Monday, June 14, 2010

In Which I Bond with the People I Know Best

I'll have to be quick with today's entry, since the internet has been flaky today, and I'm not sure it'll last much longer.

I began my week at the orphanage this morning. I headed out to breakfast (french toast with chocolate syrup and fruit) at the canteen at 8:00. Shortly after that, 7 other volunteers and I boarded one of the Greenway trucks and headed off.

The orphanage was about a 20 minute drive away, not counting the stop we made for paint supplies. As we pulled through the white cement walls, kids came to the doors of the three-story open-walled school building and waved madly at us. Once we parked, the four volunteers who have been working at the orphanage for a while scattered to their favorite classrooms. Paiwan, the driver, took the rest of us on a quick tour of the school.

There's about 230 kids there, from age 4-17. They sleep on the floors of a big, open two-room building behind the school building. Jasmine, Lola, and Katy (the veterans of the group) spent the night with the kids last week and told us their week-day schedule. The kids get up at 5:00 to clean the dormitory and school rooms, then shower and have breakfast before starting classes at 8:00. They finish their school day at 4:00, play for an hour, have dinner, and then go to bed at 6:00.

Paiwan explained that there are three projects right now: painting one of the classrooms, laying down tile in one of the bathrooms, or "teaching". Two of the new girls wanted to paint; Declan, to token male of the group, volunteered to tile; and I, of course, took on teaching.

Paiwan pointed out the primary school classes (grades 1-4 on the first level of the building), told me "go see, go teach!" and then disappeared.

I found Katy in one of the rooms, grade 4 I believe, and she offered to let me help her. The 8 kids in the class were all coloring in the coloring books she had bought for them at Tesco. I pulled up a chair next to one set of 4 desks and... watched the kids color. I had no idea what else to do to be useful.

After a while, Katy went over the days of the week with the kids in English. She had them all write them down in their well-worn lecture books, and I sprang into action at that point, seeing something I could do. I helped a few of them with the spelling of the tricky words like "Wednesday" and went over the pronunciation of them a few times with independent kids. As they finished that, though, my helpfulness faded again.

So, I went looking for another classroom. I found one next door with some kids in it, but no teacher and no volunteers. The kids didn't seem to mind my pulling a chair up next to them, so I did that again and watched them work. They were doing some kind of writing in workbooks, spelling or science or something like that. One of the boys next to me was rather distracted - he wasn't doing much writing. So, I pulled out my notebook and a pen and started to copy the words he was writing. Since it was it Thai, I had no idea what I was writing down, but once he saw what I was doing, he was glued to my paper. When I reached the end of where he had gotten no, I pointed to the blank spot on his paper and said, "Next?" He got the hint, and, watching my hand carefully, he started to work again. He beamed when he saw me continue to copy whatever it was he was writing. Soon, I had a crowd of the kids around me, pointing at my writing and jabbering to each other.

That quickly turned into an English-Thai lesson as we took turns pointing to the pictures in their workbooks. I would say the word in English, they would all repeat it, then they'd say it in Thai, and I would repeat that. When we ran out of words on the page, I started drawing pictures in my notebook of various animals for them to identify.

They started to get a little bored, and one of the boys next to me tore off a corner of paper and wadded it up. He grabbed my hands and pulled my arms straight, palms up. He then walked me through a little magic trick - putting the paper in my palm, then in the crook of my elbow, then in my left palm, then in my other elbow crook, and then "Magic!" it's disappeared!

I, of course, had to respond with my dad's good ol' rubbing a coin into your elbow trick, except with a piece of paper instead. They loved the trick and begged me to repeat it over and over "One more! One more!" Fortunately, it was lunch time by then, and I had to leave.

We left the school grounds for lunch at a restaurant down the road ("restaurant" meaning a roof over some stone tables ... kind of like an outdoor truck stop).

