A wide-eyed girl on the other side of the world

I have a 5.30am start. When the alarm sounds, I’m straight out of bed. I’m distracted from getting ready with numerous attempts at coaxing my friend, Bryony, out of her slumber. We started planning our eight week stay in India three months ago and although the excitement surrounding it long surpassed our initial arrival here, at 5.30 in the morning she’s no different to many teenagers the world over, despite our enviable Asian location.

Vikki Hutton in India

When she finally surfaces, we dress in jodhpurs for horse riding. There are stables on the same grounds as the school where we’re teaching and Kirit, who we’re staying with, offered us the chance to learn during our stay. His wife, Ruby, founder of the school, isn’t up when we leave at 6am on the back of two motorbikes. Bryony and I take turns riding with Kirit as our friend Malay is a reckless driver, dodging lampposts and stray cows at the last second.

I ride for half an hour on a horse named Black Beauty before returning home for breakfast. Our first meal of the day isn’t Indian – we have cereal. The milk isn’t safe for us to drink here so I’ve had to get used to having bottled water on my chocoflakes. I pack more water in my bag with everything I need to teach at school that day; it’s the height of summer so temperatures are reaching 45 degrees.

I go to school either with Ruby by car or in a little yellow bus nicknamed ‘Magic’ with our driver and friend Ashok. Assemblies take place until 8am; I often hear prayers on arrival. Morning lessons are with the youngest schoolchildren, ages four and five. Their delight to see us every day is always heartening; I’ll never forget the absolute joy on their faces from the morning they learned the Hokey Cokey.

I look forward to teaching the elder students. Their English is impressive and they are eager to work towards the variety performance of songs and dances that will conclude our six weeks of teaching here. Often these students will ask me to join them for lunch where they ask questions about my own life, which I’m happy to answer. Most of them haven’t met a foreigner before and their eyes are being opened to my world in just the same way as mine are to theirs.

School finishes after lunch so everybody can escape the heat. I spend some time in the office with Ruby, studying a Hindi phrase-book, writing e-mails home and preparing for the next day’s lessons. Indians are famously unorganised but I don’t see that rubbing off on me; I’m here for a reason and want to make the most of the time I have working at the school with these kids.

Once home, I’m busy choreographing for the final performance until the afternoon heat forces me to stop. I normally take a nap for an hour to regain some energy.

Ruby’s maids cook us traditional, delicious Indian food for dinner. I never thought I’d adapt to eating with my hands but it’s become second nature.

Evenings are spent at home with those we call our ‘Indian family’, or out with our friends. The girls, Jagu and Vundu, take us to market where we’re stared at and photographed like we’re some kind of celebrities. The boys, Shanil and Sapan, take us out for drives and to restaurants where they refuse to let us pay. We stop for sugar cane juice from the roadside before heading home at 11pm.

I’m happy to have the last part of the day to myself as Bryony relaxes downstairs. I document another day in my travel journal – already, I’m learning a lot about myself from reading the earlier entries, and I have to wonder how these memoirs will speak to me differently over the next few years. Later I go over lesson plans and the rehearsal schedule for the next week. And then I put on a favourite movie from home, like Forrest Gump or Moulin Rouge, and I fall asleep around midnight – only stirring when Bryony comes to bed later on and switches off the telly, which she will rightly assume has been playing to itself for the last hour.

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