Monday 6th December, 2010

 

Waking up to the sound of prayers screaming through the dense jungle from a p.a is definitietly a different way to how I ever woken up, especially at 4.30 am in the morning. I wonder if this makes people feel closer to their god- I certainly had an out of body experience!.

Bleary eyed we ventured down to the kitchen in the hope for breakfast. The children had already finished a half hour run around the basket ball court and were dressing ready for school.

Joseph asked Diane to visit one of his schools to 'support' the teaching that was being delivered. I stayed in the school grounds collecting names and photographs for the school website.

Joseph introduced me to several of the teaching staff and paraded me round all the classes so I could observe. I took photos of the students and Joseph managed to get in every frame by asking the teachers to leave when it can to taking photos.

Many of the teachers looked nervous when I entered the classroom. Maybe it was because of who I was, maybe it was because of who Joseph was, I don't know.

We visited the headmasters chemestry class. He wasn't where he should be- teaching the kids but they were all sat reading from their books with very little disruption. After greeting the class and not getting an answer as to the where-abouts of the principal, Joseph turned to me and under his breath muttered, "See, this is what I have to put up with. This is why I want people to come and teach my teachers."

Formal introductions at the school went something like this:

"Your name?"

"Your Job?"

"What qualifications do you have?"

"Are you married?"

"How many children do you have?"

After about fifty times it becomes a bit tedious

When it came to loading the photographs onto the internet I went to Josephs office on the second floor, removed my shoes at the door( leaving them on the colourfulhand woven rug) and sat at the computer paitiently waiting for Joseph to bring me the passwords. Looking around his office there were several pictures of him on mounted, framed picture boards, each one of the framed poster sized photographs paid tribute to either his seventieth birthday or wished him prosperity and good health.  I think many of the tributes must have been sent to him in the hope of a child gaining a place at one of the schools or even a  form of bribery, which is not uncommon here.

Joseph informed me that he didn't know the passwords for his websites and passed me the telephone to contact the website developer that had originally built the school websites.I was quite apprehensive to speak to someone on the phone, especially if there English was very good and I have no idea where to even begin speaking Malyaylam- a palidrome!

After a torturous five minutes of 'eh? Can you repeat that? I don't understand!' from me and the voice at the other side of the telephone we decided the best course of action would be for the I.T man to come to the school. At least with hand gestures and facial expressions we may be able to communicate more effectively!

In order to collate the information requested by Joseph I persuaded Dan to run around the whole school making sure that all the teachers that were to be photgraphed had the correct names I had quickly jotted down on a list. Dan's job at the school is to track down outstanding fees and arrange for parents to visit the school and discuss payments. He has also develped a good electronic accounting system for the school and hopes there is someone to take over and continue to use it when he leaves. I doubt there is anyone capable of making sure it is utilised and that his efforts may be in vain.

As I wandered around the school I met the dance and music teacher. Dance and music play a vital cultural and religious role in the lives of the Keralan people. It is a highly regarded subject on the curriculum at this school and many of the children take part in the cultural and religious events.

The young girls stood in a circle and watched as the teacher went through the performance. He then tapped his stick on the floor and the girls began to dance  ashe clapped and stamped out a rythm. Meanwhile, the boys in the class were sat cross-legged at the edge of the marble veranda reading text books. They whispered to each over the pages of the books which drew the attention of the teacher and his stick! I moved swiftly to take the stick away and deposited it in the headmasters office. The teacher continued to deliver the dance lesson keeping an eye on me. As the boys became bored and began whispering again, I moved over to them and discussed their work.

"He always hits us" one of them whispered.

"Not while I'm here" I replied. The boys smiled.

After the dancing session I met up with Diane in the school foyer. We were both waiting for Joseph who had told us to meet him there. After an hour of waiting around we headed back to the hostel- time keeping is not something people are good at here!

As we got to the hostel the boys asked if I could coach them playing basketball. Diane went for a lie down as the heat and full teaching day she had worked was tiring her out.

The kids here are quite well behaved and respectful. What I like best is how they open up to you when there isn’t any staff around. Are we too relaxed in the west? Am I letting them get away with too much? I certainly aren’t as strict or have to shout like I have observed at the school. But a lot of the shouting I witnessed was due to people not having any skills in behaviour management. And the children do as I ask, without question. Towards the end of the basket ball session, some of the school staff gathered around the court waiting for their monthly wages. As they waited, they took a large pole from the scrub and began knocking down coconuts from the tops of the extremely tall trees within the school grounds. We collected about 10 coconuts!

A woman, who I hadn’t seen on the premises before, picked up a coconut with one hand and wielding a machete in the other, cut the outer husk away from the shell then split the nut in two- in about 10 seconds!

I ask the woman to show me how she did it and as she took another coconut and did it again and I watched without blinking. Right, my turn!

I hacked and chopped and hacked and swore at the damn nut and still it lay intact! The woman gave me a huge tooth-gapped grin and laughed as she took my hand and showed me how to flick the 18 inch razor sharp blade with my wrist to flick off the husk. She then gave me another coconut, a little better, this time.

“You practice!” she laughed loudly, leaving me with the weapon and a couple of coconuts to hack at. It took a few more attempts but I finally managed to dress a coconut.

Using such a large dangerous tool for something so intricate is definitely a skill the women here have to learn and probably at a very young age too. I’m not being sexist with this remark; it is just the way here. Women seem to do all the cooking, cleaning, lifting, fetching and carrying and men, well it seems that they pretend to work, even the teachers!

Feeling proud, I showed the boys my achievement.

“That’s a woman’s job” one of them remarked. I didn’t care. I have learned a new skill today and very proud of the fact that if I am ever lost in the jungle with just a machete in my backpack, I know I won’t starve! I just have to get it through customs...hmmm.

Later on, the I.T man showed up and accompanying him was the local Communist leader. Joseph introduced the I.T man as the head of I.T for the Kerala government. We all huddled together in a small room as the I.T man went through the online server system. Joseph made milky teas for everyone as we worked. We all laughed and joked as we worked but I could see the frustrations and English limitations of the politician as he mostly just smiled nodded and looked confused.

As the two dignitaries were leaving there was a lot of hand shaking and sideways glancing as Joseph handed the politician an envelope that was creased as though it contained money. It is not uncommon here to pay ‘tribute’ or ‘sponsorship’ to government officials. In the UK we call it bribery!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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