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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My moment of insanity

3 Weeks left and I feel to be in a very strange place right now. At Ebenezer school something new comes along each day. Something that makes me question what I'm doing, where I'm going and why I'm doing this. I've been at this school for 4 weeks and it feels like a lifetime. I've been up and down, backwards and forwards, I've been every which way a person can be.. and every single move is creating my final chapter of this Indian adventure.

Everyday there's something though. Something telling me I have to go - some feeling and some voice - even when I choose to see this as a place I have to be at this moment in time. But I don't leave. I stay. And because of this, everyday I go into my own world, regardless if I want to or not, which so far away from Ebenezer school. When I'm walking around the school I sometimes loose a hold of reality and this leads me to not being bothered with teaching and going to class. But once I'm in front of these amazing kids, something new inside me comes alive! Yet other times I have to force myself to resist the urge I have to shut myself off in a classroom and write for hours and hours.

I've been learning things, through the talks I've been having with both Mahaut (my new and oh so inspiring and wise flatmate from France) and Cliff. Will this all stop now that the dynamics in the group, with the arrival of another roommate from Germany, by the name of Anika and with the departure of my saving grace Paul? Mahaut and Cliff were my main reason for choosing to stay at the school until the 9th: these 2 amazing individuals. But now, will I get as much from my last week here? I don't know. I know it's what I choose to make of it..

I sometimes can't help counting down the days to when I'll leaving this school, no matter how much I tell myself to savour each day. People tell me I'll be back and so it really shouldn't matter if I stay an extra week at a school that doesn't really make me happy. But that's THEIR words, THEIR thoughts..and not MINE.

Sometimes I want to set myself free. But by doing so, I'd feel to be running away and taking the easy road. I'd feel weak. Sometimes I think that by staying I'm being weak and taking the easy road. It doesn't really matter at this moment in time what I choose to do. I'm weak in both aspects. My heart tells me to go, but something is stopping me. Something in my mind is holding me back. Is it finances? Or is it the reassurance that I'll WILL be back to India, and that it's therefore true what others are saying: that one more week at this school doesn't really matter?

So much is going on. With all this happening, I'm trying to keep a hold of reality. I'm forcing myself each day to stay on this planet, to stay in this space so I can teach properly. I'm struggling to keep my focus, because my heart isn't in it. My heart pushes me to sit by myself and write. But I'm a teacher for now, so I have to go against the current and the flow that's coming from inside. I'm also coming to terms with the fact that I'm leaving this amazing country. My travels through India are all slotting together in my head and the nearer the date comes for me to leave, the more I realize that THIS is only just the beginning. I haven't even started to get from India what I feel it can give me. Maybe when I place myself outside of this chapter I'll see that these experiences have been the start and the foundation for my connection with India. A foundation I worked hard at creating and a connection I still desperately need and long to strenghten..

For this reason I know, even if the visa wasn't forcing me to leave, I have to leave. I have to reflect. Ideally I'd take some proper time alone before getting on a plane. But I don't know if that's going to happen, due to some factors I feel I have to attend to and some people I simply must see. If I'd be less hard on myself, I'd leave Ebenezer, I'd go off to the place where my heart has already gone, and I wouldn't question myself and I'd be free. I'd leave others to think and do as they wish, and I would do the exact same. But that would be too easy. I need these weeks so I learn and grow stronger. I've come this far, so I'm not backing down, no way!

I've had days when I've felt I was going to explode with all the confusion and the scatteredness in my mind. Last night I couldn't even put into words what was going on inside. Everything that India represents, was giving me so much energy that simply trying to speak caused dizzy spells and the sweat was seeping through my pours. I shocked myself, by all this amazement that has built up inside of me, and last night, I NEEDED to act. I needed to do more. But I couldn't. I couldn't even speak and I wasn't able to write, because I had no words. I just had energy, sweat and dizzyspells. There's a mountain of India inside of me. A mountain of inspiration and due to the place I was and still am in, there's no means for me to do anything with it.

It's only normal that sleeping has been a problem. I'm dosing-off each night, with a heart still full of desires. How greedy can a person be? I'm here, I'm amazed, I'm already living my dream and yet I still feel it's not enough. Is it greed or eagerness? Is it discipline or is it passion? What it is that's keeping me from my sleep, I cannot say in one word.

All I know is that no matter how easy or difficult things can be, regardless of where I place myself on this earth, my longings never stop, my drive never leaves and the inspiration I feel inside that's gaining more and more strength, as my leaving date gets nearer and nearer, will find the place where it can serve it's purpose. Ebenezer isn't it, and I needed to go through this periode, to realize that when I DO find where my inspiration and passion can be expressed, then I'll feel it and I'll know it's right. I will find out how and where it's insync and flowing with the surroundings I place myself in.

