Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Global Perspective on Teacher Exchange with India

Tea planatation workers
Student art depicting Mother Theresa

Bust of Gandhi in Assam State Museum

“This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee’s own and do not represent the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program, the International Leaders in Education Program or the U.S Department of State.” (required disclaimer)

The TEA and IREX Programs under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State have allowed me the opportunity to grow professionally and learn in a very unique environment. I must confess that I am a “culture junkie.” As a child growing up in a small town in Alabama I read of far off places and dreamed of travel and experiences. I traveled to India and other exotic locations in my dreams and through literature only. On my business card I have this quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” As a teaching professional I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to live the seemingly impossible dream.

In my opinion exchange programs between educators are essential in the modern world. Isolation and ignorance must be overcome if we are to work together for peace and the mutual benefit of the students of the world. In my travels I have learned that we share so much more in common than we realize most of the time. Parents everywhere want their children to succeed in life and know that education is the path to improve their lives and circumstances. People want truth, justice and fairness in their daily lives and worry about the environment and the future of their countries. Foreign students have preconceived ideas of American life that are based on television coverage. I did my best to answer student and teacher questions and let them know that the media and reality TV programming does not represent the vast majority of American citizens. The streets of America are not paved in gold and we must all work to earn a living no matter where we happen to reside.

I use my travel experiences almost daily in the classroom. Students immediately pay closer attention when a personal story or anecdote is given in class. We all love a good story and to hear of personal experiences from people around us. This adds interest and complexity to the presentation of world literature and stimulates students to read more and travel themselves.

This is my closing IREX post, but I want to ask you to take the time to read the other six or seven entries under the IREX label. Because I am a “culture junkie” my best writing and reflections are on the culture of India: the food, the street life, fashion, religion and the Rhinos of Kaziranga National Park. I had such a rich experience and met so many wonderful people on this trip. I can honestly and sincerely report that the hospitality of the Assamese people of India is unparalleled in the WORLD!

Thank you to all the teachers, students and administration of Maharishi Vidya Mandir School for their hospitality and sharing of the Assamese and Indian culture. Thank you IREX for selecting me for this prestigious program and also special thanks to the U.S. Department of State for their foresight in sponsoring this teaching exchange.
Please read on………..

Educational System Observations on Indian Schools: Guwahati, State of Assam, India

Student work at Maharishi Vidya Mandir School

Staff at the Autism, CP and Mental Retardation School I visited

Tell me and I will forget, Show me and I will learn, Involve me and I will understand-------Teton Lakota (American Indian saying)

The teachers of Maharishi Vidya Mandir School in Guwahati and other regional schools I visited the past two weeks are doing a wonderful job of engaging and involving students in learning. Our educational systems are very different in many respects, but as I told the Indian students in question and answer sessions, there is little difference in teaching styles- a teacher is a teacher wherever you go no matter what the circumstances.

I have witnessed some very fine teaching and learning taking place in the schools in India. In an English class I observed a student skit on a story they had just completed: The Nightingale and the Frog. The students had created simple head pieces and body attachments for costumes and each assumed a character in the piece. The speech was clear and the actions were staged well for the space allowed in the crowded classroom. The skit was well designed and the actors had equal parts that they performed with relish. They opened the floor for questions after the skit finished. The students conducted the class under the supervision of their teacher. The next class was a 9th grade section and they were conducting a review in English in the form of a team competition. A student recorder kept score on the board and each team posed student generated questions to the other team on Mutiny on the Bounty and the poems and life of Wordsworth. The students really tried to stump each other and asked difficult and detailed questions. The feeling in the room was intensely competitive! Another excellent class I observed was a 6th grade science lab for 39 students on mixtures. The teacher placed key words on the board and page references and students stood in front of the class and demonstrated portions of the lesson using different easily obtainable everyday items like lentils, pebbles, flour, rice and soil to demonstrate components of mixtures, pure substances and separation techniques. When the students completed their presentations, the teacher followed up with a recap of the lesson and a homework assignment.

