The performances will be at the Lakewood Cultural Center on September 20-21st and 26-28th. Performance times vary. Find more info and purchase tickets here.
This will be a very moving and energetic performance. Hope to see you there!
I'm currently living in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. I'm not a really a blogger, but I do send occasional updates to my family in the States. This is where I'll share my occasional emails home and add pictures about my adventures.
This week I start rehearsals for my upcoming Gyaan performance with the Mudra Dance Studio in Denver. This collaboration will be utilizing Kathak and modern dance styles to make a statement about loss and healing in our society. You can donate to the project's kickstarter here.
The performances will be at the Lakewood Cultural Center on September 20-21st and 26-28th. Performance times vary. Find more info and purchase tickets here.
This will be a very moving and energetic performance. Hope to see you there!
One Month Left!
Today marks the last month of our ten month stint in India. We leave Kolkata on June 22 and Delhi on June 23rd and although we're looking forward to all of the things home will bring, we're trying to treasure the last month here.
So many things have been happening. Last night was Aakash's final (he thinks) performance in Kolkata before we leave. He played in a quartet with his friend from Tasmania, Julius. Julius and Aakash met last summer in Banff and he came to Kolkata for three weeks to hang out and write music. They performed and studio recorded four tunes and it was really great to have him visit. He leaves Sunday.
My work came to an end with the performance of The Wizard of Oz on May 10th. (I can't remember if I wrote about the final performance, so sorry if I'm repeating myself.) They kids were absolutely incredible and all of their hard work really paid off in a wonderful show. They lighting and mics were all very big in a very Indian way, and the kids handled the constant lasers and smoke that kept occurring very well, especially since there was never any dress rehearsal! The students were also extremely grateful to me and showered me with beautiful homemade gifts and poems. One student even drew me a picture of a singer sitting on top of a coconut and singing "I LUV DAAB!" It's really touching how much they'll all miss me, but I am happy to report that I now have four private voice students from Dolna (and five students total!) I also had a group of six friends (Aakash and my sister including) who came to the show which I really appreciated. Here's a recording I made of the students singing a cappella in rehearsal.
Aakash and I visited my favorite daabwalla today and were super saddened and shocked to find that he had cut his left middle finger really badly. (Job hazard I suppose.) Although he didn't cut his finger all the way down to the bone (like my friend Matt did), it was definitely a deep cut. It was pretty swollen and the finger was red from the bleeding. Another guy was there cutting daab for him. Aakash and I asked him if he needed anything and ending up bringing him some antibacterial wipes and a roll of bandage. He started cleaning himself up as we left and I'm frankly not even convinced he had washed or cleaned it at all since he had cut himself yesterday. It didn't look infected yet, but I'm definitely going to bring him more antibacterial wipes tomorrow. Just an example of the life of many of the people who live in this country.
That basically sums up the past few weeks for me. Aakash and I are trying to decide what we want to do in our last month. We're planning a trip to Shantiniketan as well as a few more "explore Kolkata adventures." I'm also hoping to spend a little more time on my cycle, but all of these activities are difficult because the temperature has been over 40º (104º F) most days the past few weeks. Not to mention the humidity. There's no denying we're looking forward to cooler temperatures in the states!
I hope you're all doing well and finding success in what you're doing. Know you're in our thoughts and we're looking forward to seeing many of you in a month or so!
I hope this email finds you all well. Kolkata has been unbearably hot recently (well over 40 degrees Celsius), but I've been out of town for almost two weeks, so the heat is just now getting to me. Here are some updates and things I've done recently, in chronological order:
Aakash and I really enjoyed Meera's visit. Meera and I spent days and days shopping in different parts of the city, which was very wonderful! We also ate lots of delicious food and visited various temples. Aakash and Meera took a siblings trip to Shantiniketan for a few nights, and it sounds like they had a great time and experience.
I also visited Shantiniketan another weekend with Alec and Matt. Shantiniketan is a town about four hours outside of Kolkata that Tagore built a university in. It's now considered a huge hub for all types of artists, particularly Baul singers. We stayed for two nights and had a blast. Between the three of us, we rented one cycle and one cycle rickshaw, so we explored the area with one of us on a bike, one of us pedaling the cycle rickshaw, and one of us sitting in the rickshaw stocked with daab. The fresh air and friendly environment was a nice break from Kolkata.
