Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Juhi and Ria join!

June 10, 2009

I don’t want to turn into that bitter I have explored third world country I can’t appreciate my privilege I can’t laugh I am too depressed kind of girl.

But as manjul mentioned in his calm voice over the workshop to some people: “I have witnessed a change in you”.

And I have witnessed a change in myself. My face hardening. Finding it harder to laugh, and be free in that way.

While all day, all I have been doing is smiling and laughing, laughing, laughing.

Because I just want to hear laughter from the kids.

And most of the time: great success! I hear it! I see it!

I can breathe it!

Sometimes there are little babies, who no matter what kind of smile I express, they are still scared of this white foreigner. Who can blame them?

And I am so silly, playing along.

And all I want to do is sink into every single pair of brown eyes.

I take some moments to just sink into their eyes. And make sure that I am reaching each and every one of them. I don’t want any of them to feel left out, god knows they have already been too left out.

I heard one girl say “happy!”, so I repeated with a smile, following with sad ! and with expression and ANGER! And expression.

And like a pack of followers, biggest fans, they repeated that. English lesson #1- in the most informal way of education. And the kids were laughing, and repeating it.

And I feel like some sort of robot saying “hello!’ in a purky voice!” and “byebye!”

But today it wasn’t forced, like other days. Today I wasn’t convincing myself, really, that I was enjoying it.

I think I actually was.

And that was because I was sharing my baby with juhi and ria.

Things that I have been processing independently of sharing the experience with others.

And so I unconsciously was trying to make my time there effortless.


When I used the toilet, afterwards, juhi asked me, “how was it?” and I said “great fun!”, she patted me on the leg.

Was it great fun? It smelled terrible standing there squatting while there was a little shower curtain separating me from the many children staring up from the ladder.

But my fear has left.

I can’t fear them anymore.

I still am hesitant of hugging and carrying, and even sometimes touching little naked babies that have some sort of rash on their body, little dots appearing out of nowhere- is that a registered disease?

We pass by the bathrooms, that kids are making. I don’t get it. The teacher says it is similar to those made in slumdog millionaire- and I see those toilets. It really looks identical. And these babies are on the ramps to the bathroom and there are swamps and there are high rise buildings and blue sky in the background and I smile to myself.

Screw it. I smile to myself. Screw it all.

I really have created this inner bitterness towards anything that is privilege, and I don’t like that either.

But at least something is hitting me, something is clicking.

And I look at every face and it turns into one of those foreign ads “help out the starving kids”.

Juhi said that this isn’t what she expected . that many organizations hype things up for volunteers to come, when conditions are worse- and that this was no exception.
And she thought that some other friends would be joining us, but at the end of today she said “no, they can’t. I asked why? She said, “ I don’t think they could handle this."

And there is no reason to say that those organizations don’t do great work- they do, as sriya was stating. But, there are other places that need help, like Parivartan.

We were asking gangadhar, the administrator all these questions. If the founder of the school grew up in his community, how did he get educated? Apparently someone helped fund his education…and he went everyday far to some café to get educated. Same with gangadhar.

There always exceptions to the rule.

And what makes me uncomfortable is that I don’t want to be the fun aunt, that others are jealous of or feel left out. Today when the girls were doing the survey I was just smiling and playing with the kids. They loved it. I already felt like I was getting more attention because I am white and look different them , but I don’t want a power dynamic.

I really did love today.

And the second we got in the car I asked, “honestly, what did you think of your time here?”

One person said, “ I appreciate your strength to do this." To which everyone agreed.

She admitted to having wanted to leave, escape it all.

Another had said that she had always known that this stuff was happening, it wasn’t a shock to her in that way.

Another said that they had always been taught to be wary of such places. And when we were walking through, they remembered that. And remember that they should keep ‘their guard up”. And their parents were worried. And the driver had freaked out today when he heard that both juhi and ria were also going to the slums- so maybe naïveté is best

Because I don’t have this cultural understanding, or background--- I guess I was brought up saying not to walk in dark alleys at night, that some areas of Boston were dangerous

But this is different. I don’t have that fear.

But here, I just want to be with the people. And make them laugh! And do something

And manjul told me to make note of the others’ reactions, and not to judge them.

And privilege slaps me hard.

I spoke with my mother today about a family member's difficulty in making a decision.

And I was interested, kind of.
But I did eventually bring it up

Sorry mom, I am just in a different world now. When I am surrounded by kids that have never been educated and isn’t considered a priority and will sew on sequins for an hour to earn one ruppe, 50 ruppees to a dollar,

No I am not worried about this situation.

And I don’t like this about myself, this change.

how do I relate?

But I must relate.

And as I was telling the other girls, my way of processing, I said that emotionally I am exhausted daily and that I was truthfully in shock when I came here.

One replied that she feels bad, but that she is “numb to it all”.

Numb like I am to learning and seeing visuals of the holocaust?

Numb to hearing about racism and sexism and homophobia and everything?

Numb, numb, numb, numb, numb

And it is numbness that lets us get by. It is numbness that let the Nazis fired millions of heads- although they are people too.

And numbness that allows me to sustain some sort of dignity as I pass through the streets in my a/c car with my uniformed driver, equipped with toilet paper and hand sanitizer and snacks and bottled water of the purest quality and I see a broken limb hitting again the glass. I see a male figured sari sweeping by. I see kids signaling their hands to their mouths for food, colored umbrellas waiting to be bought

The informal economy.

They are bound to have some success in a given day, in a well-off suburb? Right? All day there, swerving between cars, maybe someone will buy the little plastic toy?

And I am noticing this change in myself.

It is harder to smile,

It really is.

Where is my liveliness? I love to dance and sing and I want to dance and sing with all of you but my heart is so heavy I can’t process it and I want to process it and my friend told me that India isn’t even really on the radar as one of the poorest countries, so how? How is it any worse? Maybe no dvd in the house? No color tv?

I don’t get it. I guess I need to go to Africa

But it isn’t right to compare and contrast when this is painful. And it is painful.

And so many parents from the slums are looking at me, miming driving a car, pull their finger upwards and say America!

I know exactly what they mean. Half of the time I play the dumb, confused American. The other half I say india followed by a thumbs up signifying that I love india- but they don’t want to believe it!

And when one participant from my training workshop with ETF said “ I need to know my own limits- I can’t go into a community just like who I am, I don’t do that.”

So that is the problem. It is stopping people.

Please, please join me in laughing

And I am not even hungry. Although all I have had is a little bit of cereal earlier in the day, and know that there is food waiting for me in the car.

I am just not hungry when I am there. I am there, and I don’t want to leave.

1 comment:

  1. This is very insightful and moving. Introspection sucks sometimes but it's good to recognize privilege and not deny it- to be open minded and struggle, because that's how we truly grow. Thanks for this, Zohar. Keep on smiling and laughing :)