Day 8: Jaiselmer, Rajasthan

March 6, 2006

Jaiselmer, Rajasthan

Maria, Jocelyn, Loveleen and I spent an uneasy night at the office of Srajamyaham Hastkala Sansthan on filthy mattresses and pillows rented for the evening and dumped on the floor of the Computer Room. In the main room, adjacent to the Computer Room, half a dozen men were enjoying a terribly violent movie played at distortion levels until about 3am. A big hole in the wall between us and them let in the flickering light from the TV as well as all the noise. Men would walk in without knocking to plug things into the socket in the Computer Room through the hole in the wall. One such device, a malfunctioning fan, made periodic chopper blade noises for additional effect. The toilet, which had served these men well, had no light and no water.

I don’t think John, who had been placed in the other room adjacent to the men, slept very much, choosing to work through most of the night.

It turned out that the men were here for a 15 day workshop, and later in the day, we saw a half dozen women who were also here for a workshop on dying given by a weaving master from Jaipur. Where had they spent the night?
Studying Under a Tree

One of the young men associated with Srajamyaham accompanied us to his primary school in Keetha village. When we arrived at the Keeta Government Upper Primary School, the first and second standard children were sitting under a tree, presumably learning their “ABCs” and “1-2-3s.” The third and fourth standard kids were sitting on the porch, and the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth standard kids were sitting in a classroom, waiting for us. The single teacher on site was in his room in another building adjacent to the classroom. The second teacher was not present.

The teacher intended for us to work only with the 30 to 35 middle school kids plus the fifth standard kids, but we decided to include the third and fourth standard students as well. Even so, there were only 7 girls out of the combined total of 70 students.

It was heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating to see how many of the kids were so completely at a loss given a free-form assignment. The girls in particular were panic-stricken. They couldn’t even write down their names and name of their school without copying it from someone else. They frantically scanned each other’s papers, poised to copy what was on the next girl’s page. When one of the girls crossed out a word, they all crossed out the same word. Many of the boys were the same. We’d witnessed this at almost every village school, but this was extreme. It didn’t help that the teacher, as well as other assorted adult men in the room, walked around, yelling at the children and telling them what to write. I kicked them all out of the room.

When we handed out the crayons, there was pandemonium. (This is when you need the teachers with their swinging sticks, slapping hands, and lethal voices.) We caught two kids trying to take more than one package, and took both away until we were ready to leave to teach them a small lesson. (When I first approached the first and second standard kids sitting under the tree, many of them began chanting: “one pen, one pen.”)

By the time most of the kids were done with their cards, it was lunchtime, and many asked if they could go home. We were told that there was another set of students coming in after this group left. We let the kids go home without playing games or interacting with them in any other way. We all left feeling very dissatisfied with the small amount of time we had been able to spend with the kids. Later, we discovered that there was no afternoon class. The teacher probably just wanted to get rid of us quickly for having kicked him out of the room.

On to Jodhpur.

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