Seeing Living Root Bridges in Meghalaya was one of the most, if not the most incredible thing I've ever seen and touched. Behind our house in Mawlynnong, we walked around 30 minutes through the valley and neighboring villages to Riwai. Even now, after seeing the bridges, I hesitate in trying to describe it exactly. Meghalaya is the wettest place in the world, so when monsoon comes, all man made infrastructures are destroyed within five years. So instead of rebuilding bridges across rivers every few years, they spend a century cultivating the roots of a tree into a bridge. The bridge itself was absolutely massive and beautiful, and it was hard to believe it was all nature. The path across it was wide and sturdy and paved with a few stepping stones, presumably to help if it is wet. We left early in the day and were the only ones on the bridge when we arrived. The river was low and we were able to climb the bridge, touch it's roots, and explore the surrounding rocks. I can't quite explain how magical it was, but it was incredible to see such a harmonious blend of humans with the nature around them.
Following Meghalaya, we traveled to Kaziranga National Park in Assam. This park is not only a tiger reserve, but also boasts having 2/3's of the great one-horned (unicorn) rhinosaurus, as well as elephants, water buffalo, and countless other birds and animals. In the morning, we went on an elephant safari, where we road on the back of a pack of elephants as they took their morning stroll and ate breakfast. We were extremely close to so many rhinos that I'm unable to tell you how many of the magnificent creatures we saw. In the afternoon, we took a jeep safari and saw more rhinos and elephants just hanging out, as well as so many other birds and animals. And most exciting of all, we actually saw a tiger! He was sunbathing on the opposite side of the river and we were able to see in from a watch tower. It was magical. The park was beautiful and another great example of humans living respectfully and side by side wild animals.
Coming back to hot hot hot Kolkata has been difficult. The Wizard of Oz is one week away and I am looking forward to celebrating the success of the students' hard work and no longer working with an administration I do not see eye to eye with. Our time here is diminishing quickly- less than two months away! I hope enjoyed my update. Know that both Aakash and are thinking of you all.
Traveling, Touring, and Trams
Kolkata has officially become extremely HOT. I keep starting an email to you, and then stop because I find myself too distracted or tired due to the heat. But I'm finally hoping to make it through a whole email.
So many things have been happening in our life. Here's a quick recap of some key events:
2. My sister arrived in India before we left for Bangalore. Shantha was here in time for Holi, the holiday of spring and colors, and we were invited to "play" Holi at a friend's house. I was nervous at first, but, after showing my students pictures of us afterwards, feel confident that we did the holiday justice. Most notably, the two of us, along with my friend Alec, visited Kali Temple, which is not only the most famous temple in Kolkata, but the most notorious for pick
pockets and other bad experiences for foreigners. I'm happy to report that although it was one of the more unusual (meaning unexpected, crowded, sticky, and disgusting, to name a few) experiences of my time India, I found it to be a really positive and interesting experience .
4. Aakash's sister Meera arrived two days back and we are really enjoying her company. Meera and I have already had two full shopping days and I'm looking forward to taking her to New Market, one of my favorite (but most insane) parts of Kolkata. Getting to know her better and reconnecting our friendship from high school is really special and I'm happy she'll be here for another week.
5. This evening, Aakash successfully performed another Indian classical concert, and he really did a superb job. He was invited to play at a house concert where he performed both Indian classical music with a tabla player as well as some original tunes with an Italian guitarist friend. Sadly, my camera was lost last week so I was unable to take any video. I'm hoping to get a copy of footage taken by someone else and I will share it when I do.
6. I've been doing a lot of exploring in Kolkata the last few days and am excited that in addition to finding a whole block of daab wallas with cheaper, incredibly delicious daab, I also rode the Kolkata tram for the first time. It was shockingly comfortable and identical to trams I've seen in movies from the forties.
