For Mr Chong- who understands
I have endured three days of being on MC after returning from the hospital on 2am on Sunday night, or Monday morning rather, having been diagnosed with what turned out to be a case of dehydration. It began a couple weeks ago when I started substituting potato chips or fruit juice for lunch, ate late, or decided to forgo said meal completely, due to having too many meetings and too little time. It was catalysed by a visit to Dairy Farm Park on Sunday when Mr Chong decreed, “I’ll race you!”, to the summit of a slope — for the record, I lost to him by a mere step. And though anyone who has ever shopped with me will attest to my stamina, I began to feel unusually winded, strangely dizzy, unable to stand or walk fifteen minutes after.
[Andrew: Just to clarify, it was Jasmine’s decision to walk up to the summit. I was rather against it, given that we were hardly even dressed appropriately for a walk up any summit. I was in my jeans and long-sleeve shirt and Dearie was wearing her pencil skirt. But yes, I admit – it was I who ‘raced’ her up.]
I miss my classes quite a bit, and cannot wait to be back in the classroom- where I belong. But in the meantime, when I am not being force-fed red date tea and milk by my mother [Andrew: Well done, Auntie! Not to mention, Jasmine has been banned from eating chips for one week.], I have spent my three days rather productively arranging meetings with vendors, replying a slew of office emails, and of course… reading up.
Somewhat ironic that I have spent my day on MC reading a book about education:
Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson, is the gripping true story of how a former mountaineer becomes the driving force behind a massive girls’ literacy campaign in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The organisation that Mortenson has founded, the Central Asia Institute, has built hundreds of schools in some of the remotest terrain in the world- a dangerous and harsh terrain afflicted by high infant mortality, military insurgency and yet their nomadic inhabitants remain pitifully ignored by both international humanitarian aid and their own government.
This is what Mr Chong, who recommended and lent his book to me, has to say about Stones into Schools:
“In the midst of war-torn Kabul, Mortenson describes a make-shift school which has been ‘set-up’ in what used to be a public toilet:
When we got back to the hut, I got out, walked over to the open door, and peered in. Sure enough, it was a toilet – or at least it had been at one time. The roof was now gone and twenty-five children between four and five years old, plus one teacher, and a slate board leaning against the wall…”
The teacher brings Mortenson on a tour of the rest of the school, which consists of classes set up in refugee tents, and an old toolshed, which was very dark, and “quite noisy because nearly one hundred students were packed in like sardines. These were the fourth, fifth and sixth graders, and according to the two women who were teaching, they were doing extremely well…”.
And this was the ‘education system’ which served the region of Simdara. Teachers persisting in their passion to impart and teach, in spite of the lack of salaries and less than ideal teaching conditions – students enthusiastic about their learning, in spite of the lack of sufficient books, pens and paper.”
My imagination is already bursting with the possibilities for this book in an English or even a Civics classroom.
I cannot wait to read portions of the book aloud to my form class, passing it off as the teaching of the personal recount genre, of course- anecdotes of school children studying in refugee tents during the dead of winter, or crowding around a young teacher and her chalkboard in an abandoned public toilet.
I hope to introduce this book as required reading for my English Academy, the Bloomsbury-style group of promising student writers and poets that I head and mentor, to serve as a gentle prodding reminder that talent is wasted without social consciousness.
I wish to share with my poorest and weakest students how diligence and sheer doggedness have transformed illiterate young girls into the first female lawyers, doctors and healthcare providers in their clans and communities.
And this is why I am glad that I am dating a teacher.
When at NIE, I asserted famously that I would never date a teacher. Too much inbreeding, I remarked scornfully. We’d talk about nothing but our students. Male English teachers are way too geeky, even for me.
God has the final laugh, it seems, when we speak too soon. I find that I am not only dating a teacher, but an English teacher, at that.
Andrew and I schedule marking marathons to replace restaurant dates and moonlit strolls by the coast during exam periods. We visit museums and then brainstorm on how our classes would benefit from similar visits. We share Literature and advertising resources and long discussions in the car, mired in city traffic, about how our lessons went that day.
[Andrew: As mentioned in previous dates, we also label some of our dates as “learning journeys” and plan our dates based on an NIE lesson plan structure. My Dearie has also been the strictest critic of my lesson ideas and the sharpest ‘editor’ of my lesson plans/ speeches. I’m really glad I have someone who can understand and share my excitement when I share with her about the new insights I’ve gained in teaching the argumentative essay. I’m glad I have someone I can be a complete geek with. Heh.]
I am unspeakably thankful for Mr Chong’s patience and care during this ridiculously frenetic first fortnight of Term 1, who did not complain when I was nodding off over our Moroccan lamb salad after thirteen hours of being on my feet since 6.30 am, bought Brand’s Essence for me, held my hand when I was a total scaredy-cat and refused to let the doctor draw blood at CGH, and leaving the hospital only around midnight, after I had been safely put on a drip (and inflicted minimal harm on the doctors who had ordered the IV and fluids).
So while this post will be read by everyone, it is really intended for my dear Mr Chong, who understands the unique challenges and satisfactions of being an educator, and who understands me.
[Andrew: Thank you so much for this post, Dearie. I’ve really been learning through this period to take care of you and be there for you. We were talking a few days ago about how we would like to go to teach in a foreign land in the future. I hope that dream comes true. :)]