A day in the life of...
A yelping street dog interrupts the hum of chanting from the nearby monastery, waking me up. For a moment I have to remind myself where I am. I'm in Burma, where I train teachers as part of a project called English for Education College Trainers, funded by the UK Department for International Development and the British Council.
I pull on my running clothes and leave my gated, semi-detached bungalow. I nod to the wizened, betel-chewing man at the gates and offer a shy mingalaba (hello). He responds with a toothless grin. I run on the main road, avoiding the huge holes and sleeping street dogs. After 3km, I return to the college grounds and hear the young trainees chanting answers in unison in their rote-learning classes.
I fill a plastic heater with water for my bucket shower and dig out my clothes for the day. I choose a black longyi skirt given to me by my students. After wrestling with the fabric, I secure it with a discreet safety pin (my students would find this hilarious if they knew), safe in the knowledge that I will get through the day without it falling down.
Before classes start, I attempt to learn some Burmese. Today I discover that a restaurant is an "eat-drink place". There is a comforting logic to the language, but my feeble attempts often meet with laughter (and patience) in the local market.
Classes start late on Fridays: at 9.30am, after assembly. I teach in the physics lab, where a whiteboard was recently installed - the dusty days of chalk are over. Many of my students have poor eyesight because of limited medical care, so I use large writing and strong colours.
The students are full of smiles when they arrive and one presents me with five sweet lemons. At first I tried to fight the gifts, but protestations of "It is our culture!" halted me. The offerings have now waned to once a week and the students are starting to see me less as a guest and more as a part of the furniture.
Today we focus on listening skills. I spend the next five hours feeling blessed to have such lovely, motivated students who take pains to communicate with me and share their lives and culture. They are thrilled to learn a new game; classics such as Pictionary and bingo have not yet reached this still relatively closed-off country. The education system has been on shutdown - along with the rest of the country - for decades, so students are enthralled by anything remotely interactive.
When I first met them, I asked why they were so eager to learn English. "For our jobs," they said. "And to understand Justin Bieber songs!" another student piped up.
Classes finish at 3.30pm and I rush back to my house, eyeing the storm clouds. After a few hours of planning, the rain has eased, so a colleague and I head for a quiet beer at a small eat-drink place. We get home for our 9pm curfew, negotiating the pitch-black campus with our torches. I fall asleep to the chanting of the monks and the noise of Korean soap operas. It's the end of another day in this beautiful country.
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