Tsukumo’s Week 7: Going home, going home 

Going home, going home, I'm just going home Quiet-like, some still light, I'm just going home... These are some of the lyrics from the song "Going Home", version by Annie Haslam. And how fitting it is for my final week at NIRMAN and Varanasi. I taught this song to 8th and 9th grade students as I was introducing them to solfège (singing the melody in Do-Re-Mi) and Western orchestra (the melody comes from Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World"). In Dvorak's composition, the "big brother" of oboe called English horn plays this melody as a solo, which was why it was nice to teach this song to demonstrate my oboe. And apparently, as proven by the fact that all these students sung this song for me at the farewell party today, they really enjoyed this song. Today was my last day of internship at NIRMAN. It felt like this day would never come at the beginning of this internship, but I have taught my last classes, students and teachers have said goodbye to me, and my bags are entirely full with some precious gifts and memories. My last week of internship was full of opportunities left and right. I finished up teaching the syllabus for first trimester of 8th grade history, as well as music class for 8th and 9th grades. They were challenging groups of kids to work with -- they were middle schoolers, after all, who were not always willing to listen to teachers and behave in class. However, they are eager to learn the music I am teaching, even if it is very different from what they know. They performed these songs to their parents that attended the monthly Parents' Workshop at NIRMAN, which was a wonderful showcase of what we have learned this month. I am so proud of how far they have come, learning the melody and English lyrics in just a few weeks. This morning, 8th and 9th grade students prepared a farewell party for me. Students shared what they enjoyed about my teaching, and I shared my appreciation and gratitude for the students and teachers. They also prepared thank you cards for me, which had some sweet messages about my classes. As naughty as they sometimes were, they are some of the most genuine and intelligent students I have ever worked with. This week was also special because another SiSA fellow, Hanna Pfershy, was visiting me for a couple of days. We explored some different attractions in Varanasi as well as nearby towns of Sarnath (one of the most important Buddhist sites in India) and Ramnagar (residence of former maharaja, or king, of Varanasi). She also served as my personal photographer, which I will share here shortly. (Thank you, Hanna!) She left with me today to begin her internship in Kerala; you will see her stories on this blog also. It was certainly a bittersweet week, as I said goodbyes to people that have been so kind and supportive throughout my stay. No words can express my appreciation for these people that have made my experience memorable and full of learning. But I'm also excited to go home and see my family and friends again. I will probably also need some time to process everything that happened in India to appreciate them even more. Going home, going home, I'm just going home... Till next time, India.
Class 8 and 9 students and me at the farewell party.

Class 8 and 9 students and me at the farewell party.

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Back At It

After an interesting stint away from Charchit and Bikram I was ready to come home. Over the next week I settled into my research.  The routine was: go to a cafe, buy the cheapest thing, and email people who knew way more than me about production and resource use. We settled on the idea of following a product through its lifecycle (as a way of looking at climate change).  So the research started out by looking for a lifecycle that was broad enough to encompass the large contributors to climate change: agriculture, energy, transportation, manufacturing.  After about a week of research we decided a t-shirt would be best. I started to buy groceries and pay for the internet (which is metered here) because the living situation was becoming more and more housematelike rather than the expected host-guest dynamic.  This made me a little self conscious because as close as I was becoming with Charchit and Bikram (we would cook for friends together, I went to visit Bikram's parents in Chandigarh) I still wasn't confident that they would kick me out if they didn't want me to stay.

