Thursday, June 11, 2009

Being Different

These past couple of days have been critical for me. The third week of my visit to Assam is vastly approaching and it seems like I have been here for much longer. I have become comfortable with the children, Uttam's family, the village, even the city. Things seem to be more natural, more like a second home to me.
I have gotten used to the stares, when I first got here they seemed deathening...I would politely smile as people stared. Then, the stares became uncomfortable; but now I see them in a new light. They remind me that I am different and while being an extreme minority causes discomfort, it also reminds me that I have taken a chance that few take. I have stepped far away from my comfort zones in my American life to help people that are "different" from me. I am slowly realizing that me being different is what defines who I am and what I have done throughout my life. I look back and think, statistically and based on the childhood that I had, I should not be in India right now, I shouldn't be attending the college that I attend, nor should I have been given the many opportunities that I've recieved in my lifetime. But it is because I am blessed, I have chosen to be different, chosen to step outside the small box I call Baltimore, that I am here. Normality has no place in my passion and I'll never let it be used as a descriptor of me. So when people ask me where I am from, when interviewers ask me "What made you come to this poor, trouble torn village," when the city people stare and try to "discreetly" take pictures of me on their camera phones....I no longer feel uncomfortable. I know that I am different from everyone here, I dont need a stare or an awkward question to remind me, I am learning to embrace it. I am not sure what it means to be different yet, but I know its better than being normal.
This morning was what I call a "bucket morning," meaning there was no running water so I had to use bucket water from a well to wash today. Uttam thinks that I will feel bad and be upset at these things, but I always explain to him that I understand the circumstances, I understood them before I came and I am just happy to have somewhere to wash lol. These small things remind me of how blessed my life has been thus far. There were heavy rains last night, but by morning, the ground was dry and it was HOT.
I have been spending a great deal of time with the hostel children lately. Today we played badmington and did wheel barrow races!!! These are some of the strongest children that I have ever met in my life. Ranging from the age of 6 to 14 these children are staying 15 km away from their homes in order to recieve free education. I watch as 14 y/o Monika, the oldest of the group, looks after the children as they are all staying at the hostel. Some of the children have a brother or a sister in the hostel with them, but some of them are alone. Together they make a small family and really enjoy each other's company. I look back and remember how I cried when I went away for college alone, and I see these YOUNG children that are away from their parents, that only go home twice a year, are as happy as they can be. They may not have proper housing and bathrooms but they are appreciative because they understand that it could be much worse for them at home. I commend the hostel students on their strength and I also commend Uttam for taking these students in so that they could be properly educated instead of having to stay in their village and work to bring in money for the family. The other day we made masquerade type masks with feathers and glitter, they had never seen masks like that before. As I showed them ways in which they could make the masks, they seemed to be in awe; and once they had made the masks themselves they were estatic. The artwork that we make together is truly a form of communication for me. I can see them happy and they are super anxious to learn new things so it makes me happy. Sometimes a smile is the only type of communication I need to know that I am doing the right thing...that helping children is MY thing lol.
Lately, I have been playing nurse Kelly....and I absolutely love it. These children here do not have proper health care, and the Academy does not have the proper first aid in case of emergencies. I have gladly donated my first aid kit to the school. Today alone, a fight was broken up between two nursery students which resulted in a bloody nose and busted lip, another child in the nursery class came to class with a MAJOR burn on his arm and a busted head, and one of the hostel students was running a very high fever. The adults were not certain what exactly to do to help the children so I gladly used the things that I brought here to help them. I talked with Uttam at the end of the day and he explained to me that the parents don't know what to do, nor can they afford the medicine to take care of the children properly in the case of these events.....these things are common in this village. He proposed that soon, I sit with the teachers and show them all of the things that are in the first-aid box that I have and how/when to properly use them with the children. I totally agree, the well-being of the children is really important and directly effects their performance in class.
The children's half yearly exams are coming up soon and this has affected my teaching here. The other teachers like the ideas I have for English teaching but I don't believe they feel comfortable with me teaching so close to the half-yearly exams. I went to teach my normal second grade English class and the teacher came in and told me no, that he will teach it. It is kind of a let down because I came here to teach, especially when the teachers are not as reluctant to let Promona teach the English classes because she can communicate with the children by speaking her native language. Math is generally taught in Assamese here, so I will be taking a break from the math classes as well as the students prepare for their exams. When teachers don't show up, I am able to teach the children an extra English class, apart from the one that they have taken with their normal teachers. Hopefully the teachers will become more comfortable with me fairly soon because I have made lessons to teach using the half-yearly exams that they have shown me. In the mean time I have been making posters with mathematical and grammatical lessons on them to be posted in the classrooms and taking the nursery classes because the teacher has been sick.
Its getting late, and I have class in the morning but I will post pictures soon!!!


  1. well, i am setting up a blog as we speak.... i need some tips lol
    i miss you and know that you are doing big things in India :)
    i'm leaving soon. so nervous!

  2. Hi Dhaujee. Sarah sent me the link to your blog. I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful reflections on your journey so far. It sounds like you are having a wonderful experience. I went to India the summer after my first year of medical school and learned a ton, but had a real difficult time adjusting. It was a huge culture shock both for me and the people I was working with. I worked in a very conservative city where women did not walk alone down the street. It sounds like you are much more adaptable that I was, "bucket days" and all! I'll look forward to reading more posts and also have a question for you. I'm wondering in which ways you think poverty in India is the same or different than poverty in the US. I would love to hear your thoughtful perspective on it. Take care and enjoy the rest of your stay!

  3. Yay on difference!...kinda reminds me a lil of when we or I first got to Bowdoin but keep doing what you're doing!