Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The beginning is the hardest part.

I’m in India.

I need repeat that to myself periodically throughout the day, lest I should forget the implications of my awesome environment.  Because Woodstock adheres to a model of Western education and employs a large number of Americans, sometimes it’s easy to overlook how vastly different life here is and will continue to be for the next two years.  Sometimes that’s a blessing… but a somewhat dangerous blessing.
I’m in India.
While I feel safe and normal within the Woodstock “bubble” (as I have heard others call this phenomenon), it makes the transition into “real life” that much more jarring.  I only need to walk five minutes on my way into town—the “bazaar”—to see children living on the side of the road, digging through trash to see if anything can be salvaged.  While the Woodstock staff and students speak excellent English, a knock on the door from an ayah (maid/cook) or a dhobi (washerman) looking for work leaves me feeling horribly inadequate for life in a Hindi-speaking community.
I’m in India.
I also need to repeat that to remind myself of how incredibly lucky I am.  Had a bad day?  It was a bad day in India.  Attacked by a man-eating spider?  It was Indian man-eating spider, which are supposedly nonpoisonous… supposedly.  Drenched in a sudden torrential downpour?  In India, the rain is so badass that it’s called a monsoon.  But in all seriousness, when I attended the UNI Fair back in February, I was lucky enough to be offered this incredible opportunity.  I am so glad I had enough personal courage and familial support to actually take that opportunity, and I know that I will grow and learn—as both a person and educator—through osmosis, if nothing else.
I’m in India.
I’ve been here for two weeks.  The first week was dedicated to new staff orientation.  Last week was an all-staff “retreat” (read: extended inservice).  Today all students reported to the auditorium for an opening assembly, during which I had to introduce myself and recount my journey to Woodstock.  Tomorrow is the first day of school.  So why do I feel like the past school year just ended?  Oh yeah, BECAUSE IT DID.
Needless to say, I am not prepared… but honestly, I might be even more freaked out if I were prepared.  It would be too foreign a feeling for the beginning of school.  Tomorrow I will be teaching all five of my classes: three sections of 7th grade English and two sections of 9th grade English.  The school operates on 7-day “cycles,” meaning there will be a different schedule every day.  Most days I will only see four out of my five classes.  It’s slightly confusing, but I’m excited to see different groups of students at different times throughout the day.  Variety is the garam masala of life.
I’ll elaborate more on the specifics of school in a later post, when I don’t have a first day to prepare for.  In the meantime, you can peruse the school website.  I’ll also leave you with a couple of poems that I wrote during the last week of this past school year.  I am usually loath to share my poetry with others, but much of the staff retreat focused on the importance of modeling positive behavior.  If I want my students to be prolific poets who are proud of their work and willing to share it with me, I guess I should practice sharing my own poetry with a larger community and all that jazz.  The poems might also help answer those tough, overarching questions that I was bombarded with in the months before coming—Why India?  Why Woodstock?  How do you feel?  Are you ready?   I hated those questions.  It would have either taken hours to truly answer them, or I didn’t really know the answers.  On the other hand, I would have been offended if those questions weren’t asked.  There is no pleasing me.

It’s become a most patriotic, almost catatonic custom:

sipping down a medium-sized McDonald’s coffee to pump life into these tired veins.
My internal weathervane slowly starts spinning with each greedy gulp,
letting the wind gradually fill up my sails, wind me up, and push me out into the world. 
My world, at least, and my very American McMorning.
But I’m pushed in the same direction every day.  I can always see, driving along by the dawn’s early light,
blue skies—navy or nearing cyan, depending on when I abandon my apple-pie apartment—
red stoplights, and white picket fences,
all subtle reminders that you can ‘have it your way,’ as long as you follow the rules
and always order off the menu, regardless of its lack of vegetarian options.
So, I’m always hungry by the end of the day,
to the point where I’m seeing stars spotting the sporadically-striped highway on the drive home.
Home.  Where cars run on murky liquid fuel and people follow suit,
like mechanical suits in 3-inch heels.
Home.  The land of the “free” and the home of the illusive bravado…
billboards, radio banter, and expensive advertisements for cheap food.
If you’re burnt by the hotly sarcastic tone, then sue me; it’s the American way.
But, then again, so is just not giving a shit
[insert token Taco Bell joke here]
But, then again, I’m just a self-deprecating consumer
who just happened to have a revelation accompany today’s reveille: 
John Doe uses a strong cup o’Joe to mask a weak constitution.
It’s a most addictive, almost accidental absolution.
I’m perched here in my rolling roost, on my swiveling throne of black canvas,
canvassing support from teens with packed totes.
I’m taking straw votes, hoping to retire from this two-year term with respect.
I’m safe to reflect, here, at my desk, behind this case of invisible glass,
around which my students exercise their right to assemble, en masse,
as one breathing body politic. 
It’s certainly not bulletproof, but it’s an oasis of sorts,
tucked away from the retorts of those pubescent plebeians,
with their polite petition and rebellious outburst:  behavior at its best and worst.
Here, I am wired to an outside world that’s still turning,
regardless of what my students are or aren’t learning,
regardless of the advice they’re abjuring and the ignorance it breeds,
regardless of my official deeds and accidental misreads from inauguration forward.
Here, I can revert backward and collapse inward:  in a word, remember.
I can unravel a string of deconstructed memories, a movie-trailer tease
full of successful failures and other bipartisan hypocrisies.
Here, right now, I can pledge allegiance to just about anything I please.
But these last few days of mindless ease will slip away as quickly as I do.
My sweat and tears will drip from the desk and puddle on the classroom floor,
making my footprint even easier to ignore and sweep under the rug.
I’m a victim of my own spring cleaning,
simply meaning there are other places to get dirty, and that’s where I’ll go.
So, as I uncork the celebratory champagne, my new campaign will begin…
but can I win them over?
In translation, they pledge, “I shall give my parents, teachers, and elders respect.”
But will I be misread as a suspect?
Just a foreign politician?

                                               arriving at Woodstock

                                               welcome party