After four days of grueling, sleepless travel, I made it safely home! To celebrate, here's a video of my attempting to join the local teachers in a dance to celebrate Children's Day. More adventures to come on my next trip in 2015!
In addition to drawing lessons, the older students I've been training as teachers and I have been spending part of every day playing games and singing songs with the younger kids. This is also a great chance for my older girls to practice their photo and video skills. They give me several hundred shots to sort through every day and there have been some real gems!
Thanks to an ambitious rodent (chewing through my power cord) and some unexpected fireworks (burning up my adapter when I plugged it in), I haven’t been able to post in awhile! It’s tough to summarize quickly what’s been going on the last 2 weeks, so since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll give you lots of those.
The biggest project we just completed is a hanging sunset backdrop for the school’s brand new stage! I am so stinkin’ proud of the 14 kids that made up my scenery team—most of them have never held a brush before in their lives. Next year I hope to have these kids lead similar teams to paint murals in the children's rooms!
Thanks to my Cupid Shuffle performance (see last post), I am now considered not just a Dancer but a Celebrity Expert. Many of the kids are performing dances for the school's upcoming Annual Function (which I will sadly miss) and I've been called in to coach them. This is a fun exercise in creative facilitation, since I know little to nothing about dancing! Basically I help them come up with their own ideas, and tell them to smile. My best advice? "If you look like you're having fun, your audience will have fun too."
One exciting benefit of this misunderstanding of my talents was that I was asked to help judge the school dance competitions. This was delightful! It started with a healthy serving of adorable elementary hopping and skipping, followed by stunning traditional costumes and dances by some of the older kids, and, to top it all off, one 7th grade boy busting moves to the Biebster. Possible music video coming soon?
Now that the stage scenery is finished, we're back to our regular schedule of advanced art classes for the older kids, with a few faithful teachers helping me do games, drawing, and other activities with the younger kids. The next set of pictures is pencil drawings by my advanced students. Later tonight I'll post photos of fun and games!
We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post for a really funny story.
I woke up this morning, stretched, and took a shower. I toweled off quickly and not especially thoroughly—it feels nice to be damp and sit under a fan while I’m getting ready for the day. I squeegeed the floor (in India there are no shower stalls, and the whole bathroom gets wet when you bathe), then padded over to the bureau to pull out my clothes. As I reached my hand into the dark and musty cupboard, a gecko jumped out and ran up my arm.
To my everlasting shame, I screamed.
I shook the gecko to the floor and covered my mouth, but it was too late—children and wardens came running and started pounding on my door and windows. “Meagan Sister, what happened? Meagan Auntie, are you all right?” I slid to the wall, clutching my towel and hollered, “Yes, I’m fine! Everything is all right!”
“Can’t hear, Meagan Auntie, can’t hear!” came the urgent response. “Open the door! What happened? How are you? Are you fine?” I don’t understand why they can’t hear me when I could hear them perfectly, but I shoved my face into crack of the door and bellowed at the top of my lungs “Everything is fine!”
“Come, sister, come! Can’t hear, sister!” they said again, and as they continued to pound on the door and ask if I am okay a crowd began to gather. I dove into my clothes, my bare feet stumbling and slipping on the marble floors as I frantically fought the friction of the fabric on my damp skin. I tripped over my towel, knocking over a table and scattering a hundred bobby pins the floor. Disheveled but decent, I opened the door at last to reveal dozens of anxious and excited faces. “I’m fine,” I panted. “There was a gecko. It surprised me. I’m fine.”
A few children peered into my room curiously, but the culprit has long since scuttled away and there is nothing left to see. Everyone left except Isaiah, who is in kindergarten. He clucked his tongue as he surveyed the aftermath.
“Lazy, Auntie, lazy!” he said. “Clean your room!”
In other news, if you haven’t already watched the kids do the Cupid Shuffle on Facebook, check it out! The excellent gentlemen at DIY.org let me borrow a pair of iPhones, so I taught the older girls how to use them and now have my own camera crew. Today is the last day of the holidays, so we celebrated with a dance off!
Someone said that misery shared is misery halved, but joy shared is joy doubled. I certainly think that’s true, and one of my favorite things about this place is how easy it is to share joy. All I have to do is smile or wave in the general direction of some children and I get an instant return on my investment.
So if sharing joy is doubling it, than what do you get when you share the joy of sharing joy? Joy times six? Joy cubed? Infinity joy?
In other words, today was really a good day.
