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

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

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