Today we celebrated James’ birthday. Siobhan snuck a cake up to the flat without him knowing and invited us all over around lunch time to eat some. James didn’t know about the cake, which must have made the synchronized arrival of Hari, Mads, and I seem kind of odd. When Siobhan brought the cake up, we were relieved to have a reasonable cause to be situated in a circle around an empty table. The cake read “Happy Birthday Mr. James,” seeming not at all out of place in a land of formal English like India. The cake itself was like everything else Western in India: good, but off enough to signal that some ingredients had either been refrigerated too long or substituted for something missing.
In further celebration, we went out to Pondicherry in the evening for dinner and drinks. The French half of Pondicherry is surprisingly clean and still retains some of its former French charm. At the posh outdoor bar we sat down at, our waiter was flamingly French and Westerners dotted the other tables. After drinks we navigated our way through the mess of cars, bikes, beggars, uneven sidewalks, and stray dogs to make it to a pizza place located on the fifth floor of a hotel. The hotel’s air conditioner seemed to crystallize the stagnant humidity that covered our bodies. The tiny elevator, however, took us to an outdoor restaurant where we quickly got re-acclimated to the heat. At the door, a strange man we assumed to be the chef with a thick Italian accent greeted us. He took us to our tables and listened intently as we ordered. After ordering, he quickly shot questions at us. “Where are you from? Why are you here?” Upon learning Hari and I were from Arkansas, the man concluded that our state had “Bill Clinton but not much else.” Throughout the course of the meal, he drilled us on everything from Monica Lewinsky to 9/11. He took a poll to see how many of us at the table believed 9/11 was an inside job, and the proceeded to attempt to convince all of us of his point of view. After we agreed with him to end the discussion, he turned to Siobhan and James. “Do you like the Queen?” he asked. They agreed that she was alright, and their conversation turned to an agreeance that Prince Phillip was an idiot. Just as we were wondering what he could possibly say to Mads about Denmark, he gave us an interesting factoid I hope to someday use on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” “Denmark,” he claimed, “is a very tiny country. But, it has the most pigs in the world. It has more pigs than China.” I have absolutely no idea how this man knew about Denmark’s pork economy, but apparently he was right. According to Mads, there are 20 million pigs in Denmark. There are four times as many pigs in Denmark as there are people. I learned this today as I was eating pizza on the fifth floor of a hotel in Pondicherry, India.
Apparently the man came to India 30 years ago as part of the Auroville project. Auroville is a communal village located about ten minutes away from Pondicherry. We plan to visit tomorrow, so I’ll fill you in on my verdict. So far, I’m leaning toward creepy; Siobhan and I agree that Auroville seems like an expat community based on the idea of a spiritual, untouched India and not the India that actually exists. It seems to avoid most things and people that are too “Indian.” I’m hoping that a trip to Auroville will change my mind.
School-wise, today was exciting and long. The kids decided they wanted to play the game Red Rover that we had taught them the previous period. They absolutely love it, as most kids love running into each other and screaming. I did get the opportunity to teach an art class today. I had fourth graders. As I said before, art classes basically consist of the teacher drawing a picture on the board from a coloring book and the kids copying it. They’re not actually learning anything at all; I had a couple of fifth graders have absolutely no idea that yellow and blue made green the other day. I decided to teach them something simple and fun– drawing a face. I used the traditional method of drawing lines through an oval to show them where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. The kids were so excited and interested in learning how to draw what I showed them. They attempted to show me their drawings with bird-like chirps of “Madam! Madam! Madam!” It was hard for them to grasp the concept of a self-portrait, however. I would really like to work on face structure with them again; they were so eager and intelligent, I believe they would be able to pick up more.
I’ve noticed that the kids at the school are, in a lot of ways, more well behaved than American schoolchildren. They are so smart and respectful; they might get rambunctious like any kid, but they are never purposefully disrespectful. They genuinely want to learn. They are the easiest pupils. The kids are also amazingly resilient. Their playground, for example, would be about eleven instant lawsuits in the states. The slide is made of concrete. The swing has a rusted support bar that makes the entire metal frame shift and also leaves jagged rusted piping exposed for whatever tetanus-filled fun might be had by it. The only word I can use to describe them is one that my high school basketball coach used constantly: scrappy.