Anyways, despite my infrequent emails, know that I am thinking of you all. I hope life in your respective homes is going well. For those of you in cold climates, I wish you warmth, and in return, hopefully you can send some snow clouds our way. I love you all and hope to hear from you soon.
Life has finally returned to normal post vacations. After Aakash and I finished our Kerala trip, I went to Darjeeling and Sikkim for a few days with some friends. It was great, but I'll tell you about it another time. Today I want to tell you about Kerala.
Kerala is the southwestern most state in India and I highly recommend it to anyone. Aakash and I both agreed that it was the best vacation we've ever taken, and we enjoyed every minute of it. First, we flew into Kochi and rested for a night. We stayed at a hotel with hot water and a normal shower and I took three showers in the sixteen hours we were there. The next day, we took a train to Alleppey (Rs. 30 total- we're big spenders) which is the main launching point for backwater houseboats, a big draw for Keralan tourism. We didn't book a boat before hand, so we were a bit nervous about finding the right boat and crew for us. When we got to Alleppey, we had lunch and were talking with our waiter, telling him we were looking for a boat. He told us to wait and came back in less than two minutes with an english speaker who owned two boats. He took us to a small side dock and said his boat would be there in fifteen minutes. Surprisingly enough, in fifteen or twenty minutes, a boat did come! And it was beautiful. The houseboat was crafted with thin pieces of wood and rope- no nails are used to hold these boats together. I was particularly excited because above the boat's wheel was an upper deck to sit on. We were sold. The boat also had a nice sitting area on the main deck with a dining table and tv (although we didn't use the tv), a bedroom with a comfy bed and bath with running water, and a kitchen in the back. We hired the boat for two nights and embarked on a gorgeous, relaxing, incredible experience.
The boat had three crew members who cooked and drove. For every meal, we would park outside some beautiful rice field or other exquisite view. After eating, we could walk around the neighborhood we parked at. I enjoyed exploring the path, houses, and people doing daily chores and tasks. In the evening, we joined a large convoy of houseboats and headed to a small town to park outside the house of one of the crew members. It was an incredible area because the main road was a river lined with houses and a small walking path. We explored the path both ways and, in addition to passing numerous houses and fields, we also passed a few schools and shops.
The second day on the houseboat was one of the best days of the trip. We requested prawns (shrimp) for lunch, so we went to the market and bought a few that were literally bigger than my head. Seriously. We bought a little over one kilo, which mean four giant tiger prawns (0.9 kilos total) and one "smaller" prawn. Lunch that day was honestly one of the best meals we've ever eaten. The prawns were skillet fried to perfection, and they prepared this delicious "vegetable" curry, although it contained banana, pineapple, and tomatoes. I asked for the recipe and am looking forward to trying it myself. The entire meal was served on a huge banana leaf, freshly plucked from a nearby tree.
After the houseboat, we drove five hours to Thekkady. This is where we entered Kerala's mountains. We stayed at a really incredible loft hotel in Thekkady, but more importantly, Thekkady is where we visited Elephant Junction! The first thing we did was climb aboard Rempa, a female elephant with a hole in one ear. (We asked why she had such a giant hole in her ear, but apparently they got her like that. Then again, I have a hole in my ear, so who am I to judge.) Rempa gave us an hour long ride through an elephant trail in the forest. It was a surprisingly comfortable ride. After we had a chai break, we visited another elephant, Lakshmi. Lakshmi was lying in a large elephant bath and we were able to help wash her. This was Aakash's favorite part- he really enjoyed feeling her rough skin and thick, wirey hair. My favorite part came next- after washing her, we got to climb onto her bare back and she gave US a shower. She put her trunk into a pool of water, then whipped it over her head, soaking us with water. I went first and I wasn't sure what to expect, but Lakshmi really sprayed me. I must admit, it was the best water pressure I've felt since moving to India.
