Mr Pharen had given me a timetable which he created just after I arrived. Tuesday had a grueling two and a half hour english slot to cover. Fortunately they were split by morning break with the 8:00-9:00am slot meant to be with the little kids and the 9:30-11:00am with the older kids. On Monday evening, me and Mum had a discussion about how to actually do an English lesson without it being boring. So, armed with fruit, colouring pencils, toy frogs and worksheets I set off on tuesday morning, better prepared but still rather nervous. But for all of my careful planning the two lessons got switched around so I had the big kids first, no big deal… Actually it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as my plan for the lesson went rather faster than I had anticipated.
I started with getting the kids to shout out the alphabet and numbers. Then I would say "A is for Apple" write it on the board and get them to copy it in English. After that I’d take out some apples and cut them up and give them a piece each. They then had a worksheet/dot to dot to do and colour. After they had finished that I’d do the same for B, "B is for banana" and then I’d give them all a banana. "C is for Carrot" and give them all a piece of carrot. This all went down well and before I knew it most of the time was up. Now you must understand that most of these kids have probably never tasted apple before because it is really expensive so for them this was a new experience and that made them happy. One thing that I have really noticed since being in Cambodia is that people want to learn English and they want to go to school becuase they haven’t had the opportunity to do this for several years, quite a stark difference to England!
Now after becoming an English teacher I became a chef and a farmer as later that afternoon I took part in "Khmer cake cooking" and "Beansprout activity." The beansprout activity was simple. I got given lots of beansprout beans. I would then sort through them to sift out all of the bad ones from the good. Once deemed satisfactory they were left outside in a metal bucket filled with water for a day. A day later the water was drained and the baby beansprouts were put into clay pots with a straw plug. Four times a day for four days the pots were filled with water and then tipped upside down to drain them. This kept the growing conditions perfect for the beansprouts. Then at the end of the week we picked through them to get all of the green bean casings off them. They were then ready to sell at 3000 Riel per kilo, or about 50p!
The Khmer cake cooking left everyone baffled over what it could possibly mean, however, being Asia, a charcoal burner and oil were bound to be key. Lo and behold there was a bowl shaped metal dish with dips in it, with the dips about the size of a cupcakes. These dips then had oil drizzled over them and the bowl was placed on a charcoal burner. Then a large vat of milky liquid (made earlier of course) was brought out and was ladled into the dips with a large bubbling and crackling sound. The mixture, I reckon, had rice flour, spring onion and milk/water in it. Or at least that is my expert opinion! Anyhow, once they were ladled in and cooked for a for minutes they would be hard enough on the outside to be flipped onto their neighbour. The pair would then cook until crispy with the two halfs melding together. I took part in using the celery stick/brush/oil dippery thing to dab oil onto the empty dips and to scrape off any spilt cake mixture and pouring the mixture into the dips. Both skills that the kids will find useful later in life no doubt! It would have been fine had it been for the fact, unlike gas, charcoal heat goes everywhere. Sweat was a common enemy during the week, with all of the sport and cooking and lack of aircon!
Tasting what you have made is always a highlight. As I write I have a large half kilo of beansprouts waiting for me in the fridge, calling ever so quietly for a companion. Also the Khmer cake was best tasted hot, so I got the chance to eat a few, with the traditional complimentary sauce. The sauce, it must be said, was not the most appealing sauce I have ever come across. It smelt of parmesan…maybe that was the reason. But it tasted of lime and as long as I didn’t think of the smell the Khmer cake was actually rather tasty. Gooey in the middle and crispy on the outside, mmm, yum!
After a sweltering sesson in the kitchen a little bit of TV was in order! All of the kids gathered round the anticated TV in the library to watch Khmer take offs of famous movies, one of which was King Kong. By this time I’d obviously been accepted into the kids’ lives and many of the younger kids came and sat on me or gave me hugs…much like my younger cousins, maybe it’s the hair. So, day two down, three more to go.
Wednesday was one of the biggest challenges for me, as I had an hour teaching the older kids. Why should that be difficult you say. The ominous gaps in the schedule either side of the lesson were the problem. I could either be teaching for one hour or for three. Still, how hard could it be?
