Well, I have to say that the first week here has been grueling; Corey and I have been putting in six-hour teaching days (without weekends!) to a group of nearly 50 Tibetan children ages 6-13. It’s a little much for two people to handle, especially when one of us doesn’t have any common language with the kids. Corey’s translator, Olivia, to be fair, has been helpful at translating for Corey, but at the same time she can be exasperating; even though she’s 18, she acts like a little kid, and tends to render herself just another issue to deal with.
At the moment, mostly because of lack of time to catch my breath I’m sure, I’m finding life here a little frustrating. The members of my host family are possibly the sweetest people on the planet, but here I live the life of the “eternal guest”; every cup of tea gets refilled multiple times before I’ve taken three sips, if I don’t have three huge bowls of meaty soup every evening they assume the food is awful and not to my taste, and because of the fact that I got sick during my first few days here, my heath is constantly a subject of discussion: if my lips are chapped I have a fever, if I look tired I need to be rushed to the hospital for a “shot” (which I have, fortunately, been successful at refusing so far), and so on. Compounding all this, because I speak Chinese I am the translator for all the oh-but-pleases to be relayed to Corey. On the one hand, I really appreciate that they want me to be happy and comfortable, but I feel like all the niceties are keeping Corey and I from actually integrating into family life and into the culture here. I just end up feeling exhausted, grumpy, and like I want to be left alone.
All that said and vented, the kids I’m working with are wonderful. Corey and I have them working on small skits in English that they will be performing on Saturday for their parents. Given the formidable width of the student-teacher ratio, it’s very hard to keep track of how everyone’s skits are doing, but when I went from group to group this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the older kids were helping keep the younger, more rambunctious ones on track, not only giving them speaking parts (even if the little ones were just playing trees or walls), but helping them out on their English pronunciation as best they could. By repetition, the older kids managed to turn a six-year-old’s initially garbled “Good morning, Little Red Riding-Hood!” into recognizable English, which put a smile on my face.
On Sunday, Corey and I let everyone out an hour early (being the only one carrying a watch has it’s advantages), and the two of us decided to climb one of the mountains that surround the town. Walking along the road up to the spot where we planned to start climbing the mountain, we met five little boys, all about 9 years old, who, curious as to who these strange pasty people were, started up a conversation with me. When they heard that we were planning on climbing a mountain, they excitedly announced that they would come with us.
Although I was initially hesitant about them hitching along, (I mean, hadn’t I already had my little kid ration for the day?), it turned out that climbing with these kids was an absolutely unforgettable experience. As we climbed up the steep, grassy slope, they raced each other, chased after grasshoppers, pondered the inner depths of snake holes, wrestled and tickled each other, and chattered away nonstop. They had a million questions for me. Why was I such a funny color, but still had normal color hair? On the other hand, why did Corey have yellow hair? Had I been to Beijing? Could I use magic? Could I turn people into goats, for example? Had I ever eaten KFC? What was that like? The questions went on and on. When we reached the pile of stones and prayer flags at the summit, they asked whether we wanted to pray, and started reciting some Buddhist prayers they knew. After that was done, one kid, who had a surprisingly good voice, sang a song out into the mountain air, Sound-of-Music style. We let them play around with our digital cameras for a while, which they found immensely amusing, making funny faces and pretending to be intrepid explorers.
When we decided it was probably time to get going, Corey and I discussed for a minute or so what would be the best route to get down. The mountain was very steep, after all, and it might be worth it to go down a less steep part, even if it meant having a longer walk home in the end. The little boys we were with had a different plan. All five of them just sat down on their butts or lay on their bellies and started to slide down the grassy face of the mountain, inviting us to come along. Corey and I started out trying to walk down, but ended up flat on our asses anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in my life. Because of the flat, smooth grass, you end up going surprisingly fast. I found myself speeding along down the side of the mountain, laughing hysterically, dodging rocks and bumps, limbs flailing all the way down to the bottom. We landed in a grassy, muddy, laughing pile of limbs, and proceeded to screw around tickling each other until a goat caught our attention, and the boys dared each other to touch to the goat, gathering up their courage, going up to the goat, then chickening out and running back. It was hysterical. The goat, curious as to what all the hubbub was about, came over to us and started nibbling clothes, turning everyone once more into a pile of shrieking gigglyness. I tell you, I haven’t had that much fun in a long time.
Next week the two of us are being transferred to teach at the local high school, and we get weekends off, which will be a welcome change of pace. And we get this Sunday off! Thank God!
Before I finish this, I have one philosophical issue that I’d like to put out into cyberspace for a moment. I feel like teaching English should not be what I’m doing here. I mean, the children I’m teaching right now can’t read or write their own language, so who am I to come trapseing halfway across the world to teach them mine? I discovered the other day that these kids can’t find Asia on a map, have never heard of Europe, and think that Canada is the capital of the United States. So needless to say I feel a little bit silly teaching them participles of English verbs. Any thoughts?
Anyway. All the best to everyone. –Chris