the weight of privilege

JournalsI pull all the kids’ notebooks down and begin scribbling. I won’t remember details years from now, so I write them down. Month-by-month, marking time in these journals so one day they will read them and smile or cry, and hopefully remember.

Stringing words together is something I’ve done so long I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t.

I’m writing in one of the books when our house-helper  stops me and asks what I’m doing.

In our unique brand of broken English and gestures I explain these are books I’ve kept for the kids since they were born. I write in them to remember milestones and funny stories. She thinks this is a good idea, but not possible since she doesn’t know how to read or write. I knew she couldn’t read, but I didn’t realize until earlier this week that she couldn’t write anything. Nothing in Hindi and definitely nothing in English.

She’s incredibly kind and bright and can speak 2.5 languages, but has had no formal education. For some reason I thought she had gone to school before marrying at eighteen. Apparently her parents couldn’t afford school for her and her older brother. So at seven she took over household chores for her working mother. She made meals and did laundry while most kids at seven play video games, learn how to read and write, and play outside.

We talk about her son. He’s four and she’s trying to get him into a proper school so he can learn English–everyone wants to learn English. Her husband is a tailor, she’s a maid; she wants her son to have the freedom to choose what he wants to do. Like many Indian parents she has pinned high hopes on her only son, but getting him accepted into a school is proving difficult.

Education is a business here and so the more money you make the better schools you can afford. An English medium school is what she wants for her son– like the one my kids attend. But it’s out of her price range. She applied to one school, a less expensive one, but because neither she nor her husband can read or write the school denied him admittance.

When she told me today that he had been denied, Jon and I revisited the “what if” we’d talked about last summer when she was a new employee. Back then my husband and I weren’t sure of her character, but now we know her to be a sweet spirit and perfect fit for our family and we try to help her when we can. One way is to teach her how to read and write in English. Something we’ve talked about before, but plan to start Monday.

I leave my writing and go into Jon’s office to talk out the questions. What if we pay for her son to attend the same school our kids attend? What if we do for her what we can’t do for millions of other kids who linger around our neighborhood during the day without supervision or any chance for education?  What if we start this and have to leave suddenly? Can we bear the financial weight of one more child in school at a time when we’re trying to do so many other things that right now? Is this what’s best for her in the long-run? Always so many questions.

We think back to our home church in Atlanta and the message of doing for one what you wish you could do for others. And we feel the weight of privilege on us. Privilege in that our children will probably never know what it’s like to do without education, food, clothing or shelter, while so many others go without. And living here, we see it daily. Right outside my back window, in fact.

The questions linger as we try to sort out what’s best and how to help without creating a dependency that isn’t sustainable in the long-run. So we’ll see what happens in the next few days as we meet with the school about possibilities. I have no idea what to expect, but like everything else here, we take it one day at a time and see where it leads.

Tomorrow I will be blogging over at my friend Lori’s place. She’s a deep well of encouragement so I hope you’ll pop over there and have a look around. 


a slow start

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement… Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. – Mark Twain

Thus far, it’s been a slow start to the year as far as writing goes. Perhaps it’s the fact that my kids have been out of school since December 23rd and I’m living on mere slivers of quiet time and 3 cups of tea (I usually drink one) a day.

Or perhaps it is because the house is drafty and cold and if I’m not near a heater when I’m sitting still I’d just rather go to bed and burrow under my three blankets.

Or maybe it’s the holiday blahs I get this time of year when you want to have family and old friends around to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year with, but living thousands of miles away makes that impossible. And skype just doesn’t cut it. Sorry, it doesn’t.

And taxi drivers. What do they have to do with writing? Nothing. But they stress me out and I need to talk about it. There, I feel better already.

Perhaps I could blame those external reasons, especially the taxi drivers, but when the truth comes out, and for me it always does, I have to admit I’ve been scared of writing.

As I sit down and stare at the screen I’ve felt overly self-conscious about words looking back at me. I question my voice– is it really me? I question my motives, my grammar, my creativity. Too many drafts started with no hope of completion. So instead I run from writing and hang out on Facebook and at Downton Abbey. The people there don’t press on me for too much and there’s nothing at stake. It’s a no-pressure relationship.

It’s also wasted time– well, maybe not Downton– the clothes, the snobbery, the beauty of Downton and the Dowager’s one-liners. Sigh.

Anyway. Here, on this little blog, I feel like I should somehow have evolved from my cross-cultural ranting to actually being helpful. And quite honestly, I’m not sure what that looks like here, but it’s the direction I want to go in.

You see, I have an idea of what my passions are and the sort of community I’d love to have in this little corner of the world, but to put them out where everyone can see and to try to build something here means I have to actually do something that I’m not quite ready for yet.

Mysterious enough for you? I know, it’s absurd.

So for now, words are scary. They just are. And I’m sorting out my purpose and passions and hoping I’ll have clarity on this sooner than later which means the blog might be quiet for a while. Or maybe not.

Aren’t you glad you stopped by?