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Day 45: Research

It's proving to be a summer of firsts. My first time traveling alone, first time in India, first time being in the mountains, first time experiencing Buddhist culture, first time teaching, first time doing research of any kind. Just as I questioned my ability to teach, I wondered why I was ever selected to perform research. I have no qualifications and I've never done an interview in my life. Okay I  interviewed a 90 year old war veteran for my 8th grade history class, but that experience didn't exactly help me to feel more confident about this project. So I came here with no teaching experience, no research experience, AND very limited information about the area I'd be working in because many aspects of Zanskar have not yet reached the World Wide Web aaaas you might have guessed based on my trying experiences with the Internet here thus far. I was, for the most part, blind. The question, "What the hell am I doing here?" passed through my mind more times that I'd like to admit. But nevertheless, I always finish what I start, or I die trying. (Except for running. Running doesn't count). I would attack this research project with the spirit and vigor of an utterly passionate, totally unqualified college student. So let's set the groundwork... In 2013 I went to Malawi, Africa with buildOn -- an organization that galvanizes students to volunteer in their local communities, and also sends these same students to build schools overseas. This experience deserves more than a meager paragraph, but for the sake of brevity, I'll stick to the important details. The trip changed everything for me. It showed me the true direction of my life, and inspired a blazing sense of purpose within me. Though I vaguely sensed my raison d'être before the journey, my time in Kachere helped me to become intimately familiar with it. I knew that I was to dedicate my life to helping our global community of children to have equal access to quality education. I realize that this all sounds extremely romantic. Almost too romantic, even for my taste. But these words come from the truest place my heart knows. Continue reading

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Day 37: Lessons Learned

1. Patience is the mother of all virtues. It is a lesson I keep on learning. In Zanskar, things happen on their own time, at their own pace. Need to send an important email? Well first you have to wait a few weeks for tourist season to actually begin. When it finally begins, then you have to wait full weeks at a time before getting to use twenty expensive minutes of slow WiFi. Then you have to wait in Padum all day for the jeep-taxi at 4 o'clock. Theeeeen you have to wait an hour and half to get back to Zangla as you bump jarringly along the stone littered road. At meal times and tea times you have to wait patiently through two hour long conversations in Ladakhi. Need to buy something from the one shop in Zangla? You'll just have to do a bit more waiting because it's only open from 5 PM to 6 PM, and some days not at all because the shopkeeper is tired. If a nun says we're milking the cow at 3 o'clock, she was just kidding. She actually meant 7 o'clock. And if you really need to get to the closest city center? It's a nineteen hour off-roading expedition with ten other people and no leg room. You learn to become okay with the waiting because it's the only thing you can do. Being upset would make the waiting unbearable, so instead you just transform into this extremely patient, highly observant superhuman. 2. Happiness is best when shared. The Ladakhi culture is one of sharing and total generosity. They say you can live in Zanskar forever without any money or a place to stay because you can just walk into any home and you'll be greeted with tea, biscuits, rice, and a place to sleep. Even if you're a complete stranger, "what's mine is yours" applies to all. If you have food in your hand, the first thing you do is offer it to those around you. One day in class, the girls were given sweets, and my little Datsal offered her chocolates to everyone and was only left a single one for herself. The generosity that exists here is utter instinct -- no one thinks twice before offering what they have to others. You simply do not keep things to yourself; if it's yours, it's everyone's. I have long recognized that one of my biggest inner projects is to work on the selfish parts of my character. I strive to be so giving that I'd give away my last piece of bread if I was starving on the street. In the spirit of Ladakhi generosity, every week when I'd go to Padum, I would buy eggs and cookies for the nunnery, some treats for the kids, and caramels to pass out in the jeep-taxi for my car-mates traveling back to Zangla. I have come to realize that you only deserve what you are willing to give. We may exist in autonomous bodies, but we live in a global community. As members of this community, it is our duty to think not only ourselves, but more importantly, to be concerned with the well-being of our brothers, sisters, aunties, and uncles. And how do we do this? By giving. Continue reading

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Tsukumo’s Week 6: Musician’s Delight

