Delhi Day 14, One of Those Special Days Life Tosses at You Every Now and Then


The girls in our placement wanted to put bindis on. It just didn’t feel right, I took it off shortly after, little did I know.

This is Mrs. Peters. She is the teacher Jim and Alecia have been working with. They have had the kids working on these Christmas decoration this week. Mrs. Peters is Christian.

One last morning assembly

Here are most of the kids I worked with in a group goodbye.

These are a great group of kids. I was lucky to have Anil. He was very helpful and really made my two weeks more meaningful. His English is good, which matters, if you know as little Hindi as I do, and I know the most of our entire group. He is a good teacher working with a group of kids who span a broad spectrum of academic abilities, which is not easy to teach. The kids are holding the going away card they made for me.

I bought a saree. Sarees are not easy for the uninitiated to put on. Indian women put on their own saree. I am going to need so much more practice. Bella showed me how to put it on, but one time was not enough. I asked the ladies in my conversation class (my name for it) to teach me how to put one on, and asked if they would do it in English. There was some English and Hindu, this turned into a party. I am not one to cry, but it makes me tear up just to think about those few hours with those ladies. They were so warm and wonderful.

That is the petticoat and the top. I went to the tailor and had both made. These two items were easy to put on, now for the hard part.

There is so much material in the actual saree, that is what makes it difficult to put on. So much… Bahut bahut…

There are 7 safety pins holding it up so everything stays where it should.

The person working so hard on the saree is Pinky. Pinky is very warm and generous. I have a saying, “She who is generous is lucky.” I hope Pinky is very lucky in her life.

There I am with a bindi. The room was full of women, talking in Hindi and English, going in and out, just enjoying ourselves, laughing and talking. You are not seeing all the commotion because Alecia was taking pictures of my transformation, per my request.

Next the ladies did my makeup. Here Mrs. Peters is making the bindi larger. I came to a realization at a certain point today. When I first signed up for Cross Cultural Solutions I really did not know what to expect. Basically they told me what to do to be able to volunteer for them in Delhi, but what would happen when I got there? I didn’t know, and honestly neither did Cross Cultural Solutions, CCS. They had a rough idea, but they didn’t know me at all.

CCS matched our family to our assignment based on our abilities. I have a strong background in education. This affected my entire family’s placement. We all loved our assignments. They did a great job of matching us to it. Once at the placement though, it was up to us to create our own experience. The ladies group for instance. I was the first volunteer to work with them ever. I wanted to stay longer after the kids left and do more, so Anil asked if I would like to work with them. The first couple of days it was writing assignments, but I realized they needed to learn more conversational skills. That is how the conversational class came to be. Anil told me he really likes how I ran the class. After finishing this I am going to write lessons plans for Alecia and an overview for Jaggie at Cross Cultural Solutions so he can continue having a volunteer work with the ladies after Alecia leaves. Yes it is all about the experience you yourself create, with the help of Cross Cultural Solutions, but they can’t do it for you.

The women decided to make me up as if I were an Indian bride. Here Rajkumani puts a necklace on. At this point I thought she was lending it to me for the occasion.

After two weeks in India, I can see why some people lose their heart to this country.

Alecia coaxed a smile out of Rajkumani. Alecia can coax a smile out of anyone. We were lucky she was in our placement with us.

The next thing I knew someone put more jewelry on my ankles and a bracelet on my wrist. At this point I started trying to get the attention of the better English speakers to make sure no one was buying this for me.

Rajkumani and Pinky are trying to fix me up more. I am so sorry ladies, it is nothing 20 years won’t cure. Lol. The truth is I wouldn’t give up one single day if it meant I couldn’t have this one!

Pinky (there are 2 Pinkys), Alecia, and Babita, the ladies wanted to know if Alecia had a saree. She is going to buy one now. They asked me how much I paid for my saree. They told me I paid too much that I should have bargained better. I told them I was bad at bargaining. They gave me a lesson in bargaining and told Alecia she should go with them to buy a saree so she doesn’t pay too much for her saree.

 Here we are as a group

Notice the bracelets, called bangles. Every time I move my arms the jingle a pleasant jingle. Pinky who is directly to my left gave me these. She was married 7 months ago and told me she had been given more than she needed and that she wanted me to have them as a gift. We had to squeeze my wrists and knuckles tightly to get these on. The first few broke because of the size of my wrists, but Pinky would not give up.

I am just overwhelmed by the generosity of each and very one of these women, both Pinkys, Rajkumani, Gita, and Babita have a special place in my heart.

I had asked about bringing Indian sweets and cookies to the school to celebrate our last day (we are going back on the 31st to say a final goodbye actually, since we fly out of Delhi, so not quite last 😉 We were told we were the first people to ever bring sweets for the adults. We all just hung out and chatted. Talked about life. The kind of this girls do. You know, spent time on the real reason for learning a language.

We were told there had been some cancellations to the Cross Cultural Solutions India Program because people were worried about their safety. There was not one single time in the entire time we have been here that I have felt in danger. Other than the crazy driving, this is the safest I have felt in a huge city. Do bad things happen in Delhi? Sure they do, but bad things happen in New York, Paris, and London too. As you can tell I am a fan of CCS India, Delhi, and the Indian people I have met. If you had experienced the last two weeks that I did, you would be too.

Check out yesterdays post here.

Delhi, India, Day 13


I did not think my placement could get any better but it did. I am going to be sad to leave, and I will miss all the people there. We leave tomorrow for Jaipur.

…but first, the carrots here are redder than those we get in the States. I have been meaning to tell you this for a while. See them in the middle of the vegetables. Everywhere you go there are vegetable sellers, not fast food shops, and not people selling junk food. My guess is if you were to conduct a study comparing people in India to people in the US you would find our population to be just as malnourished as theirs only from a different type of malnourishment. I think the people in the US would have more malnourishment in the form of missing micronutrients in their diet (those you can only get from plants) and more additives from foods in their bodies (like those that do not occur in nature and are created in a lab somewhere). LOL, give me a minute as I get off my soap box and get on to what you really want to read about. I just cannot turn my science brain off. You would never believe the amount of things I keep to myself and do not bore you with!

