Tag Archives: AES

Mundane but thought-provoking: A typical week in Delhi

Sometimes daily life seems so mundane. Then you drive past an elephant in your neighborhood, and it makes you think.
Sure, we go to work early and come home late. Sure, we play with our cats, watch TV and go to bed.
But we also drive past elephants.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never pass an elephant without recognizing how truly weird and special that is.
(photo by Tony)
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What else happened in my mundane week? Well, Nancy and I visited the Blind School Diwali Mela, where you can find everything gilded and sparkly one needs for a proper Diwali celebration while helping to support the local school. The bazaar is called the “Blind School Diwali Mela,” but I guess I never really processed the fact that it takes place on the campus of the BLIND SCHOOL. When Nancy and I sought a restroom, we wandered into part of the school where kids were hanging out in tiny austere classrooms.
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While shopping, we paused for a coconut thirst quencher, a 15-minute massage (less than $1) and a tarot card reading.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never tire of glimpses behind the scenes, exotic treats, cheap foot rubs and dabbling in the occult.
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Some friends hosted a Halloween party Friday night. I dressed as the Air Quality Indicator, a timely costume as the air pollution skyrocketed off the chart that day. There were a few zombies, but India-centric costumes at the party also included a gone-native Delhi tourist, a backpacker on her way to a yoga course, a Diwali diya (oil lamp), an elephant, a covered-up tuk-tuk meter, a belly dancer and a worker at our campus coffee shop.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always surround myself with friends who treasure the inside stories of our host country.
(Photo by Marina)
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Fall Fiesta, our school’s Halloween-themed fund-raiser for high school activities, took place Saturday night. I volunteered selling wristbands for kids to play the homemade “arcade games,” which were split into Big Camp for youngsters over 7 and Small Camp for the little ones. Tony volunteered at the Small Camp tricycle races. I bought 48 raffle tickets and won an emerald bracelet, but my favorite part of the night was hearing, “Hi, Mrs. Dent!” from current and former students, including a French Canadian Dracula and his older sister zombie, a Japanese cat, a Kuwaiti princess, an Australian strawberry, an American bride, and a collection of monsters, skeletons and creepy characters from around the world.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always value the global perspective of a diverse classroom.
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Another typical event in our New Delhi lives: The cats discover endless ways to trash our home. Here, Ella’s face is a blur as she maniacally shreds a roll of toilet paper.
Mundane? Yes.
And there’s no lesson to be learned. It just makes me laugh.
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Sparks fly at middle school play practice

I have filled my life with drama this year. School drama, that is.

Today we had a rehearsal for the middle school play, “The Fireworks Maker’s Daughter,” and the drama teacher, Thaba, wanted students to think about the physicality of working with and watching fireworks. Obviously, we won’t set off real fireworks in the theater, so she elicited ideas about how the stagecraft class might design props and explained that dancers will BE the fireworks in some scenes. To spark their imaginations, she brought them all to the field for a mid-day fireworks show.

Students crowded around our visiting fireworks expert, Mohinder, who unloaded a big bag of goodies. Thaba reminded kids to closely monitor the actions involved in lighting fireworks. As the fireworks exploded, shrieked, swirled, whistled, and showered sparks, she encouraged actors and dancers to remember their own physical reactions. Back in the rehearsal space, students debriefed and shared fantastic insights gleaned from the experience.

Such a fun, creative, caring bunch of adults. Such talented, reflective, committed kids. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
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Nuts for NUTS

Jangling bangles, swirling skirts, glittering bindis and big smiles set the stage for a gala evening yesterday at Night Under the Stars, an annual fundraiser staged by our school’s PTA. Indian drummers greeted guests on a candle-lit path past a pink-draped tent photo-opp and down to the AES field, where sponsors’ booths ringed the dinner tables and Mughal Empire-themed props set the mood.

