a blog about an Essex girl living in Swansea, chatting about baking, rowing, other bits and bobs, and some crazy teaching times in India

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hi there, my name is Man Boob.

This is going to be an entry that backdates itself a little bit. Last time I mentioned that I would write about my trip to the police station, my various food-related nightmares and my experiences as a teacher, so I'll move onto those in a bit.

So far, my life at Apex School has been what I can only describe as a complete and utter rollercoaster ride. Some days I end on a high, feeling like I've achieved something; the children are well-behaved and want to respond to my lessons, and I then feel as if my presence is worthwhile. However, other days can have the opposite effect on me. I won't lie, sometimes I can feel like teaching was one of the worst ideas I've had. It isn't often that I feel like that, thankfully, but on the other hand, life here isn't all rose-tinted spectacles and eager children, ready to soak up any word that comes out of my mouth. When a class is teetering on the see-saw of being a normal group of children or a riotous fairground/zoo, I am just about ready to jump on the train back to Trivandrum, intent on catching the next plane out of here. Back to England, back to Britain, where I am familiar with everything, everyone understands what I say, and I'm less at risk of being run down by a school bus, which is, ironically, a danger every time I attempt to get to school. 

But of course that would be ridiculous. My purpose of being here is to experience the profession of teaching, along with all the difficulties that come with it, it's like a package deal. More often than not I think an English school would be a thousand times easier! At the end of this - hopefully - I'll have made a difference, some lasting impression on these crazy children, and it will have taught me so many new things! 

I'm already at that stage where I'd say I'm 'finding myself.' I always find this expression a bit bizarre, to say the least, as how can you find yourself when you are right there? Your body can't just go for a wander without your brain, can it? It's a notion that a bit up-in-the-clouds, floaty with no grounding. I say this, but all my thoughts are just that - floaty nonsense that have no reason or rhyme. Maybe I don't like to think I needed to find myself, that I wasn't quite whole before coming here. Some of the holes in my life were suffering from a bit of a bodged job, they needed a bit more stitching. Luckily, with all the thinking I am able to do here, the needle and thread has been out again, patching up any cracks in my life, making it shiny and new. Funny how removing yourself from a place and replanting your life somewhere new (if only for a matter of months) can completely change your view on everything!

Anyway, after that off-topic blab, I'll tell you about the police station. If your visa is valid for over a certain period of time, you must register with the police. So yes, this was the reason I went for a cheeky check-up with the police, rather than something more worrying... My parents had a little panic when I first told them. Don't worry Mumsie, I won't be doing a Bridget Jones, stuck in some Indian ladies' prison, exchanging my bras for token items. At least I hope not. Keep your fingers crossed for me. The principle and one of the school drivers (minus his school bus, the average five-seater car was the replacement) took us to a place two hours from the school, called Varkala, to register Lucy (the other volunteer teacher) and I in the head police office for the area. The driver is now fondly known to us as 'Man Boob,' as during our first introduction to this man, we mistook his name, and were left in fits of giggles. This prompted an awkward conversation with the school principle, where we found out that the driver's name was actually 'Mahaboob' (unfortunately not quite as funny) and ended up explaining what a boob was. Lucy and I were both left staring incredulously at the principal after his many repetitions of "boo-bee" in slow, exaggerated speech, whilst trying to stifle another round of giggles.

At this police station, we were taken in to see the Big Chief, in an imposing room, where he sat behind his desk, eyes fixed on us in an investigative gaze as we entered the room. I almost wet myself in fright. Thank goodness the seats were still encased in the plastic covering which I assume they arrived in, as if the unfortunate event had taken place, it wouldn't have been a huge issue... 

A series of questions shot from the Chief's mouth, framed by a rather bristly looking moustache that made him look a lot more severe, demanding information about Lucy and I. Whilst she had a fit of giggles next to me, struggling to answer our version of the Spanish Inquisition we were faced with, I sat frozen in my seat, pale as a sheet. It seemed to take forever, and at one point we were almost sure we'd be ordered out of India. But, eventually, we were informed that we could stay, under the condition that we filled out yet more forms, and obtained documentation just before our departure to allow us to leave the country. All this for a visa!

On the subject of food, I've become quite used to eating with my right hand, so on the odd occasion that I am able to use cutlery, it feels slightly odd. From time to time, I do forget and the left hand creeps in, ready to aid my right in the tearing of a poppadom, but I do my best to keep such instances at bay, as the left hand is used for bathroom-related issues here. Think no toilet paper. Thank goodness I brought my own supply. 

I've had rice almost every day, plus curry, and sometimes an assortment of different bread/pancake-type foodstuffs (chipatti etc.). I'll come back to the UK twice as big if I don't watch it (what with the sweets I am quite often plied with at school). I am pining for my normal fare of meals, toast, pasta... even a bowl of cereal. My daily helping of porridge is no more!