My sanity is still here, somewhere in my lessons and when I'm with these kids. They are providing me with the grouding I need, so I can continue to walk with my head held high and with a smile on my face..

I love you all so so much xxxx

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A foreign touch

Many travellers gallivanting through India, can have a tendency of not wanting to be around people “of their own kind”. The foreigner rejecting contact with the foreigner, is a common phenomenon. It’s something most travellers in India are either currently doing or have done at some stage of their journey. It’s like a phase they pass through but usually end up finding themselves in a certain place or situation where they actually realize they DO need contact with people of “their own kind”. I was going through this particular phase of rejecting “westerners” before coming to Ebenezer.

When I was in Varkala a month ago, I didn’t really want to be around other travellers because of wanting to stay properly “connected” to India. The people I was close to at that time, were only Patsy and Byron and those were the only Westerners or foreign people or “people of my own kind” I wanted contact with. I had convinced myself I didn’t need anybody else. But they left when I started teaching here at this school. I was fending for myself and would have coped by myself too. But I would have paid the high prices of quitting this job and maybe never teaching English again. Up until Pauls’ arrival, I had convinced myself I didn’t need other Westerners to feel more comfortable in India. I wanted to be strong, independent and secure, all by myself even if it meant I had to be miserable because of not having any real chance of venting all the things that were bothering me. To make this experience into an enriching experience I have come to need other travellers and Pauls arrival proved this to me.

With this realization, that only came to me last week, more travellers have been coming into this chapter of my India. Last week Thursday, the 18th of June, a guy from America moved in and has started teaching at the school. His name is Cliff, he’s 50 years old and an experienced traveller in so many Asian countries. He’s been travelling for at least 5 years and is also a yoga teacher and is so wise!!

For 5 days, Paul, Cliff and I became the 3 musketeers. We were eager to set-up the teaching plan, we were eager to learn from each other, we were eager to develop our teaching skills and we had great fun too.. Everyday we’d walk through the jungle roads with banana and coconut trees on either side, to the tea-stall, for an “Indian chai” or we’d walk to the “toddy bar” (which is a “earthy” Indian bar, where they only sell the alcoholic drink made from coconut trees, called “toddy”). The travel stories we’d share along the way, would be amazing. They are both so well-travelled and I became like a sponge- soaking up all the knowledge and depth of what they have attained through their travels. It’s made me see India in a different light, once again. In an even brighter light! Over the past week, in between teaching strictly disciplined but gorgeous kids, I’ve come to realize that this trip to India is only just a taster of what this country has to offer me. It can and will enrich my life so much more than it already has done and I’m partly realizing this due to these 2 well-travelled men who have come into my life.

To have people you can relate to and who listen to you, is like having a vent. Here in India, when you’re an outsider, you need a vent. You need more than just a blog to write about your experiences and a journal to write about your emotional “drama’s”, with every chance you get (which is what I was doing). Having a vent creates the lightness you need. You actually have a deeper conversation with a traveller, instead of simply answering the questions: “how many members are in your family?”, “Where are they?”, “Are you married?”, “How long have been in India and when will you come to my house to have some special Indian food? (which is basically the conversation you’d have with every Indian you meet). To hear other’s experiences of “their India“, gives strength in approaching Indian living and being able to always pass through the frustrations and see the beauty. So I’m grateful for other travellers to have come into my life. I really needed them and they’ve helped me loads.

Since yesterday, Tuesday the 22nd, things have changed once again. Paul has left. The head of the agency we work for, needs him to teach elsewhere in Kerala for the next few weeks. With his departure, another traveller has arrived. A new French teacher from Paris. Her name is Mahaut and she’s also my flatmate, from today onwards! I’m so happy to have a female I can relate to. I instantly felt a connection with her, when we met. She arrived yesterday and was going through the same feelings I had gone through when I first arrived, only the minor version. I felt for her so badly; I could see the panic on her face as she was walking around the school - trying to adjust to the discipline, the attention, the atmosphere, the pressure - she looked so lost and to be drowning. But the “false start” I had when I arrived, nearly 3 weeks ago, helped her, as we got a chance to meet and speak with each other. Now she’s happy and will be staying for the next while! It will be great, I know it will.

All these amazingly courageous people I’m surrounded by, who aren’t Indian, but who are making my experience here at this Indian school to be all the more inspiring, to say the least. And that’s not even taking into consideration what I’m learning about this teaching, about these kids and about myself. It could be endless. So the days and weeks are flying and unfolding and, for now, I’m where I want to be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Freedom in teaching

So, yes I’ve decided to give this a proper shot. The decision to stay was something that actually came naturally. It wasn’t forced and it suddenly seemed so easy. Running at this moment in time, would not have served me in the long run. The discipline and the feeling of imprisonment caught me off-guard. I can see that now. I felt I had to be like all the other teachers. I felt I was in the army. I felt I had to be the “soldier”, the strict-one and I felt I had to change my way of teaching and therefore “being” - seeing as though my only reason for being here at Ebenezer is to teach.

