February 27, 2014
My post yesterday about teaching in Myanmar was quite long and I cut out a large section. Here is the section I cut out, it doesn’t have much flow to it.. I blame the few beers I had while I sat a few weeks ago for nearly 3 hours writing and reflecting on my time in the village. If you are just reading this one, skim back a couple posts as that’s the “meat” of life teaching English in Htan Sant Village, Myanmar. Missing you all lately, getting excited to get onto Sri Lanka in three days as I’ve been stagnant here in Kuala Lumpur for over two weeks:
One day walking into class the teachers came out and said “We go home? no class?” Which was way more English than I had heard them speak to date. Shocked that they were trying to cancel one of the classes when they had me there, I said “No.” They asked me again if they could leave. I could already hear the children’s roar of excitement as they see me approaching and no way am I going to deprive them of class. I tell the two teachers “You can go home, I’m having class”. They gave me a stern face, packed their bags, and left. *IF* this is consistent in the type of education throughout Myanmar, it’s no surprise that there is an alarming lack of literacy and education in the country. Then you have to remember, the teachers themselves were taught in this environment and therefore it’s not necessarily their fault, it’s merely an endless cycle. That day ended up being great. That day I taught animals and really pushed the envelope with “Very Good. Thumbs Up!” Since there were no teachers there, and slightly bc I was frustrated with them, I had the kids standing in their chairs and running around the classroom screaming “Very Good. Thumbs Up!” We had FUN! Then after class one of the most memorable things of my time there occurred. As we left, a handful of the older kids in the school took my hand. They motioned me to follow them and when I headed towards Maung OO’s house they kept requesting by their body language that I come with them. So I obliged and a group of 6 boys guided me to the monastery. At this point, they took me to the chalk board, grabbed the chalk and literally put it in my hand. They pointed at the board and all took a seat and opened up their book. They wanted more English. I was stopped in my tracks, literally speechless as I saw the chalk in my hand and them all sitting, opening their books and pointing at the chalk board. This was at 5 so from 5-sundown I sat and taught them phrases. (I am ___). They were the older kids in the school, roughly 10-12. Everyone in the school is different ages and them being the oldest have the quicker learning level and I assume they were bored with what was taught in class and wanted more. Then since we were at the monastery the little monks came out and we had an additional late, late afternoon session. Then at sundown I went to Maung OO’s house and had my nightly session with whoever wanted to practice. People came from different villages having gotten word that Htan Sant had a teacher. Two thirds of the evenings there was someone new wanting to practice with me. It was great. Very rewarding. They’re so eager to learn! It made for a great day and a very long one. By 9:30 I was exhausted and excused myself to my room where I slept like a baby, tucked underneath many blankets to escape the terrible cold. Life in the village was extremely relaxed. Everyone went along their day without a rush and seemed really happy. It was very basic but it works just fine. One thing I have realized while traveling is it’s extremely easy to project our lives on others and think “these poor people”. For example, looking at these houses one may say, these poor people they don’t have a TV, nor a couch, nor a computer, not this nor that what makes us happy in our lives. The thing is, maybe they don’t want a couch or want a computer or want Facebook or any of these other things we have. They’ve never known them and sometimes ignorance is bliss. Of course there is a very definitive line when it comes to this. This I want to make clear. This doesn’t work in all situations as I have seem more cases in the other direction where they do not have access to humanitarian things like food, water, sanitation and a sturdy shelter. This is when it IS a problem. Thankfully, all of this was not a problem in Htan Sant Village. They had the food, the water, the sturdy homes, etc. No they did not have the TV nor the Internet but at night they all sat around the table drinking tea, talking and laughing. It worked. They appeared happy with their rather simple lives. It was a brilliant, happy little village tucked into the mountainside. This simplicity sometimes appeared as a “difficulty” for my spoiled, Western self. For example, everytime I needed to use the bathroom, basically a hole in a wooden shed, I would walk outside down ~20 steps past the horses to get there. Showering was another ordeal. Being the shower lover I am, I aimed to shower every day after class. It was a 20 minute hike outside the village to a pole sticking out of the ground. I wore a longy, a long male “skirt”, whenever I showered.. And it was cold.. Ice cold. It didn’t help that Htan Sant naturally is cold in general so each shower was rather painful but extremely rewarding due to the dust. The dust and overall particles in the air is something hard to explain. In the homes, school, monastery and outside there is always a haze of dirt and dust flying in the air. It really made me feel quite dirty without doing much. Sometimes I would rub my face with a tissue to find a dark brown mark left on the clothe. Your feet are always dirty and your legs never quite clean. But this is OK, a little dirt won’t hurt. This brings back my previous point, it’s easy to project my custom thinking “oh they have to walk ages to take a shower” and stuff like that. But when it was shower time they all went as a group. They all joked and laughed and it was an event! I’m so thankful I was able to see this viewpoint on things because it can get easily get miss perceived. Their way of life was great. As mentioned, they all moved at a rather slow pace. If class started at 1:00, you better bet no one would show until 1:20. The women tended to the very young ones as the fathers did the manual labor in the fields or did construction throughout the village. Everyone woke up around 5:00am and started their day before sunrise (including hammering at sunrise). Dinner was around 5:00 and bedtime around 9:00-10:00. It was a great rhythm of life. Something’s were shocking to see as well. For example one day in class I see a child playing with a razor blade. Wondering what they were doing with this, they simultaneously took out a pencil and begin sharpening it. This kid was no older than 7 handling a razor blade. Maung OO’s daughter, a 4 year old, also had one in her pencil pouch. A toddler who was learning to walk was handed scissors to play with and was stumbling along the road with scissors in his hand. The children all shared the same sinus infection as nearly all of them had a steady stream of snot as all times. Everyone shared cups in my house, they would ask if I wanted tea and would grab a used cup and rinse it out w a splash of hot tea to clean it before handing me the filled cup. Kids would run around and fall in dry horse manure and get up and wipe their faces. Some kids had the same thanakha (white makeup) for days on end suggesting they haven’t showered. Some things definitely were a shock to see but in the end everything seemed to work out just fine for them. Something also hard to see was the day I told Maung OO that I would be leaving in two days. He knew my time was nearing but when the long haired trekking guide was stopped in the village, I had him translate that I was leaving soon. When he told Maung OO, I saw a look on his face I’ll never forget. He stared into the distance and gazed forward lost in thought. He started taking deep breathes and looked like he was about to burst into tears. He then spoke in Burmese which the trekking guide translated. Maung OO said it was difficult to accept the fact that I was leaving. That I was family and part of the village. That he was forever indebted to me. Maung OO said what I offered his village he will never be able to repay me. He said he was unable to express to me his gratitude. As my visa neared expiration, I knew I had no other choice. It was great to feel their appreciation and I hope they felt mine reciprocated.