“Be Kind to Teachers” Week

This is my creation, "Be Kind to Teachers Week"   The teachers here are in a state of high anxiety.  It is exam week.  The kids are relaxed but a bit baffled by the tension of their teachers, and this morning I begged them please to be kind this week as the teachers are having a hard time. 

My reference point of course is the US.  But I have been involved with education here for eight-plus years now so I know the drill. 

1. Within families the mother is held responsible for how the children do at exams. 

2. The other person(s) held responsible is the teacher, the private teacher or teachers who take the children before and after school to give further instruction and to supervise the homework given by the school.  Their bonuses and salary can depend on how the children do. I learned this after our first year when I was quietly told that the teacher was expecting a gift for how the children had done. 

Life often stops for exams.  Mothers and sometimes fathers take off from work with a simple explanation, "My son/daughter has exams."   This can go on for weeks.  As an American of course I wonder what these parents actually do.  They cook, make sure the environment is good, and make sure they study.  I'm talking about college age students too.  Then of course the parents take them for exams and wait for them outside.

As I write the girls are getting ready for an exam later this morning.  For Tuesday's exam I ended up screaming at the staff because with five staff and only six girls to get out the door they managed to still be combing hair when the girls had to leave.  (I forgot in the chaos to get out the megaphone Cici sent me because I told her no one listens unless I scream)

So, this morning we are more organized.  The girls are being great (kind to teachers) and cooperating.  Once in a while I catch their eyes and wink, in thanks.  I didn't go with them Tuesday.  I was hours from submitting our government renewal application and needed to work.  But the headmistress told the teacher she thought I would be there to bless the children.  (Truly, I never seem to get it right.)  In truth the girls and I already had our pep talk this morning and I said I only cared that they try their best and however they do, I'm fine and proud of them.  This is true.  I thought I'd go this morning, but then I looked at the teacher and I knew she wanted to take them.  So I blessed them and they left.

My special blessing for exams, sports events, dance performances — is really funny and incongruous.  When I did my corporate stint at Johnson & Johnson, I wore the appropriate makeup.  It was expensive and made to look as if it was "natural" so sometimes I wondered why I did it.  But I came to think of it as warpaint — what we put on when going to do battle.  It's as much about feeling protected as what it projects.  Well, the last time I was in Frankfurt Airport, having just spent three days with Cici, and waiting for my plane back to Kolkata, I found myself wandering through the duty free make up section.  I stood before Chanel and remembered more than 20 years ago when I wandered into Saks with Heather and we bought make-up, a crazy splurge.  So that day in Frankfurt I looked at some gold specked blush… and tried it and literally couldn't see the difference when I put it on, so I bought it.  That's what I use for my blessings… I brush the gold dust on their foreheads, nose, cheeks and they love it.  It's mom's sprinkle dust.

"Mom" is full of contradictions.  I love fancy things.  I love beautiful things.  I just can't afford them and the life I want here.  It's simple.  It's choices, but I'm not someone who doesn't care about those things.  I'm a failed ascetic. 

I was a foster mother to a teenaged girl in my late twenties.  I remember thinking about drapes for my apartment when I was a resident in Psychiatry.  I saw a beautiful Egyptian patterned cloth and I wanted drapes.  I went home and looked at the windows, imagining the drapes and how beautiful they would be.  Then I asked myself if this was really how I wanted to spend my money.  Then I made the call I'd been thinking about and applied to be a foster mother.  It's all about choices.  I can still see the cloth and still feel the epiphany of choice.




“The People Around Us”

The assignment from Sahapur Sabitri Balika Vidyalaya School, the government school the girls attend, was to learn about the different roles and professions of people around us, and to then dress accordingly and give a presentation.  I've posted a new photo album with more pictures, but these are the girls:


From left to right, Doctor, Politician, Psychologist, Tribal Dancer, Army Officer, Lawyer, Teacher. The dancer was assigned her role by the school teacher.  For the others we had a lottery.  The girl who is "doctor" wants to be a doctor.  After school she checked everyone's heart, including the dog's.

I posted yesterday and I'm posting today because even in the midst of all the trouble, life goes on in very fine ways.  School continues; we celebrate Holi; the girls learn about professions and get to dress up.  Our teachers go out with the girls shopping for an army uniform, a white coat for our doctor.  Bijoy cuts a piece of wood and the teacher helps make the sign, "Vote for me, and for upliftment of the poor."  The little ones have their classes too; Rani sways to music…


My work gets behind and I owe reports all over the place;  I get stressed and take refuge in the dental chair.  A new security company takes over.  The point is, as a Home for children, we do not miss a beat.  That's the priority, the children and they know it, and they thrive.


Holi, Festival of Colours

Yesterday was Holi, our second serious Holi celebration.  (see new photo album) The first year I was just too new to understand what we had to do.  The kids had just arrived.  It would have been fun.  But it's one of those days when people stay home, afraid of getting sprayed by the intensely colored water, so no one around me said anything, and it was one of those days I spent alone with the kids.  I wonder what they were thinking, in this new place with the white foreign lady who didn't speak Bengali and didn't celebrate Holi.  I guess after that it could only have gotten better.  By the next year I was braver, and wanted to know what we could do for Holi, how we could do it, and it was great.  I'm not sure if I blogged.  Some day I'll index the blog, when I have time…… And by next year maybe I'll even be up on the religious meaning of the holiday and we can add that too.