My urban host school set up visits to other educational institutions so I could have a better picture of schools in the northeastern states of India. I visited the Modern English School in a more suburban part of Guwahati. This school is expanding and has built a new multistoried building with some smart boards in the classrooms and a computer lab. The class numbers are still high, but this school has focused on improving technology. The school has 1800 students on a secure and gated campus. The campus has some beautiful plantings and a very tropical feel. As in the other schools I visited, classrooms are not air-conditioned. There are numerous ceiling fans to help move the air in very hot classrooms- everyone seems acclimated and no one complains. Here in Memphis, Tennessee we have air-conditioned all the schools in the belief that extreme heat compromises learning. This does not seem to be the case in India because learning is on-going even in extreme heat and humidity!

Special education students are not educated in the general population in India. This is one major difference in our educational systems. I visited a very special non-profit private school that serves students with Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Mental Retardation. The school has a section for out-patient services and evaluation with physical therapists and a special education teacher to evaluate children. The physical therapist on duty showed us a special room he has put together to test young patients’ sensory development. The PT room was in use with an evaluation of a baby who has not started speaking or walking yet. The staff of two physical therapists was working with the child as the mother sat and watched. The room colors were bright and inviting throughout this school with wall murals and ceiling paints to stimulate students to look up and strengthen neck muscles. The manager and business director of this school who is wheelchair bound himself is especially proud of the newly renovated computer lab which is nearing completion. There will be ten specially adapted computers with head controls instead of hand operated mouse controls, special chairs with neck rests and special software to support speech and other needed skills for the school students enrolled in this unique day school facility. The ratio of staff to student is 1:3. We toured at lunchtime so students were self-feeding if they could or receiving assistance from the staff. Some inclusion does occur with community outreach events like talent shows, environmental walks, etc. In the more advanced age group we met a couple of students and visited with them. Victor has CP but normal intelligence and will graduate from school in a couple of weeks. The two talented young men in this classroom sang us a Christian hymn so beautifully tears ran down my face. This song was totally unexpected and the sweetest moment! This school is truly an educational oasis for the students it serves.

On this trip I learned about the class structure of the school systems in India. After completion of 10th grade, students test in various subject areas to begin to specialize and move on to pre-college and university courses. The math and science areas are the most competitive. The class structure is called 10+1 and 10+2 not 11th grade or 12th grade. The students begin to prepare for the SAT so they can enter a university. We stress education for the masses in the United States while the Indian system is much more selective due to the population of India.

I did not visit a public school on this trip. I do know that every parent that can afford to pay tuition enrolls their child in a private school. There are thousands of schools to consider with different focuses for a grammar school/high school experience and even more special colleges and universities. I have NEVER seen so many educational institutions in such a compressed geographic area. Education is of the utmost importance to Indian parents. They work very hard to provide the best education money can buy for their children.

Student Life in Guwahati, State of Assam, India

Student art examples at MVM School

Assamese dance performed in the music classroom-permission to use photo granted

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. Michelangelo

The students at Maharishi Vidya Mandir School are reaching for the stars each day. The work load is considerable during the school day and extra demands are frequently placed upon students. This private school is selective in admission and the students know the academic bar is set high.

The academic school day is roughly the same in length as the United States school day with one notable difference. Students attend school six days a week. The students study a core curriculum through grade ten that includes meditation and Assamese language classes. Class is conducted in English and students are expected to have adequate English verbal skills to stand and address their peers or conduct an assembly. Tests scores are the name of the game in India and the top scores are posted with the students’ names prominently in the schools. The newspapers publish individual and school scores on exams so the pressure is really on students to study and perform.

The students of grades 1-10 at Maharishi put on a school exhibition June 3rd for parents and the visiting international teachers. Some selected students were holding the ribbon to open the exhibition and we were asked to cut the ribbon and start the room tours. There were hundreds of projects to view and the students were standing by the projects ready to explain and orally defend their work. All school age groups were represented in the rooms and the crush of interested viewers plus students made the temperature rise. The regional director of the local Maharishi schools in Guwahati and the school principal toured the exhibits along with us and really questioned some of the older students on project design and outcomes. This dialogue was conducted in English and so were the abstracts students displayed along with their projects.