Lucy and I have had a couple of food disasters here. I'm grateful I'm veggie, as I can avoid some of the dishes (beef is buffalo here). One morning we were dished up tapioca, aka vomit, and in Trivandrum one of my breakfasts was coated in sugar (rice, chickpeas and sugar - not the best combo). My worst moment was a case of the sickness bug, I had something quite similar to food poisoning. One weekend was spent in bed/by the loo, hacking up my entire stomach. I didn't appreciate reliving my meals at all. Again, it happened a week later, but I'm crossing my fingers against any future illness. My system can't cope!

I can't complain too much though, as apart from those traumas, I have been fed well and it's interesting trying so many spices and dishes! 

Updates on this weekend next time; my sightseeing in Kerala and what it was like. Hope you are well, wherever this finds you!

Big love, xo

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Boarding the plane to Trivandrum, I was suddenly aware that I was the only white person on this particular Air India flight. I was slightly out of my comfort zone, as I could not hear a word of my mother tongue. Most of the other passengers were native Indians, chattering away in their own dialects, which sounded deliciously foreign, filled with unknown phrases and the frequent 'head wobble' which embellishes most conversation. I felt slightly awkward, acting under my usual persona; not entirely cultured and unbeknown to the various Indian habits that I would soon have to familiarise myself with. In my new clothes I had bought in the hope that I would look respectful in my new environment, I felt underdressed. Some of the women sparkled in layers of colourful cloth and jewellery, whilst I shifted nervously in my seat, adjusting my sombre two-tone maxi skirt and my blouse a size too large, trying to work out just how a sari would stay in place if I was to wear one.

My clothing-related ponderings were diffused by a short but turbulent flight, in which I received my third in-flight meal. By this point, I was just about ready to burst, my stomach was straining. I toyed with my roll, nibbling on some rice and then gulped down my coffee in one go, attempting to stay awake. The caffeine had little effect on my already travel-tired body, which was attempting to battle an oncoming bout of drowsiness from a night without sleep. I'm sure the man next to me - a thirty-something with a creased suit and a similarly creased frown - wasn't too overjoyed at my spontaneous snooze on his shoulder. Thank goodness I didn't leave a complimentary wet-patch there; he probably wasn't looking for a reminder, a.k.a. a dribbly souvenir, from flight AI 227.

Touching down at Trivandrum Airport, I was met by someone from the teaching programme which I am now part of, then bundled into a taxi which promptly took me to Kovalam Beach. Kerala greeted me with some of the best downpours I have seen so far, drenching me from head to toe on my first excursion along the seafront, leaving me to wring everything, from my top right down to my knickers, in the hotel sink.

The hotel, named Sky Palace, wasn't quite the mirror image of its grand name, but did provide the basics, a bed and en-suite bathroom (the classy bucket-and-jug method of washing). The hotel owner was a sweet little man named Gopal, who willingly carried my luggage from my taxi to my room, despite it not being the lightest bag in the world, nor the shortest journey from car to accomodation.

My first week was spent in Trivandrum itself, at a small pre-school which operated under the Montessori method of teaching. The children were lovely but quite often it was frustrating because of their limited English (which, of course, is understandable, because at three years old I wasn't exactly well-versed in the second most-spoken language in the world, nor any other besides). However, I enjoyed chattering away to the boys and girls; my thoughts were that any exposure to a native tongue would be better than none.

The following Saturday I travelled by train from Trivandrum to another large city further up the coast from my arrival port. This place is known as Calicut, and I am now based in a large school about an hour 's drive away from there. My new title is either, Miss Naomi, or Naomi Miss. I'm not wildly fond of the other two, Ma'am or Madam.

"What are Ma'am's parents' names?"
"Naomi Miss, Naomi Miss, are you marriage?"
"Ma'am, you are like a Barbie doll!"
"Ma'am! Ma'am! Brothers? Sisters?"

Some of these I hear repeatedly, on a daily basis, so I'm sure the school must know my family tree now, plus their occupations, and goodness knows what else. My personal favourite this week has been "You are so white!" To which I replied "Umm... I know?" In a rather confused tone.

Anything you'd expect from a schoolchild in Britain, expect the complete opposite here. I've now had a week and a half of hair and face stroking, staring, note-giving ('I love you' - remind me to dig these out next Valentine's Day?) and even gifts of chocolate and sweets (you cannot diet here, no way).

The Apex School, for this is the name of the establishment that I am teaching in, is a learning environment for around 700 pupils, both male and female, ranging from 'kindergarten' age right up to the sixth form years, where I think some of the boys and even girls look older than me. Highly embarrassing. It's a predominantly Muslim school, but the other religions that run through the classes include Christian and Hindu denominations. It is a bit strange, however, as there is no atheism in this area. Either you are one religion or another, you cannot be without. But they all do live in harmony, which I think is a good example to other communities!

I have been assigned the younger years so far, observing classes and teaching in them. It's touching to see them sing songs about elephants and butterflies, and let them construct sentences in the correct tense, but quite often they can be naughty or badly behaved, just as much kids in a British school. Whoever said Indian schoolchildren were well-behaved?
I'll write another update soon, probably about my other teaching experiences, food traumas, new words and my trip to the police station...

Big love, xo