Friday, October 22, 2010

Slowly making progress

You know what the boys are up to, so now an update on my other project - making sure Sarwari's children receive a good education.

The first quarter's exams were held just before Dasara (about three weeks ago) and exam results were given back at the parent teacher meeting this morning. First, I had to explain to Sarwari that it was OK for her to be late to work this morning (Saturday) so that she could go to the parent-teacher meeting. That was half the battle! Believe it or not, Greg and I can function by ourselves with two boys on a Saturday morning.

The teacher reported that Naheeda was making good progress. She passed her exams with a 103 / 200. Sarwari and Nazeema (the elder daughter) were so proud of her for passing. I know from a US perspective, the "F" grade and only just barely scraping by three points above the passing mark seems unacceptable. Indeed, if William came home with a 103/200 in fifth grade, Greg and I would probably be livid.

But this is a different case. When she took the admissions test for this school, the school wanted to place her in third grade. For developmental reasons (and with personal persuasion on my part), the principal agreed to allow her into fifth grade. When she started, her reading ability was very limited - what I would classify as first grade level at a US school. Naheeda and Sarwari have been sticking to the bargain, though. She goes for tutoring every evening for two hours with a teacher from her new school who lives in their neighborhood. She comes to our house each Saturday to review all her lessons with me. (I try to make the lessons fun - showing her pictures on the computer of things they read about, taking out a globe to point out the countries discussed in social studies class, using beans and toys (aka manipulatives) to illustrate math concepts.)

I told Sarwari from the beginning my goal was to make sure Naheeda passed fifth grade. Just passing. And then from sixth grade on, as she solidifies her foundation in math and English, she should focus on improving grades. The teacher told Sarwari today that Naheeda is not the best student by any means, but she was very happy with the progress Naheeda is making. At this point, that's fantastic news.

Armand, Sarwari's three year old son, is like a sponge - directly illustrating the importance of good early childhood education. A child who one year ago was screeching and barely speaking in Hindi (let alone English), just pointed to Bagwelle and said, "dog." Sarwari then asked (in English), what color Bagwelle is and he replied, "black." She (Sarwari) was beaming to be able to show me the results of the education.

I'm so relieved this has turned out well. Greg and I were very nervous we might be demanding too much, especially given Naheeda's educational background. The last thing we wanted was for her to fail and lose all confidence. Thankfully, everyone has stuck to her part of the agreement (me, Naheeda, Nazima and Sarwari), and we all received happy news today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boys' update

The periodic update on the boys - well, mostly on Patch, since he's the one who's changing the most.

I think I'll be disappearing Patrick's bottles this weekend. Every time William has a cup or a sippy cup, Patch grabs at it and is totally engrossed by trying to drink out of it. While he's interested, I might as well make the transition, I think. Sarwari will be slightly upset with me, because it's easier for her to make sure he drinks his formula if he uses a bottle. Too bad, though! All babies must grow up, and on the mobility scale, Patch graduated from baby to toddler some months ago. High time, I say, that his eating and drinking skills do, too.

Patch easily climbs up stairs and is now getting frustrated using his hands and trying to walk up stairs. This later attempt is not welcomed! He is now trying to climb up everything - our bed, the sofa, William's toddler bed, dining room chairs, the kitchen cabinet, William's tricycle. I think you get the idea. Needless to say, he still requires constant supervision!

As much progress as he's making on the gross motor skill front, he's not very interested in learning words. Probably it's because he hears mostly Hindi during the day and not too much English from us. Since he can play well (e.g., kick a ball or put small objects into a bucket), I'm not worried - it's just different from William.

Speaking of comparison between the two boys, William continues to be a skinny minnie and Patch a chunko. William is only just in 3T clothes, while Patrick has outgrown almost all of his 12 month clothes and is wearing 18 month size. William still has some 18 month size shorts in his drawer! I didn't actually think that they would be wearing the same clothes at the same time so soon, but at this point, it's highly conceivable.

William is starting to get aware of the fact that we're leaving. He asks questions like "Who will watch me if I want to stay home while you go to the shops?" or "What will I eat for snack at school in America if there are no idlis?" We're trying to keep it very matter of fact so that moving isn't scary or sad - but I still imagine the next six months will be a little difficult with leaving here, having a transition period in the US, and then getting settled in Manila.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saraswati pooja

One thing we haven't explored much during our time here is religion. We haven't found any church service here that we're comfortable with, and without the weekly structured Christian teaching William and Patrick would get through a Sunday school program, I don't want to confuse them too much by participating in other religion's worship practices. Even though I definitely want to encourage learning about other religions and being open and tolerate, I just haven't decided for myself yet how comfortable I am with participating in other worships. I'm sure this will definitely continue to develop as we continue to live abroad.

This is why - 20 months later - William only just participated in his first pooja - a Saraswati pooja. Saraswathi is the Hindu goddess of learning (among other things). Today was her festival day as part of the Dussera (Navaratri) festival period. (Wikipedia it - I'm not going to attempt to describe what I only have a very basic understand of!). Our neighbor thus had a big pooja celebration for their daughter, who is William's age (and probably his best friend here).

A priest came to the house, and, in addition to the chanting and blessings, asked the little girl to draw the first letter of the Telugu alphabet in a plate of rice. This marked the official start of her official learning process, and will hopefully bring her good fortune for her continued studies. At least, this is what I understand from the various explanations I've been given.

