Welcome to my blog! I am so excited to have this back up and running so I can keep all of you up to date on my experiences in Ghana. I will be embarking on a 3 month internship in Accra with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) developing anti-child trafficking initiatives in schools around the city.

I hope you enjoy the blog! I will do my best to post regularly!

19 August, 2010

My Big Depressing Indian Wedding

Hello! It's been a while since my last post, so here goes! Recently, the four of us had the good fortune to get invited to our first Indian wedding. Pintu, one of the men who works at the Blessed Andre School, excitedly informed us of his youngest sister's impending marriage only two days before the occasion. We later found out that the entire wedding was planned in under one week! (I can't even imagine trying to do that!) Marriages in India and predominantly arranged. It was explained to us that there are "some" love marriages, but the vast majority are set up by professional marriage brokers or match makers. The process is quite interesting, but parts of it can make you cringe, especially if you're from a liberal Western tradition.
Girls get married around the age of 18 and boys are usually closer to 21 or 22, which must be why so many people ask me if I am married when they first meet me! Many times the bride and bridegroom have met only once or twice before the night of the wedding. The wedding also marks the first time that the bride will move away from her family's home. All of these factors make the process less than joyous for the bride. Contrast this with your typical wedding in the United States. Here is a picture of the four of us with Fr. Joe Paul and the bride to be. Pay attention to her age and her expression. It was tough for all of us to wish her congratulations and smile at her when she looked so down, but we did our bests. I think we were all a little saddened by that portion of our night.
One of the most striking aspects of the wedding was the "building" in which it took place. It was, in fact, an elaborate series of colorful fabric tents that were built up between several houses in a rural village. Fr. Joe Paul told us that once the tents were taken down, you would not recognize the village from the night before.
The rest of the wedding was also very interesting. There was a lot of dancing and chanting as well as an abundance of delicious food. I tried many new dishes that night including fish head curry, goat, cheese curd, and several spicy chicken dishes along with a yellow soup called dahl. Our next course was called sweet and sour, which was actually a lumpy brown liquid that tasted like a mixture of licorice and peanut butter. I know that sounds disgusting, but it wasn't all that bad! The meal finished, in traditional Bengali fashion, just as it had began, with a sweet. Yummy!
On the ride to and from the wedding, which was in a town called Simna, we had to cross the border into the country of Bangladesh. I was very excited about this because I can now say that I have been there, but all of us agreed that we would like to return to see more of our neighboring state.
In other news, I have begun teaching full time at the Blessed Andre School! I enjoy it there very much and I have found the children to be wonderful. They are quite shy at first and their self-confidence needs work, but they are bright. I have quite the age range throughout a typical week at school. Some days I teach 12th grade followed by 3rd or 4th grade. It's difficult to make that transition at times, but am really loving teaching. I couldn't believe what I was saying when I told Katherine that I could ALMOST see myself doing something like that in the future. I guess the family teaching gene hasn't totally skipped me!
Until next time,

10 August, 2010

First day of school and other updates

Hello! I am very happy to tell you all that we have completed our first day of school! This past Monday, the four of us traveled by bus to the Blessed Andre School. The ride alone was interesting as students from class 1 to class 12 along with teachers piled onto a small school bus. The ride was bumpy and cramped, but we all made it to school just fine. Once there, the children lined up for morning assembly, which is held Monday and Fridays in the schoolyard. The students then parade into school by age and head to their period 1 classrooms.
The four of us were asked to play the role of substitute teachers for the first few days we are in the school to give the administration time to ready our classes. Collectively we subbed in classes 8, 9, and 10. Instead of trying to pick up where their regular teachers had left off, we were asked to engage the students in conversation to gauge their English ability and to try to get them used to our accents and us used to theirs. Indian English and American English are very different animals, so this was a nice opportunity to practice our active listening skills!

My first impressions of the school are mostly positive. The children are shy, but very bright, and once they began to feel more comfortable with us, they began to ask questions about the United States, our travels, how we were finding India so far, and of course American popular culture. Sadly, some of the worst of the U.S. has made it to even the remote villages of India. The WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) was mentioned, along with Justin Beiber, Miler Cyrus, and Michael Jackson. Oh well! I guess we can’t control what makes the leap and what doesn’t!

The classes, along with much of society, are extremely gendered. The girls sit on one side of the classroom, the boys on the other. When the boys speak, the girls listen, but when the girls speak, the boys tend to chat amongst each other. This attitude is reflected in marriage practices, family life, and most definitely in the political realm as well.

The younger classes are very cute! Their English comprehension and speech are not quite as good as in the Holy Cross School. I hope to sub in one of their classes at some point so I can spend time with them as well! Here is a picture of class 1!

One of the most eye-opening moments of the day for me was when a student asked me where in the world I had traveled. I told him that I had been to over 20 countries and the whole class let out a collective gasp. I asked them how many of them had been to Delhi, the Indian capital, not one hand went up. The vast majority of these children have not left their small state of Tripura, some potentially never seeing past the city of Agartala.

