The school year is quickly drawing to a close with Holy Cross School's academic year running from January to December. Indian classes are continuously in session with smaller and more frequent breaks instead of an extensive American summer vacation. Last Friday was the last day of classes and the students are anxious for upcoming final examinations, but excited to graduate to the next class level. For the next three weeks, final exams will be administered, graded, and students will receive the news if they have passed their current class level. There are only three tests per subject throughout the entire twelve months, making each exam period rather stressful for the students. After hearing stories from teachers, the final examination period is not a pleasant time for teachers or head administrators because upon receiving unpleasant grades, parents angrily storm the school looking for someone to blame. These confrontations often get pretty intense with police officers present and stories frequently making headlines in the local newspapers. Fortunately, the permanent teachers at Holy Cross will be correcting most exams so that Ellen and I will not be subjected to forceful parents blaming the Americans for the failure of their child's grade level. However, we will receive the opportunity to “invigilate” (the archaic word for “proctor”, which Indians thoroughly enjoy using) various examinations throughout the upcoming three weeks.
In order to celebrate the end of the school year, last Saturday was Children's Day, a chance for all of the teachers to perform various acts for the students. Teachers had the opportunity to perform dances, sing songs, act, and tell jokes or stories in order to provide entertainment and encourage laughter among the students before final examinations commenced. At both Blessed Andre and Holy Cross, the four of us performed “We're All In This Together” from High School Musical, as our American bit, while dressed up in the students' school uniforms. It truly was an epic act. Aja, Ellen, and I then performed a tribal Kokborok dance that the Holy Cross hostel girls so graciously choreographed for us. The entire day was more or less an intensely embarrassing experience, but hey, I'm in India, which in my mind is a “no judgment zone”. Since the video file size of both acts was a bit too large to load onto the blog, I have provided the youtube link so that you can watch us all perform in India!
After the Children's Day performance, one of the teachers at Holy Cross School invited us to an Indian Classical Music Concert. This was quite an experience. Present at this event were world-renown sitar players along with various other well-known Indian musicians. It truly was a great opportunity to witness yet another cultural aspect of India, but it was as far away from any traditional American concert that I am accustomed to. It quickly became humorous to us Americans when the sitar player had not yet begun his first song, but instead sat on stage tuning the instrument for well over a half hour while all Indians patiently and intently waited. The music finally began and one song lasted the length of an entire CD. Great experience, but I am completely content with enjoying this only once in my life because as you can imagine, it was a rather long concert.
Since the date of my last blog entry, the four of us have celebrated another large Hindu holiday, Diwali (Festival of Lights). This day is to signify the victory of good over evil. Lights, candles, fireworks, and sharing of sweets are common celebrations during Diwali. Not only do we have the opportunity to experience Hindu customs, but we even received the chance to take part in a Muslim holiday yesterday with a friend of ours. I probably should not be so daring with the food here, but at the Muslim holiday feast I ate beef! The cow was sacrificed in the morning, we watched part of the slaughtering and cutting, and then ate the meat in the evening. At least I know where the cow came from! Aside from the festivities in Agartala, we are gearing up for our long backpacking journey across India. While the students are on winter break, we will be traveling for a little over one month to the following sites: Varanasi, Agra (Taj Mahal!), Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa, Hampi, Bangalore, and Kolkata. This backpacking excursion will most likely be one of the most exhausting times in my life, but it will, without a doubt, be extremely exciting and rewarding.