The following is a guest post by Hannah Vanderpool of Praying with One Eye Open.
The sun’s warmth slipped through the iron latticework of our living room windows, burning away the early morning fog. The first call to prayer sounded over the loudspeaker filling our apartment with strains of muffled devotion. The kids emerged from their shared bedroom with sleepy eyes and plopped on the couch.
Dilsara, our Nepali house helper, whisked past them to sweep dusty floors and make beds. Breakfast would be cereal and buffalo milk, as usual.
The kids begged to watch a Popeye cartoon in Hindi, and I pretended to hesitate before relenting.
Our morning ritual in India.
After the breakfast dishes had been cleared and the table wiped down, we settled into our seats for our morning studies. We knew to use our DVD player first thing because the electricity was sure to go out later in the day. At this time of the year its unreliability had become something upon which we could rely.
We finished our math assignments with only a little fussing from the middle child, grateful for the hour of stable Internet connection. By mid-morning the apartment had warmed sufficiently and we opened the front door for streams of fresh, mountain air.
Through our screen door we could see the thick, catlike shapes of langurs that had descended onto our porch. We never tired of watching these rooftop bandits and the kids abandoned their dictation sentences in favor of watching them. Today there were three of them sitting close, a father, mother, and baby.
The top-heavy youngster burrowed himself deep into his mother’s fur as she blinked back at our cross-legged kids. The male langur reached for the sidewalk chalk that someone from America had sent us. The kids stifled squeals as he selected a fat blue piece and began to eat it, fixing his lazy eyes on them as he chewed.
The rag man’s songs on the street below reminded the langurs that it was time to be going, and with their departure I sent the kids back to their dictation.
By now it was time for lunch. Dilsara had prepared steaming yellow dhal and roti. We paused our seatwork and ate, savoring one of our favorite meals. Silently I thanked God for a house helper who could share the load of running this odd, little household.
After lunch we settled on the couch to have our daily story time. The outdoor cacophony of village life had dulled as people rested in the heat of the day. Dilsara retreated to her room to watch an Indian soap opera.
As I fanned the pages of Johnny Tremain our doorbell sounded. My heart sank. It was probably Guneev, the neighbor kid we shared the building with.
It was always Guneev. I tried to be charitable. Our Indian neighbors did not understand homeschooling. At best it seemed to them a strange whim, at worst, an insult to their education system.
I unfolded my legs and went to the door. It was Guneev. I fixed what I hoped was a serene smile on my face and reminded him that we were ‘having school’ and that the kids would have to play later. He protested for the hundredth time, adding that his school was on holiday and maybe our children should be too.
After sending him back downstairs on the promise that he could return later, I resumed our reading. I’d finished two paragraphs when the doorbell rang again. This time it was my landlady and she wanted to talk. I could tell by her expression that she would not be put off easily.
I signaled to the kids with my eyes that they could join Guneev outside. They knew the drill. My landlady stayed for two hours, talking about the weather and complaining that I didn’t come down to have chai with her often enough.
It wasn’t until much later in our conversation that I discovered the reason for her visit –that she was worried about her mother, that she needed to tell someone. This is why I came to India, to listen, to talk, and to pray.
Once again I felt the tension between my duties as a neighbor and as a homeschooler. We did not resume school that day.
India — life — got the better of me, as it often did. I hoped that these experiences were teaching my kids when I could not. I prayed that I was setting a good example for them, one of service, kindness, and balance.
We are back in the US now. Our electricity rarely goes out. No one rings our doorbell in the middle of the day, wanting to play or to chat. We never hear the call to prayer or watch monkeys eat our sidewalk chalk.
But there are still interruptions in our days. There are still times when things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped.
Homeschooling is wonderful and difficult wherever you do it, and life often uses an inconvenient curriculum.
In the end, though, our children are watching and learning from us, especially when the day unfolds in unexpected ways.
Have you ever homeschooled far from home?