26/7 – 9:20am –
One week from now, I will be a couple hours into my flight from Kolkata to Dubai where I am losing hours of my life and being sucked into horrible jet lag. Not something I am looking forward to since it means leaving all my dear friends here in Kolkata. This has been an amazing experience that I will reflect on for my entire life. It was so important for me to get out of my comfort zone and experience life outside my normal routine. I have become reenergized by my time here, and I am eager to get back to my own students to share my experiences. One of the first units that I teach in AP Lang is a unit that examines differing arguments about education, and I will need to find a way to bring in a text about the differences between American and Indian education. I think that I have learned so much about my own practice and what I value and do not value in education.
27/7 – Yesterday was quite a day. After school, I stopped by the mall to try to get my ears pierced, but it turns out that the salon at the mall doesn’t do that. Now I am not sure if I will get it done or not since they (the teachers at my school) are worried that my ears will not heal quickly because of the weather. They told me I can do it only if I get permission of the doctor at my hotel and medicine from him in case I become septic. The use of the word septic sort of dissuaded me from my plan even though I wanted to pierce my ears because it is the only complaint that I get about my appearance here. They all gush about my evident beauty, and then bemoan the fact that I am not flaunting enough baubles to enhance my look. Hilarious. I thought that I would appease them with ear piercing in addition to wearing the bindis that they are now putting on my face every day. I guess though that I will wait until I arrive at home and send them a picture of my ears. They assure me that girls with earrings are more likely to find husbands. I know that they are serious about marrying me off because they have asked for my birthday many times which is the first step in determining whether I am a good match for any single men they know. Additionally, they have spent much time and energy convincing me that my future happiness depends upon marrying a Bengali man. Apparently as “kind, caring, warm, and perfect” as Bengali men are, they do want a girl who can sport some dangly earrings. I guess I am out of contention and will return home without a husband. I know this is not what my school here wanted for my life.
On my way out of the mall, I asked a cab to take me to New Market (the shopping center beside my hotel). I learned that they don’t overcharge me as much when I ask to go there as when I ask to go to my super fancy hotel that makes them think that I have money to burn. The cab driver didn’t want to use the meter, and I didn’t want to fight because it was raining, so we settled on 160 rupees which was probably about 30 too many, but whatever. So we get in the cab and the drive is going smoothly enough considering the rain until we are about 2.5 kilometers from my hotel. I recognized where we were, and knew we should be getting on this one overpass, but there was a police barricade and a few officers standing there, so we went around. I had texted Caitlin earlier to ask if she wanted to go help me find a piercing salon after her meeting since I assumed that we would get home around the same time. After we pass the barricade, traffic becomes CRAZY. Not typical Kolkata crazy with beeping and disregard of lane lines and traffic rules, but seriously nobody will ever move again CRAZY. Several times, I considered telling my cab driver that I would get out and walk since I knew where I was, but my bag was really heavy because I had taken my laptop and some presentation materials to school. Good thing I didn’t because I got a text message from Caitlin who was at an English teachers club meeting at the American Center saying that the American Center was being evacuated due to a Syrian protest (in Kolkata) against the Americans. This naturally scared me even though she told me that the Indian teachers that she was with were utterly unconcerned. I guess the thing that worried me was that my cab driver reached back to roll up the window in the back seat. They usually leave ventilation up to the customer, so I was a little concerned that he rolled it up to protect me from people squeezing through the vehicles to cross the street. So I of course decide that this is a great time to hide my white skin even though everyone sitting in the cars around us clearly knows I am American and probably wishes I hadn’t caused this traffic jam. Caitlin called a few times to check on my progress, and she had me give my location to one of the doormen at the hotel. He made me feel better because he said it would take forever, but I would make it home. I then confessed to the cab driver that I was in fact going to the Grand Hotel rather than the market, and that if he would drop me there, I would really appreciate it. I am pretty sure that he might have figured that out during listening to my phone conversations anyway, but because he didn’t say anything and because I was overwhelmed by my safe return, I tipped him 140 rupees an hour later when he finally returned me to the hotel. The meter might have climbed that high anyway with all the traffic, but we will never know since he bartered with me instead.