As we were walking to our placement, one of the girls from our noon group invited us into her house to look at photos and to see her house! I love it here!

Pinky, Alecia, and Sean in Pinky’s house

Delhi, India, Day 13: Pinky’s house

Blair, Alecia, and Pinky looking at photos, Alecia is here for 2 more weeks after we leave. I am jealous of you Alecia. Pinky’s entire family lives in a one room house. Her grandparents get the bed. There is no indoor plumbing or bathroom. We have seen men showering with a hose in the middle of the walkway several times. There is a simple kitchen area, although many people cook outside over fire rings/pits. The entire studio apartment is about 11 by 15. Eight to ten people live in it.

The second day I worked with Pinky she leaned over and whispered to me, “You are lovely and very smart.” No wonder I love her so much 🙂 One thing I haven’t mentioned is what it is like to be in a culture that respects age. The Indian culture puts a high premium on wisdom, with age comes wisdom, but you do become less beautiful. In the US it feels as if we respect beauty over age or wisdom. Here it feels that is reversed. Don’t get me wrong, beauty matters here, but I do not think it is respected on the level wisdom is, and therefore older people are more respected and thought to be beautiful not despite our wrinkles but because of them.

Delhi, India, Day 13: Singing at the school

The teacher Jim and Alecia have been working with is Christian, Mrs. Peters. She has been trying to get me to teach the children I am working with the song Go Tell It On The Mountain. The problem is none of the people in our group are religious, so none of us knew the song. Mrs. Peters finally taught me the song, so I could sing it to them. Still the kids would rather have me sing Jingle Bells or We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

Delhi, India, Day 13: Jingle Bells
Delhi, India, Day 13: Reviewing for a test

Jim helped these two boys prep for their general knowledge test. It is a big test they have on Friday this week.

Delhi, India, Day 13: The kids get a free meal every day

Lunch time for the little ones at Vidya.

We had one more lady show up today. Her name was Babita. She goes to JNU, the university Dr. Ray taught at. She is studying English and hopes to become an interpreter working at the embassy. She told us she came to our group because she heard the English we were speaking in it was good.

Delhi, India, Day 13: One of the two women named Pinky.

Here is one of the women from the ladies group, also named Pinky. I asked how you can tell a Hindu woman is married. You can tell by the bangles on her wrist, the bindi (the dot on her forehead), and the sindoor (the line that starts at her hairline and goes along her scalp). There is no significance to the color of the bindi or the sindoor. The woman behind the fence watches us every day but never joins in.

I started today’s lesson with something that totally fizzled, but then had the good sense to show them the photo of Minachshee and Sandeep on Diwali (pronounced Duvalee). I told my students how I had celebrated Diwali, then we went around the circle with all of them telling us about their Diwali. When that ended, I asked each of them who was their favorite Hindu God and why. Most of the ladies liked Lord Shiva the best, but one liked Sai Baba best and one liked Durga Mata.

Delhi, India, Day 13: Selling honey

The boy in the middle climbed a tree and got all this honey out of a bee hive in the tree. I felt sorry for the bees wandering around on the ground.

Delhi, India, Day 13: Ludo

The Cross Cultural Solutions staff like to play this game called Ludo.

Those who are not playing Ludo are watching day 2 of a 5 day cricket match between South Africa and India.

The girls and I went out for a while. I saw this place all lit up, found a latched gate, opened it with some trouble, and then went in. The girls were a little nervous, so we left as soon as I took the photo.

We had the craziest drive back ever. Patrice and I drove back with the music blaring, crazily zipping in and out of traffic. Even speeding against traffic! It was a bit insane.

Sean got sick today. Jim has been sick this week as well. In fact of our group of 7, only two of us have not been sick. Lucky me!

Check out yesterdays blog post here.

Delhi, India, day 12


It was another great and rewarding day in Delhi and at our placement. I started my day blogging then did yoga. After that we rushed out to our placement.

These are eggplant. To get the skin off the cook holds them over a flame until they look like this. Doing this gave the eggplant a smokey taste. Unfortunately for me the cooks made the eggplant dish so spicy I couldn’t eat much of it.


It is cold in Delhi. Not Mammoth Lakes cold, just San Diego cold. Hey Carol Solorio do you see what I am wearing!

On the way through the slum today I saw this fellow selling pasta. This is the first time I have seen him here. He rides his bike around to different areas selling his inventory.

This man came and asked me if I would take a photo of his mother. I did and then showed it to her. They both laughed when they saw themselves on my camera.

Check out that load of candy.

Like I told you, the dogs are everywhere.

The kids were exercising when we arrived. I joined in when they started to play Simon Says. The kids all started to laugh because I was so bad at it.

It occurred to me that we should have a conversational hour instead of working on isolated skills. (I made worksheets for them to work on the skills.) I would ask a question, often to Alecia so that we could mimic the correct asking and answering, then the ladies were expected to ask and answer the questions. It was super fun. Here I am with Pinky and Pinky, they have the same name. Pinky on the right is 18 and wants to be a teacher. Pinky on the left is 26 and is recently married. Her mother-in-law suggested she come and take the class. Everyday we have had one more student join so that now we have 5 ladies coming.

Here we all are. I will get everyone’s name tomorrow. The girl next to Pinky is from Thailand. She is of Indian descent and is living with her aunt. She speaks Thai and is learning Hindi and English at the same time. Then there is Alecia, who is with Cross Cultural Solutions as I am. Between us is a 36 year old lady with three sons who has decided she wants to learn to speak English. I told her she should tell her sons they can all only speak English at dinner.

On the left is Mrs. Peters and on the right is lady who works at the school. She joined in a bit today. Her English was pretty good.

The bigger of the two girls takes care of her little sister and two more I. Between. She is so sweet, they call her little Mama.