The first day, we visited a tea factory. Aakash was in tea heaven, and even I was surprisingly impressed with how complex tea making is. We walked around the city for a bit and took an auto to a look out point in the mountains. We ended up meeting a guy who leads treks (hikes) in the mountains, and we booked him for the next day. Our trek was incredible. We hiked for five hours, starting at our guide's family property. Our first special surprise occurred when we came upon a tree house- the most legit tree house I've ever seen. We were able to go inside for a chai break (double score!) and rest for a bit. Our guide explained that they hired local tribesmen to build the tree house and it's main purpose is to give them an escape if elephants come by. Because if elephants are tramping around, you need to get out of their way! Throughout our entire hike, he kept pointing out completely demolished plants, flippantly telling us that elephants had destroyed it. Totally wild. We hiked to the top of a mountain with two huge rocks on the top, which gave us a perfect view of the tallest mountain in Kerala. The weather was perfect and I was really happy to be in the sunshine after months of smoggy, polluted Kolkata. After our mountain top lunch, we hiked back through a beautiful, green tea plantation.
I can't fully express how peaceful, fresh, and beautiful Kerala was. It was so green, lush, and full of friendly people. It was more expensive then anywhere else I've been to in India, partially because it's such a huge tourist destination, but Kerala has definitely figured out positive ways to earn money. Everyone in Kerala was clean and healthy looking (a drastic contrast to much of Kolkata) and everyone was friendly and easy to communicate with. (Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India- over 90% educated.) Kerala is also highly Christian (39% Christian, 41% Hindu, 20% Muslim) and it was really interesting to see Indian takes on Christianity. There were small Christian mandirs, or shrines, all over, and I hadn't seen that before. When I found out we were coming to India, Kerala was the number one place I wanted to go, and I have no regrets from that trip. It was just the relaxing, rejuvenating, adventure packed vacation I had wanted, and I'm really grateful Aakash and I were able to do it together.
Anyways, I'm back to work now and Aakash is at a lesson. I hope this email finds you well and I hope to hear from you soon.
Hello everyone! Aakash and I have been on vacation for over a week now and so much has happened. Today specifically was really notable and memorable, but for the sake of my desire to be chronological, I’ll start at the beginning.
On the fifth, we left Kolkata for Hyderabad. We arrived late at night and Emuu and Pranu were kind enough to pick us up. They’d be staying with Indu for a few days and it was nice to see them all again. The next morning, we woke up early and rode with Ajay and family to Dornakal. Dornakal is the village about five hours outside of Hyderabad that my dad’s parents lived in from my dad’s early adulthood on. When I was little, Dornakal was the main place we would stay, but I hadn’t been there for fifteen years. February 7th was the one year anniversary of the death of my Peddanaanna (father’s older brother) and to celebrate, his kids organized a function at the school where was headmaster. The drive to Dornakal was long, bumpy, and mostly beautiful. But unfortunately I got really sick that day, probably partially because of Ajay’s crazy driving. We made it to Dornakal just in time to be stopped at the train crossing for ten minutes to wait for a cargo train to drive by. Dornakal is a small dot on the map and only exists because of the train junction, so it was very apropos that we were stopped at the crossing. It was virtually exactly how I remember it, but even more run down (which is saying something because it was run down to begin with.) The train left and we crossed the tracks just in time for me to get out and vomit. (Too many details perhaps, but I have many memories of being sick in Dornakal, so that too seemed familiar.)
Anyways, being sick on the first day was too bad because we specifically left with Ajay because I wanted to spend as much time walking around and exploring as I could. Once we crossed the tracks, we drove straight past the Dornakal cathedral to the boys hostel where we were staying. Aakash and I had the exact same room I stayed at on our previous trips. Poor Aakash, I don’t think he was at all prepared for the full Dornakal experience. We pulled in and were immediately inundated with the bravest of the boys who, though they did carry all of our luggage for us, continued to knock on our door and peek through our windows until we closed everything. The room was exactly as I remember it, although they may have added a third cot to the no longer double bed. The bathroom had the same disgustingly grungy tile, the water faucet leaked into the waist high tub of water, and I believe it was the same toilet, although I didn’t recall it not being able to flush. Ah the rugged Indian life. After getting some of my sickness out by the tracks, I was feeling better, so we went on a short walk past the cathedral and through the compound our house was in. But the last time I was in Dornakal, I was twelve, so although I THOUGHT it was the compound, I wasn’t quite sure. There was a water pump in the middle of the compound and, as my aunts who visited a few years back told me, the house yard was completely changed, so I wasn’t able to tell which house was ours. We then walked past the guesthouse that I remember twelve goat heads lined outside of for Indu’s wedding and towards some other buildings. We ended up walking into a school for the deaf and getting a tour by the headmistress. She asked us why we were in Dornakal and in addition to remembering Dad, I found out she was a student of Peddanaanna’s!
