Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: History


History: A Repeat of a Favorite Class and Volunteering

The Course: A Brief History of Humankind: This is a Coursera course, https://class.coursera.org/humankind-002, that repeats regularly. It is the best history course I have ever taken. The instructor, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem comes across as brilliant, even as he makes history accessible to a lay person! There is a book as well, but Sean did not use it. I did though, http://www.ynharari.com/sapiens-the-book/short-overview/. I read it, referred to it, and made a series of questions from it to accompany each lecture. Sean got a lot more out of the class that way. I did not have him write the answers, instead we would discuss them. Some of these questions took us far afield. It was a thought provoking quarter for history. The class is about the big picture not the memorization of dates and facts. Most people I know do not remember much history, probably because they just learned it for the test. History taught the way Dr. Harari teaches it is memorable.

This was the second time Sean has taken this class. I was surprised when Sean asked to take it again at the start of this year. He took it a year ago! He wanted to work on the skill of note taking, and he felt he could get more out of this class a second time. His main reason though was that he liked this class that much! After giving it some thought, I decided that it would be like rereading a book you loved. You do get much more out of the book the second time reading. Both Sean and I have gotten much more out of this class the second time through.

The course is free so even with the book this is very affordable. There are quizzes for the class on the Coursera site. (Sean is working on the skill of test taking this year. Sean is not an experienced test taker, and suffers from pretty severe test anxiety, so he needs to work on that skill.) http://www.ynharari.com/

The text that I used to help me prepare questions. It was a great read!
History: The text that I used to help me prepare questions. It was a great read!

I thought about having Sean write 4 research papers for history over the 4 months that he took to complete A Brief History of Humankind. I opted for him to volunteer instead. There are only so many hours in the day, and he didn’t have time for both. The way we scheduled the class, without a writing component, was not time intensive. Sean and I watched the video lectures in the car on the way to crew practice. We discussed the salient points covered in the lectures using the guided questions I had put together. We (yes we) took the quizzes. By the way, I read over the quizzes when I was making the guided questions, after I had taken the quiz myself, to make sure we covered everything, and that Sean was very familiar with the terms Dr. Harari tested. I felt it important that I take this class with Sean so that he had someone to talk with about what he was learning. I think history lends itself to intellectual discussion, and this provided a way for us to have intellectual discussions about topics I did not know much more about than Sean did.

Volunteering: We feel strongly about volunteering at our house. We have volunteered for an animal rescue organization (http://www.projectwildlife.org/), helping kids learn to speak English in Delhi, India (http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/), and now on a re-election campaign.

We worked on Scott Peters re-election campaign.
History: We worked on Scott Peters’ re-election campaign.

Every election cycle we include the election in our history. I have been corrected by some people that politics are civics not history, but I do not agree with that distinction. Aren’t our political choices a big part of what drives history?

We feel strongly about voting at our house. I think it is important to raise Sean in an environment where he is aware of what is going on in politics. I am raising a voter. I am also trying to raise him to be a critical thinker. I am not looking for him to agree with me on everything, or even vote as I do. I want him to come to his own understandings and beliefs about what is the best course. Democracies work best when all citizens vote. The issues and candidates you support might not win every time, but you will live in a more equitable and peaceful nation, because the majority of the people living in it voted, which means the majority of the people spoke about what and who they wanted for their nation.

I could not wait to vote as I approached the age of 18. I grew up in a family whose members voted, often for different parties and differently on issues. We discussed our reasons, we talked about the issues, and we did not let it become divisive when we disagreed about them. I have voted every voting cycle since I was 18 years old, except for one when I could not make it to the polls in time. I want Sean to take voting as seriously as Jim (my husband) and I do.

Sean is listening to the candidate speak.
History: Sean is listening to the candidate speak.

I think the best way to make sure Sean cares about voting and the issues facing our country is by participating in the process. This year Sean, Jim, and I volunteered on the campaign for a candidate running to keep his house seat. We watched the debates, learned about the issues, and paid attention to the results of the election. It made a difference to volunteer for a campaign because we were much more vested in the results.

Sean is working the phone banks. This was a tough job. Most people do not want to speak on the phone to strangers about their political choices.
History: Sean is working the phone banks. This was a tough job. Most people do not want to speak on the phone to strangers about their political choices.








Check out our post on handcrafting science here.

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, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman. 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, http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/people/zoroastrians.htm, 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.

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.

Delhi Day 6 and on the road to Agra


Today we went to our placement, and then we got on the road to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is.

I know I have been saying it every day, but Sean loves his volunteering. We will decide by Monday night what we are going to do, because Sean wants stay and volunteer the entire time we are in India. Jim wants to see Rajasthan for 11 days, and I am easy about which we do.