We love these kids! I wish you could all be here with me. If you have ever thought of doing something like this, come with us the next time!!!!

A man came walking by asking for money. He had this monkey with him, so we give him 2 rupees.

I am going to leave a piece of my heart here.

Check out yesterdays blog here.

Delhi, India, Day 11


We have settled into a routine with our placements. I can see how I could make a difference for some of these students. Two weeks just isn’t enough time. I am the main photographer for our group at our placement. I work with the older kids and have a little more time to myself because the students are expected to work independently when given a task. That is why there are so few photos of me at school.

The students take these sentence pairs and make compound sentences with them. The only thing unusual about this problem set is that I am in a country working with second and third graders, and English is not their native language, Well that and some of the references. The bottom sentence refers to a Bollywood movie and an actor from it. Pittu is an active game.

After we went to our placement, I did yoga, then we went to hear a talk. Some of the girls went out to dinner but our family stayed at the flat. Our meals are all cooked at the office for us. The food has been superb. I have been inspired to come home and try making more varied Indian dishes. The food and spices are mixed up more than I do when it am home. I also like the hot food here more. I think it might just be that I don’t like jalapeños, and not that I don’t like spicy food, although I do not like it if it is too spicy.

This is a worksheet I made. Yesterday I made the mistake of creating and bringing a worksheet written in cursive. I hate writing using printing. Yikes I left the answer choices off # 7! I will have to fix that.

Have I remembered to mention that they drive on the opposite side of the road in India. The driving here is really crazy, I mean really, really, very truely insane. Add the whole opposite thing in, and I could not drive in India.

It is impossible to catch how crazy it is on a still photo. When asked about the traffic we were told by a native Indian, that the Indian people survive more by accident than by design.

Now notes from today’s talk: Dr. A. K. Ray, talked about the political history of India. Before retiring he was a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNU. All statements below unless indicated are from Dr. Ray.

1 in every 6 people on the planet is Indian. India is 1/3 the size of the United States. India has 3 times the people as the US, which makes it 9 times more densely populated than the US.

When you look at the Indian civilization you are looking at a civilization that is 10,000 years old. Hinduism began about 8,000 years ago, and at that time they stopped eating beef. In case you did not know, Hindus do not eat beef. Most eat milk products though.

Not eating beef might seem trivial to you, but it is important when looking at something unfamiliar that you do not dismiss or trivialize the unfamiliar. 86% of Hindus do not eat beef. When you look at the health of the people and the cows you would expect them to eat beef. This is a very malnourished society. It is estimated 80% of the people in India are malnourished. This is an Indian phenomenon that leads to a high rate of death, and the cows are just as bad off. So why don’t people eat those cows? There was a phase in Hindu society when they ate beef. The Hindu society has been an agrarian society for millennia. Within that everything depends on the cow. Since the cow provides everything, plowing, food in the form of milk, and manure, it makes more sense to protect the cow than to slaughter the cow. This has led to a deification of the cow. This deification of the cow led to cows being protected from slaughter for food consumption. (My thoughts here: The Indian people do not seem to have a clear separation between the value of human life and the value of life for other animals, as is seen by most in the US. Hindus seem to just plain old value life. If you think about it, it is much more rational to value life in and of itself, than it is to have arbitrary separations and hierarchies within animal groups as to whose lives have more value.)

All Hindu Gods and Goddesses are products of myths. But these are myths that have been believed and a part of society for 8,000 years. Actually all religions are based on myths. It is all a matter of faith, and the faith of the Hindus is so old that it has become the fabric of history for the Hindu people.

As an example of this: Monkeys cannot be killed in India, because the monkey god, Hanuman, is said to have helped Lord Rama. For the tale you can go to this site, Today in India, monkeys get into everything, even government buildings where they have been known to destroy documents, but you cannot do anything about it because the monkey is revered.

Irrational? Yes. But it is imbedded in society. The past is deeply imbedded in the present. When Americans say forget about the past and focus on the present, Indians cannot. This is very important to understand when understanding the Indian people. For 10,000 years the Indian society has survived by being rational, even if we think it is irrational. It is our lack of understanding the Indian people and their shared history that creates this misperception.

Lifestyles here are imbedded. 

There is a global fault line at Istanbul. One side is an ancient civilization, the east side including Africa, and one side is newer. In these ancient civilizations, traditions have been around a long time and die hard.

The colors on the map of India show how different Indian society is. It is divided by language, tribe, caste, and race. All of these things divide. Even Hindus are divided by language and caste. 78% of Indians are Hindus. There are more caste riots within the Hindu group than there are riots between the different religions.

India has people of many faiths and has had a long history of tolerance towards all faiths.

St. Thomas, one of the original disciples of Christ visited India. There is a population of 200,000 Jews in Kerala who can trace their roots back to Soloman.

The Zororastrians are Parsis. The Parsis originally came to India to escape the Islamic invasion in Persia (modern day Iran). The Parsis came to India because India had a reputation for accepting asylum seekers.

They are followers of Zarathushtra who lived 3000 years before Christ. Zarathushtra preached monotheism in the name of Ahurmazda who has no form shape, beginning or end. He, however, acknowledged archangels who protected humanity through the sacred elements. Parsis led a peaceful and happy life in their native land, and Zoroastrianism was quite popular in parts of Asia and Europe. But with the arrival of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries, religious zealots invaded Persia and forcible conversions (or death) took place on a large scale. People fled to different lands. Some came to India by sea, carrying the sacred fire with them. Tradition declares that the flames were collected from potters, goldsmiths, brick makers, shepherds etc, sixteen vocations undertaken by ancient Parsis.