I started feeling ill again, so we went back to the hostel to rest. I was feeling really awful at this point and ended up puking again. I only tell you this because not long after I finished, I heard Akkil, Ajay’s son, making a similar sound over and over outside of the door. I was (rightly) mad at his insensitivity and crudeness. I couldn’t believe he was making fun of me like that. Then, Aakash came in and I found out it wasn’t anyone making fun of me, but they had just bought the biggest sheep at the market for lunch the next day and were keeping it outside of the door. The poor thing was tied up in the hostel hallway and it was bleating its head off!
I spent the rest of the night in bed and Aakash spent the evening getting to know my male cousins. It seems they took good care of him. The next day, I woke up feeling much better and after eating a few garas and showering with the water someone heated in a big pot over a fire in the hostel courtyard, I walked to Peddanaanna’s old school to see how the cooking was coming along. Our sheep friend had met his death early that morning, but neither of us were willing to get up to watch. I spent the first hour meeting people who remembered me as a child, and when Aakash arrived, we piled into a car with Indu, her kids, and Peddamma, and drove to the cemetery. The ride was a bit of a riot, because neither Indu or Peddamma were certain of how to get there, but we finally found the way. Dornakal is where both of my Abba and Jeji (Grandpa and Grandma) were buried as well as my dad’s sister Mary. Pranu and her kids came too. It had been a long time since I had been in that cemetery but it felt special to go. Afterwards, we piled into the vehicles again and went to visit the ancestral home, as Aakash calls it.
After that, we got ready for the function and headed to the school. There were almost one hundred people there and it seemed to be a success. I say seemed because although at least a dozen people spoke about Pethanana, only one person spoke in English, so I really have no idea what anyone was saying. At one point, because in true India fashion it started almost an hour and a half late, we left to get a snack and Aakash and I visited the Dornakal Cathedral, which is where my parents were married. It is a very simple cathedral, but it was very special to visit there again after all these years.
After the function, we ate, packed our things, and headed to the train station. Aakash and I walked, crossing the bridge over the tracks. There were dozens and dozens of monkeys, just as I remember. I was a bit bummed that since I was sick the previous day, we didn’t get a chance to walk around the bazaar, but the train turned out to be an hour late, so we end up having time to walk around a bit. The train home was uneventful, especially because Sanchu and Theron (Pranu’s older kids) all went home with Indu in their car, so it was very peaceful.
My life has been packed full of adventure lately. This weekend I went
on a trip with some friends to Sagar Island, the most south west point
of West Bengal, which is also a religious spot for some Hindus. As
usual, I went with Matt and Alec, but this time, our friends Lily and
Julene joined. The island was supposedly four hours away, and getting
there was definitely a trip.
After maybe an hour on the bus, we then boarded a van. I don't mean whatever van you're picturing in your head, I mean a two-wheeled flatbed maybe four by five feet that's pulled by the front half of a motorcycle. Of course. However, the five of us rented the entire van, so we had room to spread out and enjoy the wind in our hair and passing scenery. The van then dropped us off at the ferry.
The ferry was definitely a highlight of the trip. Not only was the ride at least 45 minutes, the amount of seagulls flying around the boat was in the hundreds at least. They started flying around in and out of the ferry's wind. Literally hundreds of seagulls started completely circling the boat, calling out, and diving/fighting each other. There were men on the ferry selling bags of food to toss to the birds and seeing them fly around, diving and catching food was spectacular. On the way back, we bought some food ourselves and it was really fun to throw what I can only describe as similar to the cereal corn pops in the air, and watch a seagull swoop up from below and catch it in it's beak. It was incredible to watch.
