Honoring Gandhi

With the insanity of moving to a new city/state/country calming down, I finally got to visit the Aga Khan Palace. It is a beautiful place, full of gardens and quiet corners to lie down in. I enjoyed spending a quiet afternoon relaxing and lounging on the grass. Lying in the grass and staring at the clouds pass by is reminiscent of childhood, and it was a wonderful start to my Pune adventures.

Built in 1892, Aga Khan Palace is notable as the internment site of Mahatma Gandhi, his wife, and his secretary from the period of August 9, 1942 – May 6, 1944. Both Gandhi’s wife and secretary died during this internment period, and their samadhis (sites to honor people regarded as saints or gurus) are located at the palace.

I’m glad that I started my explorations of Pune with this historical site, and I look forward to continuing to explore my new city in the weekends to come.

Without further ado, pictures:

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From inside the palace

From inside the palace

Statue of Gandhi and his wife

Statue of Gandhi and his wife

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On the left: aloo (potato) paratha On the right: paneer (cheese) paratha Yogurt and pickle in the small containers. YUM.

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Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there :)

Rather bad lighting, but proof that I was indeed there 🙂

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Highlights

As of today, I have been in Pune for a full week. I am moving into my own apartment tomorrow. My foreign registration saga is slowly but surely coming to an end. (I’m being optimistic here!) I have been invited to spend Monday at a school event. I have gone for 2 runs, 2 walks, and a yoga class.

There have been challenges as I transition to a new city, but given how nervous I was leaving Delhi and my fellow Fellows, my move to Pune has been wonderful. As such, I thought that it would be good to remember the highlights of my first week here. As I am constantly reminded, it is best to approach life with a sense of humor and patience in India.

1) Getting to know my amazing mentor and colleagues.

Everyone at Akanksha has been so welcoming. My mentor has been SO helpful with my foreign registration process. I seriously could not have done it without his help.

I’ve also been housed by another coworker and her roommates. They have taken me on apartment viewings, fed me, and made sure that I am 100% comfortable here. I’m sad to leave their place tomorrow, but it will be nice to unpack my suitcases after 20 days!

Even going to the Akanksha office is comfortable. Everyone greets me warmly, and it’s been fun to start talking with people. Everyone is incredibly friendly and dedicated. I have been offered more projects than I can realistically take on in 10 months, and I’ve also been extended the opportunity to create my own project(s) as ideas come to me. I have been offered a great deal of freedom in addition to the opportunity to do useful work. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement.

2) Visiting two of the Akanksha schools.

The kids are so cute. And smart. And energetic. Seriously, they have more energy in one classroom than I ever saw in my entire school in Korea! The antics they get into… I am going to have so many stories once I start going regularly. The last school I visited I had to promise that I would come back. And even then I had to give 5+ minutes of hugs before I could escape.

My favorite student comment of the week: “Didi, your hair is like maggi noodles. I like maggi noodles.” And then I had about 6 girls playing with my hair. (Maggi noodles are a specific type of Indian ramen.)

3) Eating lots of delicious Indian food.

Masalas. Dosas. Chapati. Paneer. Enough said.

On that note – palak paneer is so much better here than in the States. Seriously.

4) Finding an apartment.

I am so happy that I found a furnished place that’s within my budget and in the area that was recommended to me. Plus, my new roommates have a cat. So by default I get a pet for my Fellowship year! And apparently there’s a jogging trail nearby…

5) Running.

It’s so nice to run outside again. I’m taking it slow and making sure that I work up to my normal milage again, but the ability to wake up and go for a run has truly been a great normalizer in my transition. I feel like me when I can run.

6) Trees.

Pune is a green city. It’s unlike any other South Asian city I’ve seen yet. And I love it. Can’t wait to sit outside my new balcony, stare out into the greenery, and read. (I’m pretending as though I’ll have time.)

7) Riding on motorcycles.