I am a musician, and I always will be, no matter where I am in the world. This week was loaded with musical opportunities left and right, and my musician self could not have asked for any better. This week, I started one of the most exciting parts of my internship: taking lessons in Indian classical music. In my first two lessons, I became a little bit more comfortable with Sargam, or Indian solfège. Learning to sing using syllables Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa is like learning a new language. This "language" coupled with Hindi lyrics to raga makes this music very challenging to learn for a foreigner like myself. Raga is a mode or melody associated with different Hindu gods, times of day, season, or other natural and spiritual factors. The first few raga that I learned are associated with Brahma, Vishnu, Krishna, and Ganga, all of whom are gods and goddesses. The teacher even taught me a raga about rain season as we tried to overpower the sound of pouring rain and kept shifting in the room to avoid rain leaking in from the ceiling. Needless to say, this was quite an experience. For Indian musicians, performing music is an act of meditation and devotion to gods. Music here is so intricate that I would be a complete fool to call myself an expert on it after a few weeks. However, it means a lot to me that I am invited into this spiritual and mystic world in a belief system outside my own. With the help of some local people, I have expanded my circle of musician friends. I visited the Faculty of Performing Arts at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), one of the largest universities in South Asia, and met some wonderful vocal performers (both students and professors). I was actually able to make some music with a PhD student, who taught me a simple song that I learned by ear and played on my oboe. It's the moments like this that makes me love being a musician -- working across cultural differences through music. I have also been teaching some English songs to 8th and 9th grade students, which is going rather well. Students in 8th grade are learning "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers, and 9th grade students are learning "Smile" by Nat King Cole. I chose these songs because of their strong message for hope and support for one another, in somewhat simple English; they also happen to be some of my most favorite songs. Many students have expressed that they love the melody and poem of these songs, which makes me delighted. All of these experiences remind me that "music is music" -- as one of the students from BHU has told me when I said, "I study music, but it's Western music." Regardless of what kind of music we may specialize in, all of us musicians contribute to the artistry and intricacy of music as a whole. When different traditions of music cross paths, eye-opening interactions and learning moments happen. I am eternally grateful for the privilege of having received musical training for more than a decade now.
Learning some songs from guru (masters).

Learning some songs from guru (masters).

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Wanna go to yoga camp for a month?

After a wonderful 10 days with my first hosts, Charchit and Bikram, I decided that I was pushing the envelope for couch surfing so I looked for a new home. I arrived as Mr. Singh's house late at night on a Thursday.  This was what I had imagined.  The decorative vases, table cloths, and functional air conditioning units of Charchit and Bikram's were replaced with cramped living spaces, spotty electrical work, and harsh lighting, what remained, monolithic, was the Indian hospitality. The next day we left for Rishikesh on a trip that I had apparently consented to going on the night before.  We arrived and crashed in a hostel.  We spent the weekend in Rishikesh riding and walking aimlessly around, stopping into temples and picking restaurants based on convenience.  After three days of this it came out that he had been operating under the assumption that we had been brought together by god in order for me to produce a documentary on him. Sidebar: He is a yogi with over 12,000 followers, his organization is operational in 40 villages and he is planning a month long event that will bring the best and the brightest from those villages to compete at his yoga camp. Once it became clear that I was supposed to come to his yoga camp for a month I dipped.  I booked a ticket on the next bus to Delhi, which was the next morning.  Before I left though I had agreed to do some photography with a guy at a motor bike rental place. We met the next morning we met at 5 AM and watched the city wake up.  Then he took me to have breakfast with his family.  Though their house was just a large four person bed, and an attached kitchen they too exhibited what seems to be the Indian constant--incredible hospitality.    

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Exiting the Frame

June 27, Monday                                                   A new leaf Awaking amidst the roaches and rats that plague most train stations I have visited I boarded a train around the stroke of midnight and rode in a small cabin with 5 men as we tried to sleep. Around 5 hours later we pulled into the New Delhi train station and I squinted through bleary eyes as dawn lit up India’s biggest city in front of me. I was soon picked up by a taxi and was sent on my way to a house in the Defense Colony (Defense neighborhood). It was too early for me to check in to my airBNB but the man running the small enterprise welcomed me all the same. He gave me filtered water and instructions on a mile long walk that would supply me with breakfast. As I walked for my food I marveled at the peaceful and surisingly quiet neighborhood I had found myself in. After some yummy Dosa and a cup of chai tea I meandered back to the apartment on the fourth floor of a small building in a crowded residential block. Looking out into the alley I spied people brushing their teeth, doing laundry, and eating breakfast on their balconies. As my room was readied I was delighted to find it had its own bathroom, kitchen, and windowed balcony (all for $18 a night). While I watched the traffic pass by below me I was reminded that I could only spend one night in this room as it was booked for the next 5 consecutive days. Deciding to make the most of my time in a clean, comfy bed and combat the misfortune bestowed on me by having to drink unfiltered tap water while travelling from Bhind (don’t ask) I spent most of the day drifting in and out of sleep. I only woke to pursue dinner which yielded a mutton cheeseburger (6/10 I might recommend) and a surprisingly high quality chocolate éclair. With my French pastry and American fast food urges subdued I walked home with a package of Jim Jam biscuits and decided to call it a night as rain began to patter on the roof. (I didn’t loose power once). Continue reading

