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Baby Samurai goes to school

What an ordeal, sending your baby (yes baby) to school in Indian megacities...

india,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,montessoriSince my son crossed the fateful (it seems) 15 months threshold, the first question I am asked is: “so, he is going to school?” That said, I have a feeling that this obsession with schooling is specific to the people of my residential society, because I was actually told, by the founder of a crèche chain, that in India parents are reluctant to send their children to school before 3 years. During these first years, the child is considered as an extension of his parents, a small animal that needs to be fed, changed and put to sleep – it covers his primary needs without caring for his or her own personality, nor any concern about his/her ‘development’. I must say that with extended families, kids naturally ‘socialise’, hence it is a non-issue. This lady has met is on a mission: explaining to Indian parents (especially those who are working and those who live in smaller families) the concepts of socialization etc. Apparently his sermon reached very well the ears of my neighbours, since all these rich people, exposed to Western culture, look at you like a monster if you don’t put your little one in school very early.

Except that I decided to not let that deter me, and to think for myself, puting things in perspective. In France, for example, crèche is rarely a choice, but a requirement due to the professional activity of the parents and the unavailability of the grandparents who enjoy their retirement and are not willing to get back to full time parenting with a baby. From there, one can find benefits to crèches of course, but a child cannot play with other children until at least 2 years, or even more. Before that he builds his individuality and has no place for this kind of interaction with other humans of his age. I hadn't read anything beforehand, simply trusting to my intuitions, but literature quite agrees with my state of mind. And me, I have had a great nanny, a great house with a park equipped with children at the end of my garden, so I never saw the need to impose car rides (traffic jams) and early schooling to my boy. And monetary considerations were not even considered in this decision, but they could have, since a year in a ‘good’ crèche and/or pre-school costs almost minimum 2000 euros... So I took the risk of being perceived as a bad mother, what do I care?

India,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,MontessoriThat said, I’m always open to suggestions and able to challenge myself enough, so I did try two local crèches which had a ‘mother-child’ program, when my son was 15 months. I also took my nanny along. After 3 hours, in both the centres, we left with a bad headache. I had expected playing and fun; I landed up in hell, one has no idea how noisy teachers can be. And they sing and they scream, activities one after the other at a crazy speed, not a moment’s inattention permitted to the children: don’t look away, ‘U for umbrella’. They disgusted me. And comforted me in my low opinion of Indian schools which give an exaggerated importance to the kids’ development and academic learning. My baby would have to wait 18 years before going to school! (Or at least 3 years ;) ).

My neighbor, the one I would have liked to become friend with, that I looked up to as an example and to whom I had asked advice when we moved in, lost a lot of points for insisting so much that I put my son in one of these schools where her daughter goes, poor kid.

Except that. My nanny started acting funny. Knowing very well that it would be really tough toindia,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,montessori find a gem like her, I preferred to look for school options, earlier than I had planned. I selected 4. A Swedish one – but I had to cross it off my list because they don’t take children before 3 years and half (actually my son would be almost 4 and half before being admitted, as children need to be 30 months in April and not a week later), one between home and office and 2 Montessori schools. Montessori was recommended to me by a friend. But beware, in Gurgaon, almost all the schools are named ‘International Montessori Schools’ – even if they are very much Indian and adopt only a few Montessori concepts. Anyway, the site of the Montessori Foundation gave me the name of the only two schools accredited in Gurgaon (not one in Delhi!)..

We were first to meet between a ‘normal’ school. For that, we had to take an appointment and visit outside the school hours, carrying a checkbook (the visit is not free and seats go fast, so if you like it, it is better to register on the spot, the secretary said) and a completely convoluted questionnaire – the question “kids love pleasing their parents; can you give us an example?” made me rack my brain, in vain, and after a few hours, my husband could come up with something... My child is amazing, but up till 2 (and even now, most of the time), he couldn’t give a dam about my well-being, let me be honest. And right after we had to go see the Montessori school which had answered my mail. I didn't like the name, ProductiveMinds, precisely because I was afraid of the pressure of the learning, but well, let us keep an open mind.

india,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,montessoriOur first meeting was cancelled. A missed act. And for a good reason! No sooner had I pushed the gate of the second school that I knew our quest would end there. Only one classroom, the children of all ages are all together. Each one does his own activities, in silence (no ‘master’ bellowing Jingle bells in the middle of July). A garden where kids can go to freely, with even a vegetable garden. No uniforms. And flexible pick and drop hours. Sold! And I am not even speaking about, ‘small’ bonus, the learning benefits of this education for children... This school makes me happy to live in Gurgaon, that says it all!