We finally arrived at our destination, only to find that the hotel we were planning on staying at was closed. Luckily, we found a cheaper place quickly. With the sun fading fast, we put our things in the hotel, and took the car to the island lighthouse to watch the sunset. Obviously we got to Lighthouse Rd. and found that the lighthouse had been unstable and had crumbled years before. But the sunset over the ocean was gorgeous in itself and we didn't need a lighthouse (although one would think the island would need a lighthouse...) That night,
after a delicious dinner, at least thirty dab, and hanging out in the hotel, Alec and I decided it was too awesome to leave the next day, and since we were free on Monday, we made plans to stay another night.
After breakfast, we all went to the beach briefly. Lily, Julene, and Matt dropped Alec and I off at the hotel and we had the rest of the day to walk around. We walked back to the beach and watched sand crabs, played in the water, and drew in the sand. It was absolutely gorgeous out and I was astonished by how flat and empty the land was. On the horizon, we were able to see detailed outlines of people
thousands of meters away. Because we had a car and driver the first day, it wasn't until the second day that we really walked around where we were staying. Again, there was only one paved road, so it was impossible to get lost. Plus, the whole town probably knew where the only videshis (foreigners) in town were staying if we had to ask
Aakash is doing well. While I was on Sagar Island, he spent four
nights at an all night Hindustani music festival (7pm-7am) and he
seems very inspired and energized from the weekend. My work is as
chaotic as ever, but I'm enjoying starting to work with students for
The Wizard of Oz. Next week, Aakash and I will go to Hyderabad,
Dornakal, and both northern and southern parts of Kerela. I'm looking
to spending some time away together. Eventually I'll put more photos
of Sagar Island on my website, so check it out. But no promises as to
how soon it will happen. I hope that you're enjoying whatever you're
currently keeping busy with. Know I love you and think of each of you
Aakash and I had a very wonderful Christmas season filled with wonderful family, friends, and food. Teresa, Aakash's mom, arrived in Kolkata on Dec. 21st, just in time to see my new choirs perform at the Christmas Fete. I'm so proud of all the hard work the students did, memorizing over ten songs in less than four weeks. The teachers and parents seemed to love the performances, especially the songs with motions, of course. Instead of one big concert, the two choirs alternated singing every half hour, so they could also enjoy the festivities. But the school's founder, Auntie Maushi, wanted us to sing for longer, so we repeated favorites and prolonged the music. (The senior choir sang Joy to the World at five times- even twice in the same set.) There is no doubt it was a success. The students were very gracious and gave me an absolutely exquisite handmade card. I'm looking forward to working with them again.
The first full day Teresa was in town, we took a two hour car trip to see Aakash perform with Tanmoy Bose at a Bengali book fair outside the city. The excursion lasted almost twelve hours and definitely felt not worth it, until the band FINALLY went on after nine p.m. It was such an exciting wonderful show. Not only did they perform with Tanmoy Bose's regular band, they also performed with some Baul singers (prounounced bowel). You can see a short clip here. Baul singers are Bengali traveling minstrels, who live off the food, clothes, and donations given to them for their music. It was absolutely incredible. And I got some English books for Christmas gifts at the bookfair!
The next day, we again met Aakash's teacher for lunch, and while Teresa accompanied Aakash to his lesson, Cole and I visited Victoria Memorial. The highlight of that excursion was when two school girls approached us to ask where we were from and see if they could take a photo with us. We were more than surprised when after saying yes, we found ourselves surrounded by over a dozen girls in uniform in perfect formation for the photo. Oh India.
On the 28th, I flew to Hyderabad for a few days to meet my parents and spend some time with family. I was there to celebrate both Indu and Venkat and Prashu and Clara's anniversary. It was special to be there since I actually remember both weddings! Unfortunately, as we left, the entire crew in Hyderabad was sick, as was my dad and eventually my mom.
Dad and I spent an afternoon visiting Bishop's College, which turned out to be in the north side of the neighborhood I live in. Although I had apparently visited the college in 1993 when I was six, it was all new to me. We wandered through the entire campus and library, and even found his name inside some of the old college chronicles. Although there's now a new building and a flyover right next to the college, it seems as though most things are still the same. It was definitely one of the highlights of their trip for me.
