Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am home!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it home. I am tired and pretty greasy because I haven't slept for about 2 days now.

Great trip!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Last Post in India

It is bittersweet for sure! 

We leave tonight at 2 am after our farewell dinner. We had a roast of each other last night, it was pretty fun.

I will be in London while you are all sleeping and then on the plane for the long haul! 

Can't wait to see everyone!!!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last two days!

Well, I have free internet right now and therefore it I must post. We are at the USEFI (United States Education Foundation in India) office having lectures...again. We just had one about the philosophy and theory about whether electrons are particles or waves. Just like what happened when I learned this in physics, I shut off because..WHO CARES! Wow, aren't I a good science teacher? Deep philosophy irritates me and having someone rapid-fire lecture it at me (after he yelled at me because I wasn't making eye contact with him) immediately turned off my ears and brain.

Tonight I am going on my final shopping spree to this wonderful store called Fab India. It is so fab India, I swear! They have really cool Indian things there and fixed prices which lowers the stress of shopping by about a million times. We think we should hire a car because if we take a rickshaw, we may never get there because they will only take us to where they want to go and not to where WE want to go! Oh, India.

Then, tomorrow we are going to to a big Bahai temple here and then have to get all of our stuff together before the big farewell dinner. We head straight from the farewell dinner to the airport. My flight to London leaves at 2 am so I am going to start out exhausted before I get back. Then, we have a seven hour layover in London before our 12 hour flight. 

I have really appreciated everyone keeping up with this blog and it has made me really happy to know that you didn't forget my existence while I was on the other side of the world! 


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Here it is. Here I am. Can't believe it!

One night in Agra (Sung to the tune of “One Night in Bangkok)…

PS- I know the pictures look like I am photoshopped them, but I assure you, I am not!

Well, I saw it. It’s worth the hype. It was amazing. What, you ask? The TAJ MAHAL, of course!!! Or, the Taj Ma-HOLLA as I like to say! We arrived in Agra last night after a very long, very traffic-ridden, very bumpy and death-defying bus ride. This morning we left for the Taj Mahal at 6:00 am to beat the crowds and beat the heat. Plus, seeing the sunrise there is pretty spectacular. Even though I was standing there looking at it and saying to myself (aloud, so people probably thought I was an idiot!) “I am looking at the Taj Mahal,” it still didn’t seem real.

We had to wear foot covers like in surgery to walk close to it and the crowds weren’t too bad but it was very hot there, even that early in the morning. We were all sweating disgustingly and then trying to blot a lot for our pictures. Our guide was very interested in telling us every minute detail of the construction, history, etc. and we were all like kids waiting to open Christmas presents while we were chomping at the bit to be turned loose!

As you will see, I got plenty of pictures from a variety of angles but the really cool thing about the Taj Mahal is that it is constructed to look the same from every side. The detailed marble inlay work done with semi-precious stones is incredible and after our Taj Mahal visit we went to a marble workshop to see how it was done. Some of the same families who worked on the Taj Mahal are still in the business of marble inlay and interestingly, they do not train their girl children because they know they will get married and live with another family. That way, they won’t be able to spread the secrets and the family business is safe.

To purchase the marble work that these people had done, one must have a lot of money. I mean, a lot of money. There were coasters in the $300 range because the detail work is so intricate. I think they were pretty disappointed with us because nobody really showed any interest in buying anything until they took us into a room that wasn’t full of giant marble inlay tabletops but was full of tiny boxes and inexpensive coasters. Obviously their target audience was not a group of teachers who got a free trip to India because if someone could independently afford the trip we just took then I think they wouldn’t even flinch at spending $4000 on a marble end table!

We also visited the Agra Fort which is where the man Shah Jahan, who constructed the Taj Mahal for his dead wife (who by the way bore him 14 children and died during childbirth with the 15th so don’t you think she deserved something like the Taj Mahal after all that) was imprisoned after he was overthrown by his own son. It was also very beautiful and intricately decorated (I would say his imprisonment was more like a house arrest) but not as well preserved as the Taj Mahal.  

So now I am back in Delhi after another crazy bus ride and we have only two nights and two days here before I come home. It has gone so fast and has been such an absolutely amazing trip that I am sad to leave but excited to come home. I spent several hours on the bus chatting with another participant who is a science curriculum specialist from Seattle and we discussed all of the things I love about being a science teacher (inquiry, constructivism, Understanding By Design, literacy, etc.) and it got me really excited to get back to school and get working again. Remind me of that please when I am complaining about not having much free time when I get back from India. 

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Malti, my new elephant friend!

Pics on side link!

Today I rode an elephant. It was scary, funny, bouncy, and a whole smattering of other adjectives that I just can’t even think of. Today was one of the most fun days since I got here because we saw elephants all over town and were surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery. We went to a mountainside palace where you had to ride an elephant to get up to the palace and then we took jeeps down. I have learned since getting here that apparently I am really afraid of large animals. Walking really close to the cows with big horns freaks me out, and being around the elephants was really frightening. They are HUGE!!!

The palace was built several hundred years ago and had separate quarters for the king and his twelve wives. Basically the wives had nothing to do because everything was done for them so they just sat around and plotted how to get their own son onto the throne. No men were allowed to see them except for the king and their guards even had to be eunuchs so that there was no risk of a “man” being around them. I read a book that took place during this time period before I went that had a story occurring in this type of palace so it was really cool to actually see one.

Jaipur is really beautiful and the whole city is painted terra cotta color but they call it the “pink city.” After the elephant ride we went to see a place that hand-makes blue pottery for which Jaipur is famous, who knew? I really had to restrain while we were at the “Blue Pottery Barn” as we were calling it because there is NO WAY I can get it in my bag to come home. I haven’t really blogged about the amount of shopping that we have done here, but just know that it has been copious! But, I have still only spent about $200 of my own money on this entire trip, which has mostly been for laundry and occasional room service. I sure do love Fulbright! Thanks, Uncle Sam!

Tomorrow we have a school visit (one of our last) and then early Wednesday morning we head to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I can’t believe I am going there, let me just say that. The whole time we were on the elephant today (it was like 15-20 minutes) I just kept saying, “I am on an elephant. Um, hi, we are on an elephant riding up the side of a palace in India.” It was CRAZY!!!!! I don’t think the magnitude of the trip will hit me until I am home, we have done a lot here!

