Austin, Texas

July 5th, 2008

I composed the following post in Austin, but I had trouble with internet connections until now, at the end of my first full day in Delhi. I’ll post first impressions of India soon…

We’ve just spent two days in Austin, Texas. UT’s South Asia Institute hosted an amazing two day orientation for us. There are 16 of us – 15 women and 1 man. It’s mostly English and History teachers, but there are also art, music and special ed teachers. The people in the group are all smart and interesting and we’re having a lot of fun together. It’s going to be an amazing trip if all the estrogen doesn’t kill us.

I’m feeling much more secure about traveling to Sri Lanka and am really looking forward to our time there. Having learned more about the current situation and talking to people who live there, I don’t think we’re at too much more risk than traveling elsewhere.

Highlights of the orientation:

  • a boatride on the river/lake
  • watching the largest urban bat colony take off from the Congress St bridge

Some things I learned during orientation:

  • My name is Samantha = Meraa naam Samantha hai.
  • There are 3 you’s in Hindi, more than the two in every other language I’ve studied – one which is most respectful, one which is familiar, ad one that is intimate. (That’s for you linguistic nerds)
  • The word “Islam” means “submission to the will of God,” much like my name, which comes from “God obey.”
  • India is known as “A Global Player with Clay Feet”
  • statistically more people in India have tv than piped water
  • abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka
  • there is an animated version of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective by Nina Paley

We listened to an appalling radio clip from a radio show out of Philadelphia called Star and Bucwild in which the radio show host calls an Indian call center and verbally abuses the operator because she is in India, and what does that b—- know about this product he wants to buy for his little 5 year old white American daughter? I know racism exists, and I know that there is a lot of justifiable resentment about losing American jobs to people overseas, but listening to that language, that anger directed toward an individual in India who is just trying to support her own family, was really disgusting. It makes me embarrassed to be an American.

We had an excellent presentation about post-independence politics in Sri Lanka that really helped to clarify what’s going on in the country now between the government and the LTTE. I’m thinking it might be something I use for my curriculum project. I was really interested to learn about how organized the Tamil Tigers are. The Tamil Diaspora consists of about a million Tamils throughout the world, many of whom are contributing money to the LTTE, either voluntarily or under pressure. They even have a navy and an air force. The next time I post will be from India!

Jishnu Ji teaching us about Hindi

Jishnu Ji teaching us about Hindi

Me at UT

Bats in Austin

Largest urban bat colony taking off

Itinerary

June 27th, 2008

Check out this cool map one of the other teachers, Mary Hebert, put together of our itinerary:

Reading, Reading, Reading

June 26th, 2008

My students will be happy, or possibly terrified, to know that I was given a lot of reading to do in time for our predeparture orientation in Austin next week.  They emailed us last week to let us know they’d be putting it in the mail, and the 5 books and 3 articles they’d like us to read arrived on Monday.  Yes, my dears, 1,000 pages of reading in 7 days or less.

In itself, that’s pretty intimidating, but I also have a stack of books that I’ve been working my way through on my own.  The new reading is interfering with my plans to reread old India- and Sri Lanka-related loves like Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje. And things like buying malaria medication and full-length skirts are interfering with my reading time.

On the new Readings page, I’ve posted the full list of my recent literary occupations, including the reading list for orientation.  I’ve already read the first article about ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, which gives some fascinating historical information, and I’m currently reading In Spite of the Gods, which is really excellent, especially considering the difficulty I have with book-length nonfiction.

A picture from our party celebrating our wedding:

A little over a week ’til departure, update about Sri Lanka

June 20th, 2008

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My last day at work was last Friday, so now I have time to do more preparation for my trip this summer.

Because we will be traveling to two different countries – India and Sri Lanka – there are two different Fulbright Commissions arranging the two segments of the trip. Fulbright India has been communicative with us since we first found out we had been accepted about 3 months ago. Part of that is out of necessity, as the visa process can be lengthy, but they’ve set up a website for us where we can view information about the program, which is really helpful.

Up until this morning, we had heard nothing from the Sri Lanka commission at all, which was especially troubling given increased violence due to the ongoing civil war between the Sinhalese government and Tamil separatists (there is an easy to follow article on Wikipedia if you want to read about it), but we got an email this morning which put me more at ease. There are a number of Fulbright scholars currently in Sri Lanka, including several who are returning to Sri Lanka at the end of the summer. Although news reports are intimidating, I trust them not to put us in an unsafe situation. I have a friend who has been living in Lebanon the past couple of years, and she has told us about how very different her experience is being there, as opposed to what she sees on the news when she’s in the Bay Area. Also, one of the women going on my trip participated in a summer seminar in Egypt a few years ago, and there was unrest, but the Fulbright people were meticulous about safety and about communicating with families. And there’s always the option of leaving early if I feel unsafe.

That said, I’m getting very excited about my trip. I now have tentative itineraries for all three parts of the trip – the Pre-departure Orientation in Austin, the 4 weeks in India, and the 10 days in Sri Lanka.

The trip is part seminar and part travel, and they are really packing in one opportunity after another to learn from experts and to visit amazing places. In Austin, the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas is hosting us and providing lectures on topics like “Economics and Politics in Contemporary South Asia,” “Ramayana: The Life of an Ancient Text in Modern India,” “Post-Independence Politics and Civil War in Sri Lanka,” and an introduction to Hindi. In India, we will have an academic program in New Delhi for the first few days, and then we travel around the country taking in cultural activities as well as visiting schools and some nonprofits and NGOs. For example, our sunrise boatride on the Ganges will be paired with a visit to the Sankat Mochan Foundation, an environmental NGO working to restore the Ganges. It is a similar program in Sri Lanka, with three days in the beginning in Colombo followed by travel, including visits to the ancient capital and an elephant orphanage.

Ashley and I are hosting a big party tomorrow to celebrate our recent wedding, so I’m going to sign off now and bake a massive cake, but I will post soon about the reading I’ve been doing to prepare.


Welcome!

June 7th, 2008

I’ve been selected to participate in a summer seminar in India and Sri Lanka through the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program. I’ll be studying and traveling with a group of 14 other English and History teachers from around the country.

I am doing my best to finish up the school year at Berkeley High School, the school where I’ve been teaching since the spring of 2005, as gracefully as possible. At this point, the end of the school year is in sight enough for me to start getting excited about my trip.

I leave June 30 for a departure orientation in Austin, Texas, then we leave for Delhi on July 3.

I’ll be posting updates and pictures here as often as I can manage over the summer, so please check in.