Tag Archives: American Embassy School

AES Rickshaw Rally 2015

Imagine … a new TV show that merges The Amazing Race, So You Think You Can Dance, Survivor, Project Runway and Cash Cab.

That show became a reality Saturday for participants in the 3rd annual AES Rickshaw Rally. Dressed in ridiculous ensembles – often with a back story – almost 60 of us scuttled around Delhi in auto rickshaws, driven by somewhat perplexed men forced to occasionally take part in the silliness.

We assembled at the campus housing playground in the morning for a quick photo shoot, a lot of laughter, and the first set of clues. Organizers also gave us a baggie filled with unusual props: a printout of AES Director Paul Chmelik’s face taped to the end of a ruler, several stick-on mustaches (which, rats! – I didn’t discover till the race was over), a few rickshaw stickers, a map, some Hindi translations of common questions, a postcard, and a fluffy shiny ribbon (ostensibly to tie on our rickshaw).
rickshawrally! 2

My partner, Saguna, a second-grade teacher and Delhi native, dressed as a typical American, and I went over-the-top Indian. Our team name was “Culture Swap.” When we dashed through the campus gate to find a rickshaw, we lucked out and jumped in one driven by Sunil Kumar – the same driver I had last year! Saguna and I taped a garland of Indian and U.S. flags around his rickshaw, and off we went. We couldn’t go wrong with Sunil Kumar’s proactive driving skills, Saguna’s Hindi and knowledge of Delhi, and my … well, I didn’t really bring much to this party, except a willingness to act like a fool.


During the morning, we posed in front of the Salt March statue honoring Ghandi, found the Queen Alizabeth rose at the India-Africa rose garden, chatted with a priest at a temple devoted to the monkey god Hanuman, and lit a candle outside a Catholic church. Saguna and I split up at one point. She took on the metro challenge, while I dashed ahead in the rickshaw to complete two tasks at Khan Market: Find the “key wallah” and collect a key that would open a lock at a later stop, and get a sticker from the phone battery seller.

We had been told our school’s director, Paul Chmelik, would make surprise appearances throughout the day, so a bunch of us were happy to see him hanging out by the phone battery kiosk.

We all met up at Nehru Park, not far from school, for a picnic lunch and some Bollywood dancing, led by local Zumba instructor, Deepak. A crowd of school boys cheered and slowly infiltrated our picnic until they, too, were dancing up a storm.

After lunch, organizers handed out the afternoon clues. At India Gate, we found a big family sitting on the grass, enjoying lunch. As per our instructions, Saguna high-fived one of them after instructing them all to smile at the camera (we got extra points for smiles). We searched a bit for the ubiquitous snake charmers for the bonus challenge of snapping a photo with a cobra, but we failed. On to the Agar Sain ki Baoli, a stepwell located near the business district of Connaught Place. Ironically, we weren’t allow in because the REAL Amazing Race show was filming! Some competitors – included Sharda, who was dressed as an Indian Army officer – sneaked in or arrived before the Amazing Race film crew, but we were too late. The last two tasks were pretty tame, which was a relief because Saguna and I were flagging. We visited a book store and bought two books to donate to the Hope Foundation‘s mobile library project, and we popped in to the post office to mail our postcard to Paul Chmelik.

Team Culture Swap was feeling pretty smug by the end of the day. We had earned almost all of the bonus points, which required photo evidence of these challenges:
* Get your hair cut by a roadside barber.
* Pay to get your shirt ironed by a coal iron. Extra points if you do the ironing!
* Take a picture riding the propane guy’s bike.
* Find a laborer and do their job for them.
* Stop for chai with your driver and serve the tea seller.
* Ride the city bus for one stop.
* Find your doppelganger and take a picture with them.
* Play cricket with a local group.
* Photo with a team member and different modes of transportation. (Saguna hopped on a motorcycle, a bike, a stranger’s motorcyle rickshaw and a bicycle rickshaw, and I climbed aboard a Delhi police truck, causing much panic in Sunil Kumar.)
* Live cows, monkeys, camels, peacocks, elephants, goats, chickens, horses, pigs, rabbits and cobras. (We found cows, pigs and a goat. Where were all the animals today? It’s rare NOT to see a monkey or a horse, at least.)





