Day 4: Performance

I wake up with a soar throat.

It’s the type that makes you feel like you’re swallowing broken glass in peanut butter. I do my best to ready myself and spirit for school today, but I know today is going to be much tougher with my cold. The kids are intelligent and fun, but they can also be very rowdy, and I’m not sure how my voice will hold up to them today.
We arrive at the school, and I start by telling my students that I’m not feeling well and that my throat hurts–we have a few rounds of learning body parts in English and phrases related to wellness, such as, “I feel sick; my throat hurts.” I put up the day’s schedule, but even with my back to them, I can tell that my dip in energy compared to the day before has thrown them off a little. We go through the motions – practice our Christmas song, recap on Salman Khan’s muscles, and run through the tobacco avoidance presentation. All of us are a little bit uneasy. For mysterious reasons, we were moved to the second floor today, and from the balcony, we’re able to peak down at the parents assembling for the monthly PTA meeting.
I’m nervous. This will be the first time the kids will have to present. Judging by their first impression of the assignment, I can guess that the parents are going to have the same response. We while away time by repeating “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” about twenty two times, until we’re called over to present. Just as the kids assemble, I realize that I can’t find my camera. After running up and down the stairs three or four times, I give up and rush over to the parents and Sangeeta ma’am. Moms and dads are sitting on a raised concrete platform, with a few of the dads standing around the edges. I can imagine that considering their work schedules, it’s taken a good bit of sacrifice to come over for the meeting.
Sangeeta ma’am introduces me, and all at once I feel incorrigibly foreign–I can’t even speak the darn language. Somehow I muster the courage to introduce myself in whatever little Hindi I know. I finish lamely, and scan the crowd for understanding–they’re probably bored.
My eyes fall on Aakash–my go-to translator – and I pull him over (and pat his arm, because I’ve realized I might have pulled too violently). I ask the moms and dads whether they’re familiar with tobacco and whether they use it–there’s a few whispers and tons of giggling. Anyone my gaze settles on shakes their head in negation–No one uses tobacco. Apparently.
I don’t push it–clearly, the parents know the hazards of tobacco usage and clearly some of them use it regardless and clearly, they don’t want to admit it in front of their children and their teachers, who’re admonishing usage. It’s the response I expected, but I’m happy that at least their habits haven’t formed out of ignorance and that they’re not standing in the way of preventing these habits from forming in their children.
Aakash gets the ball rolling and the presentation starts. I have Muskan and Jyoti come to the center as the two narrators.
One-by-one the other’s are introduced as their roles — bidi, cigarette, lung cancer, stomach cancer, etc. My heart swells with pride–my kids are doing great. And I know how terrifying it can be to perform in front of parents.
When they finish, we all take a bow and I catch a few high-fives from the kids. I’m so overwhelmed that we’ve finished that I begin herding the kids back to the classroom without addressing the parents again. Sangeeta ma’am calls me back and asks if me if I’m sure I don’t have anything to ask the parents. I tell them that I’m very happy to be working with their children, that they’re children have taught me a lot, that it’s very admirable how much devotion they have for their children, and finally, that it’s time for the kids to get back to their lessons. I ask if anyone wants to say something or if anyone has questions, but their silence is more than enough affirmation of their appreciation.