Every month we have a writing competition where students choose from a creative, descriptive, or argumentative prompt and we select the top entry from each grade and an overall winner from middle school and high school. As a prize for a recent in-class grammar competition (one of the only ways to make learning grammar rules exciting), the winners got to select the topics for February (in addition to minion stickers).
The descriptive topic, inspired by a recent workshop conducted by visiting writing professors from Massachusetts, was ‘explode the moment’. Pick a moment, any moment, and describe every detail. Make ordinary moments seem extraordinary and make extraordinary moments seem unbelievable.
The moments here pass so quickly and I know that one day I will blink and it will be time to leave. I don’t think it was India that caused this change in my perception, because I felt it creeping up on me last year in D.C. when I started walking places without music, singing extra loudly in the kitchen and trying to move through life more slowly, but I am hyper aware of every moment: the sounds and smells and how my body feels. I memorize the paint cracks on my office walls and the way the sky changes color every evening around 5:30. This is a time I know I will never get back and I intend on remembering every moment.
Like when I have grumpy moments and let my voice get harsher than it should be and I can’t keep my eyes open to grade papers anymore. Learning from the unhappy moments are usually more important than the happy ones.
When the school building is empty except for a handful of my favorites who want to experiment with melodies to ‘Say Something’.
When I get to roar like a tiger during story time (and the kindergarteners squeal with delight when I tell them I am coming for KG story, even when I lost my cool with them the day before in class).
When I sing my heart out with a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl to a song I used to belt out in the back seat of my parents’ car when I was her age – you know, when CD players were a thing.
When the other volunteers and I start a dance party at a random bar in Bangalore and I realize we are the only women dancing. And then when we realize we don’t need to worry about any unwanted attention because all of the men only want to dance with one of my male co-workers. Cool.
When I realize I piled what I thought was spinach on my plate but turns out is a super spicy pickle that makes my tongue go numb and I try to hide it from the Aunties when I compost it so they don’t scold me for wasting food.
When ice cream has never tasted so good as it does here and I have been forced to eat so many things I normally wouldn’t because I don’t want to be rude and then realized that tomatoes aren’t really that bad after all.
When I have watermelon juice dripping down my chin and I learn how to fire off the slippery seeds by pinching them between my fingers.
When an 18 year old girl specifically picks an outfit to match me after she sees me at breakfast or a 17 year old boy chases me down to point-out that we have the same white sneakers (his are about three times the size of mine though).
When 20 pairs of brown eyes watch me intently as we discuss why feminism is also incredibly important for men and about the lack of voice for male rape victims in the discussion in India and the U.S. about violence against women. How, we never thought about it that way before, is one of the sweetest things a teacher can hear.
When cake is smeared across my face and I talk politics and love and religion with one of the wisest 21 year olds I have ever met and I am so overwhelmed by how much I love these kids and how I want to give them everything and how their eyes got so wide when I let them try their first chocolate croissant (also how finding chocolate croissants made me happier than I ever thought a pastry could) and my ankles always turn orange when I play soccer and I failed miserably when I tried cricket for the first time and I’m told my half-up-half down hairdo makes me look like Arwen (and as two five year olds delicately tuck every strand of hair behind my ears before clasping my face and smiling in satisfaction) and the first graders ask me if my freckles are bug bites and I realize how much I miss wine and my friends from college and I can’t breathe when I am playing taboo with the best group of Australians because I am laughing so hard and how much I love waking up to the sepia morning light when I can sleep in on Sundays and the 12th graders walk out of their English board exam with a huge smile for me and say ‘It was easy Ms. D – your questions were so much harder!’ and that I have no idea how much I am learning or where my life is going and how it is all ok (no, actually it is wonderful) because I am so lucky to have these moments.
How do I describe them? These incredible, ordinary moments? Weaving through narrow streets while dodging bikes carrying entire families, stray dogs, tuk-tuks, entitled cows, and colorful pedestrians. Everyone honks as they drive, less a form of aggression and more a form of echolocation – each honk screaming, “I’m here! I’m here! Don’t hit me!” I will never be able to capture the feeling in words or even in pictures, but I want to remember it. I want to remember it always.