Monday, 31 August 2009

Onam - Prelude

Pookkalam a bit further up my road - Challenge RoadBig Pookkalam on Kovalam Beach RoadPookkalam at SISP, made by A-Group
It's the start of the Onam festival time here in Kerala. Onam is like a harvest festival, celebrated by all religions and castes. Well, sort of... some folk think it's a bit uncivilized or unrefined or heathen. That's why I like it! Because it has little to do with religion! Story has it that ancient King Mahabali is visiting his people and they need to put on a display to impress him and show that they are doing OK, hence the 'onapookkalam' flower arrangements which appear everywhere.

I wrote an article about SISP's Onam celebrations. It has quite a few pictures and a couple of videos.

Most schools in the area have at least the whole of this week off but we just have Wednesday to Friday. Something to do with balancing the number of days holiday throughout the year. A significant number of kids didn't turn up at school anyway, because their mates were at home so why shouldn't they be?! The  Headteacher was also absent, and he was the driving force for today's organised events. They still went ahead, though perhaps not in a very organised manner. The competition to make the prettiest Pookkalam took 4 hours instead of two, teachers joined in when they shouldn't with the middle groups, while the youngest and oldest groups had no guidance at all!

In the afternoon we were all meant to go to the playground about 5km away but Paul decreed (probably rightly) that, because numbers were down and because of the problems of two loadings of the school bus, we'd play games on SISP's backyard. This we did, but it was somewhat cramped and chaotic. The children all had fun anyway.

It's difficult, in a Blog, to know what dirty linen should be aired in public. While the audience is small and known there's no problem but if it's open and public then you're more reticent to say things in case you cause offence or tarnish a reputation etc. I guess, even if I make this blog public, it does little harm to mention that seven boys turned up at SISP's Independence Day celebration on 15th August slightly tipsy and smelling of alcohol. At 9:30 am! They were consequently suspended after a telling-off and told that Paul (founder and managing director) would review the situation when he returned from Belgium - and that was today. It was no surprise for me to learn that the boys would all be allowed back next week. No surprise firstly because Paul is compassionate (a soft-touch by his own admission), and secondly because we are trying to give these boys an education - a chance in life. This comes in an atmosphere of a general problem with discipline and knuckling down to lessons with the two oldest classes - the boys just like to lark about. They are fine individually, it's just when they get together. I don't think suspension on it's own does the trick. It will send the right messages, sure, but only briefly. When they think about it, who wouldn't mind a two-week holiday with no consequences?! It needs to be backed up with more - expulsion is going too far, but perhaps the withdrawal of privileges. Trouble is, it's difficult to see what privileges they have - and perhaps that's more the question.

Does this all sound familiar to Western ears?!

And you have to remember that corporal punishment doesn't work - they have enough of that at home.

Something I've long thought is that giving them skills training (and the threat of withdrawing it) might work. Some kids seem keen enough to do it and certainly would benefit. We've talked about it long enough at SISP but failed to do anything. Really, their failure is our failure.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tapioca Growth

This is a photo of the same tapioca that was planted a little over two months ago. I guess it's nearly a metre high now - which is quite fast growth for a woody-stemmed plant. But it's not as rapid as banana plants whose growth is phenomenal! In the last couple of months they seem to have grown from 2 metres to 6 metres! The little plantation I pass on my walk down to the beach has turned into a forest!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Flights, Take II

planeI've decided that I needn't wait to buy my return-to-india flight tickets so I've gone ahead and bought them. I was going to wait because I was a little uncertain that I'd get an Entry Visa (as opposed to the more usual Tourist Visa) but I've decided to stop faffing about and to risk it. So my existing return ticket takes me back to the UK late on 1/10/09, and my newly bought tickets bring me back to India early on 20/10/09 - two and a half weeks in the UK. I'll stay another five and a half months in India and return to the UK on Sunday 28th March, 2010. £385 return: a reasonable price, and the flight times and connection delays are OK too. I just hope I can get the Visa because, at this price, the ticket conditions are stringent and there are no refunds if I cancel!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Hammer Satisfaction

clawhammerOK, it's a hammer. It's a claw hammer, even! So what?

