Life did not slow down after we finished working with our teaching fellows in our Delhi schools in this inaugural ‘International Learning Observations i:rounds’ created by Annette Udall and organised by ‘Pay it Forward Tours’.
The very next morning we were up before 5 ready to catch the train to Jaipur. As we pulled away from Delhi we caught glimpses of rural India. There were people preparing and planting rice in the wake of the impending monsoons, water buffalo wallowing in water, high rise satellite cities, makeshift huts, mud brick homes, dung piled high in mounds to be used as fuel for fire, harvested crops bound together in sheaves with woven coverings, men with cloth tied around their heads and women in colourful saris dotting the fields and lanes as they went about their day to day lives.
After a five hour trip we were met by ‘our bus’ to be taken to a beautiful heritage hotel. En route, we stopped by the office of the NGO, ‘I-India’ which rescues street kids, children in child labour and educates these children as well as those from extremely impoverished communities. They took us to visit a ‘slum school’ where students were sitting on pieces of cloth on the ground amidst the homes. They had one untrained teacher and one blackboard. While we were there, they demonstrated their Maths ability and sang some songs for us. The children transition from here to a more formal school which were to visit the next day. This experience had a profound impact on all of us.
In the afternoon we visited the colourfully traditional pink city of Jaipur and its fragrant markets. Some of us bought the ingredients for chai marsala tea and were favoured with flowery garlands. On our return to our hotel we stopped to see the beautiful Albert Hall Museum, all lit up for the night. This was another opportunity to do some road crossing practice, ‘Indian Style’. This is where you form a tight knit group, see a small break in the traffic and run for your lives. Our personally added flair comes with screaming as we do so. (Don’t try this in Australia – they won’t be as agile in their driving skills).
Our rooftop restaurant each night has a couple of traditional dancers and musicians, one singing. To reach the tables you have to walk through the performance, at which point you are taken by the hand and become part of the entertainment as well. It caused great hilarity.
Day 2 in Jaipur began with a visit to the formal school run by I:India in Jaipur. They showed us where the children slept and did their schoolwork as well as where they prepared and served the food for the children to eat. Our entire group was involved in preparing the food including fresh vegetables and roti. Once cooked and ready we were all given the chance to serve the children as they sat in rows on mats on the dusty ground under shade cloths. Just quietly, I think we were a bit of a hindrance, as a few of us were in trouble for not doing things the ‘right’ way.
On our way back to lunch, Annette asked us to reflect using one word to describe our learning. She made a word cloud from our responses in which the words ‘inspiring’, ‘life changing’ and ‘challenging’ figured heavily among seventeen others which included being invaluable, humbling and working collaboratively whilst being eye-opening and confronting. We had all learnt so much through this experience about ourselves, our group, our teaching practices, a little bit of India and some of our world.
The afternoon was well spent exploring the beautiful Amber Palace which was built to make the most of the sun in Winter and catch the breeze in Summer. The designers included water cooling devices and angled the carved lattice work to keep the rooms shady. Solar passive design is certainly not new, the Persians were utilising it centuries ago.
Our next stop, after another a beautiful drive in our bus through rural India where we could see life happening all around us as well as trucks, buses and tractors laden with goods and on top of these precariously perched people, was the opulent Taj hotel in Agra. We almost felt guilty enjoying these most luxurious surroundings after experiencing and seeing extreme poverty first-hand.
It was a pre-dawn start the next morning as we headed off to catch the Taj Mahal in all its glory bathed in early morning sunlight. We had been ‘allowed’ to do some shopping the previous day to furnish our wardrobes with colourful Indian pashminas and kurtis.
Words cannot describe the incredible beauty of the Taj Mahal. Its marble clad, jewel embossed, ornately carved, symmetrical exterior has to be witnessed in many and varying lights to be fully appreciated. The Taj is truly the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
We were brought back to earth in a big way when we returned to downtown Delhi to stay the next day. Our little heritage hotel has seen better days and was situated in the heart of the markets. For shoppers it was a bargainers delight, but also it was a reminder that so many people live in harsh conditions, with not enough to eat and nowhere to call home.
The Sikh Temple feeds people from all walks of life. It is a sanctuary amidst the abundant life of Delhi.
Our group has now dispersed. Some are home and the rest are making their way slowly back. Our ‘Indian’ experience, doing life and work together for eleven days has changed us. We have a deeper understanding of ourselves, of the instructional rounds learning practice, of Indian people and culture and a broader world view. Do most of us feel like returning? Yes. Why? Because this was just a taste of India – there is far more of this intriguing country and its strong resilient residents to experience and learn from.