Hello, School Friend from the School of the World !
Here we are again. Since my last letter from India, I stayed a further month in that beautiful country and it’s a good thing I did, because of two nice things that happened. I’m setting down in China to write this letter. It’s cold here but I have found a warm welcome from a French couchsurfer in Qingdao. But I ’ll leave that for another letter. Now let me tell you about the end of my adventure in India.
I ended my last letter saying I was in the middle of setting up a dance show with a group of Indian school children for their Annual Parents’ Day, which is a bit like our Christmas party. After fifteen days of rehearsing, two hours a day during the last week, I presented my Bougadou Team : 30 dancers dressed in colourful glitter costumes ; our « world tour of dances ». We used a French song to link the dances and the children had a lot of fun practising it. First they did France, with aerobics and exercises ; well, the positions were OK and they got applause, although I was a little disappointed that on the first try they messed up the big pyramid. Next, Rumania with a « Give one » that was well appreciated. An American Madison went off very well and the Brazilian Macerana had travelled well. A quick tour of African rhythms and we finished in style with a Rabbi Jacob (Eastern European Jewish) dance. We left the stage doing the wave and got a lot of applause. It was a great moment and I enjoyed getting together with my group and the parents that were so appreciative and the whole school that will remember it all for a long while, I think. The show went on – very impressive to see choreographed gymnastics with over 100 children. (I’m not at that level yet!) They also did a « lezime » dance, a karate demonstration and a final of the pyramids and gymnastic demonstrations by the kids with my mate Unmech. They were extraordinary ; it made me jealous, I told them afterwards. Finally there was … demo of tightrope walking : amazing feats ! Some more exercises with 70 children and the adults. It finished off with a Christmas story. So if anyone was worrying about Christmas in India for me, I was having a ball with that show and even more so with the story : The characters in the Nativity scene danced in the Indian style, which I found absolutely magic. And to see Father Christmas also doing some Indian dance steps to finish the show !
Next day, the children were on Christmas holiday. Me too, with just enough time to make a few videos, meet a number of people and make a few trips but above all to experience Christmas with my new Indian family. So, I hear you ask from the other side of the world, what’s Christmas like in India. So it’s with great pleasure that I’m going to share with you this unique moment that I’ve had in this village, even though it varies from region to region. Christmas day is a holiday for everyone but the real joy is in spending time with friends and the people we meet every day, a bit less with family and presents (no going crazy with gifts and shopping, just some sweets for the children. They put up decorations and lights on the 24th. We take advantage of the sun and the sundown to spend a really peaceful day. Mass is in the open air (because of the numbers of people) everyone dressed up. After a fine simple Mass at 10 o’clock at night, we share a cake but essentially everyone stays up to dance to the « band », an Indian brass band. I let myself be dragged in and I danced with them and had a lot of fun. I was near the drums, the rhythm was similar to the Brazilian Batala. I liked it a lot.
Of course I had to amaze them with a few dance movements. When the musicians stopped I was pouring with perspiration. Everybody wanted to thank me for my performance and they kept talking about it right up to the end of my stay. I didn’t think I danced particularly well, I just wanted to share my joy and energy. But I understand that dancing is a very good way of communicating and expressing one’s emotions (and above all my pleasure at being with them) when one doesn’t know the language. The next day we ate a fuller meal but no special dish for the occasion. To end the 25th there were games that all the family could join in. After a sack race for the children that caused a lot of laughter, the turn f the dads was a lot more serious ; the mums had to race with a book balanced on their heads, very original. And to finish there was a relay race where the father had a thread and the mother a needle : to get the thread in the needle was funny and unusual. So Christmas here is very simple and I enjoyed it immensely.
Afterwards, during the holidays I had the chance to take part in a « Christmas party » with the children and learn about Indian theatre. Short scenes relating real events are interlaced with meaningful indian dances. The actors were very good and I could understand the flow of the play. It was very beautiful. I also had to take care of my « Chinese Visa » task, since I had to put in the request no earlier than two months before arrival, so I had to leave the little village to travel to Bombay three times to request the famous document that would open the gates to China. Luckily I had my friend Sandeep who knows the city by heart and in particular how to get about. I realised that there is a great difference in living standards between the city and a small village only 50 km away. Getting a visa in another country is a huge adventure, it can drive you crazy but overall it worked out well for me.
My last trip on the holiday period was to go to meet and spend New Year with my friend, a French girl who is in the South of India working for a humanitarian mission. We met in Goa after I travelled by night bus (a true couchette coach for 15 hours on the road). It was great to meet someone to talk to in French and tell out adventures and have a laugh with a friend. Lying on dechchairs in front of the sea, the sun setting on the horizon, crowds of people come to swim, watching cows walking on the beach, all that with a cocktail in our hands, we found out that other contacts of ours were also in Goa. We spent the evening with some Indians who were very open and nice, some even speaking French, on a little stretch of private beach. Talk, getting to know people, snacks, dancing. A really lucky chance ! The funniest was when there was an electricity cut in the whole town at 7 p.m. And you could hear everyone around shouting their discontent as with one voice. Very special ! I have to admit i didn’t have the time to visit Goa, which is a magnificent region, but in two days I just didn’t have the time. This was my first real holiday, where I could relax and think about the project. It’s true, I hadn’t foreseen holidays in my planning, but they are in fact essential. So all too quickly I found myself once again among the school desks, since they start up again on 2 January. I continued my observation of classes but this time in middle school. Classes of maths, English, Marathi, the local language, Hindi, sciences, history, geography, civics, religion, sport, music and drawing. But also computer course and a library hour to go and borrow books. These last weeks of observation let me finish my videos on India, make a lot of contacts with students and teachers, who were always very happy to receive me. But particularly I learned a few important points in addition to those I mentioned last time.