Last week I broke the handle of SISP's hammer when I tried hammering something with it. Hmmm. So I decided to buy a replacement and went to a hand tool emporium in Trivandrum. In the UK it's easy to buy replacement wooden shafts and you can here too - only, it seems, you have to carve them yourself from a chunk of wood! No thanks, life's too short. So I bought a claw hammer. I paid Rs.140 or about £1.75, which I later discovered was about twice what it should be. Even later, I discovered the shaft was broken. I hadn't spotted it in the shop because there was plastic over it - all I did was check it for weight and balance. Bastard!

I decided the shopkeeper guy wasn't going to stitch me up twice so today was the day of returning the hammer. It was almost too easy. He got out a new hammer as if to swap good for bad. He looked at it and compared it with mine. Then he made the mistake of trying to say I'd used mine (there was not a mark on it!) and went and fetched a lump of wood for me to whittle into a handle. No Bloody Way, Matey Boy! I picked up the new hammer and kept it out of his reach. With the other hand I pointed at his face and told him he could go take a hike with his lump of wood. I think he got the gist if not the literal translation. And with that, I strode out of the shop.

Well, it was one stride actually - it was only a little shop. But whatever, I felt quite pleased with myself! In India there's no consumer protection and if something turns out to be duff, too bad, you chose to buy it. Caveat Emptor and all that. That's why Indians scrutinise everything before buying it. And chances are, this hammer had already been rejected several times before he thought he'd try his luck in passing it off onto me. I could be wrong, of course, he might be totally innocent, but this is one thing I'm not going to lose sleep over!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sleepless in Kovalam

Sorry for my delay in blogging. Be assured I'm still alive and well! However I am rather knackered from lack of sleep recently which has taken a lot out of me. It started last week with some fitful nights. The power has been going on and off a lot at night time and, when it does, the ceiling fan clanks as it slows down or speeds up. I can only think that they're doing maintenance on the power lines. It's disturbed me sufficiently to make me look haggard and old, which my colleagues at SISP have enjoyed speculating the cause of!

But then things got worse... much worse. It was India's Independence Day last Saturday (15th) and the start of Malayalam New Year (Chingam) on Monday (17th). The local temple decided it had to be celebrated with full volume noise on Saturday but at least it stopped by 22:30. But it started again on Sunday at 05:30 and only ended at around 22:00 on Monday. That's right - all through the bloody night. OK, they did turn the volume down a fraction at midnight on Sunday, but only a fraction, and then they ramped it back up again at 04:30 on Monday. I know, because I was awake to hear it. I got 1 hour's sleep that night and I'm still trying to recover.

I call it Temple Noise because that's what it is. I did try to record it but the microphone in my headset wasn't good enough. I should have thought to try the microphone on my camera - next time, if there is a next time.

For me, this is the worst thing about India by far: the hideous, piercing racket. As happened previously, there were two horn speakers 10 metres from my windows (and vents), on the other side of the road, fixed near the top of a tall palm tree and beamed at high distortion levels directly at my bedroom. Not to put too fine a point on it I'd have liked to rip them off and ram them up their effing backsides. So inconsiderate! The noise varied from some croaky-voiced old hag coughing and cackling her way through garbage shouted into the microphone, to tuneless, rhythmless banging of coal scuttles, droning and squawking of valveless trumpets, and accompanying wailing and caterwauling.

As I said, I got one hour of sleep Sunday night, only managing that with pillows pulled over my ears. The neighbours just laugh, oh it's part of India, it's our culture %@£*^%$. When really pushed they'll grudgingly admit that the noise is bad but then they go and worship at that temple, go to the celebrations there, don't rock the boat for fear of spiritual retribution (presumably) and so effectively condone it. Well, the neighbours are who I pay my rent to - but not for much longer I hope.

I don't know how I can find somewhere where I'm guaranteed not to suffer this dreadful mental torture but I'm going to try else I'll go mad. Completely and utterly barking mad!

Meanwhile, the power is still going on and off at night time and the fan is still clanking...

Friday, 7 August 2009

Added Ants

Ants are particularly adept at finding sugar. You would think an airtight tub would keep them out but no, somehow they get in. I thought I'd be cunning and suspend a double-knotted plastic bag of sugar from the washing line in my kitchen but when I looked at it this evening I found a few dozen of the blighters were in there. I suppose, given sufficient time, they will explore every available nook and cranny in search of food. And these ones are the very small orange type, so they were able to squeeze through the little gaps in the knots.

