Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yesterday was a lot of things

Today is my last full day in Kolkata, and I woke up early with the intention of going to school with Janet and Sarah to see their send off ceremony, but because I couldn't sleep last night, I decided to nap and blog by the pool instead.  Last day of this extremely rough hardship of poolside service and beauty.  I couldn't sleep last night because yesterday was too overwhelming, and I had so much metaphorical baggage to unpack and too much literal baggage to pack.

Yesterday, I woke up, went to the gym and breakfast and then went to school like normal, but because of exams and my busy day, I only stayed a couple of hours where I received many gifts of jewelry, makeup, handbags, etc.  Last night was my going away party, and my amazingly sweet coworkers were determined to make me look like a proper Indian girl.  I might have disappointed in the makeup category, but I wore more bangles than you can imagine.  So after school, I ran back to the hotel to do some errands.  I wanted to get my school and my mentor teachers some of my favorite books to add to their libraries, so I went to Oxford Bookstore and then picked up some photographs that I had printed in the opposite direction of the hotel.  During all my running around and toting of the myriad bags of stuff, the Oberoi staff was calmly and efficiently helping me.  At least 4 different guys hauled heavy bags for me, and Yojna kept reminding me to relax and have fun.  Easy to say when you aren't the one who is utterly unprepared for a crazy night.  Eventually, I made it back to my room with all the gifts, some wrapping paper and the tape that I borrowed from the gift shop.  I had made an appointment at 2pm to have my sari tied because I had to be at the American Center by 3 for a press conference.  I have mentioned before that Indian time tends to be a little less structured than American time, so I was thrilled at 2:45 when Priyanka arrived to dress me.  The extra time gave me some chances to wrap gifts and write cards which I really should have done the previous night.  Luckily, when I arrived about 20 minutes late to the American Center my group had not accomplished much except being shuffled through multiple security checkpoints and standing in line for badges and to wait for escorts.  So I joined them for a meeting with the director of the center and then for the press conference where we got to share some of our experiences in education at home and in India.  It was pretty hilarious to have about 4,000 photos snapped and every word that I spoke recorded by an room full of press.  Once again, it made me want to share with India that I am not actually a celebrity.  We are all constantly asked for our autographs by students and treated like dignitaries by adults.  This coupled with the craze for taking photos of us has made me confused about my peon status at home.  Apparently the paparazzi have been neglecting one of the international sensations of the world - ME!

Then my school sent a car to the American Center for me and 4 of my fellow teammates to attend my going away party which was overwhelming.  My principal LOVES to talk, so he praised me for a solid 40 minutes of unconnected thoughts.  At one point he was listing the American presidents, their wives, and what countries they visited.  Apparently this was connected to me because I was continuing the tradition of American friendship with foreign nations.  I am not sure whether or not he knows that I am significantly less important than heads of state.  Then he made every senior teacher, the directors of USIEF, and my 4 friends that I dragged along stand up and give speeches about me.  It was very touching, but a bit too much attention.  I am not severely adverse to attention as many of you know, but 2 straight hours of compliments and gifts are a bit much even for me.

I was of course really upset to be leaving my amazing school where I have been so happy.  The teachers that I have befriended in the staff room and their classrooms are an amazing and dedicated group of ladies, and I will miss them all dearly.  Some of my enjoyment yesterday was tempered by my sadness at leaving them, but also by some tension I was feeling toward my administrators.  On Tuesday, one of my friends from work invited me to her house which was so sweet, but the administration was unhappy with her for doing so because they told her that she was endangering my safety.  She was not.  It made me feel a little angry because they were insinuating that she didn't care about my safety or happiness when in fact she had gone out of her way to plan for my comfort.  She had prepared some boiled eggs and a fruit tray and purchased bottled water for me.  She also showered me with gifts and painted my nails for the party.  It was amazing to have the chance to talk to another teacher about home life and see a day in the life of a teacher, but it was interrupted by calls from our administrators.  I was so upset because I thought that she was going to be in trouble for her kindness to me.  I called our program director at USIEF to express my displeasure that the administration would treat me and a teacher at the school this way.  I know that I am in a foreign country and that I have to be careful about safety, but I am an adult who was being attentively cared for by 4 other adults who only wanted to welcome me into their lives.  I was most upset because this incident confirmed some of my suspicions about the inequality of treatment that various teachers receive.  Obviously, I am in a different culture and I need to respect that American traditions of equality and informality are not going to exist between bosses and employees, but it is hard to swallow when I am used to a different system.  I think that most principals at home think that the best way to elicit quality work from teachers is to treat them like dedicated professionals who are equipped to meet the interests of students.  The pay scale at home advantages age and seniority over competence, but the treatment does not.  I love knowing that I have earned the trust and respect of my bosses through my hard work.  It is not that the administration here does not recognize and praise good work, but it is that there is in place a deeply entrenched system of hierarchy where senior teachers are offered more respect than younger ones.  Favoritism exists in both systems, but here I was elevated too quickly to the role of favorite not based on any of my abilities but rather based on my position as an ambassador of a powerful country.  All of this is unsettling, and I am rambling here mostly to make sense of my own feelings.  This is definitely something to continue to think about, and I hope that my friends here are less upset about the inequality of treatment than I am.  Obviously they are all way too polite and humble to ever address this issue with me.  It probably didn't help either that I was a special pet of those in power.

After my party which we escaped only because of the pressing deadline of our next meeting, we went to a restaurant just off of Park Street for our final team meeting.  We had exchanged names and re-written biographies and created awards for each other.  It was awesome to hear the hilarious biographies and creative awards that everyone wrote and received.  Dear Janet had to write mine, and it included everything from pig judging to soup, so I know that I have made her endure far too many of my stories.  I am sure that she is sorry that I am so reserved.  It was good to have another debrief with the others about our experiences.  I am so lucky that I traveled with such a loving and hysterical group.  I never really had feelings of isolation or homesickness (the unbearable kind - I of course missed you all in addition to longing for fresh cucumbers and chocolate milk) because I always had a group of people with whom I could honestly dissect my feelings about what happened and how crazy amazing but also terribly heartbreaking Kolkata can be.  Our friend Niladri told me to always carry Kolkata in my heart, and this will not be tough advice to follow.  For better or worse, I LOVE this place, and this will not be the last time that we meet.  I could absolutely not live here long term because I learned that I have a need for quiet spaces, the ability to run outside, and more access to nature.  These realizations will help me figure out where I am capable of moving when I leave to teach abroad.

We got back from dinner before midnight, and even though I was exhausted I spent time admiring my MANY gifts and mentally preparing to say goodbye to my summer home.  You will all be proud that I only publicly cried once during the goodbyes.  Unfortunately, it was when they instructed me to say goodbye to the children during an assembly, but I am getting over the embarrassment of being an overly emotional being.

Even though I am coming home, I will still do a few more blog entries (including the one about bathrooms) when I finish sorting through the tons of photos that the others on the trip took.

The rain has stopped and the sun is inviting me to cool off in the pool.  See you cats stateside soon.

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