Our final stop on the tour was Very Special Arts India, a nonprofit organization working with disabled and underprivileged young people. Its mission statement is, “No mental or physical challenge need ever limit the human potential to create and excel.” The kids and volunteers engaged us in dancing, singing and block printing.

The AQI was pretty awful this day, so Paul should have been wearing his mask.

A plethora of Pauls.
IMG_1252 (1)

The AES Rickshaw Rally wrapped up with pizza, beer and celebrations at the Pint Room in my neighborhood. Despite our over-confidence, Saguna and I did not walk away with a prize. However, we had a hilarious time and got to know each other better, so that was a big win!

Clint, one of the Rickshaw Rally organizers, used storify to capture some of the day’s finest moments. Check it out.

Thanks to Clint, Allison, Kate and Maureen (and everyone else who made this happen!) for a spectacular day!

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Falling in love again … India Week at AES New Delhi

Yikes, with only three weeks left in the school year, I’m looking forward to summer and family-filled stories that will overflow these pages. I’m also looking back at a busy spring that I failed to document. So, let’s catch up, shall we?

India Week at the American Embassy School always makes me fall in love again with my host country. The day-to-day grind of Delhi living can wear a girl down and make her long for clean air and tank tops. Then India Week rolls around in early February, and our campus morphs into a living laboratory of Indian culture. My little second graders – even the boys – sit quietly with cloth and wooden hoops in their laps as they learn the traditional craft of Gujarati embroidery. Outside, they cluster around the mehendi artist who decorates their hands with henna designs – peacocks, lotus flowers and the AES tiger. They watch a potter turn the wheel to form a terracotta pot, and then they take a turn. They press the sandy clay into moulds and pop out a diya lamp and a tiny Ganesh. Other artisans demonstrate their crafts, including batik painting, papier-mâché, wood block printing, leather sandals, paper toys, miniature painting, wood carving, silk weaving, embroidery, bead work and more. Student blogs transform into reflections about practicing yoga, screen printing T-shirts, sampling Indian snacks and walking the runway to model costumes of India. The week culminates with Indian Clothes Dress-Up Day, when our corridors explode in color and bling as students and teachers swish around in saris, lehengas, salwar kameeze and other finery.

Here’s a teaser for a fascinating (albeit too long and complicated for second graders) film.

Potter Mr. Ram Prashad.

Our second-grade team.

Allyn Goowin’s Balloowins may have been only tangentially related to India, but he did engage students to goofily re-enact a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana, and children were literally rolling in the aisles laughing.

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AES Rickshaw Rally 2014

With the “Amazing Race” music pounding as our subconscious background track, about 40 American Embassy School teachers careened around New Delhi Nov. 15 for the second annual AES Rickshaw Rally.

Tony and I dubbed ourselves “Sarojini Style” and dressed from head to toe in gear from Sarojini Nagar, a local market and land of low-quality goods and butchered English. My T-shirt featured a drawing of a panda and read, “Cute banda. Sometimes you have to realize that you’re the one bringing the gloom around. Learn to let go.” Tony’s said, “Cances are never given theyre taken.” I even sported the split-toe socks that make flip-flops easier to wear in cool weather.



The other teams were equally ridiculous. We all met at the American Embassy School’s Community Garden to collect the first clues of the morning. Our day would involve answering questions and snapping photos with my iPad to document our progress. We turned in our evidence at the lunch break and again at the end of the day for judges to calculate points.


