I have recently returned from a two and a half week school tour of India. Along with 15 other students I had the amazing opportunity to visit the incredible country of India: a land of contrasts.
Our journey began early one Spring morning as the team assembled at Canberra Airport, excitedly awaiting our departure. From Canberra we flew to Melbourne, then onto Bangkok, and finally to Hyderabad, India. After travelling for more that 24 hours on minimal sleep, one can be assured we slept well that night.
Our first day consisted of a slow morning, and an afternoon adventure wandering the chaotic streets of Hyderabad, the 4th most populated city in India. The 13 ladies on the team had the colossal task of purchasing 2 Punjabi Suits each, to be worn for the duration of our tour. The store we visited, located in the Women’s Bazaar suddenly came alive with colour as everyone browsed through the hundreds of clothing options, selected and then rejected various styles of Punjabi. 2 hours later everyone made their final decisions and we calmly waltzed out of the store, Punjabis in hand, leaving the 10 employees with an unimaginable mess of fabric to fold up.
Our first school visit was to a local school in Udamarry. Upon arrival we were absolutely swamped with hundreds of children coming up to greet us. Shaking hands and taking photos, I didn’t have time to stop and think. The children absolutely loved having their photo taken, and then seeing themselves on the camera screen. It was something so simple for me to do, which put a smile on all their faces. We were welcomed with leis of fresh flowers, and sung songs in either Telugu, Hindi or English as we visited each individual classroom.
Our second school visit was in Nandigaum. This was our first experience of teaching in the classroom. In two groups we taught each class, from Lower Kindergarten to Standard Eight. The classes were taught about Australian animals, what they look like, how they sound and how strange they are. We then taught them a song in English, and they returned the favour by singing for us.
Golconda Fort is an ancient ruin of a fort built to house both the King and Queen of the era. It is an amazing stone structure built on a hill overlooking the entire city of Hyderabad. We walked to the top of the hill via the Queens way. The journey passed several mosques and Hindu temples. We admired the Kings intuitive natural air conditioner, a grate which captures the breeze even when there is no wind. In one room, people could face an inner corner on opposite sides of the room, and hold a whispered conversation without even looking at each other. The tiring walk on a sticky hot day was finished with a delicious cold mango juice, an essential beverage while travelling in India.
From Hyderabad, we travelled by train to Solapur: a city of 1 million people but still small by Indian standards. For a week we taught in a local school, where I taught ‘Standard Three’. The kids were very excited to see us as we drove through the school gate. Each morning the day starts with an assembly. The children line up in their age groups wearing their impeccable uniform with pride. After assembly, the team was thrown into the deep end and we were sent to our classrooms to teach. Teaching was challenging to begin with. It was difficult to manage a classroom of 35 children and the language barrier only made it harder. Although the children were proficient in English, our accents made it hard to understand one another. We taught their normal lessons, as well as teaching them about Australia and singing songs in English. I enjoyed teaching more than I expected to, and surprised myself, in the way that I was not phased by anything. During their lunch and recess breaks, we played with all the kids. We played many hand clapping games over and over again, gave high fives, taught them the Hokey Pokey, signed our name in their books and of course took hundreds of photos. The end of the week came around too quickly, we presented each child with an Australian Koala at the final assembly, and had to say goodbye to the children and teachers we had come to know and love.
The traffic in India was daunting and chaotic to say the least. Although there are lines on the road and designated lanes to drive in, everyone on the roads seem to disregard this and instead weave in and out of the traffic at an average speed of 40km/h. A combination of Autos, cars, motorbikes and cows (!) seem to dominate the roads. Actually crossing the roads was a thrill in itself. There are rarely any pedestrian crossings to be found, and on the rare occasion we did spot one it was still almost impossible to make our way across, as none of the drivers take notice of the crossings. When crossing the road, one simply waits for a small break in the traffic before stepping out onto the road with an arm outstretched, warning the drivers that your coming. Then one carefully keeps walking, with faith that the vehicles will slow down, and avoiding any obstacles until you’ve safely reached the other side.
The Taj Mahal located in Agra was an awesome experience. The majestic building took a total of 27 years to build. Although the marble structure is the main focus, it is surrounded by numerous red sandstone palaces and mosques which are just as detailed and exquisite. To enter the mausoleum we all had to wear white shoe coverings to protect the ancient marble. Inside is the grave of the emperor Shah Jahan, and his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal. However the graves I saw were replicas of the real tombs which lie underground. The grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal were green, lush and perfectly manicured and accompanied by fountains and fragrant flowers. However as soon as we stepped out of the park, we were greeted with all the rubbish, dirt and smells of a typical Indian city.
Our last night in India was spent in Dehli, where we had the opportunity to get Mehndi applied to our hands. The artist was obviously very practiced and was able to paint intricate designs onto our hands in minutes. The dye is made from the Henna plant and lasts for around two weeks.
This journey I have embarked on has been a life changing experience, and far from a mere holiday. I have learnt much about not only myself but also the world around us, and the sad reality of injustice. I have become more appreciative of all the things I had previously taken for granted and realised that really, I have nothing to complain about. Being surrounded by poverty while in India, has taught me what is important in life and what is not. I have gained an appreciation of what it is like to be a teacher, and experienced both the struggles and rewards that come with it. My travels in India were an enriching experience, and I would definitley like to return if I ever have the opportunity again.