These are two words I never thought I’d teach, let alone teach in the same conversation. I should have known better. Today two of my third-graders came up to me proudly wielding foot and a half long machetes, probably returning from completing some manual labor task assigned to them by another teacher. They eagerly waved the knives and asked “A-rai?” (What?). I replied, shaking my head in amusement, “Ma-che-te.” Then one of my students reached into his pocket and pulled out a marble, the question was repeated, and I answered accordingly. We headed towards the staircase leading to the second floor classrooms, and as I watched them scamper up the stairs, machetes still in hand, I laughed to myself, thinking: “Only in Thailand.”
Today was a bit unconventional, and I’m not referring to the machete incident. Instead of teaching typical lessons, I spent most of the day reading English books with my classes. Why this should seem out of the ordinary, seeing I am an English teacher, requires a bit of back story. Several months ago I was informed by my field director of a nonprofit organization called the Darien Book Aid Plan in the States that ships used books to Peace Corps members, schools, and other institutions around the world to support literacy efforts. At the end of March I sent in my request and in April I was informed that it was accepted. They also let me know that shipments take anywhere from four to six months, and sometimes even longer. I did the math and realized that the books could very well arrive after I’ve finished teaching at my schools but luckily that didn’t happen! Yesterday over 50 beginner-level English books, mostly hard-cover, were delivered to my home and today I took half of the delivery to Pla Pak Noi Elementary School. The other half will go to Wang Yang on Monday.
It was so fun watching the students turn through the pages of their “new” books. I read at least one to each class, pantomiming most of the words (Dr. Seuss was the best for this), and the students were excited when I said we would take time each class from now until I leave to read. I was also so excited to receive such a tangible outcome after contacting Darien Book Aid Plan; to think that this box of donated books traveled halfway across the globe and landed in a far corner of Isaan is so gratifying. I couldn’t think of a better going-away present for my students.