As we lingered in the courtyard next to the field, a school employee quickly pushed me away from a dia that threatened to send my lehenga up in flames. The little traditional candles posed a serious fire hazard to those of us dressed in floor-grazing elegance! However, it was hard to focus on fire prevention while gawking at everyone arriving at the party. Just one formally clad mannequin in a store window here can take your breath away; imagine hundreds of people sashaying by in an unimaginable range of silken styles and colors. The men, in general, wore interesting but understated costumes or suits, but the women stole the show. Rhinestone-encrusted tops and full heavy skirts. Glimpses of skin under carefully draped shimmering saris. Bare-backed anarkalis with fitted bodices that flared into golden trim. Dramatic make-up and hair ornaments dripping with jewels. Delicate dupatta scarves tossed over shoulders. We kept telling each other, “You look so beautiful!” because everyone honestly did.

The visual feast served as a great distraction from my lingering cold and laryngitis. We mingled, enjoyed a nice dinner and even got Tony out on the dance floor. Truly a special night.

This is how we got to the party. No, not really.

AES Director Bob Hetzel gets thronged by the ladies.

Tony shunned a turban for his suit, but you know I love to break out the fancy costumes!

That’s our table in the foreground.

It is NOT easy to dance in these clothes.

Prop du jour: cowboy hat, courtesy of Laura Pitale, another AES teacher.

More shots from NUTS.

City Slickers in Udaipur

Tony just left for the Marwari Safari, an Indian take on “City Slickers.” He’ll spend five days at the Krishna Ranch near Udaipur, which is southwest of New Delhi, learning horsemanship and exploring the Arravali mountains on horseback … with 19 high school students. His trip is one of several mini-courses offered this week to students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi. They are so lucky!

Never mind that the last time we went horse-back riding, Tony dropped the reins and let his horse eat grass while I cantered in circles around him.

Tony, another teacher, and the kids will ride to Tiger Lake, rural villages, a wildlife sanctuary and several agricultural areas. He may come home a little saddle-sore, but I bet he’ll have some wonderful stories.

Check out the Krishna Ranch website. It looks amazing!

Discover India Week at AES

Discover India Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 3, was my favorite week so far at the American Embassy School here in New Delhi! Every morning started with dancers and musicians at the school gates. The hallways burst with color as students and teachers dressed in their Indian clothes. Children tried their hand at block-printing, pottery, traditional construction methods and other cultural pursuits. Everything felt so … Indian!

Each grade level focused on a specific aspect of Indian culture across the curriculum. I teach third graders, who explored Indian Folktales and Stories Showing Courage. They learned about India’s visual storytelling tradition with demonstrations by Sharon Lowen, the head of Indian Studies at AES. She visited their classrooms with story scrolls and a wooden box that opened to reveal hinged panels painted with beloved tales of Hindu gods.

Lowen, a renowned expert in three forms of classical Indian dance, also demonstrated storytelling through Odissi dance movements. She brought some of the kids up on stage for a workshop.

Students met puppeteer Anurupa Roy, who taught them how to transfer the nuances of physicality from their own bodies to the puppets on their hands.

Many artisans spent the week at our school, demonstrating their crafts and selling the products. I was most fascinated by this guy, who made “lac” bangles. They are quite expensive, and I never understood why. Now I do! The craftsman makes the bracelets from “lac,” a type of tree resin by warming it over hot coals until it’s pliable. Then he twists and works the resin, using a mold to distribute it evenly. Very interesting!

Other artisans demonstrated glass blowing, kite construction, traditional toy making, weaving, and wooden puppet carving. Here’s a slideshow.

Walk for Life – we suffer so cancer patients won’t have to

Deep sigh.
I’ve avoided writing this post because (a) I’m trying to block out the experience, and (b) because it’s mean and probably unlucky to write a snarky post about an organization that provides care for cancer patients, right? Right.
So, here goes.

CanSupport, a local organization that provides services for cancer patients, recently set up a registration booth for its annual Walk for Life in the school courtyard where I often eat lunch. I figured, “Sure! I’ll pay $6 to benefit this worthy cause and participate in a blog-worthy event.” An all-staff email encouraged participants to walk together with the AES banner. I looked forward to meeting some colleagues and chatting along the route.