After our major fail with the AES trivia questions, we received the next set of clues and dashed off campus in our assigned auto rickshaw. Our driver, Sunil Kumar, knew shortcuts to some of the destinations and eagerly kept on the lookout for anything that could earn us extra points, including five people on a motorcycle, specific animals (elephants, camels, monkeys, wedding horses), and an animal in a tuk-tuk. He even cheated at one point by asking some motorcyclists at the side of the road to pose on their bike without helmets. We thought that would be an easy shot to get, but Delhi’s new helmet law has met with a surprising level of compliance.

At lunch, I didn’t hear my phone ring, but I had two missed calls from Sunil Kumar, who told me later, “Madam I call you because there is elephant!” Rats, we missed it.

After a short ride in the Delhi metro, where I had to record the stops (two) and cost of a ticket (8 rupees or about 13 cents), I reconnected with Tony and Sunil Kumar to tackle our list of tasks at the following places. I’ve included the info we were given about each stop (in italics).

Buddha Jayanti ParkThis park was created on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment. It was dedicated by the Dalai Lama in October 1993.

This shot was our attempt to “channel your inner zen” with the Buddha statue.

Laxmi Narayan TempleMahatma Gandhi inaugurated this temple in 1939. At that time, Gandhi said the temple would not be restricted to only Hindus, and people from every caste would be allowed inside. The temple is spread over 7.5 acres and is one of the major attractions of Delhi and attracts thousands of devotees every year.

Here, we had to find a priest and ask a few questions about the temple. Photography wasn’t allowed inside, but it was a beautiful peaceful place. We’ll visit again on a less frenetic day!

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh TempleIt is the most prominent Sikh house of worship in Delhi. Langar is a traditional concept, which includes cooking, serving, and eating together in a communal dining hall. Every Gurdwara has a Langar facility. Volunteers prepare everything. Seva, selfless service, and the practice of sitting side by side without regard to caste, color, creed, or rank, in a common dining area both serve to nourish the soul cleansing it from the effects of ego.

This was one of our favorite stops. We popped in to the foreign visitors office, where a lady asked, “How many of you are coming? It would be easier if you all came at once.” True, but that would defeat the purpose. She tied a scarf on Tony’s head and led us to the huge kitchen. We donated a bag of rice, and Tony took a turn stirring the massive pot of vegetables. Volunteers sat at a low table, rolling out chappatis. Pretty fantastic!




We had to skip several stops on the itinerary, including India Gate and Safdarjung Tomb, as we knew the next destination was mandatory and clear across town: Very Special Arts India. The organization works with underprivileged local children and kids with special needs. Their motto is, “No mental or physical challenge need ever limit the human potential to create and excel.” The kids and volunteers at VSAI taught us a Bollywood dance (which was very challenging, especially in flip flops!) and showed us how to use block-printing techniques to make Christmas cards. We had a lot of fun interacting with the kids, and we donated about $300 to support the organization’s work.

Teaching us the dance steps. Yikes!





Afterwards, we all gathered at the nearby mall for lunch at Underdoggs, a sports bar. Rickshaw Rally judges worked quickly to tally our points while we rested, ate and laughed about our morning.

The judges handed out the afternoon clues and released us in order of points earned. Sarojini Style came in darn close to last. We ran out the door and met up with Sunil Kumar, who sped to our next destination, dodging traffic and even driving off the road at times. We arrived at Qutab Minar at the same time as the point leaders! Woo hoo! Here was our afternoon line-up:

Qutab MinarQutab Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, is an incredible example of early Indo–Islamic architecture. It was built in 1206, but the reason remains a mystery. Some believe that it was made to signify victory and the beginning of Muslim rule in India, while others say it was used to call the faithful to prayer. The tower has five distinct stories, and is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Quran.

Here we had to find a tourist and pose like we were holding the top of the minaret. I grabbed the first person I saw inside the gate, and he willingly complied. Stupid sun!

Atre Yoga Studio – We met up with several other teams in this neighborhood. In exchange for help finding the yoga studio, I showed Bernie how to do the designated poses. We were rushing and trying not to identify bits on the dirty concrete sidewalk, so it’s not my best form.

