February Routine and Travels / by Aedin Wright

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The keys of my laptop bounce up lovingly against my fingers, mirroring the bumpy Indian road three meters below, as I ride along in this two story sleeper bus from Jodhpur back home to Ahmedabad. My sleeping compartment, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is roughly the size of a coffin and smells like one too. (Though I doubt Dracula and the like get motion sickness in those things.) All this said, it’s actually quite cozy and with my window open exchanging the mothball scent for fresh country air, I feel as if I’ve discovered the Indian version of the Knight Bus. I spent this past weekend in the blue city, a ten hour drive north of Ahmedabad, with two other volunteers from the Ashram. Three days filled with the intimidating Mehrangarh Fort, refreshing gardens, Rajastani food, and the unanimous highlight, the people of Jodhpur. Monday, March 4th was Shivaratri, the Hindu festival in celebration of Lord Shiva. As we were walking through Jodhpur’s old city we were invited by several little girls to come back to their house that evening to celebrate. It turned out their vision was this dance party on their front porch!  

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I’m not sure where I get it, perhaps growing up in a non-community-oriented culture or it’s my skewed performance of extreme-politeness, but I am disposed to say no to invitations. Maybe I don’t want to be a burden or it’s my ego really wanting an even more earnest invitation, but it means I am not comfortably a YES-woman. But o-boy, timid had to go in my time at Manav Sadhna and in India. Firstly, I am continually surrounded and inspired by the boldness of Indian people - sure, I’m painting broad strokes but new friends from Ahmedabad jokingly say about non-Indians that we’ll need to get used to the forward comments and stares because it’s just part of the culture. And thank goodness for that. My squirms from being stared at or from the incredulous, “why aren’t you married?”s or the semi-frequent exclamations of how pink my skin is are now humble reminders not to take myself too seriously. I more and more see the innocence behind these interactions rather than anything personal. 

And secondly, the preciousness of my time here (deemed so partly because of its limited duration but mostly because of the invaluable and unique teachings that spring forth in abundance every day) prompt me to push myself further, to benefit from every opportunity that presents itself. To do this, I’ve needed to practice letting go of apprehensions about being a burden or worries about being different and in the way. The result; well, this was certainly not my first impromptu dance party with strangers in my time in India!

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While our time in Jodhpur was time away from Manav Sadhna, I feel like it’s deepened my appreciation of Indian culture and history, which this translates back to my time in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad has grown so quickly and I rarely spend time in the old city, it’s easy to forget how old this country is. In Jodhpur, however, the  ancientness and therefore the cultural depth is highlighted with every turret and stepwell. Greater awareness of simply the time for accumulation of culture and complexity and bygones makes every moment here richer and I am excited to keep this perspective in Ahmedabad.  

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Speaking of Ahmedabad! This past month I have felt a wonderful routine develop. I have kept with the English Club for the teachers in Tuesdays and Saturdays. Meetings have ranged from conversational tips to brainstorming ideas for how to improve order and effectiveness in the classroom, all in English of course! I am still rotating to the four different centers in the morning for 3rd and 4th standard English classes. In the afternoon, I either work on the curriculum for the 6th standard English classes or am writing the final phonics exams for the 3rd and 4th standards, which are coming up in two weeks along with the end go the school year! Time has truly flown. Here is the wonderful Poojaben asking her students questions about the book they’ve just read as part of the phonics curriculum. Students are showing clear improvement with the routine of the new modules, picking up patterns in the activities, and are always excited about playing the vocabulary games. It’s been a blessing to watch the kids take to the new material. 

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There were two big events this month. First was a  Science Fair in which all of the centers participated. It was held at Manav Gulzar and the participating students each had various projects they had been assigned to present. To the left are the burgeoning chemists who stole my heart with their chemical explanation of why static electricity makes your hair stick to a charged balloon. 

The next event was a community gathering at Manav Mitra (below) where we cooked for and served the surrounding community. Funded by a local business man, the day was in honor of his six year old daughter’s birthday - instead of putting money towards a birthday party, her parents have been throwing a community  gathering that feeds several hundred people each year. We also had the help of the Indian Boy and Girl Scouts as well as their performances of some lovely budgens (prayer songs).  As you can see below, the decorations were all out and the food was even better!

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February saw the development of a schedule but also, as always, was full of changing plans, going with the flow, and unexpected gifts. I am especially grateful to the kids of Manav Sadhna for inspiring me to be sillier, dance more, and always keep my heart open to strangers and new possibilities. 

Love and light, 

Aedin