies and help
the widow with learning how to use a computer. My apartment is
spacious, with an extra bedroom and another one used for my drawing

The American International School of Chennai continues to grow, up to
around 775 – over 200 more than when I signed the contract last
spring. Original estimates for next year were around 975, but this has
been tempered somewhat due to the uncertainties in the world markets
and questions on the growth of Hunyadi and other businesses that send
their kids to the school. I would say that between 30-40% of the kids
at the school are Korean, many of which come knowing no or little
English. Thankfully the school has a large ESL staff to assist the
kids in the huge transition. Along with the explosive growth in kids
comes an ever-increasing number of teachers. I was hired to help the
elementary teachers integrate technology into their curriculum and
teaching. Considering the large number of teachers (4 classroom
teachers per grade level) and specialists (art, music, etc.) this can
be a challenge. The experience and comfort level of teachers in using
technology (in an integrative fashion, personal and everyday use)
varies incredibly. The teachers overall are a receptive bunch, hungry
to learn more and thankful for the assistance.

I have hooked up with an art gallery who is eager to have me show some
pieces in the future. During the weekends I try to do some drawing.
Needless to say, the amount of subject possibilities is endless. I
have posted the drawings on my website. My trusty Canon Digital Rebel
SLR accompanied me to several trips within the south of India,
visiting places such as Mahabailpuram, Gingee Fort, Tiruvannamalai
(place famous for its huge temples, a rural village, other
unpronounceable towns, and Kerala. The latter is where I went for our
week break of Diwali. I thoroughly enjoyed the backwaters boat tour
and tea plantations of this southwestern state known as “God’s
Country.” My camera also captured some of the many (and confusing)
celebrations and festivities in Chennai. This large camera also became
a conversation starter when walking through the nearby slums, whose
residents most eagerly welcomed me for tea or coffee and even a meal.

Food – I’ve been procrastinating on this topic as I still feel rather
ignorant about it. I am willing to eat and try new things, but I don’t
necessarily know what I am eating. The vegetables and legumes are
unfamiliar, and their combinations are equally foreign. As one might
expect, south Indian cooking can be rather spicy and they love to use
copious amounts of oil in whatever they make. One can easily subsist
on vegetarian meals, but sometimes it is nice to try some chicken or
beef as well. My housekeeper makes an excellent chicken curry with a
yummy sauce. Rice is a staple at most meals. South Indians prefer to
eat with their hands, so I need to continue to practice deft
management of saucy foods up to my mouth in an efficient manner. The
sweets here are super-sweet and generally not to my liking. At least
those shops are easy to pass up for me! For fruits, I am a fan of
pineapples, pomegranates, and (when in season), mangoes. Every morning
I eat a small banana on top of my homemade granola cereal. Due to the
humidity, it is impossible to store items in the cupboards for any
length of time. I try to store the fragile items in the refrigerator
and go and buy items more often.

Living in India can be maddening and frustrating at times. Flexibility
and patience are a requirement. Things simply take longer, things/
people are inefficient, and bureaucracy is endemic. Roads are way too
crowded and small for the number of vehicles (which also have to share
the road with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorbikes, and beggars). With
the traffic jams, it takes forever to get anywhere – no quick
spontaneous “run to the store” unless you can walk to it! People
sometimes tell you want you want to hear – not necessarily what is
possible. Whenever it rains, the roads begin pooling with water,
unable to drain due to inadequate numbers of drainage compounded with
garbage that immediately clogs up the drains. Littering and pollution
are a big problem and won’t be solved quickly. You need to use bottled
water and power outages (usually rather brief) are common in some
areas. There are large disparities between the poor and those recently
made wealthy due to software, other service industries, and
manufacturing jobs. Many speak English, but that doesn’t necessarily
mean that you can understand each other!

Having said that, there are many wonderful things about India. The
country is incredibly diverse with such different forms of beauty. I
have found the people to be helpful, kind, and generous. Family is
important, as is education. The people are as curious about me as I am
about their culture. Color and exotic sights abound. Shopping
opportunities, of course, abound. You are limited only by your
finances, time, locality, and bargaining skills! Textiles are
particularly appealing. I haven’t made any major purchases yet, as I
want to get a better idea of what is available, differences in
quality, and price. I also am eager to attend more music performances.
Hopefully I will be able to watch some when I come back from the USA,
as the Chennai Music Festival lasts a few weeks into January.

As I mentioned earlier, I have an extra bedroom – along with a long
couch. Therefore I am set up to receive visitors. So if you’re open to
an adventure, come on over!

For those who need to stick to the more “virtual” method, you can keep
abreast on my experiences through my blog, website, and Flickr photos.
I also am on Skype (username: melissaenderle)– just remember the time


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