Friday, February 18, 2005

It's Not a Game

Though I've been in Jodhpur for a month and a half, today was only my third lesson in Unchairda, a village 2o minutes from Jodhpur. You can come with the best of intentions but India is India. Wednesday was an unexplained and unannounced holiday (we got the call at 11am, when we'd been waiting for an hour to be picked up for school). There have been occassional "election days" in all the villages for three weeks straight, so no class (which puzzles me because the girls obviously aren't voting). There're marriages, constantly; there are students who don't show up.

Unchairda may be close by--you can see the distant pink turrets of Jodhpur's Palace when you pull onto the village--but there are no street-savvy female engineering majors motoring around here. As I'm the first volunteer to teach here the girls in Class 8, ten ranging from 11-13, know basically no English. They've had instructions in this very language by a well-meaning Indian teacher, but half cannot write their name. No joke. Actually, half cannot write many English letters, so I'm going to bring in tracing paper for our next class and make them write: A, a, B, b, C, c..." It's no use going over animal names when their Bs and Gs look like Arabic.

"Hello ladies!" I'm all cheerful at the beginning. "How are you?"

They beam and repeat, "HOW, ARE, YOOOOU."

I threw some vocab at them, (A is for APPLE, B is for BELL) but it's of little use when they can't read or write; even my Class 12 girls in Barwala have a hard time understanding my strange accent. So after a bit we played Duck Duck Goose, Memory (with food vocab), then colored for a while. Three and a half hours later, the van still wasn't back--the Medical Team were a little over ambitious in trying to do three village worths of Fertility and Anemia education sessions in one day--so we started another coloring project. My patience was wearing thin when a lady hanging out in class--somebody's aunty?--started riflying through my bag, taking things out, then laughing at my pants when I stood up to protest. Soon everyone was laughing at my pants (this does happen from time to time, but I'm not about to start donning sarees on a daily basis). But she was totally distracting them, and I found myself yelling at her to get the *#$ out and stay out of my class. Luckily no one has a clue what any of this means. Finally one girl understood "class," saw my glowering expression and escorted this lady out.

My best student in this class is a tiny 11 year-old named Vilma, who stands out in every class for reasons other than an impressive set of webbed toes and the 11th finger shooting out of the side of her right hand. She has a good, quick ear for language and pays attention when I show her how to write letters properly, so they look like English.

The other Vilma in the class is not so quick--she misspells her name, even when recopying it--expect at this Memory game. It's times like these when I understand why this Creative Literacy Program actually might make a dent in the villages' embarassingly low literacy rate (usually a reported, wholy inflated, 25-40%). This Vilma may be a visual learner, or it might be that she only pays attention when we're playing games. Whatever works. In Khatawas there is one girl who is basically mute, with deformed, almost useless hands, who kicks butt at Memory.


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