Not Knowing Anything about Anything
When writing these blog entries, my process begins with mentally grouping my anecdotes into overarching themes (student stories, teaching tips, weekend activities, etc.) for the synchronicity of the post. This week, when amassing my stockpile of stories, only one factor seemed to link them together. So, without further ado, this week’s theme is ‘I don’t know anything about anything. Ever. At all.’ Occasionally, my tourist cluelessness is endearing. Shepherding 250 primary students on a multiple-destination field trip three hours away from school, surprisingly, is not one of those occasions. I was seated on the top level of a double decker bus stuffed to the brim with second and third grade Thai tornados. A microphone was thrust into my hand with the solemnity of a king’s scepter, we all knew that this was the only instrument with the unlocked potential to quell the excited thigh-high masses surging around us. Most of these children have never ridden on a bus much less left our town before and the exhilaration was evident. The vomit resulting from too many gas-station-purchased sweets, overwhelming anticipation, and carsickness was more than evident, it was tangible, and no scepter could have saved me. Finally I was driven to bringing out my secret weapon, Thai karaoke. I will still undoubtedly feel that headache in the year 2019.
The kids were impossibly enamored with the science museum and the aquarium, consumed with, to date, one of the sweetest and purest joys I had ever seen. So endearing, in fact, that I was able to overlook the transgressions of the gaggle of primary students that bought actual live birds from a street vendor when I turned my back for a literal second. After viewing the notable giant frog in Yasothon, which is in summary, just a giant frog (???), I was under the impression that we were headed back to our home province. The bus wheels sluggishly and unpredictably churned to a stop and I thought, the bus driver has finally maxed out on karaoke tolerance and will certainly be setting this bus on fire. Instead, a Thai announcement came on over the loud speaker and the students, under my clearly powerful jurisdiction, stood up and began filing neatly off the bus. I grabbed every student that shuffled past me by the collar and desperately asked “Where are you going?” only to be met with an unceasing line of confused stares. Dear God, what a convenient time this would have been to know things about stuff. After burying my pride and following my students off the bus, I was less than thrilled to find out we had stopped at a Buddhist hell temple. The entire walkabout was dedicated to ‘Nakara’ and gave descriptive accounts and even more vivid sculptural depictions of the tortures conducted there. You know that scene in The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible attempts to break into the evil lair but is instead shot with multiplying black orbs that adhere to him until he is fully incapacitated? I was Mr. Incredible but instead of orbs, I was inundated by sobbing Thai first graders. Their weepy snot mixed with my sweat as I struggled under the weight of them through the endless morbid circuit. It was, at the very least, a climatic culmination to the day.
The mundane predictability of an average school week was warmly welcomed after the field trip insanity. That is until I remembered that this is Thailand and I have 250 students and absolutely nothing is mundane about it. Emily was slightly hurt to hear from a co-teacher that the Thai nickname the students had given her, which they had sworn to mean flower, actually meant slimy slug. As an empathetic best friend, I cackled until I ran out of oxygen. The plot thickened later when an uninvolved third party countered that the nickname did actually mean flower. Considering we don’t know anything about anything, it is impossible to discern whether this is student foul play or a co-teacher hazing ritual. Regardless, these slimy little slugs were eager to relax and enjoy the usual spread of Thai food in the teacher’s lounge when lunch rolled around. I slopped a super-size portion of mushrooms onto my plate and sat down to eat when another teacher noticed and commended my bravery. What could possibly be brave about mushrooms I wondered? The situation quickly devolved into the first in which not knowing anything about anything manifested itself as positive ignorant bliss. The mushrooms I have been slurping away on at several meals per week, are in fact porous, congealed chicken blood. Bummer. Emily and I are in the throes of Pavlov’s dog-ing ourselves into forgetting we ever learned the mushroom’s dark secret.
In the subsequent days, the cluelessness persisted. This week, as our students prepare for the showmanship of the Christmas Day celebration and Sports Day parade, many classes have been punctuated by breaks for practice. During lunch one day Emily and I were dragged outside into a procession of older girls holding staffs. As we blinked at them and they blinked at us, staffs were plopped into our hands and a nearby teacher asserted, “you teach, you teach!” Before we had time to exhale, much less insist that we had no idea how to march or twirl staffs, the teacher had conveniently disappeared and the students looked at us impatiently, awaiting further instruction. Quickly cataloging my memory for that marching band scene in animal house, Emily and I fumbled awkwardly with these batons on steroids and even hit our confused, copy-cat pupils with some can-can action. We will, unfortunately, have to watch the resulting train wreck publically next week.
So far, the narratives resulting from my confused incompetence have been, though hilarious, completely manageable. That is, until the day that shall not be named. I was sitting innocuously in the office when a breathless teacher barged in and demanded, “Who is third grade’s homeroom teacher?” I immediately stood up and began probing for the problem; I was relieved to find that it was a joke. “A student has pooped in his seat” the trickster teacher declared, but I, in my infinite wisdom, knew better. It was the last period on a Friday afternoon following a day of frivolity with my third graders, as usual, leading the charge of mischievousness. So, I confidently strode through the mob of squealing, nose-pinching bodies into my classroom in search of a chair full of chocolate, or plastic poop, or whatever flavor-of-the-day prank awaited me. The joke certainly was on me. I found, and I apologize readers there really is no way to censor or sugarcoat this, a chair full of diarrhea and a stressed little boy covered in his own defecation. The rest of the afternoon was spent, cleaning the boy, his clothes, the chair, and the classroom all while the remaining 37 children shrieked and gagged. The next school day, the little boy wandered into the office and deposited a gargantuan fruit basket on the table - a gift from his mother. After all, nothing says, “sorry my child literally soiled your classroom and your dignity” like a basket of fruit. To make matters more amusing, the diarrhea attack was supposedly caused by an overconsumption of mangoes at lunch, the irony is not lost on me.
Until next time!