But Paul made me see that we are definitely different from the teachers at school. But for that reason, they have employed us! We can be proud of who we are and the differences we bring into the school. Once I realize how worthy my teaching is, then I am free to be as I please, to smile when I’m happy and to chat to whoever I want. For me to know what teaching can give me, as I’ve felt it before, makes me see that I can give so much more and that this is only the beginning. And the more experience I gain, the more I’ll realize that wherever I teach English, no matter what country it may be, I’ll always be free to be as I am.

In Kayamkulam I was teaching with my personality. And that’s what I loved, that’s what I’m good at. Here I’ll be doing the same. The school knows that last week I walked into the office at my lowest point and they know on what terms I’m staying: I’m going to be my own person, regardless of the discipline applied. With this honesty I gave them, I created my own sense of freedom. This is what I have to remind myself of. If I can’t have freedom in the physical sense, then I can seek it elsewhere. And that’s what I’m doing.

Needless to say, this turn-around on Friday took its toll. I was shattered by the emotions. I felt I had been to therapy, and I hadn’t spoken like I did with Paul, for a few weeks. But it was good. This would work. I simply was doing a “180” again, and I’d adjust my mindset. I was and am happy with the decision I’ve made. I’m so happy to have Paul here. Because I simply don’t have the experience required, to do this by myself in such a school. Not at this point in time. I still need training and help. And that’s what Paul is offering. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself or expect so much.

So from Monday (the 14th) I’ve been approaching this job, as being an internship, or work experience. I’m studying and I’m learning in my free periods and I’m in the right environment to put into practice what I’m learning and creating. This will give me so much experience, in many different aspects and I’m determined to get as much from it as possible. I have my freedom once again. Nothing has been lost since coming here, but everything has been gained. Already it’s an amazing feeling, no matter how challenging it was or how challenging it may become. The world is once again an open door for me. This is what Paul from Manchester made me see!! How brilliant it can be to meet such people.

Choosing to rise

Up until meeting him that morning, I was sure this job wasn’t for me. I convinced myself that my first teaching experience in Kayamkulam, was a one-off and so, developing any teaching skills was pointless. I felt I was wasting time. But what would I do, if teaching English is suddenly NOT what I want? How will I travel? Had this teaching experience at Ebenezer taken my lifeline? Had it taken away all the opportunities that teaching English abroad can give? Had these 2 weeks closed some doors?

By speaking to Paul I realized that by running away from a job and a profession and mentally closing down all the travel opportunities and experiences this job would offers, at the first sign of loneliness and confusion, I wouldn’t be fully embracing what teaching English is abroad is all about and what it stands for. I would forever be so fixated on that amazing experience in Kayamkulam, that no other school would ever be right, or feel good. As a teacher of English is these countries, I need to realize that every single school is different. I just never expected the difference to be so huge. But that’s the contrast of the Indian culture: there are contrasts in every corner of this country and it’s inevitable for this to also be reflected in the education system. The differences are not only the size of the school. But it’s also the religion, the district, the location, the wealth and the belief and value system they follow and teach to the students. Each school is also shaped by the wealth of the students families and their general backgrounds.

To find myself in school that’s different than I’m used to, is only making me rise to the challenge ALL English teachers in foreign countries are faced with at some stage, which is: to stand strong and be proud of my personality, my energy and my lessons, and to be proud I’m not from India and be proud that I AM different. Also to ignore the discipline the other teachers must follow when being at school, and do as I wish. To know my own values and beliefs and in that strength be aware of how worthy I am as a teacher (even though I’m not as highly educated as the Indian teachers I‘m surrounded by). To then be proud and feel worthy of the human being I am. In turn I can be less harsh on myself when considering how many things can so easily effect me, or anybody else for that matter, in an environment so different without ever having experienced this before. I see that the first 2 weeks of my stay here at Ebenezer were challenging. I’m now rising to it with the help of somebody more experienced. I accept the fact that I’m only human, I’m not a robot and that, really, by choosing to stay and getting as much from this experience as possible, doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I can face all of these challenges and I am rising to them, as I sit here and type!

And in walked Paul..