When the first immigrants landed on the swampy port of Navsari (Gujarat) and requested  shelter and patronage of the local ruler, he sent them a bowl of milk full to the brim, indicating that though they were welcome, his land was full of inhabitants. The Parsi high Priest asked for some sugar and put it in the bowl and sent it back. The milk did not overflow and the sugar added to the taste, suggesting there would be benefits from a merger of immigrants with the existing inhabitants, and there would be eternal help to the ruler from the refugee community. The ruler was impressed. India became a second homeland to newcomers like Jews, Syrian Christians, Central Asian and African communities. All were free to follow their own faith and take up different pursuits.

The two paragraphs above are from,, because I wanted to get the history of this just right. My notes were fuzzy on it.

When the British left, the Indian people decided to eliminate English from schools, but they could not agree what to replace it with.

13% of Hindus are still untouchables today, but you cannot discriminate against them or you face jail time. Gandhi and another man named, Ambedkar, started converting the untouchables to Buddhism from Hinduism. Once they were Buddhists they were no longer untouchable, because Buddhists don’t have the caste system. This group of recent converts from Hinduism to Buddhism is called neo-Buddhists.

Another problem with the caste system is that the 4 principle castes led to subcastes. This created tensions within each caste group.

All the tensions, all the differences. What unites the Indian people is their civilization and cultural unity.

I will write up the last 1/2 of the lecture later today. GTG 🙂

Check out yesterdays post here and here.

Manoran Singh, on Education, Social Differences, and Arranged Marriages, post 2 of 2

Social differences

Manoran Singh, on Education, Social Differences, and Arranged Marriages, post 2 of 2

The morning starts with students reciting the Indian National Anthem

The rest of Dr. Singh’s talk and what we did today

If there is one thing Westerners find fascinating about India, it has to be arranged marriages. Dr. Singh explained what that means in the India of today.

The Marriage System in India

There are three major marriage laws in India all based on religious affiliation. When you marry or divorce you are under the jurisdiction of the Hindu, Islamic, or Buddhist marriage laws.

Many Indian people, both in the United States and outside of it have arranged marriages. It is more of an arranged introduction these days. Rishi, the 22 year old fellow I am working with at my placement said the same thing. I asked him if his parents were going to arrange a marriage for him. He said not unless he was still single in his mid 30’s, and then they most likely would start making suggestions to him about girls they knew of. I asked if his parent’s marriage was arranged and he said sort of. That it was the modern type of arranged marriage, where two people are introduced who the parents think would make a good match.

This is how it works

1.) Parents do some homework to find someone who will be a good match for their child and the entire family. Families in India often live together or at least close to each other. It is important that anyone new coming into the family meshes well with the fabric that makes that family. The feeling in India is that young people do not have good enough judgement yet to choose someone who will work long term as a good life partner.

2.) Next parents arrange an introduction, but the couple has the final say.

3.) Divorce is very uncommon in India. People have the attitude that they have to make the marriage work. This has a big effect on the importance of choosing the right partner and getting help making the right choice.

4.) If there are any problems the entire family will help to make the marriage work.

There are exceptions to this. The two groups you see the most exceptions with are the highest and the lowest classes. The group who is most affected by these attitudes about divorce and marriage is the middle class.

Both these posts are my notes from Dr. Singh’s talk. These are not my original thoughts or observations.

Now for our day.

We started our week returning to our placement. Sean commented multiple times Saturday and Sunday that he couldn’t wait to go back. He is really going to miss those kids when we leave.

Everybody loves suit guy.

At 12 all the little kids get a meal of dal.

This is in a classroom. This dog wandered in to it and went to sleep.

Dogs are everywhere in India, puppies, lactating females, male dogs fighting, and hanging out too. They are in the streets, wandering into buildings, you name it, they are everywhere. We have seen a few hit too, the driving is really crazy here, and dogs run right into the streets. We have seen some dogs with owners, but not most. At first I felt sorry for the dogs, but after observing the situation I came to a new appreciation and understanding of what I was observing. I have never seen anyone here be mean to a dog. In fact they are quite nice, warm, and tolerant of the dogs. If a dog wanders into a place, it is as if they have the right to be there. No one says anything. If a gate or a door is open and a dog wanders in, no one does anything about it. Often the dog is not even acknowledged. If they are acknowledged it is with kindness. I came to understand that these dogs are free. They have free will. I have heard that this is the same situation with monkeys, which I will get to in tomorrow’s post. These dogs are really and truly free and enmeshed within the fabric of the society and areas they live in. Their freedom is not always perfect, some have mange, some look malnourished, and some wander in to the street. Some people would argue that freedom at any price is still worth the price.

Sean’s group is waiting for lunch.

We went to the sweet shop. You were right Sandeep, they did let Sean and me taste things! We had so much fun here.

Sweet shop in Hindi is Mithai ki Dukaan

Aren’t they beautiful?

Look how beautifully he is wrapping our chocolate. I just went down one of the rows and got 1 of everything.

A country that loves dogs and sweets as much as I do. I might never come home.

Marigolds are everywhere in India. They are used for religious blessings and offerings.

I am counting on you Denise Perpall to help me figure out how to make this drink. It is a salted fresh lime soda, it is non-alcoholic, and is both sweet and salty, but not too sweet or salty.

This sign is outside establishments that serve alcohol in Delhi.

I spent hours tonight booking the next leg of our journey. We are not extending our volunteering, we are getting on the road and seeing some of India instead. It took some work to get it all planned because we put it off. I was not sure what we were going to do in the end, but Jim wants to see some of India. He is afraid we might not get back here again and he wants to see more than just Delhi. I am not so sure though, Sean and I love India. Because we put it off, we have to take the bus for part of it. We could hire a car, and that is not very expensive, but the buses are supposedly more comfortable. We will try the first leg by bus and see what we think. You are all in for a treat though, because you will also see more of India this way.

I also had to write a worksheet for my students today. Last Friday I had a great day working with the older grade school students, and I was asked to stay until 1 to work with the high school aged girls who are getting ready for a big test. Today was so rewarding. I worked with the grade school students on answering what, why questions. For example, “What is your favorite food? Why is it your favorite?” They did great on the first question, but it became more complicated when they had to add the because part from the 2nd question to their answer. Then I worked with the older girls on pronouns, but they were writing their own sentences, and there was so much going on with them, that I realized they couldn’t get a good handle on pronouns. There was too much to keep track of, so worksheets for all! I am not necessarily a fan of worksheets, but sometimes they are the best solution.

