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Baptism of Fire

By 6 years ago
Categories Kerala

As our tuktuk rambles towards the rusted yellow gates, I’m struck by the stark contrast in my surroundings. To my left, the lush, soothing Backwaters sprawl in total splendour. Back home, this would be million dollar, prime real estate. But, to my right, there is not the luxurious, bespoke mansion that you’d expect to find overlooking the stunning view. Rather, there is a rocky, littered driveway, ploughed by careless machinery attempting to 4 wheel drive across the terrain. Next to this entrance way is a domineering concrete building, which reminds me of high rise commission housing.

Ross leads us up into the yard and over to the Headmistress’ office. I’d like to say that she’s pleased to see us, but it’d more accurate to say that she’s cheesed off because we’re only JUST arriving. Either way, she’s dead keen to put us to work right away. Ross gives us a quick tour of the school. which is pretty basic.Classrooms contain four walls, broken up with gaping holes for windows. Furniture is sparse, to say the least. Bench seats and bench tables are crammed full of students – the room that I manage to do a quick head count in has no less than fifty children. Oh, the children! I’ve spent a lot of time in schools, but I have never seen a crowd of children so genuinely excited to have visitors. “Good afternoon Miss!” “Hello Miss?” “Ta Ta Miss!” dozen after dozen holler as they wave and grab at my hands. I really feel like a celebrity.

Ross has a quick chat with the teacher of 2A – a bunch of seven year olds – and arranges for us to sit in and watch her lesson. She controls the mob with firm ease, and the kids follow her instructions studiously, reading and repeating her words in something close to unison. “This is alright”, I think to myself. “I’ll be able to do this, piece of cake.” Why, oh why, did I not touch wood???

As if she’s heard my thoughts, the teacher turns to me and says, “OK, Now you. What are you going to teach them?” Huh? Now? Her eyes tell me that she’s not kidding. The kids are starting to fidget among themselves. I know that I’ve got about nineseconds before chaos erupts. “Come on Shaz, you do this for a living”, my internal dialogue gives me the kick in the pants that I need. “Alright, boys and girls,” I hear my Teacher Voice command, “Let’s continue…” I begin reading where the-teacher-who-actually-knew-what-she-was-doing left off. “Every country has its own special dress,” I announce slowly, clearly, and loudly. I look up expectantly at the class. They stare back at me, curious, silent, and almost entyrely stationary, except for two girls in the second back row, who are furiously waving at me and wriggling in their seats. One sticks her tongue out. The other blows me a kiss. And still, silence. “Come on, children, all together!” I coax, then read the line again. This time, I animatedly splay my arms out to the class, gesturing ‘your turn!’ “EVERY COUNTRY HAS ITS OWN SPECIAL DRESS!” the mob chants, enthusiastically. Yes! A win! We continue ambling through the text together with reasonable success.

With each chorused line, my confidence grows. We reach the end of the text and I’m faced with the reality that it’s time to tap-dance. I ask one child to come forward and get the class to name items of hisclothing as I point them out. The mob is seriously enthused, but hey– at least they’re engaged! We roll through a few volunteers, and before I know it, our 40 minutes is up. I turn to the teacher and ask, with trepidation, “Was that okay?” She wobbles her head side to side and I panic, thinking it’s a disapproving head shake. But then her smile breaks – clearly, it was okay. We say ta-ta to the class and much enthusiasm is returned. “GOOD BYEMISS!” they screech. We walk out of the room and past the back window. There, my two almost-back-row girls call through the wire that replaces the glass

“Miss, Miss! Tat-Ta Miss!”. And they’re both blowing kisses.