Anyways, it was truly wonderful having so many visitors come, but I must admit it's nice to get back to the regular swing of things. Work is going well. I am starting to prepare my classes for a function (or program) in May, as well as audition and get started on the Wizard of Oz, which I'll be doing with students in Class VI-XI. Besides that, I'm just working on getting my house back to it's normal working condition and finding time to hang out with friends. Aakash was in Delhi over the weekend to perform at the AIIS conference. He said it went well and I'm looking forward to seeing the video.
I hope you are all doing well, and I give you kudos if you were able to make it to the end of this extremely long email. Know that you are in my thoughts often and I wish you all a happy, healthy, and wonderful 2014!
Christmas Is Coming...
I hope you are able to find a moment to relax and enjoy the approaching holidays. Life in Kolkata has become extremely busy for me. As I said in my last email, I began working at Dolna Day School. The school has three classes below Class I for two, three and four year olds, through Class XII. Each week, I see Upper Nursery (the three year olds) through Class VII for forty minutes as well as a Junior and Senior Choir which I see three days a week. Although teaching is exhausting, particularly in a school that is not the culture I am use to, I am really happy to be back in the classroom. I am already developing a special relationship with students and teaching them really energizes me.
I can't say it's all peaches and cream though. There are so many things I am not used to and so many things that shock me about this school. For example, there is not one quiet signal used in this school. Teachers will just yell at students if they're too loud (which is, ahem, very effective...) so I'm putting a lot of time into teaching and training students to respond to quiet signals. I began working at the beginning of December and today is the Christmas Fete, which as far as I can tell is a big Christmas Carnival. Each of my choirs will be singing 10-12 songs throughout the Fete. Yesterday, our rehearsals went really well and I am very proud of the hard work they put into memorizing and doing various musical things I ask of them. I am, however, looking forward to January when I can really start with basic singing skills. The upcoming performance forced me to focus on memorizing and learning songs, rather then technique. Students did make lots of improvements and I think they are enjoying working with me just as much as I am with them. I made all my choir students (13 in Junior Choir, 45 in senior choir) all name tags because I cannot keep them straight and I am pleased to report not a single choir member lost their name tag!
Aakash has been busy playing with lots of people. A few nights back he performed with a group for the Kolkata classical guitar festival and tomorrow he's playing with Tanmoy Bose's band, Taltuntra. He's currently en route home from the airport, where I am hoping he found his mom! Teresa will be visiting us through January 2nd, and we're looking forward to her visit.
In addition to the Christmas Fete and Teresa's visit, we've also been busy preparing for Christmas and Aakash's birthday. I'm excited because Cole Paulson, one of our good friends from high school, recently moved to Delhi and he'll be coming to Kolkata for Christmas. We're throwing a party on December 24th for our friends who will be in town and I am looking forward to singing Christmas songs. Cole will be here in time for the party which is exciting. For those of you who don't know Cole, we have been in plays and choirs together since middle school, so I've been singing Christmas sings with him every year for almost fifteen years. If you can't tell, we're excited he'll be joining us.
My friend Matt bought me a dab Christmas tree. Dabs=coconuts. Basically, if you hack of the branch of a dab tree and remove the dabs, it looks like a cactus Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It's very beautiful. Once we get it fully decorated, I will share pictures!
I guess I haven't written since I went to the Sunderbans with Matt and Alec. It was an absolutely incredible trip, and very close to Kolkata. We traveled by train and bus for two hours, and hired a boat to live on for two nights. We spend the next few days zigzagging around islands in the Ganga delta, looking for wildlife and drinking Dab. (Between the three of us, we drank almost 50 dab. It was awesome.) We didn't see any tigers (even our guides, who've lived there all their lives have only seen tigers three times), but we saw a crocodile and some incredibly beautiful birds. It was amazing to be in such a peaceful, open, isolated place after being in Kolkata for so long. It reminded me a lot of NY's finger lakes. There were narrow and wide parts of the rivers, and at times you could only see the land to the right and left, but not in front or behind you. Each night, the boat anchored to the dock (and by dock, I mean the muddy space to the side of the river) of the village our driver and cook live in. Both nights, they brought us into their village and we were able to walk around. We had to take off our shoes and roll up our pants because walking through the muddy dock meant we would sometimes sink up to our knees. The villagers were very friendly and inquisitive to the three videshi's (foreigners) walking around their home. It was the most underdeveloped area Alec and Matt had ever been to in India and it reminded me a lot of Dornakal (the village my dad's from).
