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April 12, 2005

English in Kura Buri

English teaching in Kura Buri is proving to be more adventure than teaching, but all about education.

The camp is on the grounds of Wat Pa Saan, a few blocks south of "downtown" Kura Buri. We entered the grounds to meet Nanon, our contact there (also an out-of-town volunteer, but Thai). He walked us past the proper wat—white, red, gold and formal—then we passed the saffron-robed monks in their sleeping houses. Several meters later the camp begins with a series of tents crowded together, maybe 60 of them, which merges into a group af about 20 temporary plywood homes on stilts. Behind those are some volleyball nets and a boatbuilding school with at least seven boats under construction.

We kept walking, past the field, to a deluxe cement home way in the back. It has a tiled entrance, awning and wood doors. A family was inside, an older couple, some kids, and others. We were shown the one bedroom, with a king-sized bed inside, as our guest quarters, but we were concerned that we were putting the family out of their home.

To read more about the Kura Buri adventure, please click continue below.

***Lisa, my teaching partner, knows a little bit of Thai and Nanon knows a bit of English, so we tried to express our concern and were only repeatedly assured we were welcome to stay — as long as we were comfortable (This was of course loaded, as it is a luxury mansion compared to nearly everything else I've seen in Thailand, especially within the camp). Nanon also mentioned that the previous night he had slept on the floor in the living room.

We felt like we were putting everyone out of the house. I suggested that I could use my own tent outside and Lisa could easily take the couch. We didn't want to put anyone out of his bed. Nanon explained that the owners were living in Israel for three years, so the house was free. We weren't sure who all these other people were in the house, but apparently they lived next door.

It wasn't adding up, but there was little we could do to argue.

Nanon explained the class schedule: three daily classes two hours long of kids/teens/adults. Sheera, the project manager at the Vol Center, had told us these classes would be 8-10 students. We thought two hours was a bit long (I lasted 35 minutes in my first Thai lesson before my brain got full), but it was hard to make ourselves understood, so we decided to see how it went and plan breaks if we couldn't shorten the length. In the middle of all of this, Nanon kept handing me the phone to speak to his English speaking friend Linda, who translated his syllabus wishes, while I expressed our concerns and understanding.

We were left to shower and hastily plan the evening lesson for the adults, while the next-door neighbor kids hung out and watched us, watched the TV, and looked over the various supplies we had been given. With no training and few instructions, we received the bag as we caught the bus in the morning, and were told it was filled with "teaching materials and lesson plans."

We spent the afternoon going through the materials and determined:
—The items in the bag appeared to be totally random, a collection of coloring books, some markers/colored pencils/paints, with a few "early reader" phonics books — but those seemed to be designed to be photocopied for distribution, not torn up and used.
—We did not know the English ability of the students we would have, guessing it was maybe low, given the people we'd met so far.
—So it was hard to say whether the complex lesson plans on "What type of job will you prepare for" would be useful (There were few beginner lesson plans included...and the plans did not seem to be sequential in any way).
—We really weren't sure what to do with the 5-6 year olds we would teach at 1pm, who probably had no English at all, but we were the least afraid of them since their standards probably would be more geared towards how much we let them climb on us.

We had missed lunch with all of the introductions and travel, and we weren't sure where dinner would come from, though we were told that it was included, as were the accomodations. We decided to shower and be ready. At one point the kids disappeared to shower as well — then returned to the living room bureau to get their fresh clothes.

We really felt like we were putting a family out.

By around 5:30pm, people turned up again to hang out in the living room. They kept saying something about, Are you going to the Wat? The class was to start at 6:30, but we thought we could drop our materials at the classroom, then see about dinner. We had hoped someone would come by and get us to tell us where to go, since the meals were "included," but so far no one had. We asked about it, and the answer was, "Oh, you go to the market by the school."

