A normal day

I wake up. The church is shouting music at me, and that has the irritating habit of dragging me out of my sleep. At least the bus departing at 5 didn’t wake me up… The only problem is that the music, starting at 5.30, will last half an hour until mass. Its mission is to wake everybody up to go to work. The music is Indian type, which means its melody will stay almost the same throughout the whole song. But that melody booms! Actually, this is probably one of the best songs to wake people, not very comfortably perhaps but then who cares about comfort?

Although it’s rather hot, I drag the covers over me. I prefer enduring a little uncomfortable heat than fall prey to the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes they have here are big, mean, and seemingly everlasting. Their stings don’t just itch, but also hurt. Then I drag my I-pod under with me and listen the hours through.

8 o’clock. Time for breakfast. This is a rather painful meal for me because Indians mostly eat rice for breakfast (as all meals). I’ve tried rice with sugar once or twice, but normally I’m not that desperate. Sometimes we have industrial bread with a rare luxury, jam. Before this village I hated this jam, as I’m not into bland chemical tastes. Now though, I regret that jam. Sometimes we replace it with a mixture of lemon juice and sugar…

School. I go to fetch my laptop, and when on my bed, one of my feet falls through a hole and throws me down. Our beds are made of interlacing straps, which continually move, forming treacherous gaps. At the beginning I used to sleep directly on these, but now I have a plastic sort of mat to sleep upon. I used to use my jumper as a cushion, but now I’ve given up on that and sleep just on my arm. Two hours of painful school pass. Working on my own is significantly harder than with teachers, especially in literary subjects. And here, I can only blame myself if I advance slowly, or don’t understand something. In a school, I just have to adapt to the rhythm and eventually, even if I don’t complete the program, it will not really matter. It’s the difference between swimming out of habit and swimming out of sheer will. The second might be more impressive, but it’s much less agreeable than the first.

Almost 11 o’clock. I’m the only one which still has another hour of school, but I’ll do it in the afternoon. Time to go see the kids at school. As we enter in the playground, all the children there shout ‘Good morning’ and run to shake our hands. I find it hard to shake hands without halting, while still seeming to respect the other, so I walk just behind my Dad, so that he receives the brunt of the attack. I stop just behind the wall, waiting for my family to catch up, then turn. At once we have roughly 50 ‘Good morning, everyone’s’. I observe with a smile that they’ve progressed. They used to say ‘Good morning, sisters’ before. Good morning children, my father responds, and, before the rows of disciplined 4-6 years old we place ourselves in a line.

Then its Head Shoulders Knees and Toes with actions. They know the words well, although they probably do not understand all the meanings. It’s remarkable how they can take the words and absolutely destroy the tune.

I love these children. They’re happy and eager to learn. And they’ve got just the right amount of pride at what they’re learning to make you glad to teach them. They’ve got a truly amazing capacity at learning by heart rhymes and songs, when they don’t even know what the words mean! They’re probably better than me at this. If we were to teach me German songs, I would be close to incapable of learning them without first understanding the language. Proof that they don’t understand the words is that one song finishes with ‘My fair lady’, where we taught them to point to my mother. One girl keeps pointing to my father…

‘Alice the Camel’ follows, then ‘The wheels on the Bus’, ‘If you’re Happy’, ‘Round the Garden’, ‘In the Jungle’, ‘B-I-N-G-O’, ‘The Ants go Marching’, ‘Once I caught a Fish Alive’, ‘Baa-baa Black Sheep’, ‘Farmer Joseph’ (=Old Mac’Donald, except in India the cow goes ‘Amba’, and the dog goes ‘Bow Pow’) and so on. All these songs have taking an incredible amount of remembering for us (we got Internet once though, and sort of cheated).

Then it’s goodbye and my family go ‘home’ while my father and I direct ourselves to the school edifice, to see the headteacher. We give computer lessons. When she sees us she asks a random teacher to get a random class for us to teach. They have 5 computers, so old that they only accept diskettes. (That seems incredibly old to me, but maybe not so much to you.)

