Saturday, October 15, 2016

It is the little things

It is the little things that make me stop and realize I really am in another country, even though from day to day it doesn't always hit me. But one thing that has shaken me out of the bubble, has been watching some of the motorcycles that go by. One long weekend, the most interesting thing I saw was  a couple of motorcycle gangs that were out enjoying the roads - complete with some additions to their helmets - inflatable dreadlocks flapping in the wind, and the extra addition of spikes for some of them.

Then a week or so later, I was stopped at the corner waiting to cross the street,  and almost missed my chance when a mini motorcycle gang rolled up. No, I don't mean a small number of riders, but that they were riding mini motorcycles. Small enough their feet, or even their knees, could touch the ground. I had to wonder how they were actually riding something that looked like a toy. And then I saw them playing around, and realized that the small ride had the distinct advantage of making it easy to pop a wheelie when they were stopped.

Just goes to show, that you never know what you will see when you are paying attention.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Unexpected Art

This week for me, when not at school, has been all about finding unexpected art in my neighborhood. Last weekend I was enjoying some of the murals near the coffee shop where I had gone to grade.

On Thursday I noticed a little upset Snow White at the bottom of a light post. I don't know what it is all about, but it made my walk to school that much happier.

Today I headed over to do some more shopping (that seems to be what the first few months is all about when you move overseas) at one of the near by malls (seriously - two blocks away) and came across Manilart - an exhibit that was done completely by all Filipino artists. It was so much more interesting than shopping, and felt like a reward for getting myself out of my apartment. The pamplet says the goal of the fair is to "create more awareness and appreciation for Filipino Art," and I must say that I definitely have more of both. The large variety of styles - from movable art, glass pieces, statues and a variety of paintings - meant that everyone could find something that they appreciated.

It is days like this that I'm happy to be living in a neighborhood that offers so much within walking distance. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Moving to Manila

I have to admit my first two months here in Manila haven't quite ended up the way I expected. Don't get me wrong, I'm settled into my apartment (on the 32nd floor! I've never been so high before) with a view over the American Cemetery on one side and other high rise apartment buildings out of the other. Classes are in full swing and I like my students (even if I'm still struggling to learn names - my worst year ever in that attempt) and they work hard. Of course starting at a different school is always a bit like your first year of teaching all over again, and I've felt that even more this time around since I actually stayed in Delhi for so long (for me).

View out my window, looking at the American Cemetery
That being said, my "first" impression of Manila, or more specifically, BGC (Bonafacio Global City) where I'm living is one of development. Full of malls, high rise buildings, traffic and restaurants it is still an extremely walkable area of metro Manila. The only reason I know for sure I'm in Manila on a daily basis are the jeepneys that drive by on my walk to school. I think this may be the easiest place I've lived since I moved overseas. Of course it doesn't hurt that English is so widely spoken.

Just one interesting apartment building
So why then, the rough unexpected start? That would be because I contracted Dengue less than a month after arriving, a little over one full week into the school year. It meant I missed 6 days of classes, was struggling for energy for another two weeks in addition to that, and had my first hospital stay in the Philippines. I'm still trying to figure out how I got Dengue here in a month, when I managed to avoid it in Delhi for five years. I guess you could say I've learned at least one lesson - be religious about putting on bug spray! I finally feel like I've recovered, and so am now ready to get myself into a routine that will help me find some balance in my life. Things can only improve, right?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Good-bye India

Endings are just another way of saying a new beginning awaits. And yet, I think it is important to take the time at an ending to reflect and appreciate what a specific time period in my life has brought. Five years in India comes to a close today (well technically tomorrow morning EARLY...those night flights out of Delhi) and I know that I have changed because of my time here.

Traditional meal out with the department
David, Tom, Liz, me, Laura and Scott

To start with I have had the opportunity to work with a department of individuals dedicated to improving their own teaching practices, always considering what they believe to best for students in the long run despite what at times was significant parent push back. Having colleagues who were always bringing up new ideas to think about, who constantly questioned their practice and were thinking about what else we could do to improve pushed me to grow in my own teaching practice. I can honestly say that I'm a better teacher for that. Keir, Dave, Dan, David, Scott, Liz, Laura, Tiffany and Tom - thanks for the constant collaboration and encouragement. You have not only impacted me, but also every student I will teach from here on out.

