Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Removers of Darkness and Ignorance

I think I speak for all three of us when I say that today was a really good day. The weather has been picture perfect the whole time we've been here. Bob showed up on time. All the class were eager and ready to get to work and work, they did. Lunch was simply amazing. The afternoon session of creating and sharing Learning Plans went far better than any of us had expected. The class has warmed up to us and to each other, not that they were cold or rude or anything like that. Vicky and I got to do a little shopping. Dinner was great, again.

Let's the order of the introductory paragraph: the weather the whole time, so far, has been slightly breezy and in the mid-70's. I'm sure the sky could be considered blue, but Delhi really has terrible air quality. It makes for great sunsets, though.

Bob arrived quite promptly this morning as usual. He was his usual helpful self, making sure to carry Vicky's and my bags in to the conference room. He always addresses Les but looks to me for confirmation, like I speak Hindi. But, he's a sweet kid. On the way home, tonight, Les actually called him "Bob," even though we know his name is Nantuk (I think I misspelled it before). He has apparently decided that we like Indian music, which he plays at earsplitting levels the second the key is in the ignition. Les finally turned it down tonight. I think that was about the time he began calling him "Bob."

Everyone was in their places and working hard when the bell metaphorically rang. Even Shiksha 2! Today was kind of crunch day, because they had to have their projects in pretty good order by late this afternoon. The three of us spent a lot of time with individual groups, and I have to say, these are the most satisfying people I've ever worked with. The idea of project based learning is that you give real world problems to solve and these people are designing projects to clean up the Yanuma River, a lake in Rajasthan, preserving the elephant population in Sri Lanka, addressing the horrifying number of traffic deaths in India... great stuff and real things these kids see every day. Very inspiring! As always happens, it takes a few days for a group like this to gel, and today was gel day. People were wandering around helping each other, even across national lines. By next Friday, we should all be best friends.

Now, for something completely gastronomical: I thought we'd all come back a few pounds lighter. Pounds sterling, maybe. We have eaten ourselves silly. The food in the hotel is very good (the honey-chile french fries are to die for). I was told this afternoon that the hotel for the conference was specifically chosen because of the food. Holy cow! Lunch is a much anticipated affair, as are the morning and afternoon tea breaks where the hotel staff takes great delight in serving the Americans a different kind of tea every day, although they always have a pot of Masala tea waiting because they know how much we love it.

Vicky and I split the cost of a car from the hotel ($13) to do a little shopping. We were both in the market for "pyjamas," which is the Indian term for the tunic, pants and scarf that most Indian women wear these days. We weren't especially happy with the selections in the store that had been recommended, but found a "textiles" store. They must have had 2,000 different flats of fabric. Some were sari length, others were for pyjamas. Amazing colors and combinations. You ask to see one you like, and they unfold it. The fabric for the top is pre cut to length, with the coordinating precut pants fabric and a coordinating scarf. They make the most incredible color and pattern combinations, and they always seem to work. Anyhow, once you've made your choice, a very proper Sikh tailor takes your measurements, asks about your pants preference ("straight leg or proper Punjabi style" and you should have seen his face light up when I said I wanted the proper Punjabi style.) He then designs the neckline of the tunic for you, draws the design on a piece of scratch paper and sticks it in the bag with your fabric. We will have our custom made costumes in about a week. All for something around $30. I may go back and buy some of the sari fabric because it is so incredibly beautiful.

You may be wondering about the odd title. One of the teachers in the class is this delightful Hindu man, who takes great pride in his faith and great joy in telling us about it. He told us today that the meaning of "guru" comes from the words' two syllables. "Gu" means "darkness and ignorance," and "ru" means "remover of," thus "guru" is a remover of darkness and ignorance, or a teacher. He said that there are three debts that a Hindu can never repay, the one to his mother, the one to his nation and the one to his teachers, or gurus. He said that because the gift a teacher gives is that of knowledge, which is an ever growing gift, there is no way to repay it. What an extraordinary view of the value of education!

Dinner in the hotel was just what we've come to expect: the service is friendly but slooooooooow. We think Les may have upset the balance of the universe by asking for the menus before our drinks were delivered. At least the hotel staff certainly seemed to think so. The Two-Bit Taiwanese Band was back and when they launched into "Stand by Your Man," Les was left to wonder what the odds were that we would hear the same Patsy Cline song twice in three days in India. Must be astronomical! They took a break while we were eating but thoughtfully left the background music on their karaoke machine going for ambience. As we left the restaurant and headed for the elevators, Les sighed that there were times when he waited for band breaks. I said that I thought there were times when a power outage would be welcome. I no sooner had the words out of my mouth when the power went out. In the darkness, I heard, "Goddamnit, Cheryl, don't you ever say that again."

Not to worry, Les.

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