P.S.- I also saw a snake charmer today. Keep in mind that I am in a very touristy area but come on, this guy had a cobra coming out of a basket! Who does that?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia...or Jaipur, you pick

There is still another layer below that you can't see! I was basically smashed into the ceiling on the top!
Some palace guards. Check out the mustaches!
Apparently some royal people still live here but they don't have power anymore because India is a democracy.

Midnight Train to Jaipur

 Last night we took a sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Jaipur. We got to the train station in a huge bus which caused a giant spectacle. There is huge security at the train station due to the bombings last week and so we were told to stay on the bus until the luggage porters were sorted out. Our travel guide, Azar, who has been with us the whole time, got off the bus and arranged about 8 skinny guys to haul our luggage. These men all wear turbans and they carry the bags on the tops of their heads. I was very impressed to see someone carrying my bag on top of their head because I can barely lift it. Since we are no longer traveling by air until the trip home I am not worrying about weight limits anymore.

We stood sweating profusely waiting on the platform for the train and as a local train pulled up, people were running, shoving each other, and smushing to get on the train as quickly as possible. Apparently it didn’t have assigned seats and so people rush on to get a seat. After witnessing that spectacle I was really nervous that we would be faced with the same thing. I was very relieved to find out that we had assigned seats.

So, after we were completely soaked in sweat, my pants were soaked through again which is really not that comfortable, our train arrived. Suddenly all the porters were there again and they picked up our bags and put them under the seats in the sleeper car. There are six bunks in each little area and until you are ready to go to sleep, the middle one is folded up so that you have two long bench seats.

The train was air-conditioned because Fulbright had paid for an AC car. Thank goodness they did because that would have been miserable. Basically, we just hung out, chatted, played cards, laughed absolutely hysterically, and ate food that you order at one station and they put it on the train at the next. It was really good Indian food and it was only $1 for enough to feed two people. CRAZY! At about 10pm we decided to put the bunks out and the train people provide you with blankets, pillows, and sheets. Since Lisa and I were the youngest, we had to go to the top bunks which was okay except mine had a huge open vent next to it and I had already seen a cockroach earlier and was really freaked about it.

I tried to sleep but was freezing cold because I was right next to the AC vents and the train was shaking so much that it was like trying to sleep through an earthquake. It was like a little slumber party except that we were bouncing all over the place. I think that maybe I slept for about two hours and then the alarm went off and we had to start organizing the luggage to get off the train because it only stopped for a few minutes. Azar, our guide, told us just to get off the train and follow him and he had arranged porters for our bags. We just got off the train with our carry-ons and headed through the station toward the bus. It was about 5 am and all over the train station there were people just sleeping on the platforms. Little pants-less toddlers curled up next to a sari-draped mom. Entire family groups were sprawled all over the floor and they just kept sleeping as people streamed by them getting off the train.

The bus took us to our hotel and, OMG (to use an expression of one of my students!) it is so beautiful. It used to be a royal palace and has been converted into a hotel. It has huge, manicured grounds with gazebos everywhere and the rooms are absolutely adorable. It has vaulted ceilings and a deep tub and also a stand-up glassed shower. We came in and slept for a few hours and then got up to go for our day.

We took a rickshaw to the main shopping area in the old part of the city just to see what was going on there. About a minute after we arrived, some guy started talking to Lisa and told her that he knows a place where the tourists do not go that is amazing silver jewelry and we could see it being made. Apparently, Jaipur is a big tourist area which I didn’t know but should have guessed by the amount of Westerners that we have seen. This city has the most we’ve seen on this whole trip and actually feels kind of touristy. I have learned that when people take tours from the U.S., they usually go to Delhi, Jaipur, Johdpur, and Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. So, there are a lot of foreign tourists staying at our hotel and walking around the city.

Anyway, Lisa was trying to believe this guy was telling the truth. We have been swindled so many times here that usually we are automatically wary of people. But, she wanted to believe him so we followed him all over the place down tight alley-ways where big cows with horns were munching trash. After about 5 turns off the main street I was getting pretty nervous because the consular office here said to avoid areas like that because of the bombings. Eventually we got to a building and what do you know, he was lying and wanted to sell us stuff! We immediately turned around and left and walked back to the main roadway.

We went into some stores and I had my first experience with real bargaining. I don’t think that I am very good at it and still probably paid too much for what I bought, but oh well. Most of the stores we have been visiting have been “fixed price” stores where you don’t have to bargain. I still paid 1500 rupees less than his original price which is about $30 less than he was trying to get me to pay. The rest of the day we were tourists too and went to some other palaces around Jaipur.

Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and many of the towns here were ruled by royal families before the British and it was partially still maintained during the British rule. So, there are many forts and palaces here. We also went to a place where they stamp patterns on saris, by hand, with colored ink and a tie-dye factory where it is also all done by hand. I learned some good new tie-dying techniques that I will have to try when I get home. Tomorrow we are going to a fort and there is a possibility that we might get to RIDE ELEPHANTS! I am so excited! So, stay tuned to see what happens with that!

I will be home a week from today and it feels kind of surreal especially when I think about the fact that I have to be on airplanes for SO long. I think my flight from London to Denver is like 12 hours, ouch!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sun Temple

Today we went to some temples about 120 km from Ahmedabad and to a family silk weaving business that is very famous in India. As you can probably tell, I am kinda burned out on the long blogs so I am just posting pictures so you can see what's up. We are taking the train to Jaipur tomorrow night on the "Midnight train to Jaipur" and it will be an adventure!
An Indian extended family at a cultural visit today. They were really excited to see the pictures on the view screen!
The silk weaving machine! They dye the pattern into the thread and it is a very intricately involved process. They can do about 8 inches per day and this scarf will sell for about $4000 dollars over the internet. This is a family business that has been going for 4 generations and they are now the only family in India doing this kind of weaving.
This was the idol in a Jain temple. Jains are offshoot of Hinduism and they believe in complete nonviolence and non-killing of everything. Some extreme Jains even wear a mask so they don't kill any insects when they breathe!
I finally got a picture of a monkey today! They have been very elusive to my camera. Our bus driver pulled over so we could all get this picture!
The new India in action! These guys are carrying boxes of computer equipment on their scooter. 
Isn't this AMAZING??? I saw women carrying piles of sticks, bricks, cloth, etc! 
This is called the Sun Temple. It was built in the 10th century and is really amazing. When you get close you can see intricate carvings of various Hindu mythical stories, daily life, and a lot of erotica (which I will not be posting pictures of, sorry!) PS- In case you are wondering, I am sweating in this picture.
Some carvings at the Sun Temple.
Later, we went to a "step well" which is an area carved into the ground with water in the bottom. It is 5 stories deep and was built in the 10th century along one of the silk roads. I couldn't resist, it was the perfect opportunity for a senior picture!
A carving at the step well that I thought was pretty cool. I still haven't seen an elephant but I have heard that Jaipur is the place and that we will probably get to ride on one! I am pretty excited about that!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Adventures of Ahmedabad

Some sites from around Ahmedabad today. The security level is definitely increased, you see police everywhere. But, we went to a great school today, some kids didn't have pencils and I saw two kids get reprimanded! Indian students aren't perfect after all! Here are some animal sightings from today!!

