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A Day In Our Lives At Trivandrum International School

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Much of the focus of the blog so far has been on our travels in India. Now that school is underway for us, we are in a position to share a little bit about what our school is like. Last week was the first week of classes for the Sanborns and we are quickly figuring out our various time tables and daily routines. So here is a quick look at a single day in our lives at school - Monday, September 6.

The boarding students live in separate boys and girl's hostels - our apartment is on the first floor of the girl's hostel (which is actually the second floor to an American).
Girls hostel

Girls hostel

Boy's hostel courtyard

Boy's hostel courtyard

The day for the boarders begins with a loud bell at 5:20 am. Students roll out of bed and head down to the tennis courts for a little early morning wake-up exercise at 6:00 am (our girls haven't joined them - yet)
morning exercise

morning exercise

After exercise, there is a short study hall time before breakfast which starts at 7:30 am
Jenn breakfast

Jenn breakfast

Elena breakfast

Elena breakfast

While breakfast is going on, the day students begin to arrive on the buses that traverse the Trivandrum area. The buses not only pick up the students, but they pick up the teachers as well, so there is no parking issue here at the school. And when the buses leave to bring the student's home, the teachers have to leave too.
Buses arriving

Buses arriving

Students walking to assembly

Students walking to assembly

On Monday mornings, the middle and high school students meet in the courtyard of the high school building for a short program that focuses on a current event or topic. Today, there was a short presentation and quiz on Ramadan which concludes this Friday.
Morning assembly for upper school

Morning assembly for upper school

The daily school schedule is divided up into 10 periods of various length. On Monday, I teach two classes - my 12th graders from 8:50 to 10:10 am and my 11 graders from 10:25 to 11:05 am. Outside of teaching, I have no other responsibilities but I do need to be at the school building where I can work on lesson planning. My classes on Monday are separated by a 15 minute tea break at 10:10 am each day at which everyone meets in the courtyard in front of the middle school for a snack and some tea or other drink.
Tea time

Tea time


The girls have a much more diverse day with their schedules - here's the girls class schedule for Monday (it's completely different every day):
Elena had Malayalam, Music, French, (tea break), testing, double Math, Humanities, English, (lunch), English again, study time, then sports club during which she did tennis.
Mariana had Biology, double swimming, (tea break), English, Math,English again, French, (lunch), Geography, study time, dismissal to sports club during which she had tennis.

Lunch happens in two shifts with the younger kids first and the older second.
some of Elena's classmates at lunch

some of Elena's classmates at lunch

pre-schoolers at lunch

pre-schoolers at lunch

Lunch with upper schoolers

Lunch with upper schoolers

After afternoon classes there is another snack break before sports clubs meet - the kids have sports club choices to select from on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Both girls chose tennis today but I went down and observed some soccer (excuse me, football), track, basketball, running, and, of course, cricket. I watched the cricket coach put a group of junior kids through a number of drills that were similar to baseball fielding drills - fortunately, the coach had patience.
sports club

sports club



cricket training

cricket training

From 4:15 to 5:15 pm is time to rest and bathe and at 5:15, "cold coffee" is served. After this break, pre-dinner study begin and lasts from 5:30 until dinner time at 7:30 pm.
pre-dinner study hall

pre-dinner study hall

It's during this pre-dinner time that Jenn and I have been going for a swim or a run as the hottest part of the day has past by now.
Swimming pool with jnior school in background

Swimming pool with jnior school in background

Dinner is served at 7:30 pm and because it is common practice in southern India to eat a meal with just fingers, there is a washroom near the entrance of the dining hall with about a dozen sinks for washing hands before and after meals. Many kids at our school use utencils, but when there were 15 other schools here on Friday, I noticed that most of the other students ate the traditional way. As I've said previously, Jenn and I have really enjoyed the food though on this given day, the dessert tasted much better than it appeared.
hand_washing_station.jpg dinner time for hostelers

dinner time for hostelers

close your eyes and it's pretty good

close your eyes and it's pretty good

There's another study hall time for the students between 8:00 and 9:15 pm and lights out is at 10:00 pm, a little later for the 12th graders. All in all, the day for the boarders is very structured.