On the morning of Feb. 5, I rode to the Walk for Life with a few other teachers, and we tried in vain to hook up with the rest of the AES group. The starting line was literally mobbed with an estimated 8,000 walkers, and the groups with banners stood on the other side of the mob and past some security tape. How were we supposed to get over there? We never did figure it out.
Security at the entrance.

I wanted a photo of our little group with the sign, but before I could stop them, some clowns jumped in the picture. I’m not a huge fan of clowns.

Waiting with the mob: John, me, Katrina and Lea Carol.

The 4-kilometer walk followed Rajpath, (“King’s Road” in Hindi) a street that runs from Delhi’s iconic India Gate to the president’s house. The India Gate was shrouded in smog, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, wife of the Prime Minister of India, waved the flag to kick off the walk, and we ever so slowly shuffled forward.
And they’re off! Like a herd of turtles.

I discovered that Delhiwallas walk just like they drive: sprint forward quickly, then stop, turn, move on the diagonal, pause, back up, clump together, push others out of your way, and yell a lot. Many walkers brought their dogs. One canine participant left a steaming souvenir right in the path. Luckily, it happened while there was a gap in front of my group, so we saw and dodged the poo bomb. I’m sure others packed in behind us were not so lucky. Groups of school children shrieked the names of their schools over and over … and over … and over. Individuals spotted acquaintances in the distance and screamed out to them repeatedly, despite the obvious sound-drowning effect of the school kids.

At one point, we passed our AES group after a turn-around point. I could have jumped over the security tape that separated the two paths, but I didn’t want to literally cut corners and cheat myself out of doing the whole walk.

To redeem myself for the self-righteous, culturally insensitive, judgmental nature of this post, I will now provide the link to CanSupport and a heartfelt solicitation for your support. It really is an important organization that brings information, comfort, palliative care, medication and equipment subsidies, and counseling to cancer patients and their families.

The best part is there is a “Donate” button so you never ever have to participate in the Walk for Life again. (Unless you have a crowd/dog poo/high-pitched noise/chaos void you need to fill.)

Gond Tribal Artist encounter

A newcomer to India’s art culture, I can only say I love it ALL! Textiles, furniture, paintings, sculpture … every piece I’ve seen bursts with symbolism or cultural nuances that beg for interpretation. With a tradition of visual storytelling, generations of Indians have passed on religious stories, myths, folktales and morality lessons through art. When I heard a visiting artist was sharing his Gond Tribal Art (“Bhiti Chitra” – Wall Art – in Hindi) with elementary school students, I eagerly dashed up two flights of stairs to meet him.

I found Sunil Dhurvey sitting cross-legged on the floor with a painting on a clipboard in his lap and a ink pen in his hand. He looked up and shyly returned my exuberant “Namaste.”
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Having used up my Hindi, I gratefully engaged Kanika Roy, art teaching assistant, and Rupa Samaria, a Delhi artist and substitute teacher, to translate during my interview.

They explained that Sunil and his wife, Santoshi, had traveled for two days by bus and train from their home in Dindori Village, Madhya Pradesh.
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I wondered if Dindori Village was a hotbed of artists, but Sunil said most of the 400 residents – including himself – are farmers. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why do you spend so much time on art? Why don’t you go and work in the field?’” he said. His answer? “I love it.”

Sunil informally learned the techniques of Gond Tribal Art from a young age by watching his mother paint the designs on walls and floors of village buildings, especially for festivals, weddings and other celebrations.

According to an article by Venus Vinod Upadhayaya on the LifePositive website,

Originally done with four-coloured mud found in the forest, the Gond tribal paintings were drawn on the walls of the houses and were an integral part of the tribal festivity, rituals, and day-to-day living. … Gonds believe that (the) Narmada (river) was once a woman and was married to the Sonmura river. During the marriage rituals, the turmeric from her body fell down on the earth and created the yellow mud. The black mud was collected from within the tribal village whereas the white had to be fetched from another forest nearby. Both men and women would paint on the walls. The original drawings on the cowdung-smeared walls were scenes from the forest and its creatures, and depictions of traditional dances and tribal deities.

