“Mummy, We want to have a meeting.”

"Mummy, We want to have a meeting."  It was about seven last evening.  I was at the computer, several girls were doing homework in the room, on the couch, the floor… They whispered and I tried to find out what was going on.  They kept looking at one another, and then our oldest said quite determinedly, "Mummy, we want to have a meeting." 

"All of you?" I asked.  This was a first and I really was clueless, but I did know something important was happening.   The girls called the others, and then we all sat on the floor, eight girls and me.  I wished I could have gotten a picture.

Our oldest, Mother India, spoke for them all.  They had been afraid to tell me, but she convinced them we could all talk.  The gist is that a few of them have talked with the boy who lives in the house behind us.  I've written before about "Romeo" as I call him, because at one time staff was very upset that he watched them play in the garden, and there was an attempt to keep the girls inside all the time.  I had made light of it all, even putting on our picture wall a snapshot of him peeking out his window.  One afternoon last week he was blasting rock music when I was in the garden.  I called for him to turn it down, which he did right away.  This could have been anywhere in the world, except that in the US the music might have been turned higher in spite.

He has chatted with the girls, and they with him, and with his mother.  The boy and the mother both said our home is nice, that their mother (me)is good.  The girls said the boy was nice and he wanted them to refer to him as Dada, the term for brother.

I put them at ease immediately, telling them how happy I was that they came to me, and then telling them I thought they had done very well.  They want to call him Dada — so fine.  I told them what would worry me…. if he used bad language, if he tried to get them to come outside the gate, and if he tried to touch them.  Until their incarceration in the government orphanage they had always lived also among boys and men.  I want them to be safe, and the best way is to give them skills, not isolate them behind walls.  We also talked about politeness, being friendly to neighbors, all of which is part of the culture in which they grew up…

We used to need a translator, but we are really fine on our own now.  Reasons for past meetings?  The first I recall was to dispel fears that I would die and leave them having to beg.  They didn't come to this on their own, but they heard all sorts of predictions about my leaving, everything from cancer to my deciding to leave.  So I took care first of the practical and explained about Wills and that there would be money to take care of them.  Then I told them there was no reason to worry, that my health was fine, and that I was here because I love them. 

I told again the story of my walking along a street in NY and hearing them call to me for help and how I'd said, "OK, I'm coming to find you!"  I tell them about selling my house and coming to Kolkata and telling the government I was looking for my girls, and then standing outside the institution and waving to girls behind the grilles, and waiting and waiting, and going to the government over and over, and praying to Kali and Sarmu to bring my children home…. and then their coming home to Shishur Sevay.  They love the story, a piece of their histories, a thread of empowerment, that they called to me and I came to find them.

 

Another meeting was for us all to talk about one of the girls who was disruptive, took things from others, and fought.  We worked out a plan, with her participation, and it worked for a while…. then we had another meeting…. and now things are quiet.  When I run out of ideas I ask them for help.

Teaching discipline, and self discipline are major priorities, but I also recognize that most of the girls were in charge of their lives, and that of their siblings at times.  So I respect their sense of autonomy while insisting they learn self control and restraint.  It's all about "attending to them" in the various forms they present — much of it about cutting nails, helping with homework, admiring art work, watching them dance, settling disputes — which is easy because I rarely understand so I just say babababa and send them away. 

 

Bababa is a very important word here.  It's what I use to describe what goes on in their minds when they are angry, out of control, can't study, are "bad." They tell me about their bababa.  When my kids from the US visited and some of the tension spilled out at Shishur Sevay, I just told the girls we were having bababa.  I told them everyone has bababa, and we have to learn what to do with it, how to manage it.

 

Walking to school a few days ago one of the girls told me about her bababa.  She had been failing all her math work.  I asked about whether she had bababa in her head and learned that she was feeling terrible about her looks, her dark skin, her eyes… so we talked about skin color, and prejudice, and stupidity, and how others try to hurt people…. Some bad stuff had been going on among the girls.  But also, a month ago when we went to visit a temple, some beggars there were pointing her out and talking about how dark she is.

 

When we got to school SeemaDi took my hand and showed her, brown and white, two hands, friends… and I reminded her of her two older didis, brown and white, sisters — they love each other.

 

Truth?  She has not gotten a wrong math answer since!!!!!  I wish it were always so simple….  Her teacher is amazed… thinks she was holding back.  But no, it was bababa in her head.  That's the psychiatrist part of me here, as well as mother — knowing a lot about bababa in your head and how it can intercept good thinking and good work.  I know.  It's part of what I love about being here with these children.  I want this to be a bababa-free-zone.

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