Natarajasana – well, we didn’t quite nail this one.


Extra points for sirsasana!

Chittaranjan ParkIt was established in the early 1960s under the name EPDP Colony or East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony. It remains home to a large Bengali community, and is home to Kolkata-style street-food stalls, Bengali cuisine, fish markets, temples and cultural centers.

Our task here? Take photos of four different kinds of food and write the name of the park in Bengali. Done and dusted.

Sarolini Nagar – Finally, our last destination, the market where Tony and I had shopped for our costumes.
Nagar means market in Hindi. Sarojini Naidu, who the market was named after, was a famous Indian freedom fighter and poet. Sarojini was the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state. She was the second woman to become the president of the Congress in 1925.

We had a few tasks here: I got mehendi. Tony pretended to be one of the roaming belt sellers. He also posed with the jalebi maker and ate some with a couple other teams. We snapped a creepy mannequin. And we collected a blanket from a specific stall to donate to a local charity.







With Sunil Kumar’s help, we got extra points for the two guys on the motorcycle, as well as this creepy monkey and the wedding horses. Tony spotted the dog in a rickshaw! We never did find five people on a bike.





Tony’s glasses didn’t survive intact. Bummer, they were so stylish.

We wrapped up the day in our own neighborhood at the Pint Room (after pausing for chai with Sunil Kumar and a few other teams).


Sarojini Style ultimately never came close to winning, but we had a great day (after some initial bickering…).

The winners? Craig and Holli – or Team Dengue Duo. Congratulations!

For more photos of the AES Rickshaw Rally, check out my flickr album – AES Rickshaw Rally. Thanks to Kate, Kathleen and Clint for organizing!

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Math and English collide in cuteness

When I was in second grade, we sat at our desks and raced through pages of addition and subtraction problems. As a teacher of English learners, I’m sure my students often wish life could be so easy. However, today’s second graders learn math in an entirely different – and much better – way. They learn the concepts behind the place value work they do. It’s not enough to “carry the ten.” Kids need to understand they are conceptually regrouping ten ones for a single ten. I am not lying when I say I only just realized that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years when I “carried the ten”!

Earlier this week, I was working with a second-grade math group, which included three English beginners: one Israeli, one Korean and one from Bahrain. We were practicing the strategy of “Read-Draw-Write” to solve a word problem. With help, they read the problem and I explained some of the tricky words. Next it was time to draw the problem before writing the equation and answer sentence. They had learned to draw a place value chart with symbols for the tens and ones. I turned to help the Bahraini boy, who had been absent the previous day and needed to catch up. By the time I got back to the Korean boy, he had finished his drawing to illustrate giving away 10 seashells. It looked like this:

So cute! And so wrong. I had to remind him that by “draw,” we mean draw a place value chart.
He did it, reluctantly, but then he insisted on drawing an arrow back to his original sketch. Fair enough.

Reminds me of another confused little Korean kid I knew in Laos. Check it out: Korean Math Warriors.

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O, Man! Forensics and fun in Muscat

Forensics – Not just for dead people.
That’s the slogan on the back of our team T-shirts.
As one of the MESAC Forensics Team coaches, I heard a lot of surprised exclamations such as, “Wow! You guys do forensics? I didn’t know you were trained in that!” Sigh … It’s not “forensic science” à la CSI. It’s forensics à la Socrates. In other words, the students compete in debate, public speaking and dramatic interpretation of monologues or duet scenes.

According to the American Forensic Association,

“Forensics” is a word rooted in the Western world’s classical experience. The Greeks organized contests for speakers that developed and recognized the abilities their society felt central to democracy. These exercises acquired the title “forensics,” derived from the Latin term “forensis” and closely related to forum. Because the training in this skill of public advocacy, including the development of evidence, found one of its important venues in the law courts, the term “forensic” has also become associated with the art and science of legal evidence and argument.