By the age of 12, Sunil said, he was creating his own art. I asked if he would be a mentor to younger aspiring artists, but he shook his head. Kanika elaborated, “Usually in the villages they don’t teach young ones how to paint this type of art. They just watch and they learn. If they are painting on a building, they think about what would go with that type of building. For example, if they are painting the storage building for grain, they might paint birds or mice because those animals are likely to be found there.”

Sunil displayed small paintings on cardstock and larger ones on canvas. He said the Gond Tribal Art style is known for its depictions of stories about nature (especially the Narmada River), mythological characters and gods, and daily life. Rupa pointed to one of his paintings, hanging on the classroom whiteboard, and said, “This is a typical village scene with the women fishing and the men cutting the rock. The rocks are used to create a trap in the river. They catch fish and put them in the baskets.”
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In this photo, Santoshi and Sunil show some of their works. Santoshi painted the ones on the table, and she said they represent the kinds of work she does on village buildings. I wish I had taken a second shot as Sunil really has a lovely smile! Sunil’s mother still paints, and he even brought one of her pieces (but it had already sold by the time I met him).
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I bought these two peacock paintings from Sunil for about $10 each, but the wonderful experience of getting to know the artist before buying his work was priceless.
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Such fun detail!
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If you are in India, speak Hindi and want to see Sunil’s work, give him a call: 0-88894-08539

Indian Catwalk

“Discover India Week” just wrapped up at the American Embassy School, and what an incredible week it was!

My favorite event was the Indian Textile and Fashion Show, a flurry of swirling silks and sequins. With an Indian wedding theme, volunteers took on the roles of family members and guests at the party. I was originally slated to be the bride; however, I was demoted to “sister of the groom” when the organizer discovered we had a real bride in our midst. The fashion show became a lively dress rehearsal for Punam, an elementary school receptionist, and her fiance, Daniel, a first-grade teacher, who will tie the knot in April.

The day before the fashion show, participating ladies were invited to a “mehendi” party in the office of Sharon Lowen, head of Indian Studies at AES. Two young ladies sat on low stools with pillows on their laps to draw henna patterns on our hands. They use small bags, similar to cake decorating tubes, full of a substance the consistency of mud. The ladies finished their designs in about five minutes.

Wet and messy. The table was overflowing with fruit and samosas, but I couldn’t pick them up! Next time, I won’t rush to be first in line.

When the “mehendi” dried, it started flaking off all over my clothes. I carefully draped my backpack over one shoulder, caught an auto-rickshaw home, and put on a pair of old gloves. When it was time to get ready for bed, I brushed off the remaining mud, rubbed on some baby oil (the “mehendi” ladies said to use mustard oil, as if I would just have some in my cupboard), and slept with socks on my hands. This is what it looked like in the morning:

The fashion show gave me a reason to wear my fabulous lehenga, which had been stashed in my closet since Diwali.

Here is a slideshow of the fashion show participants. The bright lights washed out some details, but everyone looks smashing in Indian clothes!

After the “bride” and “groom” made their appearance, dance music filled the gym.

Soon the bleachers emptied as a full-on dance party broke out with children and teachers twirling and shaking to the Hindi tunes. It seemed out of control, but students quickly responded when the assistant principal announced it was time to return to class. Amazing.

AES Faculty Musical – so many levels of special

As a new teacher at the American Embassy School last fall, I remember the stress of setting up our home, learning the ropes at my job, trying to make friends, budgeting in a strange currency, and otherwise wondering whether this place was a good match. Suffering from Sporty Gene Deficit Disorder and no longer a fan of late-night partying, I automatically excluded myself from several big social groups. Would I find a niche here? Then someone asked, “Are you auditioning for the staff musical?” Um, heck yeah!

I subscribe to Shakespeare’s quip that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Daily life, particularly in India, offers plenty of color and costumes, music and mayhem, dancing and drama. Yet I can’t deny this girl loves the stage and everything that goes with it. Since the first meeting of our community theatre guild, I knew I had found my niche. Maybe it’s cheesy, but participating in this silly play kept my spirits high and gave me opportunities to bond with people I wouldn’t have otherwise known. It felt like a place where I could fit in, and I loved every minute of it.