Wednesday and Thursday, I started to feel calm each morning. I continued my classes. I was writing and writing every free period, all to keep my mind focused on breaking free, or else I was afraid I‘d get too settled and decide to stay. So I was planning where to go. My mind was already away from teaching. I had suddenly taken a disliking to the whole profession and I was sure that it wasn’t for me. The passion to teach that I found in Kayamkulam and had brought to Ebenezer, had vanished within the space of a week and I was eager to find another way to sustain my travels. However, in between all of this “certainty”, I enjoyed the lessons I was still giving. They gave me light and hope. But hang on!!! That’s not what I wanted! I wanted to leave, right! What a contradiction. I got more and more confused with the different thoughts. I got too much inside my own head. I didn’t want to bond with the kids and any brightness I got from my lessons, I rejected and felt guilty for feeling, because it got me doubting whether I should stay after all. But I blocked it out. Just like I blocked some contact with the teachers, for not wanting to get too close to them and suddenly “leaving“. I wanted in my heart but I couldn’t let myself. I remained silent and I spoke with nobody about my plans to leave.

Up until Friday morning, my mind was still made-up. I was going. Then the phonecall came. It was the agency saying that the new teacher from England had arrived. He would be at the school within an hour! I couldn’t believe it.. It was actually happening.. I was being “released” (even though they still needed and wanted me to stay). I felt sick though. Huuummmmm. Right, I had to stay focused and I swore not to be persuaded into staying.

Then.. in walked Paul. A guy in his late 40’s from Manchester. A white man speaking with an accent so strong, I instantly thought of Coronation Street and Eastenders. What a familiar sound! How nice! The strangest thing I thought: there is actually life outside of this place! Paul was in England only 2 days ago! The world is still turning and life is still going on outside of this prison? What a fantastic feeling. I felt such a relief just seeing him and hearing his English. It was like I had been given a lifejacket and he was rescuing me from the “island” I felt I had landed myself on.

I didn’t run to the hostel to pack my bags, instead we spoke and spoke about the whole situation, for hours. I was being totally honest about wanting to leave, about feeling imprisoned, about my classes not going well, about my confidence being shattered and about my spark having gone out. I spoke about the discipline that’s being applied and about the barrier the local language creates between myself and the teachers.

Paul is experienced when it comes to teaching English is such foreign countries, which was a big plus. He understood everything. He listened and listened and even though he didn’t know me, he wanted me to see this through - not for the agency, not for him, not for the school, but for myself. I didn’t know what I was doing at that point in time, but just by having a friend to listen to me talking, was making me see the light. I realized so much.

Prison Break?

Ebenezer. The boarding school where I didn’t think I’d stay. I’m still here though. It’s been 2 weeks since first arriving, and the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on, has been whacky ride.

The story so far: My last update, I had reached a decision to stay and rise to the challenge. However, the day after writing myself towards strength and clarity, which was last week Monday, the 7th, I was again in despair. I had to leave. I wanted to break free. The feeling of misery was heartbreaking. I had to take action. But I wasn’t too sure if I had the courage and strength. I had to confront the vice principle and tell her I wasn’t happy. At that point there was still nobody who knew just much I hated being here and how awful I felt. I had to speak to someone, even if it was a woman holding such a position of authority. So for once in my life I was going to say exactly how I felt about the institution I was working for. It took so much for me to sit across from her stern look and tell her my reasons for not feeling that I was able to teach here. I didn’t break down though! I stayed strong and said exactly what I was dealing with. I told her I felt uncomfortable, I wasn’t able to be myself, my method of teaching wouldn’t be appreciated by the school and my confidence has suddenly gone and therefore I’m not doing a good job! She suddenly went from being the ice-queen to being a human-being with a heart. She placed her hand on mine, as I sat across from her, and told me the school would support my needs and that she was understanding of what I was going through. She was going to speak with the agency I’m working for and see what could be done.

I walked away, knowing that I still didn’t want to stay. I felt like a failure for not saying what I already knew to be true: I wasn’t planning on staying, no matter what she would do. I went to my room and broke down for the ump-teenth time since arriving. I had reached my all-time low. I couldn’t even bare the light of day anymore, I had to have darkness, I couldn’t stop the tears and my heart was breaking. I was homesick, I wanted to be in Ireland. I wanted a plane to get me out of here.. This was the first time since the start of my travels that I actually longed for home. Wouw.. What was this place doing to me?

The rest of the day, I was numb. I couldn’t smile, I didn’t speak. I was a zombie and felt so alone. I had to keep acting though. I had to keep making my “prison-break” happen. So the following day, again I gathered all of my strength and sanity together and went to meet the vice principle once more. Now they had arranged a meeting with another member of management. Things were getting serious! I went in and cut straight to the chase. I blurted out: “I’m leaving, I can’t stay here anymore”. Panic is what I saw on their faces. I hadn’t really thought too much about their situation, I was too focused on doing what I needed to do, for the sake of my sanity - no matter how selfish that my sound. I didn’t want to think too much of the consequences and about the students because I knew it would make it harder for me to leave and I’d be persuaded to stay. So I instead, I spoke clearly, expressing once more that I’m uncomfortable, not happy and don’t have the energy I usually would have to bring my classes to life and therefore for them to be a success and I’m simply doing a bad job and nobody is benefiting from my lessons right now so it’s best for me to quit while I hadn’t made any impact.

