A Travellerspoint blog


Language is a strange thing. We say that we are ‘studying’ a language as if it’s a solid entity that can be observed and inspected, like a statue in a museum; but really, they are living entities, constantly morphing and shifting. They have to be – our modern, technological society would struggle to function if we were all speaking like a character from Chaucer. Now, I know this as well as anybody, and it’s what makes being a linguist exciting, but there is still quite a large part of my brain that is a definite language snob. (You there across the pond, stop pretending you speak English, be honest with yourselves and call it American.)

So here’s my problem: Hindlish. I’m spending these three weeks working as an English teacher, and that is precisely what I intend to teach. English. From England. But the language that’s developing here is a strange beast, with its own individual quirks. Take my class yesterday, for example. The topic was ‘polite requests’, so I set the kids to create short dialogues at the market, buying various things, which they then presented to the class (with varying degrees of success). One of the boys informed me that he ‘would like to recharge [his] phone’ – a strange request at the market, you might think. I know full well that what he means is that he wants to top-up his credit, but was what he said wrong? In England, yes, it would be wrong – the shopkeeper would give you a seriously weird look, thinking you wanted to borrow a plug socket. But here it’s in current usage. So, as an English teacher, employed to work with kids who want international careers as engineers, doctors, lawyers etc., is my responsibility to teach them my native tongue or the developing hybrid that is already a major force in their own country? I think as I’m only here for a very short time, there’s little point in trying to reshape something that’s already ingrained, but I’d genuinely be interested to hear from anybody who’s faced a similar problem doing ESL for longer term.

Posted by PhilippaW 22:23 Archived in India Tagged children culture india volunteering activities udaipur exchange classes wwoofing Comments (0)

Never Leave Home without a Porpoise

Those of you who know me well know that there’s nothing I hate more than a day without a purpose. So imagine, for a moment, the difficulty I’ve had being stuck in the house with no work and not even those dark corners of the internet or daytime TV to distract me from my own boredom. But no longer! For the next three weeks I’m going to back in the classroom of an NGO school, chalk in hand, irregular past participles at the ready. Resources are very low, but the kids are very enthusiastic and that’s what’s important. It’ll also be my first time teaching above primary level, which is a bit intimidating.
But back to the issue at hand; people here really seem to struggle to understand my need to be busy. Yesterday I was actually told that I should avoid doing any hard work! They seem baffled by the hours I spend surrounded by books and my trusty Rosetta Stone or attempting to work out in the middle of the floor, a 21st century Countess of Monte Cristo. Vast swathes of the rural population seem to be pretty content doing absolutely nothing. I mean, serious amounts of nothing. We all appreciate the odd pyjama day, but the streets here are filled with people who are just, well, existing. They’re not buying or selling anything, or waiting for anyone, they even seem to accumulate in large groups in order to not communicate in a strange sort of silent, isolated social situation. They don’t even look like they’re thinking about anything, just existing,

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that Indian people are lazy; I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of people who are extremely dedicated and driven and have achieved incredible things. I also know that there are massive issues with unemployment and labour rights, so it is highly likely that these people don’t have anything they can do. I’m not passing judgement, just observing; principally because at this particular moment in time, I too have nothing to do.

Posted by PhilippaW 22:22 Archived in India Tagged children culture india volunteering activities udaipur exchange classes wwoofing Comments (0)

Random Musings

Some things I don't think I could ever get used to:

Being stared at
Long distance spitting and loud phlegm removal
Hitting (friends, children, pets... anything really)
Seeing kids doing manual labour
Emaciated and mutilated street animals
Dark rooms with very small windows
Absence of toilet paper
Some things I'm really surprised that I am used to:

Drinking copious amounts of chai
Oncoming traffic on single direction roads
Risking life and limb to cross the road
Riding motorbikes with no helmet
Mattress-free beds
Washing from a bucket
People pooing by the side of the road (Why I'm ok with this and not spitting, I don't know. Though I won't be joining them)
Being vegetarian (Though if anybody fancies sending me a very rare steak and a cheese hamper of Christmas, I wouldn't refuse it)