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Tsukumo’s Week 5: A Short Excursion to Lucknow

The past week had two holidays in a row, from both Hindu and Muslim traditions. This past Wednesday was Rath Yatra, in which the chariot strolls around the city to celebrate Lord Krishna and his brothers; then, on Thursday, Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan. Since school was closed to observe these holidays, I was invited to visit a nearby city of Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh state. Lucknow is a hidden gem for tourists. Many tourists bypass this historical city because there are just so many places to see in North India, but this city also claims some impressive architectures and important historical sites especially surrounding the first battle for independence against Britain in 1857. I visited the Residency, one of the biggest battlefields of this war, and Bara Imambara, a Muslim holy site commemorating the past local Muslim leader (Nawab) Asaf Ud Daulah. The Residency was established by Nawab Asaf Ud Daulah in 1780 for British residents occupying Lucknow. Houses, schools, and churches were built on this ground for them -- most of which are now ruined because of the aftermath of the war in 1857. The park itself makes me forget that I am still in India because there is a lot of greenery and no traffic at all (and thus, no honking!). There are palm trees slowly swaying in the wind, and the grass is well kept. At the museum inside the Residency, we could read about the battle that took place on that very ground. There are bullets and cannon marks left in the houses where British resided. It is interesting how this history is being recounted in the museum. Although the British ended up winning this battle, the Indian history marks this battleas their major stepping stone for independence instead of their loss. The museum commemorates many Nawabsand other significant leaders from this area that would never be celebrated in British textbooks. As I teach modern Indian history to 8th grades, I have been reading up on the events leading up to this first war for independence. Local leaders saw their powers taken away by the British using force and cunning lawmaking, and peasants and artists were highly exploited by being forced to cultivate cotton, indigo, and silk for less-than-adequate fee and high taxes. To think that the Indians revolted in this place made me shiver -- the injustice they went through is more than I can ever imagine, and many innocent lives were taken as a result of some rich men's greed and entitlement over foreign land. It's a sobering place that reminds me of the brutal effects that British rule had on India. Bara Imambara was such a beautiful site. It exemplified the best of the Islamic architecthre -- pointed arch, domes, a stepped well, and a large hall (15 meters high and 50 meters long) built without any pillars. There is also a "labyrinth" surrounding this large hall, consisting of some complicated and narrow steps that lead to secret passages and to the top of the building. The view of the entire city of Lucknow from the top was spectacular, and the sunny weather in the middle of monsoon season definitely helped with the view. Overall, this was a nice excursion and rejuvenation from the busy days in school. Now that I am down to just over two weeks at this place, I am looking forward to finishing up my research project on educational practices at NIRMAN, takingsome Indian music lessons, teaching English songs for students to perform at the end of the month, and exploring the city a little more. It's a bummer that the ghats are now entirely under water, though.
From the top of the banquet hall at Bara Imambara.

From the top of the banquet hall at Bara Imambara.

