Today I arrived at the slum and I was told that my teaching skills were required elsewhere on the slum. I had no problem with that, except I had no real idea where any of the other classrooms were.
Marie told me not to worry as two children would take me there. So I left the classroom and followed two 12 year old girls out onto the street. I dodged holes in the ground, rubbish, mud and filth. I almost tread on a dead rat that was being eaten by flies, but manoeuvred my feet away from in just in time.
I arrived at my new classroom; the children were just as keen to meet me there as they were in Marie’s classroom. I met the teacher; her name was Misty, she was calm and you could tell the children had a lot of respect for her. Her English wasn’t as good as Marie’s, but I was sure we would get on just fine. She was so pleased to have an English teacher coming into her classroom and helping her teach English.
The classroom was even smaller than Marie’s, and there was no natural light at all. There was one small strip light that didn’t have the energy to even lighten a quarter of the classroom. I taught yet another lesson on grammar, and when I finished, the children all clapped me, without any persuasion from the teacher. I again felt that humbling feeling that I have not experienced anywhere nearly as much as I do teaching in this slum.
I left the classroom again, chaperoned back to Marie’s classroom. Not one word was spoken between me and my two 8 year old girl leaders. Except a ‘thank you, sir’.
I returned to Marie’s classroom and the children had all finished for the morning. Marie was sitting in the classroom marking books so I enquired about Colin.
‘Where’s Colin, I haven’t seen him today?’
‘He is in his home’ Marie replied.
I found him outside in his basket, which is less than 100cm in diameter with a dirty towel covering him up. I lifted the towel and had a sneaky look, and I noticed the red stop straight away, I was then blown away by the horrible chicken smell, which is hard to describe, but if you have smelt a chicken smell, you will know how bad it is.
‘Why is he not allowed to run freely, like he was the other day’ I asked
Marie explained that he could jump over the balcony and fly away. I was thinking ‘poor old Colin’ – he didn’t look capable of that. She said that Neva must keep him safe.
‘I know the dog might have him,’ I responded.
‘No, the children on the compound will steal him’
‘Why, would they do that?’
‘To eat him,’ Marie explained, with an uncomfortable look on her face.
The next day I returned and there seemed to be some tension gathering concerning what classroom I should be teaching in. I settled this problem and offered to cut my time and teach in both for the same amount of time. However this is not strictly true, I do spend more time in Marie’s class, because this was the first class I taught in the slum and I have built up a strong relationship with these classes.
But today I am again transported back to the Dark Classroom by two different students. Really by now I should be able to remember how to get to this classroom. I was met by my new class, and they were shouting their excitement as I entered the classroom. Misty was also very pleased that I was now helping in her classroom on a regular basis. I walked in and took my shoes off, as part of the tradition, and in some way, it seems more enforced in this classroom compared to Marie’s.
Misty started the lesson, and I noticed she seems to have a more difficult job that Marie, this being in the difference in the age of the children. There seemed to be children as young as five and others as old as 10. Misty has done her utmost to differentiate the needs of the children and had almost spilt the class into two classes within the same room. The youngsters were learning their ABC’s and the older children were learning grammar and punctuation. In a way I felt that I could teach the older ones, whilst Misty taught the younger ones.
While Misty was teaching and I was not yet involved, I looked out of the door which lead to a dark corridor onto the street. This classroom was on the ground floor, and as I said earlier, there were no windows. Whilst looking out of the door, I noticed the rain had started, and with this being the monsoon season, that was not unusual, but it just added to the darkness of this classroom. I felt sad, and almost depressed at the lack of light, but again it was only my feelings, not the children’s. I could hear their enthusiasm for learning as my attention was taking me away from the classroom along the corridor and out onto the street. I heard a gathering of people, and I asked permission from Misty to leave the classroom, I wanted to investigate what was going on outside. She smiled and agreed.
