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Teaching is an art, and so is managing one’s life

You must have heard the saying, “Run away and join the circus.” Have you heard of someone who has done it? Well, if not let me introduce myself to you. Although to be fair, I didn’t know about the circus when I ran away. I landed at one by purely the orchestration of the Master. His ways are simply amazing. I will tell you why I say this here in a bit.

What makes a person run away? You can say cowardice. Perhaps. But I think it requires a whole lot more courage.

When I found myself in a situation where I felt stifled, bombarded by unsolicited advice like, ’That’s life,’ ‘You must adjust’, ‘You are too arrogant’, repeated to me. I swear I tried to listen to those things. Even started convincing myself that I was some kind of a mutant. I never could fit in, no matter how much I tried. The box they tried to fit me into was too small for the vibrant, passionate, energetic me.

I was young and did what I thought was the best thing to do. Get out and breathe. I suffered in silence for some time. Silently bore it. The only thing holding me back was my sons. Somewhere the innate desire to protect them kept me grounded.

Finally, the day came when they were in college and my loneliness and unproductive life glared at me. I took off. Between leaving India and reaching the circus in the US there were several stops. Kind of like shopping for the perfect dress. Several shops, several trials, and finally you find the perfect fit.

What I want you to know is that when I left I had no destination.                                        

Never knew the next step.

Foolish say some.

Brave say others.

Oh well! That’s who she is, say some others.

I am an ordinary woman born in a conservative family. I was raised to believe a long list of what I can do and cannot do. The can-not-do list was way longer than the do list as family and society all felt they had to have a say in my life. But here is how it finally panned out. 

I worked as an on-location teacher for a circus in the US. Yes, that’s right! CIRCUS. I traveled with the circus all over the US. Visited 48/50 states. Hawaii and Alaska were not included in the tour as they could not be reached by train.

Yes! You heard it! I lived on a train. I had an independent room with an attached bathroom. A total area of about 7*12. Don’t raise your eyebrow, 8 years taught me that was all one needed to live comfortably and maybe even have 2 cats as pets. My neighbor could be an elephant or a lion, a clown, or an acrobat. There were people from 27 different nationalities. We all lived together, worked together, and traveled together. I’m talking about 300 people. That’s where I learned to give up my biases, and prejudices and be able to sing “We are the world” with conviction.

The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus was 145 years old. And in all of that time, I was the only Indian who dared to run away and join the circus to teach. How did I get this job?

I’m not going to tell you how I packed my suitcase and just left for the US. Because you will not believe it.

I will not tell you this was in 2002 because no ordinary person was getting a visa into the US. It was too soon after the Twin Tower attack.

I will not tell you that in the short time of being there with a tourist visa, I was sponsored for the H1B.

None of these were possibilities.

But it was made possible because I dared to Trust.

I would not have taken it up had I known that it was a Circus. Because the circus to me was Jumbo and Gemini. And the concept of the circus that I carried in my Indian brain wasn’t the best.

Most of you may be wondering why I did it. Of all the different options a teacher has, why the Circus, and that too one of the biggest on the Earth? As they call it The Greatest Show on Earth.

When I called India and told someone, “Guess what? I’m working for a circus.”

Momentary silence and then, “What were you thinking?”

Me with slight annoyance: I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I’m just doing it.

I dislike bubble busters!

Every time I say this, one of the first questions is,

How did you land up there?

Simple. I dared.

Dared to take chances.

Dared to be different.

Dared to trust my Creator.

On the first day of the Unit, I was so pumped up. Adrenalin running high and then suddenly I felt tears in my eyes… I knew no one here, no friends, no family… I wanted to see my sons. This, I knew was an invitation to a pity party. I refused the invitation and soon unpacked and settled in my room. As soon as unpacking was done I felt exhaustion, loneliness, and a feeling of abandonment come over me. I fell on my bed and wept. And with tears flowing down in torrents, I fell asleep.

I woke up early the next morning. Determined to teach. Determined to win. Determined to make a difference. I ran a one-room classroom for all kids below the age of 18, who lived on the show. This was mandatory according to the Dept of Education. I taught all grades (1 to 12) and all subjects. My preparation time was all my waking hours outside of school hours.

When I walked into the classroom the next morning there was no chorus of ‘Good Morning Ma’am’ They were strewn all over the room and while the little ones stared at me the bigger ones barely spared me a look. My brain was rushing to figure out what would work. I knew the first 15 minutes were crucial and I had to gain their respect. I pushed the curriculum to the back of my mind and worked on getting to know them while letting them slowly see who I am. Making myself vulnerable wasn’t easy and like at all times, I had to take the risk of my vulnerability biting me in my rear. Long story short, I went back to my room mighty pleased with myself.

Once I had washed and changed I settled to go through the lessons for the next day. Each student does 4 subjects a day, I had 16 students. I did quick math and I realized I had to prepare 64 lessons a day. Some of them in subjects I have never learned myself.

I knew I would have to stay on my toes the entire time. I love challenges and am not afraid to take chances. So I made up my mind to stay focused on planning my day.

Not only did I have students from Grades 1 to 12 in the class but 4 kids of the same grade would be at 4 different levels as an example, I had four 2nd graders.

One was born and brought up in the US to American parents (the predominant language being English).

Another was born and brought up in America to Hispanic parents (the predominant language being Spanish with knowledge of English).

The third was a smart 7-year-old born in Mexico to Mexican parents but able to follow instructions in English.

The 4th was just a few weeks old in the US. My knowledge of English was zilch. And all of them had to do the lessons by themselves. This is where my special ed came in useful. I made IEPs ( Individual Educational Programs) for the ones who were different.

Take a moment here to take in the load of work I had every day. (I’m proud here, rightfully so, don’t you think)

Overwhelming, challenging, daunting. I am a fighter. I do not quit. I love challenges.

Today when I write about these I feel very excited about what I did but when I was there in the middle of all this it was a battle every day.

My self-confidence, my self-esteem my courage are some things that kept me going.

My father my hero, through his words and in the way he treated me, showed me I was a person of value.

He taught me never to give up.

Believe in me.

Trust my gut.

Fight your own battle.

He was a parson’s son. But he was not religious but very spiritual. That is what kept me glued to my goal.

Manna.K.Abraham is somebody, who simply dared to be. What makes her different is that she chose to live and experience her life, by boldly stepping out of “ the box” that society had thrust upon. Manna, hailing from Chenganoor, Kerala had been a teacher for the American circus, the   Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus hailed as ‘ the greatest show on Earth’.