Monday, 26 January 2009

Week 42, Mahabaleshwar, India

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Another busy week of teaching, we have been teaching in all the classes this week, not only English, but maths, computer studies, environmental studies and music as well, so it’s a very hands on approach to teaching in smaller primary schools. It is wonderful to see their enthusiasm even if it is a bit over the top at times. In addition to the Gyanankur English School, we have been doing some classes at the local Marathi School as well, they are from standard 1 to std 6. Louise has been taking Std 1-3 and I’ve been taking std 4-6. We have only been teaching English classes there. English is only one of their subjects as they also learn to read and write in their native Marathi first, Hindi and English second and third. The standard of their English is considerably different to Gyanankur English School. We have also been taking the Adult classes on Monday and Thursday evenings as well. We usually only get a few women along to these classes, but even teaching 1 is better than teaching none. This has all been very valuable experience for us.

We caught up with a young Indian guy we caught the train to Goa with and went out to dinner. Turan and his mate have an internet and advertising business in Pune as well as study at university here as well. They took us to some of the trendier areas of Pune and they treated us to dinner at a very nice Asian Restaurant, Malaka Spice, well worth going to.

Firstly, happy Australia Day to all our Australian friends and relatives, but in India it is also the celebration of India day and they also have a long weekend. So happy Republic Day to our Indian friends. We took the opportunity to get away up to the hill station village of Mahabaleshwar. Knowing that it was a long weekend, we booked a room ahead a few days prior to our departure. We took local buses up there, which was adventurous as well. After our 6 hour bus exploration of the countryside we arrived and found our hotel room had been given away, probably to someone who bribed their way into our room. So I don’t recommend the Hotel Mann Palace at all as the person at the counter was rude when we tried to ask why our reservation wasn’t kept. Being a long weekend we wandered the streets looking for a room, but it was heavily booked out. We did eventually find a room elsewhere at an exorbitant $70 a night for a room we would normally pay about $15 for, we stayed 2 nights.

That aside the town is quite pleasant, although very very busy on this weekend, but it had a good carnival atmosphere, everybody was there for a good time. The area is similar to the Blue Mountains in Sydney in a way and it is close enough to both Pune and Mumbai to attract crows for weekends and holidays. At 1.3km above sea level it has some very scenic views to be seen. There is also a fair amount of tackiness with horse and camel rides, shooting arcades, try your luck type games and slot machines. There are vendors of all types selling snow cones, corn on the cob and all types of food. One of the big attractions is the strawberries. You can get huge mugs of strawberries and cream for 50 cents.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Week 41, Pune India

Dear Ethel, Family and friends

We finished our teaching in Aurangabad and it’s amazing how much they can learn in a week when they are keen students. They were a lovely group of people and they prayed for us again, gave us small gifts and much thanks. We really enjoyed our short time in Aurangabad and wish all our students and friends there all the best and thank them for their wonderful hospitality.

We traveled back to Pune during the week to stay with Melinda and Brian again. Another volunteer Jema has been staying here and teaching at the Poona School that Melinda organises, Gyanankur English School. We went out on Thursday to meet the students and teachers and sit in with each of the classes to get an idea of where they are all up to. On Friday we took a couple of the classes and will be teaching there for the next 2 weeks.

The Gyanankur English School is on the outskirts of Pune, set amongst the rural farmland and local villages. There are about 200 children at the school ranging from 3 to about 8 years, nursery to 3rd form. The children come from the surrounding villages, disadvantaged, orphaned and homeless children and children from NGO’s. Resources at the school are at bursting point and there is currently a 40% shortfall in their budget. Donations make up some of this but more is needed.

Please visit their website for more information.

Thursday night, Brian took us out to a cultural village to meet up with another group of Australian volunteers who have been in Pune for the last week, working at the school and on other projects in Pune. It was great to be able to sit and talk with some fellow Australians for a while. The cultural village had numerous displays and activities including, camel rides, traditional dancing with a stack of pots on the head, fire eating, puppet show, rope walking with pots on the head and Louise got a henna tattoo as well. Dinner was a vegetarian Thali, numerous small bowls of different types of food. Thanks again to Brian for organising a fun night out.

