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Government Home ClassDate: 5/1/2013

There have been five classes in all for the young women at the government protective home, each successively with fewer girls in attendance. Being teenagers, they exhibit the universal traits of being a teenager anywhere. They want to be special, to get attention, to be of individual significance, to be entertained, to show off, to be with their friends, to be rebellious. As a class begins, several young women who are either pregnant or not feeling well* crowd the sides of the dingy room and are like mermaids to my students. One by one, girls defect from the drill lines to sit with compatriots on the side, or have a lie down. Sometimes, a defector or a mermaid will re/join the class randomly when there is something they find fun being done. They disappear just as quickly back to the sidelines as soon as they feel bored or feel they are not being paid attention to. With the language barrier, exercising order and discipline is a dance with alienation and estrangement. It is emotionally exhausting. That said, there is a core group of roughly 12 girls who appear to look forward to each class, and who can't wait to do all the drills and exercises. Since using their real names or showing their pictures is forbidden, I will call them The Dirty Dozen, or the DD for short. Every time Sajji and I come to class, the DD inspires me. They are gifted with natural athletic abilities, quick minds, and a large capacity for work. It is my great fortune that I have made their acquaintance, that I learn from them possibly as much as they learn from me. * ‘Not feeling well' is a term often used for a girl who is having her period. In this part of the world, a girl who is going through her period is not expected to participate in physical exercise, or even go to school. And not having access to pain relief (due to protocols or expense), I'm not sure I can blame the girls from not wanting to be active or at school. But this practice has obvious consequences, as pointed out by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn in their book ‘Half the Sky.' Consider a girl who is excused one week of class per month per year. In 46 weeks of school, the girl misses an additional 11 weeks of academic learning. This is often enough to cause them to eventually drop out. And this is routine and accepted in many developing countries. Oh, my kingdom for an ibuprofen… Off to class.

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