You know you weren’t made for teaching when you catch yourself cheering and clapping like a baboon when the kids get the answers wrong! Oh shame. I can’t help it I’m being dramatic and depressed, half of the children left the programme to return to actual school last night (I bet it’s not as much fun there as it is here). What’s that quote I love from Moulin Rouge? Oh yeah.
“Outside it may be raining but in here it’s entertaining!”
Calm it Chris, you’re not in Soho now mate and it’s definitely not raining.
Whereas the older students receive two weeks rest bite from the snarling jaws of government education my younger kids (yes they are all mine, I am mother hen) only receive seven days. Those seven days with the little’uns have only been possible because of the great teachings of David and Noam. Sadly they have left the village also and right now are probably aboard a plane to Thailand. (Insert crying American emoji here). They planned a week and a week they did, these children will probably never understand how lucky they have been to be donated such powerful tools as those laptops, their life’s potential just sky rocketed.
So now there is one teacher left. “Hi” said Chris.
I didn’t realise how much I’d enjoyed this weeks energy until I returned to the school this morning. Usually I’d stumble into the open space of the village (having dodged the huge pig that always grunts at my legs) into the dust and suddenly have a thousand “good morning”s screamed at me. I have a routine, it involves shouting “morning, morning, morning” one hundred times and waving blindly into every direction as if I’m wafting away flies.
If I’m lucky Noam will have the youngest class engaged in a lesson, if not I’ll be savaged as they jump on me for the whiteboard pen.
This morning I wasn’t savaged and my clothes aren’t covered in dirty hand prints.
Before I came back to Myanmar I was in two minds whether to cancel and head to India prematurely, I’m realistically predicting five years until I recover from my previous stint teaching, at least! Although there was no way I was ever letting them down I wasn’t as enthusiastic as first time round. I predicted over planning, dark circles, questions only a scholar would be able to answer, more dark circles and an energy level comparable to an eighty year old Myanmar rickshaw driver.
In contrast this week has been the most fun and uplifting time I’ve had in quite a while, my soul is fully charged and it’s really thanks to the endless buzz of these little people. Between their infectious excitement, their deafening screams and they’re cheeky ability to hit me and then run off laughing I’ve felt like a big brother in charge of making sure everyone is moving forward. That coupled with the knowledge and professionalism of David, Noam, Seng Mai, Seng Pan and Seng Aung this week couldn’t have been better balanced. There’s no place I’d rather be than right in this very spot, and rather astutely I’ve worked out why… this village fills me with a nostalgia for my street back at home.
Here we go…. memories.
Looking back, home was an odd set up, definitely not the type of environment I’d want to raise my children, but then the hustle and hassle of Market End filled me with a warmth I couldn’t find anywhere else, it was the closest to Euston Train Station a street could get without a rickety old track.
Shaped like a squashed horse shoe we had maybe sixteen terracotta homes with a dark tarmac driveway all connected to each other in every sense of the word. You see back then I thought it was normal, now I realise it’s totally bonkers, every person in our street walked into each other’s home as if it were their own, no knocking, no warning, just in and out as they pleased at whatever time they pleased. It was a never ending house party and everyone was invited.
Me “where’s mum”
Sister “she’s around Dawns”
Me “Is my mum here?”
Darren “no they’re around Denise’s”
Me “Mum? Mum are you in here?!”
Mum “No I’m in Tracey’s garden! Climb over the fence if you want me”.
My street growing up. Our house was second from the left.
I’m surprised I wasn’t snatched from my bed the times I’d go downstairs at night and my mum was next door having a “tea” and a “fag”.
It was if our street was a rabbit warren and no one had realised we were above land, trying to find a person was logistical Armageddon. When mum would say “go and ask Tracey if she wants anything from the shop” I’d be sure to run around like I was trapped in a fun house hours before I’d find her, guaranteed you’d hear at least nine front doors slam before I’d trophy success.
“What do you mean she’s already at the shop?!” Urgh.
Winters were quieter, summers were great fun. It’s really the warmer months which made a lasting impression on me and honestly I hadn’t realised how much I loved it until this week. I write a lot about the pain of my childhood because that’s the cloud that stalks, but it wasn’t always grey, there was this soft layer of summer air inviting you to play in the street, we were a big family bound together by our social class (working) and the terracotta walls which kept our little English fort safe.
I make it sound cute don’t I? As a kid I thought it was, but it was often referred to by outsiders as ‘The Witches Cauldron’.
The families in my street were meddlesome, challenging, territorial and frankly depressed. Some of the kids had got off on they wrong foot and had already began miming the actions of their peers often leading them into suspended school periods or worse, jail time. Like a pack of wolves the mothers stuck together, feeding off of each other’s misery they looked onto the outside world with pinched eyes as the people beyond the walls did right back.
Now that sounds more accurate. There really wasn’t much cuteness involved.
We weren’t an educated street, nor were the spliffs keeping them stable through the torturous government benefits process. Like any large family our street found reason to battle one other as often as it did drinking mugs of tea. It wasn’t uncommon for one house to break and enter another. It wouldn’t be strange to see broken glass scattered about the driveways when you’d walk to school. There were rapes, battering, severe adult bullying and more hush hush gossiping about each other than a report from the Daily Mail.
It sounds like hell doesn’t it. Imagine growing up in a microclimate of busybodies and scoundrels, let me tell you for most of my childhood I quite liked it, of course it wasn’t the drama I loved, it was all of my friends, the dramas offspring.
