Small Adjustments

I had lunch with my boss and two other colleagues yesterday. Of the four of us, I am the newest to India with only 17 days under my belt compared to 8 years, 5 years, and 1 year, respectively. They asked me how I was adjusting — what was hard, what was easy, what surprised me. This is a challenging question to answer at this point.

I’ve been surprised about how easy it has been to be here. Now, I recognize it’s not yet been three weeks, and I’m still in a honeymoon period, but even so, it’s been relatively easy. The things that have been hard or stressful have been school things, but the start of every school year is hard to some degree with all the meetings and prep stuff that happens all on top of each other. It’s more difficult if it’s your first year at a school — I’ve felt a lot like a first year teacher again as I wrote in my last post. Once I got in front of my students, however, I was back in the saddle again, and able to lead my steed off into the sunset. Hi-ho, Silver, away! I’m lucky in that I came in with a huge class of new teachers, so there’s a solid core of people going through similar wonderings as we try to figure out the unknowns together. It’s a safety in numbers thing. The returning people at my school are really great, and the local staff is the most hospitable group of people I could ever hope to meet.

I think I’m most surprised by how easy it is to make all this work. There’s a strange dynamic here because while everything my senses take in tells me I’m somewhere unfamiliar. The extreme contrasts that smack me in the face on a minute-by-minute basis include the gentile cows and skanky street dogs, the sweet smell of jasmine wafting from a flower stand and the Shakespearean foulness of decaying garbage, the orderly chaos of cars, buses, motorbikes, push carts, tuk-tuks, and pedestrians jockeying for space on the narrow roads, the unending racket of rasping engines spewing exhaust so thick that it stains light colored clothing. But somewhere in all of this sensory overload is a world of English. I can read the signs of all the stores on the roads. Most of the drivers of cabs and tuk-tuks speak and understand enough English to take me where I want to go. All the clerks in shops interact with me with English language nuance. The first three songs of piped-in music played at the new mall in town today were by Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Stone Temple Pilots. How can this be?

I don’t know what to make of the fact that so much about India doesn’t make sense. The logical foundation of this city and province and even country is not one I’m accustomed to — I sorta knew that would be the case. But I didn’t realize that it would be relatively easy to get what I need on a daily basis. I’m starting know what’s a reasonable tuk-tuk fare. I’m learning the names of the villages, or neighborhoods, where my friends live — which is big because when I first got here I looked a map and thought, “oh, I’m never going to be able to learn all the names of these places” (there are a lot — most of the drivers I’ve encountered don’t know this city very well).

There’s a lot that isn’t quite the same, but isn’t totally different, either. I teach three classes of 9th graders, old hat to me, but over a third of my students are English language learners, meaning they are not yet proficient in writing, speaking or reading English. That’s a big change. I went paddleboarding — something I love doing with friends — with my boss yesterday before we had lunch. We had a great time. I haven’t done something like with someone I worked for since I played beach volleyball with the owner of the pizza shop where I worked when I was 19. There’s been a lot of talk about committing to making this place home quickly, which I’ve done before in several new cities over the past ten years. This time, though, that involves hiring people — a cook named Isabel, and possibly a reliable driver in the weeks to come. Isabel is giving me a run for my money already — she and I seem to have differing views of who is really in charge. She scolds me for buying the wrong trash can, the wrong sized pots and pans, and the wrong rice. She laughs at me for wanting fresh jasmine in my house. She may be right.

It’s early, I get that. But so far, I really like it here. I adjusting, one small moment at a time.

3 responses to “Small Adjustments”

  1. Jason says :

    Very good post. I especially loved the “Shakespearean foulness of decaying garbage,” which made me think of Hamlet’s, “’tis an unweeded garden, / That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely.”

    I think you’re doing a wonderful job expressing the nuanced experience you’re having thus far. I’d love to hear more about your students. It can be tough to make time for a blog as the semester progresses, but I really hope you can. It’s fantastic!

  2. jen says :

    It’s been easy for you not only because it’s new, but because you are flexible and open. The challenge in life is to remain flexible and open when things are commonplace.

  3. Samaria says :

    Of course they’re piping Beyoncé songs through the sound system at a mall in Chennai; Beyoncé is universal. 😀 I’m really looking forward to hearing all about your adventures over the next two years. It’s all so brilliant.

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