Accompanying the works of art are photographs of the 4 libraries that CEAL has helped to furnish in rural locations, including the village where the students who collected me from the airport live. Each library is clean and bright with a beautiful, natural mural of squirrels, trees and mushrooms adorning a wall or corner space. They are great spaces for children to learn to enjoy books and reading. Many of the libraries that I have seen in Myanmar are dingy and dark affairs with books pilled randomly as and when they are donated.
In total there were 11 or 12 students to meet me and discuss the timing of suitable lessons. We also discussed how many people I could fit into the teaching space, the fact that they had a projector but it was currently broken and the lack of intermediate or higher English lessons in Sittwe.
The next morning, at 5:15 am I got onto the back of a moped bleary-eyed and wishing I had worn my sweater as the morning air was chilly. Going to the house of one of the students I had met the previous night, there were soon mopeds everywhere and about 15 people, myself included, headed towards the beach for some early morning exercise.
I chatted to two students I had met the night before and a new friend of theirs. Initially they were quite shy, and told me that they had fears of very negative stereotypes of foreigners. They soon relaxed and started to talk more freely, telling me that I was not living up to their fearful assumptions and that they were really pleased and excited to meet me and find that I was so nice!
Once on the beach, one of the girls became the instructor for a series of exercises like I have seen people in Yangon and in Bangkok perform en masse. As a reward for waking up at 5:15, there was a stunning sunrise that was a deep ginger as it rose over the calm sea.
Later that evening the group returned to the beach; the number had grown to around 20 for this later excursion. We played games as children might on the sand. We played a game of tag which was referred to as ‘Tom and Jerry.’ It involved a rather frantic run and grab between pairs, accompanied by shrieks from the girls and overly enthusiastic lunges by the boys which resulted in them falling and assailing the escape of their victim.
I was pleased to learn that one of the members of the group, who I had simply assumed was a girl, smiled at and not really paid any further attention was actually a gay male who was at least presenting as feminine. I suppose perhaps I should admit that my initial thought was actually “oh good, a girl who is almost the same height as me!” Whether this individual is actually trans, I am not certain. Gender division is a little more fluid here I find and boys will often have hairstyles and wear jewelry which would be considered camp or even feminine in the west. It was explained to me that they were often invited to take part in group activities and encouraged to discuss and share opinions as much as everyone else. No-one had any problems while playing the fairly physical game, and I was very heartened to see this display of inclusion in a country where homosexuality, let alone gay marriage, is illegal.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer