From a Teacher
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Because we weren't parents, we didn't feel like we needed to hear about parenting at that time, we didn't understand. There was a lot of sleep deprivation going on here! That 90% of any misbehavior or whatever that we saw was just because the kids were tired! And that somehow didn't dawn on us, because I was listening to the older (young) devotees at that time and they were telling me, "Well you know adults should get six hours of sleep and Prabhupada said that . . ." So every time they said "Prabhupada said," I just had to take it as the gospel truth and not question it at all. Although I had other experiences in a professional setting, I never felt like I could share those feelings with anybody because I was a new devotee. So it didn't matter that I had just had eight years of professional experience in different forms. Those things were not going to be listened to by someone who was a devotee elder in years to me. And of course, at that time we're only talking about maybe three or four years, five at the most. There was an atmosphere where I had to listen to them. And os I just felt like, "Okay, you know, this is my situation and I'm going to do the best I can and whatever they ask me to do I'll do." And I did get a couple of times to a near nervous breakdown. It was just very overwhelming to me for a while. And I kept asking for help and I knew that everybody else wasn't in any better situation than I was. Because in the beginning all of us had just as much as we could handle and then things just, like, I can remember being in my classroom one day, and I had maybe 15 kids in like a Kindergarten class, which was a nice group, and the next day we had something like 30, because a plane had just arrived from Los Angeles! And I had heard that they hadn't even let us know that the kids were coming. Somebody had called up from the airport and said, "There's a group of kids here." I don't know if that's true, but that's what they told me. And it was like all of a sudden, my asrama doubled in size, my classroom doubled in size and it was more than a handful.
Specifically I can remember a few kids that definitely must have come from dysfunctional households, like Jagannatha Puri, who I developed immediate affection for because I could see that here's a suffering living entity and I wanted to extend myself to her but it's real hard to give personal attention when you have so many little chickies in the nest. She couldn't sleep at night. She would sit up in her bed long after everybody conked out, and I couldn't figure out. I mean we were active from like three in the morning till eight o'clock at night with only a short nap but she couldn't sleep! And she'd be talking to herself and, you know, I tried everything I could think of, rocking her in my lap or anything.
Things like that I had to just somehow tolerate; that here I was in this situation with all these kids, I didn't even really have time to go talk to anybody about what was happening and what was wrong. I had to get them up, get them to the temple. After the morning program I had to take them to breakfast. Then I had a temporary lady who helped me and mostly fell asleep while she was with the kids. She'd watch them and get them ready after breakfast and before class, so that gave me fifteen or twenty minutes to go straighten up the classroom and put a little energy into getting something together. Then the kids came and I had them all morning long, I had them for lunch (although sometimes I got so overwhelmed that I would ask somebody to watch them for lunch so I could just rest) and then I had them for playtime.
Then during nap time it was like, what a test! You could spend hours just talking about nap time. Phew! Getting the kids to lie down and take a nap, and then after they're totally out, I mean out, right, we had to wake them up?! I mean, it was harder in the afternoon than in the morning, you know. And then take them to four o'clock arati? They were like The Living Dead! You know. At least they were easy to control because they were still asleep.
They went to four o'clock arati and kind of looked through half closed eyes at the Deities and the pujari, and then more playtime, and then we'd get them showered and clean and ready, go to evening arati, and then take them back down to the asrama and spend as much time as required to put them to bed and then go to Bhagavad-gita class, and then we were supposed to have milk and prasadam after that, and it was like what time was there for anyone to communicate?
The adults became islands. We were islands surrounded by oceans of children. I can remember weeks and weeks going by and never speaking to anyone above three feet tall! Because when you went to the prasadam room you were surrounded by an ocean of kids and weren't able to conduct them properly and they'd be throwing prasadam and, you know, having a hey day, loud, I mean you couldn't talk to the adult because there were like 60 kids between you and the next adult and they were having a hard enough time controlling their ocean of kids. In the asrama you couldn't talk to anyone because they were in the room next door. In class you couldn't. There was no time. Except for that little time at night having milk prasadam and there they read Krsna Book. So you couldn't talk to each other then either!
So it's like, somehow or other, you survived. And that's what it was. Survival. We had to eat broccoli trunks too! We had restrictions on us that were very austere, besides the fact, you know, sleeping amongst these kids who passed urine, oceans of urine! In the morning when you wake up and the whole asrama stinks and it's all full of urine (I can remember running out of sleeping bags because the laundromat, I've gotta tell you the launderette stories. The laundromat machines all broke down because of us.) and we'd be swimming, literally. In the summer it was too hot to sleep on a bed anyway, it would just be us on the floor with a cotton thing or something, and we would wake up and swim through the urine to the bathroom, you know. And there was no hole in the floor so you couldn't hose the floor down. And the smell, I mean it was like unbelievable!