Of course, it didn’t start out well. After congratulating myself on not getting sick, I woke up with a thick, persistent nausea. As I dragged myself to the breakfast table I practiced my delicate decline…only to be confronted by a supremely cheerful Auntie Della with an ominously loaded plate of eggs and toast—something I could not refuse without giving offense. I did manage to convince her I wanted plain black tea (for the love of God, no milk and sugar!) which, going by the look on her face and how many times she asked me if I was sure, was clearly poison.
After my heroics at breakfast I shuffled back to my room, telling myself fiercely to suck it up and get ready for my advanced art class—I only have a few days with these kids before school starts again, and I can’t afford to miss anything! I didn’t listen. Instead I laid down and wallowed in the full extent of my misery. As a result I was less than prepared when class started, which led to a less than organized session, which resulted in a less than happy Meagan.
My next class was my teachers, the ten or so teenage girls who volunteered to help me teach the younger kids during the holidays. I had all kinds of ideas about lesson plans and discussion groups, but I was feeling defeated, so I flopped down in a chair and said, “Okay, you’re in charge!”
The girls quickly came up with several fun crafts to do with the recycled paper and crayons that we had, including an ingenious little fan toy that was completely new to me (how to coming soon!). The first group of children soon arrived, and I sat back to watch what would happen.
At first, the girls taught as they have been taught, standing up while their students were sitting, speaking sternly, and harshly reprimanding their students for their mistakes. The atmosphere in the room was depressed, and even though the students made the project successfully, they didn’t seem to be having much fun. After the first group left, we huddled for about 15 minutes and I told them what I saw. We talked about being at the same level, about smiling, about tone of voice. We talked about noticing when students are doing something right, and correcting gently when they’re doing something wrong. They understood almost instantly—they know how it feels to be supported by a teacher and how it feels to be belittled, and they got really excited about giving a good experience to the younger kids.
I just about burst my buttons watching them teach the second and third groups of children for the day. Everywhere I looked I saw smiling faces, and all around me I heard, “Yes, very good!” and “Here, try it this way,” and “I like the way you are doing this because of this.”
In one of the groups we had fewer children, so I let two of the teachers loose with the iPhones the fine fellows over at DIY.org generously let me borrow for this trip. I had to sort through a lot of blurry photos and shaky videos, but I was left with dozens of gems—intimate moments that a big person like me never would have been able to capture.
Now, at the end of the day, I find myself in the strange position of being thankful for the sickness that got me out of the way so the girls could shine. Of course, now that I’ve learned my lesson, I would like it to go away please, but I’ve shared that misery with you, so it is less, and nothing compared to my doubled, cubed, infinity joy.
“Meagan Auntie, you are looking sooo fat!”
These are the first words out of the mouths of the children as they wash over me, a wave of arms and legs and hugs and smiles and big, bright eyes.
In a country where starvation kills thousands, my curves are a sign of health and prosperity. I lost a frightening amount of weight when I got sick here last year, and I know the kids are complimenting me on my return to a normal body. Still, it’s a little startling. As the cheerful chorus of “Yes, yes, looking very fat!” continues, I laugh really hard, thank them, and begin the process of reorienting myself to this culture.
I came here with the idea of taking two weeks to train a group of high school students to be camp counselors, and then running a mini-summer camp with them during the 10 day holiday of the Durga Puja. I tried to hold this idea lightly, because if I’ve learned anything here, it’s that things don’t always turn out the way you expect.
Sure enough, I arrived yesterday to discover that the holiday wasn’t beginning in 2 weeks, as I’d thought, but was starting today! So much for a training period. I hastily gathered my volunteers and figured out a rough schedule for the week, and then set myself to figuring out what and who and how we were going to do this. There are 1400 children at this school and I have 15 girls, ages 12-17, who want to help me teach them. Here we goooo!
Before I left I got a chance to meet with Ryan Nurmela from Quantum Camps to exchange ideas. It was an inspiring and productive meeting, and I was especially excited by his suggestion that I ask the students a series of questions at the beginning of the trip, and then the same questions again at the end, as a way to measure what they’ve learned.
I did this right away, partly to find out more about where my students are coming from, and partly to stall for time. The results were profound. As I read these little windows into the minds of these girls, the focus of my trip drastically changed. I have a lot that I want to teach, but suddenly I have a lot more that I want to learn.
Here are a few of their responses. I’ve typed them exactly as they were written. If you’re interested in the entire transcript, let me know and I’ll e-mail it to you.
Question: Do you like to learn? What do you like about learning? What do you dislike?
“Yes I like to learn. I like to learn about computer and art. I dislike when I am doing practical class and someone is disturbing.”
