“Did you sleep well? Were there any creatures?” asked a student as we meet on our way home from market on our first morning back in the village.
Our trainee had advised us that our coming to the village was unwise given the weather conditions. He suggested that we stay dry in Sittwe. However, we have a few objections to that: our main goal is to watch him teach. We want to fully experience the testing conditions of a rural village in monsoon season. We want to meet with his students. We also need the support of his family and community. The support structure is crucial to our undertaking. NEH is only one of a number of competing influences in our trainees’ life. The others being family, mum and head monk in that order. By integrating into the village lifestyle and participating in river-washing, dancing at the water festival, eating copious amounts of rice (mountains of rice is how our Rakhine trainee refers to it.) we gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by our rural teachers and we also show that we aren’t scared of a little mud.
Of course, we are actually a little unnerved by the mud. Van broke her flip-flop and I lost my left shoe and had to plunge my hand deep into the squelching brown goo to retrieve it. Two weeks prior, there was flooding ankle deep in the village. Fortunately we had a sunny day for travel and we made it to the village without remark.
The creature question was one that made us a touch uncomfortable. We did receive a text from our trainee which detailed how he had been working away late into the evening, felt an itch on his leg and to his surprise looked down to see a snake winding its body around his calf. However, we brought with us a large sleep tent which staves off mosquitoes, mice and flying insects of varying magnitudes.
Van and I hope that our efforts of travelling to and staying in the village will be good for our trainee. We want to set a positive example of struggling through adversity and unfamiliarity. Of course, my other desire is not to offend the village way of life. Yes, it is different from what Van and I consider normal, but to be too weak to survive it seems like an insult to the locals who have lived here for generations. ‘But he’s from Rakhine’ has been a constant mantra of our year’s work; both from our trainee himself and from everyone else we meet, including Yangon residents.
Our trainee seems happy to be home and I have had a lot of recognition from locals who dance and smile at me in remembrance of the water festival in April. We will not teach until later in the week as it is now harvest time and so begins a fasting ritual to ensure a plentiful crop.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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