Most impressive to me as I toured the exhibition was the creative use of easily obtainable and inexpensive or free materials to produce the projects. Great artistry was shown and cultural aspects of Assamese Indian life were selected by the students to create their projects along with math and science based projects. Many students chose environmental science projects to highlight the need to preserve and protect the natural environment of India and the world. Some students chose current event topics to present in poster or graphic displays so the variety of projects was wide and very interesting. The students were all so eager to explain and show their projects.

Students gave the international teachers a farewell celebration the night of June 7th before we left Guwahati. We were treated to Assamese songs and dances with exceptional performances by students. These performing students were beautifully costumed in regional attire and well rehearsed. The vocals and drums were truly exceptional. I do not know how long they spent in after school rehearsals to produce this cultural extravaganza, but one student told me they really only rehearsed about two weeks to produce this program. AMAZING! Hold on America- India’s got talent!

The students I met on this trip are highly motivated and value education. The love and pursuit of knowledge and excellence is obvious. I know these students will lead India into the future with creativity and pride. India’s hope and future is in the excellence of their students. India is in good hands!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty: Fashion and Attire in India

Mugar silk from Assam
Sari experience- a beautiful moment!

Mehendi : henna artwork on my arms

Guwahati, State of Assam, India

The people of this region of India have a strong sense of style, fashion and appropriateness when dressing for daily, business or school events. I love the fact that everything worn here is not casual. I think I have seen every type of clothing possible since I have come to this region of India.

All students here seem to dress in uniform for school. These uniforms are crisp and truly uniform. I do not see students trying to get around the dress codes of their institutions. This observation does not mean they do not try small liberties at times, but I certainly have not seen a non-uniform shoe or missing belt on a student. The sports uniforms are really nice too and not just a pair of stretch shorts and a t-shirt.

Teachers dress at Maharishi Vidya Mandir School in beautiful cotton saris. These lovely garments are modest and timeless too. The prints are detailed and decorative borders on the edge of the fabric are eyecatching. This is a lovely tradition here and clearly defines the professional teachers from their students. The meditation teacher wears white tunics and loose fitting pants that make him easily identifiable on campus. The men teachers wear western style slacks and cotton shirts to work.

At home for casual dinners and to entertain friends clothing styles for women are salwaars. These are decorative longer tunics with matching pants that are loose at the waist and tightly fitted at the ankles. The finishing touch is always a matching scarf so the look is very “put together” even at home. Most females wear their beautiful dark hair long enough to wear up or braided. More traditional fathers wear the longer tunics and pants at home. Shoes are usually removed to enter the house so everyone is barefooted.

On the streets and in the hotels of Guwahati I have seen businessmen in western style suits and sport coats. Most men wear conservative slacks and collared shirts with leather sandals. The working class men wear a type of sarong style pant that looks difficult to tie properly which is cotton and loose fitting. They sport the woven distinctly regional Assam scarf tied around their heads to protect the face from the sun and dry their faces (much like we would use a handkerchief or bandanna, but much more colorful).

As evening falls and people go out to restaurants to meet and eat with friends the clothing style changes to more western types of dresses/tunics worn with tights for the younger ladies and name brand fashion labels for the men like Izod, etc. No great show of legs or chests for ladies- they are appropriately covered but stylishly dressed with a little bling and lots of jewelry.
Regional costumes are proudly worn for special occasions and school or community functions. These are very ornate and costly items of dress. Mugar silk woven with gold or silver thread is highly prized and very expensive to purchase. It is from a silk weaving district in Assam that I visited on this trip. The fabric is delicate, intricately woven and absolutely brilliantly colored- truly a regional treasure.

I absolutely could not resist buying and wearing a sari while on this dream visit to Assam. Of course it took three people to help me dress in my sari and I may never be able to wrap and pleat it properly again. My host family gave me a salwaar to wear also. The color is black and a vibrant emerald green. I have decided to wear this comfortable outfit for the long journey home to the United States. I have learned to wear a little bling on this trip so my sense of style will never be the same.

