Van and I danced. We danced on our last night in the village. We danced at a party given in our honour where students and teachers alike came forth and thanked us for our work with them. We danced in the main hall of the monastery to very loud disco trance music. We danced alone.
In what will be considered as one of the most surreal nights I have experienced, in both my private and professional life, we danced.
The evening started off as any regular evening event might. Students gathered in the main hall and the teachers laid our chairs at the front of the room. We could hear the bustle alongside the loud disco music being blared out into the night. Forget Carnegie Hall in NYC; One Direction would be very well received in this remote corner of the world.
Van and I took our seats and smiled at the children; looking out in particular for our grade 9 tutees whom we had come to know the best of the 200 children in the school. From the front on the lurid green plastic seats we waited for proceedings to begin. It had been organised entirely by the teaching staff of the school.
The teacher from the Irrawaddy division stood and started the evening. He was the chair of the event so we soon discovered. Various teachers spoke about their eternal gratitude. One was our latest teacher trainee who had some real heartfelt passion, and whose speech was translated by another teacher into local language for the students to understand.
During one speech, grade 9 were invited up to the front of the hall. Two of them mustered the courage to come and speak personally with Van and I while the rest formed an orderly queue to shake our hands and thank us. This was highly reminiscent of my very first trip to the village when I was introduced to all of the students and they were given the opportunity to speak with me.
One of the grade 9 students then gave a speech about his time with us which was a very emotional affair. I don’t know if he had pre-planned it, or speaking off the cuff but at one stage I really thought the poor boy was going to cry! His teacher, our main trainee, kindly translated for him as he chose to use his native tongue for such an emotive outpouring of gratitude. It was a really nice gesture and was especially poignant coming from this particular student as his family have always been nomadic and as such he is two years behind in his schooling. Therefore, having a positive effect in his life through education is that much more important.
After about 1 hour and 6 speeches, our chair for the evening asked if we would like to dance and finish the evening in party mode. Looking at one another, Van and I nodded our accord silently, expecting everyone to get out of their place and join us in bopping along to the music. Instead Van and I danced alone, while around 200 people watched. Eventually Grade 9 were coerced into dancing. It was a memorable evening that ended with lots of jumping, spinning and twirling around.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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