Check out part of of today’s blog here.

Manoran Singh, on Education, Social Differences, and Arranged Marriages


We have guest speakers most of this week. I will take notes and share what I learn about India with you. We are really loving our time in India. The people here are warm and welcoming. The food is fantastic. The culture is old, which satisfies the history buff in me. We are having a great time.

Dr. Singh and Jim

Dr. Manoran Jan Singh, Bella’s husband (the woman who runs Cross Cultural Solutions India), is a founding member of Cross Cultural Solutions India, and a psychologist with a focus in the field of emotional and behavior problems. At the time Dr. Singh works in New Jersey, USA, with Catholic Charities helping children within that system.  The views below, unless otherwise stated are those of Dr. Singh.

Education System in India

One of the challenges faced by the Indian education system is the diversity. It is similar to how our bilingual population in the US sometimes feels, only it is compounded by the sheer number of languages spoken in India. Language gives people a feeling of identity. (I can identify with this. I will never forget the time we were at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and Sean spoke to me in English with his American accent, and a woman turned to me and also spoke English with an American accent. She said, “Oh you speak like we do. I haven’t heard that in a week.” She just wanted to talk to us for a little while. She said it helped with her homesickness. This was even though we had never met before or since and might not have had anything else in common besides language and a place of origin.)

In India there are 16 to 17 different lettering systems and different scripts. Each region has its own language and style of writing letters.

Here is a link to a site that compares the most common Indian language alphabets. It is really interesting.

This is a photo of the Indian Rupee. Each line of text is a different language and lettering system stating the value of the currency. On the other side, the currency value is given in English and Hindu.

The Indian school system has to deal with this at the same time it must be sensitive to its different population groups. Here is what they do. Either Hindi or English must be your 2nd language, a student’s first language can be that of their state. So for a child living in Punjab Province, their first language is Punjabi and their second language will be either English or Hindi. But in 9th grade, all books are in English.

A side note that I learned last night, the largest ethnic Indian group in the United States is Gujarati.


Christianity was in India in 50 A.D. India has the 2nd largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. Buddhism started in India. India is also the birthplace of Jainism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. India is a secular country with many religions living in harmony.

India and Change

I learned a new term tonight (you know I love it when that happens!), cultural baggage.

India has had its civilization for more than 5,000 years. Countries that have been in existence for a long time have cultural baggage. The United States is a new country, as it is today at least, because we have marginalized the Native American population (this is my input here not Dr. Singh’s). Because of our lack of cultural baggage, the US can switch and make changes more facily than a country like India.

The people of India are divided by class, religion, and caste. The word caste is pronounced like cast.

How the caste system came into existence.

5,000 to 4,000 years ago the there was a philosopher names Manu. Manu thought the best functioning and most cohesive societies were divided into groups based on skill level. He believed these groups should be fluid, so that ability and not birth determines a person’s place within the caste system. He divided people into four groups. He called his system, “Each to his own ability.”

1. The Brahmans: The Brahmans were the pundits, the religious men, and the scholars.

2. The Kshatriya: The Kshatriya are the warriors, the protectors. This is the group the king usually comes from, although he can come from the Brahmans.

3. The Vaishyas: The Vaishyas are the workers. They are the farmers, shopkeepers, engineers, etc

4. The Shudras: For these three classes to be able to do their work there needs to be a class to do the menial jobs. These are the people without the ability to work within the other 3 castes. The Shudras are this group that are the servants to the other groups. This is the group that became the Untouchables.

The problem with this system is that fathers expect their sons to follow in their own footsteps. Manu didn’t think about inheritance. He wanted it to be fluid as to capability, but instead family groups became compartmentalized. He overlooked the political and peoples’s will to educate and give opportunities to the lower classes. The caste system led to prejudice. A person’s last name tells what caste they are in.

Poor people were less healthy and more poorly educated because of their circumstances. It is similar to what has happened to the Native Americans and African Americans in the US. These groups have fewer resources, are less healthy, have worse clothes, and less education than people in the higher castes. Gandhi was instrumental in getting rid of the caste system, at least in big cities. It still exists today in rural areas. Between 1847 and 1949 the Indian government had to make laws establishing quotas to give jobs to the Shudras in the fields of education, medicine, and government work. This has led to tensions, similar to those we have around Affirmative Action.

Another problem is that the Brahmans usurped religion and power from the king by making religious practices more and more complicated as a type of job security. This makes it harder to get into that level and makes the entire system less fluid.

Check out yesterdays blog here.

Traveling and Homeschooling from India

Traveling and Homeschooling, Blair Lee, worldschooling, SEA Homeschoolers

We had a low key day on Sunday, so I wrote about traveling and homeschooling for the Sunday post. We did eat at a really nice restaurant, the Clay Oven in Green Park. If you visit Delhi, I recommend it.

Traveling and Homeschooling Sean learns history at the Taj Mahal

“Don’t you have school now in the US?” This or a variation of this is a question we have been getting often while traveling with a 14 year old in India. People have been very curious about what a school aged child is doing out of school. It is a question that makes sense when you look at the attitude the Indian people have toward education. There is a drive in India to educate all Indian children. This is a culture that values education at a level you do not experience in the United States. At our placement, when they found out I had been a college professor, and that I write science textbooks, the teachers became even more respectful towards me. I have overheard Anil telling people about my background, educators are a big deal here. In addition, the Indian people seem to want a high quality education for all their children, girls and boys, rich and poor. It feels like they want a way up for the whole population, not just pieces of it.

As a side note, I think this is going to lead to tensions in India in the next couple of decades as the country is forced to deal with the low wages paid to many workers. Well educated people have expectations that their education will result in a better life for themselves and their family. Workers in the lower tiers will need better wages to have a better life.