So what is Jenn up to during these hours when the rest of us are in school? Last week, she kept busy with helping to decorate for a big academic event that occurred last Friday and has been researching travel destinations and logistics. She had reserved a school car and driver for a shopping trip into town on Tuesday but with the state-wide strike strike shutting down the city, she was going to have to wait until Wednesday to get some food and other items for our apartment. So instead, she rode the school bus into the next town where there was a small "supermarket" and then took an autorickshaw back from there. Sometimes, even buying a dozen eggs can be a new adventure. She was successful and managed to acquire a couple more things on our shopping list including a new set of glasses (new to us anyway)

Each day is a little different and Jenn has a number of possible projects on campus where design assistance has been solicited not to mention being a mother to couple of kids adjusting to a new lifestyle. So far, she has kept kept herself occupied.

I simply forgot to take pictures of my classroom and students and our apartment will star in its own blog entry at a later date once the interior designer who I have contracted has finished her work. It's a very nice campus. I have a few other pictures taken from different places around campus.
Campus greenery

Campus greenery

Rubber tree farm next door

Rubber tree farm next door

Banana grove next door

Banana grove next door

Land of many coconuts

Land of many coconuts

Back of junior school

Back of junior school

Administration office and junior school buildin

Administration office and junior school buildin

Posted by SteveJenn 04:38 Comments (1)

To the Palace, the Falls, and the Beach

A Day Trip to Tamil Nadu and Kovalam

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Last Saturday we hired a car and driver and drove a few hours southeast into the nearby state of Tamil Nadu. These state names and borders are all relatively new in this land of ancient cultures. We were headed to the Padmanabhapuram Palace, the former royal palace of the rajas (kings) of Travancore, the last of a long line of princely states stretching back to the second century BC. About 1750 the capital of the Travancore kingdom was moved to Thiruvanatapuram, which means "thiru-anantha-puram", or "the holy city of Anatha", the coiled snake on which the god Vishnu reclines in the midst of the cosmic ocean. Vishnu is given a special name for this non-activity of reclining- "padma-nahba" (lotus-navel) and is depicted lying on the sacred snake with a lotus growing from his belly button. Padmanabha is the principal deity of the Travancore family and the very large temple in Trivandrum.

The palace is a series of structures in a sprawling complex and is considered one of the best examples of traditional Keralan architecture.

Ornate and intricate wood carving

Ornate and intricate wood carving

The king fed 2000 of his subjects daily in these immense banquet halls

These were the king's living quarters. It's good to be king.

A polished stone floor shimmers in this performance hall.

The entrance to the Saraswati temple found in the palace.

Whenever we are out people love to have their pictures taken with us.


After the tour of the palace we had some coconut water and looked at a few shops.


Then our driver suggested we visit a waterfall that was "nearby". We bumped along for about 40 minutes and finally reached the Thiruparappu Falls. We headed down two walkways, Steve down one way for the men and the girls and I down another until we reached the falls where many young people were having fun under the cascading water. The area for the boys and girls were, of course, separated. I got into my bathing suit and joined the fun under the pounding water. Mari and Lena stood by feeling embarrassed, for many people where staring at the white woman. Fortunately, I don't usually get flat out stares at home so it probably had something to do with the fact that females in India don't wear bathing suits, even at the beach. The young women, a whole group of them who were probably college age, were having fun in the water, fully dressed. Our girls had worn their bathing suits under their clothes but it took some convincing that it was okay, this wasn't a religious site and it was just about enjoying the water. We have been talking with the girls about being respectful of the culture, especially the modesty of the women. I must tell you, we have been in India almost a month and the only female legs I have seen are my own!