Camel pulling a cart down the street! Seriously, this is like seeing something out of Star Wars for sure! 
A cow wearing a necklace hanging out in the bike lane. We have places to lock up bikes, I think this might be a place to tie up your cow!
A slum we drove by right next to some luxury apartment buildings. India is so interesting!
These aren't tied up and they are just chillin'. Oh, the holy cows!
A green parrot at Ghandi's ashram. This is where Ghandi lived for 12 years and did a lot of his thinking, writing, and activism! 

Tomorrow we are going on a day trip outside of town which is fine with me because seeing police everywhere kind of freaks me out. Will post later about the school visit today! It was a great place to be and they even had outdoor classrooms with outdoor seats and chalkboards!!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Hi everyone! I am on a layover at the Mumbai/Bombay airport after the scariest, most turbulent flight of my life. But, there is free internet so I just wanted to say hi! 

Hope everyone is well!  We are on our way to Ahmedabad and had three hours in the airport here after a 25 minute, super turbulent flight!

Will write again soon!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Today we went to see a giant radio telescope about two hours from Pune. Here are some of the sights on the way. This reminds me of how my grandfather was run over by a team of mules when he was 19. Good thing it wasn't an ox cart!!!
This is one of 30 satellite dishes that works by sending meter long radio waves out and triangulating them (or the 30 word equivalent to triangulation) to see the outer reaches of the galaxy. There are only three in the world, one is in New Mexico.
Village on the way to the telescope. Women do fieldwork in saris.
This is another reminder that India is a developing nation. Traffic is stopped by major herds of livestock on the highway. 
This is a semi-truck and they are all decorated like this. Today I bent over a few times to kiss my butt goodbye because the ride up to the telescope was absolutely frightening. 

Tomorrow we head for Ahmedabad where the bombings have been. The Fulbright people have been in constant contact with the US Embassy and have check to see that everywhere we are going is in a safe area. Although, I feel extra safe going to Ahmedabad now because there is a huge military presence there now and it is doubtful they would bomb the same city twice.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bollywood movie or game of telephone?

The other night we decided we wanted to see an Indian movie. These are referred to as "Bollywood" and it is a HUGE industry here. I have heard of them before and knew that they were usually cheesy musicals and maintained very innocent standards, nobody even actually kisses on screen, and there is definitely no sex, nudity, etc. So, we found a movie called "Jaane tu...ya jaane na" which means "Whether you know or not." There were nine of us who went to the movie and two of the nine included Indian women who work for the Fulbright office in Delhi and are coordinating our Pune portion of the trip. They are staying at our hotel too and they wanted to go to a movie also. 

When you get there, there are two different lines to buy tickets, one for men and one for women. Each can buy however many tickets they need but that way they don't have to stand in line together which is culturally a bit taboo. It is amusing to me that in a country where they have such a HUGE population and people are obviously reproducing a lot, sex is a completely taboo subject and in case you were wondering, India, like Iran, also has no gay people. Ha.

Anyway, we got our tickets and went in and while we waited they had shopping in the movie theatre and a food court with a lot of Western food. One of the funniest things I have seen since I arrived here was a group of women in saris sitting around and eating a bucket of KFC, there is just something so incongruous about that! We bought our popcorn (it is unbuttered and a large is about 1/6 the size of an American large which probably helps explain why we are such fat asses!) and cans of diet coke and went in the movie. I knew it would be in Hindi and so I was kind of nervous about sitting through a two and a half hour movie in a language I don't speak, but we devised a great system.

We had assigned seats in two rows. One Indian woman and a group of us Americans sat in each row and anytime there would be long spans of dialogue or a random character we couldn't figure out, our movie watching turned into a game of telephone. The Indian women would explain what happened and then we would pass the message down the row. Those at the end of the row were getting the embellishments and opinions of all of the previous people and it was quite comical to be at the end of the row! Most of the time we could figure out what was going on just fine because about 1/3 of the phrases they say are in English. I have talked about "Hinglish" before, the mix of Hindi and English and this movie did not disappoint. It had catchy, cheesy songs, and typical Bollywood choreography and I think I might be hooked on Bollywood movies. It was absolutely hilarious! 

Here is a link to the movie's website if you would like to check out what it was about and what the adorable characters looked like. Also, I believe a sample of the music is on the website too!

I have found out that in addition to Bollywood, there are also other centers of movie making around India in other languages because Hindi is not the official language in all of the states here. For example, near Hyderabad there is an area called Tollywood where they make films in Telagu, the language of that state and then in Chennai movies are released in the Tamil language. I have heard that almost all of them are musicals and I sure do love musicals so that makes me think I will probably like Bollywood. When you rent them they have subtitles so I wouldn't have to randomly find someone at home who speaks Hindi to translate! 

When we were in Hyderabad a few weeks ago, we saw them filming a Tollywood movie at the fort we visited and here are some pictures of the female star and then her male backup dancers. They were surprised to see a big group of white people watching their movie being made and the star came over and waved at us and said hi. It was so cool! The picture at the beginning of the post is the actress and below her dancers!

I am safe!

There have been some bombings in India but they are not where we are right now. I feel the Fulbright people will not do anything with us that is even marginally unsafe. I don't know if they are making the news there but just wanted to let everyone know that I am okay. We are definitely going to be avoiding crowded market areas, etc. for awhile. Don't be worried, I will stay in contact to let everyone know the current situation.


Some recent pics

Spikes on a fort door that were able to stab through elephants attacking!
One of the many people who work at a fort. There are a lot of people working in every place we go!
We saw camels running down the street today and a girl in my group rode one! She is a Colorado girl too!
We went to the place today where Gandhi was imprisoned and some ashes are.

Another cute Indian kid!

School for the Gifted?