Vising the Museum of Math with Dave, Liz, Laura and Keir 

India herself has offered me amazing opportunities for travel, discovery and exploration. I can't even list all of the things I've seen. The small snapshots that will forever be a part of my mental image of this country with all its color, noise, crowds and uniqueness. I thought it might be fun to do a roll call of my favorite trip (so hard to pick) from each year I was here.
Holy cow in Jaipur
And yet, the trips are not what it is all about, even if I did seem to travel almost every month I was here. It is more about the small experiences that all combined together for my understanding of what New Delhi and India are. What are the snapshots that combined together make the rich, diverse culture that has in some ways infused my being? And so another list from each year.
  • 2011: Learning that I love just about any paneer dish, daal and Kashmiri kawa 
  • 2012: Appreciating the wide color range that saris come in as well as the unexpected experience of taking my volleyball to a local school for a match where we welcomed like royalty
  • 2013: Developing some true habits here, including walking in the biodiversity park, using the same taxi and tuktuk drivers, and wondering about peoples' stories as I pass them.
  • 2014: Having a consultation with a Tibetan doctor whose recommendation that I need to "calm my monkey mind" has stayed with me along with being impressed by a friend's artistry in Indian dance.
  • 2015: Continuing to be amazed by the cows in the road and wondering what the real story is.
  • 2016: Taking advantage of some of the amazing people that AES brings in to interact with our students including the monks who made a sand mandala and then later His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Photo credit: Tim Steadman

I can't quite believe how much I've been exposed to while here. I might be leaving India, but India will never truly leave me.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gir National Forest

As I was trying to figure out what to do with the last two weekends I had to spend with my mom, I had to go against warnings that it would be too hot and head to the state of Gujarat to try to see the Asiatic lions. I had heard from other teachers who had made the trip out, that it would be a toss up as to if we'd actually find a lion or not. For the most part they either saw one on every safari they took or  didn't see one at all. I decided it was still worth a try, especially as these lions are restricted to such a small area of India (about 7,700 square miles) and have only reached an estimated population of 523 in May 2015. Needless to say I wasn't holding out high hopes of seeing a lion, but I figured the trip would be worth it anyways, to check out one last nature reserve in this country before I left. We scheduled just two safaris, due to flight times and a 3 or 4 hour drive from the airport to Gir National Forest, and I could only hope that would be enough.

We told our naturalist that we were interested in birds and weren't just there for the lions. (although I have to admit as I said that, I had to wonder how true that was....I really wanted to see a lion). The unexpected advantage of that statement was that the he allowed the other jeeps to tear off ahead of us, and we took our time to go through the part on our designated route. I found out that I really do like owls (and owlets) and could watch them for a long time. The variety of birds was fascinating - from eagles to small woodpeckers the it was a colorful and plentiful mix.

With about an hour left in our safari, all of a sudden our guide said, no more slow....they might be a lion at the end. Let's go! So off we headed at what at times felt like a break neck pace (literally, when you hit the dips of the dirt road) to come to a halt by about 6 other cars. Climb up on the seats, and there, under the tree (as mom said, where the shadow moved) sat a lioness resting. To be honest I would have been happy with that. An honest lion sighting. Then a couple of the forest walkers hopped out of jeeps and circled around so that as the lioness began to walk she headed towards the road. Then...there....there are two of them! And they climbed up to the edge of the road, walking along as if they owned the space (well, I guess they do here) And so we got half an hour of following the lionesses at a slow pace. Taking breaks to breathe hard until they had had enough, and sat down to rest while we were chased out of the park as our time was up. We saw lionessssssesssss!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Agrasen ki Baoli

Step wells have recently been "rediscovered" in India. Or perhaps it is more fair to say brought back to the awareness of locals and tourists alike. There are several scattered around Delhi, and while my family was visiting we took the opportunity to stop at Agrasen ki Baoli in central Delhi, in the middle of the modern city. Originally dug down to allow residents access to water (after a descent of 108 steps) it is now mostly dry (just a bit of damp at the very bottom) although a residence for a bat colony. It is a popular spot for the locals, where they hang out, use it as a backdrop for photo shoots or just relax on the steps.

Originally thought to be built somewhere between 1320-1520 due to its architectural style, it actually was full of water until at least the 1970s, when Delhi's growth and development resulted in drastically lowering the underground water levels. Buried in mud and silt it took work on the part of the Archeological Survey of India to restore the site. However, this unique spot seems well worth the work.

You can read more about it here, and even find directions.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Kaziranga National Park

My mom's month visit gave me the opportunity to check a few more places off of my India travel bucket list. I'm down to a month left in the country, so that doesn't really leave much time for travel. In fact, I'd have to say that I've done my last trips in India (yes, it is getting to the season of lasts). One of those trips was to Kaziranga National Park in the northeast, on a trip to search out the one horned rhinoceros, a unicorn of sorts. The Indian rhinoceros have been restricted to this one location, as well as a single park in Nepal. In my mind, I thought that this might mean that sightings of these prehistoric looking beasts might be rare. Luckily for us that turned out not to be true, with rhinos taking the key role on each of our safaris. A morning safari on elephant back brought us up close to these animals, close enough to see the amour like plating that make up their think leather skin.

In addition to this up close and personal view of the rhinos we also saw a mix of other animals. Most notably, a pair of great hornbills feeding their baby. A smattering of eagles. Water buffalo, cooling off in the river. Elephants, boar, deer, frightening red ant nests in the trees, and a smorgasbord of birds. There is something about seeing animals in a natural location that is so much more like discovery. A way of making yourself feel that you have truly seen something special.