As the pictures express, Mari and Lena soon joined in and had a blast. As has happened before, Steve was befriended by a hoard of college age boys who seem to think he is the king. They whooped and hollered and danced in circles around him.


After the falls our driver took us north to Kovalam beach, which is about half an hour south of Trivandrum.
A real farmer's market on the way to Kovalom

On the way we passed a Christian procession on its way to the local church. Probably a festival honoring the saint which the church is associated with.


At the beach the surf has been rough lately so you can't really swim. Just jump over the waves and try not to get tossed down. There was a group of girls on a school trip enjoying the water in their uniforms. Lifeguards patrol the beach, whistling and waving red flags to make sure that people don't go out to far. I sat and watched and tried to read a little, but the peddlers were about. I bought a fresh coconut from an older lady and then two silk sarong style skirts to hid my western legs.


It was no surprise that the life guards felt to blow their whistles at swimmers just as much as they sound their horns in traffic


I took the girls to a small hut to get de-sanded and then we enjoyed a dinner on a terrace restaurant overlooking the water. The weather was a bit overcast, but as it is low season we enjoyed the peaceful evening.

One never knows what will arrive when ordering "meatballs" in different parts of the world...

Posted by SteveJenn 10:00 Comments (0)

A Weekend in Cochin

A Visit To Kerala's Happenin' City

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The combination of a parent's day on Thursday (no classes and meetings ending at noon) followed by yet another holiday, this time a Muslim one - Eid, the last day of the month long Ramandan observance, presented us with a long weekend and an opportunity to venture a little further a far. Our destination this time was the port city of Cochin, aka Kochi, and it also presented an opportunity to take our first India train ride, a 4.25 hour trek north on the Chennai Mail, one of the express trains that made limited stops on the way.

Because I needed to be at school until lunch in order for curious parents to meet the children's new American teacher, we took a 2:30 pm train. A driver from the school was enlisted to ferry us to the train station in one of the school's three SUVs. It's always wise to leave extra travel time in case of traffic and other unexpected delays, a caution that saved us on this particular trip. Laying down on the third seat of the car, Elena started to grumble a bit about not feeling well. We had been thrilled that she found the Chinese noodles for lunch good enough to eat a full meal. Jenn told her not to lay down if she wasn't feeling well, and to sit up and take some deep breaths. She sat up and leaned over the seat between Jenn and Mari. Through the heavy city traffic the dialog went: "Mom I don't feel well" "Okay Elena, just sit back" "Mom I think I'm going to be sick" "Steve, can you ask him to pull over the car" "Mom I'm going to be sick" "Okay honey just sit back" "Mom I'm ... She never finished the sentence before an explosion of noodles showered the middle seat including Jenn, her pillow and purse, and most everything else. I can probably paint a decent visual depiction of the scene, but I don't think I can adequately capture the odor that permeated the vehicle. Elena simultaneously felt physically better and emotionally worse while we tried to figure out what to do while trapped in traffic in a city with no easy access to a bathroom and a clock ticking away on a train departure. Finally, Sashi, our kind but understandably unsettled driver, was able to pull over and allow us the chance to change clothes, swab out the car, and use the water in our two bottles to wash up to the extent possible. I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the carnage that was Elena and the back seat and the image is a true classic, but I promised her I would not publish it on the blog and that some day she would see the humor in it (a tough sell). Instead, I have a shot of one of the innocent bystanders caught in the eruption.

Despite the auspicious start, the trip to Cochin was in every other way a wonderful experience. Though the windows of our cabin were too filthy to see through very well, we all took turns standing in the open doorway of the train car watching the tropical paradise that is Kerela race by before us. The train affords a different view, a new angle on life in the rural areas and on the scenic beauty for which this state is known. Taking pictures from a fast moving train is tricky business for an amateur photographer so we've also posted some video of what we could see from our train doorway to the world of the Keralan backwaters.

Videos from the train:

At one point Jenn returned from looking at the scenery from the open doorway to find a friend inspecting a piece of coconut that she had left on the table in the cabin. Those guys kept running out and then back behind the walls again. Hmmm...

