Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Daze

Hello All! I hope you’ve been anticipating my next blog post! I’ve spoken a lot about my experiences in India but I wanted to post more about my purpose for being here. As stated before I am working as a social enterprise fellow with Hyderabad’s Affordable Private Schools. For those that are not familiar with the social enterprise industry, the most simple way to explain it is to describe the industry as business that measures not only financial returns but social impact as success. Hyderabad’s Affordable Private Schools are seen as social enterprises because the school owners benefit monetarily with the small cost they charge for students but their genuine interest is making quality education available for the poor. I have been matched with Grace Model School which happens to be the most inexpensive school out of my programs pool. My school owners are a husband and wife team Irfan and Ayesha who have over twelve years experience in education. They have welcomed me into their school and officially made me apart of the family after Fast breaking with Haleem and an Independence Day gift of a kurta outfit!

My day begins with the dreaded experience of anything here in Hyderabad…getting there. Every morning I take a bus and a shared auto to school. On a normal day it takes me about 30-45 minutes to get to school but there have been days when it literally takes an hour and a half. This is how those days could go. Waiting at the bus stop and no bus actually stopping. You see here in Hyderabad, there is no real schedule or bus stops on every corner and the driver can pretty much do what he wants. So once a bus actually stops for you then the next person to deal with is the ticket collector who depending on their mood will either charge you the fair price of 4 rupees or decide you’re foreign and don’t know the difference and tell you 10rupees. As stated before I refuse to be treated like a foreigner so when this happens I usually jump off and wait for another bus. After making it through a crowded bus I then have the luxury of sharing an auto with average Indian citizens that have a common destination. Every day as I approach the auto driver’s fight over who will take me to my neighborhood. I will hop in one auto and literally be screamed at to get out of one and into another. That’s no biggie though. The real delay comes from waiting for the auto driver to think its full enough. After five women are cramped into the back with one sitting on the rail hanging out the window, sometimes an auto driver will still wait for three men to join the fun! Which can take all of 30 minutes.

After my crazy travel I walk to school and pass the clothes shops and always stinky meat stand and finally arrive to my beloved Grace Model. Before getting close you can already hear lower kindergarten practicing the Hindi alphabet. I start the day with a brief meeting with Sir and Madam and then I’m free to roam and do whatever pops in my mind. It’s a lot of pressure because it leaves me with the responsibility to make my day productive but its creating a whole new sense of initiative for me. I usually always start the day by observing a class. Lower Kindergarten is my favorite thus far. I think it’s because the students are such characters! As an American most of the students see me as a celebrity and literally hold their hands out just waiting to be the lucky one who gets a handshake and often times the students nor the teachers feel comfortable exposing their true self, but it’s something about the little ones. They are so unapologetic, from taking their turn at the board to slapping each other when they feel like it.

After spending my morning observing I usually talk to students or teachers during lunch to get a better idea of the school and the way it operates. Somehow this conversation always gets back to the question “how did you do that to your hair?” (the braids). After lunch sometimes I get a chance to type up some notes and work on my case study of the ins and outs of the school but mostly I have no time to myself. I end my day by visiting the second building of the school and helping the 5th graders learn English through mobile phones, which may sound like I just give them a phone and they play games but it involves never ending questions and technical problems every five minutes. After all of this I report back to the office, say my goodbyes, and prepare myself for another exhausting trip home.

Sometimes I question why I’m here and what my purpose is. I really wonder how productive I am each day, and most times I guilty stay up all night at home researching or typing ideas to make myself feel better. What I’m learning from my spiritual journey is that God reveals his plan with time which makes patience my everyday struggle. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Psalm 3:5-6 NIV) It’s the questions I get every day from students that prove their genuine interest and this scripture that keeps me going. September will be the month that I get my feet wet. Student Government elections are coming up and that’s all me so you know it’s going to be intense! I’ll have photo’s and videos of the speeches and campaign material.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Spiritual Journey with Ramazan

As you may or may not know during the month of August the Islamic faith celebrates their Ramazan holiday! Some of you may know the holiday as Ramadan.  Ramazan is marked by the ninth month of the calendar and for that month participants fast from eating, drinking, and sexual activity during the day to develop patience, humility, and submissiveness to God (Allah). I am not Muslim however I work in a school that is 90% Muslim which means that everyone I am trying to build a relationship with is a participant of Ramazan and fast. After doing some research and learning the meaning behind this holiday, I felt that patience, humility, and submissiveness to God are all things that I need to work on as well, and I asked myself what I have done for my God lately? So I’ve decided to fast! Not as a participant of Ramazan but as a young Christian wanting to build a better relationship with God.  I am following a model from Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. I tried this fast before but didn’t do as well towards the end. This time I am making a commitment and sticking to it. What I realized is that everyone has to do the fast that is right for them. Fasting is about sacrifice but it’s also about developing yourself so there’s no need to set unrealistic expectations. No matter how big or small your sacrifice, it is still a sacrifice, and for me it’s still a start.
On August 1st I began my 31 days of a partial fast. Each day I pray for something or someone ranging from my purpose in life to the fruits of the spirit.  I read relevant passages from the Bible and write in my journal to God.  I am only on day 7 and I feel that I have already been tested. The biggest lesson I have learned thus far is to allow God to take all your fears, doubts, worries, and insecurities away. This has been difficult for me because being in a new country is nothing but fear, doubt, worry, and insecurity. I have found myself fearing for my life during the night, doubting my purpose in my program, worrying about my health, and being insecure about who I am and what I can offer. I will be honest and say that I am struggling and most times I have no one to talk to about how I feel. Let me be clear and say that it is not because I am alone, but it is because you truly cannot understand unless you are here with me. The good news is that I am learning to fight fear with faith and that I have blessed with a “Hydrabestie” named Malika who makes me feel like everything is ok.  She still say’s I’m crazy but she knows that I’m not that crazy!
I went to church for the first time here and met every person of African origin in Hyderabad and saw almost every other expat in the city. The choir was replaced by a soft rock band and by the end of the service I felt like I was at a concert! Different but refreshing! I’m excited to see how many lessons I will learn and how many amazing people I will meet along my spiritual journey.  I already have three new friends and seven lessons and I’m so ready for more!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Robbed and Married in the Same Week....Almost : Part Two