What would an Indian family do about sugar with ants in it? I'm pretty certain they'd ignore them! Well, I don't want ants doing breast stroke in my tea so I put the sugar in a hot frying pan and fried them! Yes, I'm "careful with my money," aren't I?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

End of July Assessments

At the end of each month I undertake assessments of what the children have absorbed. This is something the Head Teacher is keen on. I'm less so, because some of the topics I teach take longer than a month to develop and I'd be happier assessing them at the end of a topic. As it is, occasionally half the month is taken up finishing off a previous topic and half starting a new one. July was a bit like that with the oldest students. Generally I ignore the previous topic and test the new one otherwise the tests take longer than the limited time I have available. Most tests take at least two periods because we don't have sufficient computers for all the kids in an ability group to do tests in one. This month, not only did the highest students study PowerPoint for just three weeks but those three weeks were disrupted by other activities and foreshortened by the tests themselves. Bear in mind that generally each group has only two computer lessons a week. All in all the assessments this time were a bit pointless.

So what have the kids been doing?
  • F-Group has been using MSPaint to draw 8-point stars and colour them. The weaker children need help with this.
  • E-Group has been using MSPaint to draw clocks displaying suggested times.
  • D-Group will draw a clock in MSPaint and insert it into a PowerPoint slide with some suggested text.
  • C-Group has been doing a short PowerPoint slideshow with suggested text and animated clip-art images.
  • A and B Groups have been doing short PowerPoint slideshows with animated clip-art images and automatic slide transitions (but no story).

From next week A- and B-Groups will work in pairs, writing a short story, drawing pictures to illustrate it and then putting words and pictures into PowerPoint. I don't know how this will work - just dividing them into pairs was challenge enough!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Stamps For Bananas

stampsThe thirteen year-old boy next door collects postage stamps. Not in any sophisticated way - he just pastes them straight into a notebook in whatever order they arrive in. He was very proud of his collection of six dog-eared, well-fingered, samples which he showed me when I first arrived here. He must now have around two hundred, I would imagine, nearly all of which came from me.

Back in the UK I had a pile of stamps and an old stamp book from childhood days festering in a bulging box file, of no interest to anyone but too good to throw away. When I did my run to the UK in April I brought half of them back with me. I had intended just giving them to him but then I thought why not let him earn them? They would then have more value than a thousand stamps just dumped on him. So now he gets my bananas from the stall just down the road and in return I give him ten or so stamps. A good deal, I reckon!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Qualified Success

OK, so you should be able to work out what this is if you've read my recent blogs. Yes, it's to do with the on-going saga of cutting mitres for the school's pinboards! A decent electric mitre saw (like the one I have gathering dust in the UK) would make mincemeat of this job. Here in India I don't want to spend out on a saw which will cost around £100 and will probably never be used again. And if I donate it to SISP it will probably last ten seconds before some cackhanded youth either cuts his fingers off or launches the workpiece into somebody's face. Or an alternative interpretation is that I'm just plain too mean!

I asked about hiring a mitre saw but that doesn't seem to be a possibility here. No doubt I could get the joints cut at a fabrication workshop but there isn't one nearby. And anyway, where's the challenge and the sense of achievement in that?!

So, here is Clive's Mitre Block Mk II. Total cost, including saw, £1.60, or 2 Euro-ish. Mk I, made from angle iron with slots wonkily cut in it, has been consigned to the bin. Well, to the shelf, actually - no one throws anything away here, other than plastic. Quite right too!

And Mk II is a qualified success!! Today, I spent five hours solid correcting my first attempted frame and making a second new one. The end result is good enough for somewhere not too important - like the general noticeboards on the school's staircase where they'll get abused anyway. The problem is with the accuracy of the cut. The mitre block cuts nice and vertical but the angle isn't quite right and the resulting frame corners are a bit too open. My mate Mr Gowers assures me that the 45 degrees you get from folding a piece of paper is accurate to less than a degree - but he was forgetting who was doing the folding! I'm cautiously optimistic that I can do better with a bit of fiddling.