Human beings are more alike than we are un-alike. –Maya Angelou
Darjeeling is probably the only city in India that is cuddled in scarves, thermals, and jackets in October.
At an elevation of 6,800 feet, nestled in the Himalayan foothills of Northeast India, Darjeeling is a rare site of Nepali-speaking locals, Bengali-speaking tourists, and a hodgepodge of European yogis. It’s no wonder then that a five-foot-ten ambiguously “Indian” woman towering into town is followed by stares from men and women, school children and shopkeepers alike. As I stumble into town, splashing puddles of last night’s rainfall, I am greeted by didis staring, incense burning from the morning’s pujas, children running past me on their way to school, cars honking to get-out-of-the-way, and stray dogs stretching their legs in every corner. On this steep downhill road to the office, I have a clear view of Mount Kamchenjunga’s snowy mountaintops, the colonial architecture of monasteries and hotels, and the hustle and bustle of the city. Needless to say, it’s hard not to fall in love with this darling city.
It has been nearly two weeks and the stares have only increased, the smog continues to blacken the hilltops, and the honking has become an all too “normal” tune. And, on a rare occasion, one might come across a coffee shop, bakery, or restaurant with free-wifi and/or a western bathroom… I’ve found these places to be true gems and my excuses for after-work excursions.
The work that I have been charged with at Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance speaks directly to the skill sets I have developed working and teaching for Rocketship Education in San Jose, California. I am managing three projects: redesigning the current health curriculum, writing a new health curriculum for upper levels 3/4, and designing an evaluation and training system for our School Health Activists (SHAs, the educators teaching the curriculum). All three of these projects require voyages down the grueling Darjeeling district to visit our partner schools. These steep bumpy, dizzying, and make-you-jolt-out-of-your-seat trips to the schools have made me feel like a true mountaineer adventuring through the rocky roads to tackle my fieldwork. On my first site visit to Laxmi Memorial School Singrimtam, I was greeted with a class roar of “Hello, miss!” As each student stood up to announce their names, I made a mental note of their timid, loud, and even silly personalities. With a school of four grade levels and 35 total students, I was humbled by the students’ attentiveness and altogether joy of being in school.
My first meeting with the four SHAs was held completely in Hindi and interesting to say the least. It wasn’t my broken Hindi that made it so, rather my presence. As a new member to the team, I was being judged from the moment I entered the room to the moment I left. As the curriculum rewriter, designer, and SHA training lead, I am directly interfering with the livelihoods of these four individuals. I entered the meeting prepared to meet four different personalities and teachers on different points of the experience spectrum. With every suggestion I met resistance; with every piece of feedback I met defensiveness; and, with every “thank you” and I met uneasy smiles. So, in the next 9 months, I am not only tasked with managing these three projects, but also building relationships with the SHAs and the communities they serve. Although they are a tough crowd, I am confident that my work and determination will prove virtuous and cooperative. After all, Ms. Angelou believed that “Human beings are more alike than we are un-alike.”
In the meantime, I leave you with what will motivate me for the next 9 months… That swag, though.