There is a focused goal and a plan to educate the children too. It comes across as a system and a one size fits all approach, something we agitate against in the States. Students learn English, math, science, and computer science at a high level. Much of the learning they do is rote memorization. When I worked with the students this past week, I used the skills I had learned acting as often as those I learned as a teacher. Looking at this through my lens as a homeschooler, I am curious and interested to see if a country can find the jobs needed when so many students focus on the same set of subjects. These are all my opinions and observations, of course, and I have only been here a week. I should get back to the topic at hand. One I know much more about, homeschooling

Traveling and Homeschooling – a mandatory Hindi lesson

I don’t think Indians homeschool. I have yet to meet one, other than the staff at Cross Cultural Solutions (a group of Indians who deal mostly with Americans), who has even heard of homeschooling. You should see the looks on the faces of people when they find out Sean does not go to a traditional school. The administrator of the large Vidya school seemed shocked, truly shocked, that I teach my child at home and not in a school. One question I have never had an Indian person ask me is, “Aren’t you worried about the socialization?” Which is the most common question I get from non-homeschoolers in the US.

So what does it mean from an academic perspective to take your child to India for a month and call it school?

Sean is 14 years old. He has been homeschooled since he was 6. We have done a lot of traveling to all sorts of places during these years: France, Ireland, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Canada, around the US, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Dubai and now India. In the beginning, I would have him work on his core subjects when we traveled: language arts, math, science, and history. This didn’t work well, and meant I had to lug textbooks all over the place for a month. Now we are more relaxed about the core subjects. We focus on those when we are home.

This trip we added an extra dimension by volunteering. One reason for choosing Cross Cultural Solutions is that they let Sean volunteer with us. Jim has done a project with Habitat for Humanity and liked it, but Habitat does not let 14 year old kids volunteer for them. Sean is placed with us as a stipulation to his volunteering. Jim and I are there if he needs us. I am right across the courtyard, but he is really under the supervision of the preschool teacher, the crèche teacher, whose program he works with.

Traveling and Homeschooling Sean volunteering

For me school is about learning and academics. I do not worry about socialization in relationship with school. For me that is just not what school is about. If you are thinking that I have a socially awkward or backward son, you would be wrong. We deal with the socialization part in different venues than the academic one, like traveling the world and meeting people all over it, also we have a healthy group of friends back home. All this brings me back to the academic perspective, what is Sean learning during this month of school in India?

Before I give you my perspective, I asked Sean for his about traveling and homeschooling. “Things I have learned this trip are that: Americans have it really, really good, our problems are not that big, it is important to help make the world a better place, the world isn’t going to fix itself, and I really, really like little kids.”

My favorite item on this list is, “the world isn’t going to fix itself.”

Jim and I want to raise a global citizen. One who does not see everything through just one lens, the isolated, nationalistic American one. We view the world as eclectic and interconnected, and we do not think America has all the answers, not even most of them. We want Sean to take what he sees and experiences with him. That is why we do not travel through as fast as we can, staying in hotels that cater to American/European travelers. That’s really it in a nutshell. There are other things he learns as well, a bit of the language, a decent amount about the history of the country we are in, something about the social and political issues of the country.

At the end of the day though, I want him to learn that many people have looked at the same issues and come up with equally viable answers of how to deal with those issues. The answers are not necessarily better or worse, they are just different, money and language are two good examples of this. I want him to learn that there are some issues that need to be addressed, equality for females is one. On this trip, through the volunteerism, we want him to realize that he can make a difference. It is just a small difference, but he is only 14.

Through traveling and homeschooling I realize that Sean is not getting the mainstream education most kids get. There are a whole bunch of kids getting that education, though, so it works for me. We need some people who are able to come at things from a different perspective too.

Check out yesterdays post about visiting the Taj Mahal here.

Learn more about worldschooling.

Our second full day in Delhi, India with Cross Cultural Solutions

Cross Cultural Solutions

Our second full day in Delhi, India with Cross Cultural Solutions

I waited to shower today until everyone else had showered. Our flat ran out of water after 4 people showered. It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t always shower everyday at home anyway. Jim said, “Ran out of water? How does a flat run out of water?” I don’t know, but it did. Sean hadn’t had a shower either. He was cool with it too. Sean has been doing really well. He is enjoying this trip greatly, rolling with it all and getting into the spirit of the experience.

Looking like I need a shower!
Looking like I need a shower!

Today we spent in orientation and clothes shopping. Tomorrow we will begin our volunteering. Sean and I have been assigned to a 1st/2nd grade class helping with math and English, then we will help Jim and Alecia with the preschool class until 12. It was the 16th or 18th (sorry I forgot which) anniversary of Cross Cultural Solutions today.

The cake had a core of sliced fruit. I am going to have to try that at home. Below is a photo of the staff. The woman in the center is Bella, or Bella-Ji as my Hindi teacher Sandeep told me she should be called. I really liked her.

Here is a photo of Lalit, a member of the staff at CCS, pointing at the newspaper telling about the election results.  They have no majority now after the election, so unless a couple of the groups can form a coalition there will have to be another election in 6 months.  Notice the mark on his pointing finger. It was made with indelible ink, so it takes a few days to wear off. It does not wash off. It is the mark that shows he has voted.

This is Bella giving us information about CCS. I like her.  She would be fun to hang out with, I can tell.

She had us tell our motivations for coming. That is what the list above is.

We are very lucky to have such a great group.

Yes, they are as small in real life as they look in the photo.

We went out to lunch yesterday and had dosa. I promise to come home knowing how to make them. They are Sean’s favorite dish now. The person with the turban is Vicky. He is a Sikh-man. His hair is down to his butt, if he were to take his turban off. He coils it around on top of his head after he washes it so he can put his turban on. Sikhism comes out of Hinduism. It used to be that each Hindu family would give their oldest son to the Sikhs to become a warrior to protect the country. These men formed the foundation for Sikhism.

