i am intelligent. i am brave. i can do this.
faces are not shown for privacy and security.
you may remember my post about latika*, the girl who got discouraged and hid behind her ukulele because she didn’t think she could retain anything she had learned and wanted to quit. many of my students, like latika, have very little education and don’t have much confidence about learning. they’re only girls, they are poor. they have been neglected and abused. their experience has told them they are worthless. they are good for only one thing. these are the negative messages they have heard their whole lives.
i am intelligent. i am brave. i can do this.
i felt it was high time they start telling themselves some new things. some good things. so i went online and got a few phrases translated into bengali and printed them out and inserted the sheet at the back of their music books.
the next day we opened the books to the back page, and i gave a few instructions.
“ami buddhiman hoi!” i said.
the others repeated: “ami buddhiman hoi!” — i am intelligent.
they giggled a little at such a statement.
“ami shahoshi hoi! …. ami shahoshi hoi!” — i am brave.
they weren’t expecting this statement either, but they liked it.
“ami eta korte paree…. ami eta korta paree!” — I can do this!
now they were having fun.
“prabhu amake shahajo karun! amen…..prabhu amake shahajo karun! amen.” — lord, please help me! amen.
there was a charge, a new energy, in the room. just saying those words, out loud, together. then we said them all over again in english.
and then we took one minute of silence to meditate on those words. and in the silence they settled down and were ready to learn.
i wondered, would this new way to start the class work? was it helpful? was it meaningful?
the next day, the girls sat on the floor ready for class. and the first thing they did was open their music books to the last page. they were ready to say those good things to themselves again. and they said them with gusto.
the next weeks when i walked by their building someone often yelled: “laurie auntie!! ami buddhiman hoi!! ami shahoshi hoi!
” from their window. hurrah!
dental swat team arrives
some days after we started the opening meditation, a dental team led by dr bob zimmerman from the usa deposited stacks of big gray plastic trunks in the building where i live.
the next morning they came back, unpacked the trunks, and within a short time, had transformed the room into a working dental suite that included six colorful beach chairs fastened on top of the gray trunks. three dentists, their assistants, and a cadre of other helpers were ready for patients. they were like a dental swat team.
i heard loud crying and wailing outside my door.
i was in my room getting ready to teach my morning ukulele class, when i heard loud crying and wailing outside my door. “that sounds like sanya*,” i thought to myself, and quickly went out to see what was going on.
there was sanya, in the beach/dentist chair, scared and crying and refusing treatment. she was surrounded by people trying to calm her down and convince her to get treatment, but she wasn’t having any. she jumped off the chair and scooted outside.
i followed her and gave her a hug. she was shaking. she clung to me. and all the girls who were waiting for treatment were wide-eyed with alarm.
never in my life did i think i would be using my in my meager bengali/hindi mix to convince these girls to get dental treatment, but that’s what happened. in the few words i knew, i told sanya that those people were my friends and they were good people. and then we repeated “ami shahoshi hoi. ami eta korta paree. prabhu amake shahajo karun.” — i am brave. i can do this. lord please help me.
and then i got out a ukulele and we started singing together.
for a while sanya continued to cling to me. she could have left. but she didn’t. and after a while she got back in line for treatment, dragging me with her.
she went back inside and got her treatment, and i held her hand.
dr. bob zimmerman and son
i held a lot of hands that week. and sometimes they really crushed my hand. with a few phrases and a few songs i was able to convince a number of girls who had jumped out of the chair to go back and get treatment. and i held their hands too.
thank you, amazing dental team, for the great work you did at sanlaap. thank you for allowing me to participate on the fringe of your project. and thank you thank you thank you, everyone back home for your love and support in survivor girl ukulele band project. it was a privilege to hold those hands, and i wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.
* names changed.