Saturday, 28 February 2009


These lads are R and Y, two little devils who have graduated from SISP and attend public school in the daytime but return to SISP for tuition in the evening. They are inseperable mates and always up to mischief. I had to show you this photo because it's so typical of them - big grins, bright eyes, grubby shirts and ties askew. They are irrepressible!

Can you picture children playing with hoops and sticks? I've never seen it in reality in the UK - even in the North of Scotland fifty years ago our toys had progressed well beyond such basic Victorian play things. Well not here! There's one neighbouring child who I see regularly playing in the streets with a skinny tyre, propelling it along at a fair speed and with accuracy. Kids here have few toys - even the girl next door seems to have very little. The other day she was playing with a naked plastic doll, a brick and a rope. Today she's got a small cardboard box, putting books, a pen and broken plastic jewellery into it. But she's happy!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Boy For Sex

Normality has resumed at SISP. The lad I slapped is showing a new kind of respect for me and other lads in his class feign a cower when I walk past!

On the way up to Kovalam Junction today I was intercepted by a guy of about 25. I could see he was targeting me deliberately and I kept on walking but he caught up quickly. As accurately as I remember, the conversation went like this:
"how you?"
"I'm well, thanks. How are you?"
"You want boy?"
"You want boy?"
"What do you mean? What for?" hoping I had misunderstood.
"WHAT??" I turned on him.
"You want boy for sex?"
"You want me to call the police?"
"You want me to call the police? You do know what the police are don't you? The POLICE??"
" I... No police"
"Go away or I'll call the police"
"OK. Good afternoon, sir"
and with that he slunk off. Now, I don't know if he really meant a boy or if he meant himself. Or if he thought I was suggesting he was police. I would have liked to have asked more because if there's anything I vehemently despise it's the low-life who force children into prostitution. But I just wanted the slimeball to go away. Because if he hadn't I would have wrung his neck. I didn't really get a good look at him. I hope I'm right in thinking he was probably offering himself. But this has been going round and round and round in my mind, and I've been playing it back and trying to imagine "what if this", "what if that".  Should I have done more to find out about the "boy" and report the guy? (believing what I've been told - that police don't give a damn or worse: are in collusion.  Being uncertain of what was meant.  Wondering if it really was child prostitution.  And, I admit it, wondering what kind of problems I'd have with authorities, gossip etc, if I tried to find out more or reported it and it turned out to be innocent). God, I don't know. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A Less Than Good Day

Today I slapped one of the older kids for laughing at me. Can't say I'm too proud of myself for not being able to restrain my anger and not a very good example to set in full view of half the school's kids.

What happened was that I'd just got a cup of tea and was heading to the tuition class, along the walkway beside the yard. Suddenly, a football riquocheted off the ceiling onto the cup, covering me with hot tea. A kid of about 17 was standing right in front of me and immediately laughed his head off right in my face, so I smacked him one. I hesitated in disbelief at his reaction for a split second before doing so. I dislike people who laugh at others' misfortunes, and I verbally made that point very clear, but I suppose I should have used that split second more wisely.

Oh well. The School Secretary was nearby and she backed me up, thankfully. I did apologise to him a few moments later and got a mumbled "it's OK, I'm sorry" in return. I think he was somewhat shocked and surprised, and I think I really did sting him. The head teacher had a word with me later on and I think everything is cool, but I'm a bit ashamed. You never knew I had a hair-trigger temper, did you?!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Good Day

Our youngest students tackling lettering on the computersToday was a very successful day for me at SISP.

The most trying part of any day is the after-school tuition when kids from other schools come to SISP for help with homework or classwork. These are generally kids who have made the grade to leave SISP and get into mainstream schools, but need extra support in the evenings to keep them at the schools. I have been helping with the youngest, with English and Computing, and they have been driving me round the bend! The problem is the way they are taught - like parrots. Given the right prompt they regurgitate their texts verbatim. Ask them something slightly different and they haven't a clue. For example they are taught "computer inputs are keyboard and mouse". Ask them "what are computer inputs?" and they will respond "computer inputs are keyboard and mouse". Ask them "what are the inputs to computers?" and they haven't a clue, nor do they understand what "input" means. They are not taught to think or question or understand. The trouble is, the teachers at their schools expect the verbatim answers so teaching the kids to think differently just results in low marks.

I tried to make one of the youngest Tuition Children think about the subject, not just learn by rote.  The other day he showed me his exercise book - he'd had a test and got zero out of twenty five, mainly because he hadn't tackled the questions, probably because he hadn't understood the language, and mostly because I had stopped him learning like a parrot but hadn't had enough time to make him understand the subject.  The worst part was that the teacher had put the comment "V.V.V.V.V.V.V.Bad". A teacher who does that deserves sacking in my opinion. I also suspect that the teacher doesn't really understand the subject himself/herself. Anyway... I can't handle this way of teaching, and my methods probably have a negative effect on the children I'm trying to help.

So, instead of working with the little ones, this week I chose to work with four older boys, all around 13-14 years. Yesterday we did English comprehension and it worked well. They chat with one another which is great because as soon as one understands something he will explain it to the others in Malayalam. Not only do they all learn, but the one explaining it reinforces his learning by the act of explaining. Today it was maths and by the end of the session they all understood something new. We were dealing with fractions divided by fractions, and fractions raised to powers, including negative powers. It was great to share their realisation that a fraction is actually just one number (or fraction) divided by another. They originally could do 14 divided by 7, but didn't realise that 14 over 7 was the same thing! I went over and over it and by the end they all understood and consistently got the correct answers. Very satisfying!