By the time that I finally reached the hotel, the rally was over, and it was perfectly safe to leave the hotel. In the lobby, I ran into John W. and Caitlin and we decided to go back to New Light for the evening. New Light is an amazing NGO here in Kolkata that rescues children who are at risk for ending up in the sex trade. New Light was founded by a woman named Urmi Basu who I met with last Wednesday before dinner with my bosses. You can read an article about her here http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/opinion/02kristof.html?src=tp&smid=fb-share&_r=0. (seriously read it even though it is terrifying) I was instantly impressed with her mission to save these kids and fill them with confidence and give them an education that offered them choices other than following the pattern of generational prostitution. New Light provides these kids with a place to eat, sleep, and study, though you would cringe if you saw the facility and realized that somewhere between 40-85 children a night sleep in such a small space. Additionally funds from the NGO pay for school tuition for the students as well as meeting their clothing, food, and medical needs. All of these children have mothers in the sex trade, and what is really novel about the approach of this NGO is that it doesn’t separate children from their parents. The kids are free to come and go from New Light as they please, and some children eat dinner with their families or sleep at home. They do take roll every morning and night, and the community at large knows which kids belong to New Light. This knowledge might endanger them since traffickers hate New Light, but Urmi brilliantly befriended the entire neighborhood by purchasing everything they need for the shelter from the merchants on the street who now protect the center because it is their primary source of steady income. While of course a charity like this can always use money, Urmi said that their more pressing need is volunteers. She wants the children to know that the world sees them and is on their side. She wants them to be loved by adults who have no ulterior motives.
We went last night and it was amazing! I have to go back another night before I leave because I was instantly in love. When we walked in a few students were in a yoga class, and other groups were scattered throughout the space. One group of kids about 3-6 was making origami boats. I decided to also show them how to make a fortune teller which became a big hit even though we didn’t get to the writing bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough paper for all the children who became interested which led to some of the fortune tellers being ripped to shreds by competing children. The younger kids obviously didn’t understand my requests to share nicely since they are not English speakers yet. After a bit of madness where I am folding paper with multiple children crawling over my body, the students had evening assembly where they take roll, sing the national anthem, and have a period of meditation. Ever seen a 2 year old meditate? It is adorable! Then after assembly they pull out tables and benches and the students break themselves up into age groups and any available volunteers tutor the students and play games with them. My group of 10 year old girls was really into playing matching games with math problems and written numbers. In one column I might write 800+67= and in the other I would write eight hundred sixty-seven. They found this great fun. Then as an added challenge and to not waste more paper which I am not sure is that plentiful, I would make them find the sum of all the numbers on the page so that we got to practice adding in the thousands, hundreds, tens, and one columns. Don’t be afraid of my math teaching skills, I observed Dan’s lesson on mixed fractions the other day and feel more confident about math than I have in a long time. The students last night didn’t want me to make them work with mixed and improper fractions even though I felt eager to do so. Caitlin was teaching a geography review session and I heard John drilling the kids in verb tenses. It was one of my favorite experiences in Kolkata, and I wish that I had discovered it sooner so that I could spend more time there. Seriously if anyone ever wants to stay in Kolkata for awhile, New Light will put you to work. And it is good work!
|Caitlin teaches geography.|
|One of my math matchers.|
|More math matchers and sweethearts!|
|Could they be cuter? This is part of my fortune telling crew.|
|He really wanted a snap of just the two of us, but we were photobombed about 15 times. This is the best that Caitlin could get. Then he took my camera and took many unflattering photos of just me.|
|The little ones during assembly.|
|John W. with the girls that he made giggle when he taught them to conjugate the verb to cheat.|
|Caitlin and the kiddos.|
|Matching - before I introduced the idea of addition.|