Saturday, October 11, 2008 Chennai & Global Volunteers
Here we are in Chennai, and into the Global Volunteers project. On Saturday morning we flew 2-1/2 hours from Delhi to Chennai and were met by Stephen, our team leader and the country manager for Global Volunteers. He had little Silvia with him, about three years old, from the Assisi Illam orphanage. They were both happy to see us. Tom and Anne are, in fact, the only members of this team, which makes it a bit strange and lonely after being on other teams of about 14 people in the Cook Islands and in Crete. Stephen does not drive a car, just a moped, so his brother (also named Stephen - how confusing is that!) drives the van for Global Volunteers. We were quite surprised to find that the previous team had just completed the move from the old guest house on the same street (lease ran out) to another rented house on the same street a few doors down. So this means we are the first team to really live in this house, and it seems that Global Volunteers has not completely settled in yet. At the moment, Tom and I share a room with an adjoining private bathroom - which would mean only two other bathrooms for the rest of a bigger team. The house seems to be able to sleep 10. If the team is bigger, they find other nearby accommodations - I do not know what or where.
This area is called Porur, and is a middle-class neighborhood by Indian standards, families and some shops (all open-air). The main street is paved, but the side streets are dirt (muddy), and narrow. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles, autorickshaws, cows, and pedestrians share these roads, and the drivers use their horns CONSTANTLY. Electric failures happen often, without warning - rolling blackouts actually. Stephen took us to the Catholic church early on Sunday morning. It was in the native language, Tamil, and seemed quite different from at home - longer, especially before the Gospel reading. After breakfast, we had some orientation on Sunday morning, not too long for just the two of us, and were able to finish unpacking and get a bit more acclimated in the afternoon. On Sunday at 5:30, we all went to the SEAM (Southeast Asian Missions - run by a pentecostal church), which is an orphanage for orphaned and semi-orphaned children. There are 38 kids there now. We then had dinner at a restaurant, where there was a Kollywood movie (from Chennai, not Bombay) running on the TV in the dining room. The movies seem more like MTV and old Frankie Avalon - Annett Funicello flicks. The food at the guest house and at the restaurant is completely Indian, and spicy if you are not careful - big change in diet. After dinner we headed home to get ready for the first day of classes, take a shower (cold water only - quite refreshing in the late afternoon), and get to bed in our air-conditioned room. (The temperature outside never gets below 80 and as high as 90 - and this is not the hot season, LOTS of rain too.)
Anne goes to Assisi Illam orphanage-daycare for two hours in the morning, and Grace School, a private elementary school with small classes. Tom goes to St. Joseph's to teach ALL the grades, on a rotating and chaotic schedule. We go from 10:00 until 12:00 or 12:30, then home for lunch and back for one or two classes. On the first day, Anne spent the first day in the main room being with and playing and talking in English with the kids, and now has switched to taking three children upstairs for small-group activity and teaching, like preschool. Tom has a very confusing schedule of classes each day, and in the evening (5:30-6:30) we both go to SEAM where we play, do crafts, work on the movie, and tutor on the computer. Anne was sick on Tuesday with the traveler's upset tummy, but Imodium and a day off with rest in bed took care of that. Stephen, our team leader, and his wife, Sheeba, and baby son, Roshin - age 3 months - moved into the guest house on Wednesday - no more complete privacy. But there is a watchman and cook around in the day anyways.
We have been having difficulty adjusting to the diet here. The guest house has a cook, Rani, who, of course, cooks as she would at home - heavily spiced and hot - and we have had many translated discussions about leaving out the onions which are HOT and leaving out most of the curry and all of the chilies. She always looks horrified during these discussions, but we are otherwise starving. (She did serve hard-boiled eggs one morning which were wonderful.) We did find that there is a fair amount of western junk food available in nearby stores, and that the house refrigerator is already well-stocked with cookies and crackers. Whole fruit is always available too, but so far only the bananas seem to be safe for our personal digestion. They are small, sweet, local bananas, unavailable in the United States.
Anne has settled in pretty well at Assisi Illam in the morning, but the afternoons at Grace School have been bumpy. She is regarded as a substitute teacher, and has no teacher in her classroom with her. We think other volunteers have just put up with the unruliness or shouted until they were hoarse, or had the kids draw. But Anne was instructed "no drawing". The fourth grade is the first one for her, and the teacher has set it up in the school entrance - ha! Turned out that the crows were cawing loudly, but that was nothing compared to break time which this group did not get, and SWARMS of screaming kids came running through and around our "classroom". She put here foot down the next day, and that class went to a real classroom. However, the damage was done, and they refused to stop beating each other up and talking, etc. There were nine of them, and one particularly rambunctious boy. If she focused on one group to make them be quiet, the other half started up. By Thursday, she had had enough, and discussed it with Stephen. So, on Friday, that grade was switched to third grade (a bit smaller), and the principal read all of them the riot act. The second period group of fifth graders has always been fairly OK, but on Friday they were almost angelic. In fact, the fourth graders came in at the end and apologized individually and as a group. Let's hope this continues! They can all read English pretty well, with some pronunciation difficulties; however they do not understand all the vocabulary in the reading, and their actual understanding of grammar is weak. So she is focusing on grammar and vocabulary, and also teaching them "Yellow Submarine" and using it as a grammar lesson too. Friday really was TGIF!
Tom spent most of the first week introducing himself, his house, family and travels. With a globe of the world (inflated like a beach-ball) he showed the way the plane flew over the top of the world rather than across the middle of the world and how this route is shorter. A geography, introduction, and English lesson all in one! On the second encounters with the classes, Tom has been working on grammar and understanding - especially idioms and expressions. He has a class everyday with the upper kindergarden who have a short attention span. Telling stories to these is like being with Jesse & Tim, his grandchildren whose exploits have played heavily in the classroom patter.