In the afternoon, we went to a school for the gifted. Before we went I was thinking that it would probably be full of five year olds doing advanced calculus but it wasn’t. Kids from all walks of life, especially villages and rural areas are recruited to take their battery of intelligence tests (there are multiple tests given regarding a variety of types of intelligence) and they take kids who score in the 95th percentile or above. The cost is low and is subsidized by fundraising and university affiliation so that it is not exclusively a school for the rich. There is no way politically or socially you can gain entry into the school besides through the testing process and they only take 40 girls and 40 boys per year starting in grade 5. The school only goes through grade 10 (this is pretty standard in India as grades 11 and 12 are considered “senior-secondary” and are after their major board exam).

This school operated under the philosophy that a nation’s most intelligent should eventually become the future leaders and so there is a huge curriculum in leadership, social service, and what seemed to me like empathy building. Students are encouraged to be free thinkers and are given many opportunities to work in the community or in villages to help others. Because these are such gifted kids, the basic curriculum is a snap, so they then spend their time doing projects and other self-directed and self-motivated investigations. It was quite similar to pull-out Gifted & Talented programs in the US where the kids are given opportunities to do a lot of self-guided learning.

They also had a university affiliated psychological research center on the grounds and often the students are involved in the studies of the center. They are trying to investigate how gifted kids learn differently and they are doing a lot of publishing in international journals. The kids all seemed extra, super happy in this place compared to any other school we have been in. They were not required to wear uniforms and they seemed to have a lot more freedom than kids in other schools. We have been in schools for “smart” kids but this was different because this school was for the truly “gifted” like the kids at our school who are only about the top ½% or so.

A major A-HA!

July 25, 2008
Today we visited the Center for Learning Resources, a nonprofit organization where they are developing instructional materials for rural and village schools. Teacher content competency and teacher quality are huge issues in these village schools and so they are working to train teachers on how to teach and also they have developed a very innovative program in the teaching of English. On public Radio India, this organization has constructed English lessons that are interactive for the kids and are broadcast three times per week during the day. They distributed hundreds of free radios and so children in classrooms throughout rural India are able to have English instruction from someone who actually knows English, since many of their teachers do not even have a basic level of proficiency.

The radio programs focus on spoken English because the school curriculums focus on writing basic sentences and choral repetition of what the teacher says. In a longitudinal study of the effectiveness of the radio programs, they found that students were able to communicate significantly better after having three years of the program in school followed by a fifteen minute follow-up in the classroom by the teacher. Interestingly, families in the villages and many adults started listening to the broadcasts because they wanted to learn English as well.
In our modern world, knowing English is paramount to the ability to join the global economy. In India, knowing English and having a small amount of education could mean the difference between subsistence existences as a farmer and having a job where you might even be able to help the rest of your family. Many village schools are so low quality that they are unable to properly instruct kids in any subject, let alone their mother tongue, Hindi, and then English. In villages, language is an especially difficult issue for students because their mother tongue is usually a dialect of the regional language and then once they get to school, the instruction is in the regional language that they don’t know and then they also have to add English and Hindi to that! It is mind-boggling to think about it!

Today I kind of had an “a-ha” moment about instruction here in India. I had begun to have it a few times before but today really cemented it for me when I was looking at the instructional materials this organization had developed for rural schools. These materials were authentically interactive, discovery-based, fun, engaging, and hands-on. I have seen VERY little of this kind of thing in any other schools that I have been in. But, for the most part, I have only been in schools for the smart and the wealthy. My “a-ha” was that OF COURSE the materials they developed for kids who do not come from a culture of educated backgrounds, supportive families, societal pressure for academic achievement, and monetary resources are great! They HAVE to be, otherwise kids are not motivated and engaged enough to even bother coming to school, which is something we face in the US also. Why would you want to come to school if someone is just going to talk AT you with a fast pace when you are only catching maybe 1/3 of what is being said?

I have been thinking all along about how we educate everyone. In India, you are not likely to find a child who is living in poverty sitting next to a wealthy kid in class like you are in the US. Wealthy schools that cater to the aforementioned “smart” kids do not have to have innovative teaching methods, the kids will learn in spite of crappy teaching. When I think of my high-level students, I could just talk at them for an hour and they would learn it despite whatever I was doing because they are smart and usually have the same things going on as the Indian kids. But, kids who do not have those intrinsic and extrinsic resources are the ones who really need solid instructional practices in order to actually become educated.

During this trip I had begun to have doubts about what we are doing in the US when I see the extremely high level of science and math that Indian high schools students are able to do. But then today, I was proud, once again, of the great work that many American schools are doing. That is not to say that we don’t have room for improvement or important lessons we can take from India’s educated elite, they are really pushing kids to be high achievers. But, they would be high achievers no matter what was happening in the classroom because they have an entire culture of their family and their government behind them! This whole time I just couldn’t figure out how with all this rote memorization and little critical thinking in schools, these amazing amounts of engineers and doctors of the highest level were coming out of India. Well, now it is starting to make sense. All of that competition of a large population, the cultural pressure, the familial pressure, and the desire to make money and improve their life’s station can really work together to push someone right to the highest levels of achievement, especially if their family can pay to put them in the best schools with the best coaching centers after school.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

International Body Language

The “head bob”-
This has nothing to do with any of the educational or cultural visits from the past few days but it is a constant topic of conversation in our group so I thought that I must write about it. This would be the Indian “head bob.” If you ask someone a question, they kind of move their head like a bobble-head toy back and forth. It is not really possible to discern from the head bob if the answer given is affirmative or negative or just merely an acknowledgement of having said something. Everyone does this from the hotel people to teachers in schools to people on the street. It is definitely a cultural phenomenon and even guidebooks have mentioned it. We think that politeness is so important that even if the answer is no, they would not say it, and so the multi-directional nod allows for a variety of interpretations that always remain polite. I generally feel like an idiot because I have to ask questions a million times to make sure I actually understand the answer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Here is a quick pic of when we got henna done at a cultural center in Chennai. It is really faded on me now because I was in the pool a lot when we got back from this day. Also, I was sweating so much it never fully dried. Will have more internet time tomorrow, found a cheap cafe and can go when I get back from our day!


Arrival in Pune (Poona)...