It’s summer I’m reliving, a time when my mother was much easier to find because absolutely everyone was sat outside their porch smoking, drinking and gossiping about some poor soul from off the estate. On the one hand it makes me cringe, when I watch those old tv shows like Skins or Royal Family or Benefit Street I can very quickly be dragged back to that time of insecurity and unease, the guys coming to my door to buy drugs from my mother saw those feelings set in stone. That was the dark side of street life and I could explain much more than that too. But on the other hand I often felt love and acceptance when I’d walk out into the close, that’s where the nostalgic warmth comes from. My street was the only place I was never bullied or questioned or teased for the way I looked or the things I couldn’t do. I was raised side by side with my neighbours and some of them I’d been at school with since four years old.
Every mum from each house felt like an old auntie and every one of their children turned into a close cousin. There was Nathan, Luke, Scarlett, Rhys, Darren, Danny, Claire, Sarah, Daniel, Paul, Charlie, Samantha, Me, my sister Kerrie, my sister Alex, Leigh, Jordan, Brandon and Tyler… and that’s just some of the kids of the street.
When the sun would start to set and the air became cooler I would venture out of my house and into the ball pit of childhood mayhem. Footballs would be flying into neighbours gardens, skipping ropes spinning around like wind turbines, bicycles propped up against lampposts, rollerblades, chalk to draw on the floor, hose pipes and water pistols big enough to start wars!
And wars we started.
There’d be our parents puffing away on one porch (usually number fourteen) and all of us running around the maze of orange walls playing tag or laughing as we fell over onto the grass. I’d have this weird way of shouting “I’m OK!” before I’d even hit the floor. Thump!
Back at the school I’m reminded of that time. When I see the younger kids running in and out of classrooms I remember running in and out of houses, specifically Brenda’s. When she first moved next door her three children (soon to be four) ranged from three to eight. At first they were unsure of me, they’d stare at my skin and then look back up to their mum for answers, pretty much like everyone else. But after a while, as Brenda became accustom to the nature of our street, I was soon in and out of their home as often as they were mine and everyone else’s.
After a few short weeks I’d already been signed up as official babysitter as she went and sat outside with the parents or took herself shopping. During that time there would be what seemed liked hundreds of kids running around my feet, all of them wanting to play games, fight with me, show me their school work, drag me to the locked sweet cupboard. Her three kids turned into five, then six, then seven as more and more of her friends trusted me. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be watching eight children at one time and for thirteen year old me that was quite a feat.
I loved it.
For eight years I stayed with her children, I played with them like they were brothers and sisters, I went from teaching them ABC to scratching my head when the algebra came flying out of no where. “You’re how old now? Oh crap”.
“They all look up to you Chris. You’re like their big brother” Brenda would say as I walked in the door. It’s true, the second I’d sit in the armchair and start talking to her all of the kids would run over with their homework wearing huge smiles and holding out their pens. What could I do but sit with them and be the person they needed.
I’m lucky to still have her children in my life. Even if I don’t have her.
Those are the days I should treasure. It’s easy to get caught up in the darkness, especially when so many things are painful but I should take joy in the good times too. Like the time I got my foot caught in the wheel of my friends bicycle after trying to kick her onto the grass. It was so funny, lying on the floor screaming in pain Sarah goes running over to number fifteen and finds Dawn to come and help. Now Dawn was not a small woman let me tell you, not back then anyways, I remember her running over with a plume of ginger hair and wire cutters to try and rescue me. I thought she was just going to cut the spokes, but no, unluckily for me this large bloody woman places her foot on the god damn spokes almost severing my foot. Ha. I can laugh now because it’s completely ridiculous, back then I wasn’t best pleased let me tell you.
No Chris’ were harmed during the process of that small memory.
I should indulge in those more.
So David and Noam have left, they packed their bags full of heaven knows how many wooden elephants and marched off into the sunset. We had a lovely final day with them yesterday, David gave a sermon to the church, he spoke of ‘tithes’ which as far as I can work out is a process of giving 1/10th of your earnings to god. I sat a little confused with Seng Mai, she frantically tried showing me his readings in the bible as he spoke them… that was nice of her if not hard work.
We had beautiful ‘end of term’ photos with the children, the family and the older villagers. (It’s nice to finally have a school photo where I don’t stick out).
Top two rows: The older class plus David in pink. Third row, left to right. Seng Pan (head of organising this scheme), Seng Aung (church pastor and husband to Seng Pan), Seng Mai (sister of Seng Aung), Me, village people and then Copa at the end. Bottom two rows; children from the two youth classes, middle boy in white is Naw Naw (Seng Pan and Seng Aung’s son).
Me at eleven years old.
We visited the mountain, Seng Mai cooked amazing food using an open fire, hollowed out bamboo and a variety of foods… like ox tongue!! I thought it would be gross, actually served kebab style with peppers it’s pretty good! The guys thought I wouldn’t be able to stomach even one, I ate four! Hurrah for trying new things.
Urgh but I’ll never forget how my tongue felt when I saw her peeling its skin. Grim.
In other news I haven’t decided what to do about Copa although it is certainly at the forefront of my mind. What’s good is this following week will be focussed on the older students as everyone else has left. That means maybe I can work closer with him as I’ll have more time. Right now I’m leaning toward sponsoring him so he can continue his education once I’ve left. I’ll try (with Seng Mai’s help) to source a retired English teacher from the city and have them come out to the village to see him five times a week. I’m unsure how logistically that will work or how much it’s going to cost, but I’m happy to forward any idea if it means he isn’t left behind. What I’m conscious of is he also needs to work to support his family, if I put him into education full time I’d need to support them also.
Hmm let’s see what develops.
I’m having such a great time here, when this ends it will be the brightest highlight of my travels, to be able to share time with these wonderful people means a lot because it’s teaching me lessons I thought I already knew. Every single day I’m reminded why leaving London was the best decision. Sometimes it’s hard to think about, but when I look at these kids faces I’m reminded the world goes beyond my own thoughts and feelings.
Goodbye kids. Goodbye David and Noam. See you soon I hope!