November 25th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

I was the first up for a change, as I had to mandi + shave for school.  A familiar feeling of pre-school anxiety assailed me, even tho’ I was only going in on a visit – could I ever stand being a teacher again?  Val had decided to leave me to it, + visit the markets instead today, being the big market day.  It was just a hundred yards or so from Losmen Flora to the school, so it was but a few moments’ stroll + I was walking in thro’ the gates.

Like many other schools, a stranger, especially one as different as myself, attracts attention, so I could feel the atmosphere of curiosity as I was directed to the office.  Mr X, when he was located + brought to me, was all welcoming smiles – I suspect he was a little surprised that I had actually turned up.  My visit was, however, fortuitous, as the Head of English had to be absent during the morning, to visit the hospital, so I was not only able to visit a class or 2, but take them as well, tho’ fortunately Mr X was also present, for most of the time at least, to re-inforce my discipline + to explain certain things.  The class also had an exercise set for them to do, tho’ I did interrupt that for a while to try some oral work, acting out a situation or 2, tho’ that was less than successful.  They were shy, the situation was strange, + they weren’t used to that sort of approach.  We did, tho’, have some fun, I think, + it does no harm at all to realise that English is not just  a school subject, but a living breathing language.

The other class I taught were more or less the same age, tho’ not as bright, + I immediately rejected the lesson they had reached in their bookos – the Adjective Clause.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you any more what it is myself, let alone explain it to a class of Indonesian children – a criminal waste of time, I’d say.  Instead, I attempted to give an oral lesson on Time, tho’ without any training in foreign language teaching, my efforts were naturally scrappy.  I also didn’t know how long the lesson was going on for, so made a mess of things, + had to fill the time by teaching a song.  The best I could think of was, “If you’re happy + you know it clap your hands” which they certainly enjoyed, even if it wasn’t exactly educational.

So, my ordeal over – they had been 2 very long classes – I was taken back to the staffroom, given tea + boiled banana (not as bad as it sounds), asked to sign the visitor’s book, which I was happy to do, + given a present, or rather 2 presents, both hand-made by children at the school.  One was a sort of abstract wool-collage, the other a postcard of the entrance to Toraja, framed in bamboo.  Not really my cup of tea, tho’ I was immensely grateful for the thought behind them.

I returned to find Val sitting on the balcony.  She had had an interesting morning, it seemed, visiting both the regular food-produce market, which was busy enough, + even more fascinating, the pig + cattle market.  After we had had some lunch, she took me to see it, + tho’ it had died down a little by now, it was still quite amazing.  There were buffaloes everywhere, from the most huge to the youngest calves, each with a rope thro’ its nose + an attendant on the end of that.  Plus the pigs, row after row of them, tied down to their own individually tailored bamboo platform, + laid out together under their concrete shelter.  The piglets even had a small handle attached to their bamboo, so that they could be carried around like handbags.  Val had earlier seen much money changing hands – it seems that the buffaloes in particular are almost like a stock market (in its most literal sense) investment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon quietly sitting on our balcony + relaxing, writing + watching the world pass by.  Eventually we decided to go eat, + once again called in on Tom + Jan.  They were, for once, in + rather apologetic about not having contacted us before.  They were also full of tales about the things they had done over the past couple of days, + I was, as I had anticipated I would be, jealous.  Still, we went out with them to a little restaurant, + had a fine evening.  The food was OK – rice, pork + buffalo, washed down with tuak – + the conversation much to my liking – light, humorous, somewhat cynical.  I only hope we meet them again, for I enjoy their company.

I have realised that I have entirely omitted to do what I intended earlier, to give my impressions of the school.  Physically, the school is in a bad way, being in old buildings in poor repair.  The classrooms do not inspire warmth – they are barren rooms, with cracked + peeling paint, the only decoration in each one being the same – small framed photos of President Suharto + his vice-president.  The classes are, by English standards, enormous, up to 50 on the roll, + frequently packed 3 to a desk built for 2.  Text books seem to be in short supply, frequently being just one of a type to a class, with all exercises copied onto a  blackboard (no easy matter – the blackboards in the classes I was in were both split, cracked + peeling).  But despite these problems the school seems to be doing a fine job.  The pupils are certainly well-behaved (tho’ obviously the presence of the headmaster did no harm at all) + tho’ on such a short visit I couldn’t judge standards, they seemed keen to learn.

On a different  note, I was interested to see a game being played  on the grassy playground in the middle of the buildings.  It was a sort of volleyball, tho’ played with head + feet, + using a ball woven from bamboo.  The boys were very skilful indeed at this.

During the time we were away, I visited a few schools, but this, I think, was the most successful, in that I actually got to do some teaching, and to gain more of an impression of the whole school. And I enjoyed myself; despite my professed dislike of children, I do enjoy seizing the opportunity to perform. And every teacher is (or ought to be) a performer.

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