They were so understanding, but still requested me to stay until the other English teacher arrives from England, which they said would be on Thursday (the 10th). They said they’d then respect and accept my decision to leave as soon as I wanted to. So, as I started to see how it would upset the school, I reluctantly agreed to stay, as a “favour”. It went against what I had wanted. But for the sake of the school, it would make the situation a little better..

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday June 6th - Yes, I can smile!

Still Saturday. Matters weren't made easier, that I couldn't contact home. I had no way of ringing for a proper chat. I had no internet connection and felt so distant from everybody, I even felt distant from myself. I hadn’t been online in over a week, which has happened before since my travels, but if felt to be far longer than just 9 days. Probably because so much has happened. I got permission from the principle to go to the nearest town, Ettumanoor, in the afternoon and I made it my mission to contact home. But, because it’s the monsoon season and there are so many storms, the connection and the electricity is something we can’t rely on. So I didn’t get connected in the way I wanted to, but I managed to at least get some emails sent.

It’s crazy how much worse this lack of communication with home, made me feel! I wanted to scream, to cry, I wanted to curse this country and the rudeness of the men and the lack of “convenience” when trying to live life. I actually asked myself why I’m doing all of this??!! I’m in a school that’s not for me, I’m walking around a small town that’s chaos, dirty and overcrowded, I’m being stared at, I’m missing home, I’m alone and I have no clue of nothing.. This is how I was feeling yesterday afternoon. I was sick to my stomach, woozy in my head and weak in my body because of it all. It was madness that was going on!

Just as quickly as this madness came, it also disappeared. A while later, back on school grounds, I was fine again. I met up with the teachers, I was relaxed and I knew I’d make this job a success. I simply had no choice in the matter. I suddenly knew I could do this. Because in all the madness I was creating in my head, when my search for internet was failing, I still managed to feel confident with what I was doing. I felt strong and I felt hardy. I felt nothing was really going to get the better of me. I felt I had come so far from the person who arrived here 4 months ago. I knew India so much better - even though there’s still an enormous amount to learn and experience. Yes I was feeling frustrated by the world in which I had willingly placed myself, but this is what I came to India for. I didn’t come for an easy ride. I didn’t come for only bliss. I had it in Varkala through the surroundings and now, the place I chose to be, is forcing me to find bliss elsewhere. And it’s not in this disciplined school environment. Maybe it’s in the hours I’ll get to write? Maybe that will give me strength and set me free, until I’m due to leave?

For many, a month sounds like such a short period of time. And it can be, depending on what you’re doing, what path you are on, what you’re are aiming for and how big a thing it is, that you want to achieve, through what you are currently undertaking. For me, a month feels long, because my days in India are numbered. Had this assignment in Ebenezer been given to me months ago, say in March, then a month would have been nothing! But on the 19th of July, I have to leave the country. My visa is up. This makes me want to cherish each and everyday here in this magical land, even more than I already have been doing. I know this country has so much to offer me, I haven’t even started experiencing a side of India I so desperately want to learn more about. In these next 6 weeks I wanted get extra inspiration and learn a uniqueness for which only India is known. And I initially thought this school would be it. It’s turned out not to be. And hearing that I’ll be staying here until the end of June therefore felt too long.

But, I can do this. I know there is a reason for me to be here. And if it’s to make me feel like I’m missing out on more of India and then lead me back in some months down the line, then that will be amazing. I know it’s still to come, if I want it that much. I know I can make it happen. Just like the teaching I’ll be doing here; I have to make it work. And therefore I will.

Sunday June 6th - No more smiles

Another 3 days have passed. All the questions I was facing myself with, since Thursday, reached breaking point yesterday afternoon (Saturday). The questions I asked myself were: should I stay or should I go? Should I stick it out and go against my “gut-feeling” and force myself to make this chapter in Ebenezer somewhat of a success? Or should I follow what I had realized I wanted to do - which was to leave this environment?

Friday passed in a daze. I didn’t have many classes, so all I did was sit in the staffroom and write for hours. I didn’t care what the teachers were thinking of me or what they were saying about me. I was in a zone. I gave a few introduction classes, and can hardly remember doing them. I realized I had to take some kind of action and set the ball rolling, if I wanted to make a change. Something had to done, even though I had doubts. There was nobody I could confide in, there was nobody really able to understand what I was feeling, because nobody was in the same situation. Explaining is difficult - when a conversation has the potential of going deep, or if that’s what I’m needing in order to express myself. In such cases there cannot be any barrier in the language. And here, there is. They speak superficial English, that’s all.