I arrived at 7:30am for devotions which meant a grueling 6:15am wake up. But I was glad that I made the effort. The leadership team of people at the Centre gathered around the table, each picking up a Khmer songbook. Someone had a drum and before I knew it they were off singing in the traditional Khmer tonal wail. If you have never heard Khmer singing then I suggest you find some and play it whilst you read for full effect. I mean, I like it, but I wouldn’t ever buy it! It resembles a sort of slurred version of kumbayah. A unique experience to say the least. Then after about three songs the leader of the devotions would choose a bible passage. Everyone then takes it in turn to read a verse or two until it comes full circle. Then everyone gives their interpretation of the passage. Clearly I couldn’t read the Khmer script used in the Khmer bibles so I had brought my own and read the verses in English, fortunately more Cambodians speak English than Brits speak Khmer, so most of the staff understood what I was saying. The bibles they used were very old with most not having covers, whereas mine stood out a bit with its silver leaf and leather covers. This made me wonder if you could buy Khmer bibles these days as this has been the only time that I’ve ever seen them…this could be a niche market I spy!
During devotions I learnt that the night before there had been an electrical fire in the children’s kitchen. Fortunately the guard (the only person awake) spotted it quickly and put it out. The consequences of the fire getting out of control would have been huge and all of the staff were utterly convinced that God had had a part to play in helping to stop the fire. As a result I was then asked the following day how to spell fire extinguisher. The following afternoon a man arrived with quite a few fire extinguishers, people do learn, WV wasn’t going to take any chances!
After we had devotions I helped water the beansprouts and then helped to cut out Khmer sentances which were then glued onto a lar
ge painted poster which highlighted what the kids should spend their free time doing. This involved cooking, cleaning, being with friends and other important things to do if you feel bored. The poster was later displayed for all of the children to see along with a myriad of other posters underlining health and other important issues that these kids have never been taught on the streets.
Then it was time for my last English lesson of the week. Again I went through the alphabet and numbers and tried to buy time. But the focus of today was shapes. So I drew different shapes on the board. First I drew a triangle. I would then choose someone to come up and write the Khmer word for triangle inside it in the Khmer script. I would then write it out underneath and get them to write it out in English. I did this for circles, squares and stars. They then had worksheets to colour and fill in, along with the Khmer to English translation. This took about half and hour and I was fairly confident that the remaining half an hour would easily be filled with my secret weapon: Playdoh!
Mum and I had made the playdoh the night before and upon near completion discovered that we didn’t have any food colouring in the house. Suddenly our brilliant plan was looking like a bit of a white elephant (please excuse the pun!). We needed a solution and soon we had sabotaged Dad’s christmas present: a pot of tumeric. Soon we had a lovely orange lump of playdoh, job well done I’d say.
Now for obvious reasons most of the kids had never imagined yet alone seen touched or tasted anything like playdoh. So when I showed it to them they were, it must be said, a little bemused. Whilst I was dividing the playdoh up it became apparent that they had come up with their own opinions on what it was…I daren’t guess. Still, I gave them a piece each and soon they were absorbed into the unfathomable depths of curiousity that is playdoh. I got them to mkae the different shapes and I got them to make the different fruit and veg that they learnt the day before but soon I was running low on ideas as their level of expertise went from ok, to phenomenal. Still, the teaching blood inside was sparked as a brainwave that only a teacher could think of hit me right between the eyes. It was simple. The numbers 1-15 had to be made perfectly and then stuck up on the board. They didn’t really need any Khmer to understand and soon they were desperately trying to leapfrog each other to get picked. The Cambodian people are architects by nature and soon the room was a flurry of hands. Before I knew it there was fifteen numbers on the board. But there weren’t fifteen children…obviously some wanted a second chance at being picked!
Out of ideas I asked the one Khmer boy who knew English (the Director’s son) what he wanted to do/make with the playdoh. He said that he wanted to make "cow" so I asked him to tell everybody to make cows. This was interesting as some "cow" were more like crouching tigers than cows. I had them give them to me once they were finished and then I would make smiley faces (using my nails) on the playdoh. They were then lined up on my desk for the rest of the class to see.
"Your time is up" the other teacher said once I had finished the cows. Wow! The last hour had just flown past. Before they left I asked to have a picture with them along the whiteboard. Several were taken in true Chinese, Clark and generally Asian fashion!
After lunch at a curry house with Dad I was due to see an "IEC material creation with Outreach Team" with absolutely no idea of what this meant. It involved having a few of the older boys and talking to them about various different things to do with their past life and what they could do in the future. It was led by the outreach team who both spoke English and translated (where possible) what the other person was saying. The kids would, in turn, then teach the others using flash cards in both English and Khmer. We then played some games. One of which involved rubber bands which had to be passed around the circle as fast as possible on straws which were held in the mouth. After making a world record in the art of speed straw rubberband racing we took some time to colour in a colouring book. We coloured in some cartoon character which I cannot name because of political and mental reasons. Some quick recreational sport ensued (as always) and after half an hour or so I left to go home thoroughly satisfied with the outcome of the day.