When someone asked me of my image of India before coming here on this exchange program, I immediately answered beautiful women in saris with lovely silhouettes. I certainly was correct with this impression.

Thank you to the beautiful people of Assam!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Caution!! Rhino Crossing Ahead!

Member of my host family wearing a T-shirt from my state- looking good Sanjeev! That elephant thinks so too.

My best Rhino picture from the wilds of Kaziranga National Park

World Heritage Site

NE States of India

"The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there's a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants."
David Attenborough

Kaziranga Wildlife Preserve is listed as a World Heritage Site. The park is about a five hour drive from Guwahati in the northeastern states of India. The jungle environment and biodiversity makes this place unique in the entire world and spectacularly beautiful. Special arrangements had been made to allow us to enter the now closed park. The park must close for the monsoon season due to widespread flooding of the low grasslands which the animals graze on and then must abandon for higher ground. This is monsoon season, but the animals are still on the savannah sections of the park and the roads are passable so we are really getting to experience something special with our solo visit to this park. We will not share the viewing with other tourist so I feel like the luckiest tourist ever!

Down a narrow dirt access road we rounded a curve and there standing in the road was a Rhino! He was crossing from one grassland field to another and stopped to stare at us. I was very glad we had the park ranger with his Rhino rifle in the car to protect us if necessary. After the Rhino moved on we pulled up to a viewing tower and jumped out to scamper up above the animal dangers and view the wildlife. Looking out over the vast lowlands of the Brahmaputra River basin I saw 25 to 30 Rhinos moving along and grazing peacefully- what a sight! We saw one Rhino in the water swimming and bellowing to his neighbors as he moved across. They are so huge and armor-plated for protection.

From the viewing tower we saw the smaller red Asian deer resting in the shade and grazing. In the water a Siberian Pelican was floating along near a Rhino. This pelican is snow white, but much like our brown pelicans. We could hear the cuckoo birds calling as evening approached. The breeze sprang up and the feeling of the park was peaceful and eternal too. It is hard to imagine this place in the 21st Century because it is truly timeless- a land time forgot.
We were so lucky to experience the park and witness the steps that are ongoing to protect the exotic species that inhabit this region. On our elephant safari ride we had the chance to see a little of Indian village life. Villagers are right up against park lands and conflict must take place when the animals are forced to move to higher ground and invade their garden plots. These park rangers have a difficult balancing act to perform in protecting the animals from poaching and the villagers struggle too, but the commitment is there locally and nationally to preserve and defend this beautiful natural resource unique to India.

I want to thank my host family for arranging this very special glimpse of their beautiful country. We have an experience that will always remain a memory that draws us together. I love my American family and I love my Assamese family too!

Extreme Eating in India

After dinner traditions- fennel and sugar ---- immature coconuts

Assamese dinner cooked and served by my host principal : Mrs. Manika Goswami Barua

State of Assam, Guwahati, India
June 8, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham
Green Eggs and Ham
I do not like green eggs and ham!
I do not like that Sam-I-Am!
Dr. Seuss taught a lesson in his famous book concerning prejudging food and people: Try them and you might find you like them!