Saturday morning I couldn’t smile. I felt I had no purpose here. I felt I was wasting time. I felt uninspired, unmotivated, and still very much alone. We had a meeting, once again, and, once again, rules and regulations were thrown our way. My head was being invaded with “stuff” I didn’t want to know. In my mind I had already left Ebenezer. I was on the road again and I was happy and able to breathe. But in reality I was still here. I was still in this prison. To make my mind a reality, I had to act so I could get away from this place, even if it were to lead me back home, sooner than I expected. After the meeting I couldn’t speak with anybody, for fear of breaking down. I rang Babu, from the agency. Usually I would have rang Byron, who got me the job in the first place, but he’s leaving the company and flying back to England on the 7th. I told Babu that this isn’t working out. I told him I’m not happy, that I cannot stay and that doing a good job here is nearly impossible, if I’m feeling so low. He requested me to stay until the end of the month. A verbal agreement?? Hummm.

I knew that I didn’t want to let anybody down and I knew that if I were to leave, with or without his consent then the company could get into big trouble. I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I wanted to act correctly. So I agreed. I’d have to stick it out. I’d have to adjust all my thoughts. This was doable. But adjusting my feelings wouldn’t be so easy. After realizing I’d be staying, I broke down, once again. I was miserable and didn’t know if I’d cope. A part of me didn’t even know if I WANTED to cope! I was feeling heartbroken and so alone.

Thursday June 3rd - Concluded

Teaching is always fun. But will I get the chance to build some kind of relationship with these kids? I have 12 different classes each week and I only see them for one hour. Is that enough for me to make a difference to them, if I’m leaving in 6 weeks time? My main reason to do this teaching, is to make a difference. But in this school, I don’t know if I can. What I’m trained to do, is so insignificant when considering the vastness of their education. I want to give so much more and I love being in the school environment and I love being in front of a class. So soon, after only a few days of teaching, I don’t feel like I can make a proper contribution. I know I have so much more to give but here everything is in restraint.

The schedules are from 06.30 am until 09.00 pm and everything is set in order, from mealtimes, prayer times, study times, homework times. We have a few free hours in the afternoon, but they are also to be monitored and questioned. I know that’s the way it has to be in boarding schools. But I don’t even feel comfortable to interact with the kids in the corridors or in the canteen. I feel wary to just be me and to smile and laugh. I cannot express myself or chat in general because of the language barrier and the camera monitoring. The teachers have to be so disciplined with the kids, it’s almost sickening. And this is where I don’t fit in, because I’m not at all strict! I cannot be harsh, for no good reason. But it’s what is expected of the teachers.

Indian teachers all have a “air” around them when they walk around the school. Outside the school it isn’t visible. But in the school, they become different people. They walk with their heads in the air, with a stern look on their faces, showing strength, authority and discipline. That’s not me! I’m not even considering being like that. No way! I don’t want to become rude or harsh or blind to how great these kids are, who have become so controlled and conditioned due to the environment they are in. If I could, I would get all these students to come of their shell and encourage them to be as they feel. I would want them to rebel against being put into boxes and restricted so much. I’m so not cut out to be a teacher in a school where they encourage such discipline. And it’s the main difference between the school in Kayamkulam and this school. In my first school the kids are so free and they are exactly how they want to be. Okay, this means it’s a lot harder on the teachers to do their job properly, as I’ve already realized when comparing the classes in both schools. But for the kids it’s better and isn’t that the main thing? I think so..

I’m not too sure if this is just a moment of doubt. Maybe the next days will prove to be fine. But I’m just wondering if this is how I want to spend my last 6 weeks in India? This is the question I'm faced with, when I'm alone and I cannot escape my thoughts or feelings or I cannot be distracted by other events. Do I quit, do I give up? Or do I stick it out? Do I rise to the challenge to discover what it could give me? Or do I follow my heart and see my questioning where I am to be the sign telling me to leave? I cannot know. Not just yet. I have to still take each day as it comes..

Thursday June 3rd - Order, discipline and restraint

Restricted - in so many ways. It’s a word I hate so much, a word I had banned from my life but it’s now a word that’s apart of my life once again, all through the choices I have made.

The past 3 days I've been up and down. It’s now Thursday afternoon and after my Manic Monday, I thought I had calmed myself. I have to a certain extent, but I still don’t know whether this is going to work out or not, me being here at Ebenezer school.

