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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Then You Have to Kill a Cow

Part of my teaching schedule this year--which, so far, does not include forced relocation to the Land of Perpetually Delinquent Juveniles--is one period every other day of "push-in". Which sounds like it should have to do with Lamaze or something, but doesn't. Instead, it means that I'm in the room while another teacher is teaching and I kind of help kids who need extra help and do my best to keep the class quiet, usually by means of an electric cattle prod.

What it meant today was that I got to bear witness as students gave presentations on their culture. These consisted mostly of a brief, stiff listing of foods which are eaten where they (or their parents) come from, with the occasional mention of a holiday or dance move.

Except for one kid from Bangladesh.

I should mention here that I teach in a school whose population is a wonderfully diverse mix of kids whose families are from all over the place. We've got a lot of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. We've got Jamaicans and Haitians. We've got African-Americans and Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans. Our kids are a potpourri.

So there are two kids from Bangladesh in this sixth grade class. One is the younger brother of a girl I've got in my 8th grade class. This is my third year teaching her and she's one of my favorites. She went from knowing practically no English to writing the most sophisticated papers of all of my students. Just a really hard-working, sweet kid. And her little brother, let's call him "Banshi", is cut from the same cloth.

But Banshi wasn't the kid giving his report. It was the other kid from Bangladesh in this class. We'll call him "Rajiv".

Rajiv gets up and he's supposed to have brought in some kind of visual representation of his culture. Pictures or a flag or something. But he apparently didn't. Instead, he's got a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As he steps to the front of the room clutching Year 3 at Hogwarts, I'm wondering if there was a Bengali character in the series about whom I'd forgotten. And I'm not quite sure how it's all going to tie in.

So Rajiv starts to go into his spiel. He talks a bit about religion in Bangladesh, but he never says the word Islam. He says that some women in his and Banshi's country wear clothes that cover them up because they're not supposed to be seen. He illustrates this by showing a picture of a Dementor. He continues, informing the class that, sometimes in Bangladesh, villages are attacked by wolves. At which point he holds up a drawing of Professor Lupin in werewolf mode. Then he sat down.

Now, this would have been enough to make my day. But he didn't stop there. A little while later, after a few other students had presented, he realized that he'd forgotten something. So he got back up and talked about Eid ul Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

He's sharing his version of it, and he's saying, "So for a whole month, you're not allowed to eat. Even if you get sick or anything, you can't eat. And then on Eid, you have to go see everyone you know. Like I'd go see Banshi. And you give presents." A kid calls out, "So wait. For a month, you can't eat? At all? You can't eat anything?" Rajiv soberly shakes his head. "If you eat, you go to hell."

Banshi, at this point, is rolling his eyes and looking like he'd really appreciate if Rajiv would stop fucking lumping the two of them together.

The other teacher eventually draws from Rajiv the clarification that you don't actually have to go a whole thirty days without food, but that you're fasting from sunrise to sunset. Then Rajiv sits down.

Until about four minutes later, when he realizes he forgot to mention one more thing. "Oh, yeah! So there's another holiday called Eid ul-Adha. And on Eid, you have to kill a cow. You have to cut its head off. It's messy and blood gets all over the floor, but you have to do it or you go to hell. And one time, this guy didn't didn't cut the head off right and the cow ran around like crazy and killed the guy. You have to take the skin off the cow and chop it up. And then, like, my family would bring chopped up cow to Banshi's house and we'd eat cow."

Banshi is burying his head in his hands and wishing he was from Sweden.

The kids, of course, are fascinated by the mandatory cow killing. They want to know what happens if you can't get a cow in the Bronx. Do you have to go to Bangladesh and get a cow and bring it back? Rajiv dodges this one a bit and just reiterates that the cow killing is required to avoid going to hell.

And at this point, it struck me that most religions sound equally ridiculous, whether they're explained by a professor with a doctorate in theology or an eleven year old kid who thinks Dementors wear burkas. Thank Xenu my Scientologist beliefs make more sense.

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Fuggin' hilarious, truly...The fact that he never mentioned the religion itself, and now a classroom full of students believe that women in Bangladesh look like dementors...Dear god, assimilation sucks.
It's worth noting that The Highest High Holy Day in All of Christiandom features an anthropomorphic bunny laying chocolate eggs.

NOTHING is beyond the power of my God!!
Try getting Christians to explain that they eat the body and drink the blood of their God. Whether symbolic or literal, many religions execute their gods and then consume them. It's more psychological than spiritual and I wish we'd outgrow it.
I've always wondered that Islamic women wearing those Burkas look like Dementors from Harry Potter, or Nazgul from Lord of the Rings.
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