Excerpts From India..My Last Day Teaching, Feb 7th
Posted Nov 29 2008 12:19pm
I'm sucking back a chai and taking a break from packing and repacking my suitcase for my trip and trying not to scratch my head, which has some suspect booboos on it. I've already had MJ check my head for lice..that's negative, so we're thinking skeeters or just..you know..India. I boiled water on the propane range for my bucket..since the water heater broke I've been really lax on the washing. Which may explain the things on my scalp, but made the mistake of giving my feet a good long soak, and I think the dirt on them was actually keeping them held together. Of course, to make it all even better, this was done while I was sitting nekkid on the unflushable toilet, shivering cold, feet in my shower/laundry/dishes/barf bucket, in the dark ( power outtage) with my headtorch on.
So, today was painful. This morning was our last rickshaw ride to school. I took my customary place half hanging out the door and had my Ipod on with my morning music..punk and rock and pop with a fast hard beat and some sort of "we shall overcome and everyone else sucks" messages. Watched the fields go by, the water buffalos grazing on shrub, the garbage cows, stray dogs sleeping in the center of the roads and on warm rocks, kids taking poops waving from behind the low stone fences. It was the last time to wave as we headed up the hill to Bhilwara, and I was dissapointed to not see one of the little boys who's always there. When we first were coming, he'd run to the road with no clothes on, and jump straight up and down. He eventually progressed to shirts, then pants, but always unzipped, and he'd always have such a look of glee on his face as he sprung up and down with his tiny little naughty bits bobbing around. Yesterday, he came to the road bobbling his bits with a dead mouse in his hand he was holding by the tail, and he jumped and waved and the mouse sprung up and down like a yo-yo.
At school we first showed the kids pictures we had taken of them and had printed up that we'd pasted onto a posterboard for the classroom, went through our morning songs, and then went and visited the homes and families. The houses are clustered together in groups of 3 or 4 with one shared wall. The roofs are thatch and mud..low stone and thorn bush fences keep in goats , chickens and chicks scrape up insects in the fields. The houses, or course, have no electricity, some have no windows, some have no doors. Inside there are walls, a floor, a few shelves built into the mud walls, torn drawings of Laxmi or Durga or Shiva, sometimes a page or two from a magazine of a Bollywood star. The better houses have a circa 1970's radio, and a door, and more than 2 cooking pots. The bad ones are dank and smell of animal waste and cracked terracotta pots or just gourds to cook in and hold water. These houses were the ones where the mothers are dead. I wouldn't go into these houses, because I know these kids, and they are the dirtiest ones, the quietest ones, and having them to close to me hurts me. I didn't want to see that they didn't even have cotton batting mattresses but stiff dirty blankets. I didn't want to see the shrines to their dead mothers.
Some houses we did go in, shoes kicked off at the door, hands held high to the forehead as we greeted the parents. There is never any furniture, of course. No beds. Just mats. We interrupted a few buckets being taken outside, boys and fathers crouching and washing with water boiled on an open fire outside, towels wrapped around waists or just loincloths. We would have G traslate and told the parents that their kids..er..had good attendance, and should keep going to school, or were very helpful to us, or very polite. We tried with every one to stress that the kids needed to keep coming, every day. We said we thought they had bright futures, and wished the parents good health and family and wealth.
I let the boys listen to my Ipod as we walked from house to house, me holding the Ipod, two boys sharing the earbuds, and they shook and shimmied and tried to sing along to the Bangles "Walk Like An Egyptian". They kept telling me that kal, Puglet airplane, Puglet America, and telling me I would be sad. I just nodded. I would be sad. Prakash and Lalit and Dharmalal all said they were angry at me and pretend punched me. I let them have extra turns on the Ipod and walked holding hands with Mohini, one of my girls, very quiet, very shy, and a very very poor student. I talked to her, and she pointed out cows and goats and chickens and colors in English. All of her colors were wrong, and then she pointed to the sky and said " Kal, Puglet, airplane? I bye bye bye my friend" and waved to the sky. I think tomorrow she'll wave if she sees an airplane going by.
Back at school we were thanked by the principal and the head teacher, who tried to tell us in English, but then had to switch to Hindi, that we had done a great job, and so many kids were coming to school now, and we were responsible for the government allocating more resources to the school (the 6th-8th grade classrooms being built). He said we were good teachers, and we all tried not to snicker, because the last thing any of us feels like is competent, or an educator. I know I feel gross and dirty and overwhelmed and irritated most times.
F and I went into the classroom to say goodbye to the kids for a final time. They were simply sitting, but when we motioned them to stand, the boys started saluting us. F hugged the girls and I started to shake hands with the boys when I noticed heads dropping. The boys started to sit, and crossed legs tightly, pulled out Hindi books, and seemed to be ignoring us. I got onto the floor next to Lalit and saw his shoulders shaking..and turned to F and saw her with her hand on Suresh's shoulder, who had his head buried in his hands. Lalit wouldn't look at me and was trying to keep tears from falling on his hindi textbook. I took the book from him and wrote F and my full name in it, " We will miss you." He took it from me with shaking hands and placed it carefully back into his bookbag. I went and sat between Prakash and Dharmalal, who were crying more openly, and painfully, and let Lalit be for a few minutes, because he was fighting with everything he had to control his tears. I held my hand to my hand to my heart and whispered to the boys that I would miss them, that they were my brothers, that they were my friends. And I prayed that none of them would take my hand this time, because like Lalit, I was fighting with everything I had.
When I did start to cry, hands came out and patted my knee. Lalit turned with wet eyes and smiled, and Dharmalal realized he was touching a girl and scooted away, but still held the bottom of my pants leg in between his fingers. Mohinder turned to me and thrust his chin up, sucked snot back into his nose.
" Puglet, no sad. Puglet, happy."
" Mohinder, no sad. Mohinder, happy"
He wiped his eyes and smiled, and pointed to his smile, and pointed to my face. I wiped my eyes and smiled, too.
G came in to collect us, and we all stood and tried not to cry. We held most of it in until we got into the tuk tuk, and then all bets were off.