Upon arriving in Cochin, we needed to take a taxi for about 40 minutes through the noisy, bustling city of Ernakulum, where Keralans come to do their serious shopping, to the island of Fort Cochin and a completely different world. This area is primarily a tourist enclave with numerous restuarants and homestays and a very cozy, quiet, relaxed feel to it. We dropped our stuff off at the Fort Shore Homestay (which we enjoyed very much) and treated ourselves to dinner at an Italian restaurant with pizza and pasta for a nice change.

The next morning, we awoke to cloudy and drizzling skies. Hoping that the weather would clear later, we decided to do some inside tourism first and visit a couple of historic churches in Fort Cochin. One of my colleagues at my school, an English teacher whose name is Priya, lives in the hostel at our school like us but her home is in Fort Cochin so she lined up her neighbor Johnny, to drive for us for the day. The first stop was the St. Francis Church, the first Christian church built by Europeans in India back in the early 1500's. Along with Goa and a number of other Western Indian ports, the Portuguese were the first to establish settlements in these parts around this time. One of the those famous explorers you might remember from middle school social studies, Vasco da Gama (the one who showed you could sail around Africa to reach India) was buried here for a while. It currently belongs to Church of South India, which is protestant, and it one of the numerous places where it was easy to forget that we were in a predominantly Hindu country. Perhaps the most unique architectural feature of the church were the two long strips of heavy cloth running front to back over the pews designed to provide a fanning effect when rocked back and forth by ropes.


Our next church stop was the Catholic Santa Cruz Basilica (built in 1887), a church with an almost over the top explosion of decoration and color adorning the interior. Jesus sits on the altar holding the whole world in his hands. In the back of the church, a large crucifix can be viewed and presents an American with an unavoidable contrast to absorb. Depictions of the crucifixion in Indian churches are often very bloody affairs - they make me think about just how sanitized the scene is depicted when presented in most American churches. When viewing an Indian cross relic, there is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus had been brutally handled. There is no shortage of dripping blood.


After two churches, the drizzle continued - not the heavy monsoon type rains, just on and off showers, so we decided to head over to Mattencherry, a nearby area locally referred to as "Jewtown" due to the presence of an old synagogue and and abundance of antique and craft shops. Most of the Jewish population emigrated to Isreal in the 1940's and today's merchants are mostly Kashmiri merchants hawking both antiques and pseudo-antiques. Milling around antique shops is often a great way to spend a rainy day so we headed over to check it out. Jenn and I both agreed that poking around in Indian antique shops is far more enjoyable than looking at artifacts encased in poorly lit glass boxes found in museums. We bought a few trinkets (a couple of small oil lamps, an old wooden hand block) but didn't pull the trigger on a couple of more expensive items- wood carvings of a reclining Ganesh and a couple of odd-looking (my opinion - Jenn liked them) angels. Perhaps we'll see if they are still there should we return to Cochi.

For the evening program, Basheer, our host at the homestay, set us up with front rows seats at a local cultural center that presents nightly Kathakali and other Keralan types of performance. Having developed in the 16th century, Kathakali has a long history as a form of religious theatre and is immediately identifiable by the brilliant and elaborate make-up worn by the actors and the hypnotic drumming and chanting that accompanies the actors' wordless preformances. It's all in the facial expressions and you have to see an actor performing to truly appreciate it. Historically, the performances last all night and take place in temple court yards, but fortunately our performance was geared towards less committed tourists lasting only 1.5 hours and including other forms of Keralan performance and martial arts. Prior to the show, a couple of the actors were being made up in an area were we could watch up close - if I were one of the actors, I'm not sure I'd want to have to got through the make-up process every night.

