Happy Khmer New Year! It's tomorrow, Fri., so I have off for a week. Also I have to mention how pleasant the weather has been comparatively speaking. Mornings especially seem to be so. April is known to be oppressively hot and humid. This April so far has been actually like last April which was uncharacteristically pleasant also. Who knows what's up!?
On Tuesdays I wake at 615 or so, have my usual breakfast: toast w/ peanut butter, bananas and tea. I say bananaS because of the many varieties of them here I like the sweet like candy, very small ones. A Khmer called them "monkey bananas". They are delicious! Another kind of banana I like are green yet ripe and also delicious, these are regular size. So after reading my email, facebook and checking a variety of news sources on the internet I leave for work around 730. Tuesdays begins 3 days of work at my main job. Oh and Tuesday mornings I make playdough for the week for the Lotus Kids' Club (LKC) preschool. I have taught the teachers how to make it but for now I am the designated maker.
At LKC I am the consultant for the programs. I've helped set up the space and have been teaching the teachers about early childhood development/education. I originally wasn't the main consultant for the afternoon all ages program but I am now. I'm learning more and more about school-age kids. I've talked previously about how great and dedicated the teachers are and willing to learn from this crazy old barang (term for foreigners) with his unusual ideas about children. The main teacher, Chantheurn, is on maternity leave, a govt. mandated 3 months off. Her husband, Ratha, is the teacher/social worker and there are 3 young woman, 24, 20 and 15, who are the other teachers. Teachers and social workers are terms used loosely. Some get some formal training and the quality of that is often questionable. In any case I am impressed by what I see and hear considering the circumstances. None of the teachers speaks good English, the director translates and his English is good but not great. I have to say though that their English is improving much more rapidly than my Khmer. Ratha of late is 'feeding' me Khmer words. There is a lot of gesturing and 'sign' language. I communicate with the kids in the same way. I imagine it would be pretty amusing to watch our interactions.
I certainly interact with the children, there are 21 in the PS program. I make a point though of not being in the role as the primary teacher. I act more as the manager of the program, somewhat similar to my role at the Family Room when I worked in Vermont. The program is from 730-11 M-F. Of course the children are wonderful. I've watched so many of the children grow and learn. On her 1st day one girl just stood by the door and sobbed. The next couple of days she gradually moved closer observing the action. By week's end she was cautiously participating. In the next several weeks she would mostly play alone, eventually she joined others in play. She didn't seem to talk or smile though. This gradually changed after a few months and now she's made friends, she'll sing songs, and often will flash smiles. She's bloomed. She reminded me of Jaz a bit, as Jaz was a stone faced observer when she attended pre-school.
There's one little guy who was a challenge not wanting to participate in activities, starting conflicts with other kids and generally vying for attention with negative behavior. He seemed to have a face of anger and sadness. It took a little time but this is the kid now who is the 1st to help clean up at program's end. And I love his boisterous laugh. He's still a bit of a wiseguy though now it's not mean spirted but joyful. It reinforced my beliefs about young children and how they gain confidence and make appropriate choices if they are in the right environment with caring support.
I think about the 2 little guys who were in conflict it seemed constantly. After weeks of appropriate support and intervention these 2 guys are the best of buddies, of course with occasional conflicts but usually easily resolved. They are the 2 kids that are constantly on the move and together find ways to use materials and equipment creatively. I wish I knew what they talk to each other about, they seem to be always jabbering about something as they play. These kids have shown me that my ideas may be ok but they have their own agenda. I brought in pieces of hose and funnels for the water table thinking they'd be great to pour the water through. They used them as a telephone line talking and listening to each other through the hoses and funnels and laughing hysterically. They both can be focused on an activity for long periods also, one prefers building w/ legos, the other likes puzzles. They are fun to watch.
At 11 after the program ends we talk about the kids, child development/education and plan. I leave at around 1145 for lunch and a nap. This is typical here for schools and some businesses to take a 2-3 hour break. Our landlord downstairs usually comes home for lunch with his family and will often nap in a hammock before returning to work. Needless to say it's hot mid-day. Lunch for me is leftovers or food from one of the many stands. There is grilled fish/meat, soups, stir-frys, and various pots of food. I often get fish. And lunch can cost a dollar or two and I'll be quite full. Lunch will sometimes include a beer, helps with the nap-taking. Sometimes Jess is home for lunch.
I return on Tuesdays to LKC for the Afternoon Program at 2. All children are welcome to attend, so we have kids from under 2 to teens, anywhere from 15-30+ kids. It has taken a while but we seem to have a good system now. Mon and Tues arts and crafts is the focus, Wed is sports and games, Fri is music and movement (Ratha plays guitar). Thurs is staff mtg. and once a month rice/food giveaway and a parent's meeting. In this program I've discovered the joys of working with school age kids. My former workmates in Vermont will laugh as I resisted efforts to include older kids in programs at the FR. Oh you guys would be shocked to see what I have to let slide and how tolerant and flexible I am here out of necessity.
I am truly impressed with the older kids. Their creativity, intelligence and talents are a wonderful surprise. There are several kids that show real artistic abilities. We've recruited a few of those kids to help lead activities for the kids. One young girl around 12 or 13 has lead a craft project bringing in her own idea. We are trying our best to support and encourage these children as they all live in challenging conditions and live hand to mouth with the real possibility of not having enough to eat. Yet these kids are thoughtful, caring and still have a zest for life. I think and hope we are providing a way to express themselves or at the very least learn about who they are and what potential they have. I'm talking about all the kids not just the artistically talented ones but the kid who masters the hula hoop or completes a complicated puzzle. I hope we provide experiences that boost self confidence and lead children on a path to success in whatever they endeavor to accomplish. In any case big kids are fun.
I head home around 4 and usually don't play tennis on Tuesdays, gotta take at least one day off especially considering I've probably played Fri-Mon. If I didn't get to nap at lunchtime I may try for a snooze. Sometimes Tues I make dinner and it's usually Western type food. You can get good Asian food here so it's what I make the least I think, perhaps the opposite of my cooking in Vt. All kinds of Western food is available here but not a huge variety and sometimes more expensive. Or we'll get take out or eat out on Tues.
A couple of Tuesdays ago we attended a event called Nerd Night. It's a fun get together at a different restaurant/bar every month. There are 6-8 speakers, each talking about a passion or interest for 6min 40sec with 20 slides changing every 20 seconds (00:06:40). It's always an informative and fun evening attended by mostly Westerners but also Khmers and usually one Khmer will present. It's been happening for several months now and I presented at the 1st one. I had a weak and slightly drunk moment when asked to present and said yes. My talk was on my passion/obsession with food. A mostly 'tongue in cheek' talk. I hit the sack anywhere between 9 and midnight, reading or watching some show on the computer.
I hope my next blog entry is more exciting regarding my Wednesdays.