Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Joelle Miller's Letter About India

Joelle Hi, I'm Joelle Miller and it's hard to believe that my trip to India has passed the midpoint. I'd like to tell you a bit about my travels and take the opportunity to thank all the people who helped me out.

After 24 hours of "planes, trains and automobiles" I finally landed in Delhi with my 20 new friends that I would be spending the next four months with. I was extremely tired but pumped full of adrenaline because I was finally here, finally in India.  I had signed up with Africa and Asia Ventures over a year ago and had been working hard and fundraising, so I was excited to actually start my new adventure. Before my volunteer teaching attachment started my whole group went on a ten day safari trip to the "golden triangle" of India.  It was a perfect way to submerge myself in the Indian culture, to prepare for my 4 months of living in India.  My trip started off with some sightseeing in Delhi, then thankfully leaving to Agra, the city that is home to the Taj Mahal.  It was incredible to see the Taj.  It is one of those places that I've always dreamed of seeing but never thought I'd actually be able to. At sun rise was a perfect time to go because the heat of the sun isn't felt yet and the hordes of tourists are at a minimum.  The white dome was incredible and I took a million pictures.  Next on the list was the city of Jaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan.  Jaipur is incredible too, the hub of local Indian arts and crafts.  All the buildings are painted pink, which gives it its name "the pink city".  The AV group went to a textile factory and we saw how Indian carpets are made, and of course I was drooling over the beautiful handiwork.  The most amazing experience in Jaipur was yet to come!  Amber Fort is set on top of a big ridge so we got to ride elephants to the top, soaking in all the amazing sights.  The fort itself was beautiful too, as all ancient architecture is in India.  After Jaipur and the crazy amounts of shopping, our bus took us to Bikaner, another desert city in Rajasthan.  We visited a camel farm and then in the evening went on a 3 hour camel safari.   I had so much fun on the camels, but a lot of the other AVs didn't enjoy it as much as I did.  I was the only one whose body wasn't sore, so I thank my horse riding, western Canadian roots for that! The safari was happening so fast, so much was changing around me.  It was on that peaceful ride that I realized how crazy India is but how much fun I was going to have. After our safari the group took an overnight train from Delhi to Dharamshala, the home of the Dali Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile.   This is where we would have our introduction to teaching and Hindi lessons for 5 days.  The reality of the situation began to sink in as I would wake up every morning and think "I can't believe I think I can teach kids!!! What was I thinking!!".  But my confidence grew as my new friendships with the other Avs thickened and I was really excited to get to my village and dive right in.  The day all nine of us girls, (who we would be living, teaching, and breathing each moment together with!), piled into the jeep to Lambagaon was tense, but filled with excitement.  We were so anxious to see our village, to meet the headmasters and kids, and to find out what our house would be like!  Filled with fear I stepped through the door to find a cool house with lots of history.  The house belongs to a Maharaja and was built for a guest who was only staying one night.  Beautiful palm trees surround it along with our pack of stray dogs (one I call Jack because he follows me around), some cows who eat garbage, and the donkey I named Polazarus.  It was an easy switch into rural Indian village life even though it is nothing like home at all.  It is really frustrating at times still, but I'll miss Lambagaon very much when the time comes to leave.  Every day we go to the market and buy fresh fruits and veggies, making sure we don't get ripped off or that they don't sneak us rotten food.   We'll hang out with all the friends we made who happily stuff us with home cooking and chai tea.  Going to the post office is always a mission and usually takes a good half an hour at least to post a letter.  Plus it's the most exciting part of the day if you receive a letter or package, and you always hope that they haven't opened and read or stole anything!!!!  Having a personal life in the village is virtually impossible, but it's definitely worth the experience.  Once you leave the doors of my house you get swarmed with children who want to play shouting "mame mame!!". There are suggestive stares from the local market boys, and old women come up to you pinching your cheeks while saying something in Hindi.  Making a phone call consists of going to a shop that has a "STD" (an international phone line!). and sitting in the shop talking to family while village members crowd around you listening in. School is a completely different experience all together. I must admit it was really tough getting into it for the first couple of weeks.  But Jasmin, Janaki, (my teaching partners), and I persevered and now we absolutely love it.  It's tough work and now I think how lucky I am to have had such dedicated teachers throughout my whole education.  The kids were VERY difficult at first, but now that they know us they keep in line and enjoy our lessons a lot.  It is such a good feeling when you've spent a whole evening making up posters and work sheets for the next day's lesson plan and it all goes well, when you can see the kid's wheels turning and them not only understanding the concept but having fun too.  It makes all the hard work, frustrations, and dealing with unbearable heat worth it.  I love my school, Jaisinghpur Modern Public School, and especially my head master Mr. Pandit Ram Swaroop.   He started the school in 1983 from absolutely nothing trying to achieve an excellence in education that he believes all children deserve.  He is incredibly smart and amazing to talk to, and he is very opinionated!! Jasmin, Janaki and I have spent lots of time sipping chai and talking with him and his wife about western philosophies, Indian culture, education, and English jokes or phrases he doesn't understand.  He has definitely made my Indian experience so much richer than I could have imagined.  He is currently working towards buying a piece of land so he can eventually build his dream school; classrooms complete with black boards, doors, glass windows, and hopefully a library.  I've already started my planning to help raise money for the new school that is badly needed.  As of now, most of the tiny classrooms are packed in with two classes and no doors, making it very noisy.  The walls are cement grey and the whole place lacks colour, stimulation, and especially creativity.  That is my main focus when I teach the kids.  I am always finding new ways to open up their untapped imaginations with songs, games and art, and always trying to increase their vocabulary and understanding of English words.  All the classes are lots of fun, and the kids are hysterical.  My time in India has gone by so fast it's hard to believe that I will be home in a month and a half.  I'm going to miss India a lot, but I'm especially going to miss my village, the kids, Mr. Ram Swaroop, and of course my 13 new best friends who I'll have to leave behind in England!!  I've grown a lot myself, realizing and understanding how lucky I am to be Canadian, to have gone to school in Will Sinclair High, to be able to count on electricity and water always being there when you need it, and most of all the importance of family.  I have realized how great my home is, and now India has become my home too.  I will never forget these lessons, and am already excited for my next trip back to India!!  I have three weeks left of teaching, then 3 weeks of travelling around southern India.  Then I fly back home, back to my "normal" life where I always will know what an amazing world I live in, and how by reaching out I can have a great impact on others.  I wish everyone to have an experience like this, young and old as you can learn so much from stepping outside of your box.  India is an extreme step outside, but I am so happy to be here.

I would like to thank all the people who helped me out: Sobey's Food Store, Birchhill Energy Limited, the Lions Clubs of Rocky Mountain House and Caroline, Jane Hamilton for giving me the article about AV, Jackie's Travel Getaways Ltd, Karen Paquette for books on teaching, Matilda Stracey and my sister Jesslyn for helping me with my cooking at the cultural fair and all the people who dared to try my amateur Indian foods, Leslie Roberton for all the help with my Ebay fundraising, my Uncle Kurt for the items to sell and all you that purchased items and of course my mom and dad.