Just Another Day…

The girls are getting ready to go to sleep.  The TV is off, lights out, and they have closed the door to my office so I won't hear them whispering.  The classroom cleaning team is almost finished and soon they will go to bed.  The dinner team finished the dishes and the floor.  Music plays from outside but sometimes it is OK.  Tonight it's classical Bengali, soulful, and not the Bollywood music, an unwelcome intruder.  I'm at the computer, reflecting, which is much better than working on my "to do" list.

This morning I had to be at the school, the government school where two of the girls attend at 8:30.  That meant I couldn't walk the other girls to their school bus so I arranged for Bijoy and our house supervisor to go with them. 

The government school was having their yearly ceremony to welcome new children.  One of our girls was dancing. I was invited to say a few words, and just to be present with them.  I arrived to find my help was needed in putting on saris, and I thought back to my decision in 2003 that the only way to learn how to put on a sari was to do it regularly.  In that setting I'm just one of the mothers down on my knees trying to get the pleats right.

I sat out in the hall, next to Ganga in her wheelchair, as the rest of the preparations continued.  Children were running wildly up and down the hall.  Ganga squirmed, and signalled she wanted something.  It's sounds, but not words.  I asked if she wanted to go home.  She really looked uncomfortable.  She indicated no.  I asked, "Ganga, are you alright?"  She looked me straight in the eyes and shook her head, No.  I asked if she wanted to get on my lap and she seemed to want to.  I took her out of her chair and put her on my lap.  She was still not happy.  Then she stretched out her body to touch the ground with her feet.  Ganga wanted to run with the other children.

Ganga cannot walk.  Her knees buckle, her hips are weak, and her toes twist to the side and point.  So I held her under her arms and I "walked her" and all the children looked and walked with her.  Ganga was with her friends.  At the end of the hall she was OK to go back in her wheelchair.  We went into the auditorium, where mats were on the floor for children to sit.  I wheeled her to the side of the mats.  When the children all came in and sat on the mats she was unhappy again.  She was clear she wanted to sit with the others on the mats.  So I took her out of the chair and sat on the mat with her, next to some girls.  Pretty soon they were holding her up and I went back to the chair.  At first she looked back, but that was mostly because she loves having her picture taken.


The program began with the teachers singing.

 Ganga is in the lower left corner.  I was asked to speak a few words.  I used my little bit of Bengali to tell them how happy I was to be here, and noted all the years we had been part of the school.  Then I told them how wonderful it was that they had taken in children with disabilities.  They had done this out of love in their hearts.  This school had not be "designated" for children with disabilities but they opened their doors to disabled children in the community.    The school had greatly improved in the last four years.  The headmistress has fought for good teachers.  She withstood disapproval for taking these children.  I also know that this year the teachers put together a fund and admitted ten children who could not afford uniforms, books, the minimal admission fees.  So my words were what I was feeling, gratitude for the chances they took for our girls.  I've been the President of the Mother/Teacher's Committee for the past three years and it is an incredible honor.  I AM a part of this community.  Our children are a part of this community, which is why I do not want to move far.

But that brings me to a visit I had this evening by three young men I've talked to before.  They are part of the local community leadership.  They know what is going on.  They do not want us to leave.  They want to fix the problems.  They came this evening to say they want to get back for me the extortion money I paid four years ago.  They have already spoken to the person involved.  Now they want a meeting in which I will speak of it, in his presence. 

I was really confused at first, not at all sure what to say.  And then I thought, "Sure!"  They said it could be anywhere, and at first I didn't want it here but then I thought about the sheer presence of the group here, all coming to this house, past the house of the man who wants to be gatekeeper, and it seemed great.  In fact the "gatekeeper" has been ordered to be present.  I suggested they keep him busy early in the evening, take him for ice cream so he won't drink before the meeting.

Tomorrow evening we will meet here.  We will meet upstairs.  I have their phone numbers.  They are the ones who take care of us at the Sit and Draw contests, and they make sure our girls dance at community events.  But in the past they did not come to the end of the lane to help us.  Now they do.

I believe that ultimately we will move, but it is going to take time.  That I know.  We have seen possibilities that interest us. But in a way that is irrelevant at the moment.  What is relevant is that there ARE people here who want to protect us.  I'm very touched by that.  They are trying to make their community better, their India better.  I'm touched by that too. When they left I just kept grinning and grinning, and saying to Bijoy, "This is good.  This is very good!"  He was grinning too.  He is a young man who wants his India to be a better place than it is.

Well, in between the school program of the morning, and the visit from the young men in the evening, I did some shopping for things I've been putting off.  The girls needed fresh under garments.  The little ones needed some fresh "half pants" or shorts, and shirts.  The staff needed fresh saris and churidas.  We provide clothes for the massis and they wash the clothes daily.  It's part of keeping this place healthy and clean.   I had fun shopping.  Gibi and I have a good act for bargaining.  The price is always very high because of my white skin, higher than the usual high of bargaining.  So then I say no.  Gibi tells them they are charging because of my skin.  Then I say, "Gibi, let's go.  Stop talking to them," and I get about three or four feet away and they call me back.  Now we bargain for real.  Today Bijoy was watching from the car and laughing at our act.  

Late in the morning a new special educator came, and we reviewed reports she has written about the children with disabilities.  She will be coming three days a week starting in April, but has already started guiding the other teachers of the children with disabilities.  We are having a big teacher's meeting tomorrow, so I spent some time helping the new teachers prepare materials for that.  I fixed a couple of the laptops that were reluctant to go online — computers are moody I've decided.

In closing, here is a picture of one of our girls dancing for the function today.  I'm proud of her too.  I'm proud of all of them.  I have been entrusted with their safety and welfare.  I think about this a lot.  I hummed to the music as they danced.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sameer
    Mar 24, 2011 @ 08:52:35

    Dear Michelle Harrison,
    I am 34 year man of Indian origin now living in Dallas,TX. I came across your blog through Ashanet. I do not have any words to describe my feelings. You are God. Who would have thought that sacrificing the comfortable life in US and moving to a completely different culture to help the needy will be faced with so much resistance. My heart breaks knowing about all the ills in Indian society, but I bow to you for your courage, commitment and tenacity. Please never abandon these girls. I have a 3.5 year old daughter myself and I am just amazed how much love and affection a woman gives to everyone around them. In form of daughter, sister, mother, wife etc. I bow to all the women of the world. When I see so much pain and hatred in the world, I just wonder why? why do we even exist.
    May you be blessed with all the courage and you will find a way out to find a safer home. Let me know if I can help.


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March 2011
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