We were at work, but Sarwari brought William over for the ceremony. Apparently, after about 4 minutes, the daughter was very upset and asked William to come sit next to her while the priest continued the blessings. Our neighbor was hesitant, because she didn't know how Greg and I felt about this, but while she and Sarwari were debating, William just went and plopped down next to his friend and the priest continued. Not wanting to make a double scene with both kids getting upset, they decided to allow the ceremony to continue (which is fine - had I been there, I would have agreed). The priest was only giving the blessings to the daughter, but then she asked the priest to bless William, too ... which he did.

Now I just have to wait for the videographer to bring over the tape so I can see what happened. William tried to give us an explanation when we got home - he was very animated and talked about mixing yellow and white flowers and coconuts and getting "red color" on his forehead, but I'm curious to see for myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First post in ages

I'm feeling contemplative today, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm contemplating. And I suspect that I may start this post several times before writing something that's diplomatically-acceptable. Sorry, Kiwis and Aussies, I'll leave the diplomatic rows to you. So we'll see what kind of stream-of-consciousness rambling comes out.

The first interesting thing about today was the sad revelation that yet another American restaurant has begun its descent into normalcy. After a strong start featuring fries indistinguishable from the American outlets' and burgers with decent beef (a rarity in the land of the holy cow), Chili's seems to have lost its American management and its ability to stand out. Today's fries tasted like they came straight out of a freezer bag, sans crispiness and seasoning. The tortilla chips, still passable, had a hint of staleness. And I'll never understand, when the menu clearly lists each ingredient in the burger, right down to the last pickle, how renegade mayonnaise manages to slather its way onto the bun. Anyway, maybe it's still worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood and having a hankering for a giant pile of more-or-less-American-style fried goodness, but the Chili's honeymoon is over.

We've met a bunch of new people here over the past few weeks, several of them well worth knowing better. But we've also come to that time in our tour when we start to ask ourselves whether it's really worth the effort to get to know new people. That's not to disparage the people - there are always more interesting people out there, and you never know who's going to become a lifelong friend. But is there time? We're quickly counting down the weeks here (around 10 now), and it's awfully tempting to sit around the house and read a book or watch tv or play with the boys (we should do the latter anyway, of course) instead of being social. But that's not why we're here, really, and even after 170 interviews like I had on Friday, there's always more to be done, more connections to make, more events to attend, more opportunities to be out in the community.

What I think we're really hoping is that when we get to Manila, and as the boys get bigger, more and more of that socialization for us will be through them. It's a tough spot for us here demographically. The people we know who have kids are mostly several years older than us and, more importantly, live far enough away that it's prohibitive for a kid-friendly weekday event. And Pam and I are just not at the point where we're going to hit up the neighborhood pub for a pint on a Tuesday night. But if we're at a place with some other young parents of young kids a bit closer to home, I hope some of this will take care of itself.

Ok, that's all for now. I'll try not to go so long before the next one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Memsahib means business

I intentionally caused a stir today.

For three months, we've been unable to use three of four showers, all of which are on the "courtyard" side of our house. Only the single shower on the "road" side of the house (which has a completely separate pressure pump and supply tank) has been working. We've not suffered that much, since only two of us take showers. But, with two guests coming Thursday, I really wanted to get this problem fixed.

I couldn't really understand what the problem was and felt as if I was only getting half the story from everyone I talked to - whether at work or in my building's maintenance staff. So today I decided to get to the bottom of it - or rather, the top of it. Since I don't speak Hindi, and my building's maintenance staff doesn't speak Telugu, I asked Sarwari to call down to the security guards to ask them to meet me on the roof.

Up four of us went (and then Greg and William joined, since William doesn't ever miss a chance to see how the different machines on the roof work). Between me half understanding what the guards were saying in Hindi, and Sarwari half translating, I finally figured out the problem had to do with the location of the water pump -- it was too high vis-a-vis the water tank. Armed with this knowledge, it was time to call up the building's maintenance manager.

As I peeked over the side of the building to make sure the manager was coming, I noticed lots of people were watching from various porches. Servants from four different apartments were (unsuccessfully) trying to inconspicuously see what in the world *I* was doing on the roof. Only laundry washers and maintenance people are supposed to go up there!

Another thirty minutes later of back and forth in half Hindi, half English, the building manager finally agreed to move the pump. I have no idea why it took three months for this to be worked out, but I think that by going to the top of the roof, it was pretty apparent to the entire apartment complex that I wasn't going to leave until something was figured out.

We'll see in tomorrow morning's shower if the problem really is fixed.

(PS - William had a great time watching the elevator gears go round and round.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Knowing the time

It doesn't always happen this way, but right now we have a great outside reminder between the Catholic church to the east and the mosque to the west of us. Church bells ringing each morning around 6:30 mean we're late walking Bagwelle (if we're not already outside). Prayer call at about 6PM means it's time to stop playing in the courtyard and go upstairs for dinner. The last call just after 8PM means it's past bedtime.

It's great having these outside cues for a three year old who can't tell time and for me, whose favorite Skaagen watch broke. It also reminds me of Tokyo when loud speakers in many areas play a certain song at 5:30 - I always called it the "children, time to go home" song.