Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Embarrassing Moments

As difficult as is it to believe, this past weekend we held our "Mid-Service" meeting in Nakhon Phanom. Most of the other volunteers, especially the high school teachers, were already on or quickly approaching the Thai summer vacation, between six and eight weeks where we will all be free to scatter and travel. The primary schools tend to let out earlier and start later, and as far as I know I am the only primary level foreign teacher who has been asked to write and grade exams for my students. This means I taught through this week and will test and grade next week, almost two weeks after Ben has already departed to get his scuba certification in Koh Tao. Pictured above is our conference room where we reviewed and discussed the highs and lows of the teaching and living so far and worked on materials required to obtain our TEFL certificates. The sentiments were nearly universally positive concerning our schools and students (a few schools had teachers that were less than welcoming, and the few host family situations simply did not work out due to differences in individual habit and sensibilities). The disappointment in the organization and effectiveness of World Teach was also nearly unanimous. It may be biting the hand that did get me into this situation, which I love overall, but I must say that it is hard for me to fathom how WT functions. There is a collection of well-meaning, energetic young people in the Cambridge office, but they are stretched very thin and there seems to be no one of long standing experience guiding them through the pitfalls. The communication has been inconsistent at best, and follow through has been minimal. I should have clued into this from my initial dealings in the application process (I was sent to no less than 6 dead end e-mail addresses for my so called "interview" which was subsequently deleted as a requirement. Last year's Field Director had no experience as a Field Director and no experience in Thailand or Thai language ability. Things came to a bit of a head last fall when the crew was ready to mutiny and I sent a letter detailing some of our issues. Promises were made, but there still seems to be no overarching vision as to why World Teach is here or what we expect to accomplish academically and socially. Granted this is a land of contradictions, as we are constantly reminded (the one consistency is the inconsistency!), and I could certainly say the same thing about my own school district back home- no one really knows what the hell our mission is as educators. Ask any ten people and depending whether they are on the school board or a taxpayer or a parent or a teacher or a student or any combination of the aforementioned, you will get diametrically opposed or else bureaucratically obtuse non-answers. Anyhoo, you aren't here for all my piffle about fluffer, you came for an embarrassing story. One of our "icebreaker" morning exercises at midservice involved grabbing a partner and sharing various anecdotes- favorite food so far, etc, one being sharing an embarrassing moment. I had already shared my "how-not-to-illustrate-the word-hole", and perhaps because it was early morning I could not come up with anything at all. I suppose that awkward silence standing there could have served as my story since everyone else seemed to have no trouble yakking away. Amanda had a great story but she had already told it too- it involved trying to stop a coin game going on on the floor by stomping on the coin, only realizing her faux pas when the outraged students gasped- for Amanda had put the dirtiest object- the human foot- on the most sacred- the King's face on the coin. Oops! The Thais are very serious about the image on the king. No woman ever puts her purse on the floor simply because it has money in it and it would be an insult. Well, this past Monday a fresh story was handed to me- a day late and a dollar short as the saying goes, but here it is Amanda. At many public institutions, including schools, urinals are outdoors. This includes public schools, bus stations, and gas stations. Not always, but not infrequently. Here is the urinal at Nong Ya Sai school. With a different sense of what is and isn't public, I have always steered clear of these, I don't know, preferring not to wave to my female students as I pee I guess?
This means I use the official teacher's squatter, pictured below, housed in the little building to left of the sinks. The men's is the door on the right. At the end of the day I went with bladder bursting (every teacher knows this moment- it is very hard to leave a class to run to the bathroom and sometimes the timing just doesn't work out that well) and two girls were at the sink. As I stood there trying to pee as quietly as possible, I my student On whisper to Ning, "Teacher Peter Khee. Teacher Peter Khee." Followed by giggling.
Yes, Khee  means pooping. I thought for a moment and listened to them giggle and then in my deepest, most James Earl Jones voice, bellowed Mai Khee!, which, if you hadn't guessed means,  Not pooping! at which point they clattered off, laughing insanely. It was upon further reflection standing there in my little private space, that I realized I had avoided being the Teecha standing at the urinal, but I had inadvertently saddled myself with the reputation of someone who shits two and sometimes three times a day. Now I know this does not quite match the dilemma and drama of the late great George Orwell as he shot and killed an elephant in Burma, but the last line of his story did come to mind...
I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

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