Oh I do so like the Assamese Indian people and their food! This region of India has food that is milder in flavor, but the garnishes and pickles pick up the slack and make a statement. The sweet corn soup here is wonderful! Chicken and fish are prepared in so many different ways. The food is prepared fresh at home and out in restaurants- no relying on anything canned. If you want to eat chicken for dinner, that chicken is purchased alive from a basket on the street and slaughtered while you wait. The fish is freshwater fish and locally caught. Individuals offer fish on the side of the road along with the local vegetable produce. I have seen pork cut fresh on the side of the road too. Mutton and lamb dishes are common here as well, but Hindus do not eat beef so it is not on the menu.
Assamese food is not about convenience, but about the subtle flavors. The roti (bread) is similar to flour tortillas and is torn into pieces to eat. White rice is a staple of the Assamese diet along with lentils, potatoes, mangoes and bananas. A sort of lentil soup is served on the side of the rice plate and the idea is to spoon the lentils over the rice and mix it all with your fingers. The Assamese eat this with the right hand using three fingers as a sort of spoon and the thumb pushes across the fingers to deliver the rice dish into the mouth. There is definitely a technique for accomplishing this method of eating that requires practice. One DOES NOT lick the fingers after eating- this is very bad manners.
Achar is the Assamese name for pickles. I have tasted three types of mango pickles that are very different. These pickles are explosions of flavor and texture in the mouth. Some pickles have more vinegar, sugar or spices than others. There are certain pickles that accompany certain meats offered on the table. These pickles are so interesting that I found a few in the department specialty shop and bought some samples to take home to my family. Madam Principal Monica is giving me some of her pickles to take home when I leave India. Common spices used to prepare pickles and other foods here are coriander, turmeric, garlic, curry and chilies of many different types. Onion is a primary seasoning agent too.
The hotel breakfast buffet at Brahmaputra Ashok Hotel has a number of Indian offerings that we finally got the courage to try. There is chole which is chickpeas in a savory sauce eaten with bhutora which is a type of fried bread. Beans for breakfast- highly seasoned beans- is a radical culinary step for this Southern girl. The hotel also offers fried vegetables that look like croquettes that taste pretty good and seem to vary from day to day.
The snack foods here in India are different and tasty. The chips or crisps are flavored much differently using chilies and tomatoes. Cashews and peanuts are big for snacks too. Roadside stands offer coconut water to drink as a snack which is very different from coconut milk and I have tasted a wonderful mango drink with fresh coconut and cashew nuts on top.
This region of India is a tropical paradise so of course the fruit is spectacular. Litchi fruit is in season now and so interesting to touch, peel and eat. Madam Principal Monica showed us the Jack fruit tree with the fruit growing on it and brought us Jack fruit to sample- not bad. Both of these exotic fruits have large pits to spit out and interesting flavors and smells. Of course there are mangoes, papayas, coconuts and smaller green colored bananas that are really good!
Now let’s talk about tea- Indian tea-black or green varieties. The state of Assam is famous for their wonderful tea. Tea is served and enjoyed here in the late afternoon and is part of the social niceties whenever one visits or conducts business. The host always offers tea and biscuits, crackers or cookies to the guest. It is important to accept this invitation and then sit back and relax and enjoy something timeless that Americans seem too busy to appreciate.
Tea time pushes dinner time here in India to much later in the evening. Dinner is served starting after 8pm here- certainly not 5:30 or 6:00pm like we do in the States. At times it seems that all one does in India is EAT! At the end of a meal there are two regional customs that are always seen. A small bowl of water with a lime slice floating in it is offered to each dinner guest to wash the fingers off. A crystallized white sugar and anise seeds are offered together for a guest to take a small amount and place in the mouth to use as a breath freshener. This is so very civilized and I love it!

In extreme eating there are so many foods and so little time! I wonder what’s for breakfast in the morning???? "I do so like green eggs and ham!"

The Need for Speed- A Look at Traffic in India

American teachers Kenena Pelfrey and Sandra Chando in the bicycle rickshaw- Guwahati, India

