Before I arrived, my main goal for language study in India was to be able to get around confidently in a marketplace (bazar) or restaurant, and to be able to introduce myself and share some basic pleasantries with new people. Amazingly, after 1 week of intensive classes, I think I’m already there. Of course my speech is painfully slow, and if I try to read hindi script I have to check my notes for every third letter. But it’s such an amazing feeling to go from completely ignorant novice to (bumbling) hindi speaker in one week. Ji ha, mai hindi bolti hu!
However, I also started my volunteer work this week, and that experience has helped to shift my goals. I’m spending 2 afternoons per week for 4 weeks, and then 2 full weeks at the end of my trip, with the Support Foundation. This tiny NGO provides education and fun activities for impoverished disabled children. (There is a taboo in India which prevents such children from attending regular public schools. I will write about this more later!) Once the children’s mothers started to see how much their kids were learning, they came to Ms. Shanu, its founder, to request education for themselves. Now the Support Foundation offers literacy classes to 5 ladies. I sat in on this class yesterday and tried some of my broken hindi: “ap kya karti hai?” They laughed at my accent and responded in rapid hindi with a lot of hand motions to illustrate their answers. What do they do? Washing, cooking, eating. Then they would ask me questions, so quickly that I couldn’t understand. I looked to the sole English speaker in the room for assistance. The ladies found it hilarious that the fancy graduate student from America couldn’t understand. But as the other English speaker and I laughed and talked in English, one of the ladies became fairly livid. “She is very frustrated that she can’t understand you!”, said Sandhya, my lone translator. Well, I feel her pain. And I certainly don’t want to contribute to the frustrations that already abound in these ladies’ lives. I’m glad that my very bad hindi can make them laugh, but their frustration is such good motivation for working even harder in my language classes. At the end of the day, with the help of Sandhya, we struck a deal: I teach them some English, they teach me hindi!