50 days have flashed by with the blink of an eye, and I’m scared. The next time I blink, 84 days will have come and gone, and soon enough, full 8 months will have slipped through my fingers. I so desperately wish to slow time down, just enough to click a picture, or even to simply nod in acknowledgment and in gratitude. And even as I pull my camera out, I’m too late.
For the past two weeks, I have been working with TFI (Teach For India, a sister organization to Teach For America). Monday thru Thursday, from 7:00am – 1:00pm, I teach at a government school, Maharasi Harkadas English Medium School (EMS), located in a Muslim majority community, though many Hindu children also attend this public school. Shoddily constructed shacks of tin and cement surround this school, while directly across from it was a large pile of garbage, displaying rotten fruit and plastics from yesterday, and weeks prior.
On my first day of work, I woke up at 5:00am, bathed, ate churda, and got into an auto, directing him to Poona College, the landmark of my school. I sat in the auto, excited to teach and meet my students. As I walked towards my school, my feet advancing with purpose, the unmistakable smell of urine and the pungent smell of trash assaulted my nose, causing me to wrinkle my nose and suppress a cough.
“Good morning, Didi.”
“Good morning,” I tenderly responded to a little girl in 4th standard. Her hair was in pigtails, braided with a white ribbon woven through, while she wore a light brown and navy blue uniform.
“How are you, Didi?”
“Mein accha hun, aur tum?”
“I am very fine. Aap ka nam kya hai, Didi?”
“Thank you, Didi.”
The little girl giggled and ran away. After a few seconds, like bees swarming honey, many pairs of little eyes stared up at me. “Didi” was all that could be heard as they aggressively pushed each other to get a closer look and to talk to me.
“Hey hey, nahi, nahi, don’t punch each other. That’s not nice,” I said. I don’t know what I expected, but them laughing at me certainly wasn’t it. The laughing felt like it went on for hours, until finally, they said, “You’re funny, Didi,” and continued punching one another.
That’s when it hit me: I’m in for one big rollercoaster ride. Many couldn’t understand the concept of adoption or why I didn’t speak Marathi.
“Didi, why you no Marathi?”
“I live in America, but I was born here. I’m adopted, han.”
“Oh, like your parents didn’t want you?” A girl in 7th standard said.
“Um, well, in a way, han, I guess. Thik hai, na.”
“So, I can be adopted too, na, and live in America?”
Luckily, the bell rang before I could answer. All the kids smartly lined up in rows and sang the Indian national anthem, and chanted India’s allegiance. I found it fascinating how these kids knew their own country’s national anthem, when I didn’t even know the United States’s (yikes, that’s actually really sad!) Afterwards, thousands of little feet marched up the stairs to their classes.
“Didi, are you married?”
I laughed heartily, and responded, “Oh no, no, no.”
“Kyon? You so beautiful. Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam…”
“Pyaar hota hai, deewana sanam,” I finished the lyrics to a famous Shahrukh khan song.
“Didi, I find you a good man, a very good man. That is me, Didi. I will treat you good.”
“Oh, nahi, nahi, mein thik hun.”
The little boy, Nikhil, proceeded to grab my hand, get down on one knee and re-enact the video to the Shahrukh Khan song. The entire class, full of 63 students, erupted in laughter.
“Didi, he is a comedian,” they said.
While I enjoyed having fun with these kids, singing, dancing, and chitchatting, teaching is whole other story. They don’t know how to respect their teachers or mentors, or when to not cross the line. For the past several weeks, I’ve been struggling to bring discipline into the classroom. Every single one of the kids at this school come from a low income background where they’re not taught the different between “right” and “wrong,” “good,” and “bad.” Their parents care little about them or their education, and give no structure to their children’s lives. Their situation and circumstances is not that different from mine when I was their age living in India.
I understand how tough it is for them (as someone who’s been in their position), and I want to do everything I can to make a difference in their lives. I came here to inspire them and to show them that even if they have nothing or are feeling hopeless, they will make it out in the end. I did, and so can they.
I’ve been busy this week making lesson plans and setting up parent-teacher meetings, and generating a curriculum for the year. As an incentive for these kids to keep working hard, I bought stickers to put on completed assignments. My next step is figuring out how to build a strong class dynamic where everyone can participate and learn. How do you teach respect, honesty, and dignity when they yearn for a different life?