“Yes, I like to learn. I like about learning is when you hear someone talking you get interested and you want to hear you don't like to get up from there like that I like about learning. If you learn you can teach others. I dislike if I don't learn anything I feel uncomfortable, I feel very disgusting.”
“Yes! I love to learn in new day new things. And I like about learning because when I will learn I can teach other children and I belive after that they will also can teach others “Like You.” Now how you are teaching us to how to draw etc like that one day we also become drawing teacher and we also can teach like you and I belive one day the whole Earth will change by the influences of your picture.”
Question: What makes someone a good learner?
“When we obey our teacher or guider.”
“To make someone a good learner is to teach them the things which is necessary for your life so that if you learn you can know what it is about you can teach others.”
“Focuse make some one a good learner when a child focuse on any things in that anee children get intrested to learn it may be in art, study or anything in their eye. That child is consider as a good learner.”
“If you will forced someone until they get their desire to learn.”
“When the teacher teaches us and we have go and partice it and if we have done currict then we fell like a good learner.”
Question: What makes someone a good teacher?
“By teaching nice with love and intresting.”
“When we will obey and do our best.”
“A good teacher should be punchual in their work. The teacher should be helpful, loving heart and slow to anger (when a child don't know anything) and be faithful to their work (when there are teaching).”
Question: Tell me about a time when you felt proud of yourself. What made you feel successful?
“I feel proud of my self in the time when I think about God and the Good He has done. I do something Good to someone around me in that I feel successful.”
“When I teach the children and it it gets to the children brain and if the children tells me that teacher we understood what you have taught us then I will fell proud of myself. It makes me feel successful when the works has been done.”
“One day when my mom and dad told me that you are studing well that time I feel proud of myself.”
Adventures are uncomfortable.
I always used to laugh at Bilbo Baggins in the beginning of “The Hobbit.” I could just imagine him, huffing and puffing on the mat with a brightly colored waistcoat stretched aggrievedly across his midsection. “Adventures?! Nasty, dirty, uncomfortable things—make one late for dinner!”
I, of course, would have welcomed a dozen dwarves on my doorstep. “Make it a baker’s dozen!” I would have exclaimed, and laughed heroically at the mere mention of stealing treasure from a dragon. “Just one?” I would exclaim. “Why, we’ll be home by teatime!”
At least, that’s how I imagine it when I’m doing the reading, preferably in a patch of sun on a spring afternoon, with a light breeze obliging me once in awhile so I don’t get too hot. Or perhaps curled up on the couch by the fire with a cup of tea and a cookie and my sweetie rubbing my feet since, really, could he possibly have anything better to do?
But alas, here I am, nasty, dirty, uncomfortable, and beginning to sympathize with Mr. Baggins…and I’m still on the plane! Five hours into my adventure and despite the desperate purchase of a neck pillow, the closest I can get to sleep is a mild delusional haze. The gentleman blocking my access to the bathrooms is sleeping just fine, if his snores are any evidence, and I’m trying to decide what’s worse—me wetting myself, or him waking up to an apologetic American straddling him as she attempts to reach the aisle.
Fortunately, I’m still enjoying the warm glow of fictional characters triumphing gloriously over their discomforts, having just finished watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which puts 70% of my favorite old people and 55% of what I love about India all in one movie, with love and kisses and chocolate biscuits for everyone. At the highly satisfactory ending, Judi Dench reminds us that, “It will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right now, then it’s not the end.” This puts me in a very reflective mood. I wonder if this isn’t the grand purpose of stories with happy endings—to train us to expect good things so that when we’re uncomfortable, we’ll assume all we need to do is keep going.
Of course, I couldn’t get OFF the plane right now, even if I wanted to. But this thought prompts me to find a small sliver of my brain that isn’t focused on my cramped muscles, sandpapery eyes or bursting bladder and use it to contract my facial muscles into something that closely resembles a smile. A little girl who is going to meet her grandmother in Pakistan for the first time pops her head up over the seat in front of me. She babbles something no less adorable for being unintelligible, and I smile for real.
My musings are interrupted by the celestial snorts and snufflings of my neighbor in the aisle seat. Oh sweet heaven—he’s awake, and HE has to pee too! I tumble worshipfully out of my seat and rejoice in the little glowing light that tells me the lavatory is vacant. I return a few moments later, stretched, refreshed, and relieved, and with much more of my brain focused on the smiles that will be waiting for me if I just keep going.
I snapped a quick photo on my way out the door this afternoon as I left 2309 Russell St. for Jharsuguda, India! It's going to be a 3-day long marathon of planes, trains and automobiles to get there, but at least I'll get to watch some of those movies I've been meaning to see....