A profile in awesome: the Mukhim hostellers
Like Michael Bay, I demand things in my life to be awesome. Luckily, upon arriving here in the Kharang village, I found that the young people “renting” at the Mukhim home are pretty awesome.
In addition to myself, Sharmila, and Jon, there are three students who are living and working here: Kyntihun, Wanrilung, and Trei. They’re all extended family Mukhims who are attending either the Kong Barr Secondary or Primary School. (It’s common practice here for kids to “hostel” near their school.) Without these kids’ assistance around the house, we three foreigners probably would have lost a finger or died of dehydration by now.
Kyntihun and Wanrilung are sisters who came here earlier this year. Kyntihun is sixteen and currently in grade 6, and Wanrilung is nine and in preschool. One of the reasons the girls are here is so that they can get a better and more consistent education than what they were offered in their home village. In addition to schoolwork, Kyntihun and Wanrilung help out around the house by washing dishes, cutting up vegetables and sifting rice, and tending to Mei and Papa’s needs. Sometimes, the girls will figure out that we have laundry to do, and will just do it for us even though they’re already busy with chores and schoolwork. (“Hey, where’s that pile of clothes I just left over here…? … Kyntihun?”) Now that they’re more accustomed to us being here, we’re getting to see the sillier side to their personalities. Both are accomplished dancers, and will sing to themselves while they work. Once, Sharmila decided that Wanrilung should learn some new tunes – she has one favorite Hindi song that she hums to herself almost all the time – but the exposure turned into an ABBA dance party in our room, with Wanrilung in the lead! Wanrilung is also quite the actress; even though we’ve learned she’s usually not crying or afraid, it’s still a convincing act. Kyntihun has taken to calling me “Kong Kong” (a nickname we share, because we’re both the oldest daughters of our families) and calling Sharmila “Ms. S.K.” even outside of school, or simply “Mei” (Khasi for “Mom”). Overall, the girls are sweet and funny, a pleasure to have as company.
Trei has been here longer than the girls, and he carries out “boy jobs” like looking after the pig, carrying heavy objects, and saving me and Sharmila from the giant bugs that sometimes creep into our room. (Though, it should be noted as it was in Sharmila’s blog, that Kyntihun is equally adept at saving us from the local fauna; one day on the way to school, Kyntihun was victorious in battle against a poisonous snake.) Trei’s pretty shy, so of course we bother him constantly in an attempt to bring him out of his shell. For example, I’m in the habit of referring to Trei as “school captain” – a rank he has held at Kong Barr Primary since August, but never told us about due to his humility and timidity! – and Sharmila has taught Trei how to “pound” fists on Jon’s behalf. On Anniversary Day, Trei was also awarded for top marks in his moral science class, for church attendance, and for winning a singing contest. I’d say that’s all pretty objectively awesome.
All of the children make sure we have water. There’s no pipe here, and now that it’s not monsoon raining, they have to get water from the local stream (a decent trek down the hill next to the house) or walk to the nearest communal faucet. So, when I said we would all die of dehydration without them, I should add we would also be unwashed. And, seriously, they’re far more skilled than we are with the huge Khasi knives. Someday I’ll learn how to cut fruit “Khasi style” (i.e., without a cutting board), but I’m glad I have someone to help me in the meantime.
Even though she’s not a “kid” here, our “house manager” Dari needs to be mentioned. Dari has lived with the Mukhims since she was eleven, finishing her eleventh and twelfth grades in Shillong (basic secondary school here ends at tenth) while saying in Bari’s house and then taking a year at beauty school. Dari is still here essentially to look after us visitors, and then she hopes to open her own beauty salon. She cooks all of our meals, helps us with stitching, acts as translator between me and the workers (who speak either Khasi or Hindi), etc. Her beautician skills have also helped us: for Anniversary Day, Dari cut my hair into a stylish bob, and she’s currently giving Sharmila a three-day-long pedicure. (Sometimes, our hosts deem parts of our appearance “unacceptable.” Sharmila’s feet are one example of this, my inability to properly put on the traditional jainsem is another.)
I hope that all of the folks here enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs, and for me, I hope that the work I’m doing here is worth the time they spend to take care of me. Like the issue of corporal punishment – something I’ve had to witness both times I’ve been to India – I struggle with how I feel about what boils down to child labor and indentured servitude. But, the kids can’t afford to go to school on their own, so then how would they get an education? Etc. What it comes down to is, things here are not as things are in the States, and these issues are far more complex than I can currently process.
(An orphanage update: skilled builders from Shillong are staying here at the site until Saturday, putting up the support beams. This means we have local builders who only speak Khasi, Shillong builders who only speak Hindi, and me and Jon who only speak English. So, the site’s a bit of a circus, yet everything’s running smoothly. Foundation should be finished around the end of next week! Hoorah!)
(Self-conscious blog update: thanks to everyone leaving me comments! I’ll try to get back to you via e-mail as soon as possible!)