The security situation is improved.  The branch manager wasn't able to change things so I called the corporate office in Delhi.  I'd gotten one of those letters, "Welcome to our company…" with an invitation to call Customer Relations if I wanted — so I did.  Actually their worldwide headquarters are in the UK — which would have been my next call.  Delhi was wonderful and produced results.  The last 36 hours have been fine.

Enjoy the pics of Holi, and here is one I didn't have the courage to put in the album because this post will be followed by others, and people will forget, but on the album…. makes no sense but the album feels more public.  Enough said:


Mummy in Colours, Holi 2009

The Branch Manager Came at Midnight

The Branch Manager of the new security company came at midnight.  This followed three hours of phone calls to various supervisors of the company.  It followed a visit from one supervisor when I demanded that the guard leave the premises immediately.  I then told the company they were fired and I would sit out for the night and guard.  I was feeling distraught.  I am not nuts.  Here is what happened.

If you have been following the last two weeks, you know I hired a new company, a well known, international company, that guards embassies.  It's also very expensive.  But the embassy guarding types were not who they sent to Shishur Sevay.  It has been an ongoing nightmare, in the truest sense.  The final last night was that I went outside at 9 pm to lock the gate into the house and saw a NEW guard I'd not seen before.  Just hours before I'd met with the supervisor who assured me that the two guards that were behaving would be continuing.  Now, two hours later, a new face.  So I asked, "what is your name?"  There was silence as he just stared at me.  I asked again, with no response.  Then I saw the lanyard of an ID tag, with the tag tucked into his shirt.  I said, "Where is your ID?"  He points to his shirt.  I say, "let me see your ID" and he points to his shirt again.  I insisted and finally slowly he pulls out his ID and shows it to me.  It has a name and a picture… of another guard.  I ask his name and he tells me the same name as on the ID.  I tell him this is not his card or his name, and ask who the hell he is!  He hasn't even signed in to our register book, but he has signed in to his company's book, with his real name.  (I finally got him to produce his student ID card).  This was really the last straw, and he was strange, and I didn't want him here.  He had no deployment order and I hadn't screened him, which had been our agreement.  I learned later the supervisor didn't know he was coming, that another guard who was expected had called and asked him to cover, and then yet another guard had given him the ID and told him to keep it tucked in his shirt, that I wouldn't notice.

Maybe these are the people who guard the embassies — even worse to think about.

Over the last two weeks with the new company, I have found them sleeping.  Last Sunday morning at 8 am I found a strange man and woman wandering through my office… the guard had simply taken their names and sent them in.  I still don't know why they really came, as their story did not ring true and I would not have let them through the gate, much less into the house.

Yet another guard caused a commotion with one of the Dadas, who accused him of taking his picture with his cell phone.  The guard insisted he was just taking a picture of the rabbits.  It was shift change and I didn't think fast enough to check, but I thought about it later and was angry that the guard was taking pictures at all!  Maybe the Dada was right, or maybe the pic was of rabbits, or maybe this guard was also taking pics of the girls.  All I know is that the guard was making trouble instead of easing trouble.

The Dadas have been quiet, maybe even amused at the trouble.  But they are not interfering, for which I am grateful.

The Branch Manager asked if he could visit so late, and came.  To all these people I am somehow "Mother" or in this case, "Mother Harrison."  I have talked with him on the phone many times and have sent him emails documenting all.  He is new and trying to get control of what is going on, and seemed grateful that I would talk.  He explained to the supervisor that "Mother Harrison is used to seeing our guards all over the world so she expects that kind of security guard."  I said I understood Shishur Sevay was very small and I totally understood if we were too small an account for them, but they needed to tell me so.  No, they are committed to guard Embassies and Shishur Sevay.  This morning's guard is good.  The Branch Manager also instructed that I have names and phone numbers of their officials all the way up.  Of course I am hopeful.   Before leaving, he looked around at my walls and said, "One thing is missing, a Cross."  I said I am not Christian, that I am Jewish, and that this is an Indian home where we celebrate all the pujas and the girls take care of the Gods.

For me it has sort of become a challenge, "Can I find good security in Kolkata?"  I am planning a cctv set up of the front gate, but the engineer didn't show yesterday…

I have so much work that isn't getting done.  I also have a cracked tooth with only low level chronic pain.  An earlier dentist wanted to pull it.  I found a new dental place and they said they could save it with root canal, post and crown.  So yesterday I started root canal.  I thought about how much work I had, and how much stress I have, and I decided that the dental chair was respite.  I wouldn't be able to relax at a spa.  If I tell the girls I'm going to the dentist they tend to be better behaved while I am away… So, there I was, relaxing in the dental chair, having my root canal.

The girls are fine, great really.  Next week they dress up in school in various professions.  This year we will do, lawyer, doctor, teacher, politician, woman army officer.  Next week also is Holi, and this year I promise pictures.  And Monday afternoon I get respite again in the dental chair.



March 2009
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