Thursday, November 26, 2009

Desert Village Living

Life in the village continues and has changed little since we arrived. We still have daily visitors, mainly the girls we teach who come in, say a few words and stare at us. The last week was particularly strange, as Usha our co-teacher who is really the only one who speaks a decent amount of English here, decided to go to Bikaner to visit her pregnant sister for 10 days. Of course who can’t really blame her, as she hardly ever gets more than two days off in a row and there were two of us here to hold down the fort. This did however make for a far more interesting time in trying to explain our lessons and games to the girls and during the afternoon we basically sat in the sewing room working on projects while women either sat there and stared at us or worked on their own projects. It was nice to have more freedom though, as I still find living in such a communal space difficult. Mataji, our host mom is amazing and dealt with us so well despite the language barrier, getting us what we wanted and giving us lots of privacy. Caitriona and I have both stated that it makes a huge difference in living somewhere when you can speak the language. I have picked up some words and the fact that they are very expressive people makes it much easier to understand them, but communication abilities are still rather meager.

We continue to learn more and more about the women and girls, which is really wonderful because when you travel India you don’t really meet many women. We realized this after spending the weekend in Jaisalmer with only men and on thinking back it seems other than in school or at the ashram our day to day lives and travels in India have been totally and completely surrounded by men. Life for women here seems to take a good and a bad angle. Looking at it with our western eyes we see that they are kept at home and pulled from school at a young age, they are married off young and at a great cost to the family, they must cover their faces when in the presence of their mother-in-law. But they have an incredible bond with each other, far more than we have at home and without them their homes would fall to pieces.

Teaching here is good and very different from Korea. Unlike in Korea the children are not going to school 16hrs a day and actually get time to play, and for those who go to the gov’t school they sometimes play all day. As their teachers, despite being good, rarely teach or show up a few hrs late or not at all. So they want from us a very different sort of lesson. They of course want to play as all kids do, but they also really want to learn. They sit and read and write obediently and they love tests. In fact when we have a sit down lesson things go much better than when we try and play games. They are rather spoiled and can be difficult some times but they are so cute and love to dance and play with us. It is definitely a rewarding experience.

As for adventures we go off every weekend, typically to Jodhpur to have a little excitement and a change of pace. But last weekend we went to Jaisalmer, which is an amazing and mystical place. It is the only living fort in India, set up High above the great thar desert. It still lives and breathes as it did in the past. It is looking a little worse for wear, but there are several temples and exquisite stone work and the shopping :D Definitely more expensive than other place but they have got the good stuff including tons of gypsy stuff which just pulls me right in. But I am sure you have heard enough about my shopping sprees, so let’s talk about the desert. Caitriona and I had sort of given up on the idea that we would venture right out into the desert, but the great goddess that is mother earth decided we were to see this amazing part of her. The couchsurfer we stayed at of course ran camel safaris, as well as letting people stay at his house for free. We arranged a one night safari and set out with a group of germans, French, Russians and Venezuelans into the desert. Our guides two old men and two young met us on the side of the road with our nine camels and got us all up on top of them, as comfortably as possible. They walked us through savanna type desert past temples and their own village with cool mud huts that the people lived in. We stopped and ate and they cooked us delicious food. Finally, we reached the real sand dunes and we set up camp. As they cooked for us we wondered out into the dunes. Such a magical and peaceful place, sitting on top a sand dune looking out into the big empty world under the hot sun. We were quite blessed that it had been cloudy and cool all day until we set up camp just in time for sunset. After dinner we drank cold beer and desert whiskey by the fire as our guides sang to us and turned our cooking equipment into musical instruments. Our one guide, the oldest of the lot, who I would have guessed was in his sixties but was only 45, was truly a gypsy. Originally from Pakistan, he wrapped his scarf around his head and swigged back desert whiskey while we sang his heart out, in fact everything he said was in song. When it came time to sleep and the fire was put out, the sky lit up with millions of stars, as it was near the new moon every star in the sky was visible and we slept under nice warm blankets and watched them dance before us. It was a really wonderful experience though next time I would rather go in a small group for a longer time, that is if my body could handle it. I was sore for a good three days after ;)

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