Namaste! There are six of us K students that are studying abroad in India and we have just settled into our site at NIRMAN in Varanasi. We spent a couple of days in Delhi and Agra to see and experience what the rest of Uttar Pradesh has to offer before we began taking the classes. We saw all sorts of things – Old Delhi, tons of market places, the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, just to name a few. We also went to the Nehru museum in Delhi (he was the first president of democratic India!) and learned a lot about his and Gandhi′s role in achieving freedom from Britain which I found to be so fascinating. One of the professors I will have (Nita Kumar, who is also the director at NIRMAN) gave a presentation at the same place in the afternoon about education in India and how it works within the caste system. She discussed how the government has pushed children of artisans into the school system, yet the children are still essentially uneducated because the school systems are close to non-functional. The children do not learn their parents’’ craft because they spend all day in school. When she created NIRMAN, Nita Kumar hoped to broaden the education spectrum into a liberal arts curriculum that focused on all aspects of studies that also taught both intensive Hindi and English. She was successful in this dream, as NIRMAN is a thirteen-year-old program and counting! In her talk, she also equated power with the ability to speak English, which has opened up the conversation with my fellow K peers about how lucky we are to both have an education and to be able to speak English.
NIRMAN is about a 10-minute walk away from the Ganga (which is currently flooded!), and there are children everywhere! The food has been nothing short of fantastic, and everyone that we have met so far has been incredibly helpful and welcoming. Cows essentially dominate the road along with goats and dogs, and there are almost always monkeys hanging out on top of the cars, from the trees, or the apartments. I am fairly certain that a couple pairs of my underwear were stolen by monkeys when they were out to dry!
We had our first day of classes today – four hours of Hindi and two hours of anthropology. It has been quite exhausting, and it was 95 degrees and sunny today! Hindi is super intense and totally different from anything that I have ever learned, but it is fun! Our favorite word that we have learned is spoon – it is pronounced “chowmuch”. Our teachers have been wonderful and incredibly accommodating to our learning needs, which we are grateful for. We will be going to Lucknow (the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh) next weekend, and then we will start taking our third academic class, as well as yoga! I think I am interested in a gender studies course or dance – everything is just so new and interesting, I cannot seem to decide which course will be more worthwhile!