There are no words powerful enough to describe the streets of Guwahati, India. I suspect that traffic and motorists are similar in other parts of India too. The road congestion here in Guwahati makes New York City seem tame by comparison. The locals assure me that the traffic is worse in Mumbai and other larger Indian cities, but I do not see how that could be possible. If you know me, then you know how silver my hair has been for quite some time now. If it were not already white, this past week riding the streets of northeastern India would have done the graying instantly. There are several factors at work that contribute to traffic congestion and driving conditions. Here are some of my impressions:
1. Every conceivable type of vehicle is present on the road- seriously! It reminds me at times of an Al Chymia Shriner’s Parade back home with the funny mini-cars they drive as entertainment. If you can put wheels on it, then it is legal to drive on the streets and highways in India.
2. Extreme animal hazards are present. There are cows, goats, monkeys, dogs, geese, oxen, horses, buffalo and elephants around every corner or curve in the road. All the animals do pretty well getting out of the way except for the cows. These bovines know that they are in a special class and can do as they please, take a nap in the road or stand and stare at the cars from the median in four lane traffic- absolutely no fear!
3. Drivers do not obey any traffic laws. The biggest vehicle wins the face-off in a drawdown situation. Everyone complains about the other driver’s terrible driving while dodging traffic madly too. There is constant horn blowing that is part of the driver’s vocabulary. They communicate with other vehicles with subtle differences in the pattern of the honks and the length of the tones. It all means something; I just haven’t figured it all out yet. Honking is highly encouraged here with signs on the back of trucks and buses encouraging others to honk and let them know they are back there somewhere. Horn honking is the norm here and almost illegal in my hometown.
4. Road conditions can be extreme. Construction and potholes are a big problem just like in the U.S. There are roundabouts where the traffic engineers in India threw up their hands and said “I give up.” In addition, there are more dirt roads to travel and very narrow lanes, streets and alleys in the cities which permit two-way traffic. Guwahati is in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains so there are steep, winding roads to traverse and a plunge off a bridge or cliff is a real possibility.
5. Finally, the need for speed NASCAR style is in the blood of many of the drivers. These drivers would give "The Dukes of Hazard" a run for the money. Passing takes place without restrictions on curves and anywhere at full speed. If there is a brief stretch of flat, straight road most of the drivers seem to gun the engine and put the pedal to the metal. The locals acknowledge the problem with graveyard humor on road signs. Here are a few road sign captions for your enjoyment.
“Arrive in peace- Not in pieces!”
“If you want to stay married- Divorce speed!”
“Speed thrills- Accidents kill.”
“Speed thrills- But increases your hospital bill.”
I must say that the Indian drivers have an amazing ability to thread their vehicle through any knot of traffic and find somewhere to park the car that seems impossible. They excel even the Italians in this regard in my opinion. I continue to white-knuckle my way through the streets of Guwahati and wear a small hole in the floorboard of the back seat!

A View of Spiritual Expression, Religion and Rites from India

On approach to the Hindu temple we see vendor's stands- great diversity shown here.

June 2, 2011 Guwahati, State of Assam, India

The first of the monsoon style rainstorms started this morning, but when the storm ended our Principal Madam Monica took us in her car on a field trip to visit Kamamhya Temple. This is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage sites in the sub-continent atop Nilachal Hill which is a huge stone mountain overlooking Guwahati. The temple dome architecturally looks like an ornate beehive cone. This temple does not have an idol or image of the Mother Goddess and is over 4000 years old. Winding, back switch roads allow motor traffic close to the top and there are amazing views of the Brahmaputra River and the sprawling city of Guwahati. The final distance up to the temple must be walked along a path where there are many small vendors and shops selling temple offerings and souvenirs to the thousands of people that pass. Madam Principal arranged this special visit for us and took part of the day off from her busy office schedule at school to take us to the temple and make her personal sacrifice as a practicing Hindu. Mrinali, our host teacher, went along to help interpret what we experienced too.

As we approached the temple, the path changed and there was a beautiful pink marble center walk to follow up to the temple. Our priest, dressed in vermillion and saffron colors, met us and escorted us the final distance to the area of ritual foot washing. We dropped our shoes at a stall and went to the first location to wash our feet. Mrinali and Madam Principal said prayers and made an offering then we were marked with vermillion on our foreheads. The priest left us and went to make a sacrifice on our behalf in a separate area of the temple complex out of view. As we waited for him to return, we could observe the tremendous line of people already there at 9:00am waiting for a chance to make their offering in the free line. On the grounds were monkeys and cows wandering freely about, and sacrificial goats and pigeons were inside the temple complex marked with vermillion to show they were sacrificed to the gods. Our hosts explained that the Hindu priests must sacrifice an animal once a day at noon on the altar. Surrounding the temple were the residences of the priests. At Kamakhya Temple there are about 5000 priests!