Our new "norng sow" and "norng chai" (little sister+brother) had become the shadows we never had. They took our hands and walked us to the classroom, then to the market. We walked past a number of shops by the school, a few of which looked like restaurants, but no food cooking. The restaurant at the end of the road across the street also had no food. The kids kept walking us further. We'd picked up a number of stray friends, so Lisa and I were a couple of Pied Pipers in search of dinner, trying to keep the end kids on the chain out of traffic and out of the embankment.

We kept walking. We were skeptical that we'd be back on time.

The kids led us to a small restaurant where some women were eating, and we had to order two or three times before we convinced them to start making the food for us. They all seemed to laugh at the farang ordering Pad Thai — I think like fried rice, this is seen as a kids' dish. I was too hungry to care that much.

When we finally got back at about 7pm, there were about 10 students waiting for us. We apologized, saying we didn't know how far the 'market' was (we're still not sure we ever found it). They seemed forgiving.

As we opened the chalk and distributed the 5 dictionaries we had to loan, the room filled with chatter. Everyone sat on the tile floor.
Nanon again handed me the phone, and Linda said they would like to focus on "the environment (trees, etc), jobs ("fishing net, boat"), and the weather." I said that was fine, but that we wouldn't get to it all tonight.

The numbers varied through the night, but at final count there were 29 adults in the class, and 22 children milling about (who we had to continually shush to keep the din down).


All I can say is thank God for Lisa and her little bit of Thai, because she really carried the class. The whole night was punt after punt, but we came out OK, repeating a dialogue we built:

1: Hello, how are you?
2: I am fine, thank you.
1: What is your name?
2: My name is _____. (It took us several tries to convince everyone not to say Lisa)
1: It is nice to meet you. (handshake—they didn't really get this)
2: It is nice to meet you, too.
(give person an item)
1: Thank you.
2: You are welcome.

We then moved on to Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, but it didn't stick as well. I was impressed they stuck it out the whole 90 minutes. That's a long time for a language class, I think. Especially when you're shouting over kids.

We told the 'students' we would test them in the morning when we bumped into them. I saw one of them this morning and he got about half of it. Which is pretty good, considering I don't think I have even this much Thai, and I've been here a month.

Nanon said he was hungry, and invited us to eat, but we told him we had eaten already. The entire group walked us back to the house. We're not sure if they do everything in groups here, or if we're just the novelty visitors everyone wants to help. Seems like a bit of both.

The kids stuck with us like glue, and the day's previous jokes about their sleeping in the living room were starting to look more serious. At the rate we were going, it was going to be a bona fide slumber party. The telly went on, and Yai from next door turned up in her night clothes with dinner for Em, our "norng sow" and a snack for herself. Nanon explained something that sounded like they all would be staying here, then said he would be staying in another place tonight.

At about 9pm, Yai started saying stern things to the two girls (the second was a friend? a sister? where was the boy?) that sounded like Time for Bed. They spread out some comforters on the tile floor. Yai looked at Lisa and me with an expression that said, "Scoot." We retreated to the bedroom, norng sow in tow. We exchanged glances. For a moment it looked like they were aiming for five in the bed: Lisa, me, the two girls, and grandma Yai. I was feverishly planning on how to get my one-man tent set up on a flat spot in the dark.

The girls were called out at the last minute, and, unexpectedly, the overhead light in the bedroom began to work. Yai watched TV for a while more. The doors and windows in the house were closed, but each room had a fan. The air was close and stale and I didn't fall asleep for a long time. It probably didn't get cool until about 5am, which is when the roosters started crowing. The girls woke up at 6 and began chatting.

I dozed until 7, feeling sticky, crowded and overwhelmed and needing to get into town. I hitched, but I think the ride I got was with Yai's husband. It wasn't far — if I have time I probably could walk. Luckily the internet cafe is next to the NATR office, so there were a few familiar faces this morning.

"Welcome to the chaos," Bodhi said.

Posted by sedda at April 12, 2005 09:09 AM