Our school is a member of MESAC (Middle East South Asia Conference), which also includes schools from Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. As one of four American Embassy School coaches (a fifth stayed behind in India), I traveled with 20 amazing high-schoolers to represent AES at the 2013 MESAC Forensics Tournament, April 17-21 in Muscat, Oman.

The American-British Academy (ABA) played host.

Our fledgling forensics program fielded a debate team for the first time, and this was only the second year we participated in acting and speaking events. Nevertheless:
* Two of the debaters beat last year’s winners to earn a bronze medal.
* We sent 12 students to the finals.
* Seven kids came home with medals.
* AES placed second overall.

This is what we liked to see! Lots of “AES” on the results posters.

We adults felt excited for the medalists, but our greatest fulfillment came from watching the growth that occurred over the course of our season. This is a unique team in that students have an opportunity to express themselves in ways that take them far out of their comfort zone. For the oratory event, they wrote, memorized and presented powerful speeches calling for action. Our students addressed mental health in children, women’s rights in India, care of HIV/AIDS patients, Asian stereotypes and parental pressure for perfection. They spoke from the heart, revealing their deepest fears and biggest aspirations.

We may have seen the greatest transformation in our students competing in oral interpretation. They chose challenging pieces of literature to read, and some of the English learners required line-by-line explanations of the meaning before they could start interpreting. They worked so hard, begging for extra coaching time, meeting on weekends, shedding their inhibitions. When one of our 10th-graders took the stage to read “The Orange” by Joyce Carol Oates, she gave it everything she had, leaving the audience disarmed but in awe. Our only senior had brilliantly edited down a scene from “‘Night, Mother” and read the lines for both characters. Her subtle sophisticated performance tricked my mind into thinking there really were two people on stage and her last line forced a catch in my throat as I fought back tears.

There were so many success stories … not a slacker in the bunch. In addition to their work, our kids were kind, friendly and outgoing. They bonded with students from other schools and demonstrated admirable sportsmanship. So proud of them all! I feel incredibly fortunate to work at a school with this caliber of young people.

First day of the tournament at ABA … waiting in the auditorium.

My good friend Jacqueline, who taught with us in Turkey, now works at The American International School of Muscat. I was hoping to meet up with her during our visit, but the tournament schedule was grueling. Imagine my excitement when she showed up at the ABA coaches lounge! She hung out with us at the school a few times and then surprised me with a ticket to see “Madame Butterfly” at the Royal Opera House. I almost declined, exhausted from a lingering cold and the intensity of the tournament, but I couldn’t resist the lure of a cultural event paired with some Jacq time. The two-year-old Opera House was stunning inside and out. In fact, I may have appreciated the venue even more than the show!

So much elegance.

I NEED one of these lamps.

Jacqueline and me. (I’m the one who looks less like a posh opera-goer and more like a worn-out teacher at the end of a long day.)

Here’s a cool promotional video from the Royal Opera House website:

Our only other foray into Muscat was a traffic-y bus ride with all the kids and coaches to a souk, a fun market with Omani souvenirs and crafts. We spent about 30 minutes poking around before heading back to our hotel. Students stayed with ABA families, so coaches enjoyed a little downtime. In fact, one of the other coaches had issued a challenge: Which coach could find the best souvenir for one riyal (about $3)? Back at the hotel, the coaches met to compare souvenirs. The AES coaches nailed it. We had purchased a bizarre plastic pull-string toy featuring a Barbie-ish doll riding a sort of bicycle rickshaw with a green alien-ish baby and a rotating umbrella. We turned it into a trophy and gave it temporarily to our MVP. (I’ll post a photo when we get it back.)

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Cue the cows … and … action! Mom and Dad see REAL India

India kindly handed my parents a genuine slice of life during their two-week visit.


Their taste of New Delhi’s daily grind included: pollution in the “red zone,” several power outages, taps running dry, driver had a row with his wife and didn’t show up to take us to work, housekeeper/cook took a day off for her uncle’s funeral, car broke down, dogs in the dumpsters, cows in the road, street kids tapping on the car windows at stoplights, and oh so many more sights, sounds and smells that keep our anxiety levels higher than healthy.