In desperation I had a friend of mine buy me extra large baby plastic bath tubs, just in desperation to try to contain the ones who passed the most. So I padded it with pillows and stuff and I had put Bhaktina and a few of the others in it, I called them "cradles." I said, "I want you to stay in a cradle tonight." Some of them didn't like it, and for some of them it was less traumatic to be in a cradle than to have all the kids freak out in the morning when they were swimming in their urine.
And I know some of the other teachers, in desperation, tried horrible techniques to try to get the kids to stop passing but . . . [Manu adds: Like making them drink their own urine.] Yeah. We didn't do that in our place, because I would have had to have everybody do it! It wouldn't have worked, real good. Actually, many years later I read the "Sivambhu" urine therapy book and I was thinking, "Well . . ." Little did we know it's therapeutic. But anyway, it's also demeaning, in the sense of when you're forced to do something like that. But it was a problem that we had no solution to. We couldn't afford paper diapers.
The laundry pile would be higher than the Empire State Building, for 50 kids, and I can distinctly remember, I mean, I also had to do their laundry, and before we got the machines at the school, we had to do laundry every day at the laundromat. So laundry time took up a good part of our day, and that was getting everybody lined up, out in the back, right, get the shoebox, and we taught verses, I taught them verses while we were putting on shoes because we had a good twenty minutes there because fifty percent of the kids couldn't tie their own shoes. So we all sat down on the curb, learning verses, while I put the shoes on, and the older ones sometimes would help (I didn't have that many other ones).
After we all got our shoes on, we walked, in lines, dragging the laundry baskets in a shopping cart that someone stole out of a shopping center and pried the tag off so on one would know (!) to the laundromat. And when we would get there, all the kids would have to sit in line. So we took up the whole laundromat, with all the clothes and all the kids, put all the clothes in the laundry machines, and either read stories, or told stories, or learned more verses, phew! I mean how austere, you know, laundry time was like intense! And sometimes we would be able to make it back to the temple or walk around the block, in line, just to occupy the time while the clothes were being washed.
And sorting the laundry, with everything tied in knots, you know, on the floor, that we would have to, I mean in the morning, besides the hair washing and the hair braiding and the getting dressed, it was the mopping up of all the urine. We had to put bleach and stuff on the floor before we went to the laundromat and then wipe it up when we came back, so we could dump all the clothes on the floor and then it was like a big huge family, and I'd like to say a big huge happy family and sometimes we had fun. We had to make fun out of something because we all had to exist and you can't exist without laughter in a day. So we'd have fun by piling all the clothes in the middle and that was Govardhana Hill. So before we sorted the clothes, to have some fun and exercise, we would all run up and down the hill and jump up and down, and I'd turn everybody into cows -- that's one thing I did -- I was the cowherd boy and everybody became cows. I even had these little paper ears that we stuck on the kids ears and we'd go around the hill, and run around the hill, just somehow or other we had to get some fun out of it -- somehow -- so we wouldn't get driven crazy by boredom of this intense thing of walking all the way to the laundromat and all that, sort out the clothes, a time taking thing and boring and tedious, people fighting, biting each other and kicking, you know, "That's mine!" The whole thing. Test of your patience. That went on for . . . During the most intense period of growth in Dallas we could hardly keep up with it, and the kids just seemed to like being pouring out of the windows!
And then all of a sudden Dayananda and Nandarani had made real good progress at getting nice big laundry machines there in the prasadam room, things were going a lot nicer. They did a lot to help things at the school. But still the stress was there, and not having enough association with people your own age took a toll.
And then the poverty of the place. I can remember Bhakta-rupa used to cook the Sunday feast and all we had was USDA stuff plus what we could beg down at the market. Me and Candrika used to go to the market on Saturday and we'd make friends with these guys and we could get all the watermelons and potatoes we wanted, and the broccoli trunks from what they cut the broccoli off of, and some other things, little assorted things, rotten eggplants and boxes and boxes of rotten tomatoes. We had a big cooler (I think it probably cost us more to pay for the cooler than it was worth it but we had this big cooler) and all the rotten bhoga went in the cooler and the kids would sort it out. I can remember the kids covered in rotten vegetables! Sorting through the rotten bhoga to try to find the good things.
