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Thursday, February 9, 2017

A visit to a Pushpa school--tbr

January 12, 2017  

On the first Friday of this year's India trip,  we make our first visit to a PUSHPA evening school (only in this case the teacher, Sudha Rani, cannot come later in the day, so the Medikonduru Pushpa community has agreed to send their children for sessions in the early morning. Sudha Rani has been with Pushpa evening school here for six years.  She is a business student, currently studying for her MBA in a town on the other side of Guntur.  Quite a commute, to look after our school as well!

The sky is pink, foggy and polluted as we set out after a snack, at 6:30 in the morning. After a mile or so of narrow neighborhood lanes, we have to drive over, then around and through a tunnel under a highway overpass, much like the I94/Hennepin/Lyndale interchange in Minneapolis. We enjoy a three and then two lane highway both directions for most of the way, with little traffic. Trucks are fueling up at a series of gas stations near town.   Gray dust coats everything as we descend another bridge into the quarrying town of Pericherla, where a pair of gray hills on one side has been chipped in half by stone cutters over the years.

Cotton and chilli fields are interspersed with huge cold storage warehouses.  The scraggly branched cotton fields look harsh and unforgiving. Acres of harvested chillies redden the ground where they are laid out to dry before going to market.  The approach to Medikonduru is over a brand new, low, two-way bridge over a narrow stream. In the past cars have had to wait to cross one direction at a time,lone car at a time.Today's passage is seamless. That we are entering  Medikonduru town proper, is recognizeable by narrowing of the highway, walls of older homes literally sitting on the edge of the road, (nor uncommon in lanes of cities and town, but this is a national highway!).This part of town, where wooden doored walls flanked by narrow ledges,( 'sit-outs'  in lieu of verandahs), line the edge of the road let us know, every year, that we are in Medikonduru.. A few older residents hjunker down  on narrow stoops just outside their gates, with cars passing by a few feet away..

Then the roadside opens up, and we pause at a pair of tall  crude concrete posts with a sign announcing the name of the neighborhood where our community lives.  We turn into the narrow concrete lane which people use freely as though it were part of their yards; children at play step aside, a man calmly rises and moves his chair out of the way, other neighbors sit on their steps and chat. At the foot of a surprising sharp-angled dip, we cross over a murky sullen stream where two women are washing clothes. At the intersection of another narrow concrete lane, which looks impassable for our crv sized vehicle, our driver deftly turns, inching methodically forward and backward as I try not to look fearfully into the open drainage along the compound walls  and drops us off near the government school where Pushpa children are gathering on the verandah. We walk unsteadily up a stony incline; neighbors' are ready and willing to help anchor our steps.  Chairs are brought for us to sit facing the children seated cross-legged on the slate, verandah floor.  It is chilly.  The school is locked.  Two chalkboards are painted on verandah walls.  

The teacher, Sudha Rani, has not arrived yet, but children from four to about ten years old form rows, sorting themselves by class (grade) as they come. Franklin quizzes some of the children to test their knowledge.  They are shy to answer.  But when Sudha Rani arrives they scramble up to exclaim "Good Morning, Teacher!" as children do in classrooms all over India.  She nods; they sit.  A pair of students, groomed and readier than many of the children who've come just as they are, presents us with a pair of paper flowers.  We wonder how they knew to be ready with them; Sudha Rani said they knew we'd come some time this month. This boy and girl are a bit more awake for, and forthcoming, answering, simple introductory questions: What class are you in?  What's your favorite subject? Are you getting good marks (grades)?

Franklin leads a lesson in question words, who, what, when, where, why with painfully elicited responses from the students.  (After two or three attempts in different schools and the teachers' meeting in February, we realize the TOEFL process has to proceed, for all classes, not to mention teachers, at the most basic level.)

On a little rise next to the verandah, a family has set up housekeeping in a blue relief-issue tarp hut. They are just waking up. A toddler walks forth; gradually at least three generations.  The child, about three years old, stares.  Two lambs, one snow white and one coal black, climb up, then tentatively test and step down with cute awkwardness, on broken building stones tumbled between their small yard and us. A man, perhaps the father, dressed in a banyan and lungi, emerges, and appears nonplussed. The adults all go about their business apparently unperturbed they are 'on a stage' for us as much as we might be for them. Only the three year old stares, as three year olds are wont to do..

I read a story of 'The Town Musicians of Bremen" to the class, translating as best I can, with Franklin assisting, Sudha Rani quietly prompts and corrects us and the children when we're stuck..  It will take more than one reading, and I promise to come back and re-read it with the children repeating (yes, by rote, as it is, like it or not, the commonly accepted practice in most Indian schools.) after me the next time. (A promise, unf. not kept, this season.  Next December, perhaps?)  I give the book to Sudha Rani to review with the class when she has time..  We need to liven things up.

Given the morning chill, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is a welcome exercise, for us adults as well as the children.  We review the names of the relevant body parts. Now all the children are quite awake and attentive. (Note to self: Never depart from starting out a visit with lively interaction. Get husband to be on the same page.  Each of us tends to be direct, though in our own individual ways, himself with interviews and direct instruction, myself with stories and songs.)

Sudha Rani shares a sheaf of drawings by the children. She'd provided the paper and colors on her own. We expressed our appreciation for her resourcefulness in stimulating young minds as well as on the individuality and quality of the children's work--flowers, a peacock, a house, national icons... Using a few children's drawings as examples, we do a  Q/A review of the question word WHAT , with their pictures serving as answer cues.

The PUSHPA motto:  "Helping People Help Themselves."

Note to blog readers: More about Sudha Rani at and after The Teachers' Meeting, a visitor's life in India, and THE WEDDING  in other posts after a week or so.  Travelling towards home, starting  tomorrow morning

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