Yesterday we flew from Chennai to Pune and it is soooo much cooler here! We are at about 2000 feet in elevation and it makes a HUGE difference. Also, Pune is a major center of IT and call centers. If you are calling a company and getting India, there is a huge chance you will be calling someone in Pune. Consequently, with the job availability leading to increased wealth, it is very Western here. We walked to a department store last night and not one person messed with us. No rickshaw drivers followed us, nobody begged or ran after us, it was kind of eery. I was on my guard for people approaching and it was uneccessary. Although, I still had to make sure that I wasn't run over by the insane traffic! This is also a "college town" as there are a lot of universities here so there are a lot more young people than elsewhere that we've been.

Yesterday we went to a science center at the university that is promoting hands-on science! It was kind of like the Little Shop of Physics at CSU where they take hands-on toys with minimal cost and materials into schools to show physics concepts. These people are trying to train teachers and show them that they can do cool whiz-band demos that don't have to be with expensive materials.

Last night we tried to have a "Bollywood Night" and watch an Indian movie at the hotel but we couldn't get it to work. There is a movie coming out tonight called "Singh is Kinng" featuring Snoop Dogg where it is a Sikh guy (they are the religion who wear turbans) rapping. Almost all of the Bollywood movies are musicals and quite campy and I can't wait to see one with a rapping Sikh featuring Snoop Dogg! It is really hard to get movie tickets in a country of over a billion! Everyone wants to see the same movies and so we are going to try tonight but still have three other cities if it doesn't work out.

We have a day off Sunday and I will have internet again then. Just wanted to let everyone know that I have made it safely to another city. Check the map, we are quite close to mountains and I can see them in the distance!!! I think they are called the Ghats! Ha!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

India's Ivys

July 22 Part 2

This afternoon we went to visit an IIT, an Indian Institute of Technology, which are a system of India’s Ivy Leagues which are basically free once you get in. These are the most prestigious universities in India and entry into one guarantees you a money making job abroad or more recently, in India if you want to stay. The difference in an IIT versus a regular university was apparent the minute we drove through the gate. The IIT-Madras (it was only changed from Madras to Chennai in 2001) is on the same grounds as a national park and there were deer and monkeys running around the banyan forests.

The professors live on campus and their children can attend one of two schools on campus, a private school or a public school. The campus is like an island of calm in a city of 10 million people’s chaos. The Indian government funds these universities fully and there are more than 300,000 who take the entrance exam to get into 6,000 seats at 13 different IITs around India. He gave us a copy of the entrance exam, which kids take after 12th grade, and there is second semester organic chemistry, calculus-based physics, and advanced calculus on the exam. They learn this prior to getting into college! Is there any wonder that they are putting out so many engineers to Silicon Valley?

Not only it the entrance exam extremely intense and competitive, once you are successful at scoring high enough to be offered a position, your score and rank determines what type of major you can have. More desirable fields are only available to those who score the highest because they get first priority of choice. Once you have a major, you are pretty much stuck with it. So really, Indian kids are deciding at about age 16 what they want to do with their lives. Some kids have mentioned to us here that kids in the US just have so many choices and that if one choice doesn’t work out, they choose something else. Here, the competition is so fierce that if your first choice doesn’t work out, you will have to fight and fight to get a chance at something else. I guess that is just a consequence of such a large population.

The chemistry professor/admissions director of the IIT who spoke to us today (by the way, there was a wasp flying around the whole time and landed on one of our guys’ heads while he just sat perfectly calm. I would have FREAKED out!) said that he attributes India’s rise in the world over the last 10 or so years to India’s extensive amount of rote learning, teachers’ ambition to teach huge amounts of information, and the competition between people. The people who get into the IITs are India’s best and brightest and I can’t help but wonder if the system is still just pushing through the rich because kids cannot really get into IITs without spending huge amounts of their time at coaching centers. Also, a huge portion of the society is getting no education at all and so the strict societal divisions are just being perpetuated.

 But, they do have some affirmative action to propel people from lower castes/classes (they have used these words interchangeably and so I am kind of confused which one they mean) and people from tribes and they are given special dispensation if they are high achievers to get into the IITs. Women are also given special consideration and the female population of the IITs country-wide is about 15%.  It is always important, I have now realized, to keep in mind scale in India. There are just so many more people than in the US or anywhere besides China and when you talk about India’s middle and upper class, it is just so many people. Their middle class probably equals our entire population so I think I just have to keep remembering that. I don’t know what I am really trying to say by writing that, but as we wonder how, with mediocre teaching practices, India has exported so many engineers and doctors, scale becomes a very important factor to consider.

We also went to a fishing village in the city when we got back from the IIT by autorickshaw. This is always an adventure. The fishermen we talked to were showing where the tsunami came up to in 2004. They said it was about 10 meters up the side of buildings and all of the huts close to the beach were wiped out. This is right in downtown Chennai we are talking about, not some tiny village in the middle of nowhere. It reeked of fish, my favorite smell, and we saw a woman was selling a small shark. She wouldn’t let us take her picture without giving her money so we didn’t but there were a bunch of tiny kittens running around too trying to get little bites of fish. About 30 minutes was all I could stand of the fish smell before we had to come back. Plus, it gets dark quite early here, around 7 pm. Once we get back north a little bit, our evenings will be a bit longer I hope. Tomorrow we are going to coastal temples and fishing villages with our tour guide who sounds exactly like Dr. Evil. Then, Thursday we are again on the move to a city called Pune, pronounced Poona.

I am sure nobody wants to hear another word from me today as these are pretty hefty entries. It was a very busy day!!! I’m so glad I brought my computer so that I can lay in bed and type because with all the sweating and trekking around, I am dead by the end of the day! J

Cool visits and crazy politics...

 July 22

Today we went to an agricultural research center and though that might sound boring, it was really interesting. This place is multi-purposed but community outreach from the neighborhood/village level is their primary intent.  One of the ways in which they are doing this is through the restoration of mangrove forests (which have the same sponge-function as coastal wetlands) in villages in order to protect them from monsoons and tsunamis. They found that coastal villages that had already done mangrove forest restoration survived the tsunami in India whereas those who hadn’t were destroyed.  Also, in an area where fresh water is in tight supply because the rivers are very polluted and there have been years of drought, having restored mangrove forests help hold water and work as filter for pollutants.

The other main function of this research center is to bio-engineer plant species for higher salinity tolerance and higher drought tolerance. In these coastal areas where fresh water is so limited, having salt-tolerant rice plants allow for coastal villagers to use seawater mixed with freshwater in order to grow rice. They are also collecting and cataloging folk knowledge on the medicinal value of local plants and working to protect endangered plant species in rural areas. They have created grain and seed storage caches in rural village so that the people can sustain themselves in times of shortage. This organization is very focused on sustainable agriculture in order to fight famine and hunger in a lot of India.  They are also developing more nutrient rich crops that are more nutritious with less volume. So, we walked through their labs, their gardens, and met with their PR people.

