This post was written on June 21.
In many ways, this year has been an experience of sharing. In many ways…so many ways. The least impressive way, but the way that I’m going to comment on now, is regarding material possessions. I brought with me to India, for example, my laptop and digital camera. There inevitably came a day, perhaps last October, when one of the boarding students asked, "Can you show me how to use your laptop? Can I take some photos with your camera?"
It may not seem like it, but that was a defining moment. It was a moment when I could have said, justifiably, "no, no students are allowed to use my laptop or camera." I could have even blamed it on someone else, and said "no, I’m not supposed to let students use my laptop or camera." But instead, I said "sure—what’s mine is yours."
Maybe not the most responsible decision. I am well aware of the value (monetary, that is) of what I would have lost if something had happened to either item. But I chose that risk over fostering barriers. Saying "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop," might not seem like it would have constructed a big ‘barrier’ to you, but the barrier hides in the sentiment behind the words, not in the words themselves. Saying "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop" would have been to say "no, you can’t use my camera or laptop, and these are just two out of many things that I have that you will probably never have—they are two more things that remind us all of why I’m different from you; why I’m more privileged than you. There is something special about me and my possessions, more valuable than you and yours, that requires you to keep your distance."
So in that defining moment, it didn’t take me long to decide. I’ve never been very possessive over my belongings, anyway, and when the deck is already stacked against you, in terms of people treating you specially or as if you were superior, you do what you can to level the playing field. For me, showing the girls how to use my camera and laptop was a way to do just that.
It's worth mentioning that allowing the boarding students such freedom with my stuff would have been impossible at a site like Maggie's, Nicholson School, where there are hundreds of girls. Being that I live with only about fifty, I know every girl well individually. I might've felt a little uneasy ten months ago, but I would now trust any of them with anything.
Of course, if I left my laptop with students, I was always bound to be nearby. My camera, however, was a different story—being that it’s waterproof, shockproof, etc (thanks, Mom!), I figured there wasn’t much that anyone could do to hurt it. So letting them play with it, have never-ending photoshoots, and unleash their inner photographers is something that has been fun to watch. I think they have taken more photos with my camera this year than I have!
The girls were funny with my laptop. Many of them were at first afraid to touch it, as if it would break or self-destruct by a mere touch of their hand. Given that none of them even knew how to turn it on—to open a program—to play a song—to save a document—it’s really rewarding, now, to see all the things they can do. And I think it was kind of empowering for them. It was a way to show them that they are just as capable of using technology as I am, or anyone else is. Why would I have lorded over itunes, or my photo software, as if the girls would indeed hurt my laptop, when I could just as easily teach them how to use the programs themselves?
You know all those photoshoots I just mentioned that they like to have? The photos end up on my computer…the girls look at themselves in picture form with nothing less than delight…they pick out their favorites, I save them to my USB drive, and take them to be printed. I made a trip to my beloved Aska Digital Studio yesterday for just that purpose.
I occasionally get tired of all of the work this photo printing stuff takes. Consider: about 50 students who all want different photos…having to figure out which photos, exactly; making a list; collecting 8 rupees per photo, etc.
But then I remember what it was like to be a teenager and have a digital camera. I remember myspace photos, which turned into facebook photos. I think of the hundreds and hundreds of photos I have saved on my computer, or my external harddrive, all of which document pretty much every year and phase of my life. And I remember that these girls don’t have any of that. Why shouldn’t I give them a piece of it if I can?
Letting them use my camera—coordinating the effort to organize and print a few photos for them—dealing with the hassle and confusion that sometimes arises out of it—is all worth it when I remember that when Merlin is thirty and has kids of her own, these ten or fifteen photos will be all she has of this chapter of her life. Maybe, when Libiya is in her forties, she will look at the photo that was taken of her last week and think, 'was I ever really that skinny??' …It’s all worth it when I remember that when Lintu, the most narcissistic of them all, finishes her degree and moves somewhere new, she might have a couple photos of her friends back home to show her new friends and neighbors. That, ten or fifteen or twenty years from now, when these girls have many years of teaching under their belts, they can pull out a few photos and remember this time and the friends they had, during their education as teachers-in-training that seemed like it would never end.
‘Cause here’s the thing: it does end. And I hope that one day, these photos will help them to remember this year in their life; what a wonderful time it was.
"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." -Kevin Arnold