I was anxious to get into the classroom and I constantly wondered what the room would look like. There’ll be 40 kids in a room, they said. The buildings will be in poor conditions, they said. The children will be starving, they said. My government school was pretty and small. The walls were blue and decorated with Disney characters. My classroom was rich with print and color. There were 26 kids, all of which had enough workspace at their bench and received lunch. There was one small light, which did nothing to illuminate the room. To accomplish this, windows and the door were left open. There was a large chalkboard at the front of the room. I knew this wouldn’t be like an American classroom, but it was pretty close, just without technology, and my goodness did I feel lost without it!
Promethean boards, elmos, laptop carts, ipad carts, printers, copiers, classroom computers…two weeks without any of this. How the hell am I supposed to do my job? God bless the teachers who started before Y2K. I was prepared for this, but at the same time, having all these classroom amenities at my fingertips through my first year of teaching to go to none? Alright, Chelsea. Let’s do it!
I went right to modeling. Message time, word families, read alouds (the kids didn’t understand my accent whatsoever), differentiating math groups, centers, TRP, the Groin method, and the direct method. I may have overloaded Chaitalee with so many choices in such little time, but I wanted her to have various strategies she could use to better her practice. She ate them up! The Teach For India teachers are so receptive and so quick to implement new things. I love that about them. These bioengineers and computer engineers and the likes have all left the possibility of such lucrative careers to help out their community for a crappy salary and no additional support in the schools. There is no nurse, no counselor, no psychologist, and no occupational therapist. These teachers have to play these roles all wrapped up in one. I salute them.
Comprehension seemed to be the biggest battle in the classroom while there were some ten and eleven year old math geniuses. We worked on division while I was there and some of them could do problems such as 12356/2 with no explanation. I knew that there needed to be major differentiation going on in the classroom. I hope she’s kept it going!
Every day the students were beyond excited to be there and would show you this by giving you a hi-five. This included every student, not just the ones in your classroom. They wanted to show you what they learned, how close they were to meeting the objective, and wanted you to give them more “sums.” Their energy was incredible and will be missed.
On our second to last day in Delhi, we decided to go to the zoo. I was really hoping that it would be safari like. Not! The zoo had maybe ten exhibits, one of which included fake reptiles, four of which included sleeping animals, and the rest were just…sad. Such disappointment mixed with extreme heat=not a very good time. Perhaps the locals felt the same. Such boring animals to look at…but these people, these women of caramel skin (one with blonde hair) who obviously don’t belong here, they look interesting. Let’s all feast our eyes on them! And they did. Not in a normal, I’m curious way, but in a I’m going to stare at you and take pictures of you and get really close to you type of way. We were used to Maggie (she’s white) being stared at. But the black girls, not so much, and definitely not so intensely. It was funny, yet uncomfortable. They were obviously trying to figure out what we were. And what were we?
Anytime someone asked us what we were, we’d all reply “American.” They’d immediately re-ask Catherine and me as if we didn’t all just say the exact same thing. We’d then tell them again that we’re from America. There was something so beautiful, yet revolting about that: the US is the only country in the world that has such a diverse group of people who are all American, yet white people are the only ones seen as American. Trying to be black in America is hard enough, trying being it overseas. Good riddance.
And I say black because I hate the term African-American from the bottom of my heart. For starters, the hyphen bothers me. Asian-American, Mexican-American, African-American. European-American??? How often have you seen that as a box to check off? It’s like another slap in the face that says hey you second class citizens, remember that you don’t actually belong here and you never will. Secondly, I know nothing about Africa. Couldn’t tell you a damn thing about it. Why am I being forced to identify myself as a woman having African roots? How do I even know that I’m from Africa (except for the fact that everyone is). I could be from Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc. There are black people everywhere. But because my parents and their parents have no immediate ethnic background, we must choose Africa by default. Crazy to me. There was a total of two people who undoubtedly accepted me saying that I was from America. The rest said I look like I’m from Ghana and other African countries. Pretty sure I don’t, but okay. (And I mean nothing by that. I’m slightly obsessed with being able to identify where people come from. For the most part I can tell Black Canadians apart from Black Americans apart from Africans apart from Jamaicans apart from mixed people. To me, I just look American). But I guess Africa makes sense for them. It is deeply rooted within their history and more than likely they see Africans over blacks because of proximity. At any rate, India, I’m just a black girl from America. Accept me as such.
Hyderabad is a city full of history surrounding love, conquests, and assimilation. There were many Brits who came to Hyderabad and ended up adopting their ways: changing their religion, their clothing, and their lifestyles. How often does this happen nowadays (by choice and not by survival)? Sure we go to other countries and we may live as the people do in that country for that brief period of time, but how many of us would adopt their culture, traditions, and ideologies? Probably very few of us. There are some things that I loved about India, but I wouldn’t trade in Christianity for becoming a Muslim, my steaks for biryani, or trade in my jeans for a sari. But maybe it’s because I didn’t fall in love there (damn it). What makes us want to adopt another culture?