They reminded me a lot of the function that CSU has in terms of research and outreach. Having been in the College of Natural Resources, I know that the CNR and the College of Agriculture do a huge amount of world-wide outreach regarding sustainability at the grassroots through the governmental levels. The organization we visited today takes a bottom-up approach and works at the small level with individual communities in order to help people make immediate and highly relevant improvements to their lives. It was so cool to see that those who have the resources here are working to help those who don’t. They also had an on-site outreach facility for rural kids to come to in order to learn about computers. They have weeklong computer courses where they teach kids how to use the whole Microsoft Office package so they won’t be at such a huge disadvantage  compared to their urban counterparts.

One of the other really cool functions is through village outreach and education centers where they get weather reports to local fishermen through text messages on their cell phones. Before this, many fishermen were just at the mercy of their own luck and scanning of the skies, but now they are informed before they go out to fish. This has allowed many lives to be saved and I just found it so interesting that it was all through text messaging. Apparently, many people are getting cell phones who have never even had their own land phone because it is so much easier and more affordable.

But, most excitingly, I figured out that for my curriculum project I think I might do something about mangrove forests and wetlands in the US and how they are related. We already look at how humans impacted the removal of wetlands in the bayous of Louisiana and how that removal resulted in a higher storm surge during Katrina, thus destroying more of New Orleans than what would have happened with the wetlands still intact. So, I think that I can also have the kids look at the 2004 tsunami and how mangrove forests protected coastal areas. Or, I might just stick with my original plan and look at the school system in India on the whole. Although, as you have read, it has been difficult to a form a picture in a succinct way. I could probably do a weeklong presentation and never really make a dent in the complicated system.

Today the Indian government is having a trust vote to see if they want to vote out their current government. So far, it is look like the current government is going to stay in power but it is really close, like maybe 5 votes in the parliament. Interestingly, this whole thing started because the Indian Communist Party broke away from the coalition who is in power because they didn’t like how the nuclear talks with the US were being handled. A lot of the parties think that the prime minister’s party bowed down and gave into the US and there is constant TV news covering this today. TVs are on in all parts of the hotel, this is on all of the newspapers, and people are not talking about much else. The debate got so heated that parliament had to temporarily adjourn and now they have reconvened but everyone is yelling a lot.

India has many, many political parties, and unlike in the US, more than just two parties have a big impact on national politics. They all make coalitions with each other to get into power and so those relationships shift based on issues. Based on the nuclear talks, there has been shifting among the coalitions, thus causing this confidence vote in the current government. So, just like on American TV, pundits are all yelling at each other and they slip in and out of Hindi and English. Hindi is such an ancient language that they do not have many words needed in modern society. So, many times, they just say the English word and it is hard to tell unless you are carefully listening that they have slid between two languages! 

In the end, India's current government won the confidence vote and will remain in power for now.

Arts college

Yesterday we also visited a traditional arts university. It is the equivalent of an Indian Julliard for traditional dance, singing, and visual arts. Before the formation of this school, there was no formal way for the traditional arts to be passed on because they were just taught in informal settings in homes and communities. By formalizing the training, they can make sure that the traditional arts will not be lost to modern culture. It is now possible to get a bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree in traditional arts through this university and we watched students practicing dance and singing. Because the training for these mediums was done informally, the school tried to keep the feel of that and their classrooms are open-air bungalows. This allows for a beautiful setting but it sure was hot and I was glad I didn’t have to practice dance for hours on end! 

Then, we came back to the hotel and two really amazing lectures on math or maths as they call it here! In the 1950s, an Indian mathematician revisited The Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, to see what they could offer in terms of mathematical understanding. Traditionally, they were only used for religious or spiritual guidance but this man found mathematical patterns that can be used in classrooms to make simple calculations easier. It was kind of mind boggling to see these “tricks” and I will definitely have to share them with math people when I get back.

Our next lecture was on using an abacus to improve calculation 

speed, accuracy, and number sense. Though this seems very old-fashioned, there is a reason these have been used for thousands of years and are still in great use today in much of China. The calculations done on these take a mere fraction of the time. This woman was adding 7- 4 digit numbers in less than the amount of time it took to write them down. It was amazing. They said that kids who are four years old could do calculations like this because they are learning it as a fun game and not as math. I am going to try to learn how to use one so that I can bring back that knowledge. I know that kids in our schools struggle with number sense and it would be great if we could find a fun, nonthreatening way to help them!

These pictures are from the other night when we had another traditional dance program but they illustrate some of the things that the people were learning at the dance school. 

Leadership means everything...

July 21

Apparently Indian mosquitoes love me as much as Coloradan mosquitoes because we sat out by the pool last night having dinner and even though I was wrapped in towels to keep the bugs off, I got about 20 bites on my feet. Good times. I am certainly glad that I am taking malaria meds now even if they do cause hallucinations. It occurred to me that maybe I am not actually seeing cows in the road, it is just my malaria meds but considering I have now captured them on film, I think it might be real!

Yesterday yet another piece of the educational puzzle was revealed. We went to a school that was started by a woman in 1963 under a tree and now has more than 8,000 students on a variety of campuses. We were welcomed to her office and she sat voluminously behind her desk in her sari and informed us that she is 81 years old and still the director of this school. She completed her PhD at age 70 and she was obviously a really amazing person! This school was coed and had relatively small class sizes. A group of high school kids put on a great play for us that was kind of like an after school special about what happens when you don’t study and don’t listen to your parents. Hilariously, at the end, after doing drugs and dissing his friends and parents, the main character only ended up as a MBA student. Jeez, what a loser! J 

We visited several science labs and they had about 15 kids in them! Asking the teacher, we found out that they actually didn’t know the supposed results before they completed the experiment as a lot of the labs have been, but they are asked to THINK! WOO HOO! The regular non-lab classes were still very heavy on lecture, but the principal stressed that they work at their school for real-world experience and take off regular instruction for a month while the whole school is involved in community projects and large festivals. She also believes in no standardized testing of the kids until grade 9. This is possible in India as the only required test (and it is only required if you are a school affiliated with the Central Board) is at the end of the 10th grade. But, this is not just a test for school accountability; this test determines what a student’s future path in life is going to be. If they score high enough, they can take the medical or engineering path, which is highly prized and sought after by many of India’s educated families.

These schools made me realize, again, the importance of good leadership in a school. The last two schools I have been in have had visionary principals who believe in real-life learning, and life experience, as well as the importance of academics. They have inspired their staffs, their students, and their communities with their beliefs and have seen great success for all of the stakeholders as a result of it. India is different from the US in that really anyone with an idea can start a school (although with the charter system or with enough money, I guess it could work in the US too) and if you are starting your own school, leadership is critical. These women have vision and charisma (and obviously are quite smart!) and despite having no great personal wealth, managed to convince others to invest in their dreams and have made a difference for thousands of children and families. It has been quite inspiring to be in these schools.

But then, I start thinking again. These schools are only educating those who can afford it. In order to have only 30 kids in a class in a country of 1.3 billion people, they have to have many, many schools. The public school system just does not have the resources to do this. Of course they are going to have to have fast-paced lectures when there are over 50 students crammed into a classroom and they only have 40-minute classes. What other methods would work under the circumstances? It is hard to say if these methods are “working” to begin with but at least all of those kids are getting an education at all. Here, it seems that anyone who can remotely afford it, would choose a private school education for his or her child.

The other thing I think about is that if I compare my top students to the students in classes in these private schools (where it is like an entire school of top students) I can see few differences. These kids are smart, highly motivated, have good parental support, and home environments conducive to academic success. Family expectations are such that they will succeed in school and there are consequences and support available when they don’t. I have to remind myself that in the US, EVERYONE has to go to school, regardless of their family background. The quality of education still likely differs depending on your family’s economic resources (i.e. moving into a neighborhood with “good schools” when you can) but in these private schools that I am visiting, they do not have the range of students that we have in American classrooms. The kids who do not have the resources are not sitting next to the kids who do, the extremes of disparity are not there.

So, my need to boil things down to form a picture in my mind is once again thwarted as I have another wrench thrown in. I am realizing that really, I cannot boil in down even though I want to, the situation is just too complicated and multi-faceted. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I should have stopped like three courses ago...

Oh my food coma! We just went to a restaurant for dinner that specializes in South Indian cuisine and we ordered a fixed price dinner with about a million courses. I think that I might explode. Everything is so delicious that you have to keep trying everything. Aaah! By the end, Lisa from Cali, exclaimed, "I should have stopped like three courses ago!" And, then she burped!

Today we went shopping and I got a silver pendent of the god Ganesh. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and I think he is a good one to wear around your neck. He has the head of an elephant and a man's body. I really appreciate having "someone" there looking out for obstacles in your life! Don't worry, I am not becoming religious. I just like him. 

We have started playing the game "I will give you a rupee if...." where you (jokingly) try to get someone to do something for a rupee. There are 43 rupees to the dollar so obviously this is not much money!  This game started when I was in France with Sally and Kir in 1998 and we would say things like "I will give you a franc if you eat that piece of gum off of the sidewalk." It has been played with lira, drachma, yen, and now rupees. Our favorite is (because we are on planes about every 5 days) to say, "I will give you a rupee if you start an international incident on the plane!" Immature and stupid, I know, but we are all together 24 hours a day for 5 weeks so we have started to get pretty silly sometimes! 

Tomorrow we go to a school of dance and then to a place where they have started to reintroduce the use of the abacus to teach math. Can't wait!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another new city...

July 19, 2008

Arrival in Chennai (Madras)

Today we flew from Hyderabad to Chennai. Chennai was called Madras under the British and I am guessing that Madras plaid is from here, I have seen a fair amount of plaid in the few minutes I have been here. Chennai is in the state of Tamil Nadu and they speak and write Tamil here instead of Hindi. It is on the southeast coast of India on the Bay of Bengal. Flying in we went out over the ocean and then turned around and landed in the city of over 10 million.

The Taj Hotel here is not quite as nice as the other Tajs but is still nice, don’t get me wrong. I have my own room here and there are hardwood floors and a giant king size bed. The other rooms we have had have two twin beds in them so this is going to be funny to sleep in such a huge bed. The food here (we always have breakfast and lunch in the hotel) is very extensive just like every other place and they have mango ice cream. It is delish!

Since Chennai is on the water we were really excited about possibly going to the beach tomorrow on our day off. (I need to mention at this point that the Lonely Planet guide said that it is hot as hell here, so when the guidebook uses those exact words, I was a little nervous since apparently I have acquired a sweating medical condition since getting here!) Well, we took an autorickshaw to the beach right after we got here, negotiated for us by the Indian-born American man in our group who speaks Tamil, so the hassle was minimal.

I was in a rickshaw with two teachers from California, Lisa and Chandra (all the Indian people think it is funny that her name is Chandra since that it an Indian name) and I think our rickshaw driver, who was a young guy, wanted to impress us with his insane driving. He was totally out of control and speeding everywhere as fast as he could go and I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming, which would then encourage him to drive even crazier! When we got to the beach, he turned into the parking lot and slammed right into a guy on a bike. They stood there and yelled at each other for a few minutes and then they shook hands and we drove on. I guess when you live in a place where there are constant fender benders, you can’t get too mad about a little one otherwise you might be mad all of the time. I took a video from inside the rickshaw as we were driving and I will try to upload it if it is not too big of a file. It is not working, I tried a bunch of times! 

So, we got to the beach and walked the 1000 yards from the rickshaw to the water through some of the dirtiest sand I have ever seen. It was covered in shredded plastic bags 

and other random trash. We got down to the water and it was the first beach I have ever been to where people are not laying all over the sand in swimsuits (except Oregon but the beach is freezing there)! Girls were splashing in the surf in their salwar kameez or saris and boys were running around in colored underwear. The current is super strong here and you can’t really swim, per se. We put our feet in and even then you can feel how strong the undertow (undertoad as my dad would say) is. 

The educational conversation continues...


A puzzle piece I didn’t even know I was missing…

Just when I thought I had it all down and I was getting a solid picture formed in my head about what the Indian education system is all about,

 another wrench was thrown in. It is seriously like you are doing a puzzle and you think that you have found a piece to make it fit together and then you realize that there is another entire part of the puzzle you can’t see. Today I visited another school in Hyderabad and it was totally NOT what I was expecting.

This school, called Meridian School, is a private school for preschool through grade 10 (the level where they take their first major board exams) and has about 1700 students. When we arrived, they had a group of about 10 girls in beautiful dresses waiting to give us a traditional welcome. They put a red bindi dot smudge on your forehead, an orange smudge of something on the side of your cheek and they sprinkle rice over your head. They sang us a song of welcome and then toured us around the school.

The principal was one of those people who you just know is a visionary leader. Her focus is on developing the emotional health and happiness of the students and the entire school community. Every Friday they have a meditation assembly and a discussion of topics like (these are my words, not hers) “how not to sweat the small stuff” and “how to find joy in the little things” and “how to take life one day at a time.” It was very interesting. The reason this was so shocking is because this is the first educator here whom I have heard really address that kids have social/emotional side that must be acknowledged. In the US, especially at the middle school level, this is a major focus for us and so I was wondering if I was ever going to hear anything about it.

Kids are divided into multi-age “houses” like in the British system (or the Harry Potter system for those who are more familiar with that!) and they have a house competition all year. But, her big thing is that she really doesn’t want kids to be competing with each other, she wants them to be competing with themselves and your house can be awarded points for achievements made by students outside of school as well as within school. 

For example, if a student participates in  a dance class, they can get points just the same as if they competed in a school debate or a sporting event.  Each week they have a house meeting where students mingle with other students in their house and they work on figuring out what talents everyone has individually that could contribute to the group as a whole.

Interestingly, we also discussed child abuse in India and we asked her if teachers are mandated reporters like in the US. She said they would call the parents but they don’t have an obligation to call a social service agency. She explained that abuse is so stigmatizing here that people often do not report abuse on girls because later in their life, nobody would marry them and this would be a major problem because your family name would be at stake, etc.

I also asked her about ADD and ADHD because it is a common topic at home but I haven’t heard anyone mention it here. Well, she said that yes, kids have the diagnosis but not many of them are medicated. She said at her school (which I need to remind everyone is private and has very high tuition and is able to keep class sizes around 30) the teachers do not label the kids but work with the student and family to try to accommodate them via classroom management strategies, learning support, etc. However, I imagine in some of these public schools where they have 50-60 kids in a class, there is NO WAY they can be doing any type of individual accommodation of any needs whatsoever.

This principal has worked to develop a social conscience in her staff and students and they spend a lot of time doing a variety of community outreach projects. After the Tsunami in 2004, they collected over 175,000 rupees worth of recycling (about $4300 which is a huge sum here, more than a lot of people’s entire yearly salary) and traded it in and then donated it (in person) to many of the victims. Her staff members were even encouraged to volunteer their time at less fortunate schools a few hours to help develop teachers at government schools or to teach an extra class in a poor public school. Everywhere around the school kids had made posters about ways to be a better steward of the Earth.

She felt that if people were happy and healthy (they feed kids breakfast and lunch) then academic achievement naturally follows. I agree to a point, but without good instruction that can’t really happen. Or so I thought….

I still have not witnessed what I would consider solid instructional practices. Even at this school where the principal said that she encourages teachers to deviate from their lesson plans and go with teachable moments, I observed fast-paced lectures with fill-in-the-blank, choral response questioning techniques. I have said it before, I am really trying to not judge instruction through my American bias, but I have read research on instructional methods and just from observing the class, I can see that a limited number of students are participating in the constant choral response. There is obviously some hidden thing that I am not comprehending. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Amazing treatment...

Sometimes I am just blown away by the amazing treatment that I am getting here by the Fulbright program. It is kind of overwhelming. Tonight we knew that we had a dance program in our hotel but we had no idea what kind of program it would actually be. When we got down there a whole troupe of folk dancers and musicians were waiting for us facilitated by two anchors from the local TV station. ALL teachers should apply for Fulbright programs! 

This girl was an amazing dancer and she has competed internationally in dance competitions. She put that red dot that is on her forehead with her foot! Embedded in her dance were a bunch of yoga poses and she touched her feet to her nose over her head! It was nuts! She was amazingly flexible and very enthusiastic to take pictures with us all at the end. 

They had all of the American people sing our national anthem (we sounded terrible) and then they all sang their Indian one. Also, they made us all come up on stage and dance with them which was extra funny! The best though was when they wanted one of us to sing a song so they could dance. 
We stood there dumbly for a few minutes and then I just thought of Copa Cabana and grabbed the microphone and started singing while they danced. Hilarious! Good thing I did so much karaoke this year when we would go out from school! 

The rest of today we went to a fort and hiked to the top of several hundred stairs to see a very cool view of the city and then we went to a  museum of some former ruler's artifact collection. 

The traffic here is just as insane as everywhere else we have been and I can tell you right now, I would NEVER drive here! NEVER! I had to cross the street from my hotel to go over to the grocery store in the bottom floor of the modern mall (I HAD to have a diet coke!)
and it was amusing because we noticed that the Indian people will just dart into the traffic just like the game frogger, while we will wait for a break in traffic and then make a run for it. I literally have a mini-heart attack everywhere I go if there is any street crossing involved. 

Victim of the American media...

Today I also suffered the effects of the American media. That is the only reason I can think of as to why I got so freaked out about walking around an area full of women in burkas and mosques. Well, that and the men were leering at us more than normally. Perhaps it was because in most areas we have been, there are a majority of women in saris and not completely covered from head to toe. So, I guess, we just seemed extra uncovered. I can’t believe that those women in burkas are cool and comfortable. They have a complete outfit on underneath it as sometimes you can see their brightly colored pants sticking out at the bottom and are wearing a mask on their face. It felt like wearing a ski mask to me in terms of heat when I was trying it on. I am going to try to buy one for Kendra, my team’s social studies teacher but I couldn’t find a store yesterday.

I wasn’t expecting that in India. I don’t know why, I knew they had a large Muslim population here, I guess I thought it would just be more liberal here, and I know that in many areas, it is. Hyderabad is just a “bundle of contradictions” as the lady said and here was another example. Near the hotel we have a huge, modern, Western mall, and if you drive a few minutes, you have women in burkas walking around a huge, old bazaar. I also saw two women in burkas on a motorcycle, which was surprising to me. But again, bundle of contradictions!

The bazaar where we were specialized in bangle bracelets and pearl necklaces. Although, it is hard to tell (without my mom’s expert eye) if they are real or if the guys are trying to take you for a ride. The strings of black pearls were much less expensive than I have seen at home so I just don’t know what to believe.

P.S. Achmach and I are registered at Burkas, Bath, & Beyond.