Isn’t that cool. It matches my rings.

Oops, they all have the flash in their eyes. The group is waiting for a delicious lunch.

These are the appetizers.

Jim and Wendy.

The man in the back has concrete blocks balanced on a towel on his head. That has to be so heavy on his neck. Ouch!

We finished the day by going shopping for the traditional clothes the women have to wear when volunteering. Some of us loved it more than others. I knew it was going to be like that when Jim started asking how long the shopping was going to take before we even left the office.  Half the group bailed and went back while the other half kept shopping.

Don’t you love the bright colors? The outfit we bought is called a salwar kameez. I bought two. You will see them when I wear them to work.

Check out out part one and two of our first day in Delhi, here and here.

Check out the next post here.

Our First Full Day in Delhi, post 1 of 2


We have arrived in New Delhi. This is our group, in order they are Sean, Patrice, Alecia, Hillary, Jim, and Wendy. I am missing of course, see me below.

We are all in a three bedroom two story apartment. We have assignments to various sites. Some of us are assigned together and some aren’t. I will tell you more about the assignments when we begin them. Today we had breakfast, went sightseeing around Delhi, and then hung out. (Isn’t it weird it is sightseeing instead of site seeing? I think we should change it.)

Here is the photo with me in it.

The girls are sharing rooms, two to a room.  It is a happy bunch.  This is one smart group of women. The Taliban does not need to look any further than this room for a good argument for why women should be educated.

This is our shower, it is okay.

After you shower, you squeegee the floor.

The view from our balcony.

Oh boy! There are pugs in Delhi, too.

Alecia is from Cody, Wyoming. She likes long walks on beaches, even though she has never been to the beach. This is her first trip anywhere, ever. Not bad going to New Delhi for a first trip.

The fruit sellers of New Delhi.

Don’t you love it. This is a vegetable seller. None of these people speak English. I am so glad I studied my Hindi.

This car is decorated for a wedding.


A Little Bit of Hindi Comes in Handy

Yesterday we flew over Iran and Pakistan from Dubai to Delhi, India. Jim thought this was the closest he would get to either of these two countries. Little could he guess 😉 I have always found Persian history fascinating. It’s a bummer, but I had to agree.

I took Hindi lessons in the states. I only speak a bit of Hindi, but I studied hard to learn what I did. Yesterday it really came in handy. While we were on the plane we were handed 3 forms to fill out, one for each of us. The address where we were staying in India was one of the pieces of information asked for on the form. We had packed that address in our luggage. When we got to customs and did not have the address on our form, the customs official started to frown. He was not happy with us. He also did not speak English. I began speaking to him in my broken Hindi. Jim said his face lit up with a huge smile. I didn’t notice. I was concentrating too hard on what he was saying, and what I should say next. Things like, “Pata mai nahee samjee. Ye in luggage hai.” Which basically translates to, “I don’t know the address. It is in our luggage.” I asked, all in Hindi, if anyone spoke English. He answered haan (yes, in Hindi). We talked a bit about not much. Then he started calling other people from the line to his desk. The first person also did not have the address filled out.  He frowned, and told her she needed it. Then he had her stand to the side. He called the next person up. Someone who did have the address filled out. It said, “Ramada Hotel.” I know this, because he showed it to me, and in English told me, “Put anything.” So we all wrote Ramada Hotel as our Delhi pata and walked into India. As I was walking away he told me, “Apka Hindi teacher bahut accha hai bahut accha.” Your Hindi teacher is very good, very good. Jim was so happy with me. It put all of us in a good mood as we entered India.

Next I asked a guard, “Ji, ap English bolte hai?” Sir, do you speak English? He said, “Yes, but, ap Hindi bolte hai.” Yes, but you speak Hindi.” Then we had the rest of our conversation in English. I am not that good.

I am the only person, besides Sean, who learned any Hindi in our group of volunteers. There are 4 other women in our group. We went to the office last night for dinner, and the cook also does not speak English. I hope everyone in our group likes bahut mirchi kam khana that is shakahari. The means, very unspicy food that is vegetarian, 🙂 because you know that is what I made sure the food was.

We are 13 1/2 hours ahead of the time in California. It it 4:53 a.m. here. I am the first one up as usual. Today is our first full day in India, I will blog tonight about our group and our accommodations.

While we were eating dinner a wedding procession started on the street behind us. We ran outside. Here are two photos, they are too dark but it is all I have. The groom is on a horse/pony. I am not sure which. I am so excited. India is busy and foreign and noisy and ohhh… I cannot wait to see it!

Check out our previous post here and the next here.

3 Rooms for 3 Nights, the Best Laid Plans on Mice And Women Go Awry Every Now and Then, day 3, last day in Dubai












3 Rooms for 3 Nights, the Best Laid Plans on Mice And Women Go Awry Every Now and Then, day 3, last day in Dubai

Before leaving home: Blair, “So the place I have chosen for us to stay is sort of random and off the beaten path. Just to give you a heads up.”
Sean, “Mom I have been traveling the world with you since I was 6. You always choose random and off the beaten path. We expect it.”

I carefully hand picked our hotel room. The hotel and I sent emails back and forth about the right room. Then two days before we were to leave, the hotel sent me an email that there was municipality maintenance, and they were going to put us into a different hotel. What could I do but say okay. The first night’s stay was great. The hotel ungraded us to their Master Suite, it was a treat. But it was in downtown Bur Dubai on a busy street. It was not the quaint heritage guest room I had booked that sat on the creek, which is really a slow moving inlet. They moved us over to the Barjeel Guest House for the second night’s stay. I suspected all along that they had given our room away and I turned out to be correct. There had been maintenance needed, but not to our room, it was to the other people’s room who they put in the room promised to us. They put us in a less than stellar room for night two. The truth is though, we were so tired that it really didn’t matter that much, but still. What with jet lag and everything else I was irritated. Then they told us they had hoped that we would just want to stay at the first hotel. But they didn’t tell us that when we were there!?!  The second room was very small and stuffed with furniture with a grate high up in the wall that opened into the guest next door’s bathroom.  You could hear everything that went on in their bathroom and the light from their bathroom shined into our room. (Yes, we could hear the other guests shower and go to the bathroom.) Just as I started to get irritated Sean and then Jim started to laugh. “Well,” Sean said, “You always like to experience the road less traveled Mom. I think you succeeded this time.” He was right of course. In the end it was better this way.