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Week Aru

My neighbor and I used to play this game where we would spin in circles as fast as we could until one of us fell. I lost often and I can recall the sensation of laying on the damp grass in the humid Michigan sun and feeling my world spin in circles around me. My final week in India felt like that. I was suddenly down to a mere 7 days and I still had all of these things that I wanted to do and to see. It felt like the longer I was in India the longer my "to do" list became. As I checked one thing off it felt like 6 more would pop up. My final week was an attempt to do all of those things blended with a sharp feeling of loss. Aaruran, Matt and I flew into Bangalore from Goa at around 3am. Upon exiting the airport I had this sudden surge of confidence, like we were on my home turf. It was an attitude that quite possible annoyed my travel partners, as I began to walk faster than usual and doing without much dialogue. I woke up to several texts from Aruna asking when I would be coming to the shelter. I wanted my exact arrival time to be a surprise, so i didn't text her back and instead hurried the boys out of the door. I was antsy the whole way there. My left leg was bouncing up and down in excitement and I could hardly sit still. Walking back into the shelter was a lot like the first time you come home from college. Your mother freaks out and hugs you and is vaguely impressed that you didn't die. I took my shoes off and practically burst through the door. I was greeted by all the girls screaming "Madi ma'am you're back, you're back!" Even Aunty gave me a huge hug--something everyone, including aunty, seemed genuinely surprised by. It felt like I was coming back to my real life. I knew where everything was, I knew everyone's name, I had inside jokes, I was no longer a tourist. I stayed the night at the shelter because I could not bare to leave. I kissed each and every child on the cheek and told them I loved them before we fell asleep. Basama slept next to me and I woke up the next morning surrounded by 45 children eating breakfast. I had slept through the hustle and bustle of all 45 children waking up, playing, sweeping, bringing out massive pans of rice, and talking amongst themselves. I was shocked and a little embarrassed. I looked as Basama and said "dude, why'd you let me sleep?" And just as I should have expected she said, "you were tired, we let you sleep." It occurs to me now, 3 weeks later, that I slept so well because I felt safe and at home. The last time I can remember sleeping like that was through Thanksgiving dinner on my uncles shoulder my first year of high school. Leaving that shelter was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do. I got handfuls of letters thanking me. And gifts that I knew they couldn't afford to give. Before I left the kids were all seated in rows for a presentation. Each and every child (even the 15 new kids from a recently closed shelter) stood up and gave me a hug. I told them I loved them and they said they loved me too. A few began to cry and the once distant rows seemed to blend together, as if seeking comfort in relative proximity. Aruna kept reminding me not to cry, but I couldn't help it. Malika asked me again to take her home and every inch of my body ached. There is nothing more I wanted in that moment than to take her with me. It's been three weeks and I have been thinking about this blog post since the start of my trip. How will I wrap it up? How will I ever be able to articulate this? I've decided that I can't. I don't know if the words will come with time or if I'm destined to carry around this feeling that I can't articulate for the rest of my life. Leaving India feels to me like a loss. There is an overwhelming sense of missing them.I've spoken with the girls since being home and I look at the photos often. That's why it is impossible to articulate. This feeling that sits just below my chest is a concoction of loss, hope to return, and a drive to continue to pursue that level of emboldened happiness again. Perhaps I should invent a word... 13346985_10206762494162225_2805813669895423264_n

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Day 28: Monastery Life

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The nunnery is literally transforming before my eyes. Well I suppose I'm the one who is transforming, really. The place hasn't changed at all, merely the way I'm experiencing it.

When I first got here, I felt like I was drowning in titanic waves of unfamiliarity. Everything was too different. Too foreign. I claimed to be a lover of all things new, but Zanskar was out of my league. I counted the hours until I could go to sleep and crossed the days of my calendar with relief. Each day felt more like a century. Although I wasn't proud of my feelings, I was ready to go home the moment I got here.

Now I avoid my calendar at all costs because it only serves to remind me of the dwindling time I have to spend in this community. My days pass by before I can even blink an eye -- like the sun is rising and setting in the very same breath. My time here is rushing by so quickly, it almost feels as though I'm trying to hold onto a curl of smoke.

Every single day begins with laughter. (Mainly because my room is attached to the children's room and they rise at 6 AM with the specific purpose of squeezing in some early morning playtime). Their joyful yelps and giggles, unsuccessfully stifled by the early hour, are my faithful alarm clock.

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