Rebecca was forced to come home early in late October 2003 of her 2003-2004 intended serve, due to a Travel Warning being placed on Nepal by the US State Department because of increased violence by the Maoist insurgents in that country.
Rebecca Eaton's Reports
Report 1Rebecca Eaton
It may be only 7:40 in the morning and the sun may have just come up, but I am sweating like I have just run a marathon. After walking up the hill in ten minutes, I am prancing around the upstairs office in my petticoat and sari shirt. I have been in Nepal for a week, and my Nepali consists of a few words, mainly thank you, I have had enough to eat, rice, and vegetables. Therefore, I am unable to say what I need to say most, that is, my sari is too long and I keep tripping over it, and it is not tight enough up top and it keeps slipping down and exposing my midriff, making me feel like I am in a bikini whilst trying to control my class. Unable to say these few words, I have resulted to my own game of charades. Trying to explain to the school's all-purpose maid, whose job has expanded to include not only fetching tea at the principal's beck and call, cleaning the whole facility, but also dressing two spoiled American girls every morning, one of whom, this particular morning, is groaning and tripping over herself, half dressed, and trying to explain in a foreign language that something is wrong! After going through the tugging at my petticoat, saying too long, and then proceeding to trip a few times, I feel I have made my point, and she begins to dress us.
Oh, the sari that we must wear. It is beautiful when it is wrapped around one in the proper way, but, try as I might, I cannot wrap and fold and fasten it to myself with one safety pin so it stays in place all day amidst my constant movement. Maybe if a teacher just needed to stay in one place and look pretty then it would work . . . I vacillate between thinking that I have come to this place to teach within THEIR culture, so I need to accommodate and wear this thing, and thinking that I have come to this place to TEACH, not lose myself, and I do not think that spending the day constantly adjusting the folds in my dress is how I want to teach, or live, for that matter. I have tried explaining to them that it has been drilled into me since I started puberty not to let my stomach show, and that I can just see my Mom wincing as I teach class with that one part in view, but to no avail. I am in Nepal, and I must "be understanding" I am told. One day the principal's sister, upon noticing that my sari had fallen out of my petticoat, said "you know, next year I will ask that the American teachers be allowed to wear pants because you are having so much trouble with this." But what about now!?, I want to shout.
The most consuming, joyous and challenging part of life since I have been here is the teaching. I have two hundred seventy students in all. I teach three classes of fifth graders Extra English, where the main thing is to get them speaking, thinking, reading and writing in English. I teach grammar to seventh and eighth graders. My class range is between 22 to 33 students.
So far in my grammar classes I often use games to drill concepts into the kids' heads. For example, one common mistake here is to use "did" with the past rather than the present tense. A student might say "I did not saw my friend yesterday". As part of my continuing effort to teach them how to use "did", I have devised games such as "What did you hear?" For this game, I write down many sounds. During the game, I divide the students into teams. During each team's turn, I pick a student from that team to come to the board and show them one sound. The team waits for the timer to say "Start"; then the whole team must ask, "What did you hear?" Then, and only then, can the student from that team start acting out and drawing what he/she heard. After h/she begins this part, people on the team can guess the answer by saying, for instance, "Rasmita heard ding ding ding ding." If Rasmita did not hear a bell ringing, then she must respond "I did not hear ding ding ding ding." If she did hear this, then she gives her team a thumbs up sign, and everyone says "Rasmita heard ding ding ding ding." The game may seem silly, but it is fun if you make it seem perfectly reasonable for the kids to bark like dogs and bang on tables, and it enables them to repeat over and over the proper ways to use "did" and the past tense. Games like these that require the kids to work together and involve some competition have worked beautifully. I will try anything that is fun and gets them all involved. I've also asked them to record short plays on tapes in groups, watch movies in English and copy down dialogue that include certain tenses, and write essays about certain topics in their lives. I try to speak during my classes as little as possible, because I think the more they speak, the better they will get and the more comfortable in English. As the year goes on, I would like to get all of them reading newspaper and magazine articles relating to their lives and the international scene, as well as literature, poetry and plays, because I think reading is one of the best ways to assimilate how language is used. Thus far, I have not had the time to assign essays nor extra-curricular reading material on a regular basis, because I have not had the time to read essays by all of the kids every week, and select, photocopy and assign proper reading material.