Posted by PhilippaW 22:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Empire Stares Back

Dear ex-colonies of the world,
In days gone by, we did bad things to you. We catalogued you with our cameras, made you dance at our dinner parties and made human zoos at our exhibitions. For all those things, we are sorry. We won’t do it again. I suppose you could say that we deserve the same treatment in return, but haven’t we got past the whole eye for an eye thing?
Love, ‘the West’
Avid followers of this scintillating publication may remember that a while ago I talked a bit about staring, and how you just have to develop a thick skin and ignore it. Well it turns out that no skin is impermeable. I recently went to distribute medication in a flood-hit village that had literally never seen a white person before and now almost see the appeal of the burkha. I spent four hours under close scrutiny, and I mean close – people were drawing up chairs, Abramovitch-style, in order get a really good, long look. A man with a stick was employed to herd children away from me. I was paraded around the local school, where I was asked if the reason for my whiteness was horrific burns. After three hours of this, I had been driven into a dark corner with my companions Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera, either about to deck someone or burst into tears, until I was rescued by the village president bearing samosas. Now, being stared at by a group of middle aged men isn’t actually much of an improvement on hordes of children, but fresh street food and sugary treats did do something to improve my mood.

I’ve always been unsure about my standpoint on zoos (provided their doing important conservation work, I’m anti-zoos for entertainment), but now my mind is made up. Nobody wants to feel like that. And should I ever pass a celebrity in the street, I shall look pointedly in the other direction and hope I don’t walk into a lamppost.

Posted by PhilippaW 22:20 Archived in India Tagged children culture india volunteering activities udaipur exchange classes wwoofing Comments (0)


Last week I was invited to a Women’s Meeting at the local town hall; Hurrah! thought I. This is where I get to see how all those issues I spent so long reading about are really being dealt with. What nobody told me was that I too would be making a speech, in front of about 500 local people as well as the head honcho and founder of the charity. So, as the talks (in Hindi) got underway, I plastered a look of ‘Indeed? Most interesting’ across my face and set about thinking about what I was going to say. It was actually surprisingly difficult, considering that I generally have a lot to say on the subject of gender relations and can talk about the history of dowry, infanticide and marriage until the cows come home. But then that little voice called Cultural Awareness popped up again. Useful as it is in the world of academia to be able to quote famous figures and historians, I don’t actually have any real insight into these issues, so I figured it would be best to leave that side of things up to the women who have been living with these issues their whole lives. (Incidentally, these problems are still very prevalent; I’ve seen two newspaper reports on dowry murder and even wrestled with myself about getting involved when a man harassed his wife outside my door in the middle of the night.)
In the end, I decided to for the fairly safe, but immensely important issue of ‘women’s problems’ not only being problems for women, but for the whole of society. It went down very well, much applause and congratulatory food (including a pastry thing so unbelievably sweet that I think it was made of unicorns and pixies).

But here’s the problem. The very same evening, the father of the family that I was staying with at the time felt compelled to leave the room we were all in because I carelessly revealed my knee. Now, this is a man who is constantly wandering around, fiddling with his lunghi, his own knees very much on show. I dutifully covered up, but took the opportunity to open a discussion on why it was perfectly fine for him to be nude-kneed but not me; the response was ‘because that’s Indian culture’ - essentially the classic fallback argument of ‘because it is’. And this is coming from the same women who had earlier told me that the earlier meeting and my speech had been ‘a very proud day.’ Despite considerable discussion, the idea that this seemingly insignificant issue of skin display could be in any way linked to big problems like female infanticide seemed to completely elude them. Like I’ve said before, I’m not here to cause a feminist revolution, but it’s incredibly difficult to understand and be ok with women who want to make progress but don’t see that it is only possible when the value of women is equal to that of men in all respects. A leg for a leg, as it were.

Posted by PhilippaW 22:18 Archived in India Tagged children culture india volunteering activities udaipur exchange classes wwoofing Comments (0)

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