Yesterday - Wednesday - was the opening day. It was also the first day of lessons. It went fine. Really it did. Being so blown away by all the newness on Monday, was no longer too much of an issue because I’d had a better day on Tuesday. I went to the nearest town with the 3 girls from downstairs to buy a saree for the opening day; it was compulsory for all teachers to wear one, for the special event. It’s the traditional Indian dress (different from the other Indian dresses I‘ve been wearing, which aren‘t as formal and a lot more comfortable - called "churidar") and has 6 meters of fabric that you have to wrap around yourself - or in my case, somebody else had to wrap around me. It takes a lot practice to dress yourself and walking, sitting and going to the toilet is all a little tricky. So I wore my new saree yesterday, for the first time. I felt uncomfortable to start with, but after an hour or so, I felt totally fine. It was one of the most special dresses I’ve ever worn in my whole life! So that made my last 2 days pretty eventful and unique.

However, I’m still up and down. I’m questioning my being here, every chance I get. I can’t help it. And I know why I’m wondering whether to stay or not; because I know how easily I could put a stop to what I’m doing. I don’t have a commitment with the school, only an agency. But I don’t have a contract, so I can walk away. I don’t know if I want to or not though.

To get back to the start of this post: Restricted. In many ways that’s what I’ve become, no matter how much I’ve told myself I’m free. On the surface, I‘m not. Today the language barrier was getting to me. It’s something that has never bothered me before, whenever I’ve been around only Indian people, who are speaking their local language (Malayalam). It’s never made me feel to be sitting on an island by myself, trying to reach out to others as often as I have the energy for, but being met with very little in terms of connection, especially when I’m with more than 2 or 3 teachers at the same time; which is nearly all day. It’s like I try, to a certain extent, to follow what’s going on around me and to find out what’s expected of me, but many teachers are still figuring things out for themselves too (because they are also new and unfamiliar with the way things work here) and to have to also explain everything to me can be too much of an effort for them, which I can understand. I never want to be too much of a nuisance or hassle. I don’t want to become too dependant on others either, when it comes to figuring out where I have to be, what I have to do and when I have to do it. I don’t want to cling to others, or be the one who is “hanging around”, looking lost all the time and constantly asking what’s been said, because of not understanding the language.

I was sick of it today. But what to do in such a situation? I need to get accustomed here and for that to happen, I have to ask, I have to question and I have to be a nuisance to them. I have to push to find things out. It’s either that, or shut myself off and not know nothing and never end up feeling comfortable here at this boarding school.

I just came from a meeting this afternoon, where more rules and regulations were thrown at us. My head became so full of the principles “bla bla bla”. It went on and on and the list of duties we are to carry out, seemed to get longer by the minute. I realized that it was going to take a few weeks before I’d fully get familiar with how things work here. But did I want to put myself to the effort and then leave so soon because of my visa running out? Was it worth the effort? What was I doing this for? For the experience, I know. But if I start to feel like an island, if I don’t have anything or anybody that will give me a reason to stay here when I’m obviously not ecstatic, then is it really worth it?


My first impressions of the school itself weren‘t all too uplifting; the corridors, the benches, the discipline.. I could feel it within the walls and was sent back to my childhood, when I was in St. Micheals’ Primary School in Arklow, up until the age of 9. I had visions of nuns walking through the halls and of students being put in the corner, facing the wall, if they were misbehaving. This was not good! Had I landed myself in a prison all of a sudden? It felt wrong. But I had to put on a brave face, smile and be happy to meet all these new faces; as each one started looking like the next - it happens so easily in India, when there are 60 dark-skinned people in front of you, all wearing the bright-coloured sarees.

For most of the day, until around 3pm, I managed to keep that smiling face on. Then, when it came to saying goodbye to Byron, I thought I was going to breakdown. I got so emotional, which so unlike me, when I’m saying goodbye to people. I can usually be sad, but to actually want to cry, when saying goodbye!! Niamh! Get a grip! Then I had no choice in the matter. I had to hang on to my emotions for a little while longer, as I unexpectedly had to attend a staff meeting straight away. The first one. This was all so strange. I sat there in the staffroom surrounded by 65 teachers and I listened to the headmistress talking about programmes, discipline, timetables, chairmen, assemblies, prayers, camera observation and more meetings and I started to feel like I was drowning. I had just lost my lifeline, with Byrons departure 2 minutes before this meeting. There was nothing for me to hang on to! I understood little of her terminology. I understood little of what was going on and I had no clue what was expected of me over the next few days or weeks. I felt so lost in this huge school (well, bigger than what I was used to). I felt so alone. Was I able to run? I could have done. But hang on: Where was my luggage?

