New official post

Some of my more recent adventures can be found at the official AIF Fellowship blog: An Akanksha Campout. Enjoy!

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New Official Post

It’s that precarious time, when things starting morphing into a new normal and I start falling behind on documenting the new surprises.

But! I do have a new official blog post to share: A New Normal.

Enjoy!

Monday Smiles

Because I finally have some pictures of the brightest smiles in Pune!

The quiet and sweet Sauda

The quiet and sweet Sauda

You won't find more confidence in another soul at that school.

You won’t find more confidence in another soul at that school.

Troublemakers

Troublemakers

Such lightness

Such lightness

Peace signs have traveled far!

Peace signs have traveled far!

We were supposed to be reading in the library...

We were supposed to be reading in the library…

Post break smiles

Incandescent smiles

Happy Monday everyone!

Happy Monday everyone!

Gratitude and New Beginnings

Sometimes the best plans are those that never come to fruition.

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My plans for my birthday weekend changed again and again since touching foot in India. My first idea was to travel – to spend the day exploring in some new, exotic locale. The sobering realization that my birthday was a) on a working Saturday and b) that I would need to present baseline data from our centers meant that traveling was not in the cards for this year.

Earlier in October, resigned to staying in Pune, I contemplated keeping my birthday a secret. I thought that given the turbulence of the past year, a quiet day could be put to use. The age of 25 brought about many changes. Taking a moment to reflect quietly would be a good idea, I figured. Last year I was told (not unkindly) that if I wanted something to happen for my birthday, I’d have to make it happen. This year I wanted some time to myself I decided, time to learn about myself.

As Saturday approached, I realized my self-set deadline for my side project, a case study on mobile money, was looming and I had yet to incorporate any of the new information I needed to conclude the study. Forget relaxing, I started thinking. I’m going to be writing this thing all weekend!

And as life often goes, whenever you decide on one path, another unexpectedly pops up and whisks you away.

Cake #1

Pineapple cake – The start of birthday sugar madness

Celebrating November birthdays and holding a post-Diwali party for the teachers at the Akanksha office on Saturday afternoon

Celebrating November birthdays and holding a post-Diwali party for the teachers at the Akanksha office on Saturday afternoon

Birthday lunch, plate 1

Birthday lunch, plate 1

A proper feast

A proper feast

My favorite sari yet!

My favorite sari yet!

Midnight surprise

Midnight surprise

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My birthday included several surprise cakes, roses, a lovely cafe visit, some very potent drinks, and numerous kind wishes from people scattered across the globe. Given the lack of notice, it’s amazing that anything happened at all. I was fortunate to have a Halloween party turn into a birthday surprise at midnight, and I was even more fortunate that birthdays are such a honored event here in India.

The best part of the day was hearing from people. I am extremely grateful for the technology that now exists. I know that even a few years before I began going abroad communication was incredibly limited. Being able to chat with friends and loved ones from so far away is incredible.

The hectic pace of Friday night and Saturday’s work day provided the prefect contrast to the remainder of the weekend. After rushing here and there, celebrating, eating vast amounts of cake and Indian food, I enjoyed curling up in bed and snuggling in with my current read, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. (So glad I’m reading it now, after trekking Nepal!) A quiet end to the weekend is the perfect way to usher in a new era of my life.

But still, I figure that some reflection is indeed due. In keeping with the spirit of this weekend, I am veering away from the serious and instead focusing on the positive. There is so much to be grateful for today.

I am grateful for:

  • Friends, both old and new;
  • The beauty of sharing moments with others;
  • Encouraging comments on the case study draft;
  • The opportunity to be in India;
  • Learning new things about the world, myself, and humanity;
  • The realization that the past can be the past but it need not be the future; and
  • Knowledge that today is a new day.

So while it is a bit sad to say goodbye to the first quarter century of my life, I welcome the start of a new age and the continuation of life’s adventures.

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The Daily Commute

When people ask me what I think of Pune, I can honestly say that it’s a lovely city and that it is very easy to live in. Especially after a summer in Dhaka, I am very comfortable here.

The only thing that Pune truly lacks is a decent public transportation system. There are buses, but thus far no one seems to know the routes and there is no real timetable. It’s supposedly a very unreliable method of transport.

So I am left with one option: rickshaws.

The view from the back of a rickshaw

The view from the back of a rickshaw

Riding rickshaws everyday is… an experience. City sights buzz by. You can hear the sounds of Pune waking up in the morning and spiral into rush hour madness in the evening. The strangled quack of a rickshaw horn never fails to make me grin. Occasionally I’ll get a nice driver; once I was treated to a Marathi lesson. These are the things that I focus on when the less than favorable aspects of using rickshaws start to grate on me.

