As I stepped off the plane and entered New Delhi’s modern and pristine airport, I thought how India had changed. However, once I opened the doors to the bustling streets of mopeds, rickshaws, taxis, honking horns and roaming cows, I knew India was still how I remembered it. I was almost knocked breathless when the seemingly 1000 degree temperature and 100% humidity hit me with a blast. It’s time to let go of western conveniences and find the hidden gems in this developing country. After a night in a lovely Delhi hotel with AIR CONDITIONING ( I’m not quite ready to let go of cool air), I flew to Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, where I will spend the next month training teachers with Dr. Nita Kumar at Nirman School. What an opportunity to work with such a scholar who has written books on teaching methodology and is a college professor of South Asian history. She personally trains her staff to instill the Nirman philosophy of integration, environmental awareness and developing life long learners. Her goal is to provide students a quality education regardless of caste, background, religion and wealth. The first day of teacher training I walked into a room filled with 30 eager teachers wearing the most elegant, colorful, jewel-encrusted saris. They looked like princesses right out of a fairy tale book. I guided them in debating techniques followed by a lively debate on a topic that would never appeal to Western classrooms: flowers are useful vs. flowers are not useful. Today we focused on poetry and creative teaching ideas.
I can’t close without giving a little information on this fascinating city called Benares by the locals or Varanasi by outsiders. I began my explorations with a trip to the ghats or step landings that lead into the Ganges River. This is not an ordinary river! Temples, shrines, palaces, and cremation ceremonies can be viewed along the ghats. Varanasi is also famous for its textiles, especially hand- woven and embroidered saris. The galis or streets are bursting with energy. Dodging through the masses of people selling their local wares and produce while riding atop a rickshaw is an unforgettable sensory experience.