Since then, the nanny came to better feelings and Baby Samurai started school at 2 years and 9 india,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,montessorimonths. And everything went very well! I even got to stay a few days in the class to adapt smoothly (I mean, I got to adapt, not my son who got accustomed very quickly).

And this leaves me at least 2 years of respite, before having to dig into the selection of the next school, which is no easy task. For example, there are Indian and British curriculums. Then you must be selected and prepared to pay astronomical amounts. Education, like health, is a business in India. And not a very clean one, according to this study on corruption. And if you don’t believe me, please watch this movie, Hindi Medium, based on real events and which staged a rich family coming from a modest background who is denied entry to schools and thus pretends to be poor to integrate quotas. Super funny but frankly a little bit disturbing too...

india,education,parenting,school,school system,hindi medium,corruption,montessoriBecause beyond the financial question, there is the pressure on the kids, this race to performance, where everyone has to be the best in class because they are millions (yes, millions, the whole middle and below classes who aspire to get out of the shit thanks to the education of their offspring) behind to get the first place – but what does it even mean first place? Happiness is being sacrificed to the altar of financial and social success. All this without neglecting the extra-curricular activities. I often wonder when do they sleep these kids? And when do they play? Or just spend time with their parents? I hardly ever see any of them at the park…

And then, there is also the whole problem of a lot of poor kids (84 millions as per the last census, in 2011) not having access to education for logistic or cost issues… Or to a not-so-good one…


War of the zits (End)

india,zit,spot,skin,acne,pollution,weather,hone remedies,turmeric,lemon,ayurvedaRegarding food, if my nanny thinks it’s butter and chocolate that are responsible for my acne (1), Dr. Google has a different opinion and suggests to stop white rice and milk (both sacrosanct elements of my nanny’s diet; you should have seen her face when I told her they were the culprits (she just thought I was making fun of her)) and pasta and bread (ayurveda adds sugar and coffee). I was just left with salad. And it was fortunate, since it was the leafy vegetable season!

I refused my mom’s offer to use the radical treatment I took in my young years (Roacutane); I checked my thyroid (normal); I applied a mask (lemon juice and honey after washing the face with a hot towel) after scrubbing (with the above mentioned recipe) twice a week; I threw away the face solution of L’Occitane (I anyway never really understood how this foam could do anything against Indian dust) and ordered Marseille soap to my mother; I reduced the quantities of rice, stopped Nutella and coffee (replaced for a time by decaf) and started eating granola almost every morning; the weather changed with the summer taking over from the winter; I took a holiday in Europe. And after three months, I was (almost) saying goodbye – until next time at least! – to my (not so) juvenile acne and I still have no idea about what worked!

Except that obviously, a little while later, everybody had gotten back to their old habits, including my pimples.

Out of sheer despair, I decided to try ayurveda again. I had to drink a horrendous potion twice a day, and it didn’t even work the magic way it had the first time I had tried it, a few months after we moved to Gurgaon. It was a bit better but nothing to be happy about. Every other day I had to apply a smelly paste on my face why terrorized my son – he was yelling to everybody that I had become a gorilla! The treatment got ended by a formidable liver attack which required another ayurvedic medicine, much more drinkable this time. At that point of time, I couldn’t even be bothered about my face anymore…

For mother’s day, my husband got me… ayurvedic soap and oil… for acne. No useless gifts in our family!!

And then, slowly slowly, things started getting better, after seven months of ordeal. They definitely got better when I stayed a couple of weeks in France. I am not far from declaring that my skin is allergic to Gurgaon! Well, life goes on…


(1) In the same vein, I began to ‘check’ the popular theories of my nanny. And she has a lot of them!

Do not mix milk and fish. Beyond the fact that this association seems strange to me, I had never heard of this interdiction. Thinking of it, I actually have never heard about any food you could not combine with one another (except Baileys and Coke). Is this to say that this ‘science’ got lost somewhere (at least as far as I am concerned)? Or is it different in France? I found a recipe for cod with milk. And then I also found that Jewish ‘science’ says no to fish and milk. And finally that there is no risk of allergy or toxic reaction but rather digestive.

