Monday, June 29, 2009

Final Day

June 29th, 2009- Monday

How do I feel? Elevated. Empowered. Ecstatic. In disbelief that its over. Why? I’m still trying to process… I don’t know where those three weeks went! I no longer identify with the “numb” and “surprised” person I was on June 10th (when I started this project). It seems like I’ve had a world of an experience these past days. It’s hard for someone else to understand or for me to justify this in words – let’s just say that sometimes the simplest and most available experience proves to be more valuable than something that we give up (not only monetarily) so much to attain.

Today was the last day, the final day with the children in the classroom. Zohar and I spent a good 40 mins at a shop buying some last minute gifts for the children, teacher and organization. The three of us were really excited during our ride to the school and decided to just let the children be – enjoy the last day. We reached there, played for a while with the kids until it started to get loud. We then decided to do a run through with the kids. Gave them a little pep talk, got them excited for the special guests that were coming today to see the play and for the surprise gifts that we had for them. We also told them to not worry anymore since we’ll be just doing the play inside as some of them (especially Sahil) requested. At that point Sahil suddenly got up to retaliate! He said that he spent all weekend getting ready to perform outside, now we HAVE to! Then some other kids started yelling saying that they wanted to do it inside..some back and forth…then a consensus- we’d do it inside AND outside! Everyone agreed to that decision, which I think was a first.

We then gave them a break to call their parents- more confusion- no one landed up with any of their mothers for individual reasons. During the recess time, we tried to coordinate the entrance of our family, photographers and friends. Since we took a little longer than expected, Gayatri teacher took quick charge of keeping the children occupied while we went to get the family (..sign of smooth team work again- the fact that we didn’t have to ask her, she assumed the role while we were gone instead of remaining apprehensive..)

There was a reason why I wanted my two closest friends, my sister and mother to see this. One reason was that I wanted to share and they had the right to know what I’d been so passionate about that I couldn’t spend much time socializing or why I didn’t get enough time to visit family since I’ve come back from the US. Another reason why I was excited about them coming to Sangam Nagar to see the play rather than on just video was so that through their reactions of walking in the community I could get a sense of volunteers for future projects. I asked the car to bring them through most of the distance so they didn’t have to go through the entire grind. However, as expected, they were completely surprised by the walk they had to go through to reach the class. Through the narrow dirty walls on the mucky mud, through the houses with staring and curious people, half-naked children running around, past the aimless goats and chicken, over the trash and red spit marks, with the distinct smell.. basically getting the raw experience of the slums. My mother was quick to note that ‘these people need to learn how to live. Its just so simple to put a plank over the mud to walk!’ Seems like a simple solution. Something I could relate to EVERYDAY. Everyday I saw problems with basic solutions. Everyday I discussed with Gayatri. Then I realized that its easy for us (the educated population) to comment, but only after talking to Shabana did I realize that most of the ‘simple’ problems are much more complicated than we think. Hence I decided that for the short term, it was best to not dwell into those concerns and trust that education will somehow propagate the needed cultural change in that community as well. With a little expected discomfort, they climbed the tiny stairs to the classroom.

We introduced the children to the guests. The children were delighted to see them, especially our mothers. Gayatri was very happy to see Ria after 2 weeks, as were the kids. At that time Gangadhar and Shoab had reached as well. As the children started the play, the guests got much more comfortable in the room. The children were extremely smooth and barely needed any prompting. The ‘leaders’ of the group assumed charge at times of slight confusion as the rest followed. Everyone was very confident including Sahil, Hina and Khushnuma. Hina had refused to be a part of anything until 2 days ago when they decided that they wanted to sing. Khushnuma had never been to school and had just come from the village for the first time. Her hindi wasn’t fluent and she was very shy. But she wanted to sing, and so she did. Both these girls were not consistent in being comfortable enough to sing. They refused during practice, but today they voluntarily stood up! Everything was falling into place. Shoab ended the play with a strong comment on “how are we supposed to work in a world like this when we have so many problems? We all have dreams and we want to be something after studying, but how can we when we live in a society like that !? Please tell me! Please tell me!”
Everyone was very impressed with the children, their acting, their message, their dialogues and with us. They got perspective. The children were very happy with their performance as well! Hearing everyone’s comments, their confidence level shot rocket-high and they were ready to go outside. We asked Gayatri teacher to lead the way while we followed. The children didn’t take much time; they started as soon as they reached. Soon enough, more than 50 people started to gather. Someone close by was playing loud music. As I walked into his house to request him to switch it off for 5 minutes, a little boy came running screaming out to the man to turn off the music! Many of the people possibly couldn’t hear anything..they still watched. Some commented, but they watched. Shoab was reluctant to end it, but he mustered the courage and did it well. I was proud and I’m sure it was the same for the children, Gangadhar, Gayatri, Zohar and Sriya. As the children started to walk back to the classroom, Gangadhar was calling the three of us over to a conversation where an old man was asking about the performance. The old man was a Congress leader and an influential person in the community (as Gangadhar explained). He said that he couldn’t see the play himself but within those few seconds heard about it. He wanted his son to be enrolled in this program that we were doing and wanted to talk to us. We explained that Parivartan is who he should talk to, but he wasn’t willing to spend money on education. That’s when we brought Gangadhar the conversation that led to some political topics. So we left.

We went back to the class, surprisingly my 2 friends and sister wanted to come back with us (the mom’s went back) and play with the children as well! We played the Jan, Feb,…game which got to a fun level of competition. After that, we danced for a while. All of us were having a great time!!! But ALAS! It was 10 to 5pm. We gave them the gifts.. which got very chaotic and nothing like I had planned (which seemed like a common theme throughout this experience anyway). After that, we took a few pictures with the kids and said our goodbyes. Saima cried and made me promise that Sriya and I would come back to visit. I promised in a heartbeat. She said that the only reason she came to school was because of us. But she will promise to continue. I still have the little plastic bottle she gave me as a gift.

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