With the fifth graders, I also use a lot of games. I have one of them bring in show and tell every day, and this includes a short question and answer session. I have them read, break into groups and then think of ways to teach the class vocabulary words in the text, such as writing sentences which utilize the words, act out the word, make a picture about it on the board, and have the class repeat the word and its meaning. I have tried breaking them into partners and quizzing each other with flashcards. To get them speaking and writing using certain grammatical structures, I have them interview each other with real and imaginary questions, such as "Did you eat potatoes yesterday?", "Did you eat lunch with aliens on the moon yesterday" and, "where, why and when?" I've had them write their own poems with specific rhyming words and then write poems with their own rhyming words. Now I am trying to find good short stories. I plan to divide them into groups and help them to write out and perform plays for the class of their stories. The show and tell and games that get them excited have helped to me to slowly bring out their personalities and get the more reticent ones to speak. One of the most difficult things for me is trying, especially with the fifth and seventh graders (the eighth graders are more mature and tolerant of each other), to encourage all of them to get excited and speak and help each other, even to correct each other, and to take risks in the classroom, without causing anyone to feel hurt, intimidated, or embarrassed. Show and tell is exciting for the students because it lets them into an intimate part of their classmate's lives, but this also requires a strict code of respect between the students, which I have been working to build, and the construction process has not been without its mishaps.
Though the students wear me out, and I in turn wear myself out by trying to offer any of them extra help outside of school who need it. I started working with the fifth graders who have trouble, and with those who simply want to come, for an hour three times a week before they begin classes. No matter how exhausted I am, I still feel a drive to do better, to be more for these kids. I want to talk with all of the students privately and go over with them their grammar mistakes, I want to read all of their journals and give extra lessons to the weaker students (and the better students who could learn more if they were not held down by the other's slow pace), but all of this cannot be done. There is simply not time for me, as a new teacher, to do all these things well, and because of this I know I have a very long way to go before I begin to meet my aspirations as a teacher.
Slivers of Good
In India you clawed your way through the day, through dirt and glamour and people who seemed to strip the skin off your bones when they dealt with you, leaving every nerve raw. (Anurag Mathur, The Inscrutable Americans)
It all accumulates: small things that seem benign when examined individually but that, taken together, clog my spirit and my mind. It starts with the dust particles in the air, so small you con sometimes miss them, and the "hellos" of children that follow me everywhere I go and would be sweet if it were not for their relentless and mocking quality; it continues with the incessant honking of motorcycle drivers who either think all of us lowly pedestrians are deaf to their loud engines or, overcome with a feeling of powerlessness in the rest of their lives, derive some thrill from buttressing their invasion of our physical space with a violent oratory attack. The day continues with the requisite haggling with bus and taxi drivers over a fair price, and stretches to include controlling rambunctious kids who give the maxim of give an inch, and they will take a mile the truest meaning I have ever found.
There is so much bad, but almost every day a shred of humanity leaves me smiling. I venture out for runs sometimes, despite the fact that everyone stares at me and boys and men make rude comments. Occasionally I have the time to go out for a very early morning run, before most people are out of the house. At this time the cars are off the streets and I feel mostly free from stares and rude comments. Sometimes a man walks by and keeps his head down as he passes me rather than making a comment; amidst the many stares, this makes me feel that there is still a soul who is decent in the world. The smells of trash and fuel exhaust overcrowd all other smells during the day, but in the early morning hours one can still smell the flowers and the dew on the grass. As I venture out farther in my wanderings, I find places dominated by greenery rather than shops and pavement. For all the people who seem nice and begin to talk with me, only to ask again and again how much money I make, how much rent I pay and if I will tutor their kids in English when I am not busy teaching 300 students at school, I run into one of my students who only wants to welcome me into his/her home and talk about his/her life and dreams. For all the times that even women stare at me in admonishment -for what - my dress, being an American young woman, I don't know - there are ladies that smile at me warmly as I pass on the street. For all the times I have felt out of place, there was one morning when I stood on a green pasture of land beside a house, looking out at the field below. I did not know if this land was owned by the neighboring house and I thought I might be trespassing, but as I looked at the neighboring house's field and saw the family harvesting rice, they spoke to me. I could not understand them and I started to move away. But then I came back and said, "Is this okay?" in my rudimentary Nepali, meaning is it okay for me to be here. "It's okay", the youngest called out in Nepali. It is okay.
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