Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Final Post

Well I am home safe at last. Allow me to say for the record that 15 hours on a plane is at least 10 too many. Wowie. Apart from being too long the trip was okay—a few noisy kids, a few people who appeared to have been suffering from tuberculosis, but otherwise not bad. My first night at home, I dreamt that a rat was in my bed and didn’t fully awaken from the dream until I had flung myself out of bed and turned on a light. Clearly the emotional scarring created by the Mt. Hermon Rodent Posse will take some time to heal.

This will be my last posting for Kate in India. My journey is over and thus so is this blog. I’ve created another one at but I haven’t decided yet how much I’m going to keep blogging. I’m not sure that my musings on life in Pittsburgh will really merit continued posting—somehow without tigers, huge spiders, monsoons and typhoid fever I’m not sure I’ll have enough to be witty about. We’ll see.

But to end this blog, I wanted to reflect back on some of the things I learned while in India. When I really started thinking about it, there are a lot of ways in which my knowledge has been enriched through my experiences there. I’ve learned practical life lessons such as:

How to cook curry

How to use a wood stove without burning down the house

How to crazy quilt

How to use a pressure cooker

How to purify drinking water

How to set up a tent

How to perform a successful “squat pee” under a variety of circumstances including in the toilet of a moving train

Other, perhaps less practical (but still extremely worthy) life lessons including:

How to wrap a sari

How to win a confrontation with a monkey (okay, so I never really mastered that one but I understand the theory)

How to identify the call of an octet owl

How to haggle with a rickshaw driver

How to ride side-saddle in a skirt on a motorcycle

How to recognize a cobra plant and to identify this as a herald of impending monsoon

How to exchange pleasantries in Hindi

How to slack line (it’s like tightrope walking—notice I do not claim to be good at it)

How to tell if a litchi is ripe

And I’ve learned a few things about myself:

I get carsick on mountain roads

I can handle mice and big spiders in my living quarters

I cannot handle rats in my living quarters

I can walk confidently through the jungle by myself at midnight (and yet I cannot walk confidently across the street in Pittsburgh by myself any time after dark)

I actually do like (some) small children

I can move to a place where I don’t know anyone for 7,000 miles and make friends and a life for myself

I am not happy unless I have a functional kitchen

I enjoy the occasional hike

Happiness has very little to do with your circumstances and everything to do with how well you are able to adapt to them

So there you have it. Move to India (or any foreign country) and you’re sure to come back a little more confident, a little more self-aware and with all kinds of fun new skills. I suggest you try it.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One Last Goodbye

The time has come for the final farewell—it’s time to say goodbye to India. As I post this, I am waiting for the taxis to come and take me to the airport and at this time tomorrow I’ll be back in Sycamore.

There are certainly things about this country that I will not miss—molding clothing, the smell of the Bazaar, rodent-infested living quarters, deranged drivers, and gigantic spiders among other things. But there are many more things that I will miss very much when I leave this place.

I will miss my walk to school every morning, stomping along the path, enjoying the breeze and keeping my eyes peeled for pine martens and langurs. And waking up on a Saturday morning and hearing the rain drumming on the corrugated metal roof, knowing that I don’t have to go anywhere today.

I will miss the colors of India, the bright greens of the trees, the purples and pinks and reds and yellows of the mountain flowers, the bewildering array of patterns, designs and hues of the saris and salwar kameez that decorate the bazaar. And I will miss my snowy mountains, and popping outside in the morning to see if they’re visible through the clouds, greeting them like old friends if they are. I will miss lying in the grass outside Mt. Hermon, listening to the sounds of children chattering in Hindi at the employee house below ours.

I will miss my Woodstock family, especially Joanna—my kindred spirit this year in a place often defined by its overwhelming strangeness.

I will miss “ji,” that wonderful respectful title—somehow so much more natural to me than “sir” or “ma’am” ever could be. And I will miss the graceful physical greeting (and leave-taking)—palms together and uplifted, head tilted in a slight bow of acknowledgement. “Namaste!” I will miss Bollywood movies and Bangra dance parties.

I will miss the donkeys with their bells, trotting up and down the mountainside burdened with bricks, or cement, or milk jugs. I will miss the clanking of cowbells. I will miss looking up at the stars--so incredibly bright and amazingly close on those Himalayan nights. And looking out over the Doon Valley, twinkling lights spreading out into the darkness until they disappear into the foothills.

I will miss riding on the back of a motorcycle, hair blowing in the wind, recklessly denying the danger inherent in the ride. I will miss my yoga classes—the stretching, the breathing, the “relax your spleen.” I will miss naan and butter chicken and momos and dosas and samosas and ladoos. I will miss going out to a good dinner and having it cost $1.50.

I will miss wearing saris and gigantic earrings and having that be normal professional attire. I will miss seeing the children in all their native finery, proud of their heritage. I will miss teaching, for all that it sometimes drove me crazy. I will miss hearing the babble of multiple languages going on around me—English, Hindi, Chinese, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese, German, or some combination of them all.

