India Part 1: Introduction and Induction

In October 2010 I joined a 10-week volunteer programme to teach English and serve a village community in Rajasthan, India. The emails I wrote to all my friends and family during my experience do a fairly good job of narrating key points of my experience. I hope the people who have expressed that they would like to read the ‘blog’ are reading this now.

Pre-leaving Email

09 September 2010

Hey people,

As some of you know – and some are about to find out – I’m going to India for 10 weeks to live and work with a small community in Jaisalmer, in the state of Rajasthan. Part of my work there will be teaching various basic subjetcs to children with other volunteers from the UK. If any of you have any kid’s-learning books that are related to the following, and you wouldn’t mind giving them away, could you please let me know and I will come pick them up off you this weekend or early next week before I leave?

* Teaching English and Maths to Classes I – V (age 5 to 9 years)

* Activity based joyful learning, through creative and interactive teaching methods

* English – simple word recognition, greetings, colours, emotions, and alphabet

* Maths – basic addition and subtraction, multiplication and division

Anything would really make my time there MUCH easier, even if you just have one basic book that I could use to teach from. I will try to keep in touch when I’m out there but we are told that electricity comes on only once a week, there’s only one computer between 48 volunteers, and that computer is super slow. So it’s unlikely.

For the record, I’m not looking forward to going… at all, but I’m hoping this will change.

Peace be with you all,

Ziad

Arrival Induction

15 October 2010

The first three days of our stay here is an induction. It is in the city of Jaipur, not our project destination, which is a 14hr train journey west of here to a desert village called Jaisalmer. We head out there tomorrow, God willing, and it will be there that we work and spend the remainder of our stay in India. This has just been a briefing, getting to know each other, getting used to India period only.

There are 48 volunteers – 11 boys and 37 girls. When I asked Platform2 – our hosting company – about the imbalance, they told me that more girls apply than boys. I had severe concerns about the type of people that would come to these trips. I have however been making strong effort to get to know absolutely everyone, despite not really having connected with anyone yet.

‘I hate it here, and want someone to come take me home’. I read these words in a text over the shoulder of a soft-faced northern girl on the coach from the airport to Jaipur. I had noticed that no one was really talking to her. Before she finished the message I began a friendly 30min conversation with sub-text covering all the reasons why she should give things more time. She put her phone away after a few minutes so I hope the message was never sent. I’ve also encouraged other girls and guys to speak to her from time to time.

I had previously prayed that I would have just one incredibly close companion amongst the volunteers; someone I could relate to, speak to on the level, someone with similar interests as me, and who would get the same jokes as me. I think I have found this is a 24yr old 6″4′ Congolese NW Londoner called JJ – a Criminology Masters graduate. We hit it off immediately at the airport and I’m incredibly grateful that I met him. We spend most our waking time together.

For these three days we have stayed with a host family in Jaipur which consists of a middle aged Asian man and his inquisitive and intelligent 14 year old son. Myself and four other male volunteers have been sleeping in the boy’s bedroom – 3 on a bed and two on the floor. Fortunately, JJ and I were put in the same room. We all get on well. Two are 18 years of age. I am the oldest of all volunteers and at first I begun to think that this trip is 3 years too late in my life, but after interacting with the young ones I see that some actually look up to the older boys – that is, JJ and I. So it’s a whole different dynamic. One boy has sworn to give up facebook for the entire journey (I may have had a bit to do with this) and enthusiastically let’s me know how well he’s doing on a daily basis.

I haven’t changed my clothes since the flight (sorry mum), and I’m sure the boys I live with are getting quite suspicious since they change everyday. I’m yet to drop the merino wool justification on them. I can see it now… “yo zee, you been wearing those clothes since Tuesday man, don’t you like, need to change?”… “Naah, it’s cool because it’s merino wool, innit! – I can drag it out at least another week.” At that point I’ll probably lose all the friends I’ve made. Aside from that, because I shaved my head almost to skin before I left, I wear the Muslim hat almost constantly – because it looks slightly better than my shaved head. A couple of Hindus have clocked on to my identity and greet me with ‘salam’ and a smile, but part of me thinks they’re making fun of me – I can’t quite tell yet, but I’m on to them.

We visited a slum area here in Jaipur, but the people there were pleasant and generally seemed happy. Many of the volunteers are learning that people are happy here without possessions and people with possessions in London aren’t so happy, which is a good lesson. Most of the volunteers have never been out of Europe (some, the UK) so it’s quite a shock for them.

We’ll be leaving this place (Jaipur) tomorrow (sat) for the project destination in Jaisalmer. It will be an over-night coach journey so we plan to arrive on Sunday. I am told that we will teach children in pairs of volunteers – so two of us to a class, and we will keep the very same students throughout the 9weeks or so. I’m dreading the 6.30pm curfews where the volunteers will essentially be locked in with one another with no separation, but we’ll see how it goes. Generally, I look forward to Sunday as that’s when things will really start.

Peace be with you all

Ziad

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