This past weekend our group went for a three day trek. The first day we hiked out to our campsite, where we stayed for the two nights. The weekend was comprised of classic camping activities, such as ghost stories and card games. On the second day there was an optional trek comprised of 13 km uphill to Kareri Lake, and 13 km back down again. As I am someone who gets extremely winded on the way up to our guest house it may surprise you that I decided to do this optional 26 km trek. Though I stand by my excuse that the air thinner here, and the reason that I weeze so heavily up that hill has nothing to do with my general lack of physical fitness.
The surface of Kareri Lake is about 3000 m above sea level. I also learned that it is one of eleven sacred lakes. There was also a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva on the hilltop we ate lunch on that overlooks the lake. Kapil and Ishan led us up the mountain, they were both so incredibly impressive that I’m still not convinced that they are not super humans. I’m constantly surprised in the best way by what people can accomplish. On the way up Kapil told me that this was his favourite trek. The fact that Kapil was willing to share his favourite trek with us made me feel so privileged. It is incredibly special when someone is willing to take you somewhere important to them, that gesture alone makes it special for you too.
Your experiences shape who you are. But I think that people often forget how heavily who you are can shape your experiences. Being able to stand and look across the sacred lake made me feel incredibly privileged. I was afforded an opportunity many being don’t get to experience, even within the surrounding area, because of who I am, and who I was with. However, by going on the hike I wasn’t able to go with the rest of the group to Kareri Village. Without seeing the village, my experience trekking up the mountain are devoid of the social context and importance that it exists within. We did see other people along the way, but my focus was intently on putting one foot in front of the other. Retrospectively, it would have been amazing to talk to people in the village or on the trek. As it stands, the experience feels a bit odd, like when you walk through a neighbours’ backyard without their permission. You feel like you are invading on something special and personal to them.
All in all, the entire weekend was an amazing experience. Charlie (pictured below) really felt that hike harder than anyone else. With all the running back and forth she probably trekked twice as far as the rest of us. There is likely a lesson in there about knowing your own limits, and knowing just how hard to push them. The folly of youth.
At this point I have been at my placement here in Dharamsala for about a week and a half. I am working with the Gamru Village School, and like Natasha I was surprised with my role at my placement. I am teaching English, which I feel extremely underqualified for. As you will soon find out by reading this post, my grasp on the English language is somewhat lacking. It has been a whirlwind experience going into this school, but it has been so lovely to see the depth of the community at this placement, and how everyone knows each other in one capacity or another. However, I want to discuss something I experienced in class today while teaching the students in first standard who are around age five.
I was teaching opposites today using a set of flash cards for the first time. One set of flash cards was displaying ugly and pretty. The ugly character was the classic green witch, popularized by The Wizard of Oz. However, it was the figure used to depict the word pretty that gave me pause. Pretty was represented by a white women, whom I suppose you could describe as ‘traditionally pretty’. This made me realize that all of the flash cards that are being used in Gamru School, which is attended entirely Indian children, use white people to depict various words and activities.
It had been pointed out on a separate occasion that the presence of flash cards in the classroom as resource was a rarity. As it turns out, the flash cards used at the Gamru School for the entire English curriculum were made by a woman from the UK who is heavily involved with the school. I mean no disrespect to her, as the number of flash cards and resources she has painstakingly created is incredibly impressive. However, I realized that today I felt supremely uncomfortable as I went around the class repeating pretty, and ugly while pointing at this image of a white woman.
I think that previous blog posts here have done an excellent job of discussing concepts of power and privileges and how those are intertwined with skin colour and race. This is especially true of posts where my classmates have discussed fears of perpetuating the notion of a ‘white expert’ at the front of a classroom. In that moment in class I became very worried that I as a white volunteer with this specific flash card was really engraining and perpetuating ideas that ‘white is beautiful’. I do recall a day last week where one little girl came up to me with her Disney Princess pencil case, and pointed to Snow White while telling me how beautiful she is.
This situation has also made me think about how representation is so important with the other flash cards, and the curriculum itself. I think that the kids in this school should be using resources that reflect who they are, and that they can relate to and see themselves in.