Directly outside the classroom, which again was just one room rented in a tower block, there was a shop. A sweet shop, also selling 100 of Indian snacks, crisps and bread. I did notice this shop when I walked into the dark classroom for the first time, and I thought I would use as a landmark so that eventually, I would be able to remember how to get to and from the two classrooms I was teaching in.
But this shop wasn’t the place of the gathering. Next to the shop was a small room, it could be described as a store. Here there was a line of about 20 people of all ages, old women in their 70s and young children of the age of 7.
I stayed under shelter watching as it was now raining hard and the people that were queuing were soaked through to the skin. I ventured out into the rain to see why all these people were queuing. What were they queuing for that was so important that getting wet didn’t matter?
I looked onto the floor and the rain was washing away all the dirt and filth from the street, carrying it and dumping somewhere else further down the slum. I saw a playing card, the 9 of diamonds floating, sweet wrappers, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and even dead rats floating past.
I was now soaking wet myself and I was wondering why and how I had found myself out here in the street when I should be teaching in the classroom. I smelt the rain and the smell was certainly better than the smells you experience here on a hot day.
I focused back on the queue of people, and as I walked closer, I recognised a boy that I had taught in the class the day before.
‘Hello sir’ he said, as he waited in the rain.
‘Hello’ I said back.
I knew his English was not that good, so it would have been pointless asking why he was queuing outside this store in the middle of a monsoon. I stood with him for a while and he smiled at me.
Some people were holding umbrellas, other were just getting wet. But all of them were holding something in there hands. It was a ticket of some sort, and I only noticed it more when the people were getting nearer to the front of the queue. This boy who was about 7 was holding one too, it was yellow in colour. I pushed my head over the queuing people (which is not easy when height isn’t on your side) and I saw people getting their yellow tickets ready to be examined as they got closer to the store.
Then I realised, the reason it was so important for people to queue in the middle of the monsoon, was that they were there queuing for food. These yellow tickets were ration tickets and they were queuing for their rations.
I followed the boy to the front of the que and he showed his ticket and paid 10 rupees for a massive bag of rice, so heavy he could hardly carry. I helped him take it away from the store. There was probably enough rice here to keep his family alive for a whole month. Rice is so important here in India and in any poor country, it’s the only way to support and feed the many poor people.
By now the boy and I were both completely soaked. I held the rice for him and he wanted to take it from me, of which I totally understood. He walked off with the rice on his shoulder, I smiled and indicated that I was going back to class.
‘Yes, sir’ he said
I returned to my new dark classroom a bit shocked at what I had just seen, but also a bit embarrassed about how wet I was. The children just looked up, smiled and continued with their learning.
I shook myself dry and spoke to Misty who was now sitting on the floor, teaching the younger children. She said because of the rain there were not too many older children here today, but they could turn up at any moment. Again, my teaching expertise was going to be used on teaching yet another grammar lesson. I sat on the floor, thinking it is so dark in here I can hardly see, how can the children learn anything? I was sitting there and I had no more than 5 students to teach, 4 girls and one boy. I was just about to start teaching when the boy that I had been standing in the rationing queue walked into the classroom, just as wet as me. Soon another 4 boys followed, all soaking wet. I was thinking had they all been given their job to collect the rationed rice before they were to come to school?
Misty looked over from where she was sitting with younger children and asked one of the girls to go to the cupboard. I was just thinking this could be fun, teaching a lesson on nouns in English to a group of children I had only met once before, that couldn’t understand English. But the girl return from the cupboard with a large box. This saved the day.
The girl open the box, it was a puzzle. Well, it was a collection of different puzzles all mixed together, which sadly included some rat’s poo. So, this dark classroom was no different there from Marie’s, they both had rat problems. Without speaking, the sorting had begun, all of us wet boys sat together, gathering pieces of an animal puzzle, while the girls collected pieces of a Disney puzzle. Hindi and English was spoken for the animals we formed together.
I couldn’t think of a better way for dealing with a language problem and for a teacher to get to know their students. Puzzles, with rat poo, soaked clothing, in a monsoon and in a very dark classroom.
I couldn’t wait to come back to teach these children again!