It took about a week for us to settle into our placement. Sean and Hillary are working with the little ones. They both love their assignment. I am working with Rishi from Children’s Hope with the oldest ones. Rishi’s parents are Indian, and he speaks enough Hindi to converse with the kids. I am lucky to be working with someone who has that ability. Even though we are trying to help with their English, a little bit more than a little bit of Hindi comes in handy. Today I was asked if I would stay an hour later to work with an older group of girls, I think high school age, to help with their English. I was working with a couple of girls today helping them memorize some sentences for a test and had great success, so the teacher thought I could help with the older ones too. My experience acting came in handy, because the wording for the answers to test questions are supposed to be the exact answers given by the teacher in class. The test they were studying for was a health test, but because of this rote method, every test in every subject is like memorizing the lines of a play. They have so many children attending the schools that the schools are divided into 2 sessions of 4 or 5 hours each. The students are divided into morning students and afternoon students. I am working with a group of afternoon students in a program that gives tutoring to lower preformance student from the slum area  we are in. The girls I will start working with on Monday attend the morning session.

Jim and Alecia are working with what we would consider kindergarten age students, I think at least. They make a great team.

Jim is making a Christmas tree for a lesson about Christmas his group is working on.

This story is told to you as it was told to me. The boy here in the foreground came for three days this week. He is a servant boy. He is able to be here because his master is away for a few days. When his master comes back he will go back to work, and can no longer come here, until the master goes away again. He is about 12 years old, Anil wasn’t sure exactly. His academic skills are quite a bit below the other students who are younger than him. He has been a servant boy for at least 2 years. His master is a vegetable seller. This boy is a delivery boy for him. He was working on his math skills, and basic Hindi writing skills, but not English. If he doesn’t get the basic math skills a merchant needs, he will always have to be a servant, so Anil has him focus on his math in order to help him in life.

You might have noticed kohl on the children’s eyes, both boys and girls. It is a belief that kohl on the eyes keeps the evil eye from focusing on your child. People will also draw a cross on the back of their neck or behind the ears to keep the evil eye away. Public health officials have been trying to get people to stop this practice, because drawing kohl around the eye is unhealthy. About 1/3 to 1/2  of the kids still have the kohl around their eyes, though.

Sean was told that he looks like a young Bill Clinton. We found the same thing in Europe, Ireland especially, when we travel, Bill Clinton is really thought well of, even now so many years after his Presidency, outside of the US.

The name Sean is an Indian name as well as an Anglo name. Most Hindi names have a meaning. Sean means my pride in Hindi.

Do you see the two little ones with something in their hands. They are eating a Superfood Bar. Before leaving the states I bought a whole bunch of bars at a health food store. I always do when I travel. I love them. Sean won’t eat them. Jim will, but only if there is nothing else. I brought my phone and a bar to the placement yesterday and left them both on a chair. I came over towards the end to get my phone and noticed my bar was gone. Here is the story Hillary and Sean told me. A group of the little ones noticed it, picked it up, and opened it. They broke it up and shared it. Only one of them liked it, but another one of the children, who didn’t like it, ran around gathering up the pieces. This child refused to share with the one child who liked it. Here are the two of them. The one in the pink doesn’t like the bar, but won’t give it up, and the one with the striped hoodie who likes the bar. By the end of our time, the bar had been eaten. Sean said it was funny to watch.

What follows were taken on the road to Agra. I don’t have many photos because of the speed we were traveling . There was a lot to see though. We saw camels, monkeys, deer, cows, and lots of dogs on the roadside. See the monkey on the sign.

There were also plenty of interesting looking people and buildings.

We hired 2 drivers for the 7 of us. It was comfortable and fun. When we were 10 minutes down the road, the driver told us he had to pick up a carpet along the way. He took us the old way (and longer time wise) so he could pick it up. But hey, the road less traveled…

Our driver found this scene really funny. See the cow next to the blue sign saying this is a police station. The driver started laughing saying it was a police cow.

Here is the carpet we picked up. We were all merry. It was funny, really funny. The carpet was much smaller than we expected. Sean and Hillary bought snacks at this stop. They were expensive and stale.

The fellow on the left is our driver.

Then we had a flat tire. A flat tire on the streets in India is dangerous. You just cannot believe the driving/traffic here. The painted lane dividers are for suggested position only, people pay no attention to them, and everyone honks all the time as they get within fractions of an inch away from other vehicles.

This is the driver of the other car with a flash light. I do not envy our driver at all, changing this tire.

This is a Hindu Temple. Oh yeah!

We are staying at the Bansi Home Stay. A home stay is the Indian version of a B&B. I found it on Trip Advisor. It was the #1 home stay in Agra. We found out why too. It was great. Here are some photos of it. The food was great, the beds comfortable (although Indian beds are harder than ours at home), the shower super, and the people who ran it treated us like family! They are going to get a 5 star rating on Trip Advisor from me for sure.

