(Written Monday 9th evening)
So we’ve just completed our first week at the Tomato Village School, time flies, can’t believe it’s been a week already! When we first arrived, albeit after a long journey, we both felt a bit jet lagged and as if we had landed in a new country. It is much cooler up here and you need to wear an extra layer in the evening. The village is situated in the mountainous area, north west of Mae Hong Son, about 2000+ meters up. The windy road up here climbs swiftly and is pretty steep – be great fun to cycle down, not so sure about the journey back up!
We are living with Benjamin and his family, and the two school classrooms are built on his land, along with the volunteers accommodation. We are on a hillside, so the bigger classroom is at the top, our hut in the middle, along side Ben’s house and then the smaller classroom is at the bottom. There is a path that runs up, but it is quite muddy and slippery. I managed to slip quite badly a few days ago, despite stepping carefully like a granny.
Benjamin runs the school with is son in law Ten, who is the assistant teacher. Benjamin is originally from Burma but left the country many years ago when ‘things got too bad’.
He has many stories to tell us about Burma and we are close to the largest refugee camp where more than 25,000 Burmese refugees live (there are 5 large camps a long the border with Thailand).
We will hopefully be able to share some of these stories with you and maybe even arrange a visit to the camp, although we need to speak with the UN first.
Our accommodation is comfortable, we have our own room/building with a bed and mattress, bedding and a mosquito net. There is electricity and we have a power socket in our room. There is also a good mobile phone (and therefore internet) signal, apart from when it is raining! There is a toilet across the path and we can use the shower in the family bathroom or have a bucket wash…big trough of water with scoop, you pour water over yourselves and wash. The water is pretty cold! We have blankets on our bed as it’s cold at night. Despite the cool temperature there are still plenty of mosquitoes up here, as well as moths, spiders, little beetles, cockroaches and various other visitors. We are both enjoying the cooler climate though – it’s a nice change after many many months of heat.
Benjamin is also providing all of our meals, cooking for us at lunch and dinner time. The food has been great and it’s interesting to see what people eat on an every day basis, even is if ours is a less spicy version! Rice features heavily of course, but we have had curry, sweet and sour stir-fry with pork and fresh pineapple, spicy pork meatballs, soups, fish, sweet honey sausage, bananas, jackfruit, pineapple, sticky rice, cakes biscuits, plus copious amount of sweet black tea and fresh coffee! So we are being looked after very well and Benjamin is a great host who takes a lot of care to make sure we are happy.
Chris and Ben ‘drive the train’ together (smoking cigars from Burma) over coffee and interesting chats.
The English lesson take place in the evening 6-8pm. The children go to school during the day and then come up to Ben’s place in the evening. Many arrive early, well before 6pm to play and eat snacks, greeting us with ‘Good evening teacher!’.
The youngest children are about 6 years old and the eldest 15 years old. There are 60 students, split into 3 classes, A, B and C. Early on Chris opted to teach Class A – advanced, which suited me fine as I prefer working with younger kids, so I take B class (mon, wed, fri) and C class (tues and thurs). After a couple of evening teaching with Benjamin and Ten, we began to teach on our own. Ben could se early on that Chris is a natural teacher, with plenty of patience, oodles of enthusiasm and good crowd control.
I chose to draw on my creative skills, making flash cards and wall charts, bringing out my colouring pencils and coloured chalk to brighten things up a little. Ten was pleased with my first lesson and said that i seemed to know what i wad doing, had a good plan and it was if i had come form teacher training college! Delighted with such positive feedback I was happy to teach alone.
My classroom is quite small and i have limited room to manoeuvre – 4 desks, 4 benches, 22 kids and a blackboard. The electricity is good and we have lighting, however the electric cuts off occasionally and we have car batteries for back up, and candles. So far it has cut out twice but only for a short period. The kids always cheer loudly when it comes back on.
Chris teaches in the top classroom up the hill, which is more spacious. He teaches Class A – 22 kids, older and more advanced.Many of the kids have to travel form their high schools, which are further away, so they often don’t arrive until after 6pm. It’s a long old day for them and they come every night to learn English!
The kids are great, very friendly, keen to learn, well behaved and polite with a good attitude. They seem pleased to have us here. Overall we are impressed with the level of English being taught here, considering the remote location and resources.
After our first couple of evenings teaching, we were both on a high, buzzing with the energy and fun of teaching. We sit with Ben and Ten and have tea or coffee, chatting until it’s time for bed. The rain arrives in the evening and we snuggle under our blankets, both happy to be here, feeling settled in our peaceful surroundings. We both sleep well.