We spent Saturday night at a hotel in town to give Melinda and Brian some family time. We took the opportunity to hit the shops and see what is available in this big modern town. Plenty of shopping malls, restaurants and coffee shops we also hit a few museums as well. Next weekend we will be going to the hill station of Mahabaleshwar.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 12 January 2009

Week 40, Aurangabad, India

Dear Ethel, Family and friends

It has been quite a week for us. We stayed last weekend with our hosts, Melinda and Brian who live in a lovely apartment block with their two children. It’s is certainly different here than elsewhere in India. We even attended a Jazz festival, of all things, on Sunday night. The festival was held at an amphitheater attached to a brand new shopping mall, catering for home furnishings. The amphitheater has a water and laser light show that was going on in the background of the Jazz bands. It was spectacular, but we really never expected to see anything like this in India...Wow!

After some new year juggling, Melinda found us some teaching work in Aurangabad, 200km away from Puna, with a Christian group called Youth With a Mission, YWAM. They are a community organisation, helping the under privileged and poorest in their communities. They run a child care center for street children that live on the railway stations and are providing micro loans and support for abandoned women by helping them own sewing machines and providing lessons in how to use them. We have been teaching English to groups of the YWAM people for the last week. Louise takes the beginners, mostly women and I’m with the intermediates. We have also been doing a children's class in the evenings. It’s been a lot of fun and we have been welcomed very warmly and given a place to stay, basic but comfortable enough. I got sung happy birthday to in Marathi, the local language here and Louise & I were blessed and were decorated with garlands of flowers.

Aurangabad itself is much like a lot of small Indian town, chaotic dusty and strewn with rubbish, but it does have its own version of the Taj Mahal (not quite as grand), old city walls and a very long history. It also has a fantastic fort about 20 km away, which we saw yesterday and today we traveled 100km to the Heritage listed Ajanta and Ellora caves. It’s was a full days trip but well worth it. We got the feeling of Egypt and Ankor Watt from these places.

We are busy with lesson plans and domestic tasks in our humble abode, so I’ll sign off early till next week.

All The best.
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Week 39, Pune, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
We very much enjoyed Varanasi, we filled in our 5 days quite comfortably. It was pleasant to sit on the balcony of our hotel and watch the holy men and pilgrims doing their thing along the Ganges. It was nice about the Ghats along the river as there are no cars, rickshaws, bicycles or any other transport apart from pedestrian traffic. We also explored the ally ways and bazaars as well, keeping us occupied.

We left on Wednesday on the train, a massive 36 hour journey dumping us in Mumbai at 2am at a station on the outskirts of the city. Then our cab got a flat on the way into be expected really. The tyers were balder than anything ive ever seen, but you should have seen the spare! Well at least it had air in it and got us to our destination. However once again we were forgotten by our hotel and we were given a room in an abandoned apartment upstairs. The room itself was reasonable, but it was a bit like a construction zone to get there.

So we ended up with only 24 hours in Mumbai. It seemed quite safe as the police presence was huge. The famous Gateway to India landmark and the Taj Hotel were still roped off and there were machine gun nests on every street corner... bit over the top but we did feel safe. (see photo, submarine on patrol in Mumbai harbor) We did a boat trip out to Elephanta Island, a world heritage site with temples built into the caves on the Island. We wandered the streets around our hotel, market stalls lining every street. We had dinner at Leopold’s, a landmark restaurant in Mumbai. There are some great colonial style buildings, churches and government buildings, we didn’t really have enough time to explore it properly. It’s a nicer city than Delhi, but we were glad to leave.

We left yesterday on the train, this time only a 4 hour trip up to Pune (Poona). We meet up with hosts, Melinda and Brian, they had another couple staying last night as well as a family visiting, so it was a great party atmosphere. Melinda and Brian are very gracious hosts to put us all up at the same time. We start our teaching on Monday for 4 weeks, so we are looking forward to it. First impressions of Pune are good, a lot greener that further to the north. I will report more about Pune next week.

All the best Ric & Louise