And the kids worked in the kitchen during Bhagavatam class rolling chapatis and cutting up things. That was when it was real organized and running fairly smoothly and there was help in the asramas, and by that time I was teaching in the classroom, maybe 35 kids, and I didn't have to put in so much time in the asrama anymore.
I distinctly remember at a time when I did have a full asrama, bringing my kids into a Bhagavatam class taught by Satsvarupa Maharaja. All my little girls were in the front row, and the little boys, and sometime after breakfast Mohananada or Dayananda, I don't remember who it was, called me into their office and said, "Ehm, we have a problem." And I said, "Yeah, what?" "Ehhm, is there some reason why your little girls don't wear underpants?" I said, "Well, we don't have any!" So he said, "Well, ehm, ehm, ehm," and he was like searching for the words and I could see Satsvarupa Maharaja must have said something about it. The girls must have fooled around with their skirts in Bhagavatam class, or something, I was so embarrassed, you know, but I just said, "We don't have any. We don't have underpants."
So then I remember we had a group meeting. You can't really call it a teachers' meeting, it was like a trouble-shooting meeting of "What are we going to do with this problem and that problem." We started having meetings like that, and it was decided that we would go out on sankirtana to collect money to pay for things like this, to get clothes for the kids, because we weren't getting enough tuition from the parents and we had one or two sankirtana guys and there just wasn't enough money to take care of all those kids and all the adults. So to add to the fact that I got up at two in the morning, which most of us did, and went through a full day and we were completely stressed out, after the kids went to bed, and after we went to Bhagavad-gita class and after we had our milk and maha, we piled into the school bus and went to the black neighborhood collecting until about ten o'clock at night. Sometimes 10:30. Mostly they gave us pennies and quarters but we would collect 25 or 30 dollars every night but that was big-time, because it meant that we could buy underpants for the little. girls and stuff that we needed.
So I can remember going to bed at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. And getting up again at two, month after month after month, until I could hardly see straight. And I know my patience was probably zero, after a program like that. And thanks to Srila Prabhupada's dietary suggestions and Dayananda and Nandariani's attentiveness to that aspect, we had dhal and chapatis and some type of subji, even if it was just broccoli trunks and tomato sauce. We had a subji like that and some decent breakfast. And we didn't eat opulently --and hardly ever had halavah! -- so my health stayed at least passable. At least I wasn't sunken down in all the problems I had eating the opulent food normal temples had, because we ate austerely! One thing that did happen though, when we got really poor and Dayananda asked Prabhupada, "What should the kids eat, and what should we eat? What's the minimum thing? It came down that we were going to have to go without milk for a while so the kids could have milk. And for the ladies anyway, I don't know how the guys went through it, but it was hard for me to go without milk. I had a lot of weakness during that time and Prabhupada had said, "Just eat as much dahl as you can," but the cook was limited, you know. He had to make more dahl with the same amount of beans. So it was like dishwater, practically. I don't know how much protein substance there was in there. We ate more of it, you know, because he added more water! So we had clean kidneys and bladder and stuff, but I can remember being real weak at that time, physically. And it affected my ability to function mentally, and I had all this trouble with my periods and stuff, just because I was not getting enough nourishment.
But at the same time we felt good about what we were doing because it was for the kids. And there was a mood of whatever you have to do that needs to be done for the kids, do it, whether you have to sacrifice, whatever. We made any kind of sacrifice we had to, and every single couple was going through marital problems. Every single one, of some sort of other, maybe not drastic but something. Whether it was just estrangement because you never saw your husband or wife anymore, except with 60 kids between you and them, or whether it was the fact that you had just gotten newly married, because a lot of us were newly married, and you had no time to even learn about the other person at all. So there were many times when I'd hear women two or three rooms away (you could hear everything going on everywhere there, somehow or other we made the walls out of cardboard or something) you could hear women crying at night. After they had put their kids to sleep, you could hear them. And you sort of wanted to go and say something to the person, but what were you going to say, because you felt just as bad! And most of us were new, you know, it was like, "Well, just chant Hare Krishna," or you know. We didn't preach to each other very much because we didn't have it in us, to preach to each other. You could hear the other person suffering but there wasn't much you could say. And sometimes we'd get together late at night, a couple of us out in the hallway, you know, and try to nurse each other along, but it was hard. It was hard not having any support from anywhere and only being able to meet super late at night, in those hot basements.
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