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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Children, part 2: Stuff

Each day when I went to Chetna Bharati in Chatra, I'd bring a few toys and other props for class: my cell phone, sunglasses, a bracelet, and some funny pictures like a purple dog, a cow with earrings, and others. Finn and Lightning, the two cars who have been featured in some photos in earlier posts (and will be featured in the future!) also came with me. The sunglasses were quite popular, as I taught the girls that the one wearing them must stick her thumb up and say, "Keeeeewwwwweeelllll."

Most recently, I brought some of my clothes, since we were practicing the words " put on," "take off," and " wear." We had some good laughs as the small girls put on one of my T-shirts or skirts over their own clothes. The T-shirts came down to their knees and the pants and skirts had to be held up. Quite a sight to see!!  I can't think of another class I've ever taught in which I would feel comfortable handing my jewelry, my clothes, or my phone over to kids.  Generally, in my classes, if I have something to pass around, I closely monitor kids as  they pass things.  With my girls (yes, I have claimed them as "my" girls) as they asked "Please may I have ____," I'd hand the requested item over and then move onto the next girl who asked for a different item. Often after distributing things, I'd have them stand up and  go to each other to ask in English for whatever item they may want. Those conversation times were organized chaos, with all girls up and moving, and, to my great delight, speaking in English.  When it was time to stop, I collected the items back and never, not once, was anything missing nor did anything come back damaged. The girls always returned  everything without hesitation.

There is one little boy, maybe 3 years old, who was orphaned a year ago. Each day when I arrived, he greeted me excitedly. Before class began, I used to ask him, "Do you want the blue car or the red car?" He would think hard for a minute about this important decision and then make his choice.  Towards the end of my time, when I'd arrive he'd say in his sweet little voice, "I want blue car red car." We didn't quite master "and." He played with the cars and at break time brought them back to me. After break, he took them again and played until the end of class and then, without me having to say a word, brought the cars back to me.

I visited another branch of Chetna Bharati a month or so ago. All girls live there, too. I had put my small foam ball and, ever faithful to the promise to my nephews to take Lightning and Finn everywhere I went, the two cars in my back pack. Like at Hunterganj weeks before, I played catch with the girls and later gave the ball to them to play with for awhile. I also took out the cars for them to play with.  As far as I could tell, there was not a single toy where they lived besides those 3 items I brought.  The girls went off to play and came back later pulling the cars by strings they'd tied around them. Like my girls in Chatra, when it was time to stop playing, there was no arguing. They handed me the toys and moved on.

When I originally wrote this, it was Black Friday in the States. People were buying all sorts of things they and/or their loved ones probably didn't need. It is a stark contrast to these girls and little boy who have every right to want stuff they don't have and yet as far as I can tell, they don't complain about their lack of things and they are absolutely respectful of mine, things they may never have in their life.  They enjoyed holding, using, or trading those things while I was there, but easily gave them back when it was time to. Without toys, they still played and had fun. They didn't seem to be too attached  to stuff.

They are attached to people. They cried when the novices left them in November. We cried together when I left Chatra a few days ago. After the SCNs I lived with, I spent the most time with the girls at Chetna Bharati.

When I think about my houseful of stuff in the States, I think Hindi may not be the only thing I can learn from my girls. I hope that I can let go of some of my well-ingrained American attachment to stuff, buying less and giving more easily. Because both consumerism and materialism are deeply imbedded in my being, I have a long way to go on the path away from them, but I think the example of my girls will help me take a few more steps in the right direction: towards people and away from so much stuff.

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