This is the grate into the next door neighbor’s bathroom.

Then there was the last night’s stay. It was everything I hoped it would be. At one point, I thought the hotel would really benefit from an American coming over and getting the whole thing into shape. The problem with that is it might lose its flavor and charm and other-worldliness if that happened. It definitely felt like we were not in Kansas anymore 😉

This is a pickup cricket game that was happening out in front of our 2nd hotel. The men are workers from India and Pakistan.



This Dodo was in front of our room.  I loved it.


This is a good example of a typical heritage style home.  Check out all that greenery coming from the top of the courtyard. This is next door to our hotel.


Another building next to our hotel which was the Barjeel Guesthouse,  Barjeel mean wind tower in Arabic. The narrow alleys help to keep things cool by providing shade and funneling cooling breezes through them.


The entrance to the souk near our hotel. I bought some spices there, including saffron.  I got so excited, I forgot to bargain, so I paid more than I should have. Oh well. It was all a bit overwhelming.


How many women do you see?


Sean had trouble telling the sellers no.


Breakfast at the hotel. Despite the non-western haphazardness of our hotel. After a day on a bus traveling through Dubai I am so delighted with where we stayed. We definitely felt like we had wandered into another culture. I began thinking about period pieces I had read of course and imagining the pages of books had come alive.

No alcohol served within blocks of our hotel btw.


After breakfast Jim talked Sean and I into taking a bus ride around the city. I had never taken one of these before and will never do it again. I visit countries to take in the sights and sounds and meet people, not to be driven from place to place on a bus tour, but it was eye-opening. It was a great view into the dichotomy between the haves and the have nots. Once we got of the main street that smelled very strongly of rotting fish, we walked through streets that did not look rich or glitzy. My guess is this is where the immigrants are living with multiple people to a room.


We got off the bus at the Gold Souk. It was closed. So we wandered a couple of blocks over and into a different world. This must be where the immigrant workers live.


This would not be the last time I used my scarf for odor issues today. We were in front of the fish market and it was a hot day.


These photos are both of dhows. The dhows (ships) transport goods all over the Arabian Gulf, including countries in Africa.

The courts use Sharia law except for traffic offenses & one other area (which I have now forgotten). Westerners are not subject to Sharia Law, but we were told by a Pakastini that the courts were bad news, you don’t want to go there. So maybe the Pakastanis are subject to Sharia Laws. The police are mainly Yemenis and Iranians, not from the UAE.


The beautiful side, photos

Friday is holy day. This is a mosque open to non-Muslim visitors but not on Friday. These men are at prayer in a town square.


This is a 7 star hotel. Note the presence of women everywhere, including in bikinis. This is the Western side of town, and it is as if you have walked into a different world from where we were staying.


At about 10:00 there is a woman in a burka looking out onto the beach.


I wanted to get a photo for all of you. Women were much more commonly viewed on this side, with traditionally dressed women everywhere in these outfits. I felt bad taking a photo which was sort of objectifying in a country where women are totally objectified.  Btw, the color black on the UAE flag stands for natural resources. I really hope that is not what the black color of the burkas stands for.  And black of all colors! It is really hot here.


A look at part of the Dubai skyline for the new city.


The world’s tallest building, or second tallest depending on who is talking.


Ski Dubai, the ski slope inside the Mall

Now I know where all the UAE women are.


Back toward the hotel we saw the museum at night.


Our hotel has a courtyard on one side. The other side bordered what is called the Creek.

Our room finally.


Jim and I wandered out to a museum. Sean fell asleep in the room. The museum was the home of the Sheik who was the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Saeed Al Maktoum’s house
Dubai built in the 1800’s as a fishing and pearling village


A representation of how traditional villages were constructed.


Serving my man!


The sheik’s home at night, the towers are Barjeels, wind towers.


This is a photo of a photo. I wanted you to see what the mask the women in Al Ain were wearing looked like. It is not a pretty mask.


Some information about the museum.

This was taken for the creek side at our hotel.


The inner courtyard at the Barjeel Guesthouse.


We locked ourselves in from the inside using this traditional lock. It was very cool.


One final view of our hotel front. The non-creek side. This entire area is being renovated. Before they started renovating it, the area was home to Pakistani and Indian workers. One day the government came in and bulldozed it down and told them all to leave and live somewhere else.


Here are some final notes I want to share.

Car beeping if you go over a certain speed: In the UAE cars are equipped with a beeping sensor, and if you go over a certain speed limit the car starts to beep at you. It is very annoying, and effective at maintaining speed.

The UAE and water: 97% of water usage from desalinated water. One of highest water consumptions per capita in the world.

In the morning we were picked up by our favorite driver of our stay. Here is his story as told to us by him, as he rushed through the city talking a mile a minute.

He is from the Swat Valley, Pakistan. He has been in Dubai since 1982.  He was very friendly and not sexist in the least. At least he didn’t show it. He takes care of his entire family on the salary he earns working in Dubai. He visits home for 45 days during the summer when it is so hot in Dubai tourists don’t visit. He said you don’t want to go to the Dubai courts. His name was Hyatt. His children did not go to school for a while because of the violence from the Taliban in the Swat Valley. They could not even leave their house, but now the Taliban is gone for that area; there is peace there, and the girls have been able to go back to school.  He told us, “No Taliban, no problem”. I tipped him 20$ American, and told him it was a gift for his mother and wife from an American lady. I also told him the Americans want peace for his country, especially the American mothers.