Monday, January 9, 2012

It's always a good sign . . .

. . . when the cook starts his preparations for lunch by chopping up coconuts.

Where in the World is Malti?

I suppose it's time for another report on Malti the rat, and his visits to Andrea and Jennifer's room. The news is that there is no news. Apparently a pink towel stuffed into a hole with blue painter's tape covering a window's crack is enough to keep him out.

Of course, we all know that a determined Indian rat would make short work of such flimsy attempts to keep him away from the two's stashes of clothing. My belief is that he's a discriminating rat who wouldn't be caught dead entering an apartment guarded by a pink towel and blue tape.

When no news is good news

You know, media gets a lot of criticism these days for what it doesn’t report. That’s true of social media as well. As I was thinking over the posts in recent days, I realized that I haven’t been reporting on the most important part of the trip – what’s happening in the backpack journalism lab. It’s not news if everyone is working hard and we’re making great progress. But that’s what is happening.

We got off to a great start before we came when we selected the current group of student assistants. Andrea Anderson, Jim Burns, Jennifer Solorio and Chris Whitman are a wonderful blend of journalists, technicians and, I think, great teaching potential. Maybe not as classroom teachers, but these four are going to be teaching others their entire lives, both on the job and in life. Their work ethic has enabled us to progress so far that we can have time for the sightseeing we’ve been able to do. It helps that we start our days early and keep going until well into the evening (OK, well into the night). For example, in all the time we’ve been here, I’ve only been able to take time for one short nap.

This workshop follows my personal philosophy of giving students guidance, knowledge, then get back out of their way and letting them go with our help as needed. It’s resulting in some excellent stories, in all mediums but especially in the ones we worry about most – video and photos. Students have been in the lab writing and editing every day since we arrived, including Saturday and Sunday, and generally until we boot them out when we’re all tired. Then they’re here early the next morning. Yesterday, for example, a student came for the lab key while we were eating breakfast more than an hour before the lab “officially” opened.

Another result of this dedication is that four of the six teams are virtually finished as of now, with two days to go. And the other two are well on their way. Sure, I anticipate glitches (I’m still editing their print stories, and videos are still in rough version), but I’m hopeful that we won’t have the extended work into the wee hours as sometimes has happened.

A journalism cliché is to say that it’s not news when dog bites man – and that’s why I haven’t written much about the classroom. It’s just business as usual, students doing great work. It’s why I love this business

Sunday, January 8, 2012

When monkeys attack

It was one of those days. We were headed to visit a Jain temple (a fascinating place, by the way). We pulled into a parking lot next to the temple, only to find about a dozen large monkeys sitting and standing in the middle. Unfazed, we pulled into a parking spot on the side, and got out, cameras ready just like any other tourists.

Suddenly, someone made a sudden move behind the monkeys, and they headed for us -- using Andrea and Jim as launching pads en route to what they considered safety. Carole and Jennifer fled to a stone wall about 20 feet away while I kept on snapping photos.

Unfortunately, something happened so none of my photos were saved. The ones here were shot by Carole using a telephoto lens. The first is of the monkeys swarming. The second is Andrea showing her resilience by feeding the monkeys after they had settled down.

Our workshop has paid off handsomely for St. Xavier journalism students

One of the nicer aspects of this year's visit to St. Xavier's is the positive reinforcement that our prior visit really paid off. A check of that roster shows that nine of the 34 students and professionals in that class are now employed as journalists, including one in England. Another nine are currently enrolled in masters' degree programs that should lead to careers in journalism. Few Indian colleges offer straight journalism programs. Generally students enroll in a masters' of English class to pursue a journalism degree.

Enrolled in this year's class is a younger brother to one of the attendees at the last Backpack Journalism workshop. Zubin Gomes is this year's student (he's on the left in the photo of the two brothers cutting up outside the St. Xavier Mac Lab) while Boris Gomes is a student of design hoping for a future in the media. He cut his design teeth in the 2009-2010 class.

Boris is only one of seven students from the former class to visit. Two of note are Aman Shaw, who is a reporter for Thompson-Reuter's news service and Aditi Shishoo who is public relations manager for Harley Davidson in Ahmanabad.

It's good to see that our training helped shape these students into good producers of media.

Just making a living the Ahmadabad way

We in the U.S. talk a lot about small business and jobs. Here's an example of small business in Ahmadabad -- a barber shaving a customer on a sidewalk with a lot of onlookers. There was another barber within 50 feet. And this particular sidewalk, as with many others in this city, are filled with entrepreneurs. Of course they don't think of themselves that way. They're just making a living.

America, India, Facebook, the Internet and my birthday

Thank God that ordeal's over. Finally my seeming neverending birthday is over both here in India and in the U.S. With the spread of the Internet and Facebook, I ended up with more than 70 people from four continents wishing me a happy birthday. Enough already.

Here in India, it was three parties and three cakes. It started with a party from my students outside the computer lab at St. Xavier. That's where the photo came from. Seems they have a tradition that the person observing a birthday slice off a piece of the cake, then they shove it into his or her mouth. So that's me with a piece of chocolate cake being stuffed into my mouth. As I cut the cake, I heard my first round of "Happy Birthday." The second came with the Jesuit fathers in their residence -- along with a second chocolate cake. The final one came at a tea with Father Cedric Prakash at his peace-making center -- along with chocolate cake. Do you detect a theme here?

