Imagine the most depressing place you’ve been, and multiply it by ten. That’s the old age home where I work in the mornings.
A lot of the residents aren’t even that old- they’ve just been abandoned by their families and now spend their time sitting on a bench, waiting to die. And they are completely neglected by the staff.
My main job is just to interact with them and try to bring some joy to their days. Which is hard, since so few of them speak English. So last week I had the idea to draw their caricatures. The residents enjoyed that, and it was fun for me too- though also a challenge as an artist. I had to be careful, while drawing, to not make them appear quite as old and sad as they really look.
Overall it was a success, and one man even asked me to draw a caricature of a picture in the newspaper he found particularly amusing- a woman at the market displaying an ungodly long link of sausages. So I did.
The adolescent girls I teach in the afternoons continue to be the highlight of my days. They are so sweet and so eager to learn. And they are beautiful girls- even though they live in a slum that stinks of diseased dogs and rotting garbage, they somehow show up every day in gorgeous outfits and gold jewelry and beautifully braided hair.
Like I mentioned before, one of the girls has a baby who swings from a scarf tied to the middle of the ceiling. As I was on the floor helping the girls with algebraic functions a few days ago, the baby started spraying pee from above. I got wet, and so did a few of the other girls. But they just got up, rubbed some water into their clothes, and returned to work as though nothing had happened.
Every girl in India is obsessed with this song called “Sheila,” which is from a recent Bollywood film. The lyrics are mostly in Hindi, but there are at least two lines of English I can make out- “Her name was Sheila” and “I’m too sexy for you.” The girls sing it all the time. (While teaching adjectives the other day, one student came up with the sentence “Sheila dances very sexy”).
One day a group of us took the younger slum girls to the park. (Eight volunteers and sixteen little girls crammed into one jeep- I cannot emphasize enough how much no one cares about road safety). It was a sight to behold when Sheila came on the radio- these are all Muslim girls, some of whom had everything covered but their eyes, singing along and belting out “I’M TOO SEXY FOR YOU!” clearly their favorite line.
I think that maybe girls around the world aren’t that different.