I’ve programmed (=made) games on the computer which attempt to teach the students how to use a computer. The first throws letters then words at you and you must type the same letter or word before it grows too big. The smaller they are, the more points you win. The second is a maths game, which throws sums and subtractions at you at adjustable difficulties. A third features a war versus evil words which fall from the sky in increasing difficulties and which you must shoot (by typing the same word), before they destroy your village. Each time you destroy one, it contributes to the building of your cross. When this is fully built, it casts a protective aura on your village and secures your victory. The last is a compilation of 4 unique games, football, saving birds from rain with an umbrella (I love originality), avoiding rocks with a spaceship and getting through mazes. This last game is a sort of reward games for hard work, and they also have as goal to teach arrow-keys usage.

Anyway, the class comes, and distribute themselves about 4-8 per computer. My father says hello. They stare back. My father lifts a keyboard, says ‘today we will learn how to use the keyboard’ and suddenly the power cuts. We wait awkwardly for ten minutes, then go back home. Once we did manage a one hour course…

Lunch! Our father has made a potato curry with rice. It’s pretty nice (actually in the present conditions it’s superb), except one does get tired of getting the same meal twice a day for over a week. Sometimes my parents break the monotony with rice alone. Sob…

Follows another hour of school for me, then I read or practice programming.

Shouts suddenly break the cool silence. Shouts screaming ‘Xavier! David! Eric! Amandine? Come please!’ My watch has long broken, but I can guess it’s roughly 6 o’clock. Most nights I go out to play with the children. If not they’ll literally break our house apart with pounding on the door, choruses of shouts and screams, and what not. This time I go out, say hello. They say Bagunara (=how are you)? I answer Bagunamu (=fine) with my horrible accent, and a little boy keeps on asking Bagunara so he can hear me answer again. Every night is a new adventure.

Today, I asked Joseph to organize a game of ‘Kabadee’, their national sport. He said okay, but him and I never got to even choosing the players, because of all the fighting. I tried to take a hand in it, but not speaking Telegu means I have to use Joseph as an interpret, whom I suspect to deform my words to serve his purpose. I tried various tactics to start the game, each ending miserably and at last told them I was going in 3 minutes if we did not start. After one minute of everybody running, we finally started playing for 30 seconds, before Joseph rebelled and brought the game to a standstill. Two hours of waiting for 30 seconds’ playing. Not too bad!

On my third day here, I had decided to organize a special game with the skipping rope, where I twirl the rope around myself and people have to jump when it passes under them. But as 30 children ran to play, I could never play 2 seconds before hitting someone’s legs. I thought I would be able to turn this bad beginning into an organized game, where 3 people would start, and we’d proceed with elimination until only one was left. This person would continue to the next game and two more would be chosen, etc.

Now every time I would choose the next two people, I’d have a pure energetic force of 20 frenzied children rushing into me, shouting, screaming, touching and probing me to be chosen. And when the game would start, all the people who had not been chosen would rush in, making the game unplayable. Ah well…

Yesterday night we were invited to eat at a man’s house. There’s an Indian proverb saying that visitors are like a half-God. If I may, there’s ample place in the 33 million Hindu Gods for visitors. Anyway, this proverb is actually rather scary because most invitations tend to end up the same way. They lead us to a table, seat us, and even the old man who invited us serves us during all the meal, not eating himself. His wife and child serve us too. They’ll eat later, when we’re gone. Although they never get to eat meat themselves, they’ve slaughtered one of their chickens just for us. This thought makes me feel guilty, but I am so deprived of meat that me, who in France wasn’t very fond of it, water at the sight of it. When I see a live chicken, I can’t stop a sudden feel of affection.

I have a momentary puzzlement when I observe that the cutlery is missing. Then I realize and with a tinge of sadness plunge my hand in my plate, mixing the curry and rice together, then raising it up and shoving it in my mouth. Some Indians laugh when they see me eat, I probably have terrible manners, I wouldn’t know. All I really know is that you don’t eat with your left hand, reserving it as a replacement for toilet paper (people here looked at our toilet paper with puzzlement, feeling it in a futile attempt to classify this strange substance). The hardest thing is eating yoghurt mixed with rice with only one hand.

Before going to bed, at 10 when everybody’s asleep, I like to walk alone in the dark. I need the calm, the time to put my ideas back together. Then sleep.

2 Responses

  1. Great story telling Xavier, thanks!

  2. hi xavier
    guess who?
    i went to see the blog and found out where you were.
    nice writing style (as to be expected from Xavier).
    your blog is getting more and more impressive (you have’nt changed emails, have you?).
    good luck to you and your family
    seeya

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