In America, we have plenty of them! I think that many of us participate in other cultures from time to time, but only for things that are at the tip of the iceberg: food, language, dancing, etc. What about at the core-the morals and values of the people? I love Mexican food, I speak Spanish, I love their dances, but I wouldn’t suddenly abandon my culture for theirs. If I fell in love with an Indian prince would I suddenly want to leave behind my identity as a black woman and embrace a new one as an Indian as the Brits did? Is that the answer towards racism in America- love? I feel as though I sound like Dumbledore. Will we actually be able to accept Jews, black people, Japanese, Mexicans, Muslims, if we actually loved them, not just learned to tolerate or get along with them? How many Puerto Ricans do you actually love? Not just know, not just went to school with, not just like, but truly, wholeheartedly love? Koreans? Chinese? Africans? It’s amazing how we can live in an incredibly diverse nation our entire lives but barely ever take the opportunity to love people so close to us. Maybe then we’d accept all the differences that people have to bring the table. We may not assimilate and get our male bits circumcised like Kilpatrick, but things could get better.
I dreamed of one day riding an elephant. And not at the zoo or the circus. I wanted an authentic elephant ride. I refused to leave India without letting that happen. Maggie, Catherine, and I all took a ride out to elephant village in Jaipur. As we cruised through the land, we got a sneak peek at what was to come: elephants roamed the grounds, some bathed themselves, and others were eating. I was in awe. That sentiment was later replaced by fear. Here I was, about to cross off an item from my bucket list, and it suddenly hit me that I would be on top of this behemoth creature. What if I fell? What if I fell and it stepped on me? The trainer wanted to know who was going up first. I sacrificed Maggie to see how likely or unlikely death would be upon climbing up the elephant. By climbing, I don’t mean with a ladder. We literally climbed up the elephant using its ears to hold on to and its trunk as a ladder. The trainer demonstrated this for us and I still refused to believe that it was possible. Hence the sacrifice of Maggie. I watched her go and I was yet again amazed. It was then my turn, but I just knew there was no way that this was going to work for me. I have at least fifty pounds on Maggie. You mean to tell me that I could stroll up the elephant’s trunk without damaging it? And that it was going to actually help lift my big ass up? Say what! And it did. What an awesome experience. Catherine climbed up last and off we went.
I sat in the middle Shavani’s back and could feel every single muscle, which was slightly uncomfortable, but I’d be damned if I attempted to readjust myself on an elephant. We took a leisurely stroll through the village, waiving at children as we passed. Shavani would stop on occasion to grab a leafy snack from the top of trees. Then would lift her trunk and shower us with the crumbs. Every so often our trainer would pause to do his own thing and Shavani would then do her own thing. No bueno. There was an elephant in the lagoon bathing itself. Shavani wanted to join and proceeded to walk down a rocky path to enter the water. We had to scream for the trainer who began to yell at her in Hindi. It was hilarious because he was yelling at her as if she was a misbehaving golden retriever rather than a massive elephant. Some twenty minutes later our trainer wandered off again at which point Shavani began to climb up a wall. More screaming from us. More shouting from him. As we neared the end of our journey, he asked us if we enjoyed our trip and was everything good. We told him yes. He then said, “Ok, so you tip me. My boss very mean. Tip.” Now I’m thinking, I’m not really sure how those two things relate, but ok. And in America, you don’t outright ask for a tip, but this isn’t America, so whatever. Catherine tells him, “Don’t worry. We got you.”
We finally get back to where we started and Catherine gives me twenty rupees to give to him. ‘Don’t worry, we got you’ and you give me twenty rupees. Lol. Mkay. I should’ve known how this was going to end since she didn’t even want to give him her own money. Maggie and I had left our purses in the car whereas Catherine had brought hers with her, so at that moment, we didn’t have anything additional to give to him. I walk over to give him the money and I tell him thank you. He looked down at my hand, then looked back up at me like “Twenty rupees?!” “No ma’am.” He kind of swatted at me. I didn’t know what to do. I’m like here and push the money towards him, he pushes my hand back towards me. “There’s three of you. I don’t want twenty rupees. Give me a hundred.” Then he gave me another ‘you effing disgust me’ face. By this time, Catherine and Maggie came over to see what was going on and I explained it to them to which Maggie responded, “Then you get no rupees.” So he took the twenty.
In our defense, we didn’t have any small bills (trying to get change is like pulling teeth in India), and he was a kind of suck ass tour guide. He almost let us die twice. You better take your rupees and go about your business, sir.
After a first day of seeing the sights in Delhi and experiencing the monuments and history that Delhi has to offer we decided to have a nice relaxing second day at the zoo. We had high expectations for the zoo and thought it may be like a safari or have different animals than we have in the states. All of our expectations escaped us when we walked in and saw the first lion. It was an extremely hot day and the zoo was not crowded at all and the animals had no life to them. I am pretty sure this was due to the weather conditions. It was extremely sad to see these animals in such hot weather. They looked tired, hungry, and especially hot. We continued to walk around the zoo were we saw some lively hippos. They were the most active animals in the zoo. They were splashing around and having a good time. Around the hippos there were many families, but we, the Americans seemed to be the only ones really watching them. The rest of the people around the hippo area were watching us.