India is not the sort of place that you can ever forget. It gets under your skin and inside your heart, whether you want it to or not. I am not the same person I was when I came here and I am happy for the changes. So namaste, India, and thank you. Farewell for now, but hopefully not forever.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Delhi Again

I am in Delhi for a few days before I leave the country. It's the first time I've been anywhere but Mussoorie by myself in this country, and while somewhat daunting, I am enjoying the experience. For one thing, I love auto-rickshaws. Weird, I know. But they're just so fun--puttering along crowded roads in those ridiculous green and yellow, three-wheeled transports. Plus, they're earth-frendly--all the rickshaws, taxis and busses in Delhi run on natural gas. It's cool.

My purpose in spending time in Delhi was to pick up my wedding dress and then allow time for the inevitable alterations. Fortuantely, there don't need to be that many. The dress doesn't quite look like the pictures I gave him, but I expected that so it only took me a few moments to get over the initial disappointment and realize that the dress is quite lovely in its own right--and now even more unique! The bridesmaids outfits are Still Not Finished despite multiple conversations and his assurances that they were. Sigh. I just spoke to my tailor, though, and he claims that even now, his minions are scurrying off to Old Delhi to find the appropriate material for the missing dupattas. I'll believe it when I see it but I haven't lost all hope yet.

The best way to kill time in Delhi is to shop, of course, and I've succumbed somewhat to the "I'm leaving Indian and might never have a chance to buy this sort of stuff again" mentality. Somehow I bought ten pairs of shoes yesterday. The sparkley fun kind. In my defense, five of those pairs are for the wedding. The other five...well...they were just all so pretty, darn it! White sparkly, pink sparkly, multi-colored, leather-tooled sandals. Yummy. And of course I bought a few more shawls/scarves, just in case. Repacking tomorrow will be quite a challenge, but I think I'm up for it.

I also have finally been bitten by the Su Doku bug. I bought "Su Doku for Dummies" to take on the plane but cracked it out early. What fun! My first puzzle--desiganted "realy easy"--took me about 40 minutes, but I'm getting better. There are 240 puzzles in the book so I figure the 15 plus hour flight home should be a breeze!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The first goodbyes

The inevitable good-byes are underway and as much as you try to prepare yourself for them, it still hurts more than you expect. How do you say goodbye to the people who have been closest to you for a year of your life and whom you might never see again?

This morning, I put my four best girl-friends into a taxi and wished them well, waving and blowing kisses while they drove away and trying desperately not to burst into tears. I failed of course, and even typing this makes the lump in my throat return. It finally feels real, now. I am leaving Woodstock and soon this amazing year will be a memory, slowly fading with time. I will see some of my friends again, I hope, but there are many more that I will not and that is a hard thing to accept.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Middle School Explained

What a difference a year makes…

I think that the fundamental differences between the middle school grades can really be illustrated by examining how they chose to spend their time during their final half-hour period with me. I let them choose the activity and simply made sure the volume stayed at a somewhat reasonable decibel level and that no one broke anything.

The sixth graders all played an orderly game of taboo together.

The seventh grade girls worked on Shakespeare word searches while the seventh grade boys drew inappropriate pictures on the white board whenever they thought I wasn’t looking.

The eight graders played a variety of games related to rock/scissors/paper but which included smacking each other on the hand (or sometimes head) when you lost.

And that, in a nutshell, is middle school.


On Saturday, in the midst of a frenetic weekend that included a music concert, yoga, a trip to the Bazaar, a party, a moving sale and a dinner invite, I also attended the second annual Woodstock Expo. This event is supposed to be a cumulative experiential learning project done by the tenth and twelfth graders after they finish their exams. They work in small groups with a faculty advisor and come up with an interactive project that they then present to the rest of the school on a designated day. Unfortunately, it comes at a bad time of year when the kids are already on summer break mode, their faculty advisors are stressed by end-of-year craziness, and no one is really thrilled about the idea of giving up a Saturday morning to look at projects.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by several of the projects and the day turned out to be fun after all. There were seven major themes: World Cup (soccer), Bicycles, Music, Science Olympics, Public Art, Graph Theory and Global Issues. Within those large divisions there were three subgroups doing distinct projects related to the larger theme. The rest of the school was divided up into groups that went around and saw one subgroup in each large group. Each touring group had a mixed bag of elementary, middle and high school students to encourage mingling between the schools. I co-chaperoned with another teacher and we led our children around to the various projects, sometimes participating, sometimes just watching.

Some of the groups were disappointing because they were either unfocused or hadn’t put any work into their project. But some were pretty cool. At the bicycle group we learned that balance is the most important element in bike riding and got to practice balancing on a very skinny beam while holding a large stick with weights tied to the ends. There was a lot of falling off and a small amount of balancing. And we also got a demonstration involving watermelons of why you should always wear a helmet while biking. Melons really do well as representations of the human head. They smush impressively and ooze red stuff.