In other news, our neighbor Jinu (7 years old) has begun to teach me to play cricket! It is a very interesting sport that resembles baseball (but only a little). I will admit that I’m not very good at it, but Jinu says that there’s hope

for me yet! I hope he’s right!

We also took a group excursion to a local zoo! It was a very exciting to see all of the monkeys, rhinos, leopards, lions, and tigers! While we were there, one of the monkeys actually escaped! Here is a picture of the Royal Bengal Tiger that we saw.

I think that is all for now, but I will most definitely keep you all posted! ~Ben

05 August, 2010

Visiting the Blessed Andre School

Hi everyone! Just wanted to give a quick update as to what’s going on with us in India! At the moment, I’m counting the geckos on my wall…I’m up to 5 and I’m suspicious that I’ve missed a few. Some people around here think that they’re annoying, but I love watching them dart around the walls (not to mention they eat mosquitoes).
Yesterday we traveled to the Blessed Andre School with Father Joe Paul. The drive was around 25 minutes and took us through some beautiful country. Rice paddies lined both sides of the road at some points filled with workers and nature alike. The colors here seem more vivid than anything I’ve experienced before.
The greens of the paddies and jungle are especially bright.

The children at the school were very excited to see us and when they were told that two of us might be coming to teach there, they became even more enthusiastic. They genuinely seem like they want to learn as much as they can to better their chances at progressing in their education. Here are a couple of pictures from our morning at the school!

We have had a few meetings lately to determine our exact roles for the coming year. It was decided that Aja and I will be heading to the Blessed Brother Andre School for the first half of our stay and will then switch to the Holy Cross Agartala School with Marie and Ellen in January. I am very excited about this placement because the children we will be working with are slightly more in need than those at Holy Cross, though help is required everywhere.
Also discussed was what we would be teaching/contributing once at the Holy Cross School. I, for one, will potentially have two roles. First, I might be teaching Communicative English, which can be likened to public speaking. It is also possible that I may be used in social studies. Second, Father Emmanuel and Father C.V. Jose said that I should be able to lecture at the college in Political Science! This surprised me, as I do not feel qualified to do so, but it is an opportunity and a challenge that I would gladly take on!
Though we will be much busier once we start working at the school on Monday, I will do my best to continue to update the blog!

01 August, 2010

Welcome to India: First impressions

After four flights and several days blurred into one we have finally arrived in Agartala, India! Everything about India is warm. Its weather, the food (though for now I would characterize it as hot!), and of course its people. Since landing in Kolkata two days ago, we have been treated very well by everyone we have met. Our first friend, Father Joe Paul, met us at the airport in Kolkata along with his friend Manish, who owns the company that supplies them much of their school supplies. Manish had graciously offered his flat in the city to us for the night and made sure that we arrived there safely.That being said, the drive from the airport to the apartment was one I will never forget. Nothing can prepare you for the level of poverty we encountered as we made our way down the streets of one of the world's most densely populated cities. The air is thick and heavy with humidity and pollution. The threat of a storm hung over the city. The streets themselves were not overly crowded in the midnight hour, but the gutters and sidewalks were filled with men, women, and children sleeping on the hard ground, dogs and garbage strewn around them. At one point I saw a mother with a small child wrapped in her arms, using the curb as her pillow. As our taxi driver veered left and darted right, the smells of the streets filled our nostrils. At times, the smell reminded me of strong spices, but would quickly switch to the strong odor of sewage and decay. Once at the apartment we carted our baggage up and set up camp for the night. Here is a view of Kolkata from the window of the flat.
Once in Agartala the next day we were brought directly to our cottages before heading to the priests' compound for lunch. Here are some photos of our house, our cat Jax, and the jungle/forest surrounding us.

We have already met several students at the school. Two of our neighbors Ginu and Bijoy have come over to the cottages a few times already to meet us and just spend some time. Ginu is about 7 or 8 years old and Bijoy is in the 11th grade. Today Bijoy taught us a new game called Carem. It is a mixture of pool, air hockey, and paper football! Here are a few shots of us learning and playing!
After this, Ginu spend some time with us playing spoons and go fish!
In the afternoon we traveled to meet the Bishop of the diocese and then toured the campus with Fr. Emmanuel. He then took us to the girls hostel were it was tutoring time. We walked up the stairs and straight into a classroom of almost 30 students! I have never seen so many beautiful smiles! All of the girls immediately said, "Good evening Ma'am, Good evening Sir," which will definitely take some getting used to. They sang us a beautiful welcome song and gave us paper flowers to symbolize friendship and then asked us some questions before we headed back to our cottage for the night. It has made me even more excited for our teaching experience to begin!
I think that is all for now, sorry for such a long posting, but so much is happening so quickly!
Best, Ben