…To Laugh in English by Megan Gieske
When I volunteered at an Indian orphanage for a month the summer of 2014, I taught English to thirty-six girls. All of them were the daughters of sex workers in red light districts or prostitutes in Hindu temples. The founder of the orphanage, the Home of Hope, asked the girls what they wanted me to teach them, and one of them said “To speak in English, and to laugh in English.” “To laugh in English,” I thought if that meant lightheartedness, humility of language, and brevity, I cannot even remember to laugh in English myself, let alone can I teach anyone how.
These orphaned girls were all eager to learn by just pointing to an object and asking for its English name. They were also too happy, I thought, for having been raped at the age of seven or survived a deliberate house fire meant to murder them and their siblings.
After the founder of the Home of Hope told me these stories, stories without any justice on the part of the pimps, who’d raped and attempted murder on these orphaned girls, I asked him “None of these people ever get any justice. Do they?” He just laughed. These girls had been born into a sexist culture that not only denied them justice, but denied them the power and tenor of their own voices, voices that could have spoken in English and laughed in English but cannot.
In 2014, I left my home of nineteen years and committed to one month of unpaid service writing. As I did every day in India, I woke before dawn, dressed in a cotton kurta, or dress, and with a camera around my shoulders, I grabbed a notebook and pen, and began posting photos and stories so that my friends and family could follow along from almost halfway around the world. megangieske.com was launched.
Over two years have past, in my duffle bag sack cloth of curry leaves, clove pods, and cinnamon bark still giving off that evervescent odor Indian spices give — that of chai tea stoking in half a dozen steel pots in the rain — and I realized I did not want to return. Instead, I kept traveling to the places with language that I did not know. I met brave people who taught me that I did not need to translate each word into my own English. I found myself learning the languages that transcend what may be written or spoken.
Almost two years later, my writing remains committed to restoration. Over the years, I have learned how to tell those stories and take those photos that speak in a language that is universal. Using poetry, travel, and missions writing, I have shared those voices many of us would have never heard and many would have never been able to tell. More than anything, my writing has become dedicated to re-establishing those voices that have long been silenced.