We’ve started our second week here. This will be the hardest week, I think. The first week was all about adjustment to India–the time change, the food (that we’ve barely eaten), the Gomes house, the school. Week 2 is the “well, we’ve got 3 more weeks of this” week. Week 3 will be busy with research (and we’ll be more than halfway!), and Week 4 will be the time when we finally get to do tourist things. This week is tough.
School wasn’t great today. Teaching the Rainbows is so much more difficult than I had anticipated. I know I’m really good with kids, but the language barrier has completely shaken any confidence that I have in my ability to work with children. Most of the young girls speak Bengali, the local language. The national language is Hindi (not to be confused with Hindu, a common religion in India). I could get by if the girls spoke a Romance language–I know Italian, I could dredge up some French, and I could make my way through Spanish. Bengali doesn’t sound like anything familiar, and the alphabet is totally different, so it’s really difficult to communicate with some of the girls.
I’m in the process of completely changing my research project. My original proposal was good, but after a few days of obsering the special needs class, I’ve realized that my idea just won’t be feasible to research. The special needs kids are not integrated into non-special classes, so it would be nearly impossible to examine social interactions between the 2 populations of students. Additionally, all the special needs instruction takes place in Belgali. There’s only so much I can pick up from observing a class being taught in a foreign language.
I’m going to take the next few days to observe more and see if some other area piques my interest. I had revised my original plan to examine the construction of “special” at Loreto (because many students have academic/financial/social needs met in a number of ways), but my professor said that my new idea was too broad and didn’t have any “value added”. So I’m pretty much back to square one, and that’s a really sucky feeling. The other girls are getting started on their projects and moving along well, but not me.
A girl who is staying at Gomes House for 3 months just picked her mom up from th airport today. The mom (mum, actually–they are from Ireland) will be visiting for 2 weeks, and during her time here, she’s going to be working at the school and teaching teachers how to integrate special needs students in to regular classrooms. I found out about this after I came home from school and cried a bit. The mom might be a good person for me to follow around.
Like I said earlier, today’s been a litle rough. I miss home. I broke out the emergency bag of Craisins–how sad is it that my comfort food here is dried fruit? I also realized today that the Rainbow girls intimidate me. They’re just kids, but I have a really difficult time being around them for too long. It’s emotionally exhausting. I keep thinking about how so many of them have experienced so many horrible things, and I just feel guilty and privileged. I mean, these little girls lived on the streets, worked as child domestics, and were trafficked as sex slaves and child prostitutes. I don’t know how to confront and reconcile those bad things, and I’m not even the victim!
I talked with the other ND girls about this, and Colleen said something really great. It’s neither practical nor helpful for any of the parties involved to try to compare lives. She also said that in any time of change, there is a period of panic and crisis that comes when we try to incorporatenew experiences in to the way we live. Accouting for that adjustment is difficult. I have never dealt with change well, and this is a lot of change and a very different way of living. I came on this trip to push myself and broaden my horizons and all that, but I am realizing that I need to be gentle with myself now that I’m actually here, living life in India for a little while. I need to be patient and to realize that this adjustment will take time. I’ve only just gotten over my jetlag after 8 or 9 nights in Kolkata!
One good thing that came out of today was our meeting with Sr. Cyril, the principal of Loreto Sealdah. I feel so lucky that I have had the opportuinity to meet so many strong, empowered women on this trip, and Sr. Cyril is a shining example of that. She’s been principal of Loreto since 1979, and she’ll turn 75 later this month. She arrives at school around 7 am and sometimes leaves as late as 1 or 2 am. Sr. Cyril is a dynamic and inspiring leader. For her research, Cynthia is following Sr. Cyril around to try to get a handle on Cyril’s leadership style and how she divides up her day. In addition to serving as a school administrator, Cyril oversees all of the projects that are housed at and staffed by Loreto. She works with the Indian government and served as an education minister for a few years. I’ll post an article detailing her accomplishments at another time, but she’s really a remarkable person. I can learn a lot from the way Sr. Cyril runs her school. I admire her flexibility–just today, she told us that if we need to speak to her, to come in to her office. She said, “Don’t just poke your head in and duck out. If I can talk to you, I will. If I need you to wait, I’ll tell you to wait. I’m fed up with deference.” She always has about a million and a half things going on, but she makes time to play with and cuddle the cats that roam around the Loreto building. The way her mind works is a complete mystery to me–she’s able to keep track of all sorts of things without writing notes down, and she knows exactly where everything is in her messy, cluttered office. Cynthia said that today she was shadowing Sr. Cyril while her mail came in, and that Cyril gave every note that came to her desk the same amount of attention. Her inbox contents ranged from a thank you note, invitations to events, a request for a loan from a retiring teacher, bills and accounting slips, and letters from NGOs. Sr. Cyril told Cynthia that she has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease, so she forgets some things. Years ago, she could remember the name of every child at the school. It’s quite sad that in a few years, Sr. Cyril will no longer be able to do her job. I’d be shocked if someone was able to fill her shoes–people like Sr. Cyril come along once in a blue moon, and I think that any change in school leadership will be a real shock to Loreto.