And the Mountains… HONKED!

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.

The mountaintops of Mt. Kamchenjunga overlooking Darjeeling.
Mt. Kamchenjunga

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.

Singrimtam, Darjeeling
Singrimtam, Darjeeling

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.

Alisha Rabidas with #swag Singrimtam, Darjeeling
Alisha Rabidas with #swag!
Laxmi Memorial School

During her time at the University of California, Davis, Fatima became very involved in student government and the Muslim Student Association. Her tenure at UC Davis was spent in •À_meetings with the Chancellor, negotiating budget proposals with community leaders, and serving as a liaison between the student body and administration. After graduating, she went on to join Teach For America in 2012 and taught 2nd Grade in San Jose, California for Rocketship Education. In her early months as a teacher, she helped start Rocketship Alma Academy in downtown San Jose as a founding teacher. During her three years in the classroom, she developed a strong passion for working with and serving communities built on the backs of single women, whose children fight the statistical odds stacked against them every day. Fatima became increasingly interested and invested in the progress of her students, families, and colleagues. Throughout these three years, she facilitated and led professional development for novice teachers, participated in teacher retention initiatives, and designed lesson plans and curriculum. The three years of teaching along with her experiences from UC Davis have encouraged a lifetime of serving, leading, and growing intellectually with communities.

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5 thoughts on “And the Mountains… HONKED!

  1. This is awesome insight into what it must be like working abroad and in a completely new community/culture! But the work you are doing sounds amazing (and important) and no doubt, with your skill set, leadership, and down right charisma, you will make a huge impact in the coming 9 months! Love the post and looking forward to reading more about your experience!

  2. This post is insightful and the details that you use to describe the scenery and people you are interacting with makes me feel as though I am on this journey with you. Keep up the great work!

  3. Fatima, (Ms Salman )
    Thank you for sharing with us your new adventure. You are such an amazing person and wish you the best. Miss you and hope to hear more about what you are doing. Send you a big hug. much love from The Solorio Family. ❤

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