Then in graph theory (which sounds snore-inducing, I know) I learned that you can color in any map of the world with only four colors and not have any of those colors directly border each other. Betcha didn’t know that!

“Public Art” was really just a display of a collection of student work from throughout the year. Not particularly interactive but I enjoyed seeing it. I had no idea we had such talented students. There were some amazing pen and ink drawings and several good paintings. As one who is artistically challenged I really like to see what other people can do.

In the music group we were asked to create a dance to a folk song. This did not thrill many members of my group (particularly the high school boys) but it was Miss Lockard to the rescue. I taught them some very basic steps—like “join arms and twirl around”—and we bounced around the room for a while. My partner was an eleventh grade boy who was traumatized by the experience of being forced to dance with a teacher.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I realized yesterday why people go into teaching. It’s because when you put together a good lesson and the kids really take to it and you can see that they are having fun and learning at the same time, it is a truly indescribably great feeling. You just want to prance through the halls exclaiming “YES! I have just made a difference in those children’s lives.” Even if all you did was play a game.

This is the last week of classes and the kids are pretty much tuned out. They have come to expect a parade of videos in the last weeks and demand to know “are we watching a movie” the second they enter the classroom. I would have succumbed to the lure of the TV myself this week but other teachers beat me to the punch and I couldn’t book it for my seventh or eighth graders. What to do? And then it hit me – Jeopardy! The kids love playing games so much that they don’t even notice when you sneak in actual learning.

So I sat down for several hours and came up with a 50 question Romeo and Juliet Jeopardy for the 8th graders. 10 questions in 5 categories: Movie Madness (they watched the DiCaprio version earlier), Character Clues, Story Stumpers, Who Said It, and Shakespeare Trivia. I actually had a great time coming up with the questions and – wonder of wonders! – they had a super time playing it. We actually spent the entire 80 minute period playing and the kids were really into it most of the time. Interest waned toward the end of the first round when it was clear that the boys were going to soundly defeat the girls. But they all perked up again when I reminded them that in round 2, point values double and it’s anybody’s game.

I was very impressed by how well they all knew their material, too. There were some hard questions and they knew most of them. Here’s a few sample questions—how well do you know your Shakespeare? (answers at the bottom)

Movie Madness for 300 -- What is Friar Laurence’s tattoo?

Character Clues for 200 – How is Tybalt related to Juliet?

Story Stumpers for 500 – Why will Rosaline not have Romeo?

Shakespeare Trivia for 300 – What are the three genres of Shakespearean plays?

Who Said It for 500 – “Peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell…”
(Bonus points if you can complete that line)


The friar’s tattoo is of a huge Celtic cross on his back
Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin
Rosaline has vowed to live a life of chastity
The three genres are comedy, tragedy and history
Tybalt spoke those lines and the rest of the verse is: “all Montagues and thee”
Juliet is 13 years old

How did you do?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


You know you teach middle school when you end the school day with songs about farting swirling around in your head. As a treat for the sixth graders, I showed them an animated movie of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book, The BFG—the heart-warming (and yet gross) story of the Big Friendly Giant and the little girl he befriends.

Perhaps the most memorable scene in the book (and now, apparently, the movie) involves whizz-popping and a drink called frobscottle. Frobscottle is much like soda pop but instead of the bubbles going up, they go down. Thus, instead of burping when drinking—which is considered unspeakably rude in the BFG’s world—the gas comes out the other end. Voila! Whizz-popping!

In the movie, there is a lovely ode to whizz-popping in song form, wherein Sophie and the BFG leap around the screen, propelled by the gas from their rears while singing:

Whizz-pop whizz-bang, feel the bubbles go down!
Whizz-bang whizz-pop, bouncing all around!
It’s a cute scene, and unfortunately the song is really catchy and tends to stay with you. I’ve been muttering “feel the bubbles go down!” under my breath all afternoon. And when asked what it is that I’m humming, I serenely reply “a song about farting.”


I wore my hair in a ponytail to work today...

Wait, maybe you didn’t hear me the first time. I said, I wore my hair in a ponytail today. For your information, it has been literally 10 years since I was able to pull my hair into a ponytail. I chopped it short when I was a freshman in high school and never looked back.

Until I got engaged, tried on wedding dresses and realized that short hair just isn’t all that “bridal.” I had visions of romantic up-swept tresses and dangling tendrils and my bobbed, ear-length locks just weren’t going to cut it (no pun intended) so I’ve been growing out my hair since last May. However, my hair is obstinate and ornery and simply refuses to grow at the standard 3 centimeters per month. It prefers a rate of more like 1 centimeter and so has crept ever so slowly downward over the last year. And at long last, I can create a short pony tail. Or even pigtails if I feel so inclined. It’s all very fun.

Of course, now my ears stick out alarmingly like a bat’s (or perhaps an elephant) but that is a separate problem.