Today, it only took 45 minutes to drive over to Rajuk, most of which was spent me listening to my ipod while my driver blasted his favorite Bangla songs on the sound system. After arriving here, one of the teachers asked me what I had for breakfast and my answer of instant coffee was not good enough. I was told by her (or rather, demanded), that me not eating properly in the morning will result in having a talk with my mother. She also asked me why I was missing my sweater. This is one of the things I immediately lover about working at Rajuk- the open friendliness shown by my colleagues, some of whom have taken on the role of taking care of me. The campus is enormous- there are around 4,000 students combined. There are two shifts because of the large number of students- the morning shift and day shift. I was already lost in my second day when I was unsure of near which one of the four sets of stairs the office was close to.
The last two days were spent going to a few classes and doing a general introduction of myself to the students. I was insistent on this because I know that there is already some curiosity stimulated on campus by my presence amongst the uniformed students and teachers. I usually entered a class, and explained where I was from and what I would be doing, and asked them to ask me any questions that they may have. This process would sometimes be followed by silence because there is the initial hesitation but ultimately it proved to be a fruitful experience where I was able to get some laughs out of the students. In the 12th grade class yesterday, I made the boys in the back move up front to the empty seats and made each and every one go around and introduce themselves I made one male student sing two songs in the class, which was amazing because he exemplified a talent often unable to show off because of the culture of studying. I was also invited by some of the students to play basketball with them, which sounded like a challenge. The female students in the classes I visited so far showed me some of the best smiles I have seen so far. In one 10th grade class I bonded with the students over Movenpick ice cream. It was refreshing to see these reactions because I know that students at Rajuk are some of the most serious in the country, having scored the most percentage of highest marks on the national exams consistently over the years.
Rajuk has both English medium as well as Bangla medium sections, differentiated by the color of their uniforms. The Bangla medium students wear blue, and the English medium students wear green, and everyone wears maroon shoulder patches which represent the school and which year they are in depending on the number of stripes. The boys wear slacks and button down t-shirts followed by matching sweaters given that it is winter here, and the girls wear the common salwar-kameez that you see uniformed around the city. They are not like the ones I wear in that these dresses are perfectly fitted and attached, crisp, and monotone. I am fascinated by the uniforms because they are supposed to show discipline. At the same time some of the students have complained that they are not able to show off their style and individuality. Interestingly the boys complained more about this than the girls. However, one shy student told me how it was a relief to have the uniform because she does not have to worry about what to wear to school and not “having enough”. It allows students to take each other on face value, I suppose. In fact I wish I had worn uniforms when I was in high school.
The way that the students personalize their uniforms is fascinating, especially with the boys. The winter time allows for more opportunities as they are able to wear sweaters and scarves which again I see the boys taking advantage of more than the girls. I have seen a boy with his shirt collar popped, some with brightly colored scarves, and of course, the gelled, half spiked hair that is appropriate enough for school but different enough to get noticed. The two genders do not generally mix, whether in the classroom and sometimes, during the tea break. I wonder if this is because of the school setting which tends to be on the conservative side, or because they are not used to it.
Today I led conversations in one of the 7th grade class where there were almost fifty students. I asked everyone to go around and tell me their name, where they are from in Bangladesh, and something interesting about them. Many of the responses included loving food, being funny, math (!) and their favorite soccer team, to other interests. One of them has already promised to give me a parrot for my birthday from his collection of twenty two at home, many of which he apparently keeps in his bathroom. After class and the end of the morning shift, two of the girls from that class came into the office shyly and asked if I would become their new substitute teacher. It was adorable.
I am excited to meet more of the students and see what I can uncover about this generation of Dhaka. It seems like there are many layers that need to be broken into before this could happen, and I really have to think about how to do so this week.