finding johncy – part 2

04Apr12

After telling Johncy I would meet her the following Sunday (read part 1 here), I tried to call Johncy’s grandmother during the week, but there was no answer. I called Bharith, who knew me, but I quickly learned he spoke absolutely no English. The area Johncy lived in, Ragigudda, was being re-developed into middle class apartments. I didn’t know where she would be living a year from now. Even with all these telephone numbers, when I returned to India, I might not be able to find her again.

I was busy with my project, and I was unsure of whether I should just drop in on them again, as it was a long trip for me to where Johncy lived. We hadn’t arranged an exact time, and I couldn’t be certain she would be there when I went. I decided to wait until the grandmother picked up the phone before I visited them. Unfortunately, I never got an answer and time flew by: I went on a trip to Mumbai, I got sick and couldn’t get out of bed for a week, and then the dialogues started rapidly and all my time was taken up coordinating the meetings and trying to develop the program. Before I knew it, I had a less than a week before I was leaving India, I still had a lot of work ahead of me and almost no free time. But on the last Sunday, I happened to be near Ragigudda and decided to take a detour and just stop by. Of course I got completely lost again, and was helped by a couple of very sweet teenagers who led me right to Johncy’s door.

This time when Johncy stepped out, she did not look happy to see me. She asked me, slightly accusingly, “Why didn’t you come that week to see me??” I had to explain to her how hard it was for me to get to where she lived, especially when we couldn’t arrange to meet beforehand and I would be dropping in on them unannounced. This started a few minutes of trying to call her grandmother’s phone to verify what I was saying, finding her grandmother to see why she didn’t pick up her cell phone, and then coming back to me to say, “Ok next time, call at 8am.”

I had to tell her I was leaving the country in a few days, and wouldn’t be able to see them again before I left. I also told her that since the Ragigudda slum was being torn down, once she moved away, if I couldn’t contact her by phone, even I came back to India I might not be able to find her again. We discussed various options, and I kept on asking if it was possible for her to get an email address at her school, or to use a friend’s computer. She shook her head no, that was not going to happen. Finally I asked about her cousin Emily, who last time had loved to constantly talk to me in Kannada even though I couldn’t understand a word she was saying or reply to her. It turned out she and her sister, Stella, were living in Koramangala, the same area that Brinda’s organization, Global Concerns India, worked out of, and an area I knew very well. Johncy had me call them, and Stella asked excitedly in English when they could meet me. We arranged for the next day since there would be a dialogue group running in Koramangala.

Not knowing what would come of my visit with Stella and Emily, I said good-bye to Johncy, unsure of whether we would be able to keep in touch. At the last minute, I took out a pen and paper and wrote down my phone number in Vancouver and my email.

I looked at her and said, “Don’t lose this piece of paper. This is my phone number in Canada, and it may change. But my email address, this will never change, I will always have this.”

Johncy started again, shaking her head,  “Jennifer, I don’t have a computer…”

But I interrupted her, “Johncy, you will always be able to reach me at this email. If you get older, and you can use a computer, you can write to me here. When you are TWENTY, and you learn how to use email, you can write to me and I will get it. Ok?”

Her eyes grew wide when I said that, and she finally stopped protesting and took the piece of paper. “Ok,” she said, nodding in agreement and smiling.

I put my pen back in my bag and noticed the freshly-baked cookies I had picked up from a local bakery for some friends. I hadn’t been expecting to see Johncy that day, and I impulsively took out the cookies in the cellophane bag wrapped up with ribbons and gave them to her. It almost seemed like I had bought them for her. Then I started looking in my bag for anything else I could give her, and she laughed as I pushed 5 or 6 pens into her hands.

I knew she was getting extra tutoring, and I wondered whether she would stay in school and get the encouragement and motivation she needed to excel as she got older. She was also the most dark-skinned out of all of her cousins, and I worried that whatever negative messages get slowly fed into the minds of dark-skinned girls in India would eventually begin to take its toll on her sense of self.

“You are so confident,” I told her, shaking my head in amazement. I wondered when I came back next time, if her personality and confidence would only have grown, or if the chaos and difficulty of life in the slums would shrink her spirit. I made her read out every single letter and number I had written on the paper, and then waved bye to her as I stepped into the auto.

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2 Responses to “finding johncy – part 2”

  1. how do you see your project grwing with your initiatives with young women ?
    what can Canadians do to help ?

  2. 2 Oshi

    What a fascinating experience, Jen! It’s both exciting – because of the hope – and scary because of the uncertainty that faces kids like Johncy, I don’t know if you realize it, but the few moments you invested in her might be life altering for Johncy! Keep up the good work – I, and many others, would love to help out in whatever way we can.


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