Anyways, I guess I'll leave it at that. Please know you are all in Aakash and my thoughts, especially during the holiday season. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. Hope to talk to you all soon!
Chennai, Bangalore, and more
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are excited as the Christmas season starts. I'm seeing a lot of Christmas decoration happening via Facebook, but I haven't seen too much holiday cheer in Kolkata.
My favorite part of our day trip was going to Crocodile Bank, which was basically a crocodile, turtle, and snake zoo. We were able to see them feed Jaws, a 16 foot crocodile (the largest gator in captivity). He's only fed once a week, and it was crazy to see this tiny Indian man taunting and throwing him meat out of a bucket. Seriously wild.
Afterwards, we took a six hour train to Bangalore. It was the first long distance train Aakash had been on and we spent most of the trip standing at the open door watching the scenery pass by. Bangalore was wonderful. We stayed with my cousin Pranu (my dad's younger brother's daughter) and her husband and three kids. It was a very relaxing few days- we mostly stayed near the house except for a few excursions into the city with the family or Bakunana. I stayed a day later than Aakash and was able to see a little bit of the kids' choir concert.
Coming back to Kolkata very much felt like coming home. It was nice to have so many projects and friends to come back to, although things were immediately busy. Aakash started daily rehearsals for the Kolkata jazz festival while I met and interviewed with Dolna Day School, a pre-preschool through class XII school nearby. Aakash's performance at Jazz Fest was a huge hit. You can see a great photo and some wonderful quotes here: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1131204/jsp/t2/story_17639614.jsp#.UqBtUGQW1gJ He performed on the Saturday, which was definitely the most attended evening of the three day festival. In addition to his normal guitar/bass/drum group, Payton, an American Fulbrighter studying Indian vocals in Bhopal, played vibraphone. They played Aakash's entire Ocean album with Payton playing Ron Miles' trumpet part. Aakash also asked me to sing on one tune (wahoo!) which was both an honor and just plain fun. Who knew I would to moving to India would expand my jazz improvisational skills?
As for me, I started teaching at Dolna Day School. I'm working three days a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays) although they've made it clear I can work more if I'd like. The school is very close to our house. I walk 3-5 minutes to an auto stand where I catch an auto to the other side of a flyover, which takes another 3-5 minutes. I'm mostly teaching singing, although it seems like I have a lot of freedom and liberty to do what I want. Right now, the big push is getting the junior choir (around twelve 9-11 year olds) and senior choir (around forty 12-17 year olds) ready for the Christmas Fete where they'll be singing carols. I see each choir every day I'm there. I've never taught in a school where an all school event is centered around Christmas and we're actually encouraged to sing carols. I also see the younger classes once a week, beginning with the three year olds. The class sizes are enormous. There are about 60 three year olds, and the other classes comprise of at least forty students. Most classes are very well behaved and come with their classroom teacher, which will probably be helpful as the novelty of me wears off. I feel fortunate to have found such a pleasant school to work at and they're planning on performing The Wizard of Oz in May, so we'll start working on that in January.
Anyways, that's my update for now. This weekend Aakash is attending an all night classical Indian concert and his teacher's concert at a nearby auditorium. I'm going with a few friends to Sundarbans, a nearby mangrove forest/tiger preserve. Then, Aakash's mom arrives in Kolkata followed by my parents. It's hard to believe we've been living in India for over three months and it's already time for our folks to come visit! I hope you're staying warm wherever you are. (Indians have appropriately been busting out the wool scarves- it can get as cold as the mid-70's during the day!) Know that I miss you all and think of you often. Hope to catch up soon!