Just as an aside, I noticed that Elena was completely engrossed in the make-up application process, so when I went over and asked her what she thought of it all, she leaned over to me with a very serious expression and a hushed voice and whispered, "Dad - the man putting make-up on has SIX FINGERS!" Sure enough - he did - a little extra thumb growing out of the side of his regular one. The fascinations of a nine year old...
Here's the video (look for the double thumb!)

Here are some stills and some video from the performances:


First, how to flirt kathakali style...

High Drama...

We awoke to some blue in the sky on Saturday morning and were looking forward to lunch at Priya's family's house. Before she came to pick us up, we made the short walk over to the shoreline to see Fort Cochin's famous Chinese fishing nets dipping in and out of the channel to pluck any unfortunate fish who happened to be over the net when it was raised out of the water. The style of nets that line the shore were introduced to the Malabar Coast of India by traders from the court of Kublai Khan. I've read that these nets are found only in Kerala - not in China. They are both massive and elegant requiring at least four people to work them.


While it is one thing to marvel at the elegance of these fishing machines, the best way to truly appreciate the nets is to give them a try, so we accepted a fishing crew's enthusiastic invitation to join them on their ramshackle dock (while in my mind trying to estimate how much it was going to cost us to pull their net out of the water) and did some fishing and even a little chanting while we worked.

After our fishing experience, Priya drove us over to her home for lunch were we met her delightful parents, an aunt, and some siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. It was a real pleasure to meet each of them and learn about one another's lives. At 80, her father is a spirited, independent man who after lunch drove us for a scenic loop to check out the local area.

We stopped in to a church on the way that was setting up for a festival - the Indians know how to do festivals - and checked out the interior of the chruch that was hundreds of years old but had recently been renovated. So many of the Christian churches in Kerala look brand new or newly renovated - every one seems a little nicer than the last.

After a little more visiting back at the house, Priya agreed to chauffeur us around Ernakulum to do some needed shopping. Our first stop was a large (large here meaning tall rather than long) ultra-modern mall that felt more like a disco circus than a place to buy a couple of skirts and some swimming goggles. After watching a cowboy hat wearing dwarf lead a bunch of burly Indian men through a sari wrapping contest from the fifth floor of a brightly lit, blaring music balcony, we decided to move on. Jenn finally landed a couple of table lamps (but not the bulbs - they didn't carry them) that she had been seeking for the apartment for weeks. Our last stop was at a sari shop where Jenn was shown fabric from a collection of 100's of different traditional Keralan sari patterns but she decided to wait until returning to Trivandrum since tailoring would need to be done anyway.

Because of the long weekend we had to the 5:50am train back to Trivandrum, so after an early start, we drowsily rolled back to Trivandrum in the early hours of Sunday morning. At the train station, we hired an Ambassador cab for the ride home, thus giving us another experience that is uniquely India. It was a wonderful weekend.

Posted by SteveJenn 10:21 Archived in India Comments (1)

Checking out the Neighborhood

Beyond the walls of Trivandrum International School

The Trivandrum International School is a beautiful facility and a very nice campus which is the shape of a long rectangle. Our apartment is on the end of campus opposite the front gate of the school and the entire perimeter is lined by a concrete wall creating a bit of an island effect here. The school was built on an old rubber tree plantation not too far off of the main roadway along a narrow secondary road. Each time we have come and gone from the school, we have seen numerous people along the road both before and after the entrance to the school driveway and had wondered about the world beyond the walls of the school, so one day last week, Jenn and I decided to finally take a walk in the neighborhood around the school. Normally we have a destination when we set out - this time, we were heading off to see what we could see. We were pleasantly surprised.

As we walked down the hill on the side of the road that we had never travelled, we saw lots of houses in a variety of styles and conditions - mostly small concrete or thatched homes but also a few seemingly expensive, gated homes - all were randomly sorted along the road in no particular pattern. Some people were able to sit on the balcony of their gorgeous home overlooking both the luxury car in their gated garden driveway in one direction while checking in on the the neighbors living next door in a one room, thatched roof home, tending their goats or pulling water up by bucket from their well. Some of the contrasts really grabbed our attention though all in all, most homes were mainly those of people with little income.

