Saturday, September 11, 2010

friends in unexpected places

'First day of site' picture!
The following post was written the evening of the day I arrived (Wednesday, 9/8) to my primary placement site, Buchanan Institution Girls' High School. I had to save the draft and wait until I located Internet access today.

Well ladies and gentlemen, today is the day: the day that I am on my own in India. This morning, Maggie, Jim, and I awoke to partake of a quick breakfast and leave what had come to be a very comfortable, cushy existence at Achen’s house. Dressed in our churidars, Jim in regular clothes, feeling like we were leaving for the first day of school, we took what Maggie aptly termed a “first day of site” picture.  And off we went.

First, we went to Jim’s site, CMS College. After getting him settled and saying our goodbyes, we left for my site, Buchanan Institution Girls' High School. Maggie left for her site, Nicholson School, shortly after, and since then, it has been nothing less than a whirlwind. I think it’s literally impossible to describe to you the content of my first day here: it’s been filled with gawking, a million knocks on my door by interested little girls, meeting LOTS of people, having mutually hard-to-understand conversations, learning names only to forget them 2 seconds later, being unsure of social decorum, getting lost on campus a couple of times, a significant amount of pantomiming, 3 power outages, my first bucket shower, being asked to sing songs in English (supposedly “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic is a popular request, but I haven’t encountered that one yet—thank goodness), more staring, shy smiles, endless introductions, and no shortage of exuberance from students or teachers. But more than once, I found myself craving a friend who 1) wouldn’t be too intimidated to talk to me, as many of the girls seemed to be (not out of unfriendliness, but rather shyness), 2) would understand my accent, which has so far proven to be problematic, if they were so brave as to start a conversation, 3) I could easily understand, and 4), would not give me special treatment.

Along came Aleena, a fifth grader. With a confidence uncharacteristic of those around her, uncommonly good English, and the kind of honest openness and friendliness that only a fifth grader has, Aleena has been my saving grace today. She is the first person here that I have not had to work to have a conversation with, and who has not treated me any differently because I am a foreigner, a madama.  Walking to dinner with her and chatting the whole way, I found it ironic that my first friend at Buchanan is a ten year old, and that those my own age were shyly trailing behind us. I know they will come around as I learn Malayalam and they become less shy about speaking English around me, and when I am no longer a novelty. All in good time :)

I will certainly miss the predictability of life at Achen’s—the bell that would summon us downstairs for breakfast, lunch, tea, or dinner—Kochamma’s unfailingly delicious food—meaningful conversations with Binu and the others—the fish man’s daily appearances—internet!—and, of course, the companionship of Maggie and Jim, who I miss very much already and who I’m sure are facing similar joys and challenges.

I’m excited, however, to get immersed and involved in life here at Buchanan. All it will take is learning some names, learning some Malayalam, and learning how to teach English—stumbling through all of the above with a smile and depending on the graciousness of others.

If the kindness and welcome, transcending language barriers, I’ve received from the students and teachers is any indication thus far, I think I just might make it.

Update: The very next day, Thursday, the Titanic requests ensued.


  1. HAHAHAHAHA! Titanic!!! 'My Heart Will Go On' was one of the songs we listened to on our last night as tangible (I'm laughing at 'tangible roomies' as well as how ironic it is that that's the song they want to hear.) How did they like your singing? ;-) I know I miss it.
    You look beautiful in your churidar!! It looks so darn comfy, too! I already formed a picture in my head of you walking around in that and sitting at a desk as little indian girls come up to ask you questions, shy and reserved. I'm glad Aleena has been so friendly - hopefully she'll inspire the other girls. Just sing more some more, Madison, REALLY REALLY LOUD! lol.
    So, will you not see Jim and Maggie again? Are there any other YAVs at Buchanan or are you basically the only foreigner there? Either way, I know you'll do wonderful and enjoy every minute of it. You make me so proud. I love you, rimh, and miss you terribly. Meow meow. (Maybe you could convince your students that meowing is normal in America? MEOW MEOW WORLD DOMINATION PLOT TAKING EFFECT NOOOWWWWW!!! looolllll)

  2. I almost cried when I read this..not sure why lol Maybe because you are just so amazing. I love you. I wish I could hear you in your church voice singing titanic. Keep up the amazing work so proud of you!

  3. Madisonnnn I miss you smile!

    I cannot wait to read how singing "My heart will go on" went! Didn't we have Titanic moment in China when we took that boat ride that lasted foreverrr? Anyways, I agree with Levity, you look really cute in your churidar.

    I enjoy so much reading about your adventuress! You shoudl write a book!

    Lots of Love from Tallahassee...Li

    P.S I dont quite understand the whole profile choosing...haha (I hope this posts) thinking out loud