It took me a long time to decide what and how to write this latest update. I wrote 3 different blog posts and didn’t feel like any of them were quite right. Too negative, too positive, too self-centred. So I sat down and decided to combine all 3 and this is what I got, I hope you can connect to it.
My time so far in my current location has been the most uncontrollable rollercoaster of emotion I have had in a very long time. It is by far the most difficult place I have ever lived, and has tested me in all aspects, mentally, physically, emotionally and most of all spiritually. Every morning I wake up and give myself a few minutes to shake off the cloud of sadness that gathers over me overnight (first thing in the morning is never my happiest) and then I pick one thing that makes me happy, or that I’m looking forward to, and focus on that until my mood lightens. “Why would you be sad, or be downhearted?” you may ask. Well, amidst the natural beauty and picturesque views of mountains, mustard fields, a river and rice paddies which surround the village I currently live and teach in, are a people ravaged and exhausted from living in a conflict zone. The fresh faces of the young are old beyond their years; the wrinkled and aged faces of the old are tired as though they have lived a hundred lifetimes. The dust clouds that fly up from the enormous wheels of the army trucks (which travel through the village day after day) create a hazy, fog like effect to your view, as though you’re walking through a cloud. But instead of the fluffy, cuddly, white clouds that we teach to children, this one is coarse and full of grit ready to cut against your skin. Rubbish lines the roads on either side, companionably resting next to countless stray dogs who lay unmoving all day, adjusted to the constant blare of car and truck horns, announcing their presence, as they erratically bounce around depending on which pothole they hit in the dirt road. The sense of oppression, hopelessness and unease hangs in the air and I feel it like a weight on my shoulders as my two flatmates and I walk to school. It’s a battle to push through it every day, to reach the bouncing rays of light (the children at the school) which make the time here so worthwhile. When I see them and see all the life and energy built up inside them, the darkness and sadness just melts away.
My time here consists of 6 days a week teaching at the school, and then a day off Sunday for rest and to spend time with other believers in a nearby town. It’s very common here for children to go to school for 6 days a week, even pre-school (age 3-5) which is who comes to our school. We arrive at the school by 9am and children arrive at 9:50-10:10. The morning is then split between ‘Circle Time’ (which is singing nursery rhymes and songs with actions), English, Break, Maths, Science and Art or learning the local language. At 12:50 the children have an hour for lunch and then Art or the local language, P.E and home time at 3pm. My role as a short-term volunteer is teaching Science and P.E, helping with picking the children up, participating in Circle time, getting them ready for going home, filling in for any absent teachers and monitoring Break. I helped with Break time one morning, just because they needed an extra person, and quickly signed myself up for it permanently. The reason being, unlike most children in England, these little lovelies take great delight in sharing their snack with you. At one point break time finished and I had 8 cookies, 3 crisps, a piece of chocolate, half a grape and some pastry in my hand. Now before I get any rude comments, no I did not eat it all, I shared it back round with the children, except the chocolate…I confess I ate that one… and maybe a cookie. I also recently had the spontaneous adventure, when one of the other ladies was unwell, of teaching for a whole day which was wonderful and really tested my ability to spontaneously produce lessons. I’m currently absolutely in my element with being able to think up imaginative ways of teaching my Science class about their 5 senses using various items. The best reaction so far has got to be when they all had garlic, coffee and cinnamon put directly under their nose – trust me, they remember “what we do with our nose is…” “Smell!!!”
So far in school the biggest challenge is the language barrier. The children’s English is very basic, and my knowledge of their language is non-existent, and so this makes communication difficult. They are however doing the most incredible job of picking up words and phrases very quickly and so each day our relationship and ability to understand each other grows. Thankfully I have learnt that they understand tone, facial expression and volume of voice very well. And thankfully they have learnt that when you hit someone round the head with your toy, turn around, and discover that Teacher Naomi just watched you do it, it’s best to apologise straight away to the child you just mildly concussed.
One of the highlights of teaching for me is being able to make the children laugh in class, despite the language barrier. Dancing around the classroom, putting on a deep voice, or pulling funny faces is plenty good enough, who needs words! I have never been sat on or hugged as much as I am during the school day; if you’re feeling unloved just wait till 5 children decide they can all fit on your lap, and then one climbs on your head for good measure. In the environment in which I’m living and the tense atmosphere surrounding the area, the love and laughter from the children helps me to be able to keep going every day. Witnessing the progress of the children with what they are remembering and capable of doing, even after such a short period of time, gives me butterflies of excitement. By applying my limited artistic genes I have also really gotten into giving extravagant, colourful and picture filled homework to the children, which also keeps me busy in the evenings so I don’t allow any waves of sadness to creep into my mind.
If you had asked me after the first week of my stay whether I would be able to manage the 2 months, or whether I would still have chosen to come if I had known what it was going to be like, I probably would have said no. But I can say now that I absolutely can manage my final month here, I would absolutely have still come, and I am thrilled that I’ve got the privilege of teaching the most awesome children in a place where I am so clearly meant to be, and would never have come to if it hadn’t been on the path which God led me on.