Last night, 4 men were occupying this area. They were celebrating 50 years of friendship.

A statue of Ganesh.

These are from the little courtyard in front of our home stay.

This is the kitchen and the chef. I always check out the kitchens wherever I go. The chef is from the Himalayas.

These were taken on the morning of the 14th while I waited for the others to wake up. While waiting, a family came down. The wife spoke such unaccented English I thought she was visiting from America. She was not, she was a native Indian. The family party had the husband, wife, a 3 year old, and both sets of grandparents. All of the adults spoke English exclusively to the toddler. They told me it is a common practice in well educated families to only speak English to the children until they are 5 or 6, so that English is the child’s first language. Once the child speaks English well, the family will start speaking Hindu to the child. They expect their child to learn a couple other languages along the way as well.

Check out yesterdays blog here and here and check out the next post here.

New Delhi day 4

New Delhi

Every day we are here, we are more inspired. Very few Americans, in my experience, understand tolerance and acceptance with the depth and breadth that most Indians seem to. Because of this there is a focus on social activism that I haven’t experienced much in the States. Sean wants to move here. It is the first vacation where he isn’t talking about how much he misses Jezabel, his pug. I told Sean he cannot move here until he finishes college, and then it is all up to him anyway. He loves working with the kids, especially the littlest ones.

We are loving it, with a caveat, Jim has Delhi Belly. That is what they call the stomach flu most people get in their first week of staying in Delhi. Married to a woman who can eat unwashed leaves and laugh it off, ah the inequities of life! Poor guy, he can now say he threw up in a slum in India.

Sean and I started our day at the Vidya school. I taught a lesson about nutrition, right up my alley. Sean was asked to teach math. His least favorite subject. He was doing okay until he asked the kids to calculate 0/3 which has no solution, oops.

Sean said, “Mom, two of the girls would rather do math than play tag.” I hate to tell him, but that was me as a little girl. How could my son not love math more?

I am really proud of how Sean is handling himself. I am not the only one either. The director of the program, Bella, told him she is very impressed with him. She said that many kids who come with their parents spend their time complaining and comparing India to the US, instead of appreciating India for itself. Sean was invited to participate in a teen project for teens 15 to 18 held in Dharamsala, India in the summer.

Today they are playing freeze tag.

This is what Sean has been waiting for! He loves working with these little ones so much.

Here Jim and I are with Dr. Rekha Chaturvedi. I have met three women in three days who make me feel inspired to think harder about making a difference on this small planet we live on. Rekha told me the crèche program, the program that gets the little ones in, was started by her many years ago. I was told later that Rekha is a very powerful woman in the slums and with community service advocacy in Delhi. The children in the crèche have mothers who work. Before the crèche they were left at home on their own or with slightly older siblings. They were not getting the love, care, or food that they needed. She and other workers went through the slum communities talking to parents and convincing them to leave their little ones at the crèche where they would receive food, attention, and love. Once these children graduate they are not abandoned by the program. There is a network of programs that help them all the way through to graduate studies if they make it that far. Sean wants to spend the entire time we are in Delhi volunteering, not traveling. The two women working in the crèche were both success stories coming out of these programs. At the end of the last two days none of us in our group want to leave and go back to the CCS office. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to stay later and go help at a computer center for older kids.

Here is a link if you want to learn more about the work Rekha and her colleagues are doing.


I commented on how welcoming everyone in the slums is. Rheka told me when they started bringing volunteers in, the people asked her what they were doing there. The slum dwellers thought we might be coming in to laugh at them because they have so little. She assured them we were there because we love all people and want to help all of them to have a better life. Yep, that sums me up!

I bought myself a sari in my favorite color. I have my eye on another one too. I just have to see if I can figure out how to put this one on well enough to ever wear it. This is the sari before the piece has been cut off to make the blouse. I also had to have a petticoat made to hold the fold up.

We had to take the sari to a tailor shop. I was given careful instructions about where to go. Do you think I ended up at the right shop? Everyone who knows me knows the answer to that question! Jim has never been able to figure out how someone so good in math and science has no sense of direction. I hope this tailor does a good job. We will know the answer in two days.

Oh my, when did I get all those wrinkles 🙂 it beats the alternative though. The tailor is helping me choose petticoat fabric to match the sari. Look at all the bolts. There are more behind the door at the back.

Here is a little temple to Ganesh beside a tree.

Alecia and I took a yoga class.

Then we went to an open air artisans’ market. This fellow is from Kashmir; his name is Sarfaraz Ashraf. Jim and I now have a family in Kashmir to visit if we ever go there. They live between two lakes. We are now Facebook friends, so if any of you have questions about Kashmir, you can ask them. Seriously.

Check out our posts from yesterday here and here.