“survivor girl ukulele band 2017 — back to kolkata again!!” is my third six-month stint teaching ukulele in a shelter home for rescued girls in kolkata, india, and i’m trying to pick up more of the language here, which is bengali. the beautiful bengali script looks like this:
আপনি কেমন আছেন? আমার নাম লরি. আমি বুঝতে পারিনি.
translation: how are you? my name is laurie. i have no idea what you just said.
doraemon in bengali
one of my new language learning tools is an episode of the japanese doraemon cartoon show. not only has the episode been dubbed into bengali, it also has english subtitles — which is super useful. now at my disposal are these lovely phrases:
khub maja! — very delicious!
eta ashambhab! — that’s impossible!
deka hobe! — see ya!
tears fell and two girls quit the band
monday started off not well. after sunday’s successful survivor girl ukulele band performance for the swedish ambassador at large for combatting human trafficking, something changed for the worse. there was a disturbance in the band.
at first i tried to keep calm and carry on, ignore the drama and hope that the few unhappy girls would soon snap out of it. that didn’t work.
“what’s going on?” i said in bengali.
no one was ready to talk, but hot tears fell and two girls quit the band.
classes continued throughout the week; so did the drama.
friday morning those two girls quietly came into the room, sat on the floor, and joined the class. and when the class was over, those two girls remained. sami*, a senior student from last year and kalini*, a relative newcomer.
sami* has maybe a fifth standard education. kalini* recently graduated the tenth standard. sami works at her ukulele skills, but she’s an average player who struggles to stay on a beat while kalini focuses her practice and perfects her ukulele skills and has a great sense of timing. she picks up new things so quickly that she has surpassed everyone else in the room with her prowess. oh, and she sings, dances, and writes poetry. i’m not kidding.
kalini apologized to sami and wanted to be friends again, but sami wasn’t ready to forgive.
then one day we had a big fight
and as i sat there, i traveled back in time to my own teenage years, to the many times that i fought with my twin sister. we were skilled in the art of fighting and could fight to the finish about anything.
then one day we had a big fight. a huge fight. it was the hugest fight ever.
and the strangest thing happened. after eighteen years of fighting and competing, we both realized that at the bottom of our troubles was the fact that we each felt lesser than the other. my sister was prettier, smarter, funnier, more talented, more popular, more creative, more tan, more lovable than me. more worthy than me. and she had better hair.
you’re probably looking at this picture and saying, they’re almost exactly alike! how silly!! but it wasn’t silly at the time. and so i told sami and kalini about my sister and me. and told them that even now i find myself comparing myself to others.
i try to stay off that path, but when i do go down it, i think: who am i to do this survivor girl ukulele band? who am i to come all the way to india and try to do this ukulele thing?
i told her that she had a choice. to travel down the path of negative thoughts and anger and fighting or to choose another way. choose to look at the gifts that she has, which are many, choose a path of joy and friendship, and forgive herself for not being the best.
but what to do when you are stuck in that dark place? i told her sometimes you just have to ask for help. and i already knew the bengali words for that because we say it every day in our meditation:
i am intelligent.
i am brave.
i can do this.
lord, please help me.
and so we said those words again together in bengali, repeating the last line:
prabu, amake sahajo korun!!
sami and kalini are back to being friends. and my sister and i have been best friends ever since that big huge fight.
this is a wild job. some days i fail spectacularly, but in that failure and weakness, there is always enough grace to find an opportunity for forgiveness and growth.
and thank goodness i don’t have to have it all figured out. that’s part of the adventure! plus lots of people have joined survivor girl ukulele band. they let me stay at their house, they give me money to meet my expenses, they give me ukuleles, they like my facebook posts, and they play benefit concerts and they uke it forward™ for me — family, friends, and people i haven’t even met from all over the world.
dhanyabad, dhanyabad, dhanyabad! — thank you thank you thank you!
for joining the band.
*names have been changed.