Do not mix meat and fish. “Because one lives in water and the other on the ground” according to my nanny. But she allows to mix fish and chicken because “chicken fly, it doesn’t really lives on the ground”. She had to justify fried rice with chicken and prawns! But then what about paella? Here again I find Jewish references on the issue, funny isn’t it?

Sources : ;  ; ;  ;  ; ;   


War of the zits (Beginning)

India,zit,spot,skin,acne,pollution,weather,hone remedies,turmeric,lemonMid-January, I started getting pimples on the face. I chose not to panic: one or two spots when you get your period is quite normal. Except that the bastards multiplied really fast and soon it (I) became quite ugly. Not knowing what to do, I continued washing my skin thoroughly and applying a bit of Kailash Jeevan (a magic Ayurvedic cream one can found in Mumbai and which heals any kind of injury; you can even eat it to cure indigestion!). But it just got worse. So when my nanny told me about her magical cure for the third time, I finally paid attention. According to her, I just need to use a home-made scrub: coarse sugar, salt and lemon juice. Not convinced and anyway enjoying a respite of the blooming, I let go, until new pustules appeared and she puts the ingredients in my hands, hereby stopping any kind of discussion. After all, I thought, maybe I should listen to the good old ‘folk wisdom’ (or knowledge? belief? common sense?) that has (almost) been lost in Western societies? So, I applied the scrub two to three days in a row, feeling my skin getting clearer. But a trip to Mumbai forced me to interrupt my ‘treatment’ for 3 days.

I enjoyed this short stay to go and say hello to my old nanny I had not seen for a year. She greeted me without any preamble:

- But Madam, what is this on your face? But it’s ugly, you must do something!

- Hello to you too! Yes, I know, I'm trying a scrub with sugar, salt, lemon.

- Lemon? Are you mad? No No, you must make a paste with turmeric and Chickpea flour and it will dry the infected parts very fast. Saffran is known for its antiseptic properties: when we get an injury we immediately put saffron, even you know it. But do it, huh, because this is really awful.

All that in front of her new employer, a girl I was meeting for the first time. Fortunately I’ve not been ashamed of anything in a very long time! Which comes handy when you are in your thirties and have the face of an adolescent with unleashed raging hormones.

I used my time in the taxi driving me to the airport to ‘check’ on the Internet what ‘science’ has to say about mIndia,zit,spot,skin,acne,pollution,weather,hone remedies,turmeric,lemony nanny’s popular wisdom. Nothing about her scrub in particular but a clear message: ‘avoid scrubs’ because they attack the skin which is already traumatized enough (more precisely, when the skin is attacked it produces sebum as protection, and sebum is already produced in excess which is what clogs the pores, leading to infections). I could have checked earlier... What my nanny had also conveniently avoided to tell me it is that when this happened to her, the calci face, she scrubbed it with so much energy – what am I saying? With so much violence – that she is ripped half of her skin off. So of course the pimples left as well. Sometimes, I think she gets me concerned.

And then, at the airport, the army lady who checked me spurted a “but what do have you on the face? Is it chicken pox?? ”. But what is wrong with Indians that they always comment on your physical looks like that?

On that note, I tested the second recipe. ‘Improving it’ by adding lemon juice to bind the turmeric and the flour – upon the insistence of my nanny who really wants me to put lemon on my face (about this I read an interesting article with varied opinions on the use of lemon on the skin, which apparently, science rejects). What I can say for sure is that it had a great impact. On the bedsheets at least. When Baby Samourai grabbed the cup and spilled the powder all over: saffron is magic, you can hardly remove it. Other than that, I continued to apply the paste every night, for three days, until I forgot.

I had already tried an Ayurvedic medicine which had had terrific results, working as a blood purifier or something like that. But this doctor, just like all the dermatologists I’ve met before, treated the symptoms without trying to understand where the problem comes from. Food and digestion? Lack of sleep with baby Samurai waking up two or three times every night? Hormonal imbalance? Pollution? Weather? Dust? Stress? Anything else?

(To be continued)