What else? Well, earlier today I met with the head teacher and the two teachers who had been filling in with computing lessons to discuss the computing classes. I expected that they were not satisfied with my methods but in fact it was the reverse. They said it was great to see staff members actually keen to come and get tuition from me! They had been teaching the theory with all the jargon, while I tend to give the staff and students tasks and to show them how to resolve any problems as they arise. They might not understand "cut and paste" but they do understand what CTRL-C followed by CTRL-V does. The jargon can come later. It's meaningless without context anyway.

I was also able to show my ideas for future lessons and I think they were impressed! I'm trying to use the computers to consolidate learning in other subjects. For example, if the kids are learning a poem I can give them jumbled up lines for them to reassemble in the correct order. If they are learning a conversation then they can place the correct questions and responses together. They also need to realise that the first thing two strangers ask one another is not "how old are you?"! i.e. they need to understand how conversations progress. And I can get children to explore graphs of average daily temperatures throughout the year using MS Excel to consolidate Geography lessons, and so on. The other teachers are deferring to me now and I like the responsibility.

Then there were a couple of successful lessons with the kids and, because we have two Belgian volunteers here, I didn't have to rush from one class to the next. It meant I could sit down to review the successes or failures of the lessons. I actually enjoyed today!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Sunday, 8 February 2009

I Smell A Rat

- literally, as it turns out. I noticed a smell at school on Monday but the kids told me it was the neighbours (!) Then on Wednesday, I smelt it again. I hunted through the boxes and junk on the shelf above the computers but found nothing apart from a very much alive lizard. The kids thought I was imagining things but my nose seems to be attuned to the very distinctive smell of rotting flesh. I attribute it to finding a dead sheep, stuck in a ditch and crawling with maggots, on the farm as a kid. Nice! On Thursday I looked again and found it - a dead rat, heaving with horrible grey maggots. Now, this area is meant to be swept and mopped every day so there is no way a dead rat would be missed if the job was being done diligently. I discretely disposed of the rat and had a quiet word with the cleaner on Friday so am hopeful that it won't happen again. There is a rota of about five or six women who clean the place before it opens. Normally, but not last week, the computer workstations have been yanked around so that the mains cords are straining at the sockets, so I guess that the cleaner, whose turn it was, was being a bit lazy.

In my last post I said I was feeling rough - well, I felt a bit better on Wednesday and returned to work, but all week my temperature has been wavering. Probably not by much but enough to make me feel odd. Even today, Sunday, it wasn't back to normal, but it's OK.

One thing I've been meaning to mention in this Blog but keep forgetting until now is that every morning I see people brushing their teeth in public! In their gardens, on their porches, on the roofs, in the street - they're all at it. I suppose there's no good reason not to, but when you first see it it seems most odd! I would take a photograph for this blog but it would be rude to stick a camera in someone's face in the middle of their daily ablutions!

It must be Spring here now. On Tuesday 27th January the wild Locust trees burst into flower. These are from the Robinia Pseudoacacia family - the golden "Frisia" variety is very popular in the UK. They look almost Wisteria-like from a distance and are a delicate pink - I walk under a row of them on my way to SISP, and very pretty they are too!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Survived the Noise

Random skinny cat I met on my travelsWell, it's Tuesday after the temple festival - I survived! It is difficult to just accept that this is "just part of their culture". Speaking with neighbours, few of them liked it but none complain, presumably for fear of offending the gods or fear of being lynched. It is mental torture. I found that I couldn't simply turn up the volume on my music because that was driving me nuts too! And who wants to listen to rock music pounding out at 5am ?

On Friday, the din finally stopped at 22:50. It took me ages to get to sleep because I was so wound up about it, and then it started up again at 5am. Saturday I just had to get out and spent a chunk of the day walking around the area. I walked down to the beach near the 5* Leela Hotel where I was told by a guard that access was private. No, it's bloody well not! There are no private beaches in India. So I marched across it and up past the "Tourist Police" hut (on Leela's property and presumably paid for by back-handers from Leela), up towards the rock on which Leela perches, looking out over the Arabian Sea. Fabulous views. View from near Leela HotelAnd then I was intercepted by a security guard who warned that for my own safety I should turn back. It was clear where Leela's perimeter was but he wasn't going to even let me walk on the public side of it, presumably because I would pollute the view for the rich who stay there. I got away with going another 10 metres to a natural viewing point, took a few snaps and then turned back. Later Saturday evening I was invited to a BBQ and got back after 23:00, after the noise had stopped.

Next day it started at 5am again. I was shattered! I've been feeling a bit under the weather with a bad cold for the last couple of weeks and the lack of sleep made things worse. I got out of the house for a while but couldn't relax. The sounds finally stopped at 22:30pm.

Monday was a regular day at SISP but the English teacher wasn't there so I had to take his classes. My brain was so numb I just went through the motions - I could think of little that would inspire the kids and I was even more knackered when I got out. I felt really ill in the night time - I wasn't sick but nearly was. Surely you're not sick with a bad cold? Maybe it was the neighbour's breakfast I had in the evening? It did taste a bit odd. I had hot and cold sweats and again got little sleep. I ended up with a hell of a headache so I've taken today off work to try to recover a bit. Fingers crossed!