Lingering in the Clouds

Part I: The Stubborn Cloud

 It was a dark, foggy September evening and Raju was taking his time loitering around the Bagdogra parking lot. I walked out of the small, smelly airport and was ambushed by taxi drivers haggling me in Hindi, Bengali, and English. Maybe it was my luggage that gave it away She’s American…attack! Where the heck was Raju? For ten minutes, I struggled to repeat the same phrase over and over again.

Main ek driver ke liye intizaar kar rahi hoon. Gaari nahin chaiya. Dhanyavaad.

I am waiting for a driver. I don’t need a car. Thank you.

The road winding up the mountainous hills of Darjeeling were my first glimpse into 9 months of a place I would call home. For me, it was the most frightening journey; for Raju, it was a typical September evening. A cloud stubbornly lingered throughout the drive as if it wasn’t ready to reveal its secret just yet. With apprehension, I watched Raju accelerate through bends and turns, dodge pedestrians taking late night strolls, and make way for incoming traffic as if the fog was translucent. He was winding up the mountain having memorized each turn, speed bump, and pothole on this three-hour journey. I had made up my mind right then and there – if you can drive in the Himalayas, you can drive anywhere in the world. The nail-biting journey had me on the edge of my seat (through no choice of my own as the roads were potholed and the drive spasmodic). But, there is a scene from this journey that revisits me in my dreams. On this foggy September night, when I finally got the courage to glance out of my window, praying it wouldn’t be my last sight in my short-lived life, I saw an endless sky with stars sprinkled all around me. I couldn’t tell where the starry night sky faded and the hills began. The stubborn cloud gave way and revealed its most precious secret – Welcome to Darjeeling, where the stars gather in the endless Himalayan skies.





Part II: My Project

It has been almost eight months since that night, but it feels like it was just yesterday. That scared, apprehensive passenger is no more. I have been traveling for months winding up and down the erratic hills studying, designing, and redesigning sustainable models for teachers in rural Darjeeling. Each trip down the hills, I return a more humble and tired passenger. With each journey, I find myself consumed in my thoughts.

How can I be a better support for Mariyam while she teaches her classes today?

I wonder what elements of student-centered learning Dhiraj will incorporate today.

Will Nima remember to time her lessons?

I wonder if Satyam remembers what we discussed in office hours… I hope he uses some of what we discussed in his lessons today.

For about four months now I have been piloting a system for Broadleaf called the Vision of Excellence. It is the monitoring and evaluation system I designed after months of studying and observing CHHIP lessons in our partner schools. This system was designed to directly respond to the 7-day CHHIP Educator Training I facilitated in April.

It has been a long way since my first meeting with the SHAs (teachers) in October. I have built strong, lasting, and intimate relationships with each one of them. They have allowed me to tap into their most vulnerable moments as educators. And, I am learning with every observation, feedback session, and office hour how to best approach their vulnerabilities. We have all come out more aware, knowledgeable, and appreciative of each other. The change I have seen in their lesson execution, students, and reflections have transformed me as an educator and Fellow. This metamorphosis from watching a monotonous CHHIP lesson to seeing a more energized, invigorated, and empowered SHA facing their insecurities head on is something I will be taking back with me in my next ventures.

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My work has been exhilarating, challenging, and humbling. After all, it’s not everyday you get to linger in the clouds as I have done for the past 9 months…

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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2 thoughts on “Lingering in the Clouds

  1. Fatima, it is so exciting to read about your exciting and exhilarating journey! Best wishes, sweet girl!

  2. It is encouraging to learn about how this Fellow has rolled up her sleeves and made an impact on education in a remote part of India, and formed enduring relationships in the process. This is the magic of the Clinton Fellowship at work !

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