I had dropped my luggage that same morning, in the teachers hostel (an apartment block where around 25 teachers are staying, including me), but hadn’t seen my room and didn’t know who I’d sharing with. I knew nothing! I went in search of my “new home“ and luggage, and sure enough, just in the nick of time, I found my luggage in a new apartment. I was about to explode with emotion-overload. I locked myself in my clean bathroom, and finally was able to cry my eyes out. I can’t remember how long I was there for. I just sat on the floor and felt absolutely awful. I felt to be in a prison. I had no clue of nothing but had to obey so much. Everything was so vague and the day had been one where I felt I’d made a bad impression on the teachers, I felt they were judging me, I felt like I was in the wrong place. I felt like a fake. I was surrounded by teachers with proper experience, with academic knowledge, with the assurance that they were good teachers. And there was me, sitting on the bathroom floor, in a very clean hostel I might add, crying my eyes out, feeling such pain in my heart and trying to tell myself I’m a teacher, when I‘m nothing of the kind.

What was I going to do? I contemplated escaping. I thought about how I could myself out of here. In my moments or minutes or hours of despair (I lost track of time) I couldn’t see how on earth I was going to get a grip on what was going on around me. It was too much. Getting accustomed here on this campus, felt it would take forever. But I don’t have forever; my visa runs out in the middle of July! How was I going to get used to the way things are run, from mealtimes, to schedules, to tutoring, to assisting, to planning my lessons and to, most importantly, staying sane, happy and embracing each child and each day that I encounter during my last chapter of this particular Indian adventure? It was beyond me! I felt this was going to be the biggest challenge I’ll be facing so far, since first arriving in this country.

Was I capable of being the teacher they need? Was I able to live up to their standards? I had no clue. But I had to close myself off and get back to being me again. Because, as I sat on the bathroom floor, I was temporarily somebody else. I was out of my body and I needed to return home - not to Ireland or Holland (not just yet)- but to myself. And I did. I soon settled myself and realized I had to push myself into becoming familiar with this set-up. And sure enough it started to happen a little while later when I met lots of the other teachers and 3 amazing girls in particular - Dolly, Ria and Anjana - who also live in this apartment block/hostel. We hit it off instantly and I was so happy to have met them on that Manic Monday. They saved my day, and didn‘t even realize.. How the next days plan out, will be revealing either way. No matter what happens I’ll continue to tell myself: I can rise to any challenge, nothing is forever and this chapter at Ebenezer school will be another experience, never to be classed as “bad“.

Sunday 30-05 & Monday 31-05

A hellish day. Going from a place of paradise where I felt so free, peaceful and absolutely amazed by everything, I was gradually, ever so slowly, brought to a place in both body and mind, that would give me the exact opposite. All it took was 1 day. Sunday.

I left Varkala, beach haven, to start a new teaching adventure. I had a day in “transition” in Kottayam, on Sunday night. I met up with Byron and Patsy, one more time. It was fantastic. We chatted for hours and I didn’t want the night to end. I knew I’d be having to leave Patsy the following morning and Byron the following afternoon (he was bringing me to “my new school” on Monday, giving a training and then setting off to continue his own journey). I knew I’d be starting another chapter within the next 12 hours as the 3 of us sat and shared all our travel dreams with each other.

So I could feel a change coming. It started with an uneasiness. The food I was eating was making me sick. I was dizzy and hazy once the excitement, adrenaline and amazement I got from the conversations I had just shared with Byron and Patsy, had worn off. I stayed at their apartment for one more time. But I didn’t sleep alot for feeling so bad about absolutely everything.

In the light of day, everything can feel so much better. I felt ready for the next step. I was packed and set to go. Up until the moment of saying goodbye to Patsy, we still managed to give each other words of wisdom or revealing contacts or inspiring thoughts that would hopefully benefit both of us, in the future. I felt so sad to leave her though. She’s flying to England next week, so is Byron. I definitely know I won’t be meeting Patsy in the near future, but I know for sure I’ll be seeing her again. What an amazing lady she is and I’ll never be able to thank her, and Byron, enough for what they have done for me over the past month. They had become almost my family away from home.

So I was breaking away from them, one by one. I had said goodbye to Patsy. Byron and I went to my new place of refuge: Ebenezer International school near a town called Ettamanoor. It’s a beautiful school, on a hilltop, with amazing views and facilities most Indian schools only dream of. All that’s needed to feel on top of India, by the sounds of it.. Well, to most people it would be.

However, it had a different effect on me, on this manic Monday. I had no expectations as to how things would go. An open-mind is always best when going through big changes. Little did I know just how overwhelmed I would be by the drastic change in my life. Sunday morning I walking along, freely, on a beach, doing what I wanted to do in life; writing my heart out. I was on top of the world. 24 hours later I was in a classroom, introducing myself to the 65 teachers within the school. What a turnaround.