OK, I get it. I'm a year older. And thank you all for the best wishes. I really do appreciate them, even though I hate having a fuss made over me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Notice: The elephant ride is postponed until Monday

Because the elephant has the flu.

Wow! Chicken for lunch

Dining at the St. Xavier Jesuit Residence was excellent as usual today. Breakfast offered great omelets, and lunch had chicken. That was different from last night’s chicken curry, or the fried chicken the day before or the chicken in rice the day before. Oh, are you seeing a trend here? Yes, we get served chicken at almost every meal except breakfast (then it’s eggs). It’s all good, but the neverending poultry offerings might grow pretty boring after a while. The chicken run is broken up by fish (excellent tuna steaks in a masala curry a few days ago), but the mainstay is chicken.

There’s a reason, of course. We are in India where 80.5 percent of the population is Hindu, which doesn’t eat beef, and 13.4 percent is Muslim, which doesn’t eat pork. Also, Ahmedabad is in the Indian state of Gujarat, which has one of the most restrictive laws concerning beef in India. It is illegal to slaughter cows or to sell purchase, or transport beef. The maximum penalty, according to a recent story in the Indian Express newspaper is imprisonment for seven years.

The Express blows away another stereotype, though, by pointing out that this is the most restrictive state concerning slaughtering cattle. Most of the rest have much less restrictive laws, including Kerala and the Northeast where not only are there no restrictions, but eating beef is common.

Coeds abroad: The fifth plague

It wasn't just another visit from Malti the rat, but a flood that hit the Casa Anderson-Solorio. (Let's see that makes five plagues counting the monkey jumping on the roof, Malti and the squirrel. That means there are only five more headed their way.) This one came when Andrea was showering. Suddenly she realized that water was pooling up around her feet. After trying to call me (her newly-acquired sim card phone didn't connect), she finally reached Jim who got the Rev. Daniel and cleaned up the flood. It was a plugged drain.

Deju vu all over again

Last time this program came to Ahmedabad, we were shocked at a newspaper story of a man driving a scooter who had his throat slit by tangling with the glass-covered kite strings of kites preparing for the kite festival coming up next week. Today's story was of a woman driving along to pick her kids up at school when an errant string wrapped up her throat. She bled to death, the Times of India said.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Coeds abroad: Malti's tale, part 2

He was back, Andrea exclaimed, speaking of Malti, her and Jennifer's new pet. "He came back into the room last night, but we screamed, jumped up on our beds and smacked our shoes together so he ran out a hole. We stuffed a towel in it and covered it with tape."

The battle continues.

Coeds Abroad: Malti's tale

Let’s continue the tale of Malti the rat. As you may remember, that’s the name Andrea and Jennifer put on the rat that graciously offered some companionship at 3 a.m. the other night (actually Andrea growls that rats don’t deserve names). They originally named it Monty, but were persuaded to switch to the Indian spelling since it’s an Indian rat. Anyway, Malti first entered their lives via an unexpected entrance, especially unexpected was Jen’s scream, chasing the poor rat away (for a first-hand report, go to Andrea’s blog).

The addition of Malti to the cozy household was passed on to various people. This morning, the Fathers Vincent (Braganza and Saldanha) were with Andrea, Jen and me at the dining table when Father Braganza (pictured above) started to explain that he had arranged for a rat trap to be installed in their room. “You’re not going to kill it?” Andrea exclaimed. Oh, no, replied Father Braganza, it’ll be a cage trap with cheese. As he asked for details, it became obvious that once he had made sure the serious aspects were covered that he and Father Saldanha were beginning to enjoy the reactions from Marquette’s finest women. As one or the other scored a point (as evidenced by a reaction from one or, generally, both of them), they would exchange a finger bump just as American students would exchange a fist bump.

They moved on to discuss lizards – “What?” said Andrea, wide-eyed. And then Father Braganza talked about a visit he had with Rajastan's famous Karni Mata Temple, a temple dedicated and overrun with rats. Laughing he described how he walked barefoot among them with Malti’s cousins running across his feet.

I don’t know what I enjoyed more, the reaction from the students or watching the two priests having such fun with them. Finger-bumps all around.

And now, the work begins

My main job here is to teach writing, both for print and video. But yesterday we let the students loose with the toys they really crave -- video cameras. It was fun watching the joy and pride on their faces as they completed a simple video exercise, which meant go out with cameras, shoot some video, then edit it into a small video project.
Today they're back in the classroom, working hard on their major story projects after being reminded that planning and research are the most important keys to success. Once they've got their project's tasks allocated, and a shooting script written, they'll swarm around St. Xavier with their cameras. Above are some of the teams and their mentors. The top photo shows a team listening while Jennifer talks; the middle team works out who will do what while Andrea (she of the blonde hair) watches on; finally, Jim makes a point to his team.

Another stereotype bites the dust

Oh, yes. Before I forget: India is hot. I've known that all my life. Indeed the days in Ahmedabad are quite warm, usually in mid- to upper-80s in the afternoons. But it's not afternoon now, and I just passed one of the workers who was wearing a parka and ski cap, just like good Wisconsinites are today. I'm wearing a shirt plus a sweater and am still chilly.