 The weekend comes and I realize that I will be beginning my full time job in three days and this is when I can’t take it any longer. I cannot continue to live like this! After much research from Nampally and the Internet I tell my program manager how 2500 rupees just isn’t going to cut it and I convince her to give me another 2500 bringing me to a grand total of 5,000 rupees for a wooden wardrobe despite the fact that every wardrobe I found was 10,00-13,00 rupees. I tell myself that I am going to make the most out of this 5,000 and after hours on the Internet and two lost in translation calls I confirmed that there was a wooden wardrobe on sale at a furniture store that could deliver! This was exciting to me because not only did the store have a website, (which is so progressive for Indian businesses) but because there was a delivery truck not a tiny auto.  I was so excited until I realized it was almost 45 minutes away from my house which automatically spelled ADVENTURE! Despite the fact that I’m wasn’t looking forward to riding in an auto for 40 minutes and being ripped off, I woke up Saturday morning ready to get it over with.
It all began with the daunting task of finding an auto that would not only give me a fair price but actually know where the furniture store was! Many auto drivers (taxi drivers) do not know how to get around the city which is an adjustment for me because in the US we are accustomed to just jumping in a taxi, giving the address, and getting there; but again I recognize I’m not in the US. I flag down an auto only for him to quote me 200 rupees!! HELL NAW! I keep walking, telling myself with every step “Martice you cannot allow yourself to get cheated, you still have eight months here”. The next auto agrees to take me and turn on his meter which may be expensive but at least you know what you’re being charged for. This almost worked out until I realized he lied to me and didn’t know where he was taking me. He literally turned right when we should have turned left and this was within the first five minutes! So again, I already promised myself not to be taken advantage of, and I jump out.  Yes, I jump out of a moving auto and walk away.  The driver follows me for awhile saying I have to give him money but the only thing I pay him is no mind. I get to a central area of the city and get in another auto, this time after meeting another Nigerian who sees stress on my face and wants to help (how this keeps happening I do not know, but it’s starting to freak me out, especially because when I studied abroad in Barcelona there was a Nigerian who called me twice a day).
This is when it gets ugly because again this auto driver doesn’t know where he’s taking me and has already cheated me with a price of 160 rupees, so again I jump out.  This time it didn’t go so well. The driver starts cursing me out in Telegu and keeps shouting to give him money. I ignore him for as long as I can until something takes over me and I’m standing on the side of the road in an Indian kurta with my middle finger up saying F**K YOUUUUUUU!!! I was so upset. In some crazy way I felt like this was a Civil Rights back of the bus moment and I would rather boycott the bus ( auto) then sit on the back( be cheated).
 I walk towards a group of auto drivers knowing that my auto driver from hell will be there but by that point I don’t care, I’m in full West Philly mode. I get to the throng of auto drivers and ask them all if they know where my furniture store is and who will take me.  “Auto driver from hell” is now telling all the auto drivers that I have to give him his money and how he won’t allow anyone to leave without receiving it. I find a kind driver who says he knows where he’s going and he will take me but I have to pay my “auto driver from hell”. Again, HELL NO! I know I can be a brat, but he literally took me down one stop light. So my new kind auto driver gets enough balls and after much screaming and small hits we pull off. Again, I don’t know what came over me but once we stopped at a light I realized tears were coming down my cheeks. I was crying. I am known to be a cry baby but I honestly didn’t understand how emotion engulfed me so quickly at the light. I think I was just tired, not from the heat or from being in the country, but tired of fighting for everything.  Having the ability to fight for what you want and believe builds character but it is also draining and sometimes you want things to be a little easier.  The kind auto driver, whose name is Adil sees my tears and ask “Maam, why are you crying?”  I can’t answer him; I just close my eyes and tell myself that everything is going to be ok.  I think that it was in this moment that he fell in love with me.
For the entire ride he questions me about marriage, and love, and if I have a boyfriend or someone special in my heart. I answer all his questions honestly saying, “No” but not realizing that I should have lied saying I was married to a crazy man! He takes me to the furniture store waits for me to be done so that he can take me back home and offers to buy me a small snack of sprite and chips.  I realize that his questions are suspect so I decide that he will not be taking me home! I have him drop me off at a nearby landmark and pay him a little extra since he was so nice. He tries to give me the money back and says “May I be frank with you?”  I’m starting to think that I haven’t given him enough money but then he blurts out “I am in love with you, from the bottom of my heart, you seem like such a good person”. AWKWARD SILENCE!  I finally say “thank you” because I didn’t know what else to say.  He responds by saying “so do you understand and accept my proposal?” This is when I get confused.  I say “yes” because I did understand what he was saying but he thought I said yes to his proposal and quickly added “really? So you will come with me to my home and meet my parents tonight or tomorrow?”
This story has been long enough but of course I didn’t go to his home and meet his family but I did tell him that I was sorry and that I was not in love with him. It hurt his feelings and he said he could wait for me. He has my number now from when I called him at the furniture store and calls me four times a day.  For now I’m safe but if anything should happen to me, know that it was Adil from Kothapet who drives the auto and went to college, it may not seem like a lot of information but here in India it will get you very far.