When our priest returned we were escorted around to a less crowded entrance to the temple to enter down into the massive stone interior. The crush of the faithful people inside cannot be described. Some of the men fervently shouted praise as they entered this area, one prostrated himself at one of the side altars and the emotion around us was INTENSE. We soon were swept in the masses to the most holy center of the shrine which is protected by huge high-relief ornamented silver doors- absolutely beautiful and very ancient. The holy area was very dark and uneven stone steps had to be carefully managed to descend near the altar area. Madam Principal said there was no restriction against approaching this area. There was incense burning and vermillion, flowers and money offerings covered the altar area. It was necessary to touch the water around the base of the altar. The faithful Hindus put this water on their heads and prayed. I had never touched or seen anything this ancient in all my travels. As we passed through the rest of the temple there were side altars covered in vermillion and flower offerings, but the space was very confined with massive stone all around and narrow paths to travel. We were part of a river of people flowing through the temple.

After we exited the temple we passed through an area where there were many differently sized brass bells hanging on racks. We each rang a bell as we walked by them. The mark of vermillion and the red band tied around our forehead showed that we had been to the temple today. Our priest gave us a special sweet meat made of boiled milk to eat.

I teach in a Roman Catholic school and am a practicing Catholic too. I was struck by some similarities in the rituals common to both faiths. I completed a Venn Diagram in my journal with differences noted, but for this reflection I would like to focus on the ritual signs we have in common. The most striking common symbol was the use of water on hands, heads and feet. There are altars where reverence is shown and an emphasis on blood sacrifice. Both faiths use incense in ritual, although the Hindu faith requires much heavier use. We call our leaders in religious rites priests and prayers are recited with heads bowed and eyes closed. There is an emphasis on alms giving and flowers are used to honor. Side altars are present in the holy spaces and are clearly defined areas. In all the schools we have visited in India it is permitted to pray and is part of the start of each day, just like my Catholic school in Cordova, Tennessee.

India gave birth to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. About 81% of Indians practice Hinduism which is not a religion but a “way of life.” About 13% of Indians are Muslims with 2% of the population following the Sikh religion. Buddhists and Jains are each about 1% and less than 3% are Christians in India. I used the Culture Gram provided by IREX as my source for these statistics. I rode by Don Bosco Catholic Church and School earlier this week not too far from the government center of the city. From the outside it was a very impressive church. Julie, one of my new teacher friends from Maharishi School, told me it is the primary location for Catholic services, Holy Days and the Easter and Christmas services in this region. I saw two Missionary Sisters of Charity (Mother Theresa’s Order) out on the streets of Guwahati. We passed by a sign pointing toward their mission here. It was so good to see a familiar sight so unexpectedly here in India.

I will close this spiritual blog with some quotes:

At the depth of silence stays Buddha.
Life fumbles for the presence of THEE in the midst of chaos.
Author: Karabi Kakoti (poet and parent of child at Maharishi Vidya Mandir School)

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man,
The things which God hath prepared for those who love Him.
The Holy Bible 1 Corinthians 2:9

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Incredible India is a Fountain of Knowledge

Incredible almost indescribable India is a riot of color, sound and motion. The great southern American author Mark Twain said: "India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only."

Of all the treasures I have witnessed already on my trip to learn and experience the culture of India, by far to me the most impressive are the educators and children of India. They inspire me to strive to learn and grow more each day. They demonstrate a love of learning, a tremendous work ethic and a desire to improve as a country and as individuals. They show tremendous pride in their country and State of Assam with it's very unique culture. We have visited the Assam State Museum to see their cultural heritage where we viewed native tribal costumes, art forms, tools, weapons and implements, had student demonstrations of song and dance in English and Assamese, sampled delicious homemade foods and breathed the very air of India. The gracious tea times spent with our fellow educators have provided time to learn more about the educational systems we have in common and the differences we see in our two educational systems. The more we share and get to know each other, the more we find how alike we truly are in love of learning and love for our students.

Truly this place must have been part of the Garden of Eden at one time and the people treasure the rich biodiversity they still have near them and are trying to protect it under difficult circumstances. The land is rich and green and grows so many exotic botanical specimens that I have never seen before anywhere in North America. I have only been here three days now, but the sensory images will last a lifetime. I have so much more to learn on this journey and I await each new day with excitement and anticipation.