“It’s like our own nature walk!” Aaron decides, as kneels in the little grassy knoll behind Van Es Hall, holding a microscope slide to the ground, carefully tracking an ant’s progress up its colourless slope.
“We never had those in Dubai.” I sigh as I know that the only nature that one saw in my trans-Atlantic homestead was the kind that either hunted or scavenged for bargains at the multitudinous vastness of those malls.
Anna, our summer research intern laughs, as if she has heard my thoughts.
The three of us are on a mission, for we are to go to The Kennedy Elementary School, armed with microscopes and slides bearing the sort of things that are meant to pique the children’s interest. So far, we had a flower petal, some pollen, a blood smear, a moth wing and now the ant. The sponsor of this trip, Dr. Glenn Dorsam, whose son, Joshua, is a student at Kennedy, has promised some samples as well. We are off to a good start!
As I down the remainder of my tepid peppermint latte, my phone buzzes. It is Glenn, and he is ready to hit the road. Anna and I pile into Aaron’s car and wait outside Van Es Hall for Glenn to join us. He is late, but we don’t mind. The day is crisp, like a freshly laundered white shirt, and the air is mildly redolent of the aroma of the earth. Aaron chooses his “Summer Hits of The ‘90s” station on his Pandora account, and, as we wait, we jam out. The experience is surreal, the songs take me back to my remote youth in the late 20th Century-fitting, perhaps, given the mission that we are on.
No more than three songs have passed before Glenn arrives, and we are off. At Kennedy, Aaron, Anna, Glenn and I are joined by Glenn’s graduate students: Travis, Steve and Sejaa. The Kennedy Elementary School is larger, for one, than I had anticipated, and far more somber. The school has its very own pledge and song, and several brightly colored, yet business-like, signs on the walls bear a cornucopia of information: from directions to the different rooms to matronly advice to the students on how to comport themselves around water-fountains and in the restroom. Children are both seen and heard, but both those states exist in the most perfect of equilibria.
Anna and Sejaa share my wonderment at the set-up of the school. We collectively muse about how things were “in our time”, as we make our way over to Joshua’s classroom. Said classroom is capacious and just as airy. Here, we are greeted by Glenn’s delightful partner Sheri and the charming Ms. Weisbeck who has a firm grasp on the attentions of her mercurial kindergartners. We set up stations around the classroom: each station, save one, bears a microscope. The exception is a snack station which is stocked with string cheese and chocolate milk. Groups of kindergartners are to rotate from station to station and finally to the snack table. My station is right next to Anna’s: where she is showing the children a microscopic view of an ant, I am going to be selling a blood smear. Just like Glenn whose station stands across from mine.
“Why is it purple?” Asks a tow-headed little girl profoundly.
I instinctively know that elucidating Giemsa staining is not the best approach. “Well, blood is colourless, so we put on a dye on it so that you can see the cells.” I enunciate carefully. My young interlocutor is not impressed, having already been won over by the “grooosss!” ant that Anna has on display. “Where do you find blood in the body?” Mrs. Weisbeck asks of the line of children that stand by my station. “Inside!” A Minnesota Twins fan, as his jersey indicates, yells.
“…Your bones!” his friend completes.
Aaron walks around the room, in paparazzo mode, clicking the pictures that you see.
“Akshat, can you please not look at the camera?” He instructs me in the interest of capturing the reality of the moment, and I am chastened.
I decide to go around the room and take a look at the other slides. One curio is the ear-wax slide that Glenn has prepared off his own person. The sheer grotesqueness of the slide is its very draw, and I find myself lining up behind the children, ready to see what ear-wax looks like under the microscope. It does not disappoint: it is a deep, ecru-esque secretion, and suddenly, I now know Glenn more intimately than I ever could have desired.
I return to my station to find a rather effusive, apple-cheeked little boy examining the slide.
“This blood is purple because there is no air in it.” He declares to me.
“Air makes blood red. Without air, blood is purple.” He annunciates, slowly this time for my benefit.
I open my mouth. Anna giggles. I shut my mouth. I open it again to praise him for his insight.
“That’s great! Not exactly what happens, but it’s a good start.”
“It is what happens! The air makes blood red!” He is adamant.
I kneel before him. “Someday, you will learn about haemoglobin, and all this will make sense.”
“Stop traumatizing the children!” Aaron laughs from behind me.
More and more children have gathered at the snack table. As they pull apart their string cheese, they also pull apart the display, lending the proceedings a very “after the opera” type of air.
Ms. Weisbeck rallies her troops in the center of room for a bit of a discussion and, perhaps, a vote of thanks.
“Which was your favourite slide?” She asks.
“The blood!” yell several children.
I mentally congratulate myself on my salesmanship, until I realize that Glenn, too, had a blood smear on display.
“Which one, though,” I call out. “Mine or his?”
Glenn is amused, and plays along.
“YES!” I cry out in triumph. “I win!”
Having realized that I may have, perhaps, sown seeds of discord amongst a crowd that seemed to, generally, live harmoniously, I back-pedal, “Not that this is a competition or anything…”
“Yes!” Ms. Weisbeck says. “Remember, here, in kindergarten, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about?”
“…Having fun!” her charges complete the motto.
Glenn and I exchange a brief glance, and I sense that we’re thinking the same thing: in our “Publish or perish!” world, we often forget that what brought us there was the fact that we delighted in our Science. At its very genesis, science was never meant to be about losing or winning, but sharing, understanding, and, yes, having fun.