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Saturday
Aug222015

my little mandalay life

Draconian private school stuff: the 10th graders I help from 6-8 a.m. M-F live in a private hostile. No music, TV, web, books, zero. Study, study, study is their drab life. 

Waso, Buddha Day was a national public holiday. Do you get to go home? No. We study biology, chemistry, math, Myanmar, English, and physics all day long. Everyday.

Creative Notebooks are SOP. Colors, drawing, writing and dreaming on paper to all classes so they have something tangible where they can express their feelings. I’ve reminded them that their CN will be growing and going strong long after textbooks gather dust. It’s a small consolation for them.  

I share five of my worn CN books dating back five years for them to see art and writing. This is the raw material, I said.

Myanmar culture teaches people to respect their elders, like teachers so they don’t ask questions. Teams and 1-1 with partners is the way.

No breakfast. Bleary eyed. Marched to class. They arrive at 6, rearrange tables in teams and I mime, open your CN, draw your dream. I play blues and jazz and classical. Random items sit on a central table for still life stimulation if they so choose: flowers, plants, bowls, umbrella, a yellow pencil…you get the picture. We do text stuff focusing on the four skills and play learning games. 

From 1045-1145 I’m with thirty 12th graders waiting for their marks so they can apply to universities this fall. They live at home.

Their goal is speaking fluency for the ILETS exam. Same procedure as with the 10th graders - music, art, music and creativity in dust free notebooks.

Open discussions on local, regional and international issues between partners and groups. Their English is good. The majority need to open their mouth and not mumble. We do high quality text stuff, pronunciation practice and role plays with free interaction. I turn them on to international writers, films, poets and artists. Their self-esteem and confidence is growing.

The 10th and 12th graders will all be exposed to learning chess and competition the next three months before the company contract expires in November.  

Critical thinking example. I gave the 12th graders a homework assignment. 65/28 on the whiteboard. I reminded them for a week. Some guessed, is it a formula? an equation? No. One bright articulate girl finally got it. “It’s the intersection of Street 65/28, a long leafy street with badly corroded barely visible traffic signs." Yes. A place where you can breathe, meditate and draw and appreciate nature.

At high noon a driver zooms forty-five minutes into the countryside to a private school where I play, share and learn with 1st and 2nd graders. They teach me how to be more human. I act my age. 50 going on 10. Ha. We do songs, dance, chants, alphabets, colours, drawing, writing cursive and practice meditation. A child’s play is work.

Mandalay meets my needs. Wide green ancient tree blooming streets. You don’t see many white faces. If any they are tourists doing a 2-3 day pit stop. The construction boom is less than high car congested Yangon. It’s a motorcycle culture here, like Laos.

Mansions surrounded by barb wire sit next to bamboo shanties. It’s more like an extended village than a town. Poor sanitation, crumbling infrastructure. Flooded streets in the rainy season. Neighbours, relaxed men crowd teashops. Everyone I meet wandering, doing my documentary image work is gentle and kind. They recognise the smiling stranger.

This internal calm way permeates my being.