Firstly I discovered their « open book test » week. In addition to a heavy week of testing at the end of each term they have a week of exercises that they have to carry out with their textbook beside them ; they have to know this book very well in order to carry out the exercise. I appreciated very much their system of evaluation, which does not cover only the academic subjects. Marks are given to « academic performance », such as English, Hindi, the local language, maths, sciences, social science (history, geography, civics, the arts (drawing and singing), computers, « physical and health » (in addition to sport, they look at the care of the body, nails , hair, teeth) But they are also marked on the basis of the teacher’s observations of their knowledge of life, such as maturity of reaction, social relations, management of emotions. Also on their attitude and their judgement with respect to teachers and to class mates, the educational programme, the environment, school values and keeping the school neat and tidy. I found that very interesting.
I like also their recreation break, which consists of a snack ; each child brings something to eat in his « lunchbox ». It’s usually savoury, chappattis and vegetables, even if they eat when they get home after school. The teachers do the same in their room. This school has the special practice of insisting that the children bring a snack made at home ; it musn’t be bought food – if it is it goes in the bin.
To finish the last week, I was able to go on a short tour of nursery schools, where, even in a class of 50, they are already learning a lot : colours, numbers up to 100, recognizing symbols, fruits, animals, but also – and this surprised me – reading and writing, addition up to 10 and the 1 times table in the pre-primary year.
But this last week was mainly about contacts with France. Firstly there was an exchange of recipes with the second-year primary class at the Sacré-Cœur school in Vannes, who wanted to share their recipe for « bredeles Alsaciens » that the Indian children copied in their notebooks and would try at home. In exchange the Indian children sent their recipe for « Nankata Biscuit », scrumptious items with dates and cashew nuts. (You can see these recipes on my site). To your ovens !
Finally, I had great pleasure in setting up, attending and animating a Skype letting between two worlds, a French school and an Indian one. This was an enriching experience on both sides. In France the children were surprised by the number of pupils in the classes and the numbers of people in the small village of Nirmal, the number of classes per week, the holidays and the languages they learned. In India they were surprised by the small size of the school in Bubry, the several floors, the number of hours in the school day, the long holidays and the fact that the children don’t wear uniform or have morning assembly.
Clearly I met a lot of people during this last month :
- Rostan, an important person in the village who had me visit nurseries in small villages, me riding pillion on his motorbike, and who invited me to a wedding of teachers (unfortunately I had to leave before then)
- Rocky, the father of a student ; he came to pick me up to visit his house and surprise his daughter who took lots of photos of me
- Maxwell, a student who invited me to take breakfast with him and his family and visit their new house being built
- The whole family of Father Brendan and Father Alex, the two priests who looked after me so well for two months.
- Prasad, who invited me to meet his family and eat noodles, the Chinese noodles that they like so much.
- The meetings at 5 p.m. With the students after classes, to chat, play football, cricket or other games and just have fun. Some great moments of bonding that branded me with the nickname ‘Loossooloo’.
- The meal with Pius, a very friendly teacher with whom I spent a great time talking about Indian culture the whole evening.
- The meal with Thelma, a primary-school teacher with whom I also discovered a lot about Indian culture, but through the eyes of her children in middle-school.
- Lots of other encounters in the course of the two months.
But the fact of staying two months instead of one as in the other countries has a reverse side to the medal since close relations are built and it is so hard when it’s time to leave. So the last day started as usual with assembly, the national anthem then a catholic hymn, prayers and the vow. Then a teacher took the microphone and announced an event ; she had me take a seat in front of everyone with Father Brendan and Sister Sabeena, the deputy head. First there was a short speech by a pupil who talked about what they felt about me from when I arrived to that moment, including my sense of humour, my dance show and my appearance in their classes. Another talked about the Skype meeting with the French class. Very touching. Then they invited me to speak. I thanked them for everything and told them to hold on to their dreams. I gave them a small frame that said the same thing. The Father Brendan spoke, saying how he saw my presence at his side, how he took advantage of my being there, of my example, to go on talking about their dreams. He added some information that he knew about me. I was very happy at that moment. Then the primary pupils gave me a fine map, then it was the turn of the middle school and afterwards the big presents. I received a magnificent framed picture (1m x 1m). It was the teacher with whom I had spoken about drawing who had done it : a wonderful Indian painting showing a scene from Indian life, wonderful colours, impeccable style. I was overcome with emotion but wondered about transport. Father Brendan reassured me immediately and said they would send it directly to my home
But that wasn’t all. They went on and celebrated my birthday in advance. It was the best birthday that I’ve ever had (in advance) with 500 young people full of joy and sincerity facing me. It really made me feel good. Just when I thought it had all come to an end a group stepped up to the microphone and started singing a song in English about how they were going to miss me. That got to me and full of emotion it was the first time that I tears came during my travels. One beautiful large family was there and I didn’t want to leave. They trooped out row by row so I got to shake some 400 hands.
So India has been truly a beautiful country and I’m in a hurry to go back there to find all those lovely people in that little village. But the adventure has to continue and there will be many more exciting meetings in China, which is a country with lots of surprises, but that will be for another time. Patience.
Articles and videos on my site : a day in the life of a student in 7 parts, cricket, Indian games (kabbaddi et Langadi), food, Indian music, the Indian tale, videos of the show.
Bye for now. Coming up soon : the next adventures.
Our dreams have a future, long live school, long live life.
accompanied by the warmth of my last sunset among the palm trees.
The once little boy who loved to dream
Lancelot, whom they call Laneci in India.