Bus ride down the winding hillside to Perkal – a Youth Development Center for women and children of a small nearby village. Began ten years ago with three children and now the place is bulging with two hundred. All of the money that supports the organization comes from personal donations – no government support. An Australian woman who does a lot of the administrative work is taking classes up at our language school and invited us to visit.
So we did.
Small school bus cramped legs humid air pouring in –
Arrived at the small school. First thing we ate lunch in the ‘dining room’ – small with two long wooden tables lined with wide wooden benches. Circular metal plates like disks hung on wall racks. Two women (cooks) in bright colored saris in the corner serving food; rice and beans a salty mushroom and pepper curry, fresh veggies, sweet sticky mango for dessert. We spaced ourselves out on the benches so that children could squeeze in between us. I spoke with a 12 year old beauty who punctuated all of her statements with “ma’am” (something they all did) and told me she wanted to be a doctor.
”Why do you want to be a doctor?”
”Well, ma’am, I originally wanted to be a teacher here. Because I liked the idea of teaching kids like me.
(most of the teachers working their were previous students)
“But then one day I went to the doctor. I told him that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. He told me that a lot of doctors nowadays don’t know how to take care of their patients well enough and so their patients die. Now I want to be a doctor so I can help patients not die.”
These children go to school from 7:30 to 5:30 six days a week They get breakfast, lunch, a snack, and something to eat before they head home. They do everything from math to science to art to yoga to basketball to computer science to English to Hindi… the school is taught in English. Uniforms are provided for them and they are obviously surrounded by love and support. After graduating students still provided support from the organization and go on to become engineers and psychologists and the like…
That’s the children.
The women – in a facility just across from the school, bent over sewing machines or simply with needle and thread at hand, illuminated by the golden backlight pouring in from dusty windows, making quilts quilts quilts!
Fabric patches lined white cupboards.
Beautiful quilts of an eclectic scene involving the sea or the prairie or a sunflower patch… they sell these quilts and keep the profit. The organization merely provides a place for them to work.
Right before we left they divided us EAP children into small groups and sat us in front of separate classrooms of children so that they could drill us with questions. The children all ranged from young to old. Classrooms equipped with only the necessities. Desks – blue. White board. Chairs. Teacher.
“Favorite food? Favorite hobby? Know any Hindi movies?”
”What do you like about India?”
”What do you think of Obama?”
”What is the difference between our school and yours?”
“What do you like about USA?”
“What do you not like about USA?”
“What is the difference between USA and India?”
“What is your aim?” (i.e. What do you want to be when you grow up?)
“What do you think of terrorism?” (wtf?)
“What is your least favorite part of India?”
“Do you go to school with Indians?”
“Why are you learning Hindi? Do you think it’s practical?”
That last question was asked by one of the older girls. I told her that growing up with English was both a blessing and a curse. English is already very useful, but I can’t help but to feel ignorant for not knowing the inner language movements of another culture – I am just thankful to be able to communicate across any other language field besides English. I wanted to talk to this girl more. The older kids tended to have more conversations amongst themselves during this exchange… made me feel silly sitting up there answering questions as if I were on some special panel… the teacher sat off to the side of the room with a stone-stiff face; bland expression. (Apparently other EAP kids had more lively and participating teachers…) It added a little discomfort to the air, though. What did they think of the four of us sitting there?
The younger kids, more curious. The older kids, more territorial… camaraderie in the midst? Je ne sais pas…..
Road back. Small bus. Powering through fog that dampened away the trees…