It was our second day at Parkdale, and building on our experiences from our first day, we perfected our curriculum.
Our previous day had involved a lot of experimentation. We balanced fun with seriousness, comedy with sternness. The second day, we decided to try out a small group setting. After delivering one or two presentations out of seven people, we would have a brief icebreaker, Faben would deliver her financial aid spiel, and then we would break up to discuss the college life and application process.
We realized that these kids wanted to see past the borders of Maryland. They didn’t need to be talked at for 90 minutes, they needed someone to believe in them past their GPA. We saw many sheepish faces that wondered if their GPA would disqualify them from MIT. Our answer: Yes, it might, but it should not disqualify you from success.
The masses of stone-faced, bored high-schoolers on the first day melted into lively, lovely young men and women once we had separated them and held court with them. There were athletes who cared about their future as scholars, and academics who wished for horizons on the cutting edge. There were quiet ones who wondered about the adventurous campus life, and outspoken ones who wondered about everything. No questions were off limits (except for the SAT, GPA, or AP score trinity). We didn’t want anything to be.
In the end, our greatest compliment from Ms. Wendel, the teacher who coordinated this with us. Once the last class had left for the day, she tearfully thanked us for having accomplished in two days what she had attempted to drill into these students for years and years. There were kids coming up to us, with bright eyes and big dreams. They e-mailed us on our mailing list, they became our Facebook friends, and our real friends too.
Starting from that day, and by no means excluding that evening, Aileen put the team on her back and drove us in the church van to DC to eat dinner at Dukem, a well-recommended Ethiopian restaurant. After wandering the city in search of parking spots, we finally found one in a tucked away lot. For three East Asians, one Southeast Asian, one European, and one Great Lakes African, the culture shock of Ethiopian cuisine was an interesting and delectable experience. We were led fearlessly by Faben, who put the team on her back with her native Amharic. She ordered us kitfo and gored gored (raw, marinated ground and cubed meat, respectively; sadly, in my opinion, cooked,), ayibe (cheese), and a plethora of wat (stew) served on a bed of injera (spongy sourdough flatbread). She showed us how to form a proper morsel of injera, twisting it to keep the mouthwatering complements from falling out.
Most importantly, though, she taught us the concept of gursha. Gursha is the act of communal feeding in Ethiopian cuisine. One essentially feeds a morsel of injera filled with meat and stew into the mouth of another, and is an important aspect of the cuisine. The larger the gursha, the greater the friendship or bond (at least, according to Wikipedia). Billy discovered the magnitude of the greatness of the concept the hard way, with an especially piquant bite requiring a whole pitcher of water from the amused waitress.
It was a new experience for all, and afterwards, while the rest fell under a profound food coma, Aileen deftly navigated our way through the dilapidated DC roads and crazed drivers. We returned to the church full and satisfied. Our gursha from Faben, an ultimate expression of friendship, topped off an amazing day where I saw the others make similar miracles happen—convincing young adults to believe in themselves academically and beyond.
Unconditional positive regard, tho.
ASB DC 2014