But set aside your disgust and frustration, and you see another side of India that sparks appreciation, or at least fascination. My parents also experienced:

The costumes, arts, crafts and music from the state of Karnataka (as well as the exuberance of school kids) at the annual Surajkund Mela.

The get-away-from-it-all Aravalli Biodiversity Park‘s twisting path through scrubby acacia trees and wild peacocks, just around the corner from our house.


The drumming, the dancing, the sequins of the over-the-top Epcot-esque venue and Bollywood stage show at Kingdom of Dreams.





The levity and intensity of eight Indian men desperately trying to pick out sunglasses for Dad at Ambience Mall.


The sneeze-inducing spice market, technicolor sari shops and gilded, spangly, tassled wedding accessories during a death-defying rollicking bicycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi’s congested alleys.

The comfort zone of mini-America at our school and the American Embassy restaurant.




The time-travelling trip to the Mughal Dynasty in Agra (Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri) and Delhi’s Qutub Minar.








The saris, the chaos, the smiles, the 10-minute alterations on vintage sewing machines at the local Sarojini Market.

The posh indulgence of a proper breakfast at the Imperial Hotel – twice.





The relative peace – not counting slum drumming, the high-pitched drone of construction equipment, and bellows of strolling cows – in our leafy Vasant Vihar neighborhood, with help from lovely Raji.



Poor Dad came down with the flu, or a cold, or pollution-related respiratory problems, poor guy. But overall, we had a great time! Tony and I enjoyed sharing the ups and downs (and fast curves and U-turns) of life in this place! We wanted to show them what we love about Delhi, but ultimately, they saw it all – the stunning and the heart-breaking. Because, really, there’s no other way to experience India.

(The iPhoto slideshows are a bit lame, I admit. I’m looking for a way to easily link photos from Flickr to make slideshows visible on Apple devices… in the meantime, you can check out the photos at my flickr photostream.)

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Tibetan spiritual leader tells students in search of peace: Just relax

The most important Tibetan spiritual leader, after the Dalai Lama, visited our school today as part of our Peace and Global Citizens initiatives. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa arrived with little pomp and sat in the theatre, answering questions from students. Born into a family of nomads in Tibet, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was recognized as the 17th Karmapa as a young child. In 1999, at the age of 14, he left Tibet to meet the exiled Dalai Lama and other teachers in India.

According to the website kagyu.org,

In the case of an enlightened being, rebirths are taken consciously, motivated by a desire to benefit all living beings and made possible by the depth and clarity of an individual’s realization. The first such reincarnation (tulku) was recognized in thirteenth-century Tibet. His name was the Gyalwa Karmapa, “The Victorious One of Enlightened Activity.” Thereafter, he continued to return, generation after generation, until the present seventeenth Karmapa. The Karmapa is said to embody the activity of all the buddhas of the past, present, and future. Citing ancient texts, traditional histories trace his lives back for eons and continue it forward into the distant future.

The Karmapa held several Q&A sessions with students from all grade levels; I attended his session with some middle school kids. The Karmapa leaned forward in his chair to address the students, carefully mulling over each question.

One student asked, “What is the most important value of the Tibetan culture?” The Karmapa responded in a low voice, interspersed with English words, and shared with the audience by a translator, Sister Damcho, an American who lives in a Dharamsala nunnery and frequently works with the Karmapa. “The life that we live is a pretty simple life,” she quoted. “We put at the center of our life altruism, the wish to benefit others. We’re pretty direct and straightforward. I think if you look at Tibetan culture, the most important values at the center of our culture are loving kindness and compassion, and we develop these feelings not just for other human beings but for all forms of life. Whatever we do, whatever activities we engage in, whatever studies we do, we always try to put the value of other beings in the center.”

