Tuesday, 1 March, 2011
A wet morning, Jamie, and Estrangement
The rain spills down outside. It’s been spilling since 4.45am. I wonder does all that rain flush out all the snakes? The translucent lime green ones, glistening in the newly fallen wateriness bathing their world; I, the alien intruder in this foreign landscape, momentarily descending into a state of pathless obscurity and forgetfulness, as I peer out of the window onto the wet blending of softened grey and green, my roaming gaze, locked for a moment, onto the gleaming, coffee shaded eye of this reptile, that belongs – trying to infiltrate the maze of reflections, trapped there, in its state of attuned alertness. We both look at each other, the snake and I, both knowing, that I don’t belong here.
As I surfaced from sleep this morning, to the sound of the rain pattering onto the tin roof of my cabin, I thought for a moment, it was Sunday morning, and I was enveloped in soft, warm linen sheets, in a Swiss made wooden bed with a Japanese mattress, in the loft of a turn-of-the century Georgian house, just off a fashionable quarter of Dublin, or London; I could here Jamie Oliver parking his scooter below, having just come from the market; brunch would be ready in an hour, friends would be arriving, and a warm cheek nuzzled into the crook of my neck with the sound of a faint whisper: ‘I love you’. Then a weeny Gecko turd fell on my face, and I became aware of an agitated mosquito wishing to alight on any delicious patch of skin on offer.
I find myself watching Asian Food channel quite a lot here. The Naked Chef was showing the other night. Jamie cooked up a scrumptious brunch on his friend’s barge on the Thames. They were celebrating a christening. The programme finished with them eating and loving on the top open deck in the soft afternoon sun, on the river, in the middle of London. It made think of home, of a familiar culture.
Friday, 11 March, 2011
Swallows flit in and out of the classrooms; the jungle sways in the breeze, outside the windows; the South China sea gently slithers up the beach twenty yards from the classroom. If listening carefully, one can discern a faint intermittent lapping, amidst the sound of flopping banana fronds; children recite; a teacher conducts; a strange white man scratches away, smilingly in the corner – clusters of curious beady eyes, in innocent perpetuation, stealing glimpses at this lump of foreignness, ensconced at one remove. At the end of class, the children approach me respectfully, taking my hand, and touching their forehead with it. (a touching Malaysian gesture of deference and respect)
I’m a teacher development mentor. I work with level one primary teachers; that is, the first three years of primary school (7, 8 and 9 year olds). The education culture here is still entrenched in quite a traditional methodology, where the teacher has all the knowledge, and is trained to impart it to the students; the teacher is an active disseminator, the pupils, passive receptacles. Putting it simply, the teacher attempts to explain and exemplify new knowledge in a presentation, and the pupils are expected to listen and understand, and then demonstrate understanding by completing target exercises.
The Malaysian department of education have come to realize that this methodology is not really working with regard to learning English. The primary skills level (reading, writing, speaking) are very weak, when children finish school. Listening seems to be ok, I imagine because of the incidental exposure they get through internet, television and music. So the government have spent a significant amount of money to try and install about 120 teacher mentors across Eastern Malaysia to try and help local Primary teachers to teach in a more communicative and learner-centred fashion; have the students doing more, being more active; the teacher’s role is really to set up and facilitate learning activities for the pupils, and to be a source of appropriately graded input for the pupils. This of course, also includes resource development. Sustainability is an essential principal in the project; when we leave, our impact can hopefully continue:
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
There are 280 other teacher mentors in Western Malaysia, working on the same project. However, two other organisations are responsible for them. The British Council only has the contract for Eastern Malaysia. I believe the budget is 18 million pounds over two and a half years for each of the organisations.
The Education department, since the beginning of the year, has begun to phase in a curriculum change with regard to the subject of English. The content has more of a phonic emphasis, and more songs and stories – to try and encourage improved literacy standards.
I’m involved with five schools, about 25 km apart. They’re all clusters of wooden huts, on grassy plains, bordered by coconut and banana trees. One sits isolated on a beach. Another is on a beach, attached to a fishing village, which is famous for its dried seaweed. Two others are in small villages, and the most far flung one, sits elevated in a stilted village on a river bank. I have to get a boat, to reach it. There is no running water here. They have electricity at certain times of the day, courtesy of a generator. Yesterday, there was no electricity; the wall fans were dead; as they had run out of diesel for the generator; the supplier’s car had probably broken down. A couple of hours later, I saw two large plastic canisters of diesel arrive. I’ve been told there are salt water crocodiles along this river; I’ve yet to spot one. Apparently you’re likely to find them where the prawns gather; one of their staples. Fishermen know the spots.
So, I spend my time travelling to and fro, mentoring, demonstrating, and writing up reports. I also give regular development workshops to the teachers, when they all get together.
I’m beginning to find my feet. Perhaps for the first time, I may be cast in the right play, at the right time, as we all spin together, striving to find comfort, in this lonely orb, on this fragile pearl of a planet, drifting through a vast, empty silence, fraught with mystery.
Saturday, 12 March, 2011
The other day, driving to Perpat, the stilted village with limited electricity and no running water, on a river edge, I saw quite a few squashed run-over snakes on the road. They were black and standard snake-size. At one point, I stopped the car to have a closer look. The scales were clearly differentiated and oily black; still luminous with vitality, much like a fish, recently plucked from water. It seemed quite an unequal collision of worlds – this much maligned, feared and agile reptile, and the crude, rational, man-made road way that it has not quite adapted to. It’s spatial judgement and hearing appear to still be evolving when it comes to crossing roads safely. Apparently these snakes are cobras. If they bite you during the day, you’re fine, but at night, when they do their hunting, you have about 7 hours to get to a hospital, if bitten, or it’s curtains. Old men here, working on their farms, alone, without mobiles, are known to have died from this particular cobras’ bite. I’m not entirely sure, but they only produce toxic venom nocturnally.
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