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Babuan VoicesDate: 29/8/2010

It took about an hour to have tea at Ritu's house. I had brought my karate gi, so I quickly changed, thinking we would go back to the school. But no. There were the family I had to meet. And the awkward periods as everyone around me chatted animatedly and motioned in my direction, and me not knowing what they were saying, but just smiling and looking interested as the center of their attention. Finally, we returned to the school. And immediately I knew why the delay. The school teachers had cleared the schoolyard and even added dry dirt where before there was only mud. I now thankfully had a teaching area for the girls' karate class. Usually there are 40 girls here, but the floodwaters prevented about half of them from making it to school. And, in a manner that I am now accustomed to, 17 girls showed up initially; another 6 followed about 30 minutes after class had started. They ranged in age from 10 to 14. Their manner of dress ran the gamut: tunic top and pants; dresses that had been hand-me-downs several times over, the zippers broke and now held together by safety pins; some in their Sunday best dresses that looked like this was the first time they were worn, with lace and ruffles and sequins; and others still in a school uniform of short-sleeved buttondown shirt and skirt. The girls never cease to amaze me. If this were back in the States, it would not surprise me at all to see these girls register at the karate school I go to. They have an immense natural talent, a strong competitiveness, and a hunger to not only do, but show what they can do. Put them on a team and give them some resources, these girls would be a butt-kicking force to be reckoned with. As it is, because of their location and the inherent lack of access to the area, I am the closest they will ever get to doing karate in their lives. It is such a waste and it makes me very sad. But yesterday, I did not think about that. In front of an audience that included half of the village, the girls did calisthenics, basic punching, and some blocking. I also had some unexpected help from the village men who had gathered to watch and offer approving ‘ah-ha's when a girl would do something right and ‘tsk tsk tsk's when wrong before shouting out what they should be doing. Two men would even walk right into the class and physically correct a girl who was struggling with something. I tried my best to shield the girls. Very challenging. There were some girls who were not happy with the extra teachers, and they kept their worried eyes downcast, and did not smile. Other girls, however, were natural-born warriors, and they knew what they were about and who they are, and did not pay attention to the men. Very interesting experience, because the men were earnestly trying to help the girls. At the same time, I don't think that they got it that some of their ministrations and directions were a bit intimidating and controlling. Anyway, that was the morning session. The clouds started to melt away and it was becoming very hot, especially in my karate gi in a lightly shaded schoolyard. With morning class over, we went back to Ritu's house where her mother, Urksilla, had made a wonderful lunch. I ate and drank, my one liter of water that I had bought earlier that day ever dwindling. “That's okay,” I thought, “We'll pass by the stall in that village again, and it is only half an hour away. I can make it without more water.” Then Dheeraj came up to me, quiet as ever, asking if I would give a private lesson to Ritu and three of her six sisters (she also has seven brothers) in self defense. We went to a little, windowless room where it was just supposed to be the four sisters, me and Dheeraj, but quickly ended up with the grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, girls from morning karate class, and other children and adults from god-knows-where crowding the doorway and eventually lining the already small room. We went over wrist grabs, neck grabs, hair grabs. What was supposed to only be 20 minutes turned out to be an hour. So goes time keeping in India. Finally back to the school for the afternoon session where I focused on self defense, going over several of the moves that I had just taught to Ritu et al. I also got out the big pad on which to do forearm strikes. What an experience. I was now getting them to use their voice. Earlier, Dheeraj (who does the Shotokan-Hapkido-Muay Thai mix of martial arts popular in this area) was helpful in getting the girls to kiai on punching. At his suggestion, I did my kiai as an example (and those of you who know me know that I am LOUD), and it really set a great tone. But now with the pad, and the break for lunch, the girls had forgotten how and when to use their voice. With a little encouragement and additional demonstration from me, the girls were finding their voices again. Except for one young lady. I could see had an internal block to saying anything. She had been quiet in all the exercises earlier in the day, and was very meek. I took some extra time with her because she absolutely did not want to kiai. But, finally finally finally, a sound escaped her throat. And then another one, this time a little more forceful. And then another, and another. After about the fifth or sixth kiai (still not loud but not a mouse squeak either), a wave of release from her being accompanied her voice, so strong that it was almost palpable to me as I stood on the other side of the pad from her. And it seemed a giant weight had been lifted from her tiny shoulders. When she walked away, I glimpsed a small triumph that she manifested nowhere other than in her eyes.

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