Tuesday, May 17

Five Feathers

I have wandered onto the roof of my home to escape the heat while I wait for my supper. The sun is slipping away in the distance where it will burry itself in the warm sand of the horizon's dunes. Through the large opening in the roof the smell of fresh garlic, spices, and chai waft towards me along with the sounds of my sisters entertaining the baby. Wrapped in a brilliant red sari are a thousand small hand-picked green berries laying on the ground next to where I sit. They, in fact, now only hint at their green colour as they have been sweating in the heat of the desert sun for weeks. Each day they are lovingly attended to and inspected by mum as an intermission to her daily pujas or prayers. Also on the roof is a shine to our family god and a clear space where I will lay out the blankets for sleeping.

I am not watching the berries or the shrine, though. There is small army of disappointingly unattractive but strong young men next door. They are moving enormous slabs of sandstone for the addition of my neighbors' now two-room home. They are hiding their pain well or maybe practice has taken away the pain. They suspend from two yolks, two men to a yolk, one unimaginably heavy sandstone plank. The four carry it into the home and by some unseen miracle elevate it to the roof where it is received and flipped into place by more burly men. The heat of the day has now passed, but there hasn't been the usual breeze to blow things along. Their sweat hangs in the air.

In a couple days, when the breeze is back, I will be swept from Setrawa to pursue travels in other less remote corners of India. But I leave behind, in the heavy air, some of myself. My sweat. The warmth of my soul has nurtured my students for two brief months. Some children, I have only led in song and writing, but others I have loved with great intensity.

First there is Jabra Ram, the motherless Dhalit boy I took to the 'hospital' for a gruesome and neglected skin infection. I followed up with meeting him thrice daily to grind his medicine with cookies (20-20 biscuits, of which I graciously offered to eat the remainder of). He was more surprised then me when he realized he didn't know how to swallow pills. 

My favorite Dhalit boy, Abhishake, dances and dresses like he's starring in 'The Wonder Years' in an 80's navy sweat suit with neon script. He's had no formal education but thrives at Sambhali since he's determined to get into our advance class. However, he's a brat and only listens to Mool Singh.

One day when 'Sir' was unavailable I took him unwillingly out of class. I can't imagine what punishment he expected but I figured his visible fear was sufficient. So I simply left him with my very confused host mother, who happened to be present for the Sheerni Microfinance Group meeting. They both stared at me confused and with no Malwari words to explain, I silently returned to teach my other needy 15 students. 

Then there is the smallest girl in my afterschool class. I patiently waited for her to pull out of a clueless stupor every time I called on her. Given enough time she always uncovers the correct answer in the depths of her manicured bob. She has risen to be first not only in my class, but also at her co-ed school. 

Then there is my favourite two students, keen and helpful Gunjan and Puja. Their advance English has rescued me many times in class as they interpret my words for the rest. I can't measure any progress with them but when I announced to my class I was leaving on Saturday I was looking at them and they together looked at me, as though to say they were grieving that our trio will go down to two.

These five students only represent a sample of my relationships built in Setrawa. It saddens me to reflect on these people which will all be plucked from my life as the feathers of a peacock are the casualties of successful copulation. When I dip into the cool ocean next week, I will wash away my connections to Setrawa, but hopefully I will grow new feathers from the affection and wisdom these relationships have inseminated in me.


  1. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    Thank you for sharing your stories with us Amelia. You brought a tear to my eye this morning. Savour every moment of your time there.

    Terri :D

  2. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    And you will be plucked from those children. They will miss you. But what an experience, Amelia.
    I am a weather person. How hot is hot?? Is it almost unbearable??

    Chris W.