Motorcycles, or as they are called here, two-wheelers, are the way to travel in Pune. The public transportation system is more or less nonexistent, traffic is busy enough that cars are inefficient, and auto-rickshaws are expensive. So what’s a Pune-ite to do? Jump on a two-wheeler with one or two friends, and off they go!

I never imagined that I would be a regular backseat motorcyclist, but it’s a blast. I still grip the back of the bike with both hands and won’t let go unless we’re at a dead stop, and my heart still pounds like crazy when we hit a clear swath of road and the speed increases, but it is a blast. Although how women sit sidesaddle on the bike WHILE HOLDING THEIR INFANT CHILDREN is besides me. I cringe every time I see that. Just… just no. That can’t be safe…

It’s been a fun week here in Pune. I can’t wait to get my new place looking like home so that I can go explore Pune’s sights! My place is 2 kilometers from a palace – YES.

A Weekend at Ashram Paryavaran Vidyalaya (APV)

This post travels back in time to 9/5 – 9/8. I had written a post in my notebook, and I am finally getting around to transcribing my reflections now. Better late than never!

A morning view of the Himalayas

A morning view of the Himalayas

APV. What an introduction to the Fellowship.

As part of orientation, the AIF Team took all 40 fellows to an alternative school in the remote Himalayan region of Uttarkhand. The school’s educational strategies deviate from India’s memorize-or-die pressure cooker system. The children are taught meditation as part of their daily routine, and music is incorporated into lessons. Subjects such as math and history are explained with unique techniques. For example, I sat in on a class that taught algebraic factoring through volume and cubes. It was fascinating!

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One of the most stunning moments of my brief time at APV was sitting in the classroom for the first time. After a brief moment of meditation, the children started singing. it was absolutely breathtaking. Forty fellows, the AIF staff, the children, and their teachers were all crammed into a single room without chairs. We sat, body to body, the music utterly enchanting. Knee to knee with other fellows, a young girl pressed against my legs, I saw a glimpse of life in this rural Indian school. It made me ache with excitement to head to my own schools and my own students. (Present moment note: the students at Akanksha schools are ADORABLE and I love them to pieces. It is so much fun transitioning from “Jessica Teacher” to “Jessica Didi,” and I will certainly be writing about my first experiences at the schools this week. Soon. I hope.)

Bells at the Goddess Temple

Bells at the Goddess Temple

I think the best summary that I can give of this retreat must be stolen from one of my peers here: I haven’t been this relaxed in a long time. Between the early morning and evening meditation sessions, hiking the Himalayas, viewing a Goddess Temple, playing soccer with the APV kids, yoga-ing, and talking with the other fellows for hours while staring at the most beautiful valley imaginable, I feel more free than I have in ages. Keeping this calm in Delhi and then Pune will be the real challenge. (Present moment note: Hmmm, will have to keep this thought in mind more… Certain bureaucratic processes are testing any zen moments I had previously!)

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

This excursion is by far the best way to start this fellowship year. So far everything has been amazing beyond all expectation. I cannot begin to imagine what this year holds for me. (Still can’t!)

Discarding Pride

I don’t like asking for help.

It is not that I believe my own knowledge to be greater than those around me. Quite contrary: at Fletcher, most of my colleagues have a great deal to teach me and I love learning from them.

Rather, I dislike asking for help in situations when I feel helpless. I dislike the feeling of losing control. I dislike being a burden on those around me and those I trust. Even when I know that if the situation were reversed, I would be happy to help – even then, it grates me to rely on others for help in simple tasks that I am used to doing independently.

I am relearning humility here in Pune.

By no means, please do not misunderstand my words for harsh feelings against my new home. Although I have only been here for four days, I already love Pune. If any Indian city were to be crafted with me in mind, it is Pune. The city is green. Trees offer shade along sidewalks that are mostly well kept. Early mornings are cool enough for a nice run and the sight of a foreigner jogging has attracted almost no attention yet. Twice now I have taken off, running along the paths and enjoying a taste of normalcy.