Beth Burrows, a third-grade teacher at AES, started the theatre guild and pours her passion into it year after year. It’s a hobby, but also a community service project. This year, “Beauty and the Beast” ticket sales collected about $4,000 for the Salaam Balaak Trust, an organization that provides shelter, education, health care and mental health services for homeless children in New Delhi.

Tim Steadman, an AES spouse and professional photographer, volunteered to shoot our performances, and his photos are fantastic! I strung together a few in this short video. As Silly Girl 3, my part was fun, albeit small. I am wildly overrepresented in this video – but hey! – it’s my blog. In yet another horn-tooting comment, I’ll point out that I painted all the the cutlery and other kitchen objects on the white kurtas (Indian shirts) worn in the musical numbers “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again.” With a lot of guidance and confidence-building from Patricia Podorsek, I also painted on the Beast’s make-up each night. Although I have a teaching certification in theatre, it’s been years since I tapped that knowledge or those skills deep in the recesses of my mind. What a treat to discover I hadn’t lost it all!

And so, the curtain has closed. For now. Next year: “Annie.”
The sun will come out tomorrow …

Field-tripping through historic Delhi

Last week, the whole third grade visited two historical sites – Humayun’s Tomb and Purana Qila – just a short drive from the American Embassy School. My group visited Humayun’s Tomb first, clipboards in hand to record notes in their “See-Think-Wonder” booklets. I was thrilled to meet Gayetri, a third-grader’s mom and a New Delhi native, who joined our group and shared her expertise on the two sites. As the kids sketched pictures inside the austere 450-year-old tomb, I looked up at the carved lattice screens and imagined veiled women standing on the balcony praying over the marble memorial of their fallen emperor. How fortunate are these students who get to walk in the footsteps of people they study in the classroom? How exciting to see the excavation and restoration first hand!

Construction on Humayun’s Tomb started in 1565, 14 years after his death. The second Mughal Emperor, he ruled present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of northern India from 1530–1540 and again from 1555–1556. (During the gap, the region came under the rule of Pashtun noble Sher Shah Suri, but Humayun’s army ultimately won back the territory.) His tomb was the first “paradise garden”-concept tomb on the Indian subcontinent and inspired many architectural innovations. Stone channels criss-cross the complex, providing water for irrigation. We strolled through the peaceful gardens, climbed steep steps to the terrace, and entered the 47-meter-high tomb. We all agreed the low-lying fog added to the tomb’s mystique. As we were leaving the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the children excitedly spotted a worker painting designs in a restored alcove.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Humayun’s Tomb, Wikipedia has a nice page about it. The Aga Khan Development Network website explains the restoration work under way at the site.

After a short bus ride, the kids piled out at Purana Qila. Emperor Humayun founded the city of Dina-panah (the sixth city to be located in what is now Delhi) in 1533, and Purana Qila was the city’s inner fort. Some highlights for the students and me included the ruins of a hamam that had cutting-edge steam rooms and running hot water (which is more than I can say for my New Delhi apartment); a baoli (well) with 89 steps leading down to the fort’s source of fresh water; and the Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, where our students hunkered down for a few moments of quiet. They even knelt in the mihrab, facing Mecca, to emulate Muslims praying here. I wasn’t sure whether that would be offensive to anyone, but the kids found it meaningful, so I just let it go.
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Another fascinating building at Purana Qila was the Sher Mandel, Humayun’s observatory and library. On Jan. 24, 1556, the emperor had been star gazing when he reportedly rushed down the stairs to evening prayers. Tripping over his long robe, he fell and died of his injuries two days later.
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Good ‘ol Wikipedia does a fine job reporting on Purana Qila, if you want to read more.

Seeing history unfold era by era is one of my favorite parts of exploring India. At both our field trip destinations, I was reminded of Humayun’s son, Akbar, and great-grandson, Shah Jahan. I visited some of their old stomping grounds – including the Taj Mahal – near Agra last August.

My posse and me.
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