We were not alone on the street as we walked - most people were outside or on their porches while the children laughed and played. Based on the number of long looks that we received as we passed, I think that it's a safe bet that lily white foreigners don't come strolling through their neighborhood very often, perhaps never. The children were either extremely friendly or shy, many shouting out greetings and questions such as "what's your name?" and "where do you come from?". With most adults, all it took was a friendly wave to transform their uncertain stares into warm smiles. I had my camera in hand and so wanted to capture some of these interactions, but I find at times like this that the camera feels so intrusive. I intend to walk through this neighborhood a few more times - once I'm more of a "regular", I'll take a few pictures.

The road came to an end at the bottom of the hill and intersected with a smaller dirt path that ran perpendicular to the road. We were not expecting what we saw here - to the right, a wide open meadow that I later learned had previously been a rice paddie was lined with hanging palms, a meandering stream, and a multitude of shades of green that can only be found in the tropics. We set off along the path and in a few places thought we might have been in a tropical Eden. We traded smiles with many people whose homes were just a few feet off the path or just up the hill off of other paths - no cars were able to pass here. It was a relaxing, fascinating stroll, one we hope to do again on numerous occasions in the future. Here are a few photos:


Posted by SteveJenn 03:22 Archived in India Comments (1)

Splendor and Rubble Part One

Our journey to Agra and the Taj

Last week we finally got the multiple photo uploader to work on our blog software so we can show you some of the amazing scenes from the trip we took to Agra and Jaipur before we came down to Kerala. We hired our driver Kuldeep for a four day tour through the popular "Golden Triangle" of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur to see some of the most famous sights in northern India. Here is Kuldeep and a map of where we went:


The first day we drove from Delhi to Agra. After a few hours we stopped to see Sikandra, the mausoleum of the great Mughal ruler Akbar. If your are going to be a tourist in this part of India, you're going to hear about the Mughals a lot. The Mughal Empire flourished from the early 1500's starting with Babar (not the blue elephant) and running through a succession of rulers who built most of what you'll see in these pictures. The Mughal power gradually slipped away during the early 1700s due to some historically bad rulers who slowly let power slip away. But many Indian school children can tell you the succession of the kings during the glory years - Babar, Hamayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, and finally Bahadur Shah I. If you are at all interested, wikipedia covers the big Mughal names here

First stop - Sikandra


Then we drove further to Agra, checked into our hotel and took in the sights of the Agra Fort, home and seat of power for all of the Mughal rulers from Humayun on.


You can see our destination for tomorrow in the background:


Then we went to a shop were the artisans were crafting the inlaid marble that Agra is famous for.


After the marble shop we made a stop for an ice cream in the rain, only to realize that we shouldn't eat it because of the scoop sitting in the un-filtered water. Gave our scoop to Kuldeep and the kids had some pre-packaged bars. I bought some Jasmine from a few beautiful smiling faces:


The next morning we woke up early so that we could be there before the crowds. As is typical of most of the grand mughal architecture the monument is situated in an expanse of gardens surrounded by walls and four large entry gates in the cardinal directions. There were overcast skies as we walked along a path towards the main entry gate.


You have probably read the descriptions and seen the photos as we had, but to be there in person you realize that this monument to love somehow transcends all the commercialism surrounding it:


The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan for his third wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child, leaving him grief-stricken. Shah's loser son, Aurangzeb, overthrew him and locked him up in the Agra Fort for the rest of his life in plain view of the Taj. After Shah Jahan's death, his son buried him in the Taj next to his wife.


The drizzle came and went. The sky kept looking like it would clear, so we were content to just hang out for a few hours. The people watching was incredible.


After about four hours the clouds began to clear. The marble glistened in the sunlight and we got our pictures.


Some beasts of burden as we headed back to our hotel for breakfast:

Posted by SteveJenn 09:09 Comments (0)

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