I cannot wait to truly take off and explore my new city in earnest.

My frustrations lie in official registration business and apartment hunting. I am continuously relying on the help of friends and coworkers as I fruitlessly search for accommodation and a way to formalize my stay in the city. With each helper comes another opinion, another voice, another set of ideas. Normally the more the merrier. But right now, confused as I am with so much, each new thought brings more confusion into the mix. All of this makes it hard for me to keep accepting help. But yet I must.

I am staying with a lovely coworker and her two wonderful roommates. I struggle to remain as quiet and inconspicuous as possible while being friendly. I rely on coworkers for rides. I rely on friends for hours of apartment searching. And through it all I still don’t know if my actions are useful or just a waste of energy.

But it takes a lot of my pride to keep asking questions. How do I make coffee? May I make some tea? Where is the washing machine? Can I please help with the dishes?

I am incredibly lucky to be with such wonderful people here in Pune. I have been fed, housed, and befriended in such a short time. If I were able to help, perhaps that would alleviate some of the hesitations I feel at the moment. In a normal context – that is to say, in my normal American life – I try to do so much on my own. Because in my mind, that is what grown ups do. They take care of themselves. Here I cannot do that yet. I fight against the feeling of regression, of becoming younger and reliant. And so I must surrender my pride. I must relearn humility. And I must learn to differentiate between the situations in which I should ask for help and the situations where I need to act for myself.

India is simultaneously forcing me to my knees and lifting me to my feet. I am both a child and an adult. I came to serve and yet all I do now is rely on others for help. India teaches me, in every moment, to relax the white knuckled grasp I have on life and let it flow as it will.

I must discard my pride and remember humility.

India is Osmosis

Recently time has slipped away from me. It feels like a moment ago I was staring down two and a half months in Dhaka. A second ago I was landing in the United States for a short reprieve at home. But somehow now I am not only in India, but I have been here for three days and the time is spiraling away faster and faster yet.

It has been a whirlwind of meeting other fellows, talking with my contact at the Akanksha Foundation, meandering down the quiet streets of south Delhi, ignoring the pesky annoyance also known as jetlag, and eating as much paneer as my stomach can handle per meal. For now, all forty AIF Fellows are housed at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra International Youth Hostel where we are trying to frantically remember everyone’s names and power our way through the foreign registration process. (Lesson one in India: bureaucracy is a force to be reckoned with. Lesson two: never expect the internet to work when it needs to. It will start working precisely when you want to go to bed.)

Everything still feels like a dream, to be honest. We are in a bubble – surrounded by English, guided by AIF staff, and housed by VYK. The streets are quiet, given that we are currently neighbors to embassies. The rains have cooled Delhi, and while it is still extremely humid, everything has been tamer than Dhaka thus far. I am realistic enough to realize that this grace period of calm will end soon, but I am enjoying it while it lasts.

Despite nagging flutters of nerves at the thought of moving to a foreign city alone while some of my peers will depart together, I am eagerly anticipating my “real” entrance to India. I am beyond excited to join the Akanksha Foundation, my placement organization for the year. Akanksha is based in Pune and Mumbai, where they run after-school centers and schools for underprivileged children. At the moment, it looks as though my projects will focus on monitoring and evaluation of school projects that are scaling up this year. One project will focus on literacy and language acquisition and retention. Another project will test methods for encouraging independent learning in young children (preschool and kindergarten ages). Another option is assisting with a scale up model for an Akanksha school(s) in possibly two new locations. And these are just the ideas selected by the organization – they are leaving things open until I arrive, thus enabling me to explore the schools and organization myself before finalizing my projects for the 10 months. There are so many options, and all possibilities seem infinitely exciting at the moment.

During one of our sessions we were told that India is osmosis, that you learn from this country without realizing it. I’d like to think that I have already started to internalize the tiniest portion of this country.