Monday, December 3, 2012

Projects, projects, projects

It seems the last few weeks have suddenly been busy, which means most of all that although there have been plenty of things worth writing about, there hasn’t been any time for the gathering of thoughts and committing them to paper (or screen). It also means that the housecleaning has been taking a serious hit in our estimation of its importance, which could explain why I just poured hot water all over my computer bag in order to kill a nest of ants that had taken up residence there. (I am a bad Buddhist.) Of course, I had just put my computer in that bag this morning, thinking it would be safer (from what?) in there than out in the open in the house, and so I’m now periodically also smashing ants as they crawl out from between the keys while I type this.

The activity consuming most of my mental and physical energy for the last three weeks has been the painting of a mural at my bpratom (elementary) school. I initiated the so-called World Map Project a few months ago, hoping to include some geography and nation related terms and ideas in a few lessons that I thought could lead up to the eventual painting of the map. Although initially well-received, the project was almost immediately back-burnered because I brought it up during the rainy season, and part of the set-up involved using a projector to project the image of the map on the wall we had chosen. So, while we chose a wall outside, and painted in white in anticipation of the eventual map, nothing else happened. My co-teacher and I decided to wait until the end of rainy season when it would be safe to run an extension cord outside and when we’d have more than a couple of hours of decent, dry weather to complete the map with the kids.

I had wanted to wait until January, since it made more sense with our curriculum and since that would give me time to incorporate the correspondence I’ve started with a teacher in Florida and maybe get our curricula on the same page for a magic week or two. No such luck. A few weeks ago, the school found out that someone from the Jangwat (province) level is going to visit the school, and essentially grade them on a variety of measures of performance. A visit from an official in Thailand is a major event, one that has necessitated the cleaning out of many an old closet, cabinet, desk, and drawer. It has mean the cleaning and recleaning of stairs and walls and the putting up of posters, black boards, and various other instruments of learning that until now, we have done without. We now have a word of the day program (both English and Thai) and fancy new black boards to write those words on outside where the kids have their morning assembly. We now have binders upon binders of evidence of projects that the school has done over the last five years. Grades are being tallied by hand in thick record books. Children’s heights, weights, and speeds at the 50 and 100 meter dashes are being measured and recorded. Letters, pictures, documents are being printed and bound with delicate precision. Many a “jackboard” (bulletin board with stuff on a particular theme) is being assembled around the school. Josh and I even got to create a jackboard with information about AIDS for World AIDS Day (Dec. 1). Fortunately, we had our friends at the anamai help us out with this one; otherwise, it would have been a heck of a task to Google-translate our way to coherent and accurate information!

In the midst of all this, long meetings began to happen on a regular basis. I attended the first two, at which I was asked to start the World Map project ASAP to be finished in time for the Saw Maw Saw visit on Dec. 4. I couldn’t really say no. I mean, I don’t really think the random white patch on the wall looked very good either. So, we pulled it off. Three weeks, two extra 8-hour days per week later, we ended up with a beautiful map of the world on the wall. Of course, up close, the detail work is a little lacking.

We managed to revise the coastlines of all seven continents – call it global warming taking its toll. We also resolved a few territorial disputes in the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia with a few brush strokes. I doubt Israel would be happy with its current containment (but then again, Syria probably isn’t, either). We didn’t manage to get Palestine or Tibet on the map, but those political developments seemed a little out of our hands. Several times, I had to save light-colored countries from the naam-tuam (flood) the kids were inflicting on them with their wild painting frenzy.

Nearly everyone is unhappy that Thailand is dark green – but this turned out to be a blessing when we lacquered the map and all of the black marker we’d used for the borders ran, creating a few new mountain ranges and river valleys at the borders of France and Spain, northern Russia, parts of Mexico, and basically anywhere else that was originally yellow, orange, or light blue. We nearly lost Hawaii to the cavalier brushstrokes of a few 5th graders who shall remain unnamed – I had to re-paint the home state of our president from scratch as a last minute measure.

I painted and repainted borders, mixing and remixing colors, with the expert help of my co-teacher, who is also the art teacher. For days on end I recalled old memories of painting with my grandfather in the sunroom at his Albuquerque house. I had to remind myself as I asked the kids, “tam arai??” (what are you doing??) with rising panic every time they dripped paint down the whole of the wall that I was once just as clumsy and unschooled with a paintbrush, and that I have my late grandfather’s patience and love to thank for my even now novice ability to create art at the tip of a brush.

Tomorrow, the officials from the jangwat (province) will show up, and who knows what scrutiny they will bring to bear on these tiny projects. If they criticize the lack of labels, the hastily done borders, the height or size of the map, it won’t be a surprise. But, they won’t see the 120+ tiny hands that helped to make the map what it is, or the surprising conversations that have already taken place because of it.

“Where is Korea? My dad works there.”
“Where is Canada? My dad works there.”
“Wow! America is big!”
“What’s the biggest country in the world?”
“What country has the most people.”
“Do you know what country this is? This is Australia.”
“What’s all that white at the bottom of the world?”
“Where is it the coldest?”
“Where’s your house, Kruu Erin?”

I guess this is what it's all about.