It is a weird phenomenon to be at a place were the animals are the entertainment but in reality I felt like I was part of the exhibit. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to act. I was dressed appropriately, yet I saw onlookers taking out their camera phones and not snapping pictures of the active hippos but snapping pictures of us. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to pose or act natural. It gave me real insight to how these animals at the zoo felt.
The zoo wasn’t the first time I felt like I was part of the exhibit. There was another time that I truly felt apart of the museum and that was at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. We went there on our first day in Hyderabad. I had realized that the people in the streets weren’t so interested in us like they had been in Delhi, so I thought it would be the same at the museum. When we got to the museum we were roaming through the different exhibits. We must’ve gone through seven different rooms that day and in each room someone wanted a picture of us. I have never felt so popular as I did in India. It is a very interesting feeling and I am now wondering were all those pictures of me are.
Working in Vivkenanda Public School was the highlight of my trip. The students were the first day almost brought tears to my eyes. I had never seen students so excited to be in class and so excited to see their teachers. That first day I was overwhelmed with joy and wasn’t sure how to express myself or how to sit still. I wanted to jump in right away and start teaching. However, I held myself back and listened to Samina’s wise words of take that first day to sit back and observed. I observed a lot that first day and saw the appreciation that students have for their teachers or Didis. Students brought in gorgeous flowers to give to their Didi and shared everything with them. It was amazing the love they had. I noticed on that first day the students wanted to learn, they wanted to be in school, they just had no idea “how to do school” and needed the extra push to concentrate and focus on their tasks at hand. The students didn’t even care that they didn’t have desks they were still eager to learn!
The second day of school I jumped in immediately. I started the students off with message time which soon became the way that Divya (the teacher I was working with) started off her morning meeting. I then introduced Haggerty which the students had so much fun with and they thought it was a game. We then got them writing. Writing was the biggest struggle I noticed in the classroom. The students had no idea how to write in English and were to begin. With some sentence starters and push to spell how they hear the words to students were off to a great start.
I then wanted to see how the students would act in centers. They absolutely loved the center time. We did both math centers and reading centers. The students loved them. They had never had the opportunity to get up and work together and this gave them a way to teach one another and most importantly learn from one another.
Being at Viveknanda Public School was interesting itself. The school was a funded school that really was struggling on funding and the principal was always looking for more money. It had a free lunch sponsored by Deloitte but the school itself was a mess. Classes were without classrooms, overcrowded, and many didn’t have desks or enough desks. One day, during lunch the teachers we were working with told us to leave as soon as possible. It was half way through the day but they said we needed to get out because the principal wanted to take us to the American Consulate to do an interview about the school. Annie and I jolted and left without even saying goodbye to anyone that day. The next day, Annie didn’t come to school and the principal was extremely disappointed. I wasn’t sure why until during our break a man from ADP was in the break room telling Divya and me that the Telugu news was going to be there and wanted to conduct an interview with the Teach for India teachers and the Americans. I immediately said no I can’t participate an interview but they insisted they at least take my picture. I said that was fine but didn’t say a word to the people there conducting the interview. A week later I was on Facebook when one of the teachers posted a picture of the Telugu news…Turns out I made it into the newspapers and have no idea what it says about me (I am in the middle teaching).
After reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers I was expecting to see the garbage sorters and was prepared for the beggars. I don’t think the book had prepared me for all that I was going to see and was going to experience. Many of the characters in the book including Abdul and the others that live in the village are both garbage sorters and many take the role as beggars. While reading the book I was expecting to see the beggars and garbage sorters on the street. However, I didn’t expect the beggars to be as aggressive as they were. I read about Abdul’s mother asking for money and begging on the street but never heard of her hitting anyone to get that money.
There is one memory of a beggar that will resonate with me for a while. I don’t know if it is because she was the most aggressive or if it is because she actually touched me. I was sitting in an auto at a red-light when a lady came ferociously up to me. She was standing at the edge of the open part of the auto, originally she just laid her hand upon my arm and just kept it there for a few seconds. I shook my head no signifying I wasn’t going to give her money and she kept her hand there as the light grew longer and longer her soft touch turned into a banging upon my arm. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to give money and wanted to so badly. But I knew as soon as I reached into my purse five other women that were at other autos would be right at my window hitting me as well. The longer the light took the harder her hits got and she didn’t leave my side until the light turned green. The poverty I saw in Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur made me feel sad it was like nothing I had seen before. Just like many of tHe boys did in the book there were families sleeping in their Rickshaws searching for any shelter or anything in the garbage.
In Delhi, on the backroads, to our hotel, I saw many Abdul’s searching through the garbage. I am curious as to what they were searching for and if they found anything that would get them anything. These boys searched hard and even though we just passed them you can tell that they were hard at work looking for something specific. It was hard to watch and hard to see the poverty. It definitely opened my eyes to a new world and to a type of poverty I had never seen before.