It's hidden, but the small buildings (on the right hand side of the photo) is a community where some Akanksha students live.

It’s hidden, but the small buildings (on the right hand side of the photo) are the houses of a community where some Akanksha students live.

For one, using the rickshaws as I do is a rather costly endeavor. And to be frank, it’s probably the most physically uncomfortable method of traveling. Bouncing up and down on barely cushioned seats bruises my thighs and bum. One ride was particularly notable in its two near misses with other vehicles – within 5 minutes. I won’t even get into the hassle of getting the drivers to go by meter and go a normal route.

Still, my rickshaw rides are part of my Indian existence, and it’s a distinct feature of my life here. As such, I thought I’d share a few moments of my morning commute. In the videos you can see the Pune-Mumbai highway, the rivers that wind through the city, the tall skyscrapers and the lowly tin-roofed slums. It is a mere introduction to Pune and the video quality is low (it was taken on my Bangladeshi-turned-Indian phone), but it’s an introduction nonetheless.

 

Wonder

Clearly I’m not great at writing constantly. For better or worse, this blog will reflect my thoughts and ponderings of life rather than chronicle my experiences in India. Of course there will be overlap, but I find myself writing more personal posts for myself than recording my daily life here. I’m more than happy with this direction, and so that’s how I plan to proceed.

One of the greatest assignments I’m working on now at Akanksha is creating a multi-unit curriculum for 8th standard English. I’m working with R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a delightful novel that delves into the meaning of kindness, humanity, fear, and remorse. Set in an elite New York private school, the book explores the idea of being different in a direct and yet gentle manner. I love the book – I stayed up reading till 1 am and finished it in one sitting. It’s one of those books. It’s an easily accessible text – not a difficult read in the least – but its sensitivity and well-rounded lessons are meaningful at any age.

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Side note – I’m reading books, analyzing them, and figuring out how to share the awesomeness. How great is that? It’s like I’m a kid in a candy store. My coworker, who was watching Aladdin yesterday as part of her curriculum design, laughingly said this is the best part of the job. We’re getting paid to have fun. (It’s also slightly difficult to construct meaningful activities that convey abstract ideas and navigate difficult subject areas, but it’s a welcome challenge. I’m not spending my entire day goofing around!)

This week I’ve been rereading Wonder in small chunks as I pull apart different themes and lessons that should be highlighted in weekly modules. A section of text resonated with me deeply this time through, perhaps because I have spent some time reflecting over the past week. Being the sole Fellow in Pune and still in the process of building up a social network here gives me plenty of time to think. And think and think and think.

It’s been a … strange year, both in regards to 2014 and to the age of 25. There have been some downright awful things, and there have been some amazing opportunities. Occasionally, my emotional side pouts and says: I want this year to end. I want to start over. I’m just … doneeeeeeeeee. Trying to out run your own mistakes is exhausting and, I’ve learned, nigh impossible. The processing and dealing with the consequences of said mistakes is equally exhausting and painstakingly grueling. (Or I’m just ridiculously stubborn, which is also true. Basically, this applies to myself. Can’t speak for others and all that.)

But the rational side of my brain points out that a) I’ve gotten to travel to 3 countries in the past 7 months, with some pretty rad people, b) I’ve received 2 fellowships to pursue internships related to my interests in development, and c) I have the support of some crazy awesome people (and the technology to keep in touch with them). Really, I can’t complain. These are opportunities that not many people have, and I absolutely cannot downplay how fantastic that is – I’ve learned so much in Bangladesh and India, and I am so, so fortunate.

So in my as of late contemplative state, the following passages from Wonder were very comforting. And given the universality of the message, I wanted to share. And perhaps convince someone else at home to read this book so that we can nerd out over it together. Just saying. (But really now… anyone?)

Before I digress more and without further ado, some wisdom from Wonder:

“The things you did, you know they were not right. But that does not mean you are not capable of doing right. It only means that you chose to do wrong. This is what I mean when I say you made a mistake… But the good thing about life … is that we can fix our mistakes sometimes. We learn from them. We get better… One mistake does not define you. You must simply act better next time.”

Good to know.

“In the end, mon cher, all that matters is that you forgive yourself. You are learning from your mistake.”

Learning – certainly. Forgiveness – working on it.

“Life is ahead of us. If we spend too much time looking backward, we can’t see where we are going!”

This is the clincher – I’m clumsy enough as is; I don’t need extra obstacles to trip over. 😉

As an ending note, I know this is slightly vague, but I hope it conveys some of my feelings. I can’t recommend Wonder highly enough – I promise you won’t be disappointed!