Sunday, November 3, 2013

Diwali and Schoolyard Fun

Hangman in the sand

This week, in a small village in rural Tamil Nadu, my friend and I have been having some fun with girls at the school we’re volunteering at. (See post below). This week is the festival of Dewali here in India, the festival of lights. The festival is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, eating sweets and purchasing new outfits for the whole family. Our school had Friday off for the girls to be able to go home to be with their families. So the lead up to Friday was filled with excitement and distractions. 

For the visiting volunteer English teachers, our plan was simple – we weren’t going to attempt any complex new work in classes, but would reinforce conversational English skills. Needless to say, by the end of the week we were a little bit over songs ’10 green bottles’ and the ‘hokey pokey’. We did enjoy games of hang man, doing other word puzzles and playing ‘eye spy’. 
playing in the sand after the rain

Playing Eye-Spy in English
Of course, we had to get a little caught up in the celebrations, and went shopping for new outfits too.  Because we weren’t going to see the girls during the festival, we made last day of school the day we would wear our new dresses. We went all out and purchased new bangles, necklaces and scarves to match. You have no idea how much this pleases the locals – they love matching things. The girls googled and aahhed our outfits with many compliments such as ‘Madam – matching outfit! Very nice’ or ‘ Madam,  your dress is Super!

We also learnt a little bit more about our cook, Namatha, who was hired to prepare our meals while we’re staying. Namatha’s story is not uncommon. She’s a bright young mother of two boys. She has a reasonable good level of basic English (compared to many others in her town), and appears quite smart. When asked why she didn’t finish high school we were told that she couldn’t finish 9th standard because she had to go to work to help support the family. He brother was still a school, and her father, a tailor by trade, has a lifelong disability. But when she was old enough to go to work in the local shops she had to leave school. Namatha is happy though. She is married now with two small boys. While her marriage was arranged, as is traditional in south India, she is very happy. Again, sadly, her husbands work is more than 8 hours away, so he works away for 3 months at any time, and returns home for only 10 days at a time. She’s a hard worker, dedicated to her duties. Cooking for us brings her a small income, and offers her an identity outside the family – although temporary.

In India, having a disability is in fact just that, disabling. Many families in our small community carry the burden of caring for the disabled, working hard to earn an income to cover the extra costs, and having little time to spend with their families due to the hours required to earn the income.  We see it every day. Our previous cook, widowed due to her husband alcoholism, tells us this time, that her adult son too has recently passed away due to the same problems. While she has experienced this incredible grief, twice, we believe she is somewhat relieved also in her sons passing. He was still living at home and requiring his mother to collect his bathing water every day, doing his washing and preparing his meals long into his adult life. Meanwhile, her daughter was expected to marry her own uncle after his first wife died.. needless to say her daughter has a disabled child also. There is much work to be done, and many hours of treatment and hospital visits. It pains us to see our friend struggle with these traditional ways.