When we returned, Paiwan pointed me in the direction of the upper grades. I went up the stairs to find that the students were all still on break. I sat on the benches along the wall and watched them. I loved it, these middle-school-aged kids. They're the same everywhere. The boys roughhousing and teasing each other, some walking with very low status, some with a swagger you can tell they're imitating from someone older. The girls were teasing the boys right back. Some of the bolder ones came right up to me and asked, "What your name?" I'd tell them, and they'd run giggling back to their groups to chatter about... me, I'd guess.

A bell rang, the students drifted off to the different rooms, and I walked down the hall under I found what had to be the library - a sad collection of books. I thought of the boxes and boxes of young adult books I have in my garage at home and wished I had a way to get them there for those kids.

One of the teachers poked her head in when she saw me there and invited me to go to her room. I did, and a girl grabbed my hand and pulled me to a desk next to hers at the front while all of the other kids stared. From what I could tell, they were writing essays about computers. The girl quickly stopped working, though, to get down to the important questions:
"What is your name?"
"Amanda." (Much repeating of this one - it must be strange-sounding to them!)
"Where are you from?"
"Do you have baby (she pantomimes being pregnant, drawing an invisible bulge on her belly)?"
(Laughing) "No."
"Do you have boyfriend in America?"
(Still laughing) "No."
"Do you have boyfriend in Thailand?"
"No, no boyfriend."
"You can have boyfriend here!" she said, waving her hand around, indicating the boys who were sitting at the back of the room, watching this interchange.

After declining her generous offer, I asked her if she had a boyfriend. "No!" she said, while her friend behind us started giggling. "I am only 13. At 13, only study. At 14, study. 15, 16, 17 you have boyfriends."

Kitty (her nickname, she explained. She called her friends Sati, Liti, Fiti. Man, I love 13-year-olds!) went on to teach me all kinds of interesting things. With the help of an "English for Kids" dictionary, she taught me how to say "I love you," "I am beautiful," and the days of the week in Thai. She repeatedly told me I was beautiful ("You don't look 40! You very beautiful!") and put her arm next to mine for comparison. "White skin, you are beautiful! I am Africa!" and she'd wrinkle her nose in disgust. I tried to tell her the opposite, but she was having none of that.

Kitty also asked me about computers (since that was the essay topic and all). She asked if I had one at home. When I said I had two, she was shocked. She also asked if I had a piano (keyboards in common, perhaps?) and if I played the violin. When I asked her if she plays, she said she dances instead. Which led us to another very important topic of conversation - Lady Gaga. Luckily, I had a couple of her songs on my iPhone so we could sing along a little.

When that class got out, I observed a science class and helped the teacher for a little bit with an English class by listening to the kids read sentences to me "What is this? They are jump ropes. What is this? They are kites."

We left the orphanage at 3:00, stopping by downtown Singburi for snacks from the 7-11 (cold water and a strawberry popsicle! Yum!) (They have Magnums here, Em, but it's been way too hot to eat something that rich. Still, I think of you every time I see one!).

What I think about today:
1. I don't think I made a lick of real difference to the kids.
2. I'm going to wear rattier clothes tomorrow and see if I can spend part of the day painting or laying tile so I have more sense of accomplishment.
3. I think if I were here longer, I might bond with them better. As it is, I'm a passing character.
4. The other volunteers said they like the little kids better than the older ones. "At least with the little ones you can, you know, tickle them until they laugh. What do you do with older kids?"
5. What do you do? You talk about boys and music, of course!
6. I really miss hanging out with middle school kids.
7. How weird does that make me?
8. Monday = purple for the teacher's uniforms.
9. Everyone takes off their shoes before going into the room.
10. Despite distractions (like, say, me), I saw absolutely no behavior issues today. None. The teachers told the kids what to do and they did it. No interventions needed. And these kids are all way below the poverty levels of urban US kids, so take THAT STMS philosophy!

This week will be educational for me, I'm certain. It might also be slow and boring and kind of purpose-lacking. I'll do what I can, but without more structure, I'm not sure I can do all that much.

(So much for this being a brief entry, ay? Here's hoping the connections still around long enough for me to publish!)

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