He was open about neither choosing nor necessarily having fun in his role as Karmapa. In response to the question, “How did you decide to be a Karmapa?” he shook his head and laughed. “Decide?”
Sister Damcho translated: “So actually, I did not decide to be a Karmapa. In the west, people have a lot of choice and generally you decide what you want to study and when you finish your studies, you decide what job or career you want to have, but that was not the case with me. When I was 8 years old, I was just a normal boy. I played with other kids. I had a normal boy’s life. Then some people came and they told me, ‘You’re the Karmapa.’ At that time, I didn’t even understand what the Karmapa was … I thought, if I’m the Karmapa, I’ll probably get a lot of toys. I found out later being a Karmapa is not all that fun. It’s a lot of work and a lot of responsibility and a lot of studying. So becoming the Karmapa was not something I decided. It was more like something that just fell from the sky.”

My favorite bit of advice was the Karmapa’s response to the question, “What can we do to maintain peace?”
“We have so many different things that we’re constantly doing, and there are all these changes going on all the time, so it’s really not that easy, is it? I would say, to put it simply, just relax. Just relax and stay quiet. Generally speaking, this is a difficult question. For you, as kids, to be able to make peace, maybe don’t make it too complicated. Make it simple. Just relax.”

Arriving at AES, the Karmapa gets mobbed by the paparazzi (aka our director, principals and other interested onlookers).

Getting escorted to the theatre.


Speaking to the students.

I feel privileged and grateful today for my school and its commitment to fostering peace. What an honor to share a bit of time with this humble man.

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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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Patience and appreciation

Yesterday was Back to School Night at the American Embassy School, New Delhi. Here’s what BTSN tends to look like for English as an Additional Language teachers:

Me – Hello, everybody! Thank you for coming. (gesture at PowerPoint) I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and our EAL program.

Hands go up. I call on a parent.
Parent – What does my child need to do to get out of the EAL program?

Me – (smiling) Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to explain how I work with your child’s teacher to help meet English learning needs and ensure that all kids feel successful in third grade.

Same Parent – Yeah, but how long till they can go to Spanish or French instead?

Me – (still smiling) I promise I will explain our process for transitioning out of EAL, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand how the program works. I spend time in your child’s classroom every day …

Same Parent interrupting me – Yeah, but my son speaks English every day and he says he’s bored in EAL. So when can he get out?

Me – Maybe YOU should tell ME why in the world you would NOT want your child to have an additional TEACHER in the room providing EXTRA English language support and helping your kid to access the third-grade curriculum? Will you please explain WHY you wouldn’t want your child to learn strategies for building his vocabulary, strengthening his understanding of English grammar and developing his reading comprehension? Help me understand WHY you think learning French or Spanish is so important for a third grader who is still learning the language of instruction at our school???

No, of course I would NEVER say that. But … I admit I do think it. Instead, I usually just take a breath, remind myself that most parents don’t have a degree in language acquisition and suggest that we set up another meeting to chat about that specific child.

I’ve had THAT kind of BTSN many times over the years. Yesterday’s BTSN was NOT one of them! What a relief!

Parents asked important questions about learning English, choosing appropriate books, how to support English learning at home, expectations in the classroom and so on. With heart-warming sincerity, they openly discussed the challenges their children face daily as English learners in an English-medium school.

All teachers play therapist now and then. I hope I was able to reassure parents that their children are in good hands. Many of our teachers, including me, are Third-Culture Kids. We understand and empathize with students living outside their home culture, surrounded by peers of myriad ethnicities.

Our principal, Susan Young, started a tradition of giving teachers Power Rocks at the start of school. A local calligrapher writes inspirational words in English and Sanskrit on the rocks, and we choose the ones that resonate with us.

Last year, I chose “patience.” This year, I chose “appreciation.” Sitting on my classroom desk, the rocks remind me every morning to approach the school day with gentleness; assume children, parents and teachers have the best intentions; and to give even the most stubborn kids opportunities to shine and share what makes them special.

I hope the parents who visited school last night felt a spirit of patience and appreciation.


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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.

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