Brigid O’Dea: Standing Out

A BENGALI PROVERB ‘Kôm panir machh besh panite uţhle o machhe beshi lafalafi kôre’

If a fish of little water moves to a lot of water, that fish will jump around a lot; meaning one will always stand out if they move to a place to which they don’t belong!

JUMPING WITH JOY

This Bengali proverb rang true for numerous reasons – a group of white kids wandering with waining will, western sweat and water (costing 20 rupees paid for with a 1,000 rupee note) draws plenty of attention. On day trips to temples and museums, we seemed to be a bigger source of interest than the attraction itself. The centre of many photographs, that I imagine will be shown at family gatherings and weddings and Holiday festivals, sewn with glorified stories of the day they met ‘The White Kids’.

Another reason the proverb fits with my experience is that I have been jumping around. A LOT. Jumping with joy, jumping with the children, jumping out of exploding autos, jumping on ants, and regularly jumping to the toilet! All in the 36° heat!

 

Brigid and Team DAS in Kolkata

Brigid and Team DAS in Kolkata, Summer 2015

When I mention jumping with joy and jumping with the children at school, these terms are pretty much synonymous. The children, ranging in age from 4 to 12 years in my school, require a lot of energy. This energy is returned with abundance. The children want nothing more than to dance with Aunty and Uncle (our given titles in the classroom) to share their food, to sing, play games, to put flowers in Aunty’s hair. They could not have made us feel more welcome or more appreciated.

THE TOUGH MOMENTS

While the day is filled with grins and giggles, it has tough moments too. The children, who often face challenging experiences outside school, can be very physical in their play, their fighting and resulting resolution. It can be upsetting to watch young children having learnt such violent behaviour at a very young age. In some ways this behaviour makes me question my role here, but more commonly reinstates for me, the importance of Suas’ work in encouraging change amongst these children and future children, waiting their turn patiently in the womb. The teachers in our school are extremely attentive and caring. They create a safe and nurturing environment for the students, whom they care so much about, and succeed in turning tears into giggles and fights into friendships.

A CITY OF JUXTAPOSITIONS

Kolkata, itself, is a vibrant city. A city of juxtapositions; exhausting and energising, welcoming and intimidating, extreme wealth and devastating poverty. Personal space is limited and while you may catch a lucky minute alone, your senses never can rest, overcome with the sights, smells and sounds of the city – the good and bad that comes with that.

Swimming in a new environment comes with challenges and with joy. At the moment, I’m still in my arm bands, but the rubber hoop has come off. Here’s hoping the coming few weeks go swimmingly!

Posted in Volunteer Perspectives.