A Glimpse Into The Life Of A Therapist

Posted on January 5, 2012


It’s been just a few months since I started working at a residential center of a verrrrry big human rights organization. At this residential center, I work as a clinician for undocumented immigrant male minors. In plain English, boys – under 18, who enter the US without legal documents and are detained by immigration are placed at various child-friendly centers across the country. Besides counseling them through a short-term engagement model, I have my patience tested, twisted and extended daily. Here are a few moments that make my job very special.

A True Punjabi Can Live Without Food, But Not Without…?: We have strict rules at our center about what boys can or cannot do. Think of all the things you couldn’t do at home, and those rules apply to our center. But the boys take advantage of the fact that a lot of staff doesn’t speak their language. For e.g. The Latinos get away with saying anything to me because I don’t know Spanish, and the Indians get away with abusing the non-Indian staff because they do not know Hindi/Punjabi. Enter Ekta. Life is almost over for the Indian boys. WHY? I have taught everyone on the staff the bad words in Hindi and Punjabi and now the boys are punished when they call a staff member a sister-&^%$er.  We had a meeting recently where we spoke about giving respect to staff members and not using bad words, and one of them told us it was a cultural thing. His excuse? “A true Punjabi can live without food, but not without hurling abuse!” It rhymes, is all I can say.

Yes, I Call My Husband By His Name: We have a lot of boys from rural Punjab, India. By rural, I don’t mean poor. I mean upper class spoilt brats who think women are inferior to men. And it is not their fault; their families have reinforced this concept in their head time and again. Who bears the brunt of it in America? Yours truly! Why? Because I am an Indian. I look like them, I speak like them, but I don’t think like them. One day, during lunch, they were telling me about their lives back home, and how their moms would call their fathers to eat by saying, “Lucky ke daddy, khana lag gaya”. (Lucky’s daddy, come, food has been served) And then one of them looks me in the eyes and says, “Aap toh apne husband ka naam leti hi hongi” (You must definitely be calling your husband by name). The disdain in his voice, made me laugh so hard, he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.

If You’re Not Having A Child, Then…: Transference, or having romantic feelings towards the therapist is a common phenomenon. I have my fair share of boys who express their love for me in different ways. Recently, we have had this 17-year old man-child who is always asking me to close dance with him. He is always telling me how beautiful I am and how nice I am. I have to keep a straight face and say “Thank you”. When I refused to give him the time of day, he got the sulks. He would hurl insults at me or say something to piss me off the moment I’d enter a room. One day he called me and said, “Nino?” He gestured with his hand asking if I was having a baby. So I said, “NOOOOOO,” So he looked me straight into the eye and said, “¿Por qué son tan gordo u?” (Why are you so fat?) Sigh!

You Remind Me Of…: Yes, I remind them of their moms! I speak in Hindi. I scold them, play with them, console them, cajole them! Yes, I remind 17-year old boys of their moms. One of them tells me that to my face. The others are not so, well, cruel. One of them, a really sweet boy, told me, “You remind me of my mother’s sister.” And before I could respond, he said, “Don’t worry, she is not very old. She is only 35!” How old am I? Well, 30.

What Does Your Husband Think?:  And this you-remind-me-of is not limited to me. They have taken it to my husband! I took my husband to work on December 22nd as we had a Christmas party. At first, I hadn’t invited him. But the Indian boys kept asking me if I was bringing him and so I invited him. And they were all so gentleboyly towards him! They came upto him and said, “Hello sir, I am xyz. Very pleased to meet you.” All in their Punju accents. I could tell Sid was overwhelmed. After that they would inquire about him regularly. Till one day, we took all the kids bowling. Honestly, they were simply amazing at the damned game. They caught on real quick on the tricks. I was quite impressed.The next day, one of the boys asked me, “Did you tell Siddharth that we went bowling?” So I said, “Yes. I did.” He continued, “Did you tell him our scores?” So I said, “Yes, some of them.” So he said, “Did you tell mine?”, I said, with exasperation, “YES. I did!” And to that he said, “Was he proud of me?” I melted.

How Do You Guys Communicate?: Me and my life are of constant wonder to the Indian kids. They wanted to know everything – how I met Sid, where I met him, where he’s from, what he’s like, etc. etc. etc. When they found out that Sid is a Malayali Christian from Kerala, they asked, “Does he speak Hindi?” I said no. “Do you speak Malayalam?” I said no. “Does he speak Gujarati?” I said no. “Then how do you guys talk?” We use sign language, of course!

Considering a Name Change: After working with the boys and being on the floor for a few days, I forgot my own name. The reason? “Miss Bathroom”, “Ekta Bathroom” was all I heard. I really considered rechristening myself, Ekta Bathroom.

Ekta, Mucho Problem: We have a lot of Latino boys. They speak no English. Whatever English they know, they have learned at the center. Yes, “Ekta Bathroom” is one of the examples of how they communicate or make themselves understood. Or “Ekta mucho angry”, which means “Ekta is very angry”. So when this particular guy would look at me and say, “Ekta mucho problem,” I would get really pissed off. Because I would not be doing anything, just standing there minding my own business, and he would come up to me, give me a dirty look and say, “Ekta mucho problem”! So I would look at him, straight in the eye and say, “Alex* mucho problem”. It took me more than a week to realize, he was telling me that he has a lot of problems and he would like to speak to me! #FML!

And today I was hit straight in the face with a football. No, not American football, but a real football. A soccer ball. We were in the gym. The boys were playing well. It was an exciting game. Too exciting. I got up from my seat, cheering one of them to score, and he did. PHAT! Something hit me in the face, I felt my glasses shatter and I thought I was going blind. No. The